The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/24/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Barney Frank is
with us in a minute.
In 1985, a group called the Parents Music Resource Center, they tried
to get Congress to essentially come up with a labeling and/or censorship
program for popular American music. We`re having a bit of a moral panic at
the time about kids these days and their degenerate music.
So this parents group which was spearheaded by a bipartisan bunch
including Tipper Gore and James baker`s wife, Susan Baker, they formed this
group and went after the music industry. There were these amazing
congressional hearings in the `80s on this issue. Where everybody from
John Denver, God bless him, to Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, turned out at
these congressional hearings to talk about whether music really is
pornography without the pictures and whether it should be treated as such.
Frank Zappa, the great Frank Zappa, testified in Congress against the
labeling proposal in 1985. He called it an ill-conceived piece of nonsense
which fails to deliver benefits to children and infringes on the civil
liberties of people who are not children. He was very articulate in making
his case. Zappa was actually kind of the hit of those hearings.
Particularly because of this amazing exchange with a Florida senator named
Paula Hawkins. Behold.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAIRMAN: Senator Hawkins.
SEN. PAULA HAWKINS (R), FLORIDA: You say you have four children?
FRANK ZAPPA: Yes.
HAWKINS: Pardon me?
ZAPPA: Four children.
HAWKINS: Four children. Have you ever purchased toys for those
ZAPPA: No, my wife does.
HAWKINS: Well, I might tell you that if you were to go in a toy
store which is very educational for fathers, by the way, it`s not a
maternal responsibility to buy toys for children, that you may look on the
box and the box says, this is suitable for 5 to 7 years of age, or 8 to 15,
or 15 and above, to give you some guidance for a toy for child. Do you
object to that?
ZAPPA: In a way, I do. Because that means that somebody in an
office someplace is making the decision about how smart my child is.
HAWKINS: I`d be interested to see what toys your kid`s ever had.
ZAPPA: Why would you be interested?
HAWKINS: Just as a point of interest in this –
ZAPPA: Come on over to the house. I`ll show them to you. Really.
HAWKINS: I might do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don`t think she ever did that. The greatest thing,
though, is that was kind of the end of it and the next witness was John
Denver. 1985. Where`d you go?
And now, actually when you watch that specific C-Span clip on
YouTube, it auto populates with an ad where you can click to buy Frank
Zappa`s “Porn Wars Deluxe.” Somebody will look back on 2014 and be very
excited about that the way I`m excited about 1985 when I look back at Paula
Paula Hawkins, the senator sparring there with Frank Zappa, remains
to this day the only woman ever elected to the United States senate from
the great state of Florida. Elected in 1980. She just served for one
term. She was Republican. Sadly, she passed away in 2009.
But in terms of her short and historic Senate career, Paula Hawkins
is remembered for obviously not really wanting to go over to Frank Zappa`s
house to see what Dweezil and Moon Unit were playing with, but she`s also
remembered for the record she still holds today in the United States
In February 1985, it was Florida Senator Paula Hawkins who was given
the honor of reading to the United States Senate George Washington`s
farewell address. One senator gets tapped to do that every year in the
Senate, and when Paula Hawkins got her turn in 1985, she read that address
to the Senate faster than anyone else had ever read it in the whole history
of reading that speech out loud.
When George Washington left office, when he decided to not seek a
third term as president, he wrote his farewell address to the nation. This
is the original. And he never intended it to be read out loud. He wrote
it as a document that would be read by the eye, not spoken by the voice.
He had it published in a Philadelphia newspaper called the “Daily American
Advertiser.” They published in it other papers after that.
It`s a great work of American statesmanship. It`s beautiful in its
own way, but it`s really dense. It`s really dense. It`s written to be
It is nearly 8,000 words long. If you do read it out loud, it takes
at least 45 minutes to read.
In 1962, the Senate historian says one West Virginia senator who was
reading it to the senate that year actually took well over an hour to read
it out loud.
But when Paula Hawkins did it, she broke the record. Paula Hawkins
holds the record for the fastest reading of that speech in Senate history.
Paula Hawkins read that thing in 39 minutes and nobody else has ever done a
more mathematically efficient reading of George Washington`s farewell
address to the nation to Congress ever.
George Washington wrote that speech in 1796. They started the
tradition of reading it out loud in Congress in the middle of the Civil
War, interestingly, 1862. Because, yes, that speech is really dense and
it`s 8,000 words and takes an hour to read it out loud unless you`re Paula
But it`s also a really beautiful plea for the Union. For how
important it is that the United States stay together as a country.
And so, in the middle of the Civil War in 1862, there was a citizen
petition out of Philadelphia asking Congress to please read that speech
aloud to one another. Please read it out loud in a joint session of
Congress in what would have been Washington`s 130th birthday that year.
So, they read it in 1862 during the Civil War. And then they decided
to read it again on the centennial of ratifying the Constitution. Then by
1896, Congress decided that they were going to do this every single year in
order of the United States Senate now.
And today, the honor fell to Maine Senator Angus King.
And honestly, it`s kind of sad, but nowadays, not very many people
show up for this annual tradition in the senate when somebody reads George
Washington`s farewell address but they do it anyway every year to honor our
first president and try to make his words from the farewell address sink
Senator Angus King of Maine is an independent, which is particularly
nice for this occasion because George Washington`s farewell address is
where he famously warns about the baneful effects of political parties.
Washington says in his farewell address that political parties
enfeeble the public administration and agitate the community with ill
founded jealousies and false alarms, kindling the animosity of one part
against another. Hear, hear, right?
Because of the sort of tirade against political parties, it is
particularly nice to have an independent United States senator reading
George Washington`s farewell address.
But George Washington`s farewell address is also particularly apt for
this day in this setting and for today`s news, because Mr. Washington`s
farewell address is also where he warns against the imperative need to
avoid an overgrown military.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: – “avoid the necessity of those
overgrown military establishments which under any form of government are
inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly
hostile to Republican liberty.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Angus King of Maine reading from George Washington`s
farewell address in the Senate today. Part where George Washington warns
that hopefully us sticking together as a country will make us feel secure
enough, physically secure enough that we don`t burden ourselves with an
overgrown military establishment, since maintaining an overgrown military
establishment he says is inauspicious to liberty.
Well, today in Washington, at the Pentagon, our nation`s 24th defense
secretary, himself, a wounded combat veteran from the Vietnam War,
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced today the first post-Afghanistan
budget for the U.S. military. The first budget to reflect what we think we
want for our military establishment in this country after the end of
America`s longest war ever which is still going on right now but is set to
wind down this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: As we end our combat mission in
Afghanistan, this will be the first budget to fully reflect the transition
DOD is making for after 13 years of war, the longest conflict in our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The question of what happens to our military after a war
ends is the question that has changed a lot over time. The Founding
Fathers fought over whether the United States should even have a standing
army of any kind, or whether we should call up civilians to fight in the
event of a war, but not before.
Ahead of World War I, the U.S. did have an active duty force of
nearly 300,000 men. So under 300,000 people before World War I. During
World War I, the size of our forced swelled to more than 4 million. But
then once World War I was over, we drew down. We went right back down to
In World War II, we called up triple the number from World War I.
The size of the U.S. military swelled up to 12 million people by 1945, 83
percent of the federal budget was being spent on the military by the end of
World War II.
But then, of course, when World War II was over, the size of the
force shrunk back down again. But look at this – look at this chart about
the size of the military over time. On this, we sort of marked the various
war eras here so you can see what was going on over time.
But look at what happens at the end of our wars over the last 70
years or so. This is kind of like looking at the symptoms chart of a
patient who`s getting inoculated over time because of repeated exposure to
the same bug. You just don`t get the same reaction they used to, sort of
getting used to this war phenomenon.
Early on, there`s these big spikes in the size of the force when wars
start and big drop-offs thereafter. But as time goes on, the drawdown
after each war gets less and less dramatic, the baseline peacetime number
just sort of stays where it is. And eventually, by the time we get to the
war that we`re still in right now, they don`t really build up the overall
size of the force all that much to fight these big, long new wars.
We fought the longest war in U.S. history. We are currently still
fighting the longest war in U.S. history. And alongside it, we thought
another one of the longest wars in U.S. history simultaneously.
And look at the overall size of the military, we kept the overall
size of the active duty military – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force,
full-time guard and reserve. We kept it basically flat while we fought
this giant extended wars, which frankly is the defining nature of the
relationship between us civilians and the troops and military families who
have suffered through our generation`s wars over these past 13 years.
I mean, for the first time in U.S. history, they`ve really fought
those wars alone without the rest of the country kicking in. There was no
mobilization of the population to sign up and fight those wars the way
there was for earlier wars. There was no draft. We kept the military the
same size it had been overall, we just expected the people in it to do one,
two, four, six, 10 tours of duty.
And that is not the way we have done big wars in the past. These
long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fought by less than 1 percent of the
population, as a country we have never waged wars exactly that way before.
And now, today, was the first day where the military said how they
want to stop waging those wars. And what they want for the size of the
force and how much should be spent on it.
And to be clear, the fact that we didn`t upsize for the wars after
9/11 doesn`t mean we didn`t upsize what we were paying.
This is from CNBC from the last year, for which we have comparative
data, from 2012. On the right there, that solid block is our military
spending. On the left, that`s the military spending of China and Russia
and Great Britain, also Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, India
and Brazil. Those are the ten largest defense budgets in the world after
ours. And ours is bigger than all of them combined.
So it`s not like we`re starting from a position of weakness here.
Just during the time of George W. Bush was president, we more than doubled
what we spend on the military.
But today, Pentagon proposed cutting that budget. Sort of. By law,
the size of the military and the military budget are both scheduled to
shrink over the next few years and by sort of a lot.
Congress already voted the Army should shrink from 522,000 soldiers
to 420,000. Congress already voted that the Marine Corps should shrink
from 190,000 marines to 175,000. That`s already law. Congress voted for
that. It`s scheduled to go into effect if nothing else happens. That`s
the sequester they voted for.
What the military proposed today was reinstating some troops, holding
on to 20,000, 30,000 more than Congress voted to give them. They want
7,000 more Marines than Congress voted to give them.
Money wise, it`s the same deal. The military wants less of a cut.
They want to add another $26 billion to their budget for next year. They
want to add over $100 billion to the year after that. Over and above what
Congress voted to give them when they voted for the sequester.
Now, this got headlined today at the Pentagon proposing huge new cuts
to the military. What actually happened today is the Pentagon fighting
Congress so they don`t get cut so much.
When Congress voted for the sequester, they were voting for something
that no one thought they would ever go through with. It was supposed to
impossible for the U.S. to cut defense spending alongside cuts of food
stamps and education and all the other things Congress is usually much
happier to cut. It has become unimaginable to us that defense spending
would really be cut significantly.
And so now, today specifically, now, we are in this upside-down world
where a proposed drawdown after the longest wars in U.S. history is being
greeted today both as a surprise and as kind of the end of the world. Even
after the end of the longest wars in U.S. history. The idea of a drawdown
is somehow totally alien to us.
And the fight by the military to reinstate their budget after it was
cut by a Congress that maybe didn`t really understand that that`s what they
were doing, that fight that started today is a fight where both the
military and the Congress now are fighting each other for the right to
raise the defense budget. Both sides of the fight want more spending on
That`s the fight that we`re about to have in Washington. That`s the
two sides that were set up today. You want to cut defense, well, I want to
spend more on defense. Oh, yes, no, I want to spend more on defense,
you`re the one who wants to cut it.
That`s the fight we`re now about to have in Washington. And the
question of whether there really will be ever a drawdown again, after an
American war, that remains a question that is only discussed well outside
of polite company.
Joining us now is Barney Frank, former Democratic congressman of
Massachusetts, a longtime advocate for reducing American spending on the
Mr. Chairman, it`s good to have you back on the show. Thank you for
BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Thank you, Rachel. I
always enjoy this.
MADDOW: What do you make of the Pentagon`s proposal today? Did you
see significant cuts?
FRANK: Well, I`m a little bit more – yes, it`s in this context. I
agree, Chuck Hagel wants to spend more than we need, if you take the
deficit problems seriously.
On the other hand, it`s a lot less than defense secretaries have
pushed for in the past. So, the time may have overrode it a little bit.
I`m encouraged to have him talk about getting rid of some weapons systems
and reducing the military.
The biggest issue here is that he does seem to me as I read be
agreeing at this notion of American intervention with significant military
force in various parts of the world basically for geopolitical influence as
opposed to a national defense, is a bad idea. I think it`s a good thing
that he wants to reduce the military to a point where we wouldn`t be able
to do some of these things.
Now, we need to continue to push for this. And what I`m afraid of is
that members of Congress are going to not only go on with him in the cuts
but that they`ll want to do even more.
So, yes, he`s talking about more than we need to spend, can afford to
spend, should wisely spend, but having the secretary of defense on the we
can do less than we`ve been doing side is a good idea. And the sequester
we know is a little unrealistic. You know, it was put in there to threaten
– I think it`s a good thing that – even though I voted against it because
I didn`t think it was a wise way to make cuts.
And I – I think the key point, though, is this. He`s done us a
favor by raising the visibility of this. Everybody in America who wants to
see the deficit reduced without cutting environmental protection, or local
police, or aid to education, or food stamps, or housing for the elderly, or
Social Security, literally everybody who believes any of this ought to jump
in here and say, you know, Mr. Secretary, you`re moving somewhat in the
right direction but not far enough.
I think this is the opportunity for the American people to say what I
think they want to say, we`ve been overspending on the military, we`ve been
over-intervening elsewhere in the world to our disadvantage, and let`s
bring some of that money back into the domestic economy where it can do
MADDOW: The thing that strikes me as – the thing that strikes me as
strange about these developments today is because there is the sequester,
which is deeper cuts than Secretary Hagel was talking about today, what
he`s arguing for is actually increases in the defense budget compared to
sequester. Congress doesn`t seem ready to get rid of the sequester. So,
both sides of this fight are blaming the other for being too reckless and
cutting defense too much and they`re both arguing that defense ought to
have more. I`m worried that we just started a process that looks like it`s
starting with cuts but really it`s all about people competing to add as
much as they can to the budget.
FRANK: Again, I would say the see sequester baseline was never
really realistic. And I think – what I`m afraid of is Congress will
outbid the secretary unless the American people step in and say, no, you
don`t intervene to protect the national guard size.
And, you know, I think that`s, by the way, what you talked about
before about not increasing the size of the overall military before the
wars. I think part of that was a much greater use of the National Guard
overseas. There was a much greater deployment of the National Guard in
foreign wars, in some cases leaving them inadequately staffed to do some of
the things they`re supposed to do at home in times of disasters.
But I – the key point, though, I think is this. Hagel is talking
about reducing the military from where it now is. And that`s the first
time I can remember secretary of defense doing that in a long time. So, I
would – I would take it at that and say, OK, yes, I`m glad you recognize
that we are way overstaffed and are spending way too much, but let`s go and
follow the logic of this.
And that`s why I said within the context that we`ve had, Hagel at
this point, the first secretary of defense in a long time under Democrats
or Republicans, they`re talking about reducing the military budget he
inherited and I`d like to work with that.
MADDOW: Yes. And, see, having this be day one of the debate, I
think it`s a fascinating place to start. I honestly have no idea where it
Former Democratic Congressman –
FRANK: But the American people can influence this. They don`t want
to see everything we do to promote the quality of life at home, devastated
in – on the deficit reduction, they have to say, you know what, this
reduction in military that Hagel is talking about at the current level is a
good start, but it`s only a start. That we can go a lot further and still
be very safe.
MADDOW: Former Democratic congressman of Massachusetts, Barney
Frank. Thank you for your time tonight, sir. It`s great to see you.
FRANK: All right. If you`re a longtime watcher of our show, thank
you. Also, you may remember a story we covered a lot which we called the
kill the gays bill. It`s a story about a law in a faraway place. But the
really surprising thing was that it was American activists who were behind
that bill from the start. Well, that story has just become a very big
deal, including the president weighing in on it. It`s still a story that
is very much about the American political right.
Stay with us. That story is coming up.
MADDOW: There`s some suspense in the state of Arizona right now. As
some Republicans appear to have being second thoughts about whether or not
Arizona wants to be the first state in the country with the law in the
books that tells businesses it is OK to declare yourself a straight people
only establishment. Not only in terms of who you hire, but whom you serve
at your business.
The Arizona legislature on Thursday passed a bill that would allow
any Arizona business basically to say they only serve straight people
because of the religious beliefs of the business owners. Three of the
Republican senators who voted for that bill just a few days ago apparently
were in a daze when they cast their votes because they now regret it.
These three Republicans including one who was a guest tonight on the Chris
Hayes show, these three Republicans say they wish they had not voted for
the anti-gay bill and they`ve all sent a letter to Governor Jan Brewer of
Arizona asking her today to veto it.
Arizona also has two Republican U.S. senators, both of whom have also
now weighed in and said that they hope the governor vetoes the bill.
Arizona Chamber of Commerce also weighing in saying they, too, hope Jan
Brewer vetoes the bill because Arizona probably cannot stand yet another
nationwide boycott of their state for being a pariah on civil rights
Governor Jan Brewer has until Saturday to make her decision about
what to do on this bill. If she does sign it, the state`s economy would
probably have to endure something similar to the treatment Arizona got back
in the 90s when it became nationally notorious for rejecting the federal
Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. That`s how Arizona lost Super Bowl in
1993. That was all familiar to the state by 2010 when they became
nationally famous, again, this time for the state`s anti-immigrant “papers
Even with the “papers please” law now half gone thanks to a ruling by
the U.S. Supreme Court, Arizona and specifically the state government of
Jan Brewer in Arizona, they`re still a major priority and a major focal
point for immigration activists. Like, for example, the immigration reform
group, United We Dream who held their annual national congress in Phoenix
bringing more than 500 immigration advocates there to strategize and lay
the groundwork for actions this coming here.
On the occasion of that big confab of immigration activists, this
weekend, the “Arizona Republic” did some reporting on the prospects for any
movement on the immigration reform nationally. The paper quoting the
number two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer saying the House Democrats`
idea for a discharge petition to get a vote on immigration reform even if
John Boehner doesn`t want it.
Steny Hoyer, telling the paper basically that probably won`t work but
it`s a way for Democrats to keep the pressure on Republicans on this issue.
Not so fast, though, because it`s not just Democrats in Washington
pressuring Republicans in Washington on this issue. It`s not just members
of Congress pressuring each other. There`s also a big movement here, a big
and under-covered and very energized movement for immigration rights. And
they`re still very, very fired up and very, very ready to go.
This is them in Phoenix this weekend. Again, more than 500 people
marching through the capital to the local detention facility demanding an
end to deportations.
This was them in Tacoma outside Seattle this morning. Protesters
chained together. Their arms are to those big sleeves. They`re chained
together inside the PVC piping sitting in the poring rain blocking
entrances at a local detention center calling for an end to deportations.
This was them last week outside the Eloy detention Center in Arizona.
This was them last week praying and getting arrested in front of the White
House. A number of faith leaders getting arrested.
Today, another immigration reform group kicked off a bus tour
targeting individual members of the House of Representatives. In a way
that shows they are just not taking no for an answer.
The way the discharge position works is this: you get a majority of
members of the House to sign on, then it doesn`t matter that the speaker
doesn`t want to vote on it. It gets voted on anyway.
If the Democrats could marshal every one of their votes for
immigration reform, which it seems like they probably would be able to
given the way that Nancy Pelosi has been able to whip her caucus on all
these important votes, if they could get all the Democrats, the Democrats
would need 17 Republicans to be willing to side with them on this issue,
then they could get a vote on immigration reform using this discharge
position as a way of getting around House Speaker John Boehner.
They need to find 17 Republicans who are willing to take the
political hit themselves, to endure the anger from the Republican base,
right? The definition of that kind of House Republican right now, frankly,
is a House Republican who`s leaving, who`s retiring, who doesn`t have to
worry about a primary or running for office again. If you only have to
endure until November, right, maybe you can do it?
On the first list of offices and districts where we know these
activists are going on this bus tour where they`re going to be targeting
individual House members to try to flip Republican congressmen on this
issue, six of the Republican members of Congress they have picked to visit
in the next few weeks, specifically are Republicans who are retiring,
Republicans who are leaving the House. You guys could cast this vote and
never worry about how it`s going to affect next run for office.
Part of figuring out if this could happen, or if anything could
happen, is figuring out how it works inside Washington. What Washington
pressure groups are involved, what the parties think, what the president
thinks. How different legislative groups are strategizing on this issue.
But that`s not all of politics. Politics also happens on the street.
And in front of buses trying to leave deportation centers and in Jan
Brewer`s way as she`s trying to get to the Arizona state capitol.
The immigration movement is in a very small sense a beltway
phenomenon. Are there enough places where they can put enough pressure on
the ground, on the street around the country where they can make this
happen even though the Beltway thinks it can`t?
Watch this space.
MADDOW: This is the world famous Coney Island hotdog eating contest.
It`s very famous. It`s on national television every year. It`s also sort
of gross. Competitive speed gluttony in Brooklyn, New York, USA, every
Fourth of July. Diet Coke with that, sir?
Now imagine that the competitors in this contest were such prolific
hotdog eaters that during the contest, the contest ran out of hot dogs.
Got that idea in your mind? Hotdog eating contest has to end because the
contestants ate all the hot dogs. No more hot dogs can be found. There
are no more around so we can`t keep competing.
It turns out that happened, except it wasn`t with hot dogs and it
wasn`t at all disgusting. In fact, it was amazing and it was on film and
it was the best new thing in the world. And that story is coming up
tonight. It`s a really, really good one right at the end of the show.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: In the winter of 2009, five years ago today, actually, a
small blog in this country got a very big international scoop. It was
February 2009, so that`s just one month into the Barack Obama presidency,
And while most people in this country were fixated on the freefalling
global economy, and whether the new president and newly elected Democrats
would be able to arrest that freefall and bring us back from the brink of
depression, three activists here in the United States were making
preparations for big overseas trip. The blog in question which is called
the Box Turtle Bulletin, they got advanced word about this trip.
And five years ago today, they posted this blog item. What they
reported that day was that three American evangelical activists had been
invited to attend a three-day conference in Uganda in March, that March
2009. The conference was being organized by a Ugandan anti-gay group and
these three American activists were scheduled to appear and speak at that
Now, it was unclear at the time what that conference was going to be
all about exactly. But in March of that year as expected, these three
American evangelical activists traveled to Uganda and they spoke at that
conference and participated in a number of follow-up meetings which
reportedly included members of the Ugandan parliament.
Eventually, some undercover video recordings of the conference came
out and it became clear what exactly these American activists were up to
over there. They were there it turns out to give this Ugandan group an
American anti-gay perspective on the evils of homosexuality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say gays are born that way and it`s been
proved, it`s been proven they`re born that way. That is a lie. That`s
what`s called a lie. It is not true. There is no definitive scientific
study that has ever proved that homosexuality is innate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: These activists traveled to Africa and urged the Ugandans
they met with including legislators to show, quote, “zero tolerance for
homosexuality.” They presented this quack evidence of how dangerous gay
people are. They presented themselves as scientific experts on the
subject. They claimed people can be cured of being gay and then they came
That trip to Uganda, again, took place in March 2009. Seven months
later this bill appeared in the Ugandan parliament, the anti-homosexuality
bill of 2009, otherwise known as “kill the gays” bill. The bill called
first for a sentence of life in prison just for being gay. It called for a
sentence of death by hanging for the crime of being gay and being HIV
positive. You could be sentenced for three years in prison for knowing
somebody was gay and not reporting them to the government.
The “kill the gays” bill landed with a thud on the world stage and
almost as soon as it did, the American activists who had been in Uganda
earlier that year urging zero tolerance for homosexuality were claiming,
they were shocked by this legislation. They had nothing to do with it and
opposed at least the capital punishment part of what was called for in the
We did lots of reporting on this at the time and we learned that even
though these American activists were trying desperately to distance
themselves from the kill the gays bill when it came out, prominent Ugandans
who were aware of how the bill came to be were crediting the same Americans
for helping with and inspiring the legislation.
One prominent Ugandan priest who we spoke with said that members of
the Ugandan parliament who were present at the March conference left the
meetings saying they need to draft a new law to deal with the homosexuality
We also learned it was not just the three American activists who had
a front-row seat to what was happening in Uganda. Remember C Street?
C Street is a swanky town house in Washington, D.C., run by a
secretive religious group called The Fellowship or The Family. Lots of
conservative members of Congress from both parties are believed to be
members of The Family.
But they`re pretty secretive. The Family mostly operates off the
radar. The one thing they do that everybody knows about is they run the
National Prayer Breakfast every year in Washington. Other than that, they
pretty much keep things as quiet as they can.
That group, that American religious group it turns out has ties to
the specific Ugandan legislator who introduced the anti-homosexuality bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The man who introduced the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda is
a member of the Family, yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. A young member of parliament, David Bahati,
rising star who has been over to the United States for our National Prayer
Breakfast and has taken something of an organizing role in the Ugandan
national prayer breakfast and has been involved with The Family for some
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, the legislator in Uganda who introduced the “kill the
gays” bill had ties to the religious group and American anti-gay
evangelical activists had been actively lobbying legislators in the country
that they needed to get tough on homosexuality in their society. Both of
them, though, both C Street and the activists, swore they had nothing to do
with the kill the gays bill.
Well, the bill in Uganda died after a wave of international outrage
and condemnation. That 2009 bill was put on the shelf. It did not go away
At the end of last year in December, the parliament in Uganda quietly
took up the bill again. A revised version of the bill that doesn`t include
the sentence of death for being gay this time but it does include lots of
the other prison sentences that attracted so much international outrage
The Ugandan parliament passed this bill in December and then earlier
today, earlier this afternoon, Uganda`s president signed the bill into law,
just like that. It calls for lifetime imprisonment for the crime of
aggravated homosexuality, lifetime imprisonment for being in a same-sex
marriage, seven years in prison for attempting to commit homosexuality, up
to seven years in prison for promoting homosexuality.
This bill at various times over the last few years has appeared to be
dead but today, it officially became the law of the land in Uganda. Upon
signing the bill, Uganda`s president announced that homosexual behavior,
quote, “was learned and could be unlearned” – which is after all something
Ugandan legislators have been told for years. Five years, in fact.
Hold on. There`s more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOWERI MUSEVENI, UGANDAN PRESIDENT: For somebody to be a homosexual
is a combination of some genetic but mainly external factors, like
influence and so on and so forth. We don`t want anybody to interfere in
our internal affairs. Finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the president of Uganda earlier today signing into
law an updated version of that country`s “kill the gays” bill. This
version does not call for homosexuality to be punishable by death but
rather by lifetime imprisonment. So that`s a nice improvement.
After Uganda`s president signed that bill into law today, the U.S.
government plans to review our nation`s relationship with Uganda, including
a review of foreign aid to that country.
Joining us now for the interview is Jeff Sharlet, who`s been
reporting on the Ugandan bill and American evangelicals` role in it for
many years. He`s a contributing editor for “Harper`s” and a fellow at the
His latest article is called “Inside the Iron Closet”. It`s about
underground homosexuality in Russia. It`s in the February edition of “GQ.”
Jeff, Mr. Sharlet, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.
JEFF SHARLET, NATION INSTITUTE: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Last month, President Museveni in Uganda was calling this
bill fascist. But now, he`s signing it into law. What happened?
SHARLET: It was an incredible act of sort of political jujitsu. He
had been cornered by political rival who knew that it was difficult for him
to sign the bill because he risked the loss of foreign aid, especially U.S.
foreign aid. We give over $400 million.
And I think he read the U.S. right. He realized that we weren`t
going to actually take the money away, and that he only stood to gain from
this bill as a political posture. So, what the bill last month he called a
fascist bill, today became the first platform of his 2016 re-election
MADDOW: Wow. When you say that the U.S. is definitely not going to
take away that foreign aid money, even though the government put out a
statement today saying they would review it, we also saw President Obama
put out a statement in advance of the bill saying he hoped the president
wouldn`t sign it, but obviously he did.
What do you make about the statements of objection and the pressure
from the U.S. government here?
SHARLET: You know, a lot of human rights organizations are calling
it empty rhetoric but I don`t think it`s quite right. I think it`s a
rhetoric that`s filled with calculation and posturing. It sounds good. We
get to talk about human rights at home.
But what the president of Uganda has discovered, like the homophobic
demagogues around the world, have realized that homophobia is a kind of no-
cost posture they can take against the United States. The United States
will denounce it, but time and time again, we have shown reluctance to act
I hope I`m wrong. I hope – I hope they will act on it. But it`s a
little bit too late now. The time when they could have done that was much
Just last month, Senator Jim Inhofe led a delegation of U.S.
congressmen there, and Senator Inhofe, a member of The Family, a hero of
the author of the bill, did not see fit to even mention it in his official
conversation with President Museveni.
MADDOW: Jeff, did it end up being important in the development of
this law especially as it ended up getting closer to getting signed here?
Did it end up being an important factor that there were American activists
involved in the genesis of this bill as you reported at the time?
SHARLET: You know, in Uganda the American activists have kind of
dropped away. It`s interesting. The bill sort of moved like a hot potato.
And that`s what`s sort of really alarming is that this bill that began with
some fringe American activists, then moved into, you know, more mainstream
American politicians and their relationships with Ugandan politicians, it
has now been taken up by Museveni. So, it`s moved from sort of the Tea
Party of Uganda to become the mainstream of Uganda.
And I think when you talk to Ugandans about homosexuality there`s an
idea that you here again and again, which is that homosexuality is a
disease that comes from America. But they`re quick to say but the cure
comes from America, too. They see the cure in the form of these sort of
right-wing ideas that they adopt whole cloth from American right-wing think
tanks, American right-wing evangelical organizations.
MADDOW: Jeff, do you see parallels in the type of American activism
that led to this in Uganda and what`s happened in Russia? We know that
some of the anti-gay legislation in Russia, the propaganda law, for
example, was also influenced in part by American anti-gay groups including
the National Organization for Marriage going over there and encouraging
them and offering expert advice.
Do you see similarities?
SHARLET: Yes. I`m just back from Russia. And what was astonishing,
I`ve now reported on this firsthand in Uganda, Kenya, Russia, and the
United States. And I hear word for word the exact same language. Speaking
with Russian right-wing activists who`ve been instrumental in the passage
of those laws, who didn`t speak English except for a couple phrases –
traditional values, family values, and they would tell me, they said the
science upon which we are basing these laws comes from the American Family
Association, the Family Research Council, the very same places that David
Bahati turned to for the so-called science that supports the Uganda law.
MADDOW: Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor for “Harper`s” and is a
Nation Institute fellow joining us from Dartmouth University tonight –
Jeff, thank you for helping us understand this. I appreciate it. Thanks.
SHARLET: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Coming up, we`ve got the best new thing in the
world, and it`s about time.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: I`m standing. Weird, right?
Best new thing in the world today is killer bees. The country was
plagued with killer bees this weekend, particularly in Malta, Illinois.
This is 13-year-old Matthew Rogers and 14-year-old Keith Mokry (ph).
They seem pretty harmless, right? Except for the fact they`re killer
bees. They totally killed the De Kalb County spelling bee this weekend.
They were the last remaining survivors of a spelling bee that went 74
But these two were the only two on stage for 66 of those rounds.
They were spelling words like zeitgeber. Zeitgeber, which is an
environmental agent or event that provides the stimulus setting or
resetting a biological clock of an organism. Zeitgeber.
Let us spell it together. Z-E-I-T-G-E-B-E-R. Zeitgeber? Yes, they
nailed that one.
Also Tchotchke, a noun I say all the time but I have no idea how to
spell. It means of course knickknack or trinket. Tchotchke. T-C-H-O-T-C-
Matthew and Keith are spelling these words like it was their job for
hours until finally the judges were like, enough, we`ve gone on for more
than 70 rounds.
They scheduled a new spell off between just those two boys in another
couple of weeks. The winner of that mini spelling bee is going to win an
all expenses paid trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington,
D.C. in May.
But here`s where it gets even weirder than that. Because while this
was going on at the same time the word Tchotchke was helping another kid
take down another spelling bee, this one in Kansas City, Missouri, where
11-year-old Sophia Hoffman and her 13-year-old nemesis Kush Sharma blew
through 47 rounds head to head just the two of them in the Jackson County,
Missouri spelling bee.
They went through so many rounds that the pronouncer and the judges
ran out of words. They ran out of the approved words provided by Scripps.
So, the judges took I lunch break, and then they enlisted the help of
Merriam Webster to try to find some extra words. Words like intaglio,
which is an engraving or incised figure in stone or other hard material.
Can you spell intaglio? Yes, I had no idea that`s what that word was. No
Also, schadenfreude, another word I use but have no idea how to
spell. Obviously, it`s the enjoyment obtained from the mishaps of others.
What? There`s no u up there? Seriously?
How about mahout? Mahout, a person who keeps and drives an elephant.
Spell mahout. M-A-H-O-U-T. OK. Mahout. Sure.
Sophia and Kush did so well with these backup words that the
organizers had no choice but to call it a day and schedule again a rematch.
A rematch. They ran out of words. They went to a second thing of
words that they made up and they ran out of those too.
By all accounts, Sophia and Kush in Kansas City were totally nice to
each other the whole time. They high-fived. They cheered one another on.
They were all smiles.
And the best new thing in the world really could be the supernatural
good sportsmanship and maturity of these kids.
But come on! I mean, whatever you call the spelling bee equivalent
of a sonic boom, that`s what these kids do this weekend. They exhausted
the epic list of complicated words provided by Scripps. They were too good
for the dictionary. They have to keep going now and nobody knows how to do
And the best new thing in the world – well done, you guys.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Have a great night.
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