updated 8/10/2009 10:26:06 AM ET 2009-08-10T14:26:06

Guests: Kent Jones, Frank Schaeffer, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Nicholas Schmidle

     

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you very much. 

Have a great weekend.

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  You, too.

MADDOW:  And thank you for staying with us this hour at home to cap off an incredible week in the news.

The health care debate has been hostage to straight up thuggery for more than a week now.  But maybe that‘s changing.  New York Congressman Anthony Weiner will be joining us live in studio to talk about that.

Also, our friend, Richard Engel reports from Afghanistan about what may have just been one of the most important events in the war there in over eight years.

That is all ahead tonight.

But we begin with the convergence of two of the great sources of jaw-dropping, I can‘t believe that just happened-ness in modern American politics.  We have the mob rule, shut it down, screaming, don‘t talk about health care mobs and we have Sarah Palin.

The now unemployed former vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor, who turned to her Facebook page today to add this to our national conversation about reforming our health care system.  She said, quote, “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama‘s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide based on a subjective judgment of their level of productivity in society whether they are worthy of health care.  Such a system is downright evil.”

I actually agree.  Of course, such a system isn‘t actually being considered by anyone.  But don‘t let that hold you back.

Last night, on this show, we hosted Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity.  It‘s a beltway organization with significant corporate funding.  They‘re staffed by experienced Republican campaign strategists, like Mr. Phillips himself.

Americans for Prosperity has churned out a number of what appear to be grassroots organizations.  They have names like Patients First and Patients United Now.  And these groups are formed to oppose health care reform and to get people to pack these town hall meetings about health care.

These groups direct people to town halls.  They give them talking points to use there.  And they try to get them fired up.

Here for example is the fire ‘em up message from a speaker on Mr.  Phillips‘ Patients First bus tour, which yesterday held an event in Pueblo, Colorado.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If this new Obama-care program comes to fruition, when you reach 65 and every five years thereafter, you‘re going to have a counseling session with some federal airhead.  Part of this process is called end-of-life counseling and part of the end-of-life counseling can be an end-of-life order.

Adolf Hitler issued 6 million end-of-life orders.  He called his program the final solution.

I kind of wonder what we‘re going to call ours.

If you find all this stuff is as repugnant as I do, you need to take it to the next step.  You need to notify your congressman.  How do you that?  How do you notify these people?

You can call them.  You can write them.  You can e-mail them.  Or you can go to their office and put the fear of God in ‘em.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Put the fear of God in them—because what Obama is doing with killing all these people like Sarah Palin said, that‘s like what Hitler did and you know what Hitler deserved.

This is the rhetoric that corporate-funded, GOP-allied groups like Americans for Prosperity are funneling through which they set up to look like grassroots organizations to get people to go “put the fear of God” into elected officials.

“Politico” is reporting that an event planned by Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona was overrun by protestors who showed up after receiving robocalls encouraging them to show up and demonstrate.  And, of course, the nice thing about robocalls is it‘s never easy to know exactly where they came from, but it is known that Conservatives for Patients‘ Rights—another one of the fake grassroots organizations, a 20 organization—a $20 million operation run by former hospital CEO Rick Scott—that group posted the time and location of these events on its Web site.

And what has started as rowdy and rude and mean-spirited disruptions has turned, in some cases, into actual violence, with several hospitalizations for minor injuries and some arrests being reported at health care town halls last night.  What‘s also evident is that the antireform rhetoric increasingly is invoking specific references to Nazis and specific comparison of President Obama to Adolf Hitler.

Here for example is a 16-year-old wearing a -- 16-year-old at a Denver town hall event wearing a t-shirt with a picture of the president and the words on it, “Hitler gave good speeches, too.”  Here‘s a toddler in a stroller at the same event carrying a sign with a swastika that reads, “No to Fascism.”  Here‘s a protestor at a Michigan event held by Congressman John Dingell carrying a sign that depicts the president with a Hitler mustache.

Yesterday, talk show host Rush Limbaugh compared the president, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the proposed health care reform, and the president‘s health care logo to Nazism and/or Hitler.  And despite criticism from, among others, the conservative “National Review Online,” the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, and Rabbi Marvin Hier whose founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rush Limbaugh actually retrenched with the whole Hitler/Nazism thing today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  By the way, his health care logo looks damn like the Nazi logo.  I‘m sorry but it does.  I didn‘t create either logo, but I have two eyes and I can see.  Infuriating Democrats—good.  Is Obama not got a Web site where he‘s asking supporters to provide the names of people providing disinformation about the health care system?  What did I say yesterday that is not true?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You know, there are people alive today who barely survived the Holocaust.  And there are many people alive today whose whole families were killed in the Holocaust.  Nazism is not a metaphor for a political policy you disagree with.  Used deliberately as a strategy to characterize a political opponent, it has a very specific resonance with people looking to justify violence.  The implication of conjuring up the Third Reich is that, in the case of someone who‘s identified as a Nazi, as a modern day Hitler, violence against that person, even murder, would not only be seen as justified, it might be celebrated.

This rhetorical strategy sets the stage for political violence that the perpetrator could hope would be praised.  As such the idea of assassination, other kinds of political violence are always in the subtext.  And you know, sometimes assassination isn‘t even in the subtext.  Sometimes it just bubbles right up to the surface.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST:  I wonder what it would be like seriously.  I mean, if I could go, you know, to the speaker‘s shindig.  Speaker Pelosi, I just wanted to—are you going to drink your wine?  Are you blind?  Do those eyes not work?  There you go.  I want you to drink it now.  Drink it.  Drink it.  Drink it.

I really just wanted to thank you for having me over to wine country, you know?  To be invited, I thought I had to be a major Democratic donor or long-time friend of yours which I‘m not.  By the way, I put poison in your—no!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Yesterday, we played a tape of a Republican congressman joking about lynching Democratic members of Congress.  Now, it‘s conservative national radio hosts calling the President Hitler and conservative national television hosts joking about assassinating the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Right wing media deliberately and systematically invoking both Nazism and political assassination; hostile crowds consistently displaying Nazi symbolism at these demonstrations; the corporate-funded anti-reform movement using Hitler as a rhetorical weapon against the president and against Democrats in Congress—it‘s scary, of course, if they don‘t understand the implications of their actions.  And it‘s much, much scarier, still, if they do.

Joining us now is Frank Schaeffer.  He‘s the author of “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back.”

Mr. Schaefer, thank you so much for coming back on the show tonight.

FRANK SCHAEFFER, AUTHOR, “CRAZY FOR GOD”:  Thanks for having me on, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Do you think that calling the president a Nazi, calling the president Hitler is an implicit call for politically motivated violence?

SCHAEFFER:  Yes, I do.  In fact, this rings a big bell with me because my dad, who was a right-wing evangelical leader, wrote a book called “A Christian Manifesto” that sold over a million copies.  And in that book, he compared anybody who was pro-abortion to the Nazi Germans and he said that using violence or force to overthrow Nazi Germany would have been appropriate for Christians, including the assassination of Hitler.  He compared the Supreme Court‘s actions on abortion to that and that has ban note that has been following the right-wing movement that my father and I helped start in evangelical context all the way.

So, what‘s really being said here is two messages.  There is the message to the predominantly white, middle-aged crowd, the people screaming at these meetings, trying to shut them down.  But there‘s also a coded message to what I would call the “looneytunes,” the “fruitloops” on the side.

It‘s really like playing Russian roulette.  You put a cartridge in the chamber, you spin, and once in a while it goes off.  And we saw that happen with Dr. Tiller.  We‘ve seen it happen numerous times in this country with the violence against political leaders whether it‘s Martin Luther King or whoever it might be.  We have a history of being a well-armed, violent country.

And so, really, I think that these calls are incredibly irresponsible.  The good news is that it shows a desperation.  The far-right knows they have lost.  They‘ve lost the hearts and minds of most American people, for instance, who want health care.

But they also know they have a large group of people who are not well-informed, who listen to only their own sources, who buy the lies, for instance, all this nonsense about euthanasia being mandatory and all the rest of it, and these people can be energized to go out and do really dreadful things.  And we‘ve seen it in front of abortion clinics.  I‘m afraid we‘re going to see it with some of our political leaders.

And the Glenn Becks of this world literally are responsible for unleashing what I regard as an anti-democratic, anti-American movement in this country that is trying to shut down legitimate debate and replace it with straight out intimidation.  It is ironic they‘re drawing a parallel to Hitler.

I wouldn‘t draw such a parallel, but I would draw a parallel to the Brown Church (ph) of 1930s who got into a habit of shutting down dissent and making it look as if they had a majority by spreading out in groups just as these folks do, screaming the loudest and making debate impossible.

So, these are very, very bad signs and I‘m not at all optimistic about how this is going to end in terms of violence, although I do think Obama is going to win the day in terms of most Americans.

The problem is, we‘re not talking about most Americans, we‘re talking about a small, angry group of white people who to—you know, to paraphrase Bart Simpson, the election broke their brains.  They‘re angry.  And they are ready to do just about anything to stop the process at this point because they‘d rather see us all lose than admit defeat.

MADDOW:  Mr. Schaeffer.

SCHAEFFER:  That‘s where they‘re at.

MADDOW:  . one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you about this tonight is because what you describe as the potential that this could be a coded message.  What we‘re seeing here is vituperative language like this from some members of Congress, from some people who are considered to be relatively mainstream, within conservative politics.

But we‘re also seeing it from movement organizers, from people who are organized, like this Americans for Prosperity group.  It‘s a very well-connected group.  We have the president of that organization on the show last night.  He‘s a former political strategist partner of Ralph Reed.  He‘s up in the Jack Abramoff scandal.  I mean, these people who are—he was the campaign strategist for George Bush‘s primary campaign for president in 2000 -- these are people who are very much linked into the conservative movement.

And so, what I‘m trying to get down to is the question of whether or not this is a deliberate coded message, whether this is sort of a dog whistle that‘s going out on the right by using specific language about Nazism, it is a specific call for violence?

SCHAEFFER:  Yes, I would like to just say this and I know this may come off as a little harsh to people, but I honestly think that there is a type of white middle-aged American male, I‘m a white-middle aged—well, I wish I was middle-aged, I‘m over middle age—but a white male about my age who has had a kind of mental collapse.  I mean, you look at the way they went after Sotomayor and called her a racist.  You look at them now using all these foundations and these groups, lobbyists and others pouring millions of dollars from the insurance industry and stirring up misinformed, right-wing white people, not terribly bright people, the sort of people who are yelling at these meetings.

There is a coded message here.  And that is that you have a group of people who like Rush Limbaugh would rather see the president and the country fail, and their coded message to their own lunatic fringe is very simple—and that is go for broke.

When you start comparing a democratically-elected president, who is not only our first black president but a moderate progressive, to Adolf Hitler, you have arrived at a point where you are literally leading—leaving a loaded gun on the table, saying the first person who wants to come along and use this, go ahead.  Be our guest.

Now, all these people, when something bad happens, will raise their holy hands in horror and say, of course, we didn‘t mean that.  We were just talking about being Americans.  It‘s American to protest.

B.S.  They know exactly what‘s out there.  There is a whole public there who went out and stopped up on ammunition and guns thinking Obama would take away their weapons.  One such person shot down three policemen in Pittsburgh.  I‘d like to know exactly what Glenn Beck and FOX News will say the morning after someone takes a shot at our president or kills a senator or congressman.

And if it‘s one of the people who we find a little note in their car or the literature or their television watching habits whose tied to these people who are stirring the pot, or tied to these foundations that people, like Dick Armey, are running, trying to use insurance company money to make look this fake grassroots movement then—then we‘ll see what happens.  But at that point we‘ll be in a new zone and it‘ll be too late.

So, my warning to my old friends on the right and those who read my book, “Crazy for God,” knows that without the work of my father, Dr. C.  Everett Koop and myself, there would have been no pro-life movement, no religious right to be fomenting these things from, it‘s the same cast of characters.  I came to a place in my life when I realized I had made a big mistake.

Now, we‘ve crossed a line into which hate and vitriol have gone to a point where it is anti-democratic and anti-American.  These people do not want America to succeed.  They would rather see our system go down than have a black president, someone with different political views, someone appointing people like Sotomayor, Hispanic people, women and others.  And we have arrived at a point where enough is enough.

So, these people are hatemongers, and they are distributing a kind of information on two levels.  One the lies about the health care system requiring euthanasia and all this nonsense, but on another level, as I say leaving a loaded gun on the table, they‘re calling our president Hitler, they‘re spreading this rhetoric, they‘re spreading these lies.

It isn‘t just a question of being bad journalists anymore.  These are bad Americans, and they are putting all of us at risk.

MADDOW:  Frank Schaeffer, author of “Crazy for God”—thank you very much for coming on the show.  Mr. Schaeffer, we really appreciate your insight.  Thanks.

SCHAEFFER:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  OK.  Coming up next: We recently hosted on this show Democratic member of Congress who was taking a particularly pugnacious but constructive call-their-bluff approach to the health care fight.  He is Representative Anthony Weiner of New York.  He joins us next to talk about how the Democrats are fighting back against the mob rule tactics they are facing.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  We‘ve all seen the imagery that really just shocks and surprises us, and I think the best thing to do is to take that temperature down a bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answering one of the many questions raised by the mob rule shutting down health care town hall meetings in many parts of the country this week.

The single most worrying thing about what‘s Mr. Gibbs just said right there—his use of the word “surprises.”  Were Democrats and others in favor of health care reform caught flat-footed by what‘s happened this week?  Now, that they‘ve seen what they are up against, reform advocates do seem to be belatedly joining the fight.

The pro-reform organization Health Care for America Now has put out a new playbook for thwarting town hall protestors.  They‘re advising health care reform advocates to contact members of Congress and let them know you are coming, to bring more people and arrive earlier than the other side, to be more visible with signs and leaflets and locations where TV cameras can see it, to have a plan for the media and speak with the reporters, to interrupt protestors who get disruptive with prepared statements like, “Excuse me, I came today to listen to Representative X explain how this bill is going to make health care more affordable for me”—good luck with that one.  And they also suggest, “Don‘t get in a shouting match with the protestors.”

Now, to supplement these six habits of highly successful health care reform advocates, the Democratic National Committee has launched its own clumsily named Web site, “Setting the Record Straight on the Special Interest Attack on Health Insurance Reform—ahem—which exposes the groups behind the lies that are being spread about health reform right now.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also set up a Web site to fact-check and debunk health care myths—health care myths like, grassroots protestors are disrupting those town halls or the government will encourage euthanasia, or private health care plans will be outlawed.

There is no word yet whether they feel the need to debunk the health care reform will mandate sex change operations myth.  I suppose it‘s only a matter of time for that one.  August is young.

Joining us now is Democratic New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who had his own health care town hall at a senior center yesterday—apparently, minus the right-wing drama.

Congressman, it‘s nice to see you.  Thanks for being here.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  Well, it‘s my pleasure.  Thanks.

MADDOW:  I understand it was pepper steak day and that‘s part of the reason it went well yesterday?

WEINER:  Well, actually, we chose at the Forest Hill‘s Jewish center, a senior center, because it was pepper steak day and we thought we‘d get a good crowd.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  How did it go?

WEINER:  It was actually fine.  You know, it shows you a little bit what‘s different between the left and the right.  You know, we have this notion that if we talk about issues and we discuss the challenges, we can reach conclusions.  The other side just literally is yelling no.  They do it on the floor of Congress and now, they‘re doing around town.

But for the most part, you know, people have legitimate questions.  These are tough issues and I feel very strongly—for example, I said on your show, you know, the single-payer plan like Medicare for everyone.  Yet, still, there were seniors there who were standing up, saying, “I want you to leave your hands off my plan and don‘t touch it and by the way, I don‘t want the government involved.”  And, you know, I had to remind them Medicare, like 40 percent.

MADDOW:  They would say, “I don‘t want government involved in my Medicare”?

WEINER:  Yes.  Well, a lot of them were reading and hearing some of the things they hear on angry, shouting radio shows, and they were parroting them back.

But frankly, I don‘t mind a good give-and-take at a town hall meeting.  Frankly, town hall meetings, I always tell my audiences and I always tell my staff, you know, I want people to hear what their neighbors are thinking as well.

And we basically had that the other day.  You know, any—there was almost, you know, you read about this in “The New York Post.”  So, by nature, you can‘t believe what you read.  They were genuinely crushed that there wasn‘t more angry shouting, but people do have questions.

MADDOW:  Well, you know, it is—people have questions.  People have disagreements.  People sometimes have very sharp disagreements.  And there are often in American politics and in all politics myths about what‘s actually being proposed and what‘s not—that all seems normal.

What doesn‘t seem normal to me is the effort to stop the debate.  Not to make one side of the debate loud or to make one side of the debate dominant, but rather to stop the debate from happening.  And the reason I wanted to talk to you about that is I feel like you‘re a—you are a strategic thinker on policy issues like this, particularly on health care.

What‘s the advantage to the other side of just stopping the ability to talk about it?

WEINER:  Well, you know, inertia is a powerful force in Washington.  Change is very difficult when you‘re dealing with institutions like the insurance lobby and their wholly-owned subsidiary, the Republican Party.  So, it‘s always easier to stand in the way of doing something than is to try to do something.  So, I think the Republicans have made the analysis that if we can just stop the governing party, the Democrats, from getting anything done, then we‘ll be OK.

The problem is, we‘re paying more taxes because they‘re going to the insurance companies.  We‘re running higher debts and deficits because of the high cost of health care.

So, all the things they claim to be against we‘re trying to solve here.  So, sooner or later, those two conflicting views are going to come into sharp focus.  But I think the American people are in the position—most of them—they want to solve problems, and I think, ultimately, Democrats will be rewarded.

But this is tough sledding in large part because the Republicans and the conservative right have a much easier job.  They literally just have to stand in front of us and yell at the top of their lungs, and they will have succeeded with their day‘s event.  And that‘s going to be difficult for us.

MADDOW:  Very briefly, we are sort of out of time—but do you think that it‘s—this is something that can be destructively fought shouter to shouter?  Should there be people turning up at these meetings that they know are going to be contentious to be contentious on the other side?

WEINER:  Look, I think having a good debate benefits people like me who have an idea that we want to get out, like the need to extend Medicare to everyone, a single-payer system.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WEINER:  I think President Obama‘s plan needs a little bit explaining.  The only way to do it is the old Democratic way.  I just don‘t think that we can—we can be shouted down.  But, you know, listen, we can shout too if we have to.  I just don‘t think it‘s a constructive way to have a debate.

MADDOW:  Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, thanks very much for being here on a Friday night.  Appreciate it.

WEINER:  My pleasure.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Hey, did you hear who waited to resign from office until a Friday in August—without explaining why?  And he‘s leaving his Senate seat immediately as soon as somebody else can be found to fill it?  That‘s coming up next.

Plus, an update on the class of 2000.  Where did the Brooks Brothers rioters of the Miami-Dade recount in the 2000 election ever end up in this big political life anyway?  You might be surprised.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So far, the Obama presidency has been rather rich in action-movie heroics.  First, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers rescued an American ship captain being held hostage by Somali pirates.  This week, two American journalists held in North Korea were dramatically extricated in a surprise action involving Bill Clinton.  Now, today, we‘ve had news that the head of the Taliban in Pakistan has been assassinated by an American drone.  Also, Jason Bourne called and he‘d like his plot lines back.

That‘s all coming up.

But first, it‘s time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

A couple of days ago on this show, we drew a parallel that some others have drawn as well, between the corporate-funded Republican staffed P.R. operation riling up mobs to heckle and harass members of Congress at town hall events at these recess rallies, and the mother of all manufactured fake grassroots demonstrations of this young century, the infamous Brooks Brothers riot, which managed to halt the Miami-Dade recount following the presidential election in 2000.

Now, I raise the specter of the Brooks Brothers riot as a historical analogy, as a reminder that this type of tactic has been used before and to great effect. 

What I didn‘t realize at the time is that the Brooks Brothers rioters are more than just an analogy here.  The Brooks Brothers rioters and the professionals orchestrating recess rallies now are connected. 

Here‘s how.  At the time many of the Brooks Brothers rioters were Republican staffers working in the House and Senate.  Some of them still are.  Others have gone into the private sector.  One of them is now an immigration judge. 

One of them is named Tom Pyle.  Mr. Pyle had worked for indicted Republican Congressman Tom DeLay.  And then a few months after he and his pals pretended to be ordinary outraged citizens demanding an end to the recount, Mr. Pyle went to work for Koch Industries as a director of federal affairs.  He has since left and is now president of the Energy for Energy Research. 

This is Matt Schlapp.  Now, Mr. Schlapp went from fake outraged citizen rioter in Miami to work at the Bush White House for a while.  And then, he got a new gig as the executive director of federal affairs for Koch Industries.  Huh.  Koch Industries is the largest privately held oil company in this country. 

The co-owner of Koch Industries is David Koch, the 19th richest person in the world.  He also happens to be the national chairman of Americans for Prosperity, which is one of the groups organizing these recess rallies.  Koch Industries has also funded Freedom Works which is another recess rally organizer. 

Who knew the organized efforts to take over town halls and chase congressmen through parking lots would also serve as a Brooks Brothers riot alumni meet-and-greet?  What a tremendous coincidence. 

And finally, a bit of political mystery tonight.  Republican Florida Senator Mel Martinez, who said last year he would not seek re-election, waited until today, on a Friday afternoon, to make a completely unexpected announcement.  He is resigning now.  He is resigning before his term ends in the end of 2010.  This was his explanation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R-FL):  This is a free country.  People in Florida elected me.  This is of my own free will. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s the explanation?  Come on, senator.  Why are you really resigning?  No one pulls a Palin without something more exciting to say about why.  Come on.  Come on.  Come on.  Tell us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MADDOW:  One of the weirdest, almost pop culture-y small details about how the Bush administration started the Iraq war was that deck of cards.  Remember that?  Saddam, of course, with the ace of spades.  The ace of clubs was Qusay.  The ace of hearts was his son, Uday. 

Those decks go for about $1.20 on eBay right now.  The Pentagon made the deck of cards because apparently they had at least 52 names on their most wanted list at the start of the Iraq War.  Well, we‘ve also got a most wanted list for the war that we‘re not officially fighting right now in Pakistan. 

Officially, Pakistan is our ally and they‘re a sovereign country and they‘re against us using our armed flying robots, those pilot-less drones to shoot missiles into their territory. 

Unofficially, the U.S. is said to have a most wanted list, an imaginary deck of cards, if you will, of about 20 names of al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders they are trying to kill in Pakistan.  And I say kill deliberately, not capture, since officially, we have no troops in Pakistan and drones don‘t exactly arrest people. 

Well, in May of last year, something strange happened with a guy who was on that most wanted list.  It‘s reported that he was, from Pakistan‘s perspective, the single most wanted man in that country.  I don‘t know where the U.S. ranked him on our list but I do know he had a $5 million American bounty on his head. 

His name is Baitullah Mehsud - forgive my pronunciation.  He‘s about my age, reportedly born in 1974.  He is short, diabetic, apparently charismatic and the head of the Taliban in Pakistan.  Pakistan blamed for assassinating Benazir Bhutto.  He was the government terrorist public enemy number one.

And this is the weird thing that happened.  Last May, Mr. Mehsud called a press conference at his house.  In a huge one-fingered salute to everybody trying to kill him, Mr. Mehsud bussed reporters to his house, fed them a big meal and announced to them that he was declaring jihad against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, live and in person in front of reporters while there is a $5 million bounty on his head. 

Confident?  You bet.  Stupid?  Yes, maybe.  We‘re now learning that the U.S. military appears to have killed Baitullah Mehsud with one of those drone missile strikes. 

U.S. officials aren‘t confirming it but Pakistani government sources are saying he was killed on Wednesday.  They say they‘ve verified it with family members and they say there were eyewitnesses at his burial which is about a half mile from where that drone-fired missile landed. 

Joining us now is journalist Nicholas Schmidle who spent two years as a freelance journalist in Pakistan traveling through some of the most dangerous areas of that country and meeting with senior members of the Taliban, including some who had direct contact with Baitullah Mehsud. 

On my summer vacation this year I was completely taken by Mr.  Schmidle‘s new book about those experiences.  It‘s called “To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan.”  Nicholas Schmidle, thanks very much for joining us tonight. 

NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE, AUTHOR, “TO LIVE OR TO PERISH FOREVER”:  Thanks for having me on, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  You met with senior Taliban leaders who had had direct contact with Baitullah Mehsud.  How did they regard him?  What kind of role did he have? 

SCHMIDLE:  Well, you know, I met mostly senior Taliban leaders in late 2007, the fall of 2007, including Malana Fazula(ph), the chieftain of the Taliban in Swat.  And he was kind of regarded as someone who - everyone looked up to him.  Everyone knew that he had more suicide bombers than anyone else.  He had more support.  He had more troops.  He was just kind of this figure lording over South Waziristan.  But he hadn‘t announced that he was the head of the Pakistani Taliban yet.  So he hadn‘t really burst onto the stage quite yet. 

MADDOW:  Pakistan blamed the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Mehsud.  And I mean - I don‘t know.  While he may very well have done it, in your book, you say that you found Pakistan‘s public evidence against him in that case a little less than convincing.  Can you explain that? 

SCHMIDLE:  Well, you know, it was - my personal belief, he was responsible.  But by the same token, the way that the government tried to prosecute the case against him was very hasty and was a little bit sloppy and they apparently intercepted a phone call between Baitullah Mehsud and one of his deputies in which they were congratulating one another on Benazir‘s assassination. 

And a young, enterprising journalist went to the alleged spot that conversation took place, busted out his cell phone, and found that there was no cell phone coverage on the top of that hill, thus undermining the government‘s case a bit. 

I still think all fingers point to him but it was just evidence of the way that the government sometimes is in such a rush to pin blame rather than letting, you know, a prosecutable case develop. 

MADDOW:  As somebody who controlled 10,000 or 20,000 troops, as somebody who was the proclaimed head of the Taliban in Pakistan, if he is, in fact, dead, do you expect that‘s going to have an effect on the war that American troops are fighting in Afghanistan? 

SCHMIDLE:  That‘s a great question.  I don‘t think it is going to have that much of an impact on what troops are seeing in Afghanistan because Baitullah Mehsud had really turned his guns against the Pakistani state. 

Now, with 20,000 fighters, I‘m sure there‘s a large fraction of them that were traveling across the border and were fighting against Americans in Afghanistan.  But they really had - and I mean, the focus of their jihad had become against the Pakistani state and less against NATO and U.S.  forces in Afghanistan. 

MADDOW:  Well, the goal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is supposedly sort of nation building right now.  They describe it as counterinsurgency but it‘s essentially to make the government there control more of that country and have loyalty of its citizens. 

SCHMIDLE:  Right.

MADDOW:  That‘s also the sort of the goal of U.S. policy in Pakistan right now that the U.S. would like Pakistan essentially to be accountable for what happens within its borders.  And they‘d like to get some of these, what they consider to be lawless areas, under control. 

Does northwest Pakistan, the sort of lawless of all lawless areas - the most lawless of all lawless areas - does it get more governable or less governable with Baitullah Mehsud gone from that region? 

SCHMIDLE:  That‘s a great question.  I think that it doesn‘t really make that much of a difference in the very short term.  No matter what, the government isn‘t going to be able to implement development programs in South Waziristan now that Baitullah Mehsud is gone. 

And in fact, there is now - there is going to be an interesting power struggle that‘s going to develop amongst his deputies and his lieutenants over who is going to take over for him. 

And I think this is going to be the true test kind of the symbolic and the meaning of his death - is whether someone with a big name, a household name, Taliban leader steps into that role or whether it‘s someone that‘s close to Baitullah but a little bit less well-known. 

In that case, I think we could see potentially the fate of the

Pakistani Taliban be something akin to that of al-Qaeda in Iraq after the death of Zarqawi, where, sure, al-Qaeda in Iraq continues, but never with the same vigor that Zarqawi brought to the organization.

MADDOW:  Wouldn‘t that be nice.  Sorry.  But briefly, it sounds like you‘re saying that the Taliban - we don‘t necessarily know them to be an organization that can be decapitated.  We expect somebody to step in to be responsible for leading his 10,000 or 20,000 fighters.  It‘s just a matter of who it‘s going to be.  Is that how you see it? 

SCHMIDLE:  I mean, the Pakistani Taliban are really a collection of gangs.  And he was the overlord of all of these gangs.  And he was logistically and kind of in a spiritual sense - I mean, he was the head.  But I think that someone will step into that role. 

You know, the Taliban are, by their nature, sort of a regenerative militia.  And so you kill one and you create five or 10 more.  But still, this is a major symbolic victory for most of the Pakistanis and for the U.S.

MADDOW:  Journalist Nicholas Schmidle, author of the book “To Live or Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan,” which I enjoyed very much on my vacation and highly recommend.  Mr. Schmidle, thanks for writing the book and thanks for being on the show tonight. 

SCHMIDLE:  Thanks, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann talks to our friend, Melissa Harris-Lacewell about the lobbyist-organized town hall protests and the specter of political terrorism in this country. 

Next on this show, a full-on Friday night RACHEL MADDOW SHOW bullpucky alert.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So there was a really great piece of local journalism that happened yesterday in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the mighty packers, the Fort Howard Paper Company and a TV reporter named Kristoffer Engebretson, who works for NBC Channel 26. 

Democratic congressman Steve Kagen held a town hall meeting on health care that, not surprisingly, turned nasty.  But rather than just reporting on the nastiness as a kinetic event - look, motion - Mr. Engebretson actually paid attention to who exactly was disrupting the event and why. 

He stuck around afterwards to ask those folks why they were being that way in the meeting and what their views were.  And in one case, he got on the Google machine to find out whether these folks disrupting the meeting were really who they said they were.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTOFFER ENGEBRETSON, TV REPORTER, NBC CHANNEL 26:  Heather Blish is another one who stood out.  She introduced herself as just a mom from a few blocks away, not affiliated with any political party. 

HEATHER BLISH, KEWAUNEE RESIDENT:  I‘m a Kewaunee resident.  I‘m not with any political party.

ENGEBRETSON:  Later, I tried to ask her if anyone sent her here. 

BLISH:  No I was not influenced.  I‘m not a member of the Republican Party.  I have not paid my dues to the Republican Party for two years.  I left the party.

ENGEBRETSON:  Her LinkedIn page her page shows something different.  She was the vice chair of the Republican Party of Kewaunee County until last year.  She worked on the John Gard campaign who ran unsuccessfully against Kagen last year and now says she is part of the Republican Party for Kagen‘s district as well as the Republican Party Wisconsin and the Republican National Committee. 

Again, Blish introduced herself as just a mom with no political affiliation with any party. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Tada!  Journalism.  Congratulations to Kristoffer Engebretson of that local station in Green Bay for going the extra step to find out what was behind the incivility in his town rather than just covering it like a ping-pong match. 

The supposed mom from down the block who was berating the Congressman Kagen - yes, it turns out she‘s a Republican Party official who worked for the candidate who lost to the congressman she was berating. 

Also, Patients United Now, which promises you that they‘re people just like you standing up to the big companies and lobbyists on healthcare reform - they‘re really Americans for Prosperity, offices on N Street in Washington, D.C., funded by the largest oil company in the United States. 

Mob scenes at town hall tea party events that the Republican Party chairman says have nothing at all to do with Republicans and aren‘t being promoted by them anyway?  Hey, there they are, being promoted on the front page of Republican Party Web sites. 

The laziest possible way to cover or understand what‘s been happening at these town hall shutdowns is the to see that mob rule in action as some sort of indication that healthcare reform is the policy that just brings out the worst in people. 

Boy, howdy, these two sides sure are fighting it out.  You know, these aren‘t two sides fighting it out.  This is Democratic members of Congress trying to hold conversations and meetings about health care with constituents, facing down mobs that are shutting down and drowning out those conversations and those meetings. 

Fox News today posted a list of town hall meetings for their viewers to consider attending.  They posted only Democratic town hall meetings.  These are political attacks that, frankly, aren‘t even really about health care at all. 

If this were a debate, if what we were witnessing here was controversy about what to do about the issue of health care, we‘d actually be having a disagreement about what to do about the issue of health care.  Instead, what we‘ve got is fact-free paranoia and rage being stoked to the point where it stops all discussion. 

Here‘s a case in point.  The idea that healthcare reform is a secret plan to kill old people, a claim that got an even crazier-than-unusual airing tonight on the Facebook page of the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. 

She wrote, “The America I know and love is not in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand before Obama‘s ‘death panel‘ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,‘ whether they are worthy of health care.  Such a system is downright evil.” 

You got that?  Obama‘s death panel?  Sarah Palin thinks that‘s a bad idea.  Wait until all the people in favor of the Obama death panel hear about this.  There‘ll be quite a debate. 

There is no Obama death panel.  There‘s no plan to kill old people. 

There‘s no plan to kill off any people who aren‘t productive enough.  There‘s no plan to kill off any of Sarah Palin‘s children.  And if we were actually talking about health care instead of waddling through this free-floating morass of fact-less partisan rage and corporate opportunism, it would occur to someone to notice that the provision being considered by Congress that has Sarah Palin ranting about Obama death panels and the death of her own children was introduced by Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia. 

And it‘s not about killing old people.  It‘s about making it easier for old people to create living wills.  A similar provision was introduced by another Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.  This is a Republican idea. 

And you know what?  It‘s a good idea.  Living wills are a good idea.  It‘s the way that you say what you want to happen at the end of your life, whatever that is.  You want heroic measures taken?  Great.  Say it, so that nobody can say that‘s not what you would have wanted.  That‘s what a living will is.

You don‘t have to have one, but if you want to have some say over what happens at the end of your life, it is a good idea.  It‘s certainly a bipartisan idea.  It‘s a patient‘s rights idea.  And it‘s never been considered controversial in the 20-plus years the United States government has been formally encouraging it of its citizens.  But instead of debating that actual policy, we get this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-NC):  Republicans have a better solution that will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government. 

REP. PAUL BROUN (R-GA):  A lot of people are going to die.  This program of government options is going to kill people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This started on the kook-job fringe.  It has now seeped into mainstream talking points against health care reform.  When you hear it‘s euthanasia, when you hear it‘s the government trying to determine your end of life care, that‘s wrong.  It‘s completely made up out of whole cloth in order to scare you. 

It has nothing to do with the actual policy that‘s being considered. 

We are not actually having a debate about health policy in this country.  We aren‘t even having a debate about health care.  This is fact-free.  It‘s just politics. 

And so, getting across real facts now in this cacophonous environment is in part a test of our media and of the reasonable ones among our politicians to communicate about actual facts and actual policy over this deafening, deafening, deafening wreck. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Here now is my friend, Kent Jones, with a look back at the last seven days of public lame-itude.  Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  What have you got?

JONES:  Congress may be on vacation.  Weak-itude, no, not so much.  Here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  First up, rental space of the weak.  Do you look up at the cold majesty of the moon and think, “Hey, that would be a great place for this”?  Believe it or don‘t, a comedy called “Moon Publicity” wants to put robots on the moon that will carve your logo directly onto the lunar surface.  The cost to secure a prime spot on the moon - $700,000. 

Madison Avenue, we have a problem.  One small step for robots, one giant leap for weak. 

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Fan gouger of the week.  The super-fancy Dallas Cowboys have a super-fancy new $1 billion stadium.  And if you‘re super-fancy enough to sit in one of the super-fancy luxury boxes, you could order up a fancy pizza for $60 - for pizza.  Who‘s eating this stuff.  J.R. Ewing?  Who is running the concessions?  Enron?  Weak. 

Finally, waste management of the weak.  In Brazil, an environmental group is trying to get people to save water.  So they produced this TV ad which says, “Don‘t use the toilet, use the shower.”

Now, I‘m for water conservation as much as the next guy, but no, no. 

And I like cartoons.  Weak. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Only if everybody gets their own shower. 

JONES:  Absolutely, absolutely. 

MADDOW:  Kent, quick cocktail moment for you. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  There is an XBox 360 that‘s up on eBay right now, put up by an Alberta, Canada native named David Morril autographed by Sarah Palin, yes.  The description says one of a kind item before her expected run for president of the United States of America in 2012. 

You don‘t get the game CDs.  You don‘t get you get just the controllers.  You just get the signed XBox.  There it is - giant autograph on it.  Starting bid - $1.1 million. 

JONES:  Does that come with or without the death panel.

MADDOW:  You know, it‘s a very good point.  That‘s a very good point.  I‘ll check.  Thanks, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  Have a great weekend.  Thank you at home for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you back here Monday.  “COUNTDOWN” with Mr. Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a great weekend.  Good night. 

                                                                       

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