The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/20/12
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. When I ran down to the green
room and the makeup room before starting my show and I saw Henry Winkler
standing there, I almost passed out. I went into fan mode.
ED SCHULTZ, “THE ED SHOW” HOST: When I was told that Mr. Winkler was
going to be on the program, I just went eeeh!
MADDOW: So cool. Congratulations, man. Great job. All right.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well.
OK, pop quiz, ready? What is the biggest country in the Middle East?
And I don`t mean the biggest by land area. You don`t get credit for large
swaths of territory that are uninhabited, Saudi Arabia.
No, I mean, what is the biggest nation in the Middle East by
population? It turns out it`s not at all a close call. It is Egypt, by a
More than one in five people in the whole Middle East is Egyptian. It
is not the richest country. It is not geographically right in the middle.
It is not sprawled out the farthest, or the most land area. But it is the
center of gravity for both population and the politics of that whole
Geographically, more toward the actual middle of the whole Middle East
is the nation of Israel, comparatively tiny, right? And if you want to
understand where the fighting is centered, you have to zoom in even further
to a whole different scale to even be able to see what the relevant border
is over which this fighting is happening.
Looking at it in that context, you might reasonably ask, hey, what`s
that giant border right next to this relativity tiny place that is being
fought over? That is Egypt right there. That`s the Egyptian border right
against and immediately next to this tiny strip of land where the fighting
is happening in Gaza.
And that is part of why this was such a big deal – Egypt and Israel
shaking hands. Thank you, Jimmy Carter.
The peace treaty between this hugely important country, the center of
gravity in the Middle East and the nation of Israel.
But Jimmy Carter, it turns out, is not only the only live American
historical connection to this critically-important relationship that you
see diagrammed there. The president of Egypt who in this picture is
shaking hands with the prime minister of Israel and sealing this historic
peace treaty between these two countries, this president of Egypt is Anwar
Sadat. That handshake was in March of 1979.
Two and a half years later, Anwar Sadat was assassinated. How did he
come to be assassinated? Well, a fatwa calling for the assassination came
from this guy. And this guy right now is in prison in the United States,
in a federal prison complex in North Carolina, thanks to his role in the
first bombing of the World Trade Center back in the `90s.
After this guy called for the assassination of President Sadat in
Egypt, who made that huge peace deal with Israel, after Sadat was killed,
who succeeded him? Who came after him? Who was the next president?
This guy, Hosni Mubarak, who then ran Egypt with an iron first for
nearly 30 years, and who kept that deal with Israel.
For all of the chaos and upheaval and injustice and violence and
multiple repetitive wars and endless going nowhere negotiations and
turnover and turmoil, from Anwar Sadat in 1979 through Hosni Mubarak for 30
plus years, that peace agreement between Egypt and Israel was in a region
where almost nothing seems knowable, it was a knowable thing in the Middle
The country that`s the most populous nation in the region, the center
of gravity for the whole Arab World, in a peace treaty with Israel. And
then, all of a sudden, very recently, that knowable thing for a generation,
that knowable thing about that part of the world suddenly became no longer
a knowable thing, because in February of last year, the Arab spring
revolution in Egypt ousted Hosni Mubarak from power after 30 years and
replaced him ultimately with a guy who is a whole new ball of wax.
President Mohamed Morsi comes from the Muslim Brotherhood. And
whatever that means for the future of Egypt and how it will be governed,
and the hopes and prospects for the Egyptian people, whatever that means
inside Egypt, there`s also this question of whether or not Egypt now after
30-plus years of standing for this unlikely peace with Israel is going to
continue to do that.
And, yes, you know, on the one hand, news like what we have been
hearing out of Gaza may sound like for the past week may sound like an old
record that you`re skipping and you`re back to a song you have heard
I mean, yes, when Condoleezza Rice was on her way out as secretary of
state, wasn`t she trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israelis and
Palestinians and the war in Gaza? Didn`t that just happen? Didn`t this
just happen all over again?
Yes, this did just happen. It happened in January of 2009 at the very
end of the Bush administration. But even though, at the surface level,
this sounds the same, right?
Even though this sounds the same a at distance, it is really important
that that was a different world then. That was a pre-Arab spring world.
And today, with America`s current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
jetting over to the region for a middle of the night meeting, right – it
is new and newly important and ultimately fascinating that where our
secretary of state is going to end up is in Egypt, because Egypt is right
in the middle of it, right? Egypt is at the heart of these efforts going
on right now to try to negotiate a ceasefire. That cease fire was hoped
for today, it did not happen today. But the parts are in motion.
You have seen over the last few days where Hillary Clinton has been in
the world and how quickly plans changed, right? I mean, at 11:15 p.m.
Eastern Time on Sunday, this was her with President Obama meeting with the
president of Burma.
As of 12:47 a.m. yesterday, here she was with the president at the
home of the pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.
As of 4:14 p.m. yesterday, she was boarding Air Force One with the
president headed to Cambodia.
As of midnight today, she was with the president at the East Asia
Summit in Cambodia.
But then Hillary Clinton suddenly and unexpected peeled off, leaving
Cambodia at 2:51 Eastern Time this afternoon, flying first to Israel so she
could make a middle of the night meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. This took place local time at 11:08 p.m.
in Jerusalem, when Hillary Clinton sat down with Prime Minister Benjamin
And from there, after her meeting with the Israeli prime minister, she
went to go talk to the Palestinians. But not the Palestinians in Gaza,
where the fighting was happening, because the U.S. does not talk to their
governing body, which is Hamas. The U.S. doesn`t talk to them.
So, instead, Hillary Clinton will go to a totally different
Palestinian-controlled territory that is not geographically contiguous with
where the fighting is in Gaza. She will be taking off from Israeli for the
And yes, as long as we`re talking about confusing things, yes, the
West Bank is east of the other place we`re talking about. It`s confusing.
But there it is.
So, it`s Israel first and then the Palestinian Authority. And then
where did she go after that? To be part of the international negotiations
that are happening on this ceasefire in this critical part of the world?
She`s going to Cairo, to Egypt, because everybody is counting on them.
They are indispensable.
The president is finishing his whirlwind four-day trip, not in the
Middle East but in the Far East and he has kept up his schedule of public
events and appearances there. But he`s also been doing some diplomacy
“The New York Times” reporting that the president spent last night up
until 2:30 in the morning making multiple, one-on-one direct phone calls
with the Israeli prime minister. And also, not the head of Hamas, not the
Palestinian Authority, but the president of Egypt, Egypt, which for a
generation was our steadfast ally in the region, even though it was a
creepy and repressive dictatorship.
Now that country, that center of gravity, that crucial nation in this
critical part of the world, has a whole new face and maybe a whole new
character in terms of its international responsibilities. Nobody knows if
this effort by them to broker a ceasefire is going to work.
But it seems almost as important for the region, for the world, for
us, frankly, that if a ceasefire is going to come from anywhere, it looks
like it`s going to come from there.
Joining us now live from Gaza is Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign
Richard, earlier today, we were hearing reports out of Jerusalem that
a ceasefire might be possible by tonight. That did not happen.
What did happen today? Why did those prospects change?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: I think it goes
back to what you were just talking about. The historic picture has changed
here and the two sides basically didn`t want the ceasefire. (AUDIO BREAK)
it has a very strong hand right now.
Hamas for decades really, before Hamas was Hamas, it was a Muslim
Brotherhood has (AUDIO BREAK) region. When Hamas came to power in Gaza,
President Mubarak treated it like a criminal organization.
Now, today, you had 13 Arab foreign ministers coming to Gaza visiting
the Hamas leader. And the Hamas leader Meshaal (AUDIO BREAK) has often had
to run around the world as if he was a terrorist. Now, he`s receiving all
these Arab dignitaries. The feels like he`s in a very strong (AUDIO BREAK)
The Hamas position is that there should be a ceasefire immediately and
that along with that ceasefire, there should be an open (AUDIO BREAK), what
Gazans call the closure or the siege on Gaza because – I`m glad you showed
that map earlier. You see that Gaza doesn`t have any external border.
It`s surrounded by Egypt or by Israel.
And according to various internationally brokered agreements, any
goods that come in or out of (AUDIO BREAK) are subject to very severe
restrictions and the people of Gaza can`t leave unless they are also given
the specific security agreements.
So what Hamas is asking for is immediate change of all of that status.
A lifting of the blockade making, making it possible for the people of Gaza
to export what they want, to travel as they want, and to have that coincide
at the same time as a ceasefire.
Israel doesn`t want to do that. They want to pair up the old
agreements that it says are necessary to restrict the flow of goods into
Gaza, to restrict the flow of weapons (AUDIO BREAK). Israel believes that
if you allow more products to come into Gaza, there will be more weapons
just coming in and Israel is positioned thus far (AUDO BREAK) stop firing
rockets and then to (AUDIO BREAK) with Hamas about some of these other
things like the travel restrictions or the trade restrictions.
MADDOW: Richard, we`re having a little trouble with your uplink in
terms of you jumping sort of in and out of your connection. But let me
just take a risk and ask you more question here which is about Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton arriving in the region. What are the best hopes and
expectations for what she`s going to be able to do? Do you think she`s
actually going to change anything in terms of the balance of power and how
this is likely to be resolved?
ENGEL: It depends if she can convince the Egyptians to convince
Hamas. (AUDIO BREAK) feels confident because the Arab spring has given it
a new batch of friends. If Hillary Clinton can pressure Hamas and (AUDIO
BREAK) can be persuaded by Mohamed Morsi, her chances are pretty good.
If she cannot, then I think this will (AUDIO BREAK) another round of
fighting, potentially even a ground war. I don`t think Israel wants a
ground war. I don`t think Hamas would mind a ground war. (AUDIO BREAK) a
much more bloody (AUDIO BREAK) would get involved.
Not the Egyptian government, the Egyptian people (AUDIO BREAK) would
start streaming in here. The Arab media that was so influential in
bringing down Arab dictatorships here would go into a state of (AUDIO
BREAK) that would benefit Hamas.
So I think it really depends on how much influence Hillary Clinton can
have over Morsi and how much influence Morsi can have over (AUDIO BREAK)
because even though this area here is being pounded militarily and there
was the heaviest airstrikes tonight that we have seen thus far, Hamas feels
MADDOW: Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent, live from
Gaza – Richard, thank you. Thank you for staying up in the middle of the
night. Stay safe tonight, man. Thank you.
You know, thinking about the leverage here that the American
government has, we all judge our diplomacy of our own government based on
what outcome they are able to achieve. But in a case like this in
particular, the thing that we can do is apply pressure, American pressure
to a lever. And help that lever affect the situation on the ground.
And the lever we can apply here is Egypt. And, boy, has Egypt changed
a lot in the past year and knowing what that relationship is going to be
like between us and them and the rest of the world is one of the great
unknowns in the question of world peace. It`s an uncertain time.
All right. Having rather drastically failed to understand some
important publicly-available data in the run up to the election, one of the
most famous of the Mitt Romney`s going to win in a landslide people has
decided now to turn to new data – data about a problem that does not
exist. The process of publicly failing up continues in even more dramatic
fashion. That story is next.
MADDOW: Welcome to post-election 2012 America where the two terms:
“discredited” and “disqualified” are totally unrelated. That`s next.
MADDOW: OK. Things people are saying about the election that are not
true, but it makes them feel better to say it any way.
Round one, the man who came in second place for vice president this
year is named Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan, go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Surprise was some of the turnout –
some of the turnout in, especially in urban areas, which definitely gave
President Obama the big margin to win this race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama won reelection because of high turnout in
urban areas. That`s what Paul Ryan says presumably because it makes him
feel good to think that`s must be what happened.
Now, the provisional ballots are being counted around the country.
Here`s what we know. NBC News reporting that in the swing states,
President Obama did as well as Democrats usually do in urban areas. So he
did well there, but pretty much par for the course.
If you look at the eight swing states the president won, President
Obama did only marginally better in some of them. In two states, he
actually did worse. Florida was the only state where there was a
significant increase. That`s it, just Florida – a state the president
didn`t even have to win in order to win the election.
So Paul Ryan`s theory about why and how he and Mitt Romney lost, the
surprise, unprecedented urban turnout that might make him feel better about
what happened, but it doesn`t explain why it happened. That thesis is not
OK. Now it`s time for round two. Things people are saying about the
election but it makes them feel better to say it any way.
Round two: Mitt Romney in 2012 versus John McCain in 2008. Among
liberals who are happy that Mitt Romney lost and among conservatives who
are trying to, nah, nah, I told you so about the reasons Mitt Romney lost,
there`s been a fair amount of bipartisan anti-Mitt Romney glee over the
idea that Mr. Romney received even fewer votes for president than John
McCain did back in 2008.
It turns out that is not true. It may have looked like that on
election night or on the day after the election. But millions of votes
aren`t counted right after the election. It takes days and even weeks
after the election until you get all the vote in.
And the fact is that President Obama did beat both of these candidates
pretty easily. Neither was a close election. But Mr. Romney was closer.
And Mr. Romney was closer and Mr. Romney did beat Mr. McCain in terms of
the absolute number of ballots cast, which is either exciting or just
population growth, depending on your perspective.
But if somebody tells you that John McCain got more votes than Mitt
Romney, no matter why they`re telling that to you, that is not true.
OK. Last one, same game round three. Things people are saying about
the election that aren`t true, but it makes them feel better to say it any
way. This guy is named Dean Chambers. Mr. Chambers now ran the now
famous, for all the wrong reasons, Web site Unskewed Polls.
That Web site became famous during the campaign for being hilariously
but very self-confidently wrong about polling in the presidential race,
Unskewed Polls said that everybody else`s polling assumptions were wrong.
And if you fix those assumptions, you would see just how much of a
landslide Mitt Romney was going to win the election by.
Unskewed Polls said Mitt Romney wins Florida by four points. Mr.
Romney wins New Hampshire by two. Mr. Romney wins Iowa by more than three
points. It`s going to be a Romney blowout in Virginia. He`s up by six.
Mr. Romney did not win Florida or New Hampshire or Iowa or Virginia.
He didn`t win any of those states, let alone by Mr. Unskew predicted. And
so, Unskewed Polls quickly became a new measurements of wrong, right?
I mean, there are the American political standard for wrong now. And
when you search for wrong in the iStockphoto catalog, this is the top
search result. Wrong.
This guy is just a punch line, right? Knock, know, who`s there?
Wrong. Wrong, who? UnskewedPolls.com.
Who says there are no second acts, right, because now instead of
disappearing into a shame hole of critical self-assessment,
UnskewedPolls.com has relaunched itself. Ladies and gentlemen and others,
the folks who brought you the wrongness now present Barack O`Fraudo.
Their new website about voter fraud and how President Obama secretly
stole the election in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Virginia and Florida. See
those are the states that are marked in black on the map. The Unskewed
Polls people know that President Obama stole them using voter fraud or
See, it`s the states that are black, wink, wink – they were stolen,
wink. Voter fraud. I would try to explain how they say the president
supposed stole that states with voter fraud, but I don`t speak crazy.
Telling yourself things about politics to make yourself feel good
feels good. I understand why people are tempted to do this, but it doesn`t
mean we shouldn`t contrast those happy tales that make us feel good with
the facts of what actually happened, so we can learn from them.
Hold on. There`s more of that coming.
MADDOW: We have a special public service announcement coming up on
tonight`s show. It`s specifically for people of money. So we`ll try to
give you a second to call all the Rockefellers you know gather around the
TV. Special public announcement, that`s coming up.
MADDOW: We have some late, late, late election news today from
Florida, when two weeks after the election, Florida Congressman Allen West
finally conceded today to his Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy after a
recount effort put him further behind and not closer.
Also from Florida tonight, news that a surprising number of voters in
that state in this year`s election got forced into a voting in a sort of
iffy way. An unprecedented number of Florida voters were forced this year
to use a provisional ballot – ballots that sometimes don`t get counted at
all. If they do, it`s at the very end after everything else is done.
This year, in one Florida county, they had 20 times as many people as
normal forced to use that kind of sketchy ballot. In Duval County in
Florida, they have 1,500 more of those ballots use this year than they did
in the last presidential elections.
The reason so many Floridians were forced into voting with a ballot
that might not count is because Florida Republicans changed the rules for
this election in a way that meant more people would be forced to vote that
way. Florida Republicans essentially broke their state`s own election
system on purpose.
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters saying, quote, “It was like
putting gum in the engine of the voting process.”
You know, elections in Florida had been getting better. The state had
expanded some early voting and upgraded their equipment – but before this
particular election, Florida Republicans changed the rules. They shortened
early voting, they made it harder to register. They made it so that once
you were registered, it was harder to stay properly registered.
And so, voting in Florida got harder with people waiting in lines for
more than eight hours to vote, and then those thousands of shaky
provisional ballots. And that happened because it has received Republican
wisdom that the more people who vote and get their vote counted, the better
that election will go for Democrats.
But this year apparently, voting didn`t get hard enough in Florida.
The turnout did not go down far enough. The Democrats won the state and
the Democrats won the country in terms of the presidency.
And so, now, after the election, Republicans around the country are
trying even harder to change more of the rules.
In Ohio, where Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted had argued all
year long for rules that would make it harder to vote and Ohio voters
stayed in the long, long, long lines that resulted and Barack Obama won
Ohio and another term in the White House, now in Ohio, that same Republican
secretary of state says that Ohio should change the rules to divide up the
state`s electoral votes by congressional district.
That would mean that Ohio wouldn`t be winner take all anymore. So, a
Republican candidate could get Electoral College votes out of Ohio.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JON HUSTED (R), OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: It would not be a winner-
take-all state and you would not have another elections controversy about
Ohio because we wouldn`t matter as much anymore.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ohio leading the way forward by trying to not matter as much
anymore. Then, hey, who cares whether your citizens can vote in a
reasonable amount of time if your state doesn`t matter as much anymore.
Let them stand in line all freaking day.
Republicans in another state won by Barack Obama this year want to
change the rules in that state, too. Before the election this year,
Wisconsin Republicans tried to require photo ID in order to vote. They
failed at that. Then President Obama won Wisconsin and another term in the
And now, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, wants to
try to change the rules again. This time to make it so you can no longer
register to vote on Election Day, even though Wisconsin has had that system
since 1976 and seems to be working just fine.
Why does Governor Walker want to make that particular change in
Wisconsin`s rules? Why does he want to get rid of same-day voter
It turns out that in this last election, almost one in five voters in
bright blue Milwaukee registered and voted on the same day.
Milwaukee had 87 percent voter turnout, which should be a good thing,
right? Something to be proud of, unless you see that as a problem in your
Also registering and voting on the same day was popular during the
Wisconsin recall elections this past year, quote, “on or near Milwaukee`s
college campuses.” So that`s popular with college kids, who so happen not
to like Republican candidates that much. So, now, Scott Walker says that
voting and registering has to go. That particular rule must be changed.
You guys, Republicans – Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin – all of you, don`t
you find this embarrassing? I mean if the only way you think you can win
an election is to make it logistically more difficult for people who
support Democrats to cast their votes or to make Democratic leaning states
just count less towards who gets elected president, then you really are not
competing in our democracy. You are competing against our democracy.
How about competing on the merits? Democrats have ideas, Republicans
have ideas. Let`s air them out and let the voters pick – all the voters,
unless you are too chicken to try that again.
Joining us now is E.J. Dionne, columnist for “The Washington Post” and
E.J., thank you for being here. I feel guilty just looking at you
having just said the word chicken. You are so much more civil than that.
E.J. DIONNE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It`s good to be with you. By the
way, thank you for your great piece on Rockaway last night.
DIONNE: And thanks to Brian Williams who did a great piece tonight.
I have a lot of family there. They are in a mess there, but they are
fighting back. And your piece was inspiring, I think, to a lot of people.
MADDOW: Oh, that is very nice of you to say. You know, we were happy
to get that on the air. We have a producer on the show named Laura
Conaway. He`s been out there doing a lot of on-the-ground work and
reporting, and being able to put that on the air made me happy to have a TV
DIONNE: Bless her, too.
E.J., when we last talked about voting rights and election reform
right after the election, I was the optimistic one saying that we could –
we could stop trying to partisan skew the voting process. You were a
little more pessimistic about it.
Does this news out of Wisconsin and Ohio and these places mean that
you were right and I was wrong to be optimistic?
DIONNE: I`m always in favor of optimism and hope. But I think what`s
really remarkable here is Republicans are saying, well, we tried to rig the
election with the voter suppression laws and what they might have done, and
at least some Republicans are saying that – is maybe we should broaden our
appeal to win the next time. But these guys said, we just didn`t rig it
And what`s remarkable, you look at what Husted wants to do in Ohio, he
wants gerrymandered House districts to determine where the vote goes. So
Obama would have carried the state and Romney would have gotten 12 of 18
electoral votes. That doesn`t make any sense.
In Wisconsin, Governor Walker said he was all concerned that this was
unfair to poll workers that they had to re register voters. Now, since
these are, as far as I can tell, the only public employees for whom he`s
expressed sympathy, that can`t be the reason they are doing this.
And I just think that – I hope this is a passing thing and that there
are other forces in the Republican Party saying, no, we need a more
fundamental rethink. I mean, they only need to shift about four votes in a
hundred. You`d think they would have the confidence to win a fair election
by converting just four people out of every 100 people.
MADDOW: We have seen a sort of new normal or maybe a new attempt at a
center in Republican politics on a bunch of different issues since this
election. Obviously, comprehensive immigration reform is now something
that they are willing to talk about. Some of the issues like, for example,
talking about rape exceptions in abortion, it seems to be something that
they are willing to change their minds about what counts as a normal
Republican position on that subject.
Is it possible that the idea of restricting access to the polls and
making it harder to vote could end up being something that`s simply too
embarrassing to hold on to? What has happened to cause sort of a partisan
rethink about that?
DIONNE: Well, I would like to think there are some people in the
party who are rethinking. And I think David Frum (INAUDIBLE) conservative
said this. I think the ice is breaking a little bit in the Republican
Party and people are allowing themselves to descend.
And you`d like to say, OK, you know, we lost nonwhite voters. We got
20 percent of their votes. We can do better than that.
But the fact that these guys in Ohio and Wisconsin just want to go
back to the same old thing – only more so, I think it`s very depressing.
I mean, maybe soon they`ll just say, let`s go back to requiring people to
own property to vote. Or maybe since corporations are people, we`ll give
corporations a vote for every dollar of revenue. That would settle it for
I mean, this is really strange. I just hope these other forces in the
party say to these guys, this is not the way we go forward.
MADDOW: That`s right. And when people are talking now, both on the
right, I think and in the center and on the left, about sort of the bench
moving up in Republican politics, and these bright new things, the bright
future of the party being among those governors and stuff, you can`t look
at a guy like Scott Walker who is taking this as the lesson of this
election and say he`s part of the future of the party. I just think this
has become a disqualifying prejudice at this point. At least that`s how I
E.J. Dionne, “Washington Post” columnist and MSNBC contributor –
E.J., thank you. It`s great to have you here.
DIONNE: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: All right. One of the first pieces of advice I got about
going on television was never do math live on TV. It is good advice? It
turns out it should also apply to newspaper articles about paranoid rich
people. Do not do math live in the middle of your journalism because
sometimes it goes very, very wrong. That story is next.
MADDOW: In March 2009, about six weeks after Barack Obama was sworn
into office, ABC News discovered a bit of a freak out happening under the
radar across the country. This was how they headlined their article
describing said freak out. “Upper income taxpayers look for ways to
sidestep Obama tax hike plan.”
President Obama had just won the presidency after promising that he
would end the budget-busting George W. Bush tax cuts for the wealthy,
especially for income over a quarter million dollars a year.
And ABC News found after the election that at least some of the people
in this country making over $250,000 a year were just freaking out about
that. Quote, “A 63-year-old attorney based in Lafayette, Louisiana, who
asked not to be named, told ABCNews.com that she plans to cut back on her
business to get her annual income under the $250,000 mark should the Obama
tax plan be passed by Congress and become law. Quote, `We are going to try
to make our income $249,999,` she said.”
This is nuts, right? I mean, the idea here is ridiculous. If I could
lower my income to just under $250,000, I will avoid the tax hike. I will
purposely make less money so I don`t fall into the tax hike category.
This is nuts, right? I mean, this is a fundamental misunderstanding.
This is like that old joke about the three guys sitting about the one
thing they would take with them to survive if they knew they were going to
be trapped in the desert. The first guy says, “Well, I would bring a
compass so I could find my way out.” The second guy says, “I would bring
as much water I can carry so I could survive as long as I could.”
And the third guy says, “I would bring a car door.” “Why would you
bring a car door with you?” the other guy is asking. The guy says, “Well,
then, I could roll down the window in case I got hot.”
This is like finding a car door guy, not in a joke that I learned from
neighbor when I was 8, but rather in real life. I mean, right after
President Obama was inaugurated, ABC News found these people in real life.
I mean, you making $250,000 a year, instead of $249,000 a year will not
make your taxes go up on every dollar that you make.
Your tax rate is exactly the same for all of the money you make up to
a quarter mil. It`s only the money you make on top of that that gets taxed
at a slightly higher rate, at the rate from the Clinton administration.
That`s it. Everything else stays the same.
Reducing your income below $250,000 literally does nothing to your
overall tax liability. It`s like dragging a quarter panel of an Oldsmobile
through the desert just in case you get hot. It does not make any sense.
But ABC wrote that up, wrote up that phenomenon of people behaving
that idiotically with absolutely no critical commentary whatsoever, as if
what those people were doing made any sense. As if this was a reasonable
reengineering of your income to get around the reach of Uncle Sam.
It was total bullpuckey, and ABC got called out for it back in 2009,
and it was embarrassing for them and they had to update their story to
account for the fact that they happened to be reporting on something that
people were doing that was a ridiculous thing, something that did not make
That was right after President Obama got sworn in in 2009. Now in
2012, it is happening again.
Check out this blaring headline from “The New York Times” yesterday.
Investors rush to beat threat of higher taxes. Just like ABC did three
years ago, “The New York Times” found their own examples of taxpayers
lugging their car doors through the desert in case they get hot.
Quote, “A chiropractor in McLean, Virginia, said she and her husband
planned to closely monitor the business income from their joint practice to
avoid crossing the income threshold for higher taxes outlined by President
Obama on earnings above $250,000 for couples. The chiropractor says she
felt torn by being near the cutoff line. `If we`re really close and it`s
near the end year, maybe we`ll close down for awhile and go on vacation,`
Seriously? This is mathematical insanity. And you know, maybe “The
New York Times” thinks it is hilarious, right? Maybe they decided to put
this poor chiropractor who`s name they use in the piece. Maybe they
decided to put her for up for national public ridicule while just assuming
that everybody gets that what she`s talking about doing is nuts or maybe
“The New York Times” is doing exactly what ABC did after the last time we
went through this debate three years ago.
In which case, come on, “New York Times”, you`re supposed to be the
paper of record. It`s fine to report when people are doing something –
with their money, but you`re supposed to report that it is – thing to do,
that what they are doing is based on a misunderstanding of math and what a
marginal tax rate is.
Listen, this is not that hard a thing. Here`s how it goes. You don`t
even need a white board, you don`t need a calculator or anything. It`s
kind of simple.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re saying nobody`s
income taxes go up on the first $250,000 of their income. So, even
somebody who makes more than $250,000 is still getting a tax break on their
first $250,000. You understand?
Even somebody who is worth $200 million, that first $250,000, they are
still paying lower taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, in politics it`s true. This tax fight sometimes
gets shorthanded as raising taxes on rich people. But your first quarter
of a million dollars of income will be taxed the same as it is now. It
stays the same. No additional taxes. No matter how much more money you
make beyond that threshold.
You may pay a higher rate over $250,000, but purposely reducing your
income to a dollar, is hilarious. It is a hilarious misunderstanding of
this very serious debate. So consider this a public service announcement
to people of means, or if you prefer, to moneyed Americans – if somebody
tries to reduce you to reducing your income on purpose to $249,999.99, if
somebody tries to talk you into doing that, they are teasing you. It is a
hoax to tease you for not understanding math and how taxes work.
If you`re not a person of money but you know such a person fallen into
this trap, it is, of course, your choice to leave them floundering in their
own ignorance for your amusement while they purposely reduce their income
to no rational effect. Or you can do the right thing and help them
understand how marginal tax rates work.
Class warfare really is just a metaphor. Somebody needs to tell “The
New York Times” to stop teasing the rich people this way. Stop being so
mean. Just explain how this works.
MADDOW: A few months after President Obama was first inaugurated in
2009, the president recorded a message to the people of Iran on the
occasion of the Iranian New Year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take
its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right, but
it comes with real responsibilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As remarkable as that message was, something specific about
what he just did right there ended up becoming really important. The
president used that specific name for that country, called it the Islamist
Republic of Iran. And that`s a big deal because that`s the name the
Islamic leadership of that country wants to be called. That`s the full
name they chose for their country after the revolution in the late `70s.
Most people still just call them Iran, but they want to be called the
Islamic Republic of Iran. And in that New Year`s message, right after he
was inaugurated, President Obama did so.
The principle at work here was essentially, listen, we`ll call you
whatever you want to be called. You want to take offense at the way we
spell out the name of your country, OK, let`s just take it off the table.
I will call you what you want to be called, because I`m willing to engage
in whatever diplomatic niceties that have no consequences for us, but from
your perspective, that might get us closer to talking to each other. I`m
willing to take away stylistic excuses you have because that will keep us
from talking to each other because I believe we really need to talk.
That was March 2009 that President Obama did that. Then this week, a
different country but same deal. For the first time ever this week,
President Obama used this word, Myanmar. It is hard to pronounce, Myanmar.
This word has only been officially used since 1989 when the military
junta that was running Burma decided it wouldn`t be called Burma anymore.
They changed the name from Burma to Myanmar.
The military dictatorship not only changed the name of the whole
country, they also renamed the capital city of Rangoon. They said it would
now be called Yangon, instead of Rangoon. And they moved the capital any
way. They said, Rangoon isn`t going to be our capital anymore. We`re
going to build a new one from scratch and they hacked a new capital city
out of nothing, way inland, in the middle of the country, starting in 2006.
If this sounds a little crazy, it is because it`s a little craze,
which happens in isolated regimes, even more than it happens in normal
countries. But that is why when you read news stories about President
Obama making the first trip by a U.S. president to that country ever,
sometimes you see a reference to Burma and sometimes you see a reference as
And even though everybody thinks of the ancient city of Rangoon as the
capital of Burma, technically now, it`s placed called Naypyidaw. But
President Obama didn`t go there. He went to Rangoon.
The last time news about Burma coming on to the world attention was
back in `07 when there was mass protest in the streets. It`s secretly
recorded and put on the Internet and then broadcast all over the world.
The country`s Buddhist monks marching into the streets to protest the
violence against its own people. We all remember those images then, right,
in their saffron-colored robes in the streets of Rangoon. It`s why people
now refer to those demonstrations as the Saffron Revolution.
There`s been a long and dedicated opposition movement in Burma against
the military dictatorship there. In the face of that opposition has for
decades been a woman named Aung San Suu Kyi. She spent the last 25 years
pushing for democratic reform in her country. The dictatorship responded
by keeping her under house arrest for essentially the last quarter century.
Just a few years ago, the only way an American could visit Aung San
Suu Kyi was to do what the crazy missionary did, remember when he swam
across a lake to get to her house and then he got arrested and boot the out
of the country and got her in more trouble with the government in the
That history of isolation and repression is why it was such a big
moment when this week, the gates of Aung San Suu Kyi`s house, the place
that has served as her prison, when those gates swung open yesterday to
receive the presidential limousine and his motorcade, all rolling on to the
grounds of her home, and she hosted President Obama and Secretary of State
Burma has undergone dramatic change very quickly just in the past
year. Aung San Suu Kyi is now a member of parliament in a country that is
emerging from this authoritarian dystopia into a more open and normal
country. It`s starting to. It`s just starting to. And that it is – that
was why it was such a big deal for the sitting U.S. president to go there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Over the last several decades, our two countries became
strangers. But today, I can tell you that we always remain hopeful about
the people of this country, about you. You gave us hope and we bore
witness to your courage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s President Obama speaking on the first ever visit of a
U.S. president to Burma, speaking at Yangon University. And this is how
President Obama was greeted in the streets. People lining the streets to
see him waving American flags and chanting his name.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also visited
the Shwedagon pagoda, which is a secret Buddhist site, where they walked
barefoot, which is a custom for anybody visiting this 2,500-year-old
shrine. This was a sacred and serious moment at that site. Also for us
watching this footage, it`s not something that you see every day, the
president`s feet, right?
President Obama is the first American president to visit this country.
His presence there is a symbol of just how far that country has come in
recent months after decades of not. But when Aung San Suu Kyi had a chance
to address the world with President Obama standing by her side, she made
just a brief statement. And in her brief statement she chose to issue a
warning of sorts about how far her country has yet to go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AUNG SAN SUU KYI, BURMA`S PRO-DEMOCRACY LEADER: I`d like to say how
happy I am to receive President Obama in my country and in my house. The
friendship between our two countries is of long standing. The United
States has been staunch in its support of the democracy movement in Burma
and we`re confident that this support will continue through the difficult
years that lie ahead. I say difficult because the most difficult time in
any transition is when we think that success is in sight. Then we have to
be very careful that we are not veered by a mirage of success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There`s a long way to go internally for Burma. But there`s
also a long way to go in terms of the way that Burma relates to other
countries and relates to the world.
As the president set off on this trip, a deputy national security
adviser for the Obama administration told the press on Air Force One that
the U.S. is changing the structure of some of its aid to Burma. And with
that change and with this historic presidential visit, the White House says
Burma is reducing its military relationship with North Korea.
And if you`re looking for hope in a world where the worst things never
seem to get better, I might offer that it could be a source of hope that
there`s starting to be one less country in the world that sees freaking
North Korea as its lifeline to the world, right? That`s not the direction
that this country is looking anymore. You can see the direction they are
That seems like progress. And progress sometimes happens in concrete
ways. In ways that you can see when presidents are willing to go places
that presidents have never gone before.
All right. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you tomorrow
Now, it is time for “THE LAST WORD”, which is hosted by the great and
good Ezra Klein.
Good evening, Mr. Klein.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: Good evening, Rachel. How are you?
MADDOW: I`m spectacular. I`m moved by the images of the president.
But I`m going to hand it over to you with great energy so as not to bum you
KLEIN: Thank you very much.
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