updated 9/23/2009 11:24:01 AM ET 2009-09-23T15:24:01

Guests: Sen. Ron Wyden, Tom Oliphant, Sam Stein, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  I always believed in sucking up to the judges no matter what I am being judged on.  I completely agree with Mr. Jillette.  Just for the record.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  There you go.  I‘m with you on that one.

MADDOW:  All right.

Thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour as well.

Amid the intense fighting over health care today, the other news of the day was a series of jaw-droppers.  We learned the rest of the story about the chief of staff to the U.S. senator who claims straight porn makes people gay.  It turns out that may now be an issue in the Virginia governor‘s race.

Today, we also saw the return of Condoleezza Rice to the national debate over the wars that the Bush administration started but never won.

Scandal-plagued Senator John Ensign is back in the headlines.

And, of course, there‘s that story about Ghadafi pitching a tent on Donald Trump‘s lawn.  New that‘s sounds like the start of an off-color joke, but actually isn‘t.  It has been an astonishing news day today and we‘re going to get all of that this hour.

But where we begin tonight is with a mystery solved.  Why if you‘re a Democratic member of Congress you would want to fight tooth-and-nail against your own party on the biggest issue facing the country right now.  There are as many different solutions to that mystery as there are conservative Democrats in Congress.

But for the man who‘s become the poster child for Democrats blocking their own party‘s efforts to reform health care, for the lead conservative blue dog Democrat on health care, for the House‘s most vocal Democratic opponent of a public health insurance option, a public option that‘s favored by the Democratic president, by the Democratic Party leadership, by the majority of people in the country, by the majority of people in his home state, and according to new polling, by the overwhelming majority of Democrats in his own district, for Congressmen Mike Ross of Arkansas, the mystery may allegedly at least perhaps be solved.

Today, “Politico” published investigative reporting about Mike Ross by a reporter named Marcus Stern.  He reported it for ProPublica.  If you‘re looking for a possible explanation from Mike Ross‘ stance against his own party and his own constituents on health reform, consider this—in 2007, Mike Ross and his wife had a piece of property to sell.  It was a pharmacy that they owned and operated in Prescott, Arkansas—a small town that‘s about 100 miles southwest of Little Rock.

At the time, the county estimated the value of that property at about $263,000.  An independent appraisal done recently puts the current value even lower than that, at about $198,000.  But when it came time to sell, Mike Ross sure did beat the odds.  Despite that assessment at $263,000, despite the independent appraisal at $198,000, Mike Ross sold that property for $420,000.  Cha-ching!

The only licensed real estate broker in that town was just as surprised as you are right now.  He told ProPublica, quote, “You can buy half the town for $420,000.”

Who was the buyer who gave Congressman Ross such a sweet deal?  It was a company called USA Drug, the 15th largest drugstore chain in the country.

If getting 60 percent more than its estimated value for your property seems a little fishy to you, you may have a future career in Arkansas property assessment, because it seemed fishy to the county‘s assessors as well.  When they heard someone was paying $420,000 for that property, they actually called the person buying it, they called the company.  They called USA Drugs‘ headquarters essentially to make sure there hadn‘t been some mistake.  There wasn‘t a mistake.

This drugstore chain apparently just wanted to pay this congressman an extra 150 grand to 200 grand for his property.

And USA Drugs‘ payments to Congressman Ross and his wife did not stop there.  On top of the 420 grand they paid for the property, USA Drug also paid the Rosses between half a million and $1 million for the assets of the pharmacy.  In addition to that, they paid Congressman Ross‘ wife between 100 grand and 250 grand for signing a non-compete agreement.  The company also then kept Mrs. Ross on as an employee at the property after the sale.

All told, Mike Ross and his wife made between $1 million and $1.6 million.  Again, off a piece of property assessed to be worth $260,000.  Not a bad day‘s work.

And what‘s more?  Two weeks after the sale was complete, the owner of USA Drug sweetened it even further, made a $2,300 contribution to Congressman Ross‘ campaign.  That was the most that an individual could give in 2007.

Congressman Ross raked in more than $342,000 from health-related interests overall that year alone, more than he got from any other business sector.  Since then, Congressman Ross not only opposed the public option—despite what his constituents say they want—he‘s also pushed for language in the health care bill that would protect drug companies from having to negotiate for drug prices.

We invited Congressman Ross to come on the show tonight to explain all of this, to explain whether there‘s a connection between the final largess he has enjoyed from the health industry and his political positions in favor of those interests and against health reform.  Congressman Ross declined our invitation.

His office did provide us a statement which reads, in part, quote, “Instead of having civil dialogue over true and substantive disagreements, outside groups are trying to taint a completely legal and respected small business that my wife and I worked hard for 14 years to establish.  I welcome any debate and review on my voting record and my positions on the issue.”

Congressman Ross—it should be noted—is not denying the substance of this reporting but he does point out that he disclosed all of this information on his financial statement.  He says this is just gotcha politics.  The congressman‘s full statement has been posted at our Web site today, Rachel.MSNBC.com if you‘d like to see it.

Also, Congressman Ross, if you‘re watching, I hope you will reconsider your decision about appearing on this show to talk it over.  I promise you will get a fair hearing.

This new reporting about Congressman Ross and what maybe behind this stance against health care reform isn‘t the least of his political worries, but it is one worry among many.  The group change Congress is hitting the congressman with an ad now highlighting the more than $900,000 in campaign contributions he‘s received over multiple years from the health industry.  The political action committee, FDL Action, which is an outgrowth of the well-read liberal blog, Firedoglake, is running this ad against Congressman Ross, threatening a primary challenge against him.

And today, Firedoglake kicked their campaign up a notch, threatening to not only run this ad online, on the Internet machine, and in Congressman Ross‘ district, but also during this Saturday‘s university of Arkansas razorbacks football game against the third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  University of Arkansas football is darn close to a religion in Arkansas, which is why we were able to tap a proud Arkansas expat at a New York City bar today in order to borrow this very, very attractive Razorback‘s hat.

Firedoglake is trying to raise enough money to run that, “Hey, Mike Ross support the public option” ad during this weekend‘s Razorback‘s game, and the game is being played in Alabama, which means most Arkansas fans will be watching it on the TV.  Sweet, right?

What‘s going on here is that the left is flexing its muscles.  And as a result, it has been a pretty rotten few days for Democrats in Congress who oppose the public option, and other elements of real health reform.  But conversely, that also means that Democrats who support those things are finding their voices again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  I‘m a firm believer in the public option, because I think it‘s vital we have greater competition.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY:  I‘m a strong supporter of a strong public option.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON:  The bill does not hold insurance companies accountable.  The bill does not force insurance companies to compete for our business.  Real reform, colleagues, is saying you can keep what you have, but it is also saying, “If you don‘t like what you have, you can get something better.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is that man that you just saw there, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.  He sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which today began the arduous task of marking up the Baucus health reform plan and debating about 564 amendments.

Senator Wyden, thanks very much for taking the time to be with us on this busy day.

WYDEN:  Thanks for having me back.

MADDOW:  You described real choice, real reform as being able to choose something else if you don‘t like what you have now.  That‘s the idea behind your “Free Choice Act” amendment, which is getting a lot of attention.  Can you explain to us how that would work?

WYDEN:  You‘ve summed it up, Rachel, and it sits pretty darn well with the public option.

Look, all over America people are carrying these signs, public option, public option or bust.  They‘re wonderful activists, but a lot of folks haven‘t been told that the Congressional Budget Office says only about 12 million people in America would actually get to choose the public option.  They are likely to be sicker.  They‘re likely to be folks who haven‘t had good preventive health care services.

To really put the consumer in the driver‘s seat, to give the consumer clout, to turn the tables on the insurance lobby, you‘ve got to have a really big group.  That‘s what I‘m pushing for, and free choice is very compatible with the public option.

MADDOW:  So the idea is that anybody should be able to get into the health exchange?  It shouldn‘t be that if you already have insurance through your employer, that locks you out of the health exchange?  That anybody can be able to join, that creates competition, so that not only do we have a choice for people to get insured who can‘t afford insurance today, but people can also hopefully improve on the insurance they have through competition and that sort of an exchange, is that the overall idea?

WYDEN:  It will send a message on day one to the insurance lobby that if you abuse somebody, if you abuse one of your consumers, you rip them off, give them lousy treatment, jack up the rates, they are going to turn the tables on you.  They are going to choose another product.

And I think it is so important for folks to understand this is about taking on the insurance lobby with choice rather than tethering somebody to something they don‘t want, something they don‘t like.  With choice, you liberate the consumer.  You put them in the driver‘s seat rather than an insurance CEO.

MADDOW:  The AFL-CIO today sent a letter to finance committee members against your amendment.  They‘re saying that it would encourage younger, healthier workers to—to leave, leaving behind in the employer-based health plans older, sicker workers, and that would make those plans too expensive to maintain.  What‘s your reaction to their criticism?

WYDEN:  They are just flat-out wrong, and, in fact, the Congressional Budget Office put out an analysis today indicating that the AFL-CIO was wrong.  They do not really understand what the proposal is.  The Congressional Budget Office says that our idea would not destabilize the employer system.

I also think that the typical union member would be pretty shocked to know that their leadership here in Washington, D.C. is lobbying for a public option that would deny more than 200 million Americans the opportunity to get it.  That‘s not in line with the public interest.

I want everybody to have real choice.  I think our free choice proposal worked very well with the public option.  And, by the way, we got some very good news today, Rachel, because the Mayo Clinic says that they would support a public option as long as it gave people choices like members of Congress get, and I‘ve got legislation to do that, too.

MADDOW:  In terms of thinking about what‘s ultimately going to happen and how this is going to work for most Americans, when you guys are having these negotiations, particularly among Democrats, is there an awareness that if the end result of this bill is that coverage stays as lousy and expensive as it is today, the Democrats have changed the law so that we‘re all forced to buy that lousy and expensive coverage, that this will be a huge political disaster?  Has that—I‘m worried politically that, that‘s going to happen and sink the Democratic Party for generations, but I‘m also worried that‘s going to be what happens to me personally in terms of my health insurance.

WYDEN:  Rachel, you‘re being logical, and sometimes, logic doesn‘t break into these political debates.  But that‘s the point that I‘m making.  I have been saying, folks, choice and competition are magical words in America.  They‘re magical words for progressives, but they resonate all across the country.

Here is our chance to link real choice, real consumer choice with the public option and tell people, if you‘re getting hammered today, if you‘re stuck with a product you don‘t like, we‘re going to liberate you.  We‘re going to put you in charge.  And, you bet, if the Congress passes somehow an anti-consumer, anti-choice, anti-holding insurance companies accountable bill, I think we‘ll pay dearly for it.

MADDOW:  And I think the other thing that we‘ve learned tonight is that, right now, there is a rift between some Democratic senators on the Senate Finance Committee and organized labor.  And unless that rift closes, it‘s going to be hard to make political progress here.  So, I think that‘s going to be one of the major topics in the days ahead.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, good luck with the mark-up this week, and I know it continues tonight.  Thanks very much for taking the time.

WYDEN:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  At the Values Voter Summit session on masculinism this weekend, we learned this important assertion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Homosexuality is inflicted on people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Homosexuality is inflicted on people.  Now, we can learn who that genius is going to affect who the next governor of Virginia is.  It‘s a very ugly story—and it‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Libyan leader Muammar Ghadafi, fresh off orchestrating a hero‘s welcome home to the Lockerbie bomber, is having trouble finding a place to stay before his scheduled speech at the United Nations tomorrow.  The town of Englewood, New Jersey, wanted no part of his visit.  His staff also inquired about the rent on an Upper East Side town house in Manhattan.  They were told to get lost by a New York real estate broker.

But it does seem that he found a base camp to pitch his large Bedouin tent, in the wealthy suburb of Bedford, New York, on a 1,300-acre estate that‘s owned by Donald Trump.  The Trump Organization says they‘re looking into the matter and confirmed today that, quote, “the property was released on a short-term basis to Middle Eastern partners who may or may not have a relationship to Mr. Ghadafi.”

The Bedford County attorney called the tent an illegal structure.  It‘s illegal to build a temporary residence without a permit.  And officials have issued a stop work order on the tent.  A spokesman for the Libyan mission said nothing has been decided on where Mr. Ghadafi will be staying but it would appear that Donald Trump, the man who brought you so many iterations of controversy in his career, is about to test the theory that there‘s no such thing as bad publicity.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

MADDOW:  We have a follow up for you now on a report last night about Senator Tom Coburn‘s chief of staff and his theory that pornography—straight pornography—makes people gay.  Yes, he said it.  No, he was not misquoted or taken out of context.

And it turns out there is significantly more to this story.  Here it is.  As the Republican Party searches for a way out of the political wilderness to which they were exiled by the ‘06 and ‘08 elections, Americans interested in how and when and if the Republicans are going to battle their way back to power have been watching two groups, elected Republican officials, including the National Republican Party, and the conservative movement.

In the 10 months since the election, both have had some successes and some failures.  Among Republican elected officials, the parties galvanizing vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, unexpectedly quit as governor of Alaska.  Presumed Republican presidential hopeful, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford did not quit, but most of the other Republicans in South Carolina want him to after he confessed to an extramarital affair in Argentina and then started getting investigated for misusing state funds.

Another Republican rising star, Nevada Senator John Ensign also confessed to an extramarital affair.  Concurrent with that affair, the Republican Party apparently gave a policy job to the teenage son of Ensign‘s mistress and then fired the teenager once the affair was over.  Plus, Ensign‘s own parents paid the mistress off to the tune of nearly $100,000.

The National Republican Party, meanwhile, picked Michael Steele to be its chairman.  Mr. Steele does get a lot of attention when he speaks as chairman, but often not for the right reasons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  This change, my friends, is being delivered in a tea bag, and that‘s a wonderful thing.

You have absolutely no reason—none—to trust our words or our actions at this point.

Crazy nonsense empathetic, I‘ll give you empathy.  Empathize right on your behind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We still own empathizeyourmind.com on this show.  Just so you know.

Under Chairman Steele‘s leadership, the Republican Party has refused to answer questions about whether it created job for the son of a Republican senator‘s mistress.  They have sent out push poll fund-raising letters claiming that health care reform was a secret plot to deny health care to anyone registered as a Republican, and they‘ve now sent out a mailer trying to convince Americans that health care reform is a secret plot to deny health care based on race.  Only black people will be able to get health care now or only white people or something.

They apologized for the “health care only for Democrats” mailer, no apology yet on the “health care for only the master race” mailer.  But give it time.

So, among the Republican establishment, it‘s been a tough 10 months. 

But in Congress, they have had community.  They all voted no on the budget. 

Everybody in the House that‘s a Republican voted no on the stimulus plan. 

They‘re on track to all “vote no” to reform health care.

And frankly, the Republican Party is energized for its chances in the midterm elections next year.  That‘s elected Republicans.  That‘s what‘s going on in their national party.

For the conservative movement—which is the other thing we‘ve been watching—this past 10 months has been more fun than a bag full of squirrels.  Their post-election game plan, as it turns out, was foreshadowed by the funkier and more outlandish fears and anger that were expressed during the McCain/Palin campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can‘t trust Obama.  I have read about him, and he‘s not—he‘s not—he‘s a—he‘s an Arab.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Professional public relations outfits in the beltway conservative movement Republican access were able to tap that inchoate anger and fear and direct it, channel it into anti-health reform, anti-Obama and anti-government tea parties and town hall meetings.  The tea party express bus tour, led by a Republican activist and failed Senate candidate named Howard Kaloogian, as well as a Republican consultant named Sal Russo, they just announced today that following the tea party that was held in Washington to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 attack, they‘re now going to start another tea party bus tour to culminate exactly one year before the 2010 elections.

So both elected Republicans now and the Republican conservative movement, the movement that drives the party, they‘re trying to focus in on the next elections.  2010 is their big goal.

But even before 2010, they‘ve got their sights set on a couple of governor‘s races that happen before then.  The New Jersey race in which incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine is facing a Republican challenger; and the race in Virginia, in which there isn‘t an incumbent running.  It‘s Democrat Creigh Deeds versus a Republican named Bob McDonnell.

And here‘s where the conservative movement and the Republican establishment smash into each other like bumper cars without bumpers.  Here‘s where Republican electoral chances stop being separate from the wild-eyed excesses of the conservative movement.  At the Values Voter Summit this weekend, Republican presidential ever hopeful Mitt Romney told the conservative crowd there that he thought signs were good that the Republican in the Virginia governor‘s race, Bob McDonnell, would win.  Romney this week also raised over $100,000 for Mr. McDonnell.

But Mr. McDonnell has seen his poll numbers shrink recently, ever since he brought up his master‘s thesis in an interview with “The Washington Post.”  Mr. McDonnell did his graduate degree at televangelist Pat Robertson‘s Liberty University.

And after he brought up his thesis with reporters, those reporters went and read it and then they promptly reprinted the parts where he said things like government policy needs to stop favoring with the cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.  Fornicators?  He also says that women shouldn‘t work outside the home, for what it‘s worth.

After electing two Democratic governors in a row, is Virginia really going to turn around and elect a Republican this year who went to Pat Robertson‘s university and who crusaded against fornicators?

Well, now, it‘s getting worse for Bob McDonnell and his poll numbers show it.  While Mitt Romney was singing Mr. McDonnell‘s praises from the main podium at the Values Voter Summit, another session at the same event has since become famous, and you know it for proclaiming to a hushed audience that porn makes you gay.  Not gay porn makes you gay, but all porn.  Even straight pornography makes you gay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.  Now think about that.  And if you—if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he‘s going to want to go out and get a copy of “Playboy”?  I‘m pretty sure he‘ll lose interest.  That‘s the last thing he wants.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The man speaking there is chief of staff to Senator Tom Coburn, and he is now and forever famous as the guy who thinks straight porn makes you gay and we should tell 11-year-olds that.

Activists opposed to Bob McDonnell‘s Republican campaign for governor in Virginia are also now noting that the straight porn makes you gay guy is cited twice as an authority by Bob McDonnell in that famous thesis that he wrote about the evils of fornication.

So, now, the Virginia governor‘s race, once a shining hope for

Republicans trying to find their way out of the political wilderness, is

going to become a race in which the Republican candidate is stuck answering

questions about whether he, too, believes that straight porn makes you gay

·         whether he still believes that fornicators must be opposed actively by the government.

           

Part of watching Republicans try to return to power is watching their elected officials in action.  Part of it is watching the conservative movement trying to shape the Republican Party.  And part of it is watching the conservative movement eat the Republican Party, eat their electoral chances over and over and over again as the things they think they‘re saying just to fellow conservatives in private keep making their way to a general audience.  That could be full of fornicators and people who think that straight porn can do something to you but it really, really, really doesn‘t make you guy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Unlike most days since the Obama administration took on the perennial issue of health care, something important, something tactile and measurable happened today.  This was it—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All those in favor say aye.  Opposed, no.  The ayes have it and the order is adopted. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Today, the Massachusetts State Senate approved a bill allowing Governor Deval Patrick to fill the late Ted Kennedy‘s Senate seat until a special election can be held in January.  Since the measure passed, the Massachusetts House last week, it‘s expected to land on the governor‘s desk tomorrow and that means by the end of this week, there‘s every chance that the Democrats in the Senate, the Democrats in the United States Senate, will be back up to a theoretically filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.  And Massachusetts won‘t have to spend four more months with just one senator.  Now the question is, of course, who‘s going to get that seat?

Joining us now is Tom Oliphant, former columnist for “The Boston Globe.”  Mr. Oliphant, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight. 

TOM OLIPHANT, FORMER BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST:  My pleasure, Rachel. 

OLIPHANT:  Well, right now I guess you would have to say that he leads the pack by, what could I say, the margin of one rather large Greek American nose.  It‘s almost as big as mine.  But also there is somebody who‘s been with Kennedy family people for more than 40 years, Paul Kirk, former chairman of the National Democratic Party.  But we keep hearing a little more Dukakis than Paul Kirk and little of that is a surprise. 

MADDOW:  None of the people who are potential appointees for this four-month term are going to run for the seat in January.  That‘s sort of the part of the deal.

OLIPHANT:  That‘s the deal. 

MADDOW:  But we‘ve already seen from the folks who are going to be running in January, that it looks like it may be a real fight on the Democratic side as to who‘s as liberal as Kennedy was.  Do you think that Governor Patrick feels he has to appoint someone into this interim term who is as reliably liberal as Ted Kennedy was?

OLIPHANT:  No, I don‘t think that will be the criterion.  To the extent he‘s thinking about re-election politics, and frankly, I think he would be really stupid to think very much about it because I don‘t think a year from now anyone is going to remember who the interim senator was except us. 

But on the margins, I think he‘s looking for somebody who‘s going to be that 60th vote.  And I don‘t think there‘s any question he will find such a person.  On the other hand, though, no one knows whether it‘s Mike Dukakis or Paul Kirk or somebody else, how they will vote on these all-important amendments.  I mean Wyden has a really universal public option.  Rockefeller has a more traditional one.  Olympia Snowe would use a trigger.  I haven‘t the foggiest idea how any of these front runners would vote on that and I don‘t think they do either.

MADDOW:  There is some sense that Dukakis brings policy area credibility to this issue.  I mean, he knows a lot about health care and he‘s worked on it in academic and political context for a long time, right?

OLIPHANT:  You could—I would say without hesitation that Mike Dukakis probably knows more about this subject than anybody else in the body he might be about to join. 

Now interestingly, some would say that‘s an argument in his favor.  I think from the Obama White House perspective, it worries some people a little bit because of—to the extent that Dukakis is independent, his own person, you can‘t always figure out where he‘s going to come down. 

My guess is, though, that this next senator is going to vote with the Democrats procedurally.  No filibuster.  Bring the bill to the floor and all of that.  But on the question of amendments, it‘s jump ball really.  But at the end, I think they will take their cue from Senator Kennedy and vote for the best bill that they can get and not be the kind of liberal who would draw a line in the sand and walk away if he doesn‘t get what he wants.

MADDOW:  Tom Oliphant, former columnist for “The Boston Globe,” thanks for your insight.  Thanks for being on the show tonight.  It‘s nice to see you. 

OLIPHANT:  Nice to see you.

MADDOW:  OK, these here are the gyrating body parts of indicted former House majority leader Tom Delay.  A friend of mine walked into my office today while I was watching this clip on my computer.  They couldn‘t see what I was watching.  They could just see my face.  And they thought from the look on my face that I had been crying.  I had not been.  My feelings are actually much more complicated than that.  Tom Delay‘s cha-cha is next.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Former Vice President Dick Cheney has recently had surgery on his back.  While he is recuperating, Condoleezza Rice has decided to take over as resident discredited Bush administration national security authority.  And if that doesn‘t make you want to smash your forehead into a stack of bricks, we have a very important story at the end of tonight‘s show that‘s about a man smashing his forehead into stacks of bricks.  Kent Jones reports.  That‘s coming up.

But first, it‘s time for a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Iran‘s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is expected to address the United States tomorrow in New York City.  He will do so in the midst of major protests against him and his government.  And unlike the protests back home in Iran, there‘s nothing he can do about those protests here.  Thousands of Iranians ex-pats and exiles from across the U.S. and Canada are expected to gather outside the U.N. building while Mr. Ahmadinejad speaks within it.  They will be protesting the shady presidential election in June and the severe and violent crackdown that ensued.

On Thursday, protesters intend to hang a mile-long green banner across the Brooklyn Bridge, as if to say, if you believe Ahmadinejad won the election fair and square, we‘ve got a bridge to sell you or something along those lines. 

But the symbolic big deal will be the Empire State Building on Thursday night.  The Empire State Building lights up at the top, often in colors that celebrate holidays or anniversaries or sporting events.  Because green has been the symbolic color of the opposition in Iran, opposition activists have requested that the Empire State Building be lit up green during Ahmadinejad‘s visit.  That request was denied. 

However, the fates have aligned for the opposition.  The Empire State Building will be lit up green on Thursday because, coincidentally, it‘s the 70th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz.”  Get it, Emerald City.  The fact that the building will be green not for the activists but for Warner Brothers has not cooled the activists‘ excitement about this at all. 

“The Wall Street Journal” reporting today that activists plan to stand under the building and cheer when it lights up green in the evening, which should be roughly at sunset, 6:45ish on Thursday.  And the building is at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue.  I‘m just saying. 

And Senator John Ensign is back in the news.  The senator has been hard at work trying to seep back into public life after admitting this summer to an affair with the woman who worked for him, whom he then had his parents pay off and whose teenage son mysteriously ended up on the Republican Party‘s payroll during his mother‘s affair with the senator. 

Well since then, Senator Ensign has kept a very low profile.  He‘s refused to answer most questions about the affair, the payments or anything else.  So it was a surprise this week when Senator Ensign surfaced.  He issued—he introduced, excuse me, 30 separate amendments to the health care bill.  He‘s leaving no gallstone unturned, getting into the nitty-gritty of law making once again, with important amendments like this one, which would “replace the word fee with the word tax throughout the bill.”  Congratulations, Nevada.  Your senator‘s hard at work.  Opening up the bill as a Word document, hitting “Control F,” clicking the “Replace” button.  Forget the affair in Nevada, obviously this man is indispensable. 

And finally, former House majority leader Tom Delay debuted last night on a TV show called “Dancing with the Stars,” which is lovely for him.  Good luck.  It is worth noting however that this is not Mr. Delay‘s first encounter with this particular TV show.  A couple of years ago when daytime talk show host and my former colleague at Air America radio Jerry Springer was a contestant on this show, Tom Delay sent out an e-mail encouraging fans of the show to back another participant, country singer Sara Evans.  Evans was a big Republican supporter.  Her husband raised money for Republican candidates.  And in his letter Mr. Delay said, quote, “We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television.”  The smut in question being Jerry Springer dancing.  Ms. Evans herself eventually became famous for being the first competitor in history to quit that show abruptly because of a very sudden and public divorce when it was discovered her husband was having an affair.  There was also a pornography element to the story that I neither care to nor am allowed to describe. 

So given that history, that context, now “The Rachel Maddow Show” can present the kind of smut-free dancing television that Tom Delay always promised.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(DANCING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It‘s like it burns, you know?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Forgive an indulgence for just a moment.  NBC News won five Emmys at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards last night.  It‘s a recognition of great work that I think deserves a moment of congratulations.  Specifically, I‘d also like to shout out a friend of the show, NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who won three awards, along with his producer Madeline Haeringer.  Two of them for his “Nightly News” report that‘s were called “Tip of the Sphere.”  For “Tip of the Sphere,” Richard was embedded with soldiers of Viper Company in a remote mountain region in Afghanistan that is nicknamed “The Valley of Death.”  It‘s the Korengal Valley near the Pakistan border.  Talk about life during wartime.  Part of Richard‘s reporting was done on camera right in the middle of a firefight, actually providing at one point multiple simultaneous angles from inside that fire fight.  Richard followed up with the platoon eight months later and found many new faces among the company due to the number of casualties and injuries and sickness.  It‘s an honor to be even remotely associated with journalists like Richard Engel and Madeline. Congratulations to the winners and here‘s to NBC News for investing in bringing us stories like these from the front lines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  One of the most unpleasant surprises of the Obama era so far has been the sudden loquaciousness of Dick Cheney.  After eight years of calculated, mostly silence as vice president, suddenly in the first few months of the administration that succeeded his, Dick Cheney has been everywhere, except on this show.  Hmm, he‘s everywhere except this show, talking about national security. 

But earlier this month the former vice president checked into the hospital for back surgery, and now while he is recuperating, we are getting new, unsolicited national security advice from an even more surprising source, someone who has been effectively invisible since the election.  It‘s former national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Our national security interests are very much tied up in not letting Afghanistan fail again and become a safe haven for terrorists.  It‘s that simple.  If you want another terrorist attack in the United States, abandon Afghanistan. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The person who was national security adviser when 9/11 happened and for nine months before is now telling us how to avoid a terrorist attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I ask you whether you recall the title of that

PDP?

RICE:  I believe the title was “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s the person from whom we‘re supposed to take how to avoid a terrorist attack advice now.  And her advice is that we should just keep on keeping on into year nine of a war that she helped start but never bothered to win.  Never bothered to win maybe because she didn‘t notice we hadn‘t won it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE:  The Taliban has been defeated.  With the Taliban eliminated and al Qaeda badly damaged, we‘ve moved now into a second stage of our war on terror. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  With the Taliban defeated? That was June 2002.  That was seven years ago that Condoleezza Rice said we had defeated the Taliban.  So she was going to go on to say, it would be a great time to start a whole other war.  Well, now she‘s got some more advice for us on national security and foreign policy and war.  Anybody interested?  Anybody buying what these folks are selling now?

Joining us now is Sam Stein, political reporter for the “Huffington Post.”  Mr. Stein, thank you for coming on the show, nice to see you.

SAM STEIN, POLITICAL REPORT, HUFFINGTON POST:  Nice to see you, too, Rachel.  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  We have sort of gotten used to seeing former Vice President Dick Cheney rub his hands together over the prospect of more terrorist attacks during this presidency.  Not hoping for them obviously, but certainly I think hoping to blame someone for them if they happened.  Condoleezza Rice had been keeping a pretty low profile.  Why do you think she is speaking out now?

STEIN:  She has been speaking a low profile and it is surprising to see her take these rhetorical steps against the Obama administration.  I‘m sort of confused why she‘s speaking out.  Obviously it was part of a “Fortune” magazine interview that she conducted last week.  But she has been keeping a low profile.  I think a large part of the administration officials, the past administration officials, feel it‘s their duty now to defend their policies even though as you pointed out, in Afghanistan, the concerns that she‘s talking about were largely created by the Bush administration‘s policies.  They could have won this war. 

With Dick Cheney, with Condi Rice, there is a sense that you can get to the point where if another terrorist attack occurs, you can say “we told you so.”  I know I talked to a bunch of people who were pining for Dick Cheney to run for the Republican nomination in 2012 and were talking just about that scenario.  If there was another terrorist attack, he could ran on a national security platform.  So there‘s a political opportunity here. 

MADDOW:  People are hoping for Dick Cheney to run in 2012? People who aren‘t Democrats?

STEIN:  Exactly.  This is 2012.  This was an article I did two weeks ago interviewing Republican strategists about 2012.  They all talked to me about Cheney and how he was perfectly positioned to run on a national security platform against Obama in the 2012 elections, in large part because of the arguments he‘s been discussing in public appearances which is that we need to go on the offensive and use military might to keep the country safe and anything less would be endangering U.S. citizens and U.S.  troops.  So it is actually a relevant theme within the Republican Party at this juncture and I think there is ample room for political maneuvering that Condi Rice and others are taking. 

MADDOW:  I almost couldn‘t hear the end of your answer because of the champagne corks that were apparently going off all over liberal New York City.  In all seriousness, Sam, you‘ve been reporting this week from the neoconservatives‘ new gigs.  They‘re calling themselves the Foreign Policy Initiative now instead of the Project for a New American Century.  What are they advocating now?

STEIN:  Essentially the same thing.  This is the outfit that was started by many of the intellectual authors of the Iraq war.  They are former Bush administration officials as well as some of the people outside government like William Kristol, who laid the foundation for the intervention and war in Iraq. 

Right now they‘re saying that you need to essentially follow the advice of the generals in Afghanistan and to vote 40,000 new troops there or else you risk failure and the life of U.S. forces.  Senator John McCain appeared before them today, made the argument that if in fact Obama were to not follow the advice, he would in fact be endangering the U.S. forces that are already there.  Mitt Romney and other prospective 2012 candidates went there and accused Obama of acting like Hamlet by deliberating over strategy in Afghanistan.  For this crowd essentially, there is no solution that doesn‘t have—there is no problem that doesn‘t have a military solution.  So it‘s not surprising to hear them advocating for more troops in Iraq.  But you thought that they would be a little bit more intellectually discredited after what happened in Iraq.

MADDOW:  During the whole Bush years, that‘s I guess the big existential shame-based question that I have.  In their discussions with one another, when they talk about what they‘re advocating now, I don‘t mean to sound rude, but is there any sense of shame that they might have been wrong about anything that happened during the Bush years or do they see the Bush years as a success?

STEIN:  They see them as a success and John McCain actually made note of this today in his comments.  He was talking about what Obama needs to do in this new report.  And his pivot was well, when I was in the Republican primary, I had to face the tough situation myself.  I advocated for the surge of forces in Iraq and look, it was a huge success.  And so Obama should do the same when it comes to Afghanistan. 

This group of foreign policy thinkers, again, like I said, really is really a machismo take on what can be done in Afghanistan and anywhere else in the global community.  Their main point of contention was that Obama has a vision of America failing that he‘s just trying to shepherd it along to failure.  They think American exceptionalism is something that we need to attach to.  And so anything that happened in Iraq or for that matter in the first few years in Afghanistan is sort of swept under the rug.  No one really considers it.

MADDOW:  Wow.  Like 9/11 didn‘t matter, like that didn‘t happen on their watch and, like, the first eight years of Afghanistan is nothing to tell our current history.  Sam Stein, political reporter for the “Huffington Post,” thanks for your reporting.  Thanks for joining us tonight. 

STEIN:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up on “Countdown,” a lot of very important news about health care and politics before former “Dancing with the Stars” star Penn Jillette on what on Earth Tom Delay is thinking being on that show.  Next on this show, Kent Jones introduces you to your new favorite martial artist.  Sorry, Bruce.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We turn now to our international karate correspondent Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Rachel.  You know, I‘ve been accused of neglecting Sri Lankan martial artists on this show, but no longer.  Here now with my new hero, but please don‘t do any of this on the show.  None of it. 

MADDOW:  Fair enough, I promise it.

JONES:  None.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES (voice-over):  This is Vasantha Zoysa and regardless of what hardships you may have faced, I‘m guessing you‘ve never faced anything like this.  Ever had fruit chopped in half by a sword while lying on bed of nails?  Vasantha Zoysa has.  Need someone to break a giant stack of bricks with his forehead?  Cal 1-800-Vasantha Zoysa.  Next up for the Sri Lankan karate master, an attempt to break the Guinness world record for having wooden bars broken over his torso.  That‘s 29 two-inch thick 6-foot long wooden bars over a span of 60 seconds.  Ow.  Now maybe this is a metaphor for defiance in the face of adversity or the triumph of mind over matter.  Maybe the guy is just a—what‘s the word?  A kook.  But then, what are words when compared to Vasantha Zoysa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Wow. 

JONES:  Yes, he‘s the real deal. 

MADDOW:  I can‘t do that.  Kent also earlier on the show, I missed up my evangelical universities.  I made an error.  I was talking about Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell and his infamous thesis against the fornicators and he did do that at Pat Robertson‘s school, but Pat Robertson‘s school is not called Liberty University.  That‘s the Jerry Falwell school.  Pat Robertson‘s is called Regent University.  I‘m very sorry.  Don‘t know how I mixed them up.  Thank you for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now.

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