'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, September 14, 2009
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Guests: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Terry Pearson, Mary Mitchell, Kent Jones
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening. Thanks very much for that.
And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with what maybe the antidote to the “twelvers”—an undercover but potent satirical sidebar to the protest march in Washington this weekend, which tried to link 9/11 to an unfocused “omnium gatherum” of conservative grievances with the Obama administration. They were against health care reform, against the stimulus package, against bailouts, the Federal Reserve, Marxism, Nazism, against the president being secretly, allegedly foreign even though he was born in Hawaii, against all media except FOX News. It was diffuse.
There was lots of anger toward President Obama generally—Obama as Hitler with a very popular sign choice. Nancy Pelosi, it turns out, also not very popular with the 9/12ers.
Honestly, the big 9/12 rally sort of went as expected. Lots of people showed up. They said what they intended to say. The event got plenty of TV coverage, especially on one cable network in particular.
And on the fringes of the march, though, there was one relatively poorly-received counter-protest by a group calling itself Billionaires for Wealth Care, a self-proclaimed grassroots network of health insurance CEOs, industry lobbyists, talk show hosts, and others, profiting off our broken health care system. They say, “We are not a political, religious or even particularly well-organized group. We‘re simple folk, thrilled profiteers pouring out of our corner offices to dance on the grave of change. We‘ll do whatever it takes to ensure another decade where your pain is our gain.”
In front of what appeared to be mostly, utterly bewildered 9/12ers, the Billionaires for Wealth Care drank champagne, smoked big fat cigars, looked pretty awesome in their tuxedos and evening wear, and they held signs that said things like, “Let Them Eat Advil”; or warning, “Affordable health care may cause severe loss of profits.” They held signs that said, “Fight Socialism, End Medicare Now.” And, perhaps my favorite, “Cigna/Palin 2012.”
After thanking the 9/12 protestors for their presumably unwavering solidarity with the billionaires, the billionaires set the whole thing to song.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Rejoice and let us glory in the profits we attain, by rationing the remedies for suffering and pain. And no one is going to mess with all our monetary gain, let save the status quo.
If our health care corporation never faces regulation, we‘ll be brimming with elation. Let‘s save the status quo.
In every other wealthy nation, health care is a right. But not here in America, no, not without a fight. We are fighting for the right to monstrous profits day and night. Let‘s save the status quo.
If our health care corporation never faces regulation, we‘ll be brimming with elation. Let‘s save the status quo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: An alliance that one part of it doesn‘t understand what it means.
Billionaires for Wealth Care find the antidote to the fact-free scream and holler syndrome has disabled the debate about what to do to fix health care. When those arguing against reforming health care are doing so by saying it‘s a secret plot to put Republicans in concentration camps, and to kill old people, and that if you squint and you hold the Tenth Amendment up to the light just so, it might make it unconstitutional for the government to even have any policies at all—when that‘s the character of one side of the debate, maybe singing satirical songs to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is the most appropriate way to counter that. I mean, what else is working at this point?
Joining us now is Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont. He is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is in the midst of all this, trying to bring about the most important domestic policy legislation in half a century.
Senator Sanders, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: The new chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, said yesterday that a health care bill with a public option would be passed by Congress by Christmas. I have to ask you if you share his optimism.
SANDERS: Well, I‘m going to do everything I can to make sure that happens. Clearly, we have a health care system which is disintegrating in this country. So many people uninsured, underinsured, costs are soaring.
And what the public option is about is not only giving the people a choice about whether they want a private insurance program or they want a Medicare-type program. It also is a mechanism for cost containment so that the private insurance companies simply cannot continue to raise rates as high as they want. They‘re going to have to compete with the Medicare-type program.
MADDOW: One of the reasons I wanted to highlight this satirical counter-protest to the 9/12 folks this weekend was because of that issue of the folks who are profiting from the system being broken the way it is now. And it‘s—one of those things that maybe hard to articulate at a level of detail that can really compete with the hollering that we‘re hearing against health care reform on the right.
But you‘ve talked really specifically about the financial pressure that health care industry lobbyists are putting on members of Congress every day—the amount of money they‘re spending to influence this debate. Should we just expect that to increase further as the final bill nears debate on the Senate floor?
SANDERS: Absolutely. Look, we are spending close to $3 trillion a year on health care. The private insurance companies make huge profits. Their CEOs receive millions and millions of dollars in compensation packages. And they‘re going to fight tooth-and-nail to do anything that affects their profits.
But, Rachel, one of the thing that disturbs me very much about this whole process is, you know, we‘re seeing a lot of anger out there and the truth is that people have a right to be angry. The fact that Wall Street has plunged this country into such a deep recession so that we‘re looking today at 17 percent of the American work force which is either unemployed or underemployed. People are angry and they‘ve got a right to be angry.
And what disturbs me very much is that you see many of these right-wing folks, they‘re not angry at the insurance companies that are ripping us off. They‘re not angry at the drug companies which are charging us the highest rates in the industrialized world. They‘re not angry at the Wall Street guys who made hundreds of millions of dollars and then through their greed and illegal behavior caused this deep recession.
What the Republicans have managed to do is to turn that anger against what? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the attempt to try to make sure that every person in this country has health care as a right. That‘s a pretty sad state of affairs. So, I think we have to get a handle on that and say to people, “You got to be—you have a right to be angry. You should be angry. But take your anger out against the people who have caused the economic distress of this country is now experiencing.”
MADDOW: In terms of political pragmatism though, I mean, you‘ve served in Washington a long time. You‘ve shuffled a lot of legislation through the most—you know a lot about the most arcane details of congressional rules. I have to ask you, if we‘re looking at the substantive possibilities here for health reform, are you actually a little bit comforted by the fact the opposition to it is so—it‘s so nonspecific, it‘s so not on topic?
This marks—this weekend was maybe about health reform more than it was about anything else. But it was totally incoherent and emotional. And I wonder if that actually means the prospects for reform are better than they would be if the opposition was more articulate.
SANDERS: Rachel, I think you‘re right. This demonstration and a lot of the right wing extremism that we‘re seeing frankly has nothing to do with health care. It is people who are hurting. They‘re angry and their anger is coming out against the government. I find it quite interesting that now there are concerns about the very serious national debt that we have, but they weren‘t concern about the tax breaks that went to billionaires.
So, it is kind of a broad anger, which is being focused against the government, rather than against the very powerful private special interests which have caused so many serious problems in this country. But I agree with you. The fact that they really are not specific, and they‘re just taking out their anger—Obama is not born in America, Obama is a communist, Obama is a Nazi, and Obama shouldn‘t be allowed to talk to school children—I think in many ways, that makes our job a little bit easier.
MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont—thanks very much for your time tonight, sir.
SANDERS: Thank you.
MADDOW: When the government bailed out many of the top banks in the country, the goal was not for one of those banks to foreclose on a Malibu beach house, evict the owners, and then use the place as a party pad for one of its own executives. Exactly one year after the financial collapse, President Obama says he‘s going to get tough on regulating Wall Street—about time. We‘ll talk just how tough with the person in charge of the congressional oversight of TARP.
Elizabeth Warren joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The very, very, very, very, very nice, very fancy house that you see here is at the center of a very infuriating story. The family that owned this house, the big one there with the trees and the patio, you can see. This is an uber exclusive Malibu colony in southern California. The family that owned this house reportedly lost everything in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. They had refinanced that home with Wells Fargo Bank, which you might recall received $25 billion of our collective taxpayer dollars last year. That‘s part of the financial bailout.
After this family that thought it was very rich ended up financially devastated by Madoff, Wells Fargo foreclosed on this family‘s home. Then one of its own executives moved into the house. According to the “Los Angeles Times,” a Wells Fargo senior vice president who‘s responsible for foreclosed commercial properties, this summer started using the $12 million beach house for long weekends with her family, and to throw lavish parties, including one in which guests were ferried on to the property by yacht.
Yes, the bank executive was living in and partying in the house the bank kicked a family out of so it could foreclose on it, presumably to sell the property in order to recoup its debt. Not to provide a feast of carrion for its own vulture executives.
Well, today, Wells Fargo announced that it had fired the executive in question but not before giving America a whole new reason to resent, fear, and feel disgusted by an industry that has swallowed more public money in the last year than any in history.
Today, on the one-year anniversary of the Wall Street collapse that both signaled the financial system crisis and started the round of bailouts that both the Bush and Obama administrations carried out, on the one-year anniversary of John McCain nevertheless proclaiming that the fundamentals of our economy are strong, which as much as any other thing, helped then-candidate Obama portray McCain as clueless on economic issues—today on the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, President Obama went to Wall Street to make the case for tightening regulations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want everybody here to hear my words. We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess that was at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses. The old ways that led to this crisis cannot stand. And to the extent that some have so readily returned to them underscores the need for change and change now. History cannot be allowed to repeat itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The government has already given the financial firms ungodly sums of cash. Now, the president says he wants new Wall Street regulations and he wants Wall Street to not fight those new regulations.
Wouldn‘t we have had a lot more leverage for something like this if we‘d done it, say, a year ago?
Joining us now is Elizabeth Warren, chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel which oversees the $700 billion bank bailout.
Professor Warren, thank you for coming back on the show.
ELIZABETH WARREN, TARP CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT PANEL CHAIR: Oh, it‘s good to be here.
MADDOW: President Obama called for what they‘re saying is the most ambitious overhaul of the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression. Do you agree with his overall approach?
WARREN: I do. I think he‘s got it right, because at its heart, there‘s one clear message from the president, and that is: No matter how much money we pump into these financial institutions, until we change the rules that brought us to this crisis, we are not safe.
MADDOW: Do you think that the specific rule changes that he‘s advocating are legislating to fix the last crisis, or do you think they are sufficiently broad and, I guess, farsighted to prevent the next one?
WARREN: Well, I think he is looking for structural change and that‘s what‘s key. He starts it at the household level. Let‘s always remember, this crisis began one family at a time, with lousy mortgages and bad credit cards that then got bundled and traded, provided the raw material to create these high-risk products that the investors traded back and forth and created such chaos.
So, he starts there with structural change work a new consumer agency. And he follows it all the way through, and says there‘s got to be structural change up and down the line. And in terms of its broad outline, I think that‘s right.
MADDOW: The consumer financial protection moves. We talked about the last time you were on this show.
MADDOW: And the reason that we talked about it then because it seemed quite clear that those consumer financial protections—which makes so much sense, both for the structure of our economy and for our individual financial lives as Americans—those were target number one of the financial services industry, that they really wanted to kill these new consumer financial protections. How are they doing in their efforts to kill it?
WARREN: Well, they‘ve put a lot of money into that, and they‘ve put both long-term money—let‘s remember that the financial services industry has given about a half a billion dollars to Washington in campaign contributions over the last two years. But they‘re also doing it on a very intense line-by-line basis.
The Chamber of Commerce has just done its own “Harry and Louise” ad. They‘ve committed a couple of million dollars to get an ad out there to tell consumers, why they will be so much better off if they don‘t have anyone in Washington watching out for their interests.
MADDOW: When we look at the overall lobbying and policy landscape here, it seems pretty clear what‘s happening on the other side. Those types of ads that you describe, that amount of campaign donations, which is incredible, sort of know that they‘re going to be pushing to keep the seatbelt rules off them; to be able to keep doing what they‘ve been doing which is, frankly, worked so well for them, particularly when they get bailed out when their risk piles up and they lose.
Who‘s on the other side of it? The president did take a little bully pulpit on it, going to Wall Street and saying this stuff needs to be done. Who else is—who else are his allies?
WARREN: You bet. Well, there is the president and that‘s probably the best ally you can look for right now. But there are a lot of folks in the Senate, Chris Dodd, Senator Durbin—there are a lot of peel—
Senator Reid, who have been very strong on the consumer side of this. And also, in the House, Barney Frank—there is a fighter to have on your side who says he is going to push for it. And frankly, just a lot of good people.
You know, let‘s face it. If this is going to be a story of lobbying dollars against lobbying dollars, the consumers are not going to win in this. Ordinary families don‘t have the kind of lobbying power in Washington. But what they do have is they have their numbers, and right now, they have their anger. They sent $700 billion to these big financial companies, basically on not much more than Secretary Paulson saying, “Write me a blank check.” And they did it and they tried to preserve this financial system.
But I think they expect something in return. And that is a financial system that‘s ready to say, “OK, we‘ve got to have some reforms. We‘ve got to have some changes.” And some of those changes need to be good for the American family.
MADDOW: Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP and a very clear thinker and clear speaker on what are intimidatingly complex issues sometimes. Thanks so much for making time for us tonight.
WARREN: Thank you.
MADDOW: OK. Do you remember these guys? Yes. These are the infamous naked, vodka-shooting contractors who were paid to guard our embassy in Kabul. A congressional oversight committee finally got to the bottom—finally heard all the details today. And we‘ll talk to one of the whistleblowers in the case in just a moment.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The whole true story of the contractors who spent time doing totally disgusting things with vodka while guarding the American embassy in Kabul was told to the U.S. Congress today. And it‘s worse than the really gross pictures made it look. One of the whistleblowers from the company will join us next.
Plus, has America evolved enough to see a movie about Charles Darwin?
Kent Jones has the details.
All of that is still ahead.
But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. Osama bin Laden has issued a new statement on the occasion of the anniversary of 9/11. It‘s an audiotape. It‘s about 11 minutes long and it is directed at the American people.
Frankly, it‘s the usual denunciations of the American government and Israel and the American government‘s relationship with Israel. And there‘s a suggested reading list which I‘m sure Americans are just desperate to get to. Boy, howdy, if there‘s someone I want intellectual advice from, it‘s this guy.
But what is perhaps the most important thing about this tape is that Osama bin Laden in the tape specifically criticizes President Obama for retaining some people from the Bush administration. He names Robert Gates, defense secretary. General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff.
This is an important detail about this tape, only because if the tape is in fact bin Laden, and there‘s no indication that it isn‘t, this means that the tape is confirmation that Osama bin Laden is either still alive now or at least that he has been at some point since the start of the Obama administration about eight months ago. So the headline: bin Laden apparently still alive and still screaming incoherently into the wind.
Our second holy mackerel story tonight is a coincidence, presumably arranged by the news timing gods, so we can cover a whole lot of bad behavior all at once in politics large and small.
You will recall that last year, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. The shoe-thrower, a man named Muntadar al-Zaidi—excuse me for my pronunciation—was convicted back in March of assault and he was sentenced to three years in jail. That sentence was then reduced to one year and then he was scheduled to be released today, three months early for good behavior.
According to Iraqi officials, the paperwork delay has pushed his release to tomorrow. At which point the shoe-thrower is expect to receive a hero‘s welcome in Iraq, complete with banners and a party and more job and marriage offers than anyone could take up in a lifetime.
Good behavior among the un-incarcerated in the U.S., however, has been in short supply recently. Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina got the ball rolling last Wednesday when he interrupted the president‘s speech to Congress by calling the president of the United States a liar.
Over the weekend, a star athlete and a musical giant pick up the ball and got it rolling faster straight down hill on. On Saturday, during the U.S. Open, women‘s tennis semifinals between Serena William and Kim Clijsters, Williams was called for a foot fault, as Clijsters approached the break of victory. Serena, apparently justifiably, did not like the football call and then she let the offending line judge know of her displeasure in quite hard to justify terms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SERENA WILLIAMS, TENNIS PLAYER: I swear to God I‘m going to take this (EXPLETIVE) ball and shove it down to your (EXPLETIVE) throat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ms. William was penalized a point for poor sportsmanship and that point gave the match to Clijsters. Williams was also fined $10,000 for her bad behavior. Today, the tennis star did two things to make amends. First, she issued her second apology since the incident, saying she was wrong and that she handled herself inappropriately. And then—well, then she and her sister Venus went on to win the U.S. Open doubles title.
Sunday‘s installment of bad behavior by public figures theatre featured the rapper Kanye West, singer Beyonce Knowles and country star Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. Miss Swift beat out Miss Knowles and others in the category of Best Female Video. Mr. West lived out the credo that if you don‘t have anything nice to say, say something really obnoxious and mean.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER: S thank you so much for giving me a chance to win a VMA award.
KANYE WEST, RAPPER: Yo, Taylor, I‘m really happy for you. I‘m going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I wonder if it was a stunt. In any case, news timing gods, thank you for a coincidence-filled week in bad behavior from everyone who traffics in stuff that was on TV.
And finally, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is running against incumbent Rick Perry in the Texas Republican gubernatorial primary. In an opinion piece published yesterday in the “Washington Post,” Senator Hutchison expressed her outrage—outrage I tell you—about all the manufactured controversy surrounding experts that President Obama has named to advise him on complicated issues. Just as other presidents have done as well.
The op-ed says in part, quote, “A few of them have formal titles, but most are known simply as ‘czars.‘ They hold unknown levels of power over broad swaths of policy.”
The problem here is that‘s not at all true. You can actually google these folks. They do actually have job titles. Just because you don‘t know that the drug czar‘s real job title is director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and you instead therefore call him the “drug czar” doesn‘t mean that drug czar is his formal title. Just because you don‘t know someone‘s name, Senator, doesn‘t mean his formal name is that guy. OK? OK.
MADDOW: There are new developments tonight in the gross-out story of the summer. You probably remember and by remember, I mean, have burned into your retinas these whistleblower-provided photos of what looks like a college hazing ritual gone badly wrong.
These are actually government contractors who were supposedly in charge of guarding the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan. This company, Armor Group, part of Wackenhut, was being paid very handsomely to provide that service while the company‘s employees on site in Kabul were instead making the concept of flavored vodka even grosser than it already was.
Since these photos were released by the watchdog group, POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, the State Department says the contractors are now being overseen by an embassy security officer.
They say that the entire Kabul-based management team for the contractor has been replaced, that 12 guards have been removed or reassigned, that alcohol has been banned on sight, and that an investigation has been launched.
But even as the State Department tries to make sure there is less of this going on, and more guarding the embassy going on in Kabul, newer, and if it‘s possible, maybe even grosser details are emerging about the contractor culture among the embassy guards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERRY PEARSON, KABUL EMBASSY GUARDS WHISTLEBLOWER: The first thing that struck me was they had a metal container in the middle of the road which they were burning wooden pallets. The second thought that went through my mind was alcohol and fire this size was very unsafe.
Most of the people were wearing underwear but many were also wearing coconut shell brassieres and coconut shells over the groin. And some, for the best part, were naked. Some were standing there urinating on the ground and unfortunately and sickly, on each other.
One person, who had apparently run out of urine, took the fire hose off one of my staff and put it between his legs. And it was at this stage that I realized that I had three local nationals standing amongst us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Terry Pearson. He worked for a subcontractor of the company that is implicated in the photos. He testified today before the Commission on Wartime Contracting about what he saw at an Armor Group staff party.
Beyond the specifics of how exactly these guys like to party, key questions here are looming and obvious. First, of course, is this really the group of people we should be paying to protect what is probably the most important American building in the world that is not on American soil?
And if employees have been blowing the whistle on Armor Group and Wackenhut for two years now, which POGO says they have been, why is this company still there? And what about the whistleblowers? What‘s been happening to the people who have been bringing all of this to light?
Joining us now is Terry Pearson, the man whose testimony you just saw. He is a retired warrant officer with the British army. He worked in Iraq and Afghanistan as a contractor starting in 2004. He was a project manager for RAI, a subcontractor for Armor Group when he witnessed that well-documented Armor Group guard party. Mr. Pearson, thank you so much for coming on the show.
PEARSON: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: First, can you just tell me what your job responsibilities were in Kabul?
PEARSON: I was the subcontractor for Armor Group, the manager. I dealt with all life support on the camp, so that ranged from the feeding, the housekeeping, the maintenance, the general upkeep of Camp Sullivan.
MADDOW: And most of the people who worked under you, who helped you carry out your tasks in that capacity were Afghan nationals or third party nationals?
PEARSON: The vast majority were local nationals. I had a staff of 90, and probably about 65 of them were local nationals.
MADDOW: How much exposure did those Afghan nationals have to the type of behavior that you described so dramatically in your testimony today? How much of this did the Afghans actually see happening?
PEARSON: Well, originally, they wouldn‘t see anything because always
functions that happen quite regular would be held inside bunkers which have walls around them. That would be inside the building so none of it would be seen.
On this occasion, this was the first time I‘ve ever seen one of these parties actually outside. And this one, this particular day, had been going on since early hours in the day. So at which stage, all the worker would have seen it and especially two of the local Afghan women that work in the building that you see in one of the photographs.
MADDOW: The party wasn‘t the only incident that you testified about today. What else would you say that you saw from that position that you were in there in Kabul with access to some of these contractors even if you weren‘t working directly with them? What else did you see that you found particularly disturbing?
PEARSON: Well, that day was just the behavior. But there was an animal farm-type atmosphere, though. This is the rules. However, if you‘re social shift, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) shift, you could whatever you want.
And continuously, over the 16 months I was there in Camp Sullivan, the same people were getting away with incidents that any other person would have been terminated at sight, removed from the project.
MADDOW: One of the things that we have learned from POGO, from people like yourself speaking out, is that incidents and things that worried the people who were reporting them, reported over a long period of time.
As soon, essentially, as Armor Group got the contract back in 2007 through 2008, through this year, people were trying to blow the whistle or at least complaining up the chain of command throughout this time.
Did you - what was your personal experience of telling what you saw, of trying to get some sort of remedy of least complaining?
PEARSON: Well, the first incident, again, it was with this same shift was about September to October last year when the same person that was involved in these photographs actually smashed in two doors in accommodation.
To cut a long story short, after I reported it, a certain senior member of Armor Group basically threatened me and said, “What goes around comes around.” And when I asked, “Are you threatening me?” he just walked away. And this was the attitude of certain monitors in Camp Sullivan if anyone ever complained about these certain people that were involved in these photographs.
MADDOW: In terms of the overall culture at Camp Sullivan, and what you saw, were these people, was this group a complete aberration from the way that everybody else behaved on base?
Was there an overall culture of licentiousness and debauched behavior? Or was it really specifically this one company that had created this internal culture?
PEARSON: I think it has been blown out of all proportion. It was a few. I mean, the expats on site were about 138. That was probably only 10 out of that 138 that‘s done this behavior and more to the point, got away with it.
The vast majority of people were professional at their job. They‘ve done the job to the best of their ability. And there was, like I say, about nine people - nine people only that brought them into disrepute.
MADDOW: Which raises all the more questions about how they were able to get away with it for so long if they did stick out like a sore thumb in that way.
PEARSON: Well, that was the million-dollar question on Camp Sullivan. Why were they getting away with it? If I knew that, I wouldn‘t be bothering now about not having a job. I‘d be rich.
MADDOW: Terry Pearson, contractor-turned-whistleblower, thanks for having the courage to speak out, for sacrificing your job in the process. Thanks for joining us tonight.
PEARSON: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: The Gov. Rod Blagojevich corruption case in Illinois took an intense and tragic and very strange turn this weekend. If you do not yet know about this story yet, I strongly suggest you stick around to see it. Mary Mitchell of “The Chicago Sun Times” will join us next.
MADDOW: By being as wrong as he was rude, Congressman “You Lied” Joe Wilson has launched the latest nonsense conspiracy theory about health reform. Now, it is secretly a plot to give illegal immigrants free health care.
Actually, it is not. Reading the House healthcare bill would show you that. But you know, sometimes reading is hard. Fortunately, in the case of the health reform bill, there is a way to get all of the information that‘s in it without any of that pesky reading.
It‘s called “HearTheBill.org.” Volunteer voiceover actors have donated their time to read all 1,017 pages of the house healthcare reform bill, HR-3200, the America‘s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.
So if you don‘t want to tire out your eyes, you could just listen to the thing that disproves congressman “you lie” while you chug away on the StairMaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Section 246: No federal payment for undocumented aliens. Nothing in this subtitle shall allow federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now if the “you lie” folks, the “secret illegal immigrant plot” folks would just get iPods, download the bill and then take a really, really, really long walk, we could maybe have an actual fact-based debate.
MADDOW: Last of week, on Tuesday, the former top fundraiser for impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich pled guilty in federal to rigging bids for construction contracts at O‘Hare airport.
It was the second time this year that Christopher Kelly pled guilty to federal charges. And he still had more to face. He was awaiting trial as one of the co-defendants in the governor‘s corruption case. He had already pled guilty in a tax case related to his gambling debt.
He was due to start an eight-year federal prison sentence on Friday. The last couple of years had been a steep descent for the formerly very wealthy and very powerful financier who was known as the governor‘s right-hand man.
His family life had fallen apart. His $2 million home was in foreclosure. But despite all those pressures, prosecutors had reportedly not been able to persuade Chris Kelly to talk. Many of the other big Chicago fish caught in the Blagojevich corruption net had become cooperating witnesses for the government, agreeing to testify about state corruption in exchange for leniency for themselves.
But not Chris Kelly. After he pled guilty in federal court last Tuesday, “The Chicago Sun Times” printed a column that said, for Chris Kelly, “Decision time is now or never. Sit at the defense table with Rod Blagojevich next spring or sit in the witness box and sing.”
This weekend, Chris Kelly apparently decided there was a third option. Mr. Kelly died of an apparent drug overdose. After ingesting pills, he texted his location to his girlfriend who then found him slumped over and unconscious in his Escalade which was parked at a lumberyard.
She drove him to the hospital. And by the next day, he was dead. Bizarrely, the mayor of the town in which Mr. Kelly was found, Country Club Hills, Illinois, held a press conference yesterday about the case.
And during that press conference, he held up the driver‘s license of Mr. Kelly‘s girlfriend, invited photographers to photograph the driver‘s license, and told reporters that the young woman had lawyered up and was being uncooperative with police.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR DWIGHT WELCH, COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, IL: Quite frankly, we‘re not being given the whole truth. A lot, for instance, Flores has lawyered up as we call it in the trade. She‘s hired an attorney and is no longer speaking to the police.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That remark from the mayor prompted the girlfriend‘s lawyer to tell “The Sun Times,” and I quote, “The mayor is a jack ass. You can print that.” Mr. Kelly‘s girlfriend reportedly met with police today.
More bizarre still, police say a person they are calling “mystery man” turned up at the hospital where Chris Kelly was being treated with the keys to Mr. Kelly‘s SUV. The man reportedly tried to drive away in the vehicle before security officers stopped him. But then, the man left without explaining who he was or what he was doing.
Joining us now is Mary Mitchell, editorial board member and columnist at “The Chicago Sun Times.” Ms. Mitchell, thanks very much for joining us.
MARY MITCHELL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER AND COLUMNIST, “THE CHICAGO SUN
TIMES”: Thank you for inviting me.
MADDOW: This is obviously a tragic story. It is also one that raises questions about the corruption case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and a lot more besides. Who was Christopher Kelly? Those of us who aren‘t familiar with Chicago politics, what we should know about him?
MITCHELL: Well, what you should know about is that he operated in the highest inner circle of state government in the Blagojevich administration. My generation would call him a mover and shaker. You know, my daughter‘s generation would call him a baller.
I mean, here‘s a guy who had plenty of money that he was throwing around. He lived in a great house. He gambled frequently in Las Vegas and racked up gambling debt. And he was just at the table when all kinds of deals were being floated around. So he operated at the highest level of state government.
MADDOW: And the implication of that is that if he did ever want to become state‘s evidence, if he did ever want to become a cooperating witness, he would probably have some very incredible tales to tell. If half of what they say about Rod Blagojevich is true, it‘s Chris Kelly who could tell those stories.
MITCHELL: Well, and that‘s why the alleged suicide - you know, apparent suicide, is so bizarre. He‘s facing eight years on two other indictments. He was expected to plead guilty in another case involving a state corruption.
And you know, he could have gone to jail and served his time and got out and moved on. But it seems to me that his life was falling apart and it just kind of raises the question about how much pressure was being put on him to cooperate with the feds.
MADDOW: Mr. Blagojevich told CNN today, and I‘ve got the exact quote
he said, “A friend of mine took his life because he refused to submit to the pressure by the government to lie about me.” Does that fit the way that Blagojevich has been representing the case?
MITCHELL: Well, it fits the way Blagojevich sees this case. He‘s never, ever backed away from saying that the fed somehow was trying to put a trumped up case on him. So it‘s like him to say the feds were trying to make Kelly lie.
I don‘t buy that. You know, I think that here is a guy who just got backed into a corner and didn‘t know what to do, and so he took the easy way out.
MADDOW: When Mr. Kelly was last in court on Tuesday, he talked about how much pressure he was under to testify against Rod Blagojevich. And at the time, Mr. Blagojevich‘s lawyer told reporters, said that day, that he had no concerns that Chris Kelly would ever testify against the governor. Do you have the same confidence? Do know why they would be so confident of that?
MITCHELL: Well, they‘re confident of that because, I mean, there is an unwritten rule in Chicago that the worst thing you can do is cooperate with the government. The worst thing you can do is snitch.
Now, we talk about a snitch when it comes to gang bangers and drug dealers. And we talk about the no-snitch rule. But there is a real no-snitch rule in government and which people just don‘t want to turn on a person that they‘ve been loyal to all those years.
I mean, we had a major scandal in city hall here with the mayor‘s hiring policy being under scrutiny and two of his closest aides going to prison because of that hiring scam. But you never heard Mayor Daley‘s name come up. So that‘s the worst thing you can do in this city is to snitch.
MADDOW: Mary Mitchell, editorial board member and columnist FOR “The Chicago Sun Times” making the uncomfortably close connection between gangland-style policies and city hall policies. Mary, thank you very much for your time tonight.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN”, what has Joe Wilson wrought? The upsurge in public rudeness explained. Next on this show, guns? Sure. Sex? No problem. Science? No. Kent Jones explores a new film that probably will not be coming soon to a theater near you. That‘s all ahead.
MADDOW: We turn now to our Darwinian amusements correspondent, Mr.
Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. There was a movie that was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival just last week that almost every country in the world has been sold to except this one.
There‘s no U.S. distributor for this film because of fears that there might be a conservative backlash to it. It‘s kind of controversial actually. Check it out.
(voice-over): The movie “Creation” stars real-life couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Charles and Emma Darwin and tracks Darwin‘s struggle between faith and reason as he wrote his 1859 book “On the Origin of Species.”
That‘s right, evolution - in public, in your face. It‘s one thing for Darwin‘s ideas to be taught as fact in science classes for the past 100 years. It‘s quite another to have our noses rubbed in it in such an edgy, confrontational way.
Cynically, the producers must have known how impressionable kids flock to 19th century costume dramas about naturalists wrestling with complex moral dilemmas. If America‘s young people were exposed to Darwin‘s life, who knows what could happen?
Rational thought? Clearly, this must be stopped. Two hours in a metropolitan art house threatens to undo centuries of teachings. Some critics would say a film shown widely throughout America called, “Inherit the Wind,” about the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial already tackled the issue of evolution way back in 1960.
FREDRIC MARCH, ACTOR (as Matthew Harrison Brady): Faith is the most important thing.
SPENCER TRACY, ACTOR (as Henry Drummond): Then why did God plague us with the power to think?
JONES: Fortunately, we‘ve come a long way since those misguided times. I say let those other countries show “Creation.” Here in America, we‘ll wait. New ideas take time. After all, it‘s only been 150 years.
MADDOW: Don‘t you worry about, in the long run, what happens to a country that starts disbelieving all the stuff that has been proven?
MADDOW: I mean, it‘s one thing to have like a fact-free fight. O
MADDOW: Or to think the other side has become unhinged. But in fact, it‘s another thing to just decide that facts aren‘t the basis on which we proceed anymore.
JONES: Yes. That‘s not the color red anymore ...
JONES: ... because I said so.
MADDOW: Because I said so.
MADDOW: And if you are challenging my right to say so, then, clearly you hate me and are nothing, whatever.
JONES: Yes, obviously.
MADDOW: Yes, I worry.
JONES: Very scary.
MADDOW: Thank you very much, Kent. I‘m very worried. Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. Until then, you can E-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org. Our podcast is at iTunes or “Rachel.MSNBC.com.”
And I‘d like to say I‘m sorry to the “Billionaires for Wealth Care” for crashing your Web site tonight. It was unintentional. “COUNTDOWN” starts tonight. Have a great night.
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