The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/04/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, David. I know we‘re going to see you in a little while, although we‘re keeping that secret for now, OK?
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: OK. Can‘t wait.
MADDOW: Good. Fair enough.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour on this fine Friday.
Tonight, we‘ll be talking about the other other war, the secret one that we‘re fighting in Pakistan. Democrats are calling the Republicans‘ bluff on health reform in some entertaining ways today. And a stupefying human rights abuse that the United States is not taking the lead on stopping.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, Nicolas Kristof from “The New York Times” and Melissa Harris-Lacewell from Princeton University are all here to talk about those stories. Yes, hey, we‘re doing that weird thing again because it worked out so well before.
Plus, the new conservative movement to reclaim the term “tea-bagger.” Not something that I‘m trying to get them to do, they‘re doing it on their own.
And after four unbearable years of cuteness, China is calling in its debt. It‘s bye, bye, Tai Shan.
It‘s all coming up.
But we begin tonight with the secret U.S. war in South Asia whose existence the White House prefers to not discuss with any specificity. Not the war in Afghanistan. President Obama very publicly rolled out the new strategy for that war earlier this week.
And today, the U.S. military publicized its first offensive in that effort called “Operation Cobra‘s Anger”—which is a very serious thing with a name so over-the-top, it sounds like a Ben Stiller movie. “Operation Cobra‘s Anger.”
The war in Afghanistan is, of course, all over the front pages. The key to whether or not we will ever consider it to be a success, however, appears to be mostly secret—a secret war that‘s being fought next door in Pakistan. “The New York Times” reporting late last night that the Obama administration has decided to expand the use of drone attacks in Pakistan by our CIA. The CIA is not part of the U.S. military and no action the CIA takes is necessarily owned up to by American politicians.
Now, for the first time, the U.S. government wants to use drones against targets in a Pakistani province that is outside the largely ungoverned tribal areas. And, again, although this would be a big expansion of our part of the war in Pakistan that‘s been going on for a long time now, because it‘s a CIA effort, the administration won‘t comment on it in detail publicly. But we‘re also now learning that our secret war in Pakistan isn‘t just being fought by the CIA. It may be being fought by secret parts of our military as well.
Jeremy Scahill reporting in “The Nation” and on this have program last night that in addition to the CIA‘s covert actions in Pakistan, the U.S. Joint Special Operations command, a secret wing of the U.S. military, is also operating over the border inside Pakistan. Scahill reporting that they‘re working with the rather notorious private security firm, Blackwater, to shoot people inside Pakistan with missiles fired from pilot-less aerial vehicles, AKA “drones.”
So, the secret war that‘s being fought in Pakistan is now reportedly being fought by the CIA and parts of the U.S. military and by for-profit contractors like Blackwater. It is a covert war that is escalating fast and nobody in the Obama administration wants to talk about that or apparently plans to talk about that. We‘ll see how long that lasts.
Joining us now: Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York;
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics in African-American studies at Princeton University; and “New York Times” columnist, Nicholas Kristof.
Thank you all so much for being here.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Thanks.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES: My pleasure.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Good to be here.
MADDOW: Let me start with you, Congressman Weiner.
The fight against al Qaeda and the people who support al Qaeda, the reason we are ostensibly in this part of the world in the first place, in such great numbers, seems to be largely happening inside Pakistan.
As a member of Congress, do you think you have full knowledge of what‘s happening there?
WEINER: Well, we know that they‘re not in Afghanistan. And we know there was a speech and a lot of debate this week about our approach to Afghanistan. But none of it will be successful unless to some degree we either get the cooperation of Pakistan to help out on their side of the border or we do it. And apparently, the administration has made the same decision that we‘ve made for the past several years, which is we‘ve got to do a lot of the work on the other side.
In direct answer to your question, I can‘t tell you, I‘d have to kill you.
WEINER: I mean, there is a lot that members of Congress don‘t know. We find out the worst thing about contractors, for example, only after the worst thing happened with contractors. We very rarely have any type of insight about what‘s going on. And that‘s deliberately that way by the CIA. We don‘t get the information very often until it‘s too late.
But, you know, we‘re kind of in this devil in the deep blue sea relationship with Pakistan. If we either are going to get to some degree them to help us—because within a matter of weeks if not months, the Pakistani government could possibly fall. And all of the best laid plans of the president, all of the best intentions of our military, will be meaningless if we don‘t find a way to deal with that area in Pakistan that really is producing a lot of these problems and that‘s the knot that we‘re in, that we—we are either going to go do this ourselves, or we‘re going to rely on a feckless government to do it for us. And frankly, neither choice seems to be very palatable.
MADDOW: And fecklessness of government is a big government on both sides of the border here. Fecklessness, corruption, inefficacy, the challenge that they face, if the idea is to drain support for extremism by winning hearts and minds, and by encouraging the government in both of these countries to be seen as legitimate—are we not undercutting the whole idea of legitimacy of these governments if we won‘t even admit to what we‘re doing in these places?
KRISTOF: Well, I‘d say that for the first year or so, the drone attacks tended to undermine our objectives, tended to antagonize the Pakistani population. More recently, though, I must say that the drone attacks have been much more successful in striking the Taliban leadership, have been removing a lot of people, and to some extent, Pakistani opinion has moved the other way.
So—I mean, there is a real tradeoff there between our specific targets and our broader attempt to bring the population over. But it‘s at least, in some cases, I think it‘s been actually to our benefit.
MADDOW: There is a there is a legal problem there that comes up, though, because maybe part of the reason that the Pakistani people are more into what we‘re doing with the drones is because we‘re actually shooting at targets that are picked by the Pakistani government now.
KRISTOF: In some cases, that‘s clearly true. Baitullah Mehsud, they gave us the coordinates for and they repeatedly encouraged us to attack him. That there‘s no doubt that that‘s true of some targets.
MADDOW: Here‘s what I‘m worried about: I think that the legal authorization for us shooting people with drones is the use of force authorization after 9/11 which essentially said you can go after al Qaeda and their confederates. If we‘re just now going after people that the Pakistani government feels threatened by, is it legal for us to be doing this?
WEINER: Well, the people like Baitullah Mehsud are—I mean, they are in league with al Qaeda. They are certainly threats to us as well. I mean, it‘s not like we‘re taking out Pakistan‘s government antagonists in Baluchistan or anywhere else. I mean, the people that we are targeting, I think, really are people who are closely allied with al Qaeda, with the Taliban, and so on.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes, I do think that this question you‘ve asked here about not just the sort of “three cups of tea” argument about hearts and minds, but the central question here about how we are going to engage in international conflict—this very notion of a secret war, this very idea of drone attacks, that—you know, I think Americans are grownups. We understand that part of the realities of a complex world is that we won‘t understand every element of strategy, that there will be things that we can‘t know as a matter of military.
But it makes me very anxious to hear a member of the U.S. Congress say, “Well, I don‘t really know everything that‘s going on and there may be terrible abuses and I won‘t know about them until later.” To know that much of the authorization of this comes from a government which this administration suggested that we‘re replacing Bush‘s administration was not just about putting a new face on the same policies, but, in fact, changing how we engage with the world.
MADDOW: The openness.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I mean, this is a president who won the Nobel Prize for peace in part because of a notion that he is engaging the world differently. So, I think it is incumbent upon us to at least ask whether or not we can be so certain that these are clearly our enemies, that these targets are clearly not harming civilians in an important way, and that we‘re not undermining—not only Pakistani questions about the extent of their government‘s legitimacy but our own.
MADDOW: Do you—do you think there are big profound political issues—well, let me start this way: If our troops are in Afghanistan in large part because of what‘s going on in Pakistan, are there profound political issues about our democracy that are raised by us not really knowing what we are doing as Americans in Pakistan?
WEINER: The answer is yes. But it‘s just a mess that belies a simple kind of black and white assessment. You know, look, they‘re on the Pakistani side of the border, hey, let‘s call the Pakistan, get their military to go take care of them and we stand our side. The whole reason that we‘re left with these untenable choices is that we have governments there not willing to do what we want done publicly but want—very seriously want us to do some of the things that we‘re doing.
We‘re getting crushed on the Pakistani street and the perception is killing us.
WEINER: Despite the money what we‘re putting in there, despite all the great efforts that we‘re putting in there, because there‘s this great disconnect. And, by the way, the Pakistani government triangulates against us all the time. All those terrible Americans who we just called up and said drop this bomb.
The point that I‘m making is that we don‘t have all the good options. But you are right. We are dealing with this very vague resolution of force and a lot of us in Congress believe that any further steps we take, we have to make it much more fine, and make it clear what we‘re authorizing the administration and military to do. We‘re dealing in a part of the world, that with so many dominos have to fall for the president‘s plan to be successful, that all the ones that we can control, we‘re doing our best.
Then we have a large element of our effort there that are private contractors who we desperately need there. Those of us who travel, including the secretary of state, who goes there, relies upon these guys to make sure that we come back in one piece. But we don‘t know half of the things that they‘re doing for the CIA. And that is—that is—that is tragic for our democracy.
MADDOW: OK. We‘re going to have to take a quick break.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, Melissa Harris-Lacewell from Princeton, Nicholas Kristof of the “New York Times”—don‘t go anywhere, because we just had some big time political jujitsu on Capitol Hill over health care reform, gotcha politics that boomerangs on the perpetrators. In the political science textbook I have yet to write, this will be called the boomer-acha or the got-arang, one of those. That‘s next.
But first, “One More Thing” about the escalation of America‘s two wars in the area that the insurance company Aflac is delighted we now call Af-Pak. The State Department just released two videos from Secretary of state Hillary Clinton in which the secretary speaks directly to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two English language messages translated into four other languages, Dari, Pashtu, Urdu, and oddly, Arabic.
Here is madam secretary speaking in a man‘s voice in Urdu.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: (TRANSLATED IN URDU)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Here she is speaking in a man‘s voice in Pashtu, a language spoken in western Pakistan and Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: (TRANSLATED IN PASHTU)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One more. Here she is speaking in a man‘s voice in Arabic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: (TRANSLATED IN ARABIC)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Not the most important thing about these messages in the world but I have to say, all of these do make me wonder at some point they‘ll just have a man‘s voice voiced her over in English, so English-speaking sexist countries can understand her better, too.
MADDOW: Today‘s business news brought a punch in the gut reminder of the stakes in health reform and a reminder of why our guest Congressman Anthony Weiner‘s proposals that we just drop our lousy private health insurance system in favor of Medicare for all has some persistent allure for consumers.
Sam Stein at “Huffington Post” reporting today that insurance giant Aetna is planning to hike its prices and premiums so much that 600,000 people will be expected to drop their Aetna coverage next year.
Why would a for-profit company want to plan to lose customers? It‘s all part of a plan for Aetna to increase its profitability. Although the company did turn a profit this year, Wall Street demands more. And so, presumably, Aetna‘s plan to hike its rates will be designed specifically to force out of their coverage the more unprofitable among their customers. Presumably meaning those customers that they think might actually be sick or might get sick.
In a for-profit private insurance based system, it is, of course, utterly rational for every insurance company to try to avoid insuring anyone who actually requires medical care. Hence, the need for regulation and reform—if not revolution, stat.
We‘re back with Congressman Anthony Weiner, Nicholas Kristof and Melissa Harris-Lacewell right after this. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I ask unanimous consent to be added as a co-sponsor to the Coburn amendment number 2789 requiring all members of Congress to enroll in the new public health insurance option.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If this were an action movie instead of C-SPAN footage, that would be the part where the grinning movie star leaps off the building, bounces off the awning, and lands his back on a motorcycle that speeds away with him with all the loot with the villains who‘ve been chasing him standing on the edge of the building shaking their fists in frustration, “We‘ll get you, Sherrod Brown. We‘ll get you.”
It‘s C-SPAN, so it doesn‘t look like that. Republican Senators Tom Coburn and David Vitter apparently thought they could really, really embarrass Senate Democrats today by introducing an amendment that would force all senators and members of Congress to get their own health care through the public option. The public health insurance option some Democrats want Americans to have as a competitive alternative to private insurance.
Senators Coburn and Vitter thought it would be super-embarrassing for Democrats if they were forced to admit that even though they‘re fighting for Americans to have a public option for health insurance, they themselves actually wouldn‘t really want to be part of that type of plan. Sherrod Brown today called their bluff when he and other Democrats jumped at the chance to agree to Coburn and Vitter‘s amendment.
Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer going even one step further in the House, announcing that he‘ll introduce legislation that would prohibit all members of Congress from receiving any government-sponsored health insurance at all until health reform passes. So, no Medicare, no veterans care, no attention from the attending physician on Capitol Hill—no taxpayer subsidized Federal Employee Health Benefits Program like all members of Congress currently enjoy. They can all just wade into the private health insurance system and buy it for themselves, or try to get on their spouse‘s plan, if they can, until the country gets reform.
We‘re joined once again by Congressman Anthony Weiner, Princeton University‘s Melissa Harris-Lacewell and “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof, author of “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”
Thank you all for staying with us.
KRISTOF: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Congressman Weiner, the first time you were on this show, it was when you had introduced a “put your money where your mouth is” bill, daring Republicans who‘d been sort of talking smack about government-run health care, daring them to ban Medicare. Remind us how that turned out.
WEINER: They don‘t want to do it. Apparently, they like Medicare.
WEINER: I actually later on found out 151 members of Congress, including 60 that are Republicans who oppose government option are on Medicare today. But you buried the lead. That was amendment 2789 he was adding himself to? Honestly, I‘m not sure it‘s a sincere effort to improve the bill.
Look, the problem with the Republican talking points on the government option is it ignores the fact that it would be an option. It would be a choice. And that they claim to want the marketplace to expand to have more options, more choices.
But, in fact, they‘re very frightened of this idea because they know that their benefactors in the health insurance industry that we‘re going to talk about later see that if there‘s even a tiny sliver of competition—which is all the public option is—it would attract consumers. Consumers would want to sign up for it.
But, you know, a lot of these members of the United States Senate are already on Medicare. They already have the public option. We have, as you said, nice choices. We have like a government exchange already in the Federal Employees Health Benefit plan. That‘s what these Republicans are trying to deny the American people.
MADDOW: Melissa, I see you nodding along. I wanted to ask you, do you feel like the range of options that are still being considered in what‘s alive in the House and Senate are a reasonable approximation of the options in health reform? And you feel like we‘re—what do you feel like about how—what it is that we‘re still considering?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes. I don‘t think you really want to ask me what I feel about it.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: But because I‘ll say, you know, one of the things that I find obscene about the entire conversation is people who are experiencing health care that I am in part paying for as a taxpayer who are judging and adjudicating and debating whether or not my sister or my cousin or my mother or my daughter can have health care. It is—there‘s just such a level of dishonesty that is involved with that notion that people who are going to pay premiums into the public option, right, this is not—despite what Senator Lieberman says, a single-payer system by any stretch of the imagination, premiums that people pay.
But I pay taxes that help pay for the health care of these individuals who are debating this, as though they are not already sort of living on the dole. So, I‘m really a big fan of all of them losing their coverage while they make these decisions.
MADDOW: Nick, the Blumenauer bill—the Blumenauer bill would make a lot of sense to me if at the end of health reform we were all going to be able to buy into that federal program.
KRISTOF: I mean, it would sure be satisfying.
KRISTOF: Or at least what, there are 17 percent of Americans who are uncovered and maybe another 10 percent who are underinsured. At least, if one could see 27 percent lose their health insurance until this was resolved.
KRISTOF: But, I mean, in regard to the point that you both made, I mean, it is striking. The irony is that the two parts of America‘s health care system that are most popular and that work best are precisely the single-payer parts, Medicare and the veterans program.
MADDOW: What about the sort of “What‘s the matter with Kansas” problem here? I mean, nationally, the worst states for people being uninsured and underinsured are the states where represented by members of Congress who are most opposed to reform, the reddest states have the worst health care situation right now.
How does—how does that resolve in the long run politically?
WEINER: Well, I think part of it is—we‘ve done a terrible job, my team, of messaging all of this. You know, we should have started with a conversation about Medicare, how we got there, the fact that a lot of the same opposition came at the time we added a security for those over 65.
But we‘ve also got to do something else. You know, we have this exaggerated sense among Democrats that our moderates somehow are going to ensure their re-election by running away from health insurance. The reason they got elected in those districts is because they talked about health care. Our party said, “We‘re going to try to fix these problems.”
I don‘t buy the idea that these blue dogs, these conservatives that are increasing their chance of getting re elected by not fixing health care. It‘s going to turn out to be just the opposite. You know, if the president wants to help his case, and I think, to some degree, as I‘ve said to you before, if he would put his finger on the scale on a couple of these issues, we could—we would probably be done by now.
WEINER: But he wants to kind of let this thing tussle for a while. And I think what we‘re going to find is this is getting watered down to a place that—I‘m not sure, I mean, it‘s going to be valuable, but it is sure not going to be as good as it could be.
MADDOW: And that actually may affect the political dynamic that you‘re talking about, because if we go through all of this political rigmarole to pass something that doesn‘t have much of an affect on people‘s lives or really ends up being a disappoint, or worse, makes things slightly worse for some people who already have health insurance—I don‘t think that‘s going to happen.
But if the immediate impact doesn‘t feel good to the American people, essentially, I think people could be hurt for having voted for it because of all the Republican caricature attacks on it.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I mean, let‘s be clear. This notion of kind of “What‘s the matter with Kansas,” seems that people are responding primarily to a framing that is really about the policy. And it‘s clear that these—both blue dog Democrats as well as the deeply, deeply red senators and members of Congress—are playing a political game. And the game is simply massive resistance to Barack Obama, massive resistance to the Obama administration and to anything that it suggests. Particularly if anything that it suggests has nuance, complication, that it addresses sort of complicated, broad political matters, it is so much easier to just say, no, that‘s big government, than to address the sort of core problems.
And all of that is driven by these issues of sort of the initial anxiety that exists in our country around both race and class. And by class, I mean here sort of our shrinking economic pie that often causes a kind of ethnic balkanization, people pulling to their own sides and saying, “We can‘t possibly do for one another because our pie is shrinking.”
And so, remember that these red states are often poor states if you think about Louisiana, for example, states with high levels of unemployment and people feeling as though any sort of attempt to help others comes at their own expense. And just a failure to talk about how, in fact, these are exactly the kind of expansions that would help unemployed workers in places like Louisiana.
KRISTOF: And haven‘t we made the wrong argument? I mean, let me throw this out, that it strikes me that in other countries, like Switzerland, that have adopted a more universal health coverage, the winning argument there has been a moral one, has been people should not die because they can‘t get insurance. And instead, this year with Obama and in ‘93 with Clinton, the arguments, I think, tended to be more technical, more about cost-saving, more to the policy wonkish one.
And I wonder if that, you know, in a sense, people in Kansas, if we don‘t lose sight of this basic question that, you know, 45,000 Americans die a year because.
WEINER: But if we think that, you know, if we water this down far enough, we get 218 votes in the House and 51 votes and 60 votes in the Senate, OK, we‘ll come back in a couple years and do it—no, if we don‘t contain cost, this is going to be a failure.
WEINER: And we will have shown that we Democrats can‘t solve this problem and the Republicans will then come in with their solution, which will be the ration care and which will be to dramatically slash people‘s access to it as a way of controlling cost. The cost containment part which is getting kind of pushed further and further to the fringe is the way we‘re going to be measured on this to a large degree.
You know, we—covering people is not that hard. You give them benefits. You get some more primary care doctors. The problem is going to be the cost containment. That‘s why the public option has emerged as such an important argument.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: And let‘s also remember that we‘re talking about more ethically homogeneous countries where they could make this “Let this don‘t let anybody die” argument. The fact is that in our country, we are willing to let those who are very different from us suffer in way that.
WEINER: Yes, you want members of Congress to lose it.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Term limit.
MADDOW: Anthony Weiner, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Nicholas Kristof, staying with us. Thank you very much.
All week, we have been reporting on another country‘s proposed law to kill people for being gay. After our calls, several conservative members of Congress with ties to the nation of Uganda are now distancing themselves from that proposed law. But why aren‘t they using their ties to that country to try to actually stop it? That‘s next.
MADDOW: We‘ve been covering a story this week that we‘ve called “Uganda Be Kidding Me” about an unbelievably harsh proposed new law that would sentence people to life in prison for being gay. It would sentence HIV positive gay people to death by hanging.
It would set a three-year prison term for anyone who knew of a gay person but did not report that person to the government for prosecution. It‘s a bill being proposed in Uganda.
Reuters reported this week it is on the verge of passing. It could in fact pass any day now. This anti-homosexuality bill, as they call it, would go so far as to make being gay an extraditable offense.
So if a Ugandan citizen was suspected of being gay, even in some other country, that would be grounds to extradite that person back to Uganda for prosecution.
Our coverage this week focused not just on the extreme nature of the bill itself - lots of countries have lots of extreme laws about sexuality and lots of other things besides. But the Uganda law is connected to some well-known Americans who have made Uganda sort of a test case over the years for American social conservatism.
Mega church Pastor Rick Warren, for example, who was invited controversially to lead prayer at the Obama inauguration, proclaimed the nation of Uganda to be a purpose-driven nation. He also traveled to that country last year to proclaim publicly that he was siding with the Ugandan boycott of the Anglican Church because the Anglican Church was too pro-gay.
American politicians, including Senators Sam Brownback, James Inhofe, Tom Coburn and John Ensign, as well as Congressman Joe Pitts and Bart Stupak, have all involved themselves in Ugandan politics to different degrees in the recent past.
Some of them championed the reorientation of Uganda‘s previously rather successful fight against AIDS, so that Uganda dropped condoms in favor of abstinence-only instruction.
Senators Brownback and Inhofe, for example, feature their recent trips to Uganda on their Web sites. All of these senators and members of Congress are members of the secretive religious group known as The Family, which is famous for running the C Street house in Washington that‘s been implicated in all the major Republican sex scandals of 2009.
Uganda has been a focus of The Family‘s international efforts for years. Its president, Uganda‘s president is described in Jeff Sharlet‘s book on The Family as the family‘s key man in Africa. The person who wrote and introduced the kill-the-gays bill, Sharlet reports, is also himself a member of The Family.
We‘re back with Congressman Anthony Weiner, Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Nicholas Kristof. Thanks, again, for staying with us.
Is it reasonable to expect that American politicians who have been frankly pretty interventionist in Uganda in the past should be trying to stop the kill-the-gays bill there?
KRISTOF: Absolutely. I mean, there should be a major effort to address, not only that bill, but also the larger problem of homophobia in Uganda and around east Africa, because it has been a major impediment in fighting AIDS.
And as you know, already, being gay is punishable under the criminal sanctions of Uganda. And this would make it much worse, but it‘s not as if there isn‘t a problem already.
MADDOW: Right. Well, how can the U.S. do that reasonably?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes. While we were talking about the credibility gap relative to the drone attacks, that‘s really almost nothing compared to our credibility gap on homophobia.
In a country where members of Congress represent districts and states where people who are gay and transgendered can be kicked out of their rental housing, can be denied job opportunities, can lose custody of their children depending on the state, in a place where we have impassioned speeches about the rights to marry that are ignored by other members of a state legislature, where it is possible that Washington, D.C.‘s marriage equality will be turned back by our very Congress, we have set an international tone indicating that gay, lesbian and transgendered people are second class citizens even in our own country. So it becomes very, very difficult for us to moralize on these questions abroad.
MADDOW: The State Department told us this week - and I don‘t think they had told anybody else. I think gave us the statement exclusively, that they were starting to raise the issue with Ugandan authorities. Some other countries have as well.
Sweden is threatening to yank all of the aid they give to Uganda, which is about $50 million. The heads of state in both Canada and Britain raised the issue with Uganda‘s president at a meeting recently. Is there any reason that Uganda - can Uganda just say, “Forget about it, we‘re going to do whatever we want?” Is there a meaningful way that we can pressure them?
WEINER: Well, one thing we have to do is when someone like Sen. Inhofe or Sen. Brownback go to Uganda or try to intervene here in this negative way, our State Department should be there the next day.
We should have the ambassador there saying the next day, “This is not U.S. policy.” You know, it is easy for us to realize that while these guys might seem like yahoos to us, they are United States senators coming to a country like Uganda then taking these positions and stating the views and advocating the way they are.
My concern is our State Department has to be right there almost at the same time saying, you know what? These are fringe senators who represent states that have less residents than Brooklyn and this is - and this doesn‘t represent our position.
And secondly, we have, I believe, become a little too timid generally about human rights. I think that it has to become much more a part of what we, as Democrats, believe. We‘re running the House and the Senate and the presidency and we still see trips to China that are light on human rights.
We still see issues like this that festered for too long until someone writes an article in “Vanity Fair.” I believe we‘re not doing nearly enough and we‘re also doing something else by not responding more forcefully by the administration. We‘re allowing these voices to sound to important parts of the world as if they represent U.S. policy, but clearly, they don‘t.
MADDOW: Nick, what are the most effective tools we‘ve got for promoting human rights around the world?
KRISTOF: Well, I mean, the bully pulpit for - I mean, President Obama has enormous influence throughout Africa, and particularly in Uganda, because his tribe, Luo - his ancestral tribe, Luo, is a major tribe in Uganda itself.
And so we can exercise that bully pulpit. We have funds that we are giving to Uganda. Uganda is also very dependent on western business community. It‘s trying to get western businesses from Kenya to relocate to Uganda. We can apply that kind of a pressure and I think we should.
MADDOW: Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton, “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof - you gave us a big chunk of your Friday night. I‘m very grateful. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.
WEINER: We still have health care after this conversation.
MADDOW: Melissa, actually, was going to pickpocket you.
All right. When I first heard that angry conservative protesters were calling themselves teabaggers, I thought, “What have I done to deserve this precious gift?” Well, now some conservatives are calling for the retirement of the phrase “teabagger” and it might be my fault.
MSNBC‘s David Shuster is going to join us shortly to discuss the funniest linguistic misunderstanding ever.
MADDOW: Still ahead, we bring you the real definition of “teabagging” on tape, courtesy of John Waters. Conservative protesters, prepare to have your world profoundly rocked.
But first a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. Sen. Ensign - John Ensign, as you know, admitted to having an affair with a staffer and then admitted to having his parents pay her family nearly $100,000.
And then, he admitted to firing his mistress and her husband and then to maybe hooking up the mistress‘ husband with an illegal lobbying job. Now, the “New York Times” is reporting that the Senate Ethics Committee issued subpoenas this week, asking for documents related to that potential illegal lobbying detail.
How has the senator survived in office this long through all these revelations? One factor is that Sen. Ensign has had as an ally in the Senate the single most powerful person in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is also from Nevada.
And like many pairs of senators from different parties but the same state, Reid and Ensign have long had an agreement not to criticize each other. As John Ensign has lost just about every other ally or friend he‘s ever had in Washington during this scandal, his deal with Sen. Reid has pretty much become his political lifeline.
Which makes you wonder what in the world John Ensign was thinking when he broke the terms of his longstanding nonaggression pact with Harry Reid this week and started talking about Republicans defeating Harry Reid in Reid‘s run for reelection.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R-NV): One of the things people forget is if I resign, we have a second Senate race. For the people who want to beat Harry Reid, you have a second Senate race in this state. That takes the attention off of Sen. Reid.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that is the sound of John Ensign burning the last bridge he had left in politics. I wonder how his mom and dad will help him out of this one.
Finally, breeding panda bears in captivity is notoriously difficult, bordering on the impossible. I spend all my spare time working on it and I have never had any luck.
But it was with great joy, amazement and shock that little Tai Shan was born in captivity, July 9th, 2005. He was nicknamed “Butter Stick” after a zoo staffer said that he‘s about the size of a butter stick.
Tai Shan was the product of two pandas on loan to the national zoo in Washington, D.C. from China. And almost immediately, panda mania broke out all over the country. Tai Shan was on magazine covers, on cable news. There was a documentary and loads of official and unofficial merchandise.
Members of my own family stopped doing life sustaining activities like going to work and sleeping and eating in order to watch Tai Shan live on the panda cam all day. As Tai Shan grew older, we approached the dreaded deadline of return.
According to the original deal with China, Tai Shan‘s parents would stay here until December of next year. Tai Shan, however, had to be returned to China when he turned two in 2007. So the U.S. went to china and said, please, oh, pretty please, please, please, let us keep this most perfect miracle panda for just a little while longer.
And china relented, extending the repayment of panda debt another two years. Two years, later it‘s 2009. Tai Shan is 4 years old. He weighs a dainty 200 pounds. He continues to attract throngs of visitors and the zoo just announced he will appear on a postage stamp.
So the U.S. went back to China to say, please, pretty please let us keep this most perfect miracle panda for just a little while longer, just one more year. And China said no. Transport permit papers have already been submitted for a January or February departure.
Let this be a metaphorical warning about how much of us China owns. What happens when China comes to collect on its debts? Just ask little Butter Stick. Bye-bye Tai Shan.
MADDOW: The real definition of teabagging from that well-known political pundit John Waters. No, really. We‘re finally doing it. Watch out. Hide the children. That‘s next.
MADDOW: If you just didn‘t get enough of the tea party express bus tours this year, you are in luck. The Tea Party Express told a reporter this week that a new bus tour is in the works for late March and early April of next year, just in time to protest Tax Day, taxation with representation.
Meanwhile, a rival tea party group, Tea Party Nation, is planning a national tea party convention in February, to which the Tea Party Express bus people are apparently not invited.
The Tea Party Nation group says their keynote speaker is going to be Sarah Palin. We will see. But, again, the Tea Party Nation and the Tea Party Express, separate, unaffiliated - they want us to know they have nothing to do with one another.
Alongside the often entertaining infighting among all of the warring tea party factions, another complication in the movement has been addressed in a very, very frank terms today by Jay Nordlinger at “The National Review Online.” Should the tea party folks really be calling themselves teabaggers?
The article opens with the fundamental question for far right
conservatives, quote, “To teabag or not to teabag.” At issue, many of the
very same signs, sound bites and calls to action we have highlighted on
this show in covering the movement. For example -
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Teabag the fools in D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Nordlinger also mentioned this now-famous protest sign, “Tea bag the liberal dems before they tea bag you.” He did not mention the “Teabag Obama” Twitter page and Facebook group.
But he did compare the term teabagger to the N-word. Yes, that N-word. He says, quote, “This brings up the question of whether ‘teabagger‘ could be kind of a conservative N-word, to be used in the family but radioactive outside the family.”
The dirty nickname conservatives accidentally gave themselves is just like the most offensive racial slur in the English language? Really? You‘re sure about that?
And of course, this show and me in particular, we get slammed for tossing around the T-word on the air. Quote, “MSNBC had an outright field day. Rachel Maddow and a guest of hers, Ana Marie Cox, made teabag jokes to other for minutes on end: having great chortling fun at the conservatives‘ expense.”
OK. Since we have been blamed so many times and in so many ways for this nickname, for its proliferation and for its pejorative use, I would like to set the record straight tonight.
And in order to do so, we have to do something more adult than we usually do on this show. So get the kids out of this room or put them in ear muffs and cover up their eyes. All right. Ready?
This is “teabag” comes from. This is a clip in a 1998 family by John Waters that‘s called “Pecker.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Hey, Larry, no tea bagging. You know the rules. No balls on foreheads.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the preexisting pop culture definition of “teabag” when used as a verb. That existed, already, in the world. And that is why it was funny when these members of this emerging far-right protest movement started calling them teabaggers and threatening to teabag anyone who disagrees with them.
That existed ahead of time. They walked right into it, and that‘s why it‘s still funny today, OK? OK.
Joining us now is David Shuster, another MSNBC anchor called out for teasing conservatives with the T-word. David, thank you so much for staying up late with us, coming on the show.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Rachel, it‘s a pleasure. Am I allowed to use that word?
MADDOW: Yes. We‘ve got to be careful about hand gestures and everything when we talk about this, though. Two full paragraphs of this article were dedicated to quoting you. How do you feel about that?
SHUSTER: Well, I‘m glad that it was an accurate quote. That was nice. But it was sort of interesting that “The National Review,” Jay Nordlinger - I mean, he cited April 15 as the first day for this sort of movement when, in fact, “The Washington Independent” reported those signs on February the 27th.
So he got a couple of things in the story wrong. But it‘s also a little bit strange, Rachel, that he would be so obsessed. I mean, when that sort of graphic detail to describe teabagging, also to describe the real meaning of other terms like “scumbag” and “pothead” that Republicans have used. It‘s almost as if Jay Nordlinger was somehow obsessed over this, but I‘ll leave that to whoever wants to read it.
MADDOW: Well, why do you think that we - I mean, MSNBC specifically, and I think they‘re really talking about you and I. Why do you think that we‘re still being blamed for this nickname? I mean, even as Nordlinger admits that conservatives used it themselves. They used that language on FOX News. They wrote these signs that use that language. They‘re still blaming us for it as if we invented it.
SHUSTER: Well, Rachel, I think that we hit a nerve largely because - one of the reasons that I know, for example, we used it was that - it came to sort of represent the fact that there‘s so much about the tea party movement where these groups didn‘t do their own research or their own basic homework.
Likewise, they didn‘t bother to do any homework about the term “teabagger” before they started using it in signs. So our use of it was saying, “OK, if you‘re not going to do your homework, we‘ll essentially have a little fun with it and see if you can figure it out when we use it.”
But it just sort of - I don‘t know maybe they‘re just somehow so sensitive about it, about their own mistakes and not bothering to check it out ahead of time.
MADDOW: I agree with you there. I think that analysis is absolutely correct. Nordlinger does imagine that the word “teabagger” could be eradicated as a nickname. Conservatives should try to get rid of it. Do you think they‘ll ever be able to do that effectively? I sort of feel like they walked into this. It was such a blessing they can never get away from it.
SHUSTER: I don‘t think they can ever get out of it. It‘s also particularly ironic, Rachel, that there‘s “The National Review” that‘s taking up this issue. I mean, this is the same “National Review” that back in the 1960s suggested that the Rev. Martin Luther King and his associates were undermining the foundation of internal order and were somehow essentially rebel rousing demagogues.
I mean, look, does Nordlinger think that because we used a term to describe the tea partiers that they used, that somehow the tea partiers are somehow oppressed by the media and that‘s somehow an oppression that - oh, well, it‘s OK for minorities to be oppressed in the 1960s, but not tea partiers? I mean, the irony with “The National Review” is unbelievable.
MADDOW: David Shuster, thank you so much for joining us tonight. You can catch David‘s show, of course, 3:00 p.m. Eastern every day right here on MSNBC. David, have a great weekend. Thanks a lot.
SHUSTER: Rachel, you, too, and thank you.
MADDOW: Up next, the most infuriating vanity license plate ever. Kent Jones has the details in the “Weak in Review.” That‘s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here now is my friend Kent Jones with a look back at the last seven days. Hey, Kent, what have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. Well, tomorrow‘s big Florida-Alabama game should be impressive, but this is the SEC championship of stupid. Take a look.
(voice-over): First up, mixed message of the weak. Florida Governor Charlie Crist recorded this helpful message for parents who are put on hold on this message when they‘re calling for information about the health insurance program called Kid Care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could apply now at “www.FloridaKidCare.org,”
or by calling -
JONES: So far so good, but when Floridians dialed that number, they were mistakenly redirected to this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey there, sexy guy. Welcome to an exciting new way to go live one-on-one with hot (EXPLETIVE DELETED) girls waiting right now to talk to you.
JONES: Whoa. Why haven‘t we heard about this public option? Weak.
Next, licensed creep of the weak. This guy is Rob Kindler, vice chairman of Morgan Stanley which took $10 billion in TARP money from us. With all the compassion and wit Wall Street is known for, Kindler got this personalized license plate for his $90,000 plus Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Supporting an urge to kick Kindler in his (EXPLETIVE DELETED), I designed this new license plate for him. Weak.
Finally, brain eraser of the weak. Since first experiencing this deeply weird German video, I haven‘t been able to think of anything else. Stop, stop. No. Damn you, techno chicken. You‘re making me weak.
MADDOW: It‘s just a random German techno video with a dancing chicken?
JONES: Yes, and the clucking. It‘s too much. I got problems now.
MADDOW: All right. You have animal problems. I have animal problems.
MADDOW: You know, a cocktail moment today. I am very upset about Tai Shan being sent back to China.
JONES: And me, yes.
MADDOW: Apparently, so is the Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton asked about Tai Shan today, apparently taken by surprise. What was she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: China is reclaiming the giant panda, Tai Shan.
HILLARY CLINTON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Oh, no. Oh, no.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Do you see this as any kind of setback in U.S.-China relations?
CLINTON: I can‘t talk about it. I‘m too upset right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: She‘s the Secretary of State.
JONES: She‘s too upset.
MADDOW: She‘s too upset.
JONES: We won‘t get to see little Tai Shan rolling around listlessly, sucking on bamboo shoots with his useless private part.
MADDOW: No mating. No mating. He‘s not going to get old here. Thank you, Kent. Thank you very much for watching at home. We‘ll see you back here on Monday. Have a great weekend. Good night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>