The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/11/09

Guests:
Bill Wolff, Dan Porter, Chris Kofinis, Evan Kohlmann, Kent Jones
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thanks very much.

One never knows where the news will come from on a Friday night, but it seems like every Friday night, it always does—in droves.

A conservative senator who just reversed his opposition to commenting on the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda; a police report released, including fascinating scary details of five young Americans allegedly trying to plan a trip to fight American troops while evading the FBI‘s surveillance; the health reform fight has been lowered to an online astroturfing war that is really sort of humiliating for everybody involved.

And the Irish parliament makes news.  They‘ve made Congressman Joe Wilson look like Miss Manners.

We‘ll be joined by terrorism analyst Evan Coleman, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, and the man who discovered the online astroturfing.  They‘ll all be here along with Kent Jones with the “Weak in Review.”

But we are going to start with some actual breaking news tonight, some actual breaking news on a story that up until this point we have really not been covering.  This is not about Tiger Woods‘ personal life and the lascivious details thereof; but there is big news—big breaking news tonight about the business of Tiger Woods.

The best golfer and the most famous active athlete in the world tonight announced that he will take leave of professional golf indefinitely to try to salvage his family life which, of course, has been ravaged by two weeks of public scandal about his extramarital affairs.

Mr. Woods announced on his Web site tonight, quote, “I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused so many people, most of all my wife and children.  After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf.  I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person.”

It has been two weeks since Mr. Woods‘ mysterious solo car accident outside his Florida home, and those two weeks have been filled hour to hour with rather astonishingly lurid details of his extracurricular sexual pursuits.

The PGA Tour tonight expressed support for Tiger Woods‘ decision to take a break from the sport.

How long he will be gone from competition remains to be seen, but his absence will be big news—big business news.  Now, several industries, which have relied on his star power bear the brunt of his actions, of the gossip those actions have generated, and now, by his decision to step away from the sport that he transformed.

Joining us now is sports and gambling columnists for “The Philadelphia Enquirer,” former producer at ESPN and the executive producer of this show, my friend Bill Wolff.

Bill, thank you.

BILL WOLFF, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TRMS:  My pleasure.

MADDOW: Am I allowed to call you a sports and gambling columnist?

WOLFF:  Well, you know, you are what you are.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFF:  I don‘t recommend—I recommend sports, I don‘t recommend gambling.  That‘s what the column is about.

MADDOW:  Fair enough.  And that is—that is part of the business of sports but let me—let me confront you with this.  “A.P.” tonight, this will be the second straight season the PGA Tour begins without the number one player.  This, of course, is different.  A year ago, Tiger Woods was out of golf for eight months while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.  And during that time, U.S. television ratings dropped 50 percent.

WOLFF:  Yes.

MADDOW:  . for golf, in his absence.  Now, it‘s going to happen all over again.

WOLFF:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Is he ever going to come back?

WOLFF:  Yes.

MADDOW:  OK.

WOLFF:  But for the moment, you have the problem of the TV ratings.  Then think about the problem of the golf tournaments.  Golf tournaments generate economy in the places where they‘re held, San Diego or Hawaii, or Florida or wherever they might be this spring.  They start in warm weather places.

So, he will miss tournaments in Hawaii, in California, potentially, Arizona and potentially Florida.  The ticket sales will be down, the merchandise sales, the food—this is money-changing hands in local markets that now won‘t.

And there‘s more.  Tiger Woods is an industry.  It‘s not just companies that advertise around him, like Gillette razors advertisers and Gatorade makes products about him and TAG Heuer watches.

Think about Nike.  Nike launched its golf line because Tiger Woods existed.  It‘s all about Tiger Woods.  That industry, that company, Nike does $600 million a year in golf equipment and apparel sales and that‘s based on Tiger Woods.

So, TV is one part of it.  But the gross domestic product around this guy is in the billions of dollars just in terms of the amount of money that‘s being exchanged between companies and the number of jobs that that creates.  So.

MADDOW:  We think about—we think about the money of Tiger Woods being the money that he takes home.

WOLFF:  Which is enormous.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WOLFF:  But that‘s just part of the story.  I mean, he‘s an—he‘s an industry.

MADDOW:  Well, the way I understand the economic impact of Tiger Woods is that he transforms—he and I are roughly the same age.  He‘s a little bit younger than I am, I think.  And I remember when he sort of broke unto the scene, I remember him being on the cover of “Sports Illustrated,” Sportsman of the Year when he was like.

WOLFF:  Yes.

MADDOW:  . what, 20 years old.

WOLFF:  Twenty-one, yes.

MADDOW:  And for me, it seemed like the economic impact that he was going to have is that, all of a sudden, golf felt like a sport that wasn‘t just for country club white guys.  He personally broke the sport open.  And over the course of the past 15 years, he has made it one that involves a lot of younger people and seen as a much more diverse accessible sport.

Can that—which has an enormous economic impact—can that be undone?

WOLFF:  I think that it can.  I mean, consider the recent precedent of Alex Rodriguez who‘s a different guy and has different impact, but was similarly shamed.

Here was a guy who was exposed for having done performance-enhancing drugs and lying about it publicly and shamelessly, right?  He also had had affairs on his wife who had his children, very publicly, on the cover of the tabloid.  Here or there with this or that woman who wasn‘t his wife.  And he was destroyed publicly.  He was the butt of a joke, Alex Rodriguez.

Well, he had a great year after he came back from being injured and he performed magnificently for the Yankees as they went on to win the World Series.  And guess what?  It is all good for Alex Rodriguez today.

Now, Tiger is different.  Tiger is more important singularly.  He‘s an individual sport and he‘s the only guy like him in that sport.  So, that is different.

There is more economy around Tiger and Tiger‘s image is more important to the business around Tiger than Alex Rodriguez‘ image was.

But Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant—various other big, famous, and really successful athletes, have all recovered from reputation damage by performing again.  If Tiger Woods plays golf again, and he will, and succeeds again—which I think remains to be seen—I think all will be forgiven and a lot of what made him a great sales icon, which is really mainly his excellence, more than an image is his excellence, will return and will be restored.

But for the moment, it‘s all in doubt.

MADDOW:  So, you think that—you think that the economic and really sort of socially transformative juggernaut in sports of Tiger Woods was not about his perceived character, but really was about his ability.

WOLFF:  Well, I think it was about—to some degree was his character, we all projected this wholesomeness on him and he played this wholesome game.  I think, to a large degree, it was—it has been that he‘s African-American and young and athletic in a sport which you don‘t associate with any of those things.

So, what made him so iconic was how different he was from everybody else who have played the game, and also that he played it at this unprecedentedly brilliant level.  So, I think, of those three things: his brilliant play, his distinguishing physical characteristics, and his image.  I think image was the least important of them, actually.

MADDOW:  How long do you think he‘ll be out?

WOLFF:  I think he‘ll be back by mid-spring.  Because he—the golf -

·         golfing like tennis has major or grand slam tournaments.  The first one is in—the Masters is in April.

           

MADDOW:  Yes.

WOLFF:  He is obsessed with winning those tournaments—those four tournaments each year.  I don‘t think he‘ll miss out on an opportunity to play at the Masters.  And so, I expect he will be back March, that‘s my guess.  But I don‘t—he hasn‘t called.

MADDOW:  He hasn‘t called to let you know.

WOLFF:  I‘m sitting by my phone.

MADDOW:  He is welcome on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW if he wants to talk about.

WOLFF:  Anytime.

MADDOW:  Everybody keep saying he‘s got to go on “Oprah,” why not us?

WOLFF:  Exactly.  Who‘s the best interviewer in the business, Tiger?

MADDOW:  Or Bill Wolff, since he knows something about sports.

WOLFF:  Yes, I‘ll sit there and smile.

MADDOW:  Bill Wolff, sports columnist for “Philadelphia Enquirer,” a person who encourages people not to gamble on sports.

WOLFF:  We do.

MADDOW:  . and executive producer of this show, and executive vice president of prime time at MSNBC, an all around good guy—thank you.

WOLFF:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  All right.  Facebook—more than just the enemy of office hours productivity.  Now, it is being used to gin up fake passions about the health reform fight.  If astroturfing means to make fake grassroots, this is virtual fake grassroots, extra fakery.  Fortunately, you can de-friend it.  That story is weird and it is next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Do you think our political discourse has gotten a little salty in this country?  Shocked by the “You lie!” outburst at President Obama from Congressman Joe Wilson?  That‘s nothing.  Check out what‘s going on in Ireland.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I respected your sincerity.  I‘d ask you to respect mine.

(INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I apologize now for my use of un-parliamentary language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That is most un-parliamentary language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is most un-parliamentary language.  I now withdraw it and apologize for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That is most un-parliamentary indeed.  Green Party member Paul Gogarty going Anglo-Saxon on Labour Party Emmet Stagg as they fought over the Irish government‘s plan to seriously slash its budget in order to deal with the economic crisis.  Do you want to see it again?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With all due respect, most un-parliamentary language, (EXPLETIVE DELETED, so (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you.

I apologize now for my use of un-parliamentary language.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You know, one thing that might help the Irish government‘s budget, their C-SPAN can now be pay-per-view.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I will admit, I am slightly more into Twitter than I am into Facebook.  That said, I do know my way around Facebook well enough to know about the very popular game on Facebook right now called “Mafia Wars.”

The goal of “Mafia Wars” is essentially to form your own virtual organized crime ring and make it as big and powerful as you can—so big and powerful that you‘re able to control cities like New York or Moscow or Bangkok.  In order to get a big and powerful virtual mob in this game, you need to recruit lots of mobsters to join you.  And because you can play this game on Facebook, the way that you grow your mafia is by recruiting friends from within your network to join your game.  The more mafia members you have, the more powerful your mafia, the more liberals, you‘re able to advance in the game, you get the idea.

Here‘s the thing, though, hiring extra mafia members or getting better weapons for those members takes reward points in the game.  And you can get those points a few different ways.  One is by completing different mafioso-type jobs in the game.  Another way is by actually coughing up real currency out of your own pocket.

And then there‘s a third way.  Advertisers will give you virtual money to spend in mafia wars or other games in exchange for stuff like trying their products or clicking through their endless intrusive surveys.  And for all the hassle factor, it does end up being sort of a win-win in exchange for some of your time, privacy, tassel factor, et cetera, you get more points in the game allowing you to go from underboss to boss or trade up to a Tommy gun or whatever.

The companies who pay an advertising firm to set this up, they get your information and your attention.  And the advertising company that‘s matching you up with these companies, they, of course, get paid.

One blunt way to look at this is that gamers are being bribed with things that they want in the online world in order to provide stuff that‘s valuable in the real world to advertisers—or to people who want to stop health reform?  Yes.  The Web site Business Insider is now reporting that bribing people with virtual currency, like the fake gaming mafia money, it‘s being used by the health insurance industry as a way to generate letters of opposition to health reform.

So, letters are being written, not by people who are necessarily motivated by being opposed to health reform, but by people who are motivated by wanting more mafia points, people who really juts want to be boss instead of underboss.

Online ads promising free virtual currency, redirect gamers to a Web site called GetHealthReformRight.org.  To get the mafia money, people fill out a survey that automatically sends an e-mail to their member of Congress, which reads in part, quote, “I‘m concerned a new government plan could cost me to lose the employer coverage I have today.”

Who‘s behind GetHealthReformRight.org?  Well, it‘s a coalition of 10 insurance industry groups, including the Association of Health Insurance Advisers, America‘s Health Insurance Plans, American Benefits Council, BlueCross BlueShield Association—you get the idea.

This isn‘t just happening on Facebook.  You might have noticed just browsing online that some of the most annoying but nevertheless persistent online ads are the ones that say things like “click here to get your free reward at Kmart.”  Those types of ads with prompted click-throughs are yet again, according to “The Associated Press” today leading to GetHealthReformRight.org.

Just fill out the survey and presto change-o, you‘ve not just been made to think that you‘re one step—not only just been made to think that you‘re one step closer to your reward at Kmart, you are also a virtual opponent of health reform.

The insurance industry coalition that is behind

GetHealthReformRight.org tells the “Associated Press” that they are surprised by how these ads work.  They say that they have not knowingly had anything to do with this.

The “A.P.” reports today that this may also be happening on the pro-health reform side by the American Medical Association‘s Patient‘s Action Network.  We call the AMA for comment on that today, they told us this was not something they bought and paid for.  They said, quote, “The AMA has strict guidelines that prohibit providing incentives of any kind in exchange for someone taking action such as sending a letter to Congress.”

As members of Congress try to get health reform done by Christmas, coming up soon, they‘re, of course, trying to take the temperature of the public about all of these various issues up for debate.  How much of what they‘re actually hearing from constituents is real and how much is the result of these online read the fine print borderline scams—we do not know.

The health insurance coalition for its part says it has sent Congress nearly 2 million anti-health reform letters and e-mails just since the summer.  That works out to roughly 4,600 e-mails and letters for every single member in Congress and senator.  Two million letters and emails, and nobody can say how many of those were from people who just thought they were getting coupons to Kmart or who no longer wanted to be a lowly street thug in “Mafia Wars.”

Joining us now is Dan Porter.  He is CEO of the online gaming Web site, OMGPOP.  He‘s been sort of the whistle-blower on this latest fake grassroots health reform scandal.

Dan, thanks very much for coming on the show.

DAN PORTER, CEO, OMGPOP:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  First of all, how were you able to figure out what was going on here?  How did you spot it?

PORTER:  Well, a lot of these people approach me as they do any of the game-makers and they say, “I can help you make money from your audience.” And for the audience that doesn‘t want to pay with a credit card, they, as you mentioned, have their attention and their time and their personal information they want to sell.  There‘s always people looking to take advantage of that.

And before I use any of these on my site, I try them out myself.  So, I tried this one out myself, I clicked through endless things, and finally, I found one that said, “Do you want to get health reform right?”  And I thought, sure, who doesn‘t want to get health reform right?  And I‘ll click that and then I‘ll get my so-called rewards.

But when I started to look at the fine print and take the URL and type it in and do some more research, it seemed a little more nefarious to me.  And the more I kind of researched around, the deeper I found them kind of embedded into all of these different spammy, scammy type of things.  As such, I kind of started talking about it.

MADDOW:  Well, in the—in the reporting that has followed, you‘re spotting this.  No one‘s owned up to actually arranging this.  Nobody‘s owned up to being the person who connected this coalition to these consumers and certainly the coalition is not owning up to wanting to do this at all.

Is it possible that this is happening without their knowledge?

PORTER:  I think it‘s possible—it‘s only possible in the sense that you‘re the coalition and you pay some middleman to go out and get you e-mails.  You might pay a penny an e-mail, and you say, “Look, I don‘t need to know exactly how it happens,” but they didn‘t go to Madison Avenue middleman to kind of buy upfront TV and banner ads.  They went to kind of one of the underbelly of the Web type middleman and that person put it all over the place, and all that person did was take their penny or two per e-mail and share it along the path with everybody else.

MADDOW:  You‘re saying that there are—forgive the phrase—unskeevy ways to approach this—essentially the same group of people.  Unskeevy ways to approach people who might have the same incentives driving them online or might be interested in the same things online, but it wouldn‘t be through some shady middleman that nobody can identify and everybody disowns?

PORTER:  Yes, I mean, if they just said, “Hey, who wants to send a letter to their congressman?”  Nobody would click through.  So, they‘ve got a kind of bribe you with this Kmart and bribe with this other type of stuff in the games, and people want stuff, so they do it.

MADDOW:  If you were the health insurance industry and you had this goal of sending a ton of letters to Congress, 2 million letters and e-mails they said generated to Congress, how would you do it online?

PORTER:  Well, I mean, if you think about it, if I paid a penny per each of those, that‘s, you know, 20 grand for 2 million, that‘s all not bad.  I could probably send 10 million in the same type of way because there are infinite number of people online who want some things, who will do anything that doesn‘t involve a credit card to get it.

So, for that, it was actually probably pretty cheap, I‘m guessing, a penny, even at two pennies, it was pretty cheap.  And you just kind of proliferate and search results and e-mail and all those types of things.

MADDOW:  Provided that you don‘t care about: A, your reputation, B, being accountable for what you do, or, C, making sure that the communications you are providing to Congress actually have anything to do with the wishes of the people who are sending those wishes.

PORTER:  Exactly.  And, you know, the health insurance companies and the people who lobby this, they don‘t really care probably or understand how all of this stuff works online.  They just know they‘re going to get a lot of e-mails.

MADDOW:  I care.  And you do, too.

And thank you for blowing the whistle on it and for talking us through it tonight, Dan.  I really appreciate it.

PORTER:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  Dan Porter is the CEO of a company called OMGPOP.

OK.  Yet another conservative American politician has found late-breaking courage to speak out against the “kill the gays” bill abroad, in which a number of American politicians and activists are implicated.  It is just happening late tonight.  We‘ll have the details for you on that in just a moment.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Roughly 57 weeks after John McCain got clobbered by Barack Obama in the last presidential election, the most interesting criminology question in all of Washington is still “Who‘s the leader of the Republican Party?”  Is it Dick Cheney?  Is it Michael Steele?  Is it Sarah Palin?  John Boehner maybe?  That lady with the weird-looking tea bag hat?

Who is the standard bearer of the post-George Bush, post-John McCain Republican Party?  How about John McCain?

We have been seeing a lot more of Senator McCain recently.  And now, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has proclaimed to Politico.com that John McCain, quote, “is now the de facto leader of the Republican Party.”

Take this with a grain of salt since Lindsey Graham has been patched (ph) to John McCain‘s john for a few years now.  But after a year and a month of collective Republican Party soul-searching, John McCain does appear to be the party‘s choice, at least for now.  Senator McCain is taking the lead on his party‘s opposition to health reform, for example.

To that end, he introduced the first Republican amendment on health reform.  It would have shipped the whole bill back to committee and stripped out all of the provisions designed to slow the growth of Medicare costs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I will eagerly look forward to hearing from the authors of this legislation as to how they can possibly achieve half a trillion dollars in cuts without impacting existing Medicare programs negatively, and eventually lead to rationing of health care in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Stirring stuff from the man who campaigned on a $1.3 trillion Medicare and Medicaid cut just last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know what the deal was, but we‘ll find out what the deal was, just like the deals were cut.

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA:  If the senator will yield, I can tell the senator what the deal was.

MCCAIN:  . which is full of lobbyists.  I can‘t walk through the hallway here without bumping into one of their lobbyists.

BAUCUS:  Does the senator want to hear the deal?

MCCAIN:  And if the senator keeps interrupting, he is violating the rules of the Senate.  I thought he would have learned them by now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So says the man whose presidential campaign was run by so many lobbyists.  The straight talk express could have been sponsored by Gucci loafers.

Senator McCain has also taken a lead for his party on opposing global warming legislation.  In the Senate, the global warming bill is basically tripartisan.  It‘s been written by Democrat John Kerry, independent Joe Lieberman, and Republican Lindsey Graham.

According to Senator McCain, quote, “Their start has been horrendous. 

Obviously, they‘re going nowhere.”

Now, decrying cap-and-trade legislation calling it cap-and-tax, for example, this is fairly mainstream Republican position, but it is a really difficult position for Senator John McCain—because John McCain himself advocated a cap-and-trade plan when he ran for president last year.  And he co-sponsored climate change legislation three times during the Bush years.

Senator McCain is the GOP‘s latest solution to the leadership problem that seems to have befuddled the party all yearlong.  That said, he is also probably the single most awkward choice they could made on health care, on the issue of lobbyists, on climate change, on most of the big political issues the party‘s facing right now.

Joining us now is Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.

Chris, thanks very much for your time tonight.

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW:  As a Democratic strategist, give me Democratic pluses and minuses to John McCain as the new de facto leader of the Republican Party.

KOFINIS:  Well, the pluses are, from the Democratic perspective, you have a 72-year-old Republican senator who ran for president, lost by seven points.  He‘s clearly conservative.  It clearly changed in a lot of dramatic ways from the maverick that was, you know, pretty beloved by a lot of Americans, including a lot of Democrats.  So, I mean, the pluses are he‘s probably just a terrible spokesperson for the party if they want to go in a new direction.

In terms of the minuses, he has a lot of gravitas, a lot of credibility with the media.  He‘s able to get a lot of attention as we know.  So, he‘s a powerful voice.  But unfortunately, that voice is really kind of, I think—I would say out of touch with where a lot of voters are today.

MADDOW:  In terms of talking about his age, him being 72 now, do you raise that because it‘s unlikely that he would be mounting another campaign for president at the age of 76? 

KOFINIS:  Well, you know, I raise it in - not to be cute about it.  But you know, we‘re operating, I think, in a different realm.  Part of that is, you know, with President Obama, he‘s fresh.  He‘s charismatic.  He‘s new and that was part of, I think, the attraction the American voters had to him. 

And so the Republicans, in order to compete with that, I think need to find, if you will, their Obama.  They clearly don‘t have that.  They have anything but.  So going back to the future, if you will, to appeal to John McCain as somehow being your leader doesn‘t really give you the ability to appeal to the moderate voters, those independent voters that are critical. 

So it‘s not a good selection, but it kind of gives you an idea, I think, of where the Republican Party is today. 

MADDOW:  See, I sort of feel that that might be a plus in terms of, at least, the way the Republican Party is looking at John McCain right now.  I think they‘re trying to convince the country that Barack Obama was an out-of-the-box choice and that he‘s turned out to be bad for the country, as the case they‘re always making. 

And so, essentially, the Republican Party‘s message right now is, get back in the box.  Get back in the box.  Let‘s go with something that is traditional that is familiar, that maybe is even something that we have seen before.  Let‘s go with last year‘s model.  There‘s been too much new done in this country with all of its connotations about everything about Barack Obama. 

KOFINIS:  Well, you know, the last year‘s model lost by seven points and brought us Sarah Palin.  So not necessarily a lot of good pluses there.  You know, I think the Republican strategy - I think you‘re right about that.  That is their kind of strategy. 

The problem with that is I think it misreads where the electorate is.  I‘m not saying that everything is hunky-dory.  There‘s not a lot of questions and concerns about, you know, the Democrats and what we‘re doing right now. 

But the Republican strategy, basically, is to go out there and say, “We‘re all wrong,” and basically ignore the fact that their eight years that they controlled the White House as well as the six years they controlled the Congress put us in a position that forced this administration to do some pretty dramatic and significant things. 

So they don‘t have that policy vision, that leadership that I think will attract voters.  They may win some seats.  There‘s no question about that.  But in terms of reshaping their party and redirecting the party, I just don‘t see how they do with John McCain at the helm. 

MADDOW:  Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist, giving up part of his Friday night to be with us.  Chris, thanks very much for joining us.  I really appreciate it. 

KOFINIS:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Just ahead, our coverage continues of American conservatives who midwifed a proposed law overseas that would execute people for being gay.  Another senator who is a reported member of The Family has finally been moved to say something about the law besides, “I‘m too busy to comment on it.”  That is breaking and that‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead, five young American men caught while allegedly planning to fight against American troops in Afghanistan.  Police release details of how these young men tried to evade FBI surveillance using Yahoo Mail while they were planning their trip to Pakistan.  It is a weird low-tech versus high-tech story about terrorism.  That is coming up.

But first, we begin with some breaking news on a story that we have been covering all week, the anti-homosexuality bill of 2009, calls for a sentence of life in prison and even potentially execution for being gay.  This law is being considered in the nation of Uganda. 

This bill has been big news in the United States because of its many connections to conservative American politicians and activists, politicians like Iowa Republican senator Chuck Grassley who is reported to be a member of the secretive religious organization known has The Family. 

The Family famous for operating the C Street house in Washington and known for being proudly interventionists in religion and politics in Uganda. 

Earlier this week, the largest gay rights group in the state of Iowa issued a petition calling on Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley to denounce the legislation, specifically because of his ties to The Family.  Sen.  Grassley did not.  He said he was busy, and he said besides, he doesn‘t know anything about this bill. 

He also denied having anything to do with The Family.  But about an hour ago, the senator reversed his position on the bill.  This statement was just sent over from the senator‘s office, quote, “My commitment to traditional values, including how marriage is defined and - including how marriage is defined and respect for life, holds true in the United States and around the world.  After being asked about legislation being considered in the Ugandan parliament, I contacted the U.S. State Department to get information.” 

“I did not have any knowledge of the proposal from any source beyond the news reporters who asked about it and the few constituents who contacted me.  Based on what I‘ve been able to learn about the legislation and from this standpoint that I‘m a born again Christian, I can tell you that I don‘t agree with this un-Christian and unjust proposal.  And I hope the Ugandan officials dismiss it.”

Which brings us to a teachable moment in how to do more than hope on this issue, brought to you by Sen. Russ Feingold.  Now, as we have been reporting, the kill-the-gays bill, now pending in Uganda, has many connections to conservative politicians and anti-gay activists in the U.S. 

Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is not one of those people.  He is way not one of those people.  He has never been accused of having ties to The Family of C Street and meddling in Ugandan politics fame, nor has he ever been accused of having ties to Pastor Rick Warren‘s Ugandan affairs or to the sad, ex-gay quackery industry that has sold Ugandan politicians on the idea that gay people don‘t really have to be gay if they don‘t want to be. 

Sen. Feingold has nothing to do with any of those things.  Still, unprompted, he released this statement on the subject today, quote, “I share the outrage of many political, religious, and civic leaders in Uganda and around the world about the anti-homosexuality bill before the Ugandan parliament.  If enacted, this inhumane bill would sanction new levels of violence against people in Uganda, based solely on their gender or sexual orientation.” 

“Its passage would hurt the close working relationship between our two countries, especially in the fight against HIV and aids.  Over the last month, I‘ve conveyed these concerns to the State Department and directly to the President Museveni, and I urge Uganda‘s leaders to reject this bill.”

Wow.  Other American politicians who are actually caught up in this human rights disaster might want to take notes here.  Number one, Sen.  Feingold doesn‘t seem to have encouraged this other country‘s extremism in the first place. 

Number two, he subtly reminds Uganda in this statement that they get a ton of money from us and them killing their gay citizens might put some of that close-working relationship they have with us at risk. 

And most importantly, Sen. Feingold says he has conveyed his concerns to the president of Uganda, not just, say, to THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. 

Sen. Coburn, just saying, the name of the man you need to talk is President Museveni.  I know you have his number.  If you really do feel strongly about this, tell him.  He‘s the one who can actually do something about it.  Don‘t just tell me.  OK?  OK. 

And finally, there once was a mayor of Providence, Rhode Island named Buddy Cianci.  Buddy Cianci resigned from his first term as mayor after he assaulted a man with a number of objects including a lit cigarette and a fireplace log. 

The people of Providence then elected him to a second term which ended with him being convicted of racketeering and sentenced to five years in federal prison.  In the news in politics world, covering Buddy Cianci has always been a colorful exercise. 

However, the single, least important but most amazing thing about covering the life and times of Buddy Cianci for me was always the name of his wife.  Buddy Cianci was married to a woman named Nancy Ann.  Here name Nancy Ann Cianci.  Nancy Ann Cianci - the single, most awesome name in all of the names tangentially related to American political scandal ever.  Nancy Ann Cianci. 

Today, in the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW news meeting, we had that Nancy Ann Cianci moment in news names with a name that had been previously unknown to most of our staff.  He‘s the former president of Cyprus, specifically he was the former president of the southern part of Cyprus - that‘s the Greek part, not the Turkish part. 

And this man is in the news today because someone stole his corpse.  The former president died of lung cancer a year ago this week.  And today, someone snuck into the place where he was buried, dug him up, stole him, and then sprayed something on his headstone that obscured his name and date of birth. 

No one knows who has done this bizarre and awful thing or why they have done it.  The former president‘s name is Tassos Papadopoulos, which has nothing to do with Providence, Rhode Island, but like the name of the wife of Buddy Cianci, it‘s a name I have now said out loud so many times to myself in practicing to do this news story that I will never forget it.  Tassos Papadopoulos, Nancy Ann Cianci. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Pity the modern Ponzi schemer.  It used to be that if you were accused of running a billion dollar financial fraud, you‘d be front page news, right?  Maybe not above the fold, but you‘d grab a few headlines at the very least. 

Not any more.  One year ago today, Bernie Madoff‘s $65 billion Ponzi scheme collapsed.  He was arrested.  Thousands of people around the world discovered their investment, life savings, and in some cases, their entire personal assets, were gone. 

And in the year since the Madoff arrest, the Securities and Exchange Commission seems to have woken up to the threat of Ponzi schemes.  They‘ve filed charges in more than 55 cases since Madoff - 55 of them.  How many of those 55 have we heard of? 

Well, there‘s Mark Drier, sentenced to 20 years in prison for his Ponzi scheme, that was $400 million.  There was Thomas Petters of Minnesota.  His Ponzi scheme was $3.65 billion - billion with a B.  Or there‘s Scott Rothstein of Florida.  He‘s accused of running a four-year $1.2 billion fraud. 

Unless you have a Google alert set for white collar plus lavish lifestyle, plus Ponzi, minus Bernie, you probably have not heard of any of these knuckleheads.  Because Madoff‘s legacy wasn‘t just the crime and the ruined lives of his victims, it was raising the bar so high for front-page worthy financial crimes that rip-offs in the multiple billion dollar range just don‘t guarantee headlines any more. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Say you had a Web mail account of some kind for E-mail.  You had Yahoo Mail or G Mail, or something like that.  And say you wanted to communicate with someone online using terms or discussing subjects that you thought might catch the eye of authorities.  You wanted to keep your communications secret from those authorities. 

After what we‘ve learned in recent years about the wholesale surveillance of all sorts of electronic communications, is it possible to use a free, eminently hackable online E-mail server and still keep the content of what you‘re talking about off the radar of government agencies that surveil these things? 

Maybe it is possible.  At least, now, we have evidence that a possible terrorism recruiter and a young American who is in a ton of hot water in Pakistan right now, thought that they could talk secretly. 

They could evade FBI or other agency surveillance by using a simple trick on Yahoo Mail.  Check this out.  Police in Pakistan today released a fascinating report on these five Americans who have just been arrested in Pakistan amid accusations they were trying to join militant groups to go fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

The report says one of the men, Ahmed Mini, was a registered user on YouTube.  They said he would consistently post positive comments on videos that showed attacks on U.S. troops. 

The police report says a person named Saifullah then contacted Mr. Mini through YouTube, presumably on the basis of those anti-American comments.  After initially using YouTube itself, where he was a registered user, to communicate, they soon went kind of off the grid using Yahoo Mail. 

The police report says both men had the user name and password for the same Yahoo Mail account.  One of them would log on and write a message to the other one, he wouldn‘t send it.  Instead, he would leave it in the saved drafts folder of that account. 

Then, he‘d log off.  The other guy would log on to the same account, check the saved drafts file and voila, they had essentially a password-protected online bulletin board for talking to each other sort of by E-mail, but without ever actually sending each other an E-mail, thus staying below the radar of any surveillance technique that checked E-mail messages while they were in transit. 

Smart, right?  Low tech, low-fi, and now, busted.  The Punjab police just told the whole world that that was their trick. 

Joining us once again is a guy who spends a lot of time trolling the Internet for this sort of thing, Evan Kohlmann, NBC News terrorism analyst and the founder of “GlobalTerrorAlert.com.”  Evan, thanks for coming back to us again. 

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  These guys were only arrested a couple of days ago.  Already, we have a lot of information about their activities.  Do you think that means they are talking?  Or do you think that means they left evidence behind? 

KOHLMANN:  It sounds like there‘s a lot of evidence on their laptops.  You have to understand is that the laptop really can be a map to what exactly these folks were doing.  And what they found so far include maps to certain areas of northwestern Pakistan.  They found communications, obviously, records of YouTube transfers. 

It really is amazing, if you look at the forensics software and you dig in deep, what you‘ll find there.  And it seems to be that what they‘re looking at is exactly the pattern that we see in these types of cases, homegrown terrorism cases. 

It‘s the same pattern we saw in Atlanta.  It‘s the same pattern we‘ve seen in Toronto, in the U.K., of guys - very specific things - the maps, the links to different jihadi Web sites, jihadi videos, evidence of communications with particular groups. 

The two groups that came up here Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish Mohammad - again, it fits a disturbing pattern.  It‘s hard to see where else this might lead. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the technology here, the police report implies that this Yahoo Mail drafts folder trick was the way - the means by which these guys made their plans to get into Afghanistan from Pakistan.  Do you think that was actually a smart way to try to avoid surveillance? 

KOHLMANN:  The old drafts folder trick - it is classic.

MADDOW:  Really?

KOHLMANN:  It‘s a classic technique which is employed by these folks.  It is used time and again in almost every single case.  The only weakness to this is if you get the hard drive, sometimes there are indications, well, this person had an account on G Mail.  They had an account on Yahoo.  And then, they can kind of piece back that. 

But it‘s not so easy and it‘s smart because, if you think about

it, the information stays in one place.  It never transfers anywhere.  It

never crosses boundaries.  That‘s where the NSA looks for to try to grab

information.  So it‘s -

MADDOW:  They try to get it in transit and this stuff never moves. 

KOHLMANN:  It never goes anywhere.  It‘s very smart.  And we‘ve seen different kind of manifestations of this.  But it‘s the same idea, the idea that the communications stay in one place, very low tech, costs almost nothing.  In fact, it costs absolutely nothing and it‘s pretty much foolproof. 

MADDOW:  Does it make sense that the Punjab police would be publicizing that that‘s how these guys operated?  Or is this an open secret?  It doesn‘t matter? 

KOHLMANN:  It is a bit of an open secret.  I think, in this world, this really is - the list of how to become a homegrown terrorist cell.  This is in the top 10.  I mean, this really is very key. 

Again, it costs nothing and it works perfectly.  The disturbing thing is the idea here that an al-Qaeda recruiter or somebody calling themselves Saifullah used this technology backwards, used YouTube to find people who were sympathizers with jihadi ideas, who are big fans of jihadi videos and attempted to recruit those people to come to Pakistan saying, “Come here.  Come here.  Come here.  Join us.”  That‘s something that‘s new or relatively new.

MADDOW:  It implies throwing a very wide net.  I mean, that‘s a pretty

·         to put that out there is a pretty generic way to approach people. 

KOHLMANN:  It‘s a generational shift.  I mean, the previous generation, you‘re talking about the mosque as a recruitment point, social community centers.  Now, it‘s the Internet.  It‘s social networking.  It‘s YouTube.  This is the new recruitment model. 

MADDOW:  Evan Kohlmann, NBC News terrorist analyst and a person who indulges me in my ignorance on these matters in a way that doesn‘t make me feel dumb.  Thank you very much, Evan.  I appreciate it. 

KOHLMANN:  Thank you very much.

MADDOW:  OK.  Bets gone bad.  Magazines totally mailing it in and making excuses for it, and giving your bride the bird, literally.  The Weak in Review, the W-E-A-K, “Weak in Review.”  It‘s a particularly good one.  Coming up, next.

But first, one more thing about Pakistan and the not-that-secret secret war we‘re fighting there.  Sometime in the last week, a senior al-Qaeda leader, accused of coordinating attacks against the U.S. and Europe was reportedly killed in Pakistan by a U.S. drone. 

And while we don‘t know much more than that, we have learned in just the past few hours, one important detail about how we do drones.  The hired mercenaries, the State Department, the military and apparently the CIA came to depend on, during the Bush years, did not play a crucial operational role in this latest drone assassination. 

The Associated Press reporting tonight that CIA director Leon Panetta, this year, canceled a contract with the security firm formerly known as Blackwater, a contract that paid the company to load missiles onto American drones. 

Now, the government never acknowledged its bomb-loading contract with Blackwater, but the “New York Times” did report on it in August.  So in sum, America‘s secretive spy agency canceled its secret contract with a secretive contracting security firm that was helping us out in our secret war.  Makes you feel all warm and democracy-ish all over, doesn‘t it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Here now is my friend, Kent Jones, with a look back at the last seven days in weakness.  Hello, Kent.  What have you got? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  The stars of tonight‘s “Weak in Review,” in order of appearance, hypocrisy, sloth and a grievous lapse in taste.  Enjoy. 

MADDOW:  Exciting. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

JONES:  First up, friendly wager of the weak.  Alabama Governor Bob Riley and Florida Governor Charlie Crist made a friendly bet over last week‘s southeastern conference football championship game.  Bam a barbecue for Florida oranges. 

The Crimson Tide crushed the Gators, 32-13, so oranges it is.  However, talk radio host and blogs slammed Gov. Riley‘s wager because he‘s been pushing to close down Alabama‘s electronic bingo halls.  Awkward. 

Furiously, backpedaling, Riley‘s office says he never intended to collect the winnings and he asked Florida not to send the oranges.  Gee, thanks, governor waffle.  Roll tide?  Try, roll over tide?  Weak. 

Next, lame-a torial of the week.  Do you ever look at cover lines on magazines and think, “That‘s the same thing they ran next month?”  Well, check out the latest issue of “Men‘s Health” magazine.  It‘s the exact same thing they ran as in the October 2007 issue. 

And I‘m talking word for six-pack abbing word.  The editor claims it was deliberate, saying, quote, “It was not inadvertent, and it was part of an overall branding strategy.”  Busted!  Is there an exercise to tighten up a saggy, flabby, work ethic?  Weak. 

Finally, nuptials of the weak.  From a far corner of the Worldwide Web, here‘s a happy married couple and the ostriches they rode in on.  I just hope those bad boys are in a union and get paid double time for weddings and bar mitzvahs.  Run, put your heads in the sand.  Weak. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  I don‘t understand what I just saw.  Those are people getting married with both the bride and the groom riding ostriches. 

JONES:  Ostrich-back, if you will. 

MADDOW:  It‘s possible to ride an ostrich? 

JONES:  Evidently, yes.  I don‘t know if it‘s possible to be comfortable riding an ostrich but they‘re married. 

MADDOW:  You are the ostrich. 

JONES:  Yes, exactly. 

MADDOW:  Fair enough.  I don‘t want to see the saddle.  Thank you very much, Kent.  Appreciate it.  Thank you for watching.  That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again on Monday night.  Until then, E-mail us, rachel@msnbc.com.  Have a great weekend and have a great night.  Thanks.

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