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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, September 28, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: David Iglesias, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Madeleine Albright


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thanks very much.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Today, Bank of America announced that it is suspending its current work and is not planning on entering into any future work with the part of the community group ACORN that councils first-time homebuyers on how to avoid—how to avoid problems in handling their first mortgage and which represents people who are trying to avoid losing their homes to foreclosure.

Bank of America‘s actions to cut off ACORN follows similar moves by the Census Bureau and the IRS.  They‘ve both said they‘ll stop working with ACORN as well.  And, of course, it follows a move by the U.S. Congress to cut off any source of federal funding for ACORN following a dramatically escalated campaign against the group by Republicans and conservative activists and conservative media outlets.

We have previously reported on this show how corporate interests opposed to ACORN‘s really successful efforts to raise the minimum wage targeted the group using Republican-allied P.R. firms that proudly specialized in demonizing their opposition.

But ACORN has not just been targeted by corporations who worry that ACORN‘s advocacy for living-wage ordinances and an increased minimum wage will hurt their corporate bottom line.  ACORN has also been the subject for years of a purely political smear campaign, a campaign engineered by Republicans who are threatened by ACORN‘s work to register young and poor and minority voters.

The American voter is typically older and more wealthy than the typical American, and that tends to give the Republicans an electoral edge among voters as compared to the preferences of the populations at large.  But ACORN‘s registration drives have gone some distance to changing that.  Over the past five years, ACORN registered close to 2 million voters.  And, yes, the groups of people that ACORN typically registers tend to vote for Democrats.

Over the last few election cycles, fear of a younger, less wealthy, and, frankly, less white electorate led Republicans, especially in swing states, to go after ACORN aggressively, and, in fact, to try to gin up charges against them, to try to make their voter registration efforts in general seem suspect and perhaps to bring down the group entirely.  And when I say “ginned up,” I‘m not exaggerating.

Do you remember the U.S. attorney scandal, the alleged fire ring of U.S. attorneys because of U.S. political considerations?  Recall what that scandal was really about.  In 2006, nine U.S. attorneys were fired, surprisingly and suddenly, by the Department of Justice under George W.  Bush.

Former U.S. attorney David Iglesias—one of those U.S. attorneys who lost his job despite positive job reviews—maintains that his pink slip came after he resisted pressure from Republicans to pursue bogus voter registration cases involving ACORN.  The pressure began as early as 2002 when Mr. Iglesias says in his book “In Justice,” he received an e-mail from the Department of Justice in Washington, quote, “suggesting, in no uncertain terms” that U.S. attorneys “offer whatever assistance we could in investigating and prosecuting voter fraud cases.”

Mr. Iglesias says he received similar e-mails from the Department of Justice in 2004 and again in 2006.  Hmm.  What happens on even years in American politics?  Oh, right.  Elections.

According to documents released by the House Judiciary Committee in June 2005, Karl Rove‘s political aide Scott Jennings wrote to another White House aide that Mr. Iglesias should be removed.  Quote, “I would really like to move forward with getting rid of New Mexico‘s U.S. attorney,” because Republicans in New Mexico are “really angry over his lack of action on the voter fraud stuff.  Iglesias has done nothing.  We‘re getting killed out there.”

Bush‘s White House counsel, Harriet Miers, told the House Judiciary Committee in closed door testimony that she received a call from Karl Rove personally in which he said that the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, Mr.  Iglesias, was, quote, “a serious problem, and that he wanted something done about it.”  Miers told the committee, quote, “My best recollection is that he was very agitated about the U.S. attorney in New Mexico.”

Why was David Iglesias such a serious problem?  Why was he getting the attention not only of the Department of Justice but of the White House, of Karl Rove specifically?  Why was Karl Rove so agitated about him?  Because of dubious voter fraud cases in New Mexico which have they been prosecuted successfully might have helped the Republicans politically.

An e-mail in January 2007 from Karl Rove‘s aide to Mr. Rove suggested a possible replacement for Mr. Iglesias.  Quote, “Rogers would be the dream but won‘t do it.”  Rogers was Pat Rogers, a New Mexico Republican activist who had deemed voter fraud, quote, “the single greatest wedge issue ever.”  Wedge issue, Karl Rove, Bush‘s Justice Department.  You see where this is going.

Karl Rove‘s own interpretation of this incident?


KARL ROVE, FORMER PRES. BUSH ADVISOR:  I passed on to the White House counsel‘s office to pass on to the Justice Department complaints about the performance of the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, that he failed to go after ACORN and clear cases of vote fraud.  I was not in a position.


MADDOW:  The rub, of course, was that Mr. Iglesias didn‘t go after ACORN because there weren‘t clear cases of vote fraud.  In fact, he found no wrongdoing by the organization that he could prosecute when he looked into it.

He writes in his book “In Justice,” quote, “Republicans had wanted splashy headlines trumpeting voter fraud indictments, and when they didn‘t get what they wanted, they were only too ready to assign blame.  After an exhaustive examination of the facts, I felt that I had dispelled the phantoms of voter fraud in New Mexico.  But some people had wanted a different result whether or not it was warranted by the facts.”

ACORN was and remains a flawed but legitimate organization which helps register low-income Americans to vote.  No accusation has ever been substantiated that anyone registered by ACORN ever voted fraudulently.  The Bush White House viewed voter fraud as the mother of all wedge issues.  It‘s paying its dividends today.  And remarkably, Democrats are playing right along with it.

Joining us now is David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was allegedly fired for failing to prosecute ACORN for voter fraud.  Mr. Iglesias is also the author of “In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration.”

Mr. Iglesias, thanks very much for being here today.

DAVID IGLESIAS, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY:  Thanks, Rachel.  Good to be back.

MADDOW:  In the lead-up to the ‘04 elections, in terms of the climate in New Mexico, the political climate, was ACORN very active in registering voters in New Mexico?

IGLESIAS:  Oh, sure.  They were working in Albuquerque and throughout the state.  There was tremendous local media attention on what they believed to be massive, systemic voter fraud.

MADDOW:  In terms of what those specific allegations were, I understand that some Republican activists and Republican elected officials started making noise about alleged voter fraud around that time.  What were they alleging and how did you look into it?

IGLESIAS:  Well, they were alleging primarily ACORN was registering people who did not have the right to voter, including underage people, including foreign nationals who were not entitled to vote.  And I found out about it directly through e-mail sent to my U.S. Justice Department account.  Some of those e-mails you can see on the official Justice Department investigation.

So, I mean, it wasn‘t just this nebulous pressure.  It was direct contact with me and my office.

MADDOW:  So, you were receiving direct pressure, not only just through the media in terms of these complaints being made public, but you were receiving direct pressure from Washington to go prosecute these cases.

IGLESIAS:  Right.  From the Justice Department and also from local political operatives.

MADDOW:  When you looked into those cases, did you find that there were—there was grounds to go forward?  They were asking you not just to look into things but to bring indictments and bring them quickly.

IGLESIAS:  Right.  As a matter of fact, I set up one of only two voter fraud task forces in the country.  I worked with state and local officials.  I worked with the FBI.  I worked with the Justice Department in Washington. 

And we took over 100 complaints.  We set up a hotline.

I mean, I believe there to be prosecutable cases, but I wasn‘t going to make up evidence.  And at the end of two years, I couldn‘t find one case I could prosecute.

MADDOW:  You write in your book about the experience of other U.S.  attorneys who experienced similar pressure to go after voter fraud cases that really turned out not to be warranted by the case, including one U.S.  attorney who was a friend of yours in Missouri.  Could you describe that for us briefly?

IGLESIAS:  Right.  There was a gentleman named Brad Schlozman who had been the acting director of civil rights.  He went and was the acting U.S.  attorney in Kansas City.  And he, in fact, did file some voter fraud cases at the exact wrong time.

According to long-standing DOJ policy, you can‘t file something that would affect the outcome of the election.  That‘s precisely what Brad did.  And he—those cases were eventually dismissed, and Brad had to leave his position as U.S. attorney.

But, again, that was a direct example of politicizing a federal prosecutor‘s office.

MADDOW:  And Mr. Schlozman was moved into the office after previous U.S. attorney also appointed by George W. Bush had decided not to pursue those cases.  Is that also right?

IGLESIAS:  Well, that‘s right.  In fact, his predecessor looked at the evidence like I did and couldn‘t find anything he could prove.  Therefore, he didn‘t file anything—and that partial basis for his removal.

MADDOW:  The reason that I wanted to talk to you about this tonight is because we‘re in the midst of a real—what I hope is a sort of apex, what I hope is sort of a peaking of this national campaign, media campaign, political campaign and P.R. campaign against ACORN, and it seems to me that whatever ACORN‘s flaws are, you‘ve done a lot to illuminate how they were targeted unjustly on voter fraud.

How many times has voter fraud successfully been documented just in terms of public corruption and public integrity cases?  Is it something that frequently happens in the United States?  Is it something that really does need to be cracked down on?

IGLESIAS:  It‘s incredibly infrequent.  In fact, the numbers I recall from my Senate testimony from 2008 is something in the order of 14 in the past several years.  So, out of the many hundreds of thousands of cases the Justice Department prosecuted during that period of time, 14.

MADDOW:  Would you describe the political pressure about ACORN as both an effort to make voter fraud seem like a bigger deal than it is but also to try to destroy the credibility of that organization?  Because it had been effective at registering voters.

IGLESIAS:  Well, in a state like New Mexico, what you have to remember, Rachel, is a minority/majority state.  It has been for a number of years.  A lot of the folks—these low-income folks were people of color, and they tended to vote for Democrats.  And the Republican Party at large and also, especially, locally there in New Mexico wanted to disable as much of that as possible.

So, they were looking at numbers, didn‘t like the demographic tidal wave that was coming their way.  So, they wanted to engage the machinery of the Justice Department to stop that wave.

MADDOW:  David Iglesias, former U.S. attorney from New Mexico and author of “In Justice: Inside the Scandal that Rocked the Bush Administration,” which remains—even just on the issue of ACORN, which is a small part of the book—remains one of the most important primary texts that we‘ve got as a country in terms of understanding this political campaign against this group.  Mr. Iglesias, thank you for speaking up.  Thanks for joining us tonight.

IGLESIAS:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  Ever since the heyday of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have waged a rhetorical war to try to defund, discredit and generally demolish if they could the institution known as Medicare.  So now look who‘s claiming they will save that highly popular government-run health care program.  Since when did irony become a strategy?  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders joins us next.



MADDOW:  The Republican Party still mired in the political wilderness.  We now present the first ever RACHEL MADDOW SHOW “Where Are They Now” segment.

Our honorary first subject is Samuel Wurzelbacher, also known as Joe the Plumber despite not being named Joe or being a plumber.  His gig as Joe the McCain campaign prop ended in early November, but undaunted, he then enjoyed a stunt as Joe the war correspondent for Pajama TV, a conservative Web site that sent Mr. Joe to cover the Israeli incursion into Gaza in January.  He then got a hitch as Joe the Web site pitch man, which found him hawking, an organization that invited concerned Americans to pay 99 cents to click, call, or text their votes to abolish the IRS.


SAMUEL WURZELBACHER, JOE THE PLUMBER:  Leaving in fear of the IRS, vote today.


MADDOW:  Also, it will only cost you 99 cents.  That was April.  The IRS survived.  I know.

What‘s happened to Joe since?  Well, he has surfaced.  He‘s surfaced at the How to Take Back America Conference, a slightly further off the kook end version of the recent value voters summit in Washington that we‘ll be discussing later on in the show.  “The Washington Independent‘s” Dave Weigel spent the weekend in St. Louis at that conference, and there he caught up with Joe the Plumber.

JTP now says he regrets the thing.  He says those people were just in it for the money and the promise of really big publicity never materialized.  But Mr. Plumber also revealed that he is still in the game and he has just endorsed a new comic strip.  It‘s conservative, and it‘s called “Microman USA.”

Don‘t judge it on the basis of the fact that very few men choose “micro” as their preferred adjective.  Judge it on its substance.

Now presenting the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW “Right-Wing Comic Strip Voice-over Theater.”


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s the soup today, Shirley?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s cream of bailout broccoli soup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Isn‘t that unusual?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Not really, Microman.  Anytime you see “bailout,” it means you should expect to get creamed.



MADDOW:  We put in the laugh track where we thought the laughs were supposed to go.  Here‘s another one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What does politically incorrect mean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It means to say things in a way that offends a group.  An example would be to say, “Nancy Pelosi is a stupid, leftist woman.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How would you say that correctly?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nancy Pelosi is an idiot.



MADDOW:  It‘s endorsed by Joe the Plumber.  That doesn‘t make concerned idiots of America any less outraged and offended however.


MADDOW:  Belated salvo in the scare the bejesus out of elderly voters so they‘ll put you back in power regardless of whether you‘re telling the truth war is an editorial in the conservative newspaper, “The Washington Times,” and it screams “Death Panels by Proxy”—ostensibly argues that the so-called Baucus bill on health reform encourages doctors to withhold health care from Medicare patients.  Health care reform is a secret plot to kill people on Medicare.

This is now become an ongoing strategic conundrum.  How do you plan to win an argument with opponents who are undeterred by being disproven?  Undeterred by the facts, when you don‘t even believe that they believe what they‘re arguing anymore?

It‘s not even just the “death panels” nonsense now.  Take Medicare itself, a program Republicans have railed against since before President Johnson signed it into law in 1965.  They railed against it since then until—well, until now.

Now, in the Senate Finance Committee, Republicans are trying to portray themselves as the champions of Medicare.  They‘re fighting hard to kill any bill that contains any cuts in Medicare, even though people who support Medicare like, say, the AARP, say those cuts won‘t affect care.

Republicans defending Medicare.  What would Ronald Reagan say?  These guys do remember Ronald Reagan, don‘t they?

Here‘s what he did say about Medicare when it was just a twinkle in some socialist, fascist, freedom-hating, community-organizing Democrat‘s eye.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  We can write to our congressmen and to our senators.  We can say right now that we want no further encroachment on these individual liberties and freedoms.  And that the moment, the key issue is, we do not want socialized medicine.  Write those letters now, call your friends and tell them to write them.

If you don‘t, this program, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country.  Until, one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism.  And if you don‘t do this and if I don‘t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children‘s children what it once was like in America when men were free.


MADDOW:  That was Ronald Reagan, 1961, on a record sent out by the American Medical Association when they really opposed it.  Republicans have been echoing that anti-Medicare sentiment ever since.


NEWT GINGRICH ®, FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The Medicare is a massive government bureaucracy that wastes at least 40 percent of its money, has no effective controls, doesn‘t give senior citizens choice, and rips off doctors.

FMR. SEN. FRED THOMPSON ®, TENNESSEE:  Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are the ones that we‘re really going to have to reform if we‘re going to make any headway into spending.

REP. ROY BLUNT ®, MISSOURI:  The government never should have gotten into the health care business.

TOM DELAY ®, FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  I want Medicare to be privatized.  It shouldn‘t be a government program.


MADDOW:  Yet now, the Republican Party expects voters to believe that as of this week, the last half-century never happened.

Earlier this year, 137 members of the House voted for an alternative budget plan which called for abolishing Medicare for every American who‘s under age 55, and it would force all of those people who would otherwise expect to become eligible for Medicare instead onto the private insurance market.  That was this year.

But now, Republicans want to portray themselves as the champions of Medicare, the people you can trust to preserve it against those evil Democrats.  Yes.  Forget all that stuff that happened in the past.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  Let‘s agree in both parties that Congress should only consider health reform proposals that protect senior citizens.  For starters, no cuts to Medicare to pay for another program—zero.


MADDOW:  Thanks, Republicans.  Great idea.

Joining us now is Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, a member of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Sanders, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The Republicans have decided that they would like to portray health care reform now as an attack on Medicare.  What‘s your overall response to that allegation?

SANDERS:  Well, my overall response is that in Washington, D.C., where hypocrisy levels are pretty high, this one is actually quite extreme.  It really bounces off the charts.  Here you have people whose whole mantra, whose reason for living is to tell us that government can‘t do anything, that government health care is the worst thing imaginable.  They want to privatize almost every form of government activity, and now, because they think they can get a few votes, they‘re suddenly champions of Medicare.

I mean, it is totally absurd, and I think the American people and especially seniors who know the Republican record on Medicare will see right through this hypocrisy.

MADDOW:  I went back today and looked at some of the contemporaneous coverage from the time that those 137 Republicans voted earlier this year that they wanted to abolish Medicare, they wanted to get rid of Medicare for everybody under age 55, and instead, force them into the private market.  And at that time, they were willing to tell reporters that they were worried that vote was going to come back and hurt them.  That it was going to look like an anti-seniors vote.

As yet, it doesn‘t seem to be coming back to hurt them.  I wonder if you think that it will.

SANDERS:  Well, I think it will.  I think the more we make the point that here you have people today who are vigorously opposed—we don‘t have one Republican vote for a Medicare-type public option, all right, which would give people under 65 a Medicare-type program in opposition to private health insurance.  I think very few people will believe that these people who are not supporting a public option, who historically have wanted to voucherize or privatize Medicare, are suddenly now strong supporters.

Clearly, this is 100 percent political, and I think the American people, and especially seniors, will see right through it.

MADDOW:  You‘ve been a guest here over the last few months, frequently talking about progress on health care about not only the procedural battles but the principles at stake.  At this point, looking ahead at this week and coming weeks with these crucial battles that are being fought now, how do you feel about the public option and the other important components of health reform that people have fought so hard for?

SANDERS:  Well, you know, Rachel, there was just a poll in “The New York Times” where I think the numbers were 65 percent of the people wanted a public option to give them a choice as opposed to private health insurance.  It is hard for me to believe that the Democrats are not going to respond to those numbers.

And what I can tell you, we are working very, very hard—a number of senators are working hard for two reasons.  Number one, we think it‘s right that people have that choice.  And, number two, if you are serious about cost containment, if we are serious about addressing the fact that we have almost a million people in this country this year who are going to go bankrupt because of soaring health care costs and medically-related bills, you have got to give competition to the private health insurance companies.

We are now spending almost twice as much per person on health care as any other major country, and yet our outcomes in many cases are not as good.  So, clearly, we need to wring the waste out of this current system, the bureaucratic waste that exists, and provide quality care without kind of—spending the kind of money we currently are.

MADDOW:  Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, thanks very much for your time tonight, sir.  Good to see you.

SANDERS:  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

I don‘t watch a ton of local TV programming, but—no TV—but when the show is a full-length birthers infomercial that is playing in Lubbock, Texas, in the middle of the night and that infomercial is titled “Where Was Obama Born?” you better believe I will find that TV show on the Internet and I will watch it.  We‘ll show it to you next.

Stay tuned.


MADDOW:  It‘s the answer to the age-old question - what would happen if the birthers and the creators of “Wayne‘s World” collaborated on an art project?  Answer may be “‘s” half-hour-long “Where Was Obama Born?” infomercial.  It is certainly a “-mercial.”  As for the “info,” I don‘t know. 

“Talking Points Memo” was the first to report on the ad airing on the CBS affiliate in Lubbock, Texas.  It‘s also scheduled to air in local TV markets in seven southern states.  It‘s titled “Where Was President Obama Born?”  And this is how it starts. 


Where was President Obama born?  Is it Africa?  Maybe.  Maybe the United States?  Doubtful.  Either way, it‘s definitely very scary.  The birther “-mercial” stars “‘s” founder, Bill Keller - not the Bill Keller who runs the “New York Times,” but rather an ex-con who runs the Christian Web site which features classy Christian videos like this one, showing President Obama being morphed out of Adolf Hitler. 

Yes.  Classy.  Mr. Keller‘s one and only guest in the half-hour birther infomercial is a man named Kreep, K-R-E-E-P, not an acronym for something having to do with Richard Nixon.  It‘s his name, Kreep.  Mr.  Kreep is an attorney deeply entrenched in the “Obama is not really the president” conspiracy world. 

And in this new infomercial, Mr. Kreep and Mr. “Not The ‘New York Times‘” Bill Keller, they are ready to make you the offer of a lifetime. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Then, the second thing that you‘re doing is encouraging people to help you with a $30 gift that enables you then to fax all 50 state attorney generals and A.G. Holder about this criminality.  Correct? 


MADDOW:  Only $30 for the fax?  Wow.  How much does a fax cost these days?  Your name on a spammed fax for only $30. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  United States Justice Foundation has taken the lead in forcing President Obama to supply his official State of Hawaii birth certificate and prove he‘s constitutionally eligible to be president. 

You can help by going to your phone and calling (DELETED) to have your name added to a petition going to GOP leaders to force President Obama to obey the law.  Join hundreds of thousands of Americans who simply want the truth. 


MADDOW:  You understand why we bleeped that, right?  For only $30, you

can have your name on a spam fax and they will add your name to a petition

for only $30.  But wait, there‘s more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As a thank you for being part of this petition drive, you will receive a specially created “Got a Birth Certificate?” bumper sticker. 

Also you can help the United States Justice Foundation in their efforts to force President Obama to produce his birth certificate by making a gift of $30 that will enable us to send a fax on your behalf to all 50 state attorney generals and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder demanding they force President Obama to provide his official State of Hawaii birth certificate. 


MADDOW:  OK.  Now, for only $30, it‘s not only your name on a spam fax to 50 people, it is your name on a spam fax to 51 people, because now it includes the attorney general.  That has to go all the way to Washington from wherever you are. 

Plus, for the same $30, your name on a petition, and for the same $30, a bumper sticker.  Don‘t delay.  Call today.  Don‘t delay.  Call today. 

But lest you believe that this is just a fringe scam to separate gullible stoned late-night birthers from their money, consider how this infomercial is able to reference pretty well-known elected Republican politicians in order to bolster their scam credibility. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Since then, however, though, we now have Sen.  Shelby of Alabama who has now started raising questions about that.  We have Sen. Coburn has likewise raised questions.  And we have Congressman Posey of Florida who‘s introduced a bill to require proof be provided for anyone in the future who runs for president that they are, indeed, eligible to serve as president. 

He now has, I believe, either five or six co-sponsors so that‘s starting to progress.  So, we‘re very happy about that. 


MADDOW:  That was Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby they‘re talking about there - Richard Shelby of Alabama.  Republican U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Republican U.S. Congressman Bill Posey of Florida, who has written a birther bill that actually has 11 Republican co-sponsors now. 

Apparently, it only costs $100 to run this half-hour infomercial late night on the Lubbock, Texas station on which it has been running.  It‘s also expected to run in markets like Huntsville, Alabama; Shreveport, Louisiana; Abilene, Texas; and Macon, Georgia. 

If costs in those markets are as low as they are in Lubbock, this infomercial only needs to persuade three or four gullible late-night TV-watching birthers to part with their $30 in order to cover the costs of keeping this brilliance on the air. 

Any money that they raise on top of that goes, of course, to those 51 spam faxes, and then the organization that creates the ads gets to keep the rest.  Birtherism may have been disproven.  It may be becoming a political punch line even on the American right. 

But it‘s also apparently becoming a really good scam for raising money off gullible sad people, which probably means it‘s here to stay. 


MADDOW:  Mike Huckabee would like to be a Republican presidential contender again.  And so he‘s now arguing for the U.N. building to be jack-hammered off the Island of Manhattan and floated away into the east river.  That‘s ahead as we‘re joined by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. 

But first, it‘ time for a couple of “holy mackerel” stories in today‘s news.  The month that President Obama was elected, in November of last year, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said something shocking even for him. 

He described the then president-elect as, quote, “handsome, young, and suntanned.”  Now, he‘s done it again, but worse.  Fresh off his meeting with the Obamas at the G-20 in Pittsburgh, Mr. Berlusconi appeared before a group of conservative Italian activists in Milan and said this. 


SILVIO BERLUSCONI, PRIME MINISTER OF ITALY (through translator):  I need to bring you best wishes, best wishes from a guy whose name is, who‘s called - what‘s his name.  Some tanned guy - Barack Obama.


MADDOW:  “Some tanned guy.”  Oh, yes, Barack Obama.  And then, it got worse from there.  He brought up the first lady. 


BERLUSCONI (through translator):  You will not believe it, but the two of them must have gone to sunbathe to the beach together because the wife is also tanned.


MADDOW:  You know how they say everything sounds beautiful in Italian?  Sort of think maybe that‘s over.  Also, Republican Congressman Steve Buyer has been famous inside the beltway twice this year. 

First, he argued against tobacco legislation by pointing out the ways in which smoking tobacco is like smoking lettuce. 


REP. STEVE BUYER (R-IN):  You could have smoked that lettuce and you still end up with the same problems.  It is the smoke that kills, not the nicotine.  It‘s the smoke. 


And the nicotine there to get you addicted to the smoke that kills.  Don‘t worry about that.  After becoming mildly famous for D.C. for the smoking lettuce speech, Congressman Buyer made himself mildly famous a second time this year when he added a new scare tactic to the long list of them that were being deployed against health reform. 

Alongside with the claim that health reform is a secret plot to kill old people and a secret plot to kill Republicans and a secret plot to kill women with breast cancer and a secret plot to kill disabled children and a lot of other secret plots besides, Congressman Buyer, the senior Republican on the Veterans Committee in the House put out a press release in August stating, quote, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” 

Congressman Buyer‘s allegation was that health reform is a secret plot to hurt veterans, that it would subject all veterans to a special health tax.  That allegation was made up.  We checked the legislation and found it to be untrue.  And we checked it on air with Congressman and Retired Admiral Joe Sestak. 


MADDOW (on camera):  Can you - somebody who is responsible for that bill passing, can you confirm that that‘s true?  There‘s not going to be any tax on anybody for their VA benefits? 

REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA):  I can absolutely confirm it, and the exact words are the VA healthcare plan meets the minimum acceptable requirements, which means it‘s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they‘re talking about.  It states it just like that.


MADDOW:  Congressman Buyer is not the first person to make up a conspiracy about health reform to try to scare some group of Americans.  But to do it to veterans frankly seems particularly gross.   That‘s what earns him a whole segment on this show on August 14th even though Steve Buyer is not exactly a household name. 

Well, since then, three Democrats who chair committees in the House decided to deal with Steve Buyer‘s made-up conspiracy theory about veterans the way that Democrats decided to deal with Congressman “you lie” Joe Wilson‘s made-up conspiracy about illegal immigrants.

Instead of just pointing out that Wilson and Buyer were wrong, which they were, Democrats decided the to try to calm them down by agreeing to doubly, triply, extra dog dare clarify that in Wilson‘s case the bill wouldn‘t cover illegal immigrants and in Buyer‘s case that it wouldn‘t harm veterans. 

The bill wouldn‘t have covered illegal immigrants in the first place, nor would it have hurt veterans.  But Democrats agreeing to tweak language to please these guys anyway made them feel that their made-up conspiratorial criticism had been validated as evidenced by the fact that Republican House staffers now want me to issue a correction stating that Congressman Steve Buyer was really right all along when he lied about veterans being put at risk by the proposals for health reform. 

Veterans are not at risk from proposals for health reform.  Tricare and VA care will not change under anything that is being considered for health reform.  Congressman Buyer was wrong when he said it in August.  He was still wrong when Democrats tried to appease him about it anyway.  And he is wrong now when he tries to take credit for fixing a fake problem that he created in the first place to build his own reputation on the backs of veterans he is scaring and exploiting just to make political points that benefit himself. 

I‘m eager to correct the record when I‘ve gotten something wrong.  But in this case, I haven‘t, and Congressman Buyer and the Republican staff of the House Veterans Committee is trying to use a request for a correction from me to try to make a bogus political point that is as wrong now as it was when they first made it.  The record speaks for itself.  The congressman is wrong. 


MADDOW:  After the first Iraq war, then U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright criticized Saddam Hussein for refusing to comply with U.N.  sanctions.  The state-run Iraqi press lashed out against her by publishing a poem that called Albright an unparalleled serpent. 

So the next time met with the Iraqis, she wore this brooch - serpent.  Get it?  Diplomacy by aggressive jewelry choices.  Among her approximately one zillion other pins, there‘s one made from fragments from the Berlin Wall.  There‘s one made in the shape of a rocket-propelled grenade launcher - because every diplomat occasionally needs one. 

And there‘s there Statue of Liberty pin whose eyes are two clocks.  One of the clocks is upside down so madam secretary could read it when she looked down at it.  The other side is right-side up so the person she‘s meeting with can read it as well.  That way they‘ll both know when their meeting is over. 

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is here after this break.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  For six years during the Bush administration, liberals and Democrats held a yearly conference called, “Take Back America” in order to plot a Democratic and liberal path back to power. 

This year, since it worked, and Democrats now control the White House and the Senate and the House, the idea of taking back America started to seem weird to liberals and Democrats.  So instead, they renamed their gathering “America‘s Future Now.”

Proving, however, that no idea in politics is too good to steal, this year, the “Take Back America” conference name became the “How to Take Back America” conference.  And this year, it was sponsored by the right, specifically by Phyllis Schlafly and her far-right eagle forum. 

Among the popular sessions at this weekend‘s Phyllis Schlafly conference was this one, reported on by Dave Weigel at the “Washington Independent.”  In case you can‘t see that, it is “How to Recognize Living Under Nazi and Communists,” obviously a handy guide for Americans living under Barack Obama.

Once and future Republican presidential candidate and weight loss self-help author Mike Huckabee also flew in to address the gathering at one point telling a very enthusiastic crowd exactly what he‘d like to do with the United Nations. 


FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s time to get a jackhammer and to simply chip that part of New York City, let it float into the east river (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 


It has become the international equivalent of ACORN, and it‘s time to say enough. 



MADDOW:  Before that speech, who could have known that the U.N. was actually an imperfect but disproportionately attacked advocate of poor people trying to earn a living wage and register to vote?  ACORN - really?  Really against the U.N. and against the idea of any cooperative action with other countries is a tried and true conservative applause line.  And we should expect to hear more of it from would-be 2012 Republican candidates. 

But as this president does try to work cooperatively roping in France and Britain and Germany and maybe even Russia to pressure Iran, even as Iran test fired even more missiles today to make the international community even more furious at them, do our rather extreme domestic politics about the U.N. and about working with other countries screw up our chances of getting what we want to in the world? 

Joining us now is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  She has a new book out that‘s great, that‘s called “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat‘s Jewel Box.”  Madam secretary, thanks for being on the show.  

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE:  Great to be with you, Rachel.  Thanks so much.  

MADDOW:  I have to ask you about the pin that you‘re wearing right now.  I expect that it may be a rejoinder to Mike Huckabee.  

ALBRIGHT: It turns out to be very appropriate because there is awful lot of U.N. stuff going on.  And so this is my kind of - we need the world and the world needs us - my multilateral pin. 

And honestly, listening to that, I find that so appalling if you look at the problems that are out there.  I believe in the strength of America, but how could we possibly deal with nuclear proliferation alone or climate change or energy and environmental issues generally? 

I just find it such a know-nothing position.  And the U.N. is imperfect, but it is a lot better if we support it. 

MADDOW:  Do our rather agro-domestic politics about working with other countries and the U.N. and the whole idea of multilateralism, because we have some extreme rhetoric about that and extreme position, because of our own domestic politics, does that make it harder to work with other countries?  Does that translate abroad? 

ALBRIGHT:  Well, it‘s much harder if we go around insulting everybody.  I mean, the bottom line - I thought President Obama‘s speech was terrific at the U.N. because he basically said two ways - one, if you criticize us for being unilateral, then you have to help. 

That‘s part of what he‘s saying to the other countries, and at the same time, pointing out to the American public that we can use the U.N.  in a way to solve a lot of our problems.  So - or help.  I mean, truly, the issues that are out there require us to help. 

You know, Americans don‘t like the word “multilateralism.”  It has too many syllables and it ends in an “ism.”  But all it means is working with others in partnership to solve problems. 

MADDOW:  President Obama is being praised by his supporters and condemned by his critics right now for the same thing, which is using his personal powers of persuasion, his interpersonal skills to sort of woo international leaders.  We‘ve heard direct testimony to that from leaders like Russia‘s Medvedev going on and on about how much he likes Obama personally and how much he respects and trusts him. 

Should presidents be suspicious of their interpersonal rapport as a replacement for, I guess, the kinds of hard-nosed agreements that you get not through charm but through written agreements and all those sorts of binding stuff? 

ALBRIGHT:  You have to do both.  I mean, the bottom line, a lot about diplomacy is personal relations, getting to know somebody, getting a sense about them, trying to persuade them personally. 

And then you have to kind of get it written down.  But I do think that it is important for a president to be persuasive in his own right.  And President Obama‘s numbers abroad are stunning.  I‘m connected with the Pew Attitude Surveys.  We just came out with one.  And his numbers are really higher in some countries than their own leaders.  

MADDOW:  And that does translate toward America getting more of what it wants from other countries ultimately.

ALBRIGHT:  I believe so.  Now, ultimately every country thinks about its national interests but it‘s a big starter if you actually have somebody that can speak confidently, that understands his own policies, and also is very persuasive. 

MADDOW:  Can I ask you one pin question? 

ALBRIGHT:  Absolutely. 

MADDOW:  What‘s the appropriate diplomatic occasion for wearing the rocket-propelled grenade launcher pin? 

ALBRIGHT:  Try to deliver a tough message and say, you can use it but you prefer to actually use something else.  And I do think that it is important to send some messages.  I have so much fun with the pins in the first place.  It certainly is fun to have the stories in the book. 

MADDOW:  Well, it‘s a fascinating book.  I had - my expectations were so exceed.  I‘m such a person who doesn‘t identify with jewelry obviously.  And the stories are great.  Thank you for doing it.  

ALBRIGHT:  Thanks, Rachel.  It‘s great to be with you.  

MADDOW:  Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State.  The new book is called “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat‘s Jewel Box.” 

OK.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN”, Bill Clinton on the slightly less-vast right-wing conspiracy.  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  We turn to our pungent relations correspondent Kent Jones. 

Hi, Kent.  

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  As if New York City weren‘t smelly enough, “The Times” reports there‘s been a resurgence in a certain odiferous mammal whose name rhymes with “splunks.”  Check it out.


(voice-over):  They‘re little and furry.  No threat to anyone physically, and if we‘re being honest, they are cute - after penguins, probably the second cutest black and white animal out there.  OK.  Pandas.  Forgot pandas.  Zebras too.  But, still, cute. 

Nonetheless, how many of us are psyched that New York City has become a haven for skunks.  But why us?  Why here?  According to a city parks department naturalist, there just aren‘t any bobcats or coyotes here to, well, eat them. 

So now, New York is one big skunk party.  Check it out.  They hide in wooded areas.  They have easy access to garbage.  No one larger and fiercer stops their progress.  Every time they feel threatened, they make an ungodly stink.  You know, figuring out this skunk problem could be the key to everything. 


MADDOW:  Excellent.  Thank you, Kent. 

JONES:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  As if I didn‘t have enough to worry about.  Last week, Empire State-gate.  The Empire State Building said it didn‘t do politics but it just happened to be planning on being green on the night that Ahmadinejad spoke at the U.N.  And Iranian protestors were turning everything green in protest. 

Protestors were all psyched.  The Empire State Building then changed its mind and decided to be red instead. 


MADDOW:  Empire State-gate.  They just announced they‘re going to light themselves up red for the anniversary of People‘s Republic of China.  

JONES:  Come on.  

MADDOW:  We don‘t do politics? 

JONES:  Come on.

MADDOW:  We only do China?  Really?  Come on.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. 



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