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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/14/12

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Doug Wead, Josh Rogin

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Happy Tuesday. Happy Valentine`s Day. And thanks for being with us this hour. Today is also the 100th birthday of the great state of Arizona. Happy birthday, Arizona. We start in Arizona tonight where the state legislature is grappling with the pressing issue of foul-mouthed public school teachers. This is Arizona State Senator Lori Klein. She`s a Republican. Senator Klein introduced state legislation, a bill in Arizona, that would punish teachers for using speech that violates the FCC standards for network television shows. So, Senator Klein wants to stop the scourge of teachers cursing. As her bill is written, this would have the Arizona state government regulating the language of teachers, not just while they are in the classroom, but anywhere in their whole lives. So, math teacher, you hit your thumb with a hammer, the state government of Arizona will be listening in to make sure you only say dang. Or they will unleash, you know, all heck on you, I guess. It`s sort of hard to be angry at somebody if you barred the whole swearing thing. Anyway, if that`s not big enough role for government for you, there is a man in Virginia I`d also like you to meet. His name is Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall. He`s also a Republican. Delegate Bob Marshall once tried to outlaw swearing in e-mail. Not just by teachers, not just by any one group of people, not just in a particular kind of email, Bob Marshall proposed that Virginia state government outlaw profanity by anyone in any e-mail sent from the commonwealth of Virginia. Now, it`s one thing to think swearing is bad. It`s another thing to say that swearing is bad, or to ask other people not to do it. But to dislike swearing so much that you would expand the role of government, you would create a government so intrusive that the government would monitor your speech and read your e-mails in order to prosecute you for swearing, few people are that dedicated to stamping out curse words. But that is what Arizona is considering today, for the teachers -- on the state`s 100th birthday. And that is how seriously Bob Marshall took the problem of Virginia`s e-mail swearing epidemic back in the 1990s. This year, Virginia Delegate "watch your mouth" Bob Marshall is championing a really, really, really, really big government conservative cause. It`s an anti-abortion, anti-birth control personhood bill that would define a person under essentially the entire code of Virginia state law as beginning at the moment of conception. You might remember the whole personhood idea from its double digit defeat on the Mississippi ballot last November, or its 46-point defeat in Colorado in 2008, or its 42-point defeat in Colorado again in 2010. What Bob Marshall is proposing in Virginia is essentially the same thing that has been defeated by voters in Mississippi and in Colorado. A key element to personhood`s big loss in those states was the implication spelled out graphically on this billboard that went up during the Mississippi campaign, is the implication the personhood thing had for birth control. If you grant a fertilized egg the rights of a person, you might just be banning not only all abortion in all circumstances, but also hormonal birth control, which is the kind of birth control that most American women used. The personhood folks know they have been losing in part because they seem to want to ban birth control. In Mississippi, for example, once they seemed to be losing ground on the "birth control is murder" argument, they changed their personhood campaigns language on their Web site about birth control. Earlier in the campaign, they had listed on the Web site all the kinds of birth control that they opposed. But after a couple weeks, that language mysteriously disappeared and much softer language appeared in its place. So, playing down the birth control issue, saying it`s not they were opposed to birth control, they just didn`t necessarily advocate for the use of contraceptives. In Virginia, the Republicans backing the personhood measure in that state had a chance to take the birth control argument off the table entirely. A Democratic Delegate Vivian Watts tried to attach an amendment to the Virginia bill that would declare nothing in that bill could be construed to outlaw any form of legal contraception. Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates voted no on that by a huge margin. The vote was 64 to 34 against taking birth control out of the equation. So, in Virginia, Republicans had a wide open opportunity to say this personhood thing, this bill is only about banning abortion, we do not want to ban birth control. They had the opportunity to say that, and they rejected it, hugely. Virginia Republicans have watched this personhood measure go down over and over again across the country in large part because it`s seen as a way to ban birth control. But they`re not contesting that idea. Ban birth control, sure, sounds like a plan. That is what passed the Virginia House of Delegates today, the anti- abortion, anti-birth control personhood bill, and now it`s headed over to the Virginia senate. In recent years, the senate in Virginia has been kind of the brakes for this sort of legislation in the commonwealth of Virginia. The Senate was under Democratic control had been a cooling off chamber for Virginia conservatives` really intrusive big government proposals on social issues like this. But now, Republicans are in control of the state senate and Virginia politics watchers say this personhood bill has a pretty good chance in the senate. If it passes the house and passes the senate, Virginia`s uber conservative governor, Bob McDonnell, will say nothing more than that he plans to take a look at it if it reaches his desk. But wait, there`s more! Not only are Republicans of Virginia moving to pass a bill that could ban birth control, that they explicitly acknowledge could ban birth control -- Virginia Republicans have are already passed in both chambers a bill that would have the state government force Virginia women into having medically unnecessary, unwanted vaginal ultrasounds. That is a physical penetration of the body, ultrasound, by state order, without your consent. That would be forced on you as a condition of your being allowed to have an abortion in the state of Virginia. I don`t mean to be unnecessarily graphic about this, but the legislation is really specific about how detailed the ultrasound has to be. And so, for the vast majority of women, seeking an abortion in the commonwealth of Virginia, the state government will specifically require a physical internal probe for which there is no medical reason and for which neither you or your doctor has a choice. The "A.P." reported on this today, you know how -- I`m a highlighter base life form, I`m always reading with either a pencil or highlighter, you know it`s incredible story when you`re reading like three paragraph news story and you`re highlighting the important parts and you end up highlighting the entire story. From "The Associated Press" today, quoting from them directly, "Legislation that has advanced on the strength of a GOP majority would force women to under go a transvaginal ultrasound that produces fetal images. An amendment by Delegate David Englin, Democrat of Alexandria, would have allowed medical professionals to determine whether images can be obtained without being penetrated by equipment used in the ultrasound, women would have to give written consent to such a probe under the amendments, but not to sonograms that aren`t invasive. The amendment failed on a 64-34 vote setting up the bill for final House passage." So, Republicans of Virginia seriously want a government so big it can literally get inside individual citizen`s genitals by force and without their consent. That bill, the "let the government inside your body" bill passed the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates today. It has already passed the Republican-controlled Virginia senate. And Republican Governor Bob McDonnell says he will sign it. Virginia`s governor is, of course, one of the leading candidates on the presumed vice presidential short list for Republicans this year. Sure, all of the Republican candidates for president have endorsed the ban on birth control/personhood thing. But now, one of the men considered most likely to be chosen as vice president has the chance and says he will -- sign this forced ultrasound thing in law. He will have a chance to sign it in into law a birth control ban. Government mandated medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds from the state of Virginia. So, that`s going to be the choice for voters in November. All right? Let`s say they pick Bob McDonnell, right? So, are you going to go with it`s OK to outlaw birth control anti-family planning presidential ticket that wants to force its way in your, right? Or are you going to go with the pro-birth control, pro-family planning presidential ticket that would like to leave your to you. I would love the opportunity to ask Bob McDonnell about the ban birth control personhood bill that might land on his desk. I would like to ask him about his vice presidential hopefulness, I would like to ask him about how his issues -- how his take on those issues fits in his vice presidential hopefulness. In fact, Bob McDonnell told a conservative radio host a few weeks ago that he would love to come on this very show, he even asked the radio host, Laura Ingraham, if she would help set up an interview for him on this show. And she did. Laura Ingraham`s producer sent us over a clip of what Bob McDonnell had said on his show about wanting to come and talk to me about these issues on this show. I have been super excited to have him, we called his office, we e- mailed his office, Governor McDonnell still not returning our calls or e- mails. But, sir, I`m looking forward to some day you getting back to us. Anytime, Governor, you know where to find me. You have my number. I know you. We left it on your voice mail. Joining us is MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post," Eugene Robinson. Gene, thank you for being here. EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: One of the big campaign issues of 2012 is birth control it turns out. ROBINSON: Yes. Who knew? MADDOW: Are we -- do you think we`re heading toward a November election that is the pro-birth control party against anti-birth control party? ROBINSON: I can`t imagine, because that cannot be a good idea for the Republicans to go into a November election as the anti-birth control party. That just -- you know, I`ve tried to figure this out from every sort of cynical smart politics angle I can figure it out from. And it doesn`t work for me. What`s the figure, something like 98 percent of American women use some form of birth control at some point during their lives? How can you be against that? MADDOW: Well, why do you think we are seeing -- I mean, everybody reads the same polls on this. Everybody knows what Americans believe and practice about birth control. But yet we are seeing this big push for the personhood legislation in Virginia. It failed in Mississippi. It failed twice in Colorado. In Mississippi, after they just got clobbered by the voters, they are trying now, through the legislature, to do it again, even do it by referendum again. We`re seeing it brought forth in Virginia, and in all these other states. What about this issue seems to be a winning argument to Republicans? Why do they like it if the polls aren`t with them? ROBINSON: Well, the polls are not with them. The voters are not with them. So, clearly, it`s not a winning issue. They can`t believe this is a good idea politically. So, the only thing I can figure out, Rachel, is that it`s based on a wrong and frankly insane belief that a fertilized egg is a fully formed person and has personhood and preventing, you know, preventing of implantation of that egg is murder. I don`t -- you know, it baffles me what other explanation there could be, they can be sincerely mad on this subject, I think, and maybe they are. MADDOW: Do you think that this factors possibility of Bob McDonnell as a vice presidential pick? Obviously, he`s one -- he`s not only on the short list. He`s the guy who makes no bones about the fact he would like to be chosen. He keeps showing up in campaign states where he`s not the governor, he`s traveling around the country making himself evident on the campaign trail. He`s been very friendly toward the idea of being asked to be vice president. He can`t continue to be the governor of Virginia, they are term limited. He has tried to, I think, cast himself in a Mark Warner-esque pro- business role as governor. But yet, his social conservative is to the right of Rick Santorum. I don`t think Santorum ever talked about the state forcing vaginal ultrasounds as punishments for seeking abortions. Bob McDonnell says he`ll sign that. Does that -- does that follow him into the political calculus of choosing him for V.P.? ROBINSON: Oh, you bet it does. I mean, look, the personhood thing he`s been kind of coy on that, I`m not convinced that if it actually passed, that he would sign it. He seems to understand that that`s a bad idea politically if he wants to be vice president. The voters of Mississippi rejected this. I mean, this is not a great idea for him. But the vaginal ultrasound bill which he says he will sign, I think is equally problematic for him. This is a Republican Party in Virginia that claims the government has no right to force anyone to buy health insurance, yet the government has a right to insert a vaginal probe for no reason, for no medical reason? And you have no choice about it, your doctor has no choice about it? That is absolutely outrageous. I don`t see how you can go into the November election if you`re the Republican candidate, essentially endorsing that view. MADDOW: I think so, too. And yet, this doesn`t seem to be front page news around the country. I`ve been sort of amazed to see the way abortion politics and reproductive rights politics only surface when Republicans want to make them the issue like when they want to attack Democrats on it. But as they had this bulldozer, a couple of years on this issue, even when they are (INAUDIBLE) radical, it`s only liberals who squawk. Anyway, Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for "The Washington Post" -- Gene, thank you again for being here. ROBINSON: Great to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: Appreciate it. All right. Still ahead, Ron Paul, the disaster in the Maine Republican Party that has unfolded over the last few days. Plus, visual evidence of Mitt Romney`s electability woes. After last segment, I feel like to have warn you it`s a little bit graphic. Plus, an unavoidable meta edition of "Debunktion Junction". All that is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. I have been doing the show for three-and-a-half years now. While it`s a challenge every single day, I sort of feel like after three-and-a-half years of doing this, I do have the basic idea of how to get the show on the air. The staff that works on the show is tremendous, we have great support network-wide here at MSNBC, on most days on most subjects, I feel like I`ve got all the support and all the help that I need right here in this building in order to get this show done. But there are certain days and today is one of them, where I come to realize that I need a little outside help. In this case, I need help from fourth graders in public school in the great state of Maine. Let`s see. Does this still work? Oh, yes, that works. This is my secret way, subtle, of signaling to the fourth graders at the great state of Maine that I need your help. If you grow up in Maine and you go to public school there, somewhere around fourth grade, you learn a song. You learn to memorize all 16 counties in Maine by singing them to the tune of "Yankee Doodle ". Watch. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: Tada. That is Maine`s 16 counties set to the tune of "Yankee Doodle " and sung by Maine fourth graders. That clip courtesy of the Maine Center for Public Health. So, Maine fourth graders, as we agreed before, that I would do this, can I say I needed your help? I need your help. Your state has 16 counties, right? For some reason, though, certain residents in three of Maine`s counties are being treated right now as if they do not exist. Right now, certain Maine residents in Washington County, Waldo County and Kennebec County are being treated as if they are not residents at all. All right. Let me back up for a second. So far this year, as we talked about on the show before, the Republican process of picking a presidential nominee has been an absolute mess. It started in Iowa where the Republican Party first declared Mitt Romney won the state. Then they declared it was a tie in Iowa, and then declared, belatedly and after some futzing around, that actually Rick Santorum won. And then their chairman quit as a result of the whole mess. Iowa was just a mess. Florida also a mess -- not necessarily in terms of counting the vote but Florida doesn`t know what their vote means yet. The Florida Republican Party insisted loudly that their primary was winner-take-all in terms of the state`s delegates, whoever came in first got all the delegates. But that`s not actually clear under the rules and is now being challenged. So, who knows won Florida`s delegates? Nevada came after that, also a mess. It took Republican officials in Nevada two days to release a final vote tally after they discovered they had more ballots than voters and they don`t know why. And then, of course, there was the Missouri mess -- Missouri Republicans couldn`t get around to changing their previous plans from earlier years, even though they tried. And so, they ended up holding a primary last week which Rick Santorum won. But that primary, although it was required by state law, was meaningless in the Republican contest. So they are also holding a caucus next month after the primary. And the caucus supposedly is the one that actually counts. A mess? Yes. The Republican presidential primary has, so far, essentially been one mess after another. And now, we have Maine. And Maine may be turning out to be the biggest mess of them all. Maine held a multi-week caucus, which culminated with this announcement on Saturday night from the state`s Republican Party chairman. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHARLIE WEBSTER, MAINE GOP CHAIRMAN: I`m now going to announce the winner of the Maine GOP presidential poll. And that winner is Mitt Romney. (APPLAUSE) WEBSTER: Excuse me. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Excuse me. Excuse me. According to the Maine Republican Party, whose chairman you just saw there, Mitt Romney won Maine`s caucus with 39 percent of the vote. Ron Paul came in second with 36 percent of the vote. The margin of victory for Mr. Romney was a razor thin 194 votes. So, case closed, right? Ha, not by a long shot. Remember those three Maine counties I mentioned earlier -- Washington County, Waldo County and Kennebec County. It turns that lots and lots of Republicans living in those three counties who voted in the presidential preference poll never actually had their votes counted by the Maine Republican Party. Republicans in Washington County postponed their caucuses on Saturday because of a snow storm they expected to hit the area and even though they are planning to vote instead this coming weekend, that`s when they postponed the caucus to, the state Republican Party has already said, Washington County, your votes won`t count. They said no additional votes will be counted. So, sorry, Washington County, you don`t count. Republicans in Waterville Main, which is in Kennebec County did vote as they were supposed to last week. But their vote total, as you see here, shows up -- look on the right there. It shows up as a zero in the Republican Party`s official results. It`s not because nobody showed up in Waterville. It`s apparently because a contact person in Waterville didn`t phone in the results on time, even though the vote took place on time. Even though the state party has the results for Waterville -- sorry, too late, we`re not counting you, either. And then there`s Waldo County. Even though nearly all Waldo County towns held caucuses on February 4th, which was a full week before the Maine party announced supposedly final results, here`s how most of Waldo votes. Look, look in the official Republican Party`s results list, zero votes, zero votes, zero votes. Why is Waldo not being counted? Who knows? We contacted the Maine Republican Party to find out what the heck happened all of Waldo County`s votes. So far, we have not heard back. Again, the margin of victory for Mitt Romney in Maine was 194 votes. That`s called a hair. He beat Ron Paul by a hair. And even though lots of Republicans in three of Maine`s 16 counties did not have their votes counted at all, the Republican Party there is somehow standing by Mitt Romney as the winner and saying nothing else is going to be counted. Since the Maine Republican Party will not answer any of our questions about this mess, it`s sort of up to you Maine fourth graders. It`s up to you to help us understand why of the 16 counties that you sing about, only 13 count. As we await the help from our fourth graders, let`s bring in someone in the middle of the mess. Joining us now is Doug Wead, senior advisor to the Ron Paul campaign. Mr. Wead, thank you for coming back. Thanks for being here. DOUG WEAD, RON PAUL CAMPAIGN: Thanks for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: Simple question: who won the Maine caucus? WEAD: Well, we won as far as getting delegates are concerned, and right now, until all the votes are cast, the networks are declaring or the Republican Party is declaring Mitt Romney won. However, it`s interesting. There`s a lot more than what you said. Washington County was the only county Ron Paul carried four years ago. It was his strongest county. And the man who cancelled it was a Mitt Romney supporter -- that`s a little piece of evidence you probably need to add. And the snowstorm he predicted didn`t happen. But four years before when all the Ron Paul (ph) people came out and made it his only victory, they had eight inches of snow, and the Girl Scouts met fine in Washington County while they cancelled the caucus. And in every other instance -- you mentioned Waldo County, in each of the cities, in Belfast, in New Portland, in Portland, in Waterville, on every occasion, the votes that were lost were Paul votes and the person responsible for reporting them were Mitt Romney supporters. For example, in one case, the votes were actually transferred from paper to electronics and through the computer. And the lady doing the transfer was a Mitt Romney person. It could be the costliest victory Mitt Romney ever had because the Romulans are not happy. MADDOW: When you say the Romulans are not happy, does that mean that they are contesting this in Maine and they`re going to force Maine to revisit its declaration of a winner here or they`re going to channel that outrage in something else they think will help Mr. Paul? WEAD: I don`t know, maybe a little bit of both. As I said, you know, we feel OK about delegate selection. I saw one of the networks giving Mitt Romney eight, giving us seven delegates. Thankfully, that network doesn`t get that privilege and our numbers show that we`re going to capture the majority of the delegates in Maine. But nevertheless, it`s not that the victory is so important, it`s just losing it that way is kind of tough. MADDOW: When you were here last week, we talked about the delegate strategy of the Ron Paul campaign. And while it seems arcane to a lot of people who have been playing close attention, the basic idea is that in the caucus states, delegates are not allocated directly on the basis of how people vote in the caucuses, the delegates are allocated by a whole separate process and you essentially think you -- figure a phrase -- have gamed the process so all of the delegates are going to be Ron Paul delegates in a lot of these states, even if the caucus voters themselves didn`t choose Ron Paul. That`s the impression we left a lot of people with last week. I want to just have you reiterate if that is in fact what you`re doing. WEAD: Well, it`s different in each state. For example, in Nevada, actually on the first ballot, the delegation that selected to go to the RNC from Nevada will have to vote for the winner of the beauty contest in Nevada on the first ballot, there after, they can vote as they wish. But unless the candidate that won releases them, which is conceivable the way the contest is going. But in most states, yes, it`s decided the rules are that the state convention will decide who the delegation is and the beauty contest is totally irrelevant and those were the rules. It`s not a new thing. It`s actually how Barack Obama won the Democrat nomination four years before. Hillary Clinton carried California, she carried New York, she carried New Jersey, Pennsylvania, I don`t know if she carried Ohio, I can`t remember Ohio. But she carried a lot of the biggest states, but Barack Obama won the nomination because he worked hard in the caucus states in their organization -- MADDOW: But the difference is that in the caucus states, where he won by large margins and thereby got the delegates that way, you`re claiming the delegates from contests where you didn`t win the vote in the caucus, when you were here last week, you talked about thinking you won Minnesota, won Colorado, won Nevada, that you may have won from reading the campaign stuff today, that you may have won all 24 delegates in Maine. In most of those cases, Dr. Paul was not first or is not in contention to be first in terms of the way the votes were counted at the caucus. So, that`s a real difference between how Obama racked up his delegates, isn`t it? WEAD: No, it isn`t. No, it isn`t. The beauty contest in each of those is a non-binding beauty contest that doesn`t matter. If we knew it mattered -- in some states, it does -- in some states like New Hampshire, the delegates were awarded proportionately based how they ended in the vote. So what we campaigned in New Hampshire, came in second, we contested it. And the vote in Minnesota was based proportionally on how you appeared in the beauty contest, we`d have gotten this and fought. But to say that we`re stealing the delegates is not true. Santorum knows the process. Gingrich and Mitt Romney know the process. In fact, it was devised for Mitt Romney. And the way the process is, is any candidate can have people go, vote in the beauty contest and stay and elect their own delegates to, in some cases, the district convention. In some cases, the county convention. It`s not a big secret, that`s been around for a long time. And then if they are patient, they go on to the county convention or district convention, and they elect again new delegates to go to the state convention where they then elect the delegates that will go to the Republican National Convention. We`re the people`s movement. We don`t have big money. Mitt Romney can literally create money because Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, and JPMorgan, they are getting trillions of dollars of electronically created money from the Federal Reserve, and then the biggest donors that Romney has. We`re challenging a very elite system. So, we`re a people`s movement and we don`t have their kind of money and we have to, as long as we play by their rules and win at it, we can keep going. MADDOW: Doug Wead, senior adviser to the Ron Paul campaign -- everybody is still treating this like a big secret. But if you and I keep talking about it, I think people are going to figure out. Thanks for being with us. WEAD: Eventually, they will. MADDOW: I appreciate it, sir. Thank you very much. All right. Debunking, debunking, it`s not pretty, but they`re a place for it. It`s called "Debunktion Junction" and that is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: It`s time to have another talk with PolitiFact. What`s the opposite of a Valentine? That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We`ve got a trip to "Debunktion Junction" coming up, the land of factual statements. But meanwhile, one story that has not necessarily been reported wrongly, but I think has been misunderstood is about something that happened off the coast of Iran today. Today, a U.S. aircraft carrier was training through the Strait of Hormuz, an international waterway that Iran has been threatening to close off. The American ship, the USS Abraham Lincoln, was going from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea. It`s not unusual for American military ships to move through the Strait of Hormuz. But this trip was the first since another U.S. carrier left the area back in December. And Iran`s military warned at the time warned them never to return. American aircraft carriers never go anywhere on their own. This one today was being escorted by two other ships, one in front and one behind. When seven small Iranian boats sped up toward the American ships, NBC`s Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube were traveling with the U.S. fleet when this happened. They say the seven fast boats approached the Navy war ships, six of them buzzing the American ships, cutting right in front of the American ships. A U.S. military helicopter then fired flares down in the water, which caused the seventh boat to turn away. Now, this story is getting reported as a confrontation with Iranian patrol boats. While that is sort of true, there is a crucial detail here further down in the reporting. These boats, the so-called patrol boats, were not from Iran`s military, or from Iran`s Revolutionary Guard. Miklaszewski and Kube are reporting for NBC and they were. That those seven boats screaming toward these U.S. warships were not, in fact, official uniformed Iranian military, nor were they Revolutionary Guard. They were smugglers. Revolutionary Guard boats can apparently look a lot like smugglers boats in that part of the world. So, it would be easy to confuse them. But these were apparently smugglers. Why would smugglers choose to pester an American carrier group? I do not know. But apparently, these boats were more (INAUDIBLE) crate contraband rather than this is war. Part of what makes it unsettling is its context. Its context against all of these other seemingly unconnected but maybe connected things that are happening in the news all at once. Yesterday, for example, somebody riding a motorcycle in New Delhi in India planted a bomb on an Israeli diplomat`s car. The passenger, a diplomat`s wife survived the blast. Israel then blamed Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon and gets support from Iran. India says it has no evidence that Iran was involved in this bombing. And Iran is denying being involved in it. Also yesterday, somebody tried to bomb an Israeli diplomatic vehicle in the Republic of Georgia, in the capital city there. That attempt failed. Israel again blamed Iran and Hezbollah, then Iran blamed Israel, saying Israel was attacking its own diplomats as a kind of psychological warfare on Iran. Then, today, Bangkok, Thailand, a bomb exploded in a house believed to be rented by Iranian nationals. The police in Thailand say one of the men threw a grenade at them, but it bounced at the Iranian guy who threw it and it caused him his legs. The wounded man was arrested. Israel again blaming Iran and Hezbollah for this attack, Iran continuing to deny any involvement. And talking about this today at the State Department, a spokeswoman mentioned a plot in Azerbaijan that was thwarted last month. Azerbaijan takes credit for foiling the planned the assassination of the Israeli ambassador there. The State Department today said that plot was sponsored by Iran, and that the Obama administration is concerned about the uptick in violence and any links to Iran in the other bombings. Any one of these incidents on its own probably doesn`t amount to a front page story, but all of them happening together all at once, it is starting to feel like a front page story. Joining us is Josh Rogin, senior writer for "Foreign Policy" magazine and keeper of the excellent blog, "The Cable." Josh, very busy week for you. Thank very much for talking to us. JOSH ROGIN, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: Always glad to be on. MADDOW: Is it right -- do you think it`s correct to draw even dotted lines between those various incidents that I just mentioned? Is it appropriate to think of them as a string of incidents rather than isolated incidents? ROGIN: Sure. And these are the latest dots in a very long line of dots that have been going for years. And what this is, is this is the covert war that`s been going on between Israel and Iran, erupting into the public eye in a very serious way and for a few different reasons. I mean, the bottom line is that Israel, with tacit or American approval or at least with the U.S. government looking the other way, has been attacking Iranian scientists, has been blowing up Iranian missile factories. And this is all part of the effort to delay Iran`s achievement of building a nuclear weapon and this is something that I guess the U.S. government is for, supporting in some way. But the Iranians are now fighting back and this is -- this is what happens when you raise the stakes of these kind of confrontations. And as we get toward an Iran that has, closer to achieving a nuclear weapon, the stakes get even higher and the risks get even higher. And the risks of miscalculation, including miscalculating whether or not it`s a patrol boat or a smuggler, or an Iranian government boat become much, much more dangerous. MADDOW: In what you describe as the covert war between Israel and Iran that`s already underway, how does that proceed? Where does that go? Where does that end up? Does it stay at this level? Does it escalate? Do we know what it escalates toward? Do we know what would be the cost of that escalating if it did? ROGIN: Right. So, this is the $64,000 question. And this was actually a big topic of discussion this week in the U.S. government because Leon Panetta, our defense secretary, was reported to say that he believes that Israel will attack Iran in an overt way, with planes, dropping bombs, in the April, May, to June time frame, which is coming up quick. He was asked today to deny that and he didn`t deny it. He didn`t confirm it either. But the bottom line is that people around Washington are getting worried Israel is about to take this to the next level. And at the same time, there`s been some really new reporting in "Newsweek" this week that the U.S. and Israeli governments are no longer on the exact same page, and they`re no longer sharing information as well they used to, and no longer have confidence in each other to warn each other if and when this covert war becomes a hot war. And at the same time, Iranians are suffering under brutal U.S. led sanctions. And the economy is going in the toilet. This is causing them to do all sort of things, to try to make up ground on their side. So, it really is spiraling out of control, and this is really the nightmare scenario for the Obama White House which doesn`t want an economic crisis, much less a war right in the middle of their election season. MADDOW: Josh Rogin, senior writer for "Foreign Policy" -- this is something that obviously everybody is reading about every day and trying to keep in context. The context is almost unimaginable. But thank you -- thank you for helping us understand it, Josh. It`s always great to have you here. ROGIN: Any time. MADDOW: All right. Right after this show, on "THE LAST WORD," Lawrence O`Donnell and Washington state`s decision to legalize same sex marriage makes some beautiful music together. And here, what I think is worth obsessing about more than Rick Santorum. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Last time I had an on-air chat with PolitiFact, I lost my ability to use words. I just reverted to grunting and guttural gestures. Tonight, I will try to be slightly less Neanderthal. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Chart imitates life. Take this as a thank you to the great Ezra Klein who guest-hosted while I was out of town last night. We all love Ezra here and Ezra loves chart. And by the transitive property, therefore this is a chart-laden Valentine for understanding what`s going on in the news of politics right now. This is the chart of what the Beltway media is obsessed with for 2012 politics in this current news cycle. This is the "oh my holy smokes, is Rick Santorum going to beat Mitt Romney" story. This chart shows Mitt Romney in black there, his polling over time. And in red there, that`s Rick Santorum. His polling over time. Mr. Santorum coming out of nowhere and with that steep climb, now challenging if not beating Mr. Romney nationwide. This is the story the Beltway media cannot get enough of right now. Here`s why I don`t think that is the most important political dynamic in the world. Yes, Mr. Santorum has come from nowhere to meet or exceed Mr. Romney this week. But before this week, Mr. Romney weathered the exact same storm from Rick Perry, see him there, that was Rick Perry in September, right? Then Mr. Perry went away. After Mr. Perry, Mr. Romney weathered the exact same storm from Herman Cain, and then Herman Cain went away. And then after Herman Cain, Mr. Romney weathered the exact same storm from Newt Gingrich. And, Mr. Gingrich, and Mr. Gingrich came back and then Mr. Gingrich went away again. So, although it is exciting in the moment, a rival Republican candidate coming from nowhere to surge and pose a challenge to Mr. Romney, it is not the most novel story in the world. I mean, yes, the later the timing gets in the race, the more interesting it is. But still, if in all the breathless Rick Santorum coverage today you feel like you have seen this movie before, it is because you have seen this movie before. And it might end up being a big deal, but it might not. If chart really does imitate life, here`s what I think is a more important thing to keep an eye on. And it`s not getting nearly as much attention. We don`t vote nationally. We vote state by state, right? I mean, it`s too bad, but the presidential preferences of Republican voters in a state like Utah just don`t matter all that much. Their primary`s at the end of June. It comes pretty much too late in the process to likely have any impact on who the Republicans pick for their nominees. But Utah Republicans` preferences are reflected as much in these national polls that we obsess about -- Utah Republicans are there as much as anyone else, even Utah Republicans don`t really get a say in the outcome of that contest. If you want to get a sense of what`s going in the race nationally, if you don`t want to go state by state, you just want a big picture, national snapshot of how the candidate is doing, how the campaign is affecting their overall prospects, look not just at national "who would you vote for" polling, look at voters` feelings. How the fight is -- if you`re looking at how the fight in the individual states is affecting a candidate`s chances overall. If you want to know big picture how that fight is affecting a candidate`s chances, ask people their feelings about the candidates. Ask them if they like them. Poll on whether people are favorably or unfavorably inclined towards that specific candidate. This is what I think matters for big picture 2012 politics right now. And I think it`s amazing, and really nobody is talking about it. Are you ready? OK, you ready? Hey, America, are your feelings about Mitt Romney favorable or unfavorable? OK. The navy blue line is "I don`t like him." The green like is, "I like him." This is Mitt Romney through the end of 2011. Mitt Romney through New Year`s Eve. Now, watch what`s happened this year since people started voting. Again, the navy blue line is unfavorable, the green line is favorable. You can watch all the rival candidacies swinging up and down relative to Mitt Romney, you can watch all the caucus and primary results and the delegate race. I find it as much fun as anyone to obsess on Rick Santorum. But can we just zoom in on 2012 here? Can we just zoom in on the 2012 part of this? Are we capable of doing that? It`s highlighted? Oh, I see. It`s slightly brighter. This is the story of 2012 politics, writ large. This is what`s going on in the Republican rate for president. The more happens in the race, the more voting, the more campaigning this year, the more voters have decided nationally that they cannot stand Mitt Romney. If there`s polling in politics that might be worth blanket coverage from the Beltway media, I would think that this would be it. Chart imitates life. Happy Valentine`s Day. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: "Debunktion Junction" -- what`s my function? Now, we do this every once in a while on the show when an outright lie or an incorrect perception is circulating in the news, and we think we can clear it up by showing that something that`s being described as true is, in fact, false. Alternatively, sometimes, someone tries to cast aspersions on a true fact, trying to undermine people`s confidence in a true thing. In that case, sometimes we think we can clear it by affirming the truth of that thing. We do the "Debunktion Junction" segment here on this show for those reasons from time to time. People at an organization called PolitiFact try to do that sort of thing every day. And they are shockingly, shockingly bad at it. I`ve lost my mind more than once recently about how bad PolitiFact is, and how anybody who values the meaning of the word "facts" needs to stop citing them as an authority on the subject of facts. But PolitiFact has just done it up again. They are so bewilderingly bad that I just need to put them on the record here one more time. Here`s the statement that they put to their patented PolitiFact truth- o-meter test today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: So the majority of Americans are conservatives. They believe in things like the Constitution. I know that`s weird to some people. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Florida Senator Marco Rubio, leading contender for the vice presidential nomination, alongside Bob McDonnell, Marco Rubio fact-checked by PolitiFact on his claim that the majority of Americans are conservative. PolitiFact tests the truthfulness of that statement by consulting the Gallup poll, which they note has been regularly asking Americans about their political ideology since 1992. PolitiFact goes on to cite the most recent Gallup ideology poll results from last year, which show that 21 percent of Americans identify as liberal, 35 percent identify as moderates, and 40 percent identify as conservatives. So, Marco Rubio says a majority of Americans are conservative, PolitiFact looks into it and finds that, actually, only 40 percent of Americans say they`re conservative, and that obviously isn`t a majority. So quoting PolitiFact, "He said a majority of Americans are conservatives, in Gallup`s poll, the number has never crossed the 50 percent threshold." Oh, but wait, there`s more. PolitiFact goes on to point out that even if you split up the independent vote, people who say they are in the middle, even if you split them up into leans Republican or leans Democrat, still, there`s no majority for the more conservative of the two parties, for the Republican Party. Quote, "The independent split up so that the country is almost evenly divided." So, to sum up, Marco Rubio says the majority of Americans are conservative. PolitiFact looks into that and finds that a majority of Americans do not identify as conservative. And even if you want to extrapolate to parties, even if you want to give Marco Rubio the benefit of the doubt and say that Republican leaning instead of conservative, that still doesn`t get you to a majority either. So, according to PolitiFact, Marco Rubio`s literal claim is false, extrapolating generously from his literal claim, also false. Therefore, PolitiFact`s rating of Marco Rubio`s statement -- mostly true! Seriously?! Claim A, false. Claim B, false. Overall PolitiFact rating, mostly true! PolitiFact, please leave the building. Do not bother turning off the lights when you leave, we will need them on to clean up the mess you have left behind you as you are leaving. PolitiFact, you are a disaster. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. I didn`t expect to end the Valentine`s Day show on that note, but oh, my God! Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END