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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/17/11

Guests: Barney Frank, Michael Hastings, Jose Antonio Vargas

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. On Tuesday, January 12th of last year, at around 4:50 p.m. local time, the ground began to shake and to shake violently beneath Haiti`s city of Port-au-Prince. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti out of nowhere, like all earthquakes and flattened nearly every standing structure in sight. Among the first images we got out of Haiti after the earthquake were images like this one, shaky sort of grainy cell phone videos that were shot by Haitians. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world is coming to an end. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The world coming to an end is what you heard her say there. One of the most amazing things about the Haiti earthquake, before news crews got on the ground there, we did get all of this incredible raw footage from the disaster area that people could shoot themselves on their own cell phones. They could upload it, send it to friends, and circulate it around the world before any mediation could ever take place. It was one of those striking moments when the democratization of pretty high-end technology -- in this case cell phones with cameras -- really changed the way we were able to see what was happening in this massive disaster in Haiti, in real time. It turns out there was also a minor flip side to that phenomenon. One American aide worker from Maryland happened to find herself in Haiti when the earthquake struck there. She used her cell phone to text her friends and family back home to tell them she was OK. She used her cell phone to post images on Facebook so her friends and family would not worry about her safety while there, and so she could document what was happening there. And then she came home from Haiti to find her cell phone bill for $34,872. Wow. With no warning from her cell phone provider that she was exceeding her international text and data plan, she got hit with a $35,000 monthly bill -- which she was legally liable to pay. As of today, cell phone companies being able to do that to you with no warning is over. It`s at least coming to the end. Today, the cell phone industry agreed to begin sending alerts to customers who are getting close to their monthly voice, text or data limits. Now, this isn`t a new government regulation that`s been put on the industry. This changed to protect American consumers has come about only because of the threat of regulation hanging over these cell phone providers. The ideas that these cell phone companies, these wireless companies don`t implement this change properly to protect consumers from what they were doing to them before, then the government will force them to make these changes. Now, make no mistake. This new practice will inevitably hurt the bottom line of the wireless companies, because, you know, A $35,000 monthly payment is a really nice return on some woman`s cell phone plan for one month. It`s very lucrative to be able to charge people huge penalty fees and huge overage charges with no warning which your customer`s then legally obligated to pay. I mean, who wouldn`t want a business plan like that? Everybody wants the right to maximize their corporate profits. And if you can maximize your maximizing by swindling your customers, particularly your customers who are locked into a binding contract where they have to pay you for the privilege of stopping to pay you, who wouldn`t want that? From a corporate perspective, swindling customers this way I`m sure is awesome. It almost makes me want to glue on a fake villain mustache and twirl the ends of it right now just thinking about it. But if something is good for a company`s bottom line, if a company can figure out how to make money by tricking Americans, by swindling people out of their money, just because a company can make money doing that, doesn`t mean that that should be a protected practice. Somebody ought to take care to ensure fairness. Somebody ought to take care to ensure that fairness even when the swindlers are big, rich powerful interests. Somebody ought to take care to protect Americans from being swindled by the companies with which we do business. That`s why we have regulations and government oversight even when businesses do not like them. Today, President Obama in North Carolina made the case for these kinds of regulations, regulations that congressional Republicans had proposed eliminating in their latest economic plan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It turns out the Republican plan boils down to a few basic ideas. They want to gut regulations. They want to let Wall Street do whatever it wants. Their plan says, we should go back to the good old days before the financial crisis when Wall Street was writing its own rules. They want to roll back all the reforms we put into place. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, don`t feel bad for the guys who were getting booed there in North Carolina. The people who are getting booed there are actually having a great time right now. Today, for example, Citigroup announced it has posted a $3.8 billion profit for the third quarter of this year. That is a 74 percent increase from a year ago and it is the seventh consecutive quarterly profit that Citi has turned. Good times are back at Citigroup just three years after they got bailed out by us. They got bailed out with $45 billion of taxpayer money. That reality led to this scene over the weekend at one of the big Citibank branches in New York City. About 20 people or so taking part in the ongoing "Occupy Wall Street" protests arrested by police after marching to that Citibank branch on Saturday afternoon. Among those arrested were actual Citibank customers who are reportedly attempting to close their accounts. Citibank says that the New York City police asked them to close the branch with the protesters still inside until police could arrive to arrest those protesters. Here`s how some of that scene played out afterwards. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CROWD: Let them go! Let them go! Let them go! (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Today, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement officially turned one month old. And not only does it show no signs of letting up, but over the weekend, the protest that started on Wall Street started spreading across the globe. More than 900 cities across four separate continents saw protests this past Saturday alone. This was the scene at a recent occupy protest in New York City. "I bailed out a bank and all I got was a new debit card charge." Occupy Cincinnati protesters have been set up in a park in Cincinnati much like downtown Manhattan. Over this past weekend, Cincinnati protesters -- this is sort of adorable -- Cincinnati protesters got word somebody was scheduled to have their wedding photos taken in the park. So, all the protesters gathered up all their stuff and left so they would not be in the way of the wedding photos. Then the bride and the groom showed up to have their wedding photos taken and told the protesters -- no, no, no, we wanted you guys in the pictures. The wedding couple sought out the protesters who had gotten out of the way and asked them to be in some of their wedding photos -- which is adorable. Less adorable, but important in protest terms, Cornel West, among 18 people arrested yesterday while protesting outside the Supreme Court. Part of the reason financial interests now have a stranglehold over our political system is, of course, the way the Supreme Court took away limits on corporate spending in politics over the last couple of years. So, the Supreme Court, if you care about this issue, is an appropriate place to protest. In terms of how the "Occupy Wall Street" protests are being received by the public at large, a new poll out today showed nearly seven out of 10 New Yorkers say they agree with the views being expressed by the Wall Street protesters in their city. If you think about it, New Yorkers are the folks who have been contending with what is an encampment in their city for the longest time, since this movement started a month ago. If anybody thought it was going to be aggravating the people whose city was being occupied, it manifestly is not. The city by nearly seven out of 10 people is on the Occupy Wall Streeters` side. When asked if they support or oppose tougher government regulations of banks and Wall Street firms, the home of Wall Street, 73 percent of New Yorkers in the home of Wall Street, 73 percent of New Yorkers say they support that tougher regulation. Even Republicans say they support tougher Wall Street regulations. So, this is it. There`s this base question about whether there is any countervailing force protecting Americans` individual human interests from really, really powerful, really, really, really rich, sometime bad actors who are preying on us and have really hurt individual Americans` fortunes badly and spending now hand over fist to keep doing that. Is there any countervailing force against their interests or isn`t there? Is there any countervailing force on the part of individual Americans? Is it possible for politicians to act against the interests of the most powerful corporations when it is in individual Americans` interest that they do so? This really is a 1 percent versus 99 percent question. And people overwhelmingly -- frankly left, right and center -- realize they have been victimized by an economic system and political system that tilts so disproportionately toward the 1 percent`s interest. Right now, Democrats are trying to turn the upcoming elections in the direction of that sentiment. President Obama gleefully highlighting today the fact the Republicans` supposed jobs plan is mostly a plan to repeal the Dodd/Frank Wall Street reform. It`s not like the movement in the streets right now is a big "D" Democratic movement. The protesters at "Occupy Wall Street" aren`t exactly delighted with Democrats either. So, what can Democrats do now to show good faith? With all of the Wall Street contributions that they`ve got, all the revolving door lobbyist and staff connection they`ve got to Wall Street, what can Democrats do now if they want to ally themselves with the message of the "We are the 99 percent movement"? What can Democrats do to show good faith? What can Democrats show they should be trusted even as the protesters seem clear the Republicans can`t be trusted? Has this created an imperative for the Democratic Party to prove themselves on this issue in a way they haven`t yet been able to? Joining us now is a man at the center of this question, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts -- the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. And the man who is the Frank in the Dodd/Frank Wall Street reform legislation. Congressman Frank, thank you very much for your time. REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You`re welcome. MADDOW: Do you believe that the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is changing the Democratic strategic consideration of Wall Street and economic populism broadly? Do you think it`s lit a fire under the Democrats at all? FRANK: Well, first, I have to say that I wish there was some of that energy two years ago when I was fighting against the people who wanted to protect derivatives from regulation and were trying to weaken the consumer bureau. Rachel, I do have to say, some of us have been trying to do this for a while, and I have to be honest and say in 2009, I wish some of these people had been energized then and were helping us fight back against this effort, because we got a strong bill, but it should have been stronger. Secondly, I will say this -- I hope they will, but I want to -- you know, sometimes telling your friends things is tougher than reeling at your enemies. Not if people think the demonstrations in and of themselves do something. Look, let me -- you said protesting at the Supreme Court is an appropriate way to deal with the terrible decisions they made that allow unrestricted campaign spending. A better way, not mutually exclusive, is a president who can appoint justices who won`t do that, because if look at the justices appointed by President Obama -- Justice Sotomayor., Justice Kagan -- they won`t vote that way. The demonstrations are very important because they give you the potential to mobilize people. But people need to take the next step and they have to, one, let the people now in office know what they think. And two, vote for the people who do that. In the Senate, there was just a very partisan vote to put a surtax on income above $1 million. I`d like to go even lower. That would have been a progressive step. Unfortunately, it was filibustered because the Republicans voted unanimously against it and all but a couple of Democrats voted for it. That wasn`t enough. So, I -- yes, I hope there will be pressure to do even more, but I, again, want to be honest -- simply being in a public place and voicing your opinion in and of itself doesn`t do anything politically. It is the prerequisite, I hope, for people getting together and voting and engaging things. And I understand some of the people on Occupy Wall Street are kind of critical of that. They think that`s conventional politics. Well, you know, the most successful organization in America in getting its views adopted is the National Rifle Association. They are in many cases a minority. But in addition to everything else they do, they very effectively identify who the members of the Congress are, the legislatures and vote for them. So, as I said, I welcome the Wall Street energy. I don`t agree with everything some of the people say. I agree with the general thrust of it. But it`s not self-executing. It has to be translated into political activity if it`s going to have the impact. And -- you know, I would just say, the last thing, we had an election last year in which people who disagree with them, and disagree with me and with you, got elected. I want to be honest again here. I don`t know what the voting behavior is of all these people, but I`m a little bit unhappy when people didn`t vote last time blame me for the consequences of their not voting. MADDOW: I hear the frustration in your voice and your appreciation of the complexity here, but I wonder if you think that the "Occupy Wall Street" protests might help? I mean, if you think about the influence of the Tea Party movement on the Republican Party, the Tea Party movement often had an incoherent and laughable message, a self-contradictory message and didn`t translate to political action. Some of them did. A lot of them didn`t. But they really moved the Republican Party. FRANK: I agree with you on the incoherence of the message, but they voted. That`s -- I -- you say it can help. It can help if people will vote and vote for the people who agree with them and if they think people don`t go far enough, they vote against them and vote for others. But the Tea Party -- one of the things we now confront is that the Tea Party is the dominant voice of the Republican Party in the House. Not because everybody, every Republican agrees with Michele Bachmann, but because virtually every Republican is afraid of losing a primary to a follower of Michele Bachmann because of the Tea Party. So, I agree with you in terms of your description of what the Tea Party stands for. But they did take political action. They were, unfortunately, I think, but they have the right to do it and nobody can criticize them for exercising their rights -- they`re a very powerful force in Republican primaries. They had an impact because they vote and lobby people. And I understand with some of the Wall Street protesters, a sense that`s somehow bourgeois politics or conventional politics. Well, sitting in Citicorp isn`t going to change votes in Congress. I want to change votes. I want to get a confirmed head of the independent consumer bureau. We fought hard for that. I was proud of being an ally of Elizabeth Warren of getting that done. I want derivative regulation to be tough. I want there to be a change in the policy whereby the banks and other financial institutions made loans and then sold the whole loan and didn`t have to retain any of it. All those are now being fought about. So, I would welcome the allies. The demonstrations are a good thing conducted properly, but that has to lead to political participation or it won`t have an effect. Look, as you know, I`ve been very active in gay rights. I have the 25th anniversary of my coming out coming up. And there was a big gay rights demonstration a couple years ago on Columbus Day when Congress was out of session. And I thought it was frankly a waste of effort. I said, you should instead be going to people in their own districts. People said, no, we`re going to go to the Mall and put pressure on Congress. I said, all they put pressure on was the grass because they didn`t follow it up. Those are good ways to mobilize people. But if there is no follow-up in the kind of political action that the Tea Party engages in, it will dissipate its impact. MADDOW: I tend to think that there are intangibles created by direct action that can change political framing and political realities, but I think your argument about how it translates directly is well put, sir. I respect your -- FRANK: Can I say two things, quickly? MADDOW: Please, sir. FRANK: They`re not mutually exclusive. Why not take the second step? And, secondly, can I give a photo credit? Will you indulge me in personal stuff? MADDOW: Of course. FRANK: The great photo you showed of our hero, Frank Kameny with President Obama and myself and Tammy Baldwin, can I tell you? It was taken by my partner Jim Ready. It was a better picture than the one the newspapers used. So, I`m glad you used it. MADDOW: Well, we will post it on our blog with proper credit, sir. Thank you. FRANK: Thank you. MADDOW: That`s adorable. I appreciate it. FRANK: Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you, sir. Congressman Barney Frank, of course, Democrat of Massachusetts. MADDOW: All right. Law and order -- more police on the beat. A wider blue line fighting crime in our cities and towns, all this should be sweet music to conservative ears. Unless the guy hiring those cops is, of course, President Obama, giving them what they want even when they say they do not want it. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. The following video was not good enough to be declared the "Best New Thing in the World Today." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Imagine there`s no pizza, I couldn`t if I tried, eating only tacos or Kentucky fried. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Newly discovered video of Herman Cain in a choir robe singing a song to promote his mafia-themed pizza restaurant I repeat is not the Best New Thing in the World Today. And that`s because we have found something better. I know that seems impossible but it`s true. Better than that. "Best New Thing in the World Today" -- not Herman Cain in that robe singing about tacos. It`s, in fact, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Good news tonight in Garden City, Idaho. Little Garden City, you are getting another police officer for the next three years -- thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Congratulations, we hear the competition was steep. And hey, good news in Muscatine, Iowa. You are getting two new police officers also for the next three years. Same goes for Urbandale, Iowa. Two more officers, so the ones you have can go home to their families for supper now and then. Tucson, you`re a much bigger town with a lot going on. And, Tucson, you`re getting a bunch of new police officers thanks to a grant from the federal government. In fact, congratulations to a very long roster of towns and counties in America. You are this year`s winners. You applied for a grant from the Justice Department`s cops hiring program and you won. We are much more used to news about towns cutting back on police and even closing down their whole police departments because they can`t afford them anymore. But programs like the cops program can help these towns and counties. They can use federal money to hire new officers or to keep the ones they have so they don`t get laid off. And, boy, are these towns and counties psyched about it. Last year, for example, Oakland, California, laid off dozens of police officers, so many that the officers who were left in Oakland announced they would no longer respond to a long string of crimes including burglary, and vandalism and grand theft. But, now, with help from Uncle Sam, the Oakland Police Department will be able to add 25 uniformed officers back to their depleted ranks. When a government looks at what it can do, what is within its power to keep people employed, to help with jobs, the single most direct thing a government can do is, duh, not fire its own employees. So when states and cities and counties were busted by the Wall Street implosion and recession and unemployment and tax revenues falling off a cliff, the federal government targeted funds to keep teachers and police officers and firefighters on the job. That`s for them, it`s for their communities, it`s for the economy. This is a long standing principle in U.S. policy. But Republicans last week voted down President Obama`s American Jobs Act, including its money for teachers and first responders, to help cities hire them and avoid laying them off. Now, Senate Democrats brought that same proposal back this week as a stand alone -- federal money for teachers and cop and firefighters. The kind of stuff that`s being celebrated from Claremont, New Hampshire, to Waller County, Texas, right now, when they can get their hands on some federal money. The stuff is popular, overwhelmingly Americans say the government should spend more to keep teachers and cops and firefighters on the job. To pay for it, taxes on corporations and rich folks, please. That`s what the polling says at least. Republicans hate this idea in the abstract. "We`ve seen this movie before," says Republican Senator John McCain. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, quote, "It`s disappointing that Senate Democrats are still focused on the same temporary stimulus spending." Republicans hate this idea in the abstract, but in the specific, it`s Garden City, Idaho. It is Muscatine, Iowa. It is Urbandale, Iowa. It is Oakland, California. It is even Cold Spring, Minnesota -- where the most emphatic "I hate stimulus" Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently requested some of that nice cops program funding because it was her district, and Cold Spring could use that funding. It would be a good use of money there and really help Cold Spring. It would help. It would. And even as they denounced this thing in the abstract, they know it works in the specific. That vote on teachers and on cops and on firefighters could come as soon as Friday. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ice cream. That is cheap. Fact. And then I suspended Marcia off this bridge and took a virgin heifer night riding for a while. We never got a dead spirit. We hated it, though. It`s disgusting. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The phenomenon that is is so far the nation`s best result yet for this year`s round of presidential politics. I mean, I`m glad we learned about the 9-9-9 thing and the thing about Tim Pawlenty and hockey fights. But I`m more glad to have found out what bad lip read can do for, say, Michele Bachmann. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mama gets a what what -- you know I represent. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Great news today. There is a new bad lip reading for Mitt Romney this time, including for the first time a lot of really oddly compelling bad lip reading just of him giggling. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: I told you it was oddly compelling. Mitt Romney as interpreted by the geniuses at, the "Best New Thing in the World Today." It`s coming up right at the end of the show. I swear. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready for the got you questions? They`re coming from the media and others on foreign policy. Who`s the president of Uzbekistan? You know, all this stuff. It`s coming. And how are you dealing with that? CAIN: I`m ready for the got you questions. And they are already starting to come. And when they ask me who`s the president of Uzbeki-beki-beki-bekistan- stan, I`m going to say, you know, I don`t know, do you know? Do they think for a moment that I`m not a student of the position that I seek and that I probably know more than foreign policy than they think? So what I`m saying is, I hope they continue to think that I am foreign policy dumb until the right time they will find out I`m not as foreign policy dumb as they think. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: What`s the right time? Foreign policy is not the grounds on which Republicans are choosing their presidential candidate this year. The Uzbeki-beki-beki-bekistan-stan guy is, of course, Herman Cain who is roughly tied for first place right now with Mitt Romney. Like Mr. Cain, Mr. Romney has zero foreign policy experience. But for his team of advisers, he`s brought back most of the George W. Bush`s foreign policy team because that worked out so awesome the last time. The only Republican presidential contender with any claim to foreign policy experience is, of course, Jon Huntsman, who was the Obama administration`s ambassador to China and who is currently polling at levels measured in individual supporters rather than in percentages. In one recent poll, literally, the number of individuals found in Iowa to be supporting Jon Huntsman`s candidacy could be counted on one hand. Not the percentage, the people. So, no, American politics and Republican Party politics in particular are not this year about foreign policy. If we were debating foreign policy, though, there would be a lot to debate about. We`re at war, of course, in Iraq. We are at war in Afghanistan. We are at war in Libya. And even if we don`t call it (AUDIO GAP), we are at war intermittently sometimes in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Yemen, now in Uganda, in South Sudan, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. Last week, President Obama said he was deploying 100 troops as trainers against a militia called the Lord`s Resistance Army in the last four African nations I named. Even though this president has wound down or pledged to wind down the wars he inherited in the past administration, he has started his own wars without much criticism. There`s been some criticism on the left and some generalized grumbling. But in the absence of sustained partisan opposition, foreign policy has really gone mostly unsaid, un-argued, un-debated. But, of course, there are exceptions and right now, the exceptions are way weirder than that even weird rule. Last week, for example, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tried to find a way to criticize the Africa intervention not by saying intervention itself is a bad thing, or that the president was doing it wrong in some way. Mr. Limbaugh`s criticism was the specific militia U.S. troops would be targeting in Africa, that militia, those are actually good guys. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Lord`s Resistance Army are Christians. They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them. So that`s a new war, 100 troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Uganda. I will admit it is true that the Lord`s Resistance Army did have the foresight to put the word "Lord" in their name but they`re not exactly known as a Christian group. They`re not like missionaries. They`re best known for massacring civilians on mass -- typing up men and hitting them in the head with axes, taking women and girls as sex slaves, forcing young boys to become child soldiers. They are considered responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Central Africa -- kidnapping, rape, mass murder, reign of terror, child soldiers, the whole kit and caboodle. But setting aside the astonishing exception of Rush Limbaugh calling those guys good guys because they put the word "Lord" in their name, is it a blessing or curse that we do not really have partisan arguments about foreign policy anymore? Republicans don`t have it in them this year. But arguments can be beneficial sometimes. They can pry loose information about what`s going on or what might happen next. Right now, for example, the best information we have about Obama`s foreign policy does not come from political fights over foreign policy. It comes from journalism -- journalism like Michael Hastings` new scoop in "Rolling Stone," which is the most illuminating thing I`ve read of how we go to war now in the Obama presidency and why we go to war now. Joining us now for the interview, Michael Hastings, contributor editor for "Rolling Stone" magazine. His article about the Obama`s administration`s decision to intervene in Libya is in the current issue of "Rolling Stone." Michael Hastings, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here, my friend. MICHAEL HASTINGS, ROLLING STONE: Hey, Rachel. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. MADDOW: You explain in your piece the Obama administration is motivated to intervene around the world as sort of justifying intervention around the world by this idea of responsibility to protect. Can you explain that basic idea? HASTINGS: Sure. Essentially you have a group of influential advisers around the president. The president, himself, who is very interested in this idea of what -- how can you use American foreign policy might to protect innocent civilians in different countries around the world? There was the experience in Rwanda in the `90s and Balkans in the `90s sort of brought forth this community of foreign policy experts who essentially said, look, we`re going to create a doctrine that says if there are innocent civilians at risk in other countries, we have a moral obligation as the international community to intervene. MADDOW: Do you get the sense that the Obama administration feels any pressure over some of the more controversial things they are doing? Even in the absence of partisan arguments over those things? For example, we learned this weekend that after we killed an American citizen, Anwar al- Awlaki, in a drone strike this weekend, we`ve also now killed his son, also reportedly an American citizen. The government says he was 21 years old. The family says he was 16. From your reporting on this, does it seem to you like there are high- level struggles in the administration with criticism over things like this? HASTINGS: I don`t think the Awlaki issue, there`s too much infighting in the administration. I can guarantee you, if it was a Republican president doing that, the Democrats would be up in arms. I think the drone strike in particular has a number of very troubling questions to it. But I think politically -- as a political issue, the drone strike issue is a winner. I mean, as -- forget the moral questions for a second. And my personal feeling, too, if the president`s foreign policy was going to be focused on humanitarian intervention and these sort of multilateral efforts around the world, say going in and trying to track down the Lord`s Resistance Army, how Rush Limbaugh did not realize the Lord`s Resistance Army is one of the most evil militias in the world, it`s like dude, use the Google. But I think if Obama -- if President Obama kept it to those, sort of, issues, humanitarian interventions, drone strikes, people on the left might be more forgiving. The problem is you still have Iraq and Afghanistan that are ongoing -- the sort of forever wars. And I think that`s the key to the -- the president will be judged in the end on whether he can end those wars successfully. MADDOW: Well, and in terms of what you are reporting on, what you`re seeing with the internal decision making process in the administration, do you see any evolution in where the -- I guess the political weight is on war issues between the president`s decision on Afghanistan, say, and the decision that he made on Libya. Is the weight -- the center of gravity in the administration changing at all? HASTINGS: I think so. I think President Obama was burned by the Pentagon in the deliberations over Afghanistan. And what you`ve seen over the past two or three years is the president really seizing control of his own foreign policy. On the bin Laden operation and in Libya, you had the president overruling his -- some of his top military advisers, going with his gut. So, how I like to look at it, if you look at the blank slate foreign policy questions, Libya`s one of them, I said the bin Laden or the Awlaki hit as well, the president has actually done quite well. And he`s criticized for the sort of leading from behind. And I don`t think that`s really true. I think -- and the White House will certainly say this, that that`s actually smart and wise leadership. Not leading from behind. But I think the weight is clearly moved from the Pentagon into the Oval Office, but it`s been a struggle for him to get there. MADDOW: The story of that evolution as told by your piece right now in "Rolling Stone" is really well-told and fascinating. And I`m not sure anybody else is getting that on national security stuff. So, congratulations on that scoop, Michael. It`s nice to see you. HASTINGS: Thanks. And I got the book coming out in January. People in Washington are already running for cover. So, I hope to be back. MADDOW: Hey, do you have a title yet for your book? HASTINGS: It`s called "The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America`s War in Afghanistan." MADDOW: Who do I have to call? HASTINGS: Give me a call or text me or we`ll do a lip reading thing too and see how it goes. MADDOW: All right. We`ll do it lip reading video style. Excellent. Thank you, Michael Hastings. Appreciate it. HASTINGS: Thanks a lot for having me. MADDOW: Michael Hastings, of course, a contributing editor for "Rolling Stone" magazine. OK, "Best New Thing in the World" is still ahead. It`s as funny as shagging parrots. That`s all I`m saying. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Arizona is about 30 percent Latino. Alabama is about 4 percent Latino. And so, last year, when Arizona passed the most draconian anti-immigrant law in the country, there were large scale protests in Arizona to be sure. But those protests weren`t just in Arizona. There were protests against Arizona`s new anti-immigrant law all over the country. There were nationwide boycotts organized against the state of Arizona. Arizona`s anti-immigration bill, SB-1070, better known as the "papers please" law, frankly became a national issue. More than a year later, after SB-1070 was stayed by the courts, Alabama passed an even more draconian law, a law that essentially makes it illegal to exist without documentation in Alabama. Your very existence in that state in school and in a car, in a church maybe, could be considered a crime under Alabama`s new law. And when a federal judge in Alabama refused to block key provisions of the new anti-immigrant law, Alabama`s Latinos, all 4 percent of them -- in contrast to the 30 percent in Arizona -- they comparatively were kind of just left on their own. Many just left altogether, just fled the state entirely. "The New York Times" reporting an exodus of Hispanic immigrants from one small Alabama town. The Monday after key parts of the law was upheld, the Alabama Department of Education told "Politico" that Hispanic students were absent from class at twice the normal rate. Now, that doesn`t mean they`re all undocumented immigrants, but families with one member who has uncertain immigration status are weighing the cost of things like the kids going to school against the threat of families being broken up. Many of those who are staying are protesting. Last week, Latino students, workers, business owners in the Birmingham area stayed home as part of a boycott organized on Spanish language radio. Organizers estimate more than 100 businesses were closed as part of the boycott. The guy behind Alabama`s new anti-immigrant law is also the guy who wrote Arizona`s "papers please" law. He`s also behind the new Kansas law that says essentially that you cannot register to vote in Kansas anymore without showing a birth certificate or a passport. His name is Kris Kobach. He`s Kansas` secretary of state. Kobach describes the Alabama law so far as, quote, "A win." He says, quote, "It`s self-deportation." If that`s a win from the perspective of Kris Kobach, what happens next in 4 percent Latino Alabama? In part, that depends on the legality of what Alabama is trying to do. After all, Alabama is still having its pants sued off over this. But it goes beyond the legal issue. In part who happens next to the 4 percent Latinos in Alabama and the rest of Alabama`s immigrants depends on whether or not this starts being treated in Alabama as not just a demographics issue but a civil rights issue, as a broad issue about who Alabama is in the 21st century. Especially after who Alabama was in the 20th century. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 16th Street Baptist Church is called everybody`s church. Through its history, it`s always been a center point for black people as a gathering place for the community. So, many of the movements, marches and demonstrations emanated out of the basement of this church. When the bombing of the church happened right beyond the exit sign, that`s when four little girls were killed, murdered in this church. U.W. CLEMON, FORMER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE: It`s very serious. This is sacred ground for us. As you might imagine, (INAUDIBLE) the same court together. She succeeded me as chief judge in the court. I`m sure that she ruled in accordance with what she viewed to be the law. Unfortunately, in some very serious ways, she was mistaken. Ours is a country really that is based on immigration. We are a nation of immigrants. Only two categories of Americans don`t fall into the category of immigrants: and that is the Native Americans, the Indians, and the black Americans. We`re the only ones who didn`t seek to come here. All of us black and whites have to keep working towards making all Americans realize that we`re all in this boat together. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That video report-produced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, who in a jaw-dropping "New York Times" magazine piece earlier this year revealed how he himself had come to this country as a child, as an undocumented immigrant, and he still does not have legal status. Joining us now is former "Washington Post" reporter, the founder of, Jose Antonio Vargas. Jose, thanks very much for joining us tonight. It`s nice to have you back. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, DEFINEAMERICAN.COM: No, thank you. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. MADDOW: This law exists in Alabama now. In part, its future will be decided by the courts. But there`s also other factors at work here. In Alabama, what have you been seeing in terms of organizing against it, about its impact on the state already? VARGAS: You cannot overstate the impact of this law in the state. And I think more than just the organizing the boycotting that`s been happening, that`s being organized by undocumented immigrants and their allies here in Alabama, I`m actually Birmingham, right, the cradle of the civil rights movement. What`s been interesting is, you know, at Define American we`re all about trying to kind of tell the stories of what`s really happening here. Are the stories of, like, the farmer or the elementary schoolteacher, right, or actually U.W. Clemon, you know, civil rights icon, who are connecting the dots and saying that this is a human rights, civil rights issue. I really appreciate you taking the time to play the video because, you know, to be sitting at 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the bonding in 1963, I can`t believe that what nearly 50 years later -- I mean, yesterday was a dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial, here we are talking about an issue that`s impacting, of course, you know, a specific demographic. I think the question here that I`ve been asking people is, is this the real Alabama? Does this reflect what you want Alabama to be? MADDOW: Judge Clemon, as far as I know is the first African-American federal judge in Alabama, is that right? VARGAS: Yes. MADDOW: I know he told you. VARGAS: Nominated by Jimmy Carter. MADDOW: He told you in that striking moment in the video that his successor for his seat on the federal court, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, he said she was mistaken in her ruling to uphold this anti-immigration law. Did that that give you any insight -- did he give you any insight into how a challenge to this ruling might play out? VARGAS: Well, I mean, again, back to the civil rights movement of the 60s, this is going to play out in the courts. This is going to happen. It`s going to play out in the courts. And I think just as important -- it`s going to play out, you know, in homes, on the streets. It`s going to play out in really again how we have to refrain, how we think about immigration in this country. You know, it`s been really interesting. Last night, I actually was out at a Kohl`s Department Store, right? I wanted to ask every day Alabamans about the law. And I talked to about six people, five of whom supported the law, but they couldn`t quite tell me what was in the law. You know, they didn`t know, for example, that it`s actually a crime. I mean, three days ago, what, Thursday, it would have been a crime for me as an undocumented immigrant to be in Alabama. They didn`t know that. They didn`t know that it`s a crime, it`s a felony for an undocumented immigrant to be actually getting water service because now undocumented immigrant can`t get into a business, you know, entity or contract with the government. I mean, this is a real law affecting real lives. It`s not an abstraction. And I think that`s something we really need to figure out. I mean, that`s what we`re doing at Define American. MADDOW: Jose Antonio Vargas, the founder of -- Jose, please stay in touch with us as you continue to work on this. VARGAS: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. MADDOW: Thank you. VARGAS: Thanks. MADDOW: All right. "Best New Thing in the World" is coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: "Best New Thing in World Today" comes from the folks at -- the same group that gave us these: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pressure to put on weight is one of the reasons we`ve got the red sweat suits. There`s no way we could. We`re craven between the bull frogs. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went from being two banana plants up to a thrill-seeking shark that sold pictures of different toys I want. When I buy stickers for folks in prison, I bring milk not backyard meth, it`s a prison party. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I bored by famine. I cannot wait for a medieval cookie, a cinnabun, hot yellow Kool-Aid and save a pretzel for the gas jets! Thank you. I wrote that. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: I wrote that. All courtesy of the emerging geniuses of the presidential contest, these people at This morning, we`re in L.A. this week. I got to a little office space here in L.A. to start working, and I thought something horrible had happened because my boss, Bill Wolff, was crying at his desk. His face was all red. There were tears streaming down his face. I thought something horrible happened until I realized that bill was not crying, crying. He was crying laughing because this new badlipreading video had just gone up (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was happy in the new sister threw a sea fish at my TV. How you are? Cookies. Can I take one? Hey, thank you for the bench. Don`t commit suicide. I will force spiders and badgers on the enemy and get them all to shut up. Hey, Madonna married a real giant, that would be good. At least I think it would. Wait, no, it wouldn`t because never mind. Happy stepchild. I told you to check it out. Oh, hey this is for the cow. In America, we have a song. Ding dong llama wannee jumping with an ice pick. She thinks I`m going in. I`m very good company. Be sure that pizza doesn`t have a fly it in. I didn`t spend money on robotic things. I spend money on video games. We play pole position and we go fast around the track. Man, I was a good game. We have Winona Ryder out there throughout pissing off people with a guitar. They`re a bunch of punks. (LAUGHTER) I`m freezing out here. I got to get away. Amy left the party and I`m leaving at three to pick apples. Are you a math dork? Pork chops and beans and put in the freezer and rotted after a month. Yo momma`s pudgy, face it. I`m a gremlin. I`m leading the party and I want everybody to stuff the ice chest. Thank you. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Badlipreading, "Best New Thing in the World." Now, it is time for "THE ED SHOW." Have a good night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END