'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, October 13, 2009
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Guest Host: Alison Stewart
Guests: Sen. Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, Bill Nemitz, Wayne Slater, Bill Nye, Kent Jones
ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST: And good evening, Keith. Thank you.
And thank you for staying with us for the next hour. Rachel is still under the weather tonight, but we press on.
Senator Olympia Snowe is different for most Republicans and just not because of her now famous vote today. Rick Perry is different from most governors and not for reasons he probably likes right now. And Senator Joe Lieberman is different from President Obama and not entirely in ways you‘d expect. And our “Moment of Geek” tonight is different because it‘s not just amazing and interesting, but because it is disgusting. Bill Nye the Science Guy will be here.
But we begin tonight with history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The clerk will call the roll.
CLERK: Mr. Rockefeller?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Rockefeller, aye.
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Conrad, aye.
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D), NEW MEXICO: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Bingaman, aye.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Kerry, aye.
SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: Aye.
CLERK: Mrs. Lincoln, aye.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Wyden, aye.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Schumer, aye.
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Aye.
CLERK: Ms. Stabenow, aye.
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: Aye.
CLERK: Ms. Cantwell, aye.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Nelson, aye.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Menendez, aye.
SEN. THOMAS CARPER (D), DELAWARE: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Carper, aye.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA: No.
CLERK: Mr. Grassley, no.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH: No.
CLERK: Mr. Hatch, no.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE ®, MAINE: Aye.
CLERK: Ms. Snowe, aye.
SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA: No.
CLERK: Mr. Kyl, no.
SEN. JIM BUNNING ®, KENTUCKY: No.
CLERK: Mr. Bunning, no.
SEN. MIKE CRAPO ®, IDAHO: No.
CLERK: Mr. Crapo, no.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS ®, KANSAS: No.
CLERK: Mr. Roberts, no.
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA: No.
CLERK: Mr. Ensign, no.
SEN. MIKE ENZI ®, WYOMING: No.
CLERK: Mr. Enzi, no.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS: No.
CLERK: Mr. Cornyn, no.
CLERK: Chairman votes aye.
BAUCUS: The clerk will tally the votes.
CLERK: Mr. Chairman, the final is: 14 ayes, nine nays.
BAUCUS: The ayes have it, the mark is ordered reported.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: And with that, health reform took one small step out of the Senate Finance Committee and won much, much, much anticipated and many would say necessary stride toward becoming law. After months and months of debate and delay and occasional partisan bickering, a major overhaul of the United States health care system is now the farthest along that it‘s been since Theodore Roosevelt campaigned for it all in 1912.
It was a monumental parliamentary step that was recognized by President Obama shortly after today‘s vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a result of these efforts, we are now closer than ever before to passing health care reform, but we‘re not there yet. Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back. Now is not the time to offer ourselves congratulations. Now is the time to dig in and work even harder to get this done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: By a vote of 14-9, the Senate Finance Committee today approved what‘s been known as the Baucus bill, clearing the way for health reform to get a full vote on the floor of the United States Senate. The major question mark going into today‘s dramatic vote was whether or not Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine would vote with her fellow Republicans against the bill or whether she would join the Democrats on the committee in passing the bill.
After playing coy for most of the day, Senator Snowe put an end to all the questions shortly before the final vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOWE: Was this bill all that I would want from it? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: And after it was all over, the other nine Republicans made a beeline to the mikes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRASSLEY: For the first time in the history of our country, 225 years, the federal government is saying, “You‘ve got to buy something.” That‘s never been before.
HATCH: This is just battle number one. We know that this is a long way from having what they want, which is basically a single-payer system.
KYL: Insurance premiums for families in America will go up, not down, under this legislation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Today‘s vote in the Senate Finance Committee is by no means the end of the road for health reform. But its prospects of becoming a reality just got a big boost.
Joining us now from the Russell Rotunda on Capitol Hill is Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York. He‘s a member of the finance committee and voted for the bill that passed today.
Senator, thank you so much for taking the time tonight.
SCHUMER: Good evening.
STEWART: You call the bill you voted on today, quote, “not ideal but a good bill.” Despite your best efforts, the public option was not part of it. Why not?
SCHUMER: Well, we didn‘t have the votes, obviously, but we are making good progress once again. We never thought we‘d win in the finance committee, but 30 Democrats signed a letter saying the public option must be in the combined bill. There are many others who were supportive. The four of us in the leadership didn‘t sign the letter, because it was to the leadership, we‘re for it as well.
And I am very optimistic that we‘re going to get a strong public option. The House is standing firm on public option. And I think all of those, when they saw the vote in the finance committee who thought, “Oh, it‘s over,” hadn‘t really read the situation correctly.
STEWART: Well, how do you get it done? How does it end up in the final bill?
SCHUMER: Well, first, Leader Reid has the option of putting it in the final bill. If he puts it in the final bill, in the combined bill, then you would need 60 votes to remove it. And there clearly are not 60 votes against the public option. If—and so, we‘re urging him to do that and he‘s seriously considering it.
Once it passes the Senate, if that were to happen, it‘s in the House bill, it‘s in the Senate bill, and it would have to be in the final product. So, it‘s very important to see if the public option is in the bill that Leader Reid puts together. He hasn‘t yet made up his mind, but many of us who believe in the public option are urging him to do so. And so far, we‘re getting—we‘re getting heard.
STEWART: Let me ask you about some of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate, like Senator Lincoln or Senator Nelson. How might they be convinced to support the public option?
SCHUMER: Well, they don‘t even have to support the public option. As long as they‘d support a final bill with the public option in it, there are some suggestions. One of the things that Senator Carper and I have been talking about is a possible opt-out; that you‘d be in the public option unless your state opted out. So, if a state felt very strongly they didn‘t want it, they wouldn‘t be forced into it.
There are other types of changes that would still keep the strength of the public option, but would be considered. My preference would be to have a complete public option in the bill, and that‘s what we‘re working towards right now.
And again, if it‘s in the bill, you don‘t have to have every Democrat vote for it, because if it‘s in the bill, to take it out would take 60 votes. So that‘s one of the cases. One of those rare moments where this 60-vote rule which we usually abhor works in our favor.
STEWART: Senator Schumer, in your statement, you praised Committee Chairman Baucus for his, quote, “tenacity.” What was he particularly tenacious about?
SCHUMER: Well, just moving forward. This is very hard to do. There are all kinds of special interests who are against the bill. There were all kinds of things that have to be done to get health care costs down, that would get the insurance companies mad, or get the drug companies mad, or this one or that one. And he just kept moving forward.
I didn‘t agree with him every step of the way. We had, of course, our discussions on public option and on several other issues, too. But he kept moving forward, moving forward.
And if you believe, as Olympia Snowe said, and I think most Americans do, and most Democrats, liberal, moderate, or conservative that we must have a bill, whether you agreed or disagreed with specifics about Senator Baucus, he clearly moved the process forward. President Obama was very happy at the end of today because the finance committee did actually vote out a bill. I would have preferred it to be.
STEWART: You brought up the president.
SCHUMER: I would have preferred it to be a little different in one area or another, but we have moved forward. And as I said, this is the most conservative place, the finance committee. The Senate floor will be more progressive and the House more progressive still. So, the bill is going to get better from that point of view.
STEWART: You brought up the president. He came to office talking about bipartisanship and extolling the virtues of working with Republicans. But after so many months, negotiating on health care, just one Republican senator signed on today.
Are the Democrats negotiating away things for a bill Republicans won‘t support anyway?
SCHUMER: No, I don‘t think so. We‘re not going to. On public option, my view is, we have to have it in whether we get any Republicans or not.
But, I would say this. It was much—it was—we always make an effort for bipartisanship and what we found here is that the Republican Party is the “party of just say no.” No, no, no. Ninety percent of the amendments they brought forward in the finance committee were either gotcha amendments, senators should go on Medicaid or something, or amendments that were just negative.
What is the Republican plan? You don‘t agree with us? Do you think we should keep the status quo and have Medicare go broke in seven years, have tens of millions of people possibly thrown off private insurance or at least have that private insurance greatly curtailed?
What‘s your alternative, guys, gals? They didn‘t have one. And that is helping us.
STEWART: New York Senator Charles Schumer, thanks for your time tonight.
SCHUMER: Nice to talk to you, Alison.
STEWART: And now, from the senator to the former chairman of the Democratic Party and the former governor of Vermont, we‘d like to welcome, Dr. Howard Dean.
Dr. Dean, thanks for being here.
GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: Alison, thanks for having me on.
STEWART: It can be argued that the bill passed today marks a historic moment for health care reform in this country, because we‘ve rarely, if ever been this close. How do you see it?
DEAN: Well, from a process point of view, Senator Schumer is right. You had to get a bill through the finance committee and I thank Max Baucus for getting a bill through the finance committee.
Having said that, it‘s not a bill that I would vote for—it really isn‘t. This shovels hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers‘ money to insurance companies, there‘s no cost control in it. So, you know, I think that it needs some work.
But, you know, it‘s just tough to get it out of the finance committee, and I think we ought to thank the finance committee for their hard work. But now, the real fight begins. This is not health care reform, the finance committee bill. It‘s insurance reform. I think insurance reform is a good thing, but it‘s not worth all those hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers‘ money.
STEWART: You mentioned cost control. Can you describe three components of what you would consider an ideal bill?
DEAN: Yes. Well, the first thing I‘d consider is having people to be able to sign up for Medicare if they‘re under 65. And the reason for that is, first of all, Medicare‘s very efficient. You can‘t have taken away from you. You don‘t lose it if you lose your job. You can take it anywhere you want in the country.
And while it‘s growth has gone too high at twice—excuse me—at 2 percent above inflation, private insurance growth has gone up at 2.5 times the rate of inflation. There is no cost control in the Senate Finance Committee bill.
So, look, I don‘t want to be a jerk about this. I think President Obama‘s right. I think these guys worked very, very hard, under very difficult circumstances. It is a conservative committee.
But now, with we are at a historic point. We‘ve got to have a good bill. Any bill won‘t do, any bill is not a victory. We‘ve got to have a good bill that works and it serves Americans well. And that means, give us a choice. It ought not to be up to the Senate whether we get the choice of a public option or not; that should be left up to us to decide for ourselves and our families what‘s best for us.
STEWART: What would you say to Senator Olympia Snowe if she was sitting right next to you right now?
DEAN: I‘d say, thank you very much. It‘s about time the Republicans and Democrats start working together. This bill is something that thoughtful people ought to be able support.
STEWART: It‘s hard to believe but it‘s—you know, it‘s really been almost a year since the Democrats won the White House quite convincingly and came to dominate both houses of Congress. Why has it been such a struggle to get the kind of health care reform that so many Democrats, especially recognized Democratic leaders, what they want?
DEAN: Well, I think a lot of insurance companies are a very, very powerful lobby. They pour tons of money into campaign coffers. That influences votes.
This is a conservative committee. I think Democrats got scared. They got scared in August when the town hall meetings came up.
You know, you‘ve got to understand, you‘ve got to learn the lessons. We won the majority because we stood up for what we believed was right, not because we tried to become like Republicans. And that‘s the old Democratic Party. The new Democratic Party has a big majority, we have a president, and we ought to use that majority, because if you don‘t use your majority on behalf of the American people, you lose that majority.
And the reason I mentioned Medicare is, we ought to have some up and running that some people can get insurance through by 2010. Otherwise, all these myths that the Republicans have been putting out there are going to be circulating around during the election time. And a lot of House members on the Democratic side are going to lose their seat.
So, we don‘t to have the whole bill in place by 2010, but the easiest way to get people insured is to allow some people to sign up for Medicare that are under 65. And that should be done. It‘s a good program.
You do not have to use Medicare rates. I‘m with the more conservative Democrats on that one, with Senator Schumer, but you do have to have a bill and let Americans choose whether they‘re going to be publicly insured or privately insured. That‘s our choice. That choice ought not to be made by insurance companies, politicians, or demagogues.
STEWART: We‘ll have to leave it there for this evening. Governor Howard Dean, thanks for being here.
DEAN: Thank you.
STEWART: Stepping to the spotlight of today‘s health care drama was Senator Olympia Snowe. So, how did the focus of most of the national media attention zero in this Mainer who overcame family tragedy to become a powerful politician? Olympia Snowe 101 just around the bent.
Stay with us.
STEWART: Oh, but first, “One More Thing” about today‘s Senate Finance Committee vote on health care. Among the many reasons given by Republicans for voting no on the Baucus bill was a PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned and paid for by the health insurance industry, which said that if the bill passed, insurance rates would skyrocket.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORNY: I would like to go back to some of the discussion about the PricewaterhouseCoopers study that was released.
BUNNING: A recent study suggests that American families will pay more than 400 -- or $4,000 in 19 -- or 2019 because of this bill.
KYL: CBO and Milliman and the Pricewaterhouse all agree that insurance premiums for families in America will go up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: The only problem today, PricewaterhouseCoopers, kind of, sort of, admitted that its report was incomplete at best, bogus at worst. The firm acknowledged that the insurance industry only instructed it to look at a few parts of the bill and to ignore all the cost-saving measures built into it. And that, quote, “If other provisions in health care reform are successful in lowering costs over the long-term, those improvements would offset some of the impacts we have estimated,” end quote.
In news possibly related to the health insurance lobby‘s apparently disingenuous report, this morning, the stock price of health insurance giants Aetna, CIGNA, and United Health all dropped by more than 3 percent, only to recover after the finance committee passed its bill through committee.
I hope someone was taking notes.
STEWART: A photo op that may hunt a member of the GOP. Here now, another example of a Republican who voted against the federal stimulus and is now showing up in his district, happily handing out federal cash. Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia, he‘s the one wearing the suit and holding the Publisher‘s Clearing House-sized check. Despite voting against the stimulus, Congressman Gingrey had no issue with presenting a jumbo-sized check for $625,000 drawn from federal stimulus funds.
Important footnote that doesn‘t appear on the photo, Mr. Gingrey was against federal stimulus before he was for handing out giant stimulus checks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And I want to particularly thank Senator Olympia Snowe for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose that she‘s demonstrated throughout this process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Before today, Senator Olympia Snowe was, kind of, sort of, Beltway famous, as the only Republican willing to consider voting for health reform. Today, when she announced she would, in fact, cast the first and only Republican vote for reform, according to an account in “The New York Times,” Senator Snowe, quote, “silenced the packed committee room and riveted colleagues on both sides.”
And that is when she became famous, famous—getting a very flattering, political presidential shout-out, and landing two spots on the top 10 Google trends list, where she was briefly number one, even beating out the NFL power rankings. But most importantly, she got a metaphorical seat at the negotiating table.
Senator Snowe made it very clear that just because she‘s voting for this particular version of health care reform in the finance committee, doesn‘t mean she‘s voting for any old health reform on the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOWE: There are many, many miles to go in this legislative journey. My vote today is my vote today. It doesn‘t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: In other words, if Democrats really want that one coveted Republican vote in the Senate, they‘re going to have to work with that one coveted Republican senator.
So, how does a soft-spoken, moderate, senior senator from the 40th most populous state in the country become one of the most influential voices in health reform? And who exactly is Olympia Snowe, and how does her incredible personal story play into making her the most prominent people—one of them—in the health reform debate?
Here to talk about is Bill Nemitz, columnist for the “Portland Press Herald” and “Maine Sunday Telegram.” He has followed Senator Snowe‘s career for three decades and spent a couple of days with her on Capitol Hill just last week.
Mr. Nemitz, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.
BILL NEMITZ, PORTLAND PRESS HERALD COLUMNIST: Nice to be here, Alison.
STEWART: Olympia Snowe has a very interesting personal story that might inform us about the way she behaves as a senator. Can you fill us in on her upbringing?
NEMITZ: Well, she was born in Augusta and was orphaned as a fairly young age, age 9, and then was raised by an aunt and uncle in a middle town in central Maine. So, she‘s certainly not a woman of privilege and she grew up in a very tightly-knit Greek orthodox community in Auburn, Maine, and, you know, comes from very genuine roots.
Later in her life, when she was in her 20s, her husband was a state legislator. He was killed, tragically, in a car accident, and it was that vacant seat which Olympia Snowe filled after her husband‘s death that launched her political career. So, she‘s known her share of tragedy.
STEWART: Does her vote today give us any indication on how she may vote on the final bill or whether she would, at least, side with Democrats in favor of cloture?
NEMITZ: Her vote today, I think, is just what she said it is. She‘s been very close to the vest about how she‘s going to go on these things, and even up until late last week, was not tipping her hand on this vote. So, I think when she says she‘s going to take this one day at a time, one vote at a time, she‘s to be taken at her word on that. There‘s a lot that‘s going to happen between now and then.
STEWART: Will her vote have any influence on her fellow senator from Maine, Susan Collins?
NEMITZ: Hard to say. I would—I would doubt it at this point. She really does seem to be that lone Republican out there who‘s willing to cross the aisle and give at least a bipartisan tint to this thing. I suppose, if other Democrats started to break ranks, I would certainly expect Susan Collins to be among them, but certainly, there‘s no indication of that right now. So, I think this is a solo flight for Olympia Snowe.
STEWART: We mentioned that you spent a couple of days with her on Capitol Hill last week, how intense was all the pressure on her from all the outside sources, Democrats, Republicans, even the White House?
NEMITZ: She tends, at times like this, to shield herself from all that by becoming completely—and I mean, completely—immersed in the data, the reports. For example, last week, the CBO report. She really has a tendency to lose herself in information.
And I think she does that for two reasons. One, of course, is to inform herself, and to probably be one of the better informed senators at the table when these things come to committee vote. And also, to give her some kind of respite or shelter, if you will, from a lot of the political winds that are flying around her.
STEWART: What most surprised you about your time with her before this very important vote?
NEMITZ: I‘m not sure if it surprised me, but what impressed me was
how, despite all the pressure, despite all the attention, despite taking
the back stairway up and down to the Senate chamber to avoid the media, she
never stopped smiling. And I would think at a time like this, one might
expect a scowl from time to time, but she has this—I don‘t know if you
call it, I don‘t know, serenity or something about her that enables her to
kind of glide through all this. And despite the fact that she‘s at the
center of this storm, she, at times, really seems to be the least affected
STEWART: Bill Nemitz, columnist for the Portland Press Herald in Portland, Maine, thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us tonight.
NEMITZ: My pleasure, Alison.
STEWART: Secession-talking, stimulus-refusing Texas Governor Rick Perry is facing a challenge even more serious than his uphill bid for re-election. Did Governor Perry condemn an inmate to die even after he examined expert information that could have exonerated that inmate? Dallas reporter and the author of “Bush‘s Brain,” Wayne Slater, joins me next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS: Texas is a unique place. When we came in the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: That was the 47th governor of Texas, Rick Perry, at the height of last spring‘s teabaggery, doing a little flirting with the idea of his state seceding from the Union. The governor is back in the national news, this time for doing something and doing nothing at the same time with fatal results.
Here‘s the story: In 1992, 23-year-old Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three daughters, all under the age of 3. After 12 years on death row and multiple appeals, just four days before Willingham‘s execution, Governor Perry‘s office did not grant a stay, despite new expert information Governor Perry said he had examined—information from independent arson experts which stated no evidence of arson was found.
Willingham was put to death on February 17th, 2004. His last words before receiving lethal injection, quote, “I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have within persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.”
Gov. Perry now faces questions about the state‘s investigation into the Willingham execution, including accusations that some of his aides tried to pressure the chairman of the state‘s Forensic Science Commission which is investigating the case.
And while the commission was preparing the report on the validity of the arson investigation, Gov. Perry chose to replace four of the eight members appointed to the commission. That was just 10 days ago, forty-eight hours before a big public hearing on the Willingham case was supposed to be held.
That hearing never happened. Yet, amid all of these accusations, Gov. Perry‘s office has refused to release any of the records the governor used on the day he reached his conclusion that Willingham was justly convicted.
All these questions have created unwanted headlines for a man who would like to remain the 47th governor of the great state of Texas. He is in a tough reelection campaign against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and was, at some point, considered a possible candidate for president in 2012.
Joining us now, “Dallas Morning News” senior political writer, Wayne Slater. He‘s also the co-author of the book, “Bush‘s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.” Wayne, thanks for the time tonight.
WAYNE SLATER, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”: Great to be with you, Alison.
STEWART: There have been three independent reviews over the last five years involving seven of the nation‘s top arson experts, all found no evidence that the fire was set intentionally. So why did Gov. Perry go ahead and allow this execution?
SLATER: Well, basically, it‘s unclear why he allowed the execution. One of those reviews was presented to him before the execution. Two of these have come afterwards. Ultimately, Texas has a very strong support among Texas residents for the death penalty.
I think the governor felt it that this matter had gone through the courts and that despite the fact that there were some last minute questions raised, he was going to let this execution continue. Had he stopped the execution, it really would have been a political problem for him, because as I say, Texans support the death penalty.
STEWART: According to reports, the governor is among the most secretive governors Texas has ever seen. In this case, he went to even greater lengths to make sure nobody saw the documents he reviewed prior to execution. How has he managed to keep it all under wraps?
SLATER: Well, you know, basically, he‘s arguing this is attorney-client privilege and that, of course, is a claim. But you know, his predecessor, George W. Bush and his predecessor, Ann Richards, all released these documents - the memos, records, documents - that they looked at before they allowed an execution to continue.
And Texas has more executions than any other state. But the governor of Texas both did not, I think - does not want those memos seen because I suspect they would cast badly, a bad shadow on the governor just as had this report about questions whether this man was innocent when he was sent to the execution. Whether that hearing happened, the governor wanted to end it.
STEWART: Let‘s talk about these commissioners, the removal of these commissioners. Gov. Perry apparently removed four commissioners just days before a major public hearing on the case. And that personnel case led to canceling the hearing. How did the governor explain that?
SLATER: Well, the governor says this is routine. He said basically the agencies who have board members come up and their terms expire all the time. The governor replaces them all the time and that much is true.
But this particular episode was anything, appears anything other than routine. I have not seen a case where a governor moved quickly to replace four members of an agency whose terms had just expired right before a critical hearing that would have embarrassed the governor.
So while the governor says this was just routine, I think the evidence suggests - some people have said the governor simply did not want to be embarrassed by one of his own state agencies, raising questions about whether he presided over the execution of an innocent man.
STEWART: You touched on this earlier. He‘s in a bitter primary battle with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson for the governorship. How is this affecting his bid for reelection?
SLATER: Well, you know, I repeat, Texans support the death penalty. And what Perry - what the governor has done is said, look, there‘s a difference of opinion. Some experts at the time of the trial said he was guilty. Some what he called latter-day so-called experts, the subsequent independent analysis - these people have raised questions about whether this guy, whether the arson investigation was flawed.
So, if he can keep the debate as sort of a he said, she said
debate, then it probably won‘t hurt him because Texans support the death
penalty. You know, Texans support the death penalty as part of a social
contract, a belief -
STEWART: We seem to have lost Mr. Slater. Thank you for your time, Wayne Slater. We do appreciate him sharing his political reporting with us. He‘s the political reporter from the “Dallas Morning News.”
In the court of public opinion, big birther Orly Taitz was convicted of ridiculousness a few hundred wild allegations ago. And now, a real live judge weighs in on Ms. Taitz. And trust me, justice is expensive. We‘ll tell you how expensive, next.
Oh, but first, one more thing about Gov. Rick Perry. It‘s not just the documents on the Willingham case that he is keeping secret. He‘s also refusing to release any E-mails he‘s written or even his schedule. His staff destroys E-mails every seven days, according to the “Dallas Morning News.” And many of those E-mails are from a personal account.
As to why no one can know where the governor of Texas is going, even though the president of the United States regularly releases such information, to quote his press secretary, quote, “Security is different in a post-9/11 world. Security is paramount.” So is transparency by elected officials especially in an election year.
STEWART: Welcome back. I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Rachel. Still ahead, a “Moment of Geek” for the pre-pubescent grossiness lover in all of us. Plus, “Survivor,” Republican style. Yes, that‘s a member of Congress. Kent Jones will explain a little later.
But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. The pied piper of the birther movement, the dentist/lawyer/real estate broker Orly Taitz has an antagonistic relationship with just about everybody who doesn‘t buy into the “Mr. Obama really isn‘t the president” theory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Orly, your allegation here is that Barack Obama‘s family was somehow motivated to lie to Hawaii officials including - Orly, you‘ve got to give me a second here.
ORLY TAITZ, LEAD FIGURE IN THE BIRTHER MOVEMENT: Let me finish.
SHUSTER: I don‘t quite understand -
TAITZ: Let me finish. I don‘t - (UNINTELLIGIBLE) newspapers. Let me explain.
They are sick of the lies coming from the mainstream media.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: OK. Dr. Taitz‘ conflict is not simply the story of one women‘s personal reality birther fantasy against the mainstream media. There is also Orly Taitz versus the California Bar Association, Orly Taitz versus her own client and Orly Taitz versus Judge Clay Land. And in this round, it‘s Judge Land one, queen of the birther, zero.
For weeks now, U.S. district court judge, Clay Land, a Bush appointee, has been warning Taitz to stop filing a erroneous frivolous lawsuits questioning President Obama‘s place of birth.
And now, push has come to shove. Judge Land has slapped Orly Taitz with a $25,000 fine. Quote, “The clerk‘s office was burdened by Ms. Taitz‘ inability to follow the courts rules at the hearing. Counsel failed to make coherent legal arguments, but instead wasted the court‘s time with press conference sound bites and speeches.”
Taitz told “Talking Points Memo” that she has no intention of actually paying the fine, choosing instead to ignore the court‘s order much in the way she has ignored the record of President Obama‘s birth.
Next up, this weekend was a real mixed bag for gay rights advocates. On the one hand, there was the largest gay rights march in Washington in a decade. And there was the president speaking to a gay rights group promising to repeal the government‘s practice of firing openly gay people in the Armed Forces.
And on the other hand, there was no actual action, no real movement from the White House to repeal “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.” If only there was some momentum for repeal. Perhaps advocates would settle for joe-mentum instead?
Yes, that‘s right. According to the advocate, Joe Lieberman is in conversations with the White House and may lead the charge of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” and become the point man on the bill, perhaps because Lieberman carries a lot of weight.
He was a vice presidential candidate, don‘t forget. He serves on the Armed Services Committee and he‘s the most senior member of the one-man political party, the Connecticut Pro-Lieberman Party. No word on what his BFFs in the party, who don‘t like the DADT, think about his potential new gig.
And finally, Jailbreak Toys is the maker of the President Obama action figures. They‘ve sold more than 200,000 of them. So what does the company have in the works, hoping to surpass those formidable sales?
Who is more popular than Barack Obama? Michelle Obama, of course. That‘s right, move over Kristi, Barbie‘s only black friend. The toymaker is making the dolls with three outfit choices based on real life choices worn by the first lady.
They will be small, just about six inches and cost less than $15. Now, this is not a figurine, but an action figure. Assuming the first lady has not been given a kung fu grip, one might assume that the plastic version is capable of a fist bump and I would assume a very powerful index finger.
STEWART: The Web savvy folks at the Republican National Committee have moved a step closer to Chairman Michael Steele‘s vision of beyond the cutting edge. The RNC launched a redesigned Web site today, “GOP.com.”
The problem? When the RNC hosted a conference call to kick off the launch, the site was down. Embarrassing. As for “The Future Leaders‘” page, as this “Politico” screen grab shows, it could not be found. I sense a theme here.
After a while, “The Future Leaders‘” page was up and asking who were the future leaders of the Republican Party, the answer, “You are.” And the GOP asks you to submit names of possible future leaders.
That‘s kind of not a good start to a social networking thing. The homepage of the redesigned site has a floating Michael Steele letting you know who runs the party - Michael Steele. And he has a blog and it‘s called, “What Up.” How down of him.
As for the Republican accomplishments, not only is ending slavery listed, which is going back away, people, but so is the war in Iraq which is very different from ending slavery and not quite the same sort of resume builder. The most recent accomplishment cited was from 2004, which is either saying something terrible about the party or about their research staff.
As for the RNC conference call, the first question about the new diverse GOP was from a Hispanic Republican asking why the new site didn‘t have a Spanish language page. A reasonable question. And for more question-raising, mind-boggling, visit “GOP.com.”
STEWART: Here is how THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff meeting went yesterday afternoon about tonight‘s “Moment of Geek.” The executive producer said, “It‘s great, but isn‘t it a little gross?”
The host of the show, Rachel Maddow, said it‘s great because it‘s a little gross. So who won the argument? Well, here we are, except for Rachel, of course, so I get to do this.
If you are enjoying dinner right now, you might want to just push it aside. In July, we reported on a big nasty blob on the Chukchi Sea, the sea between Alaska and Russia, the black slime, reportedly stretching for more than ten miles and sucking fish into it.
After testing the big blob of goo, it turned out to be algae. That wasn‘t nearly as gross as tonight‘s scientifically significant gnarliness from the deep.
And there‘s no ladylike way to put it. The Mediterranean Sea is full of sea snot - yes, gigantic sea loogies(ph) have been found in the Mediterranean. And according to a new study, they may be spreading.
The study says the sea mucus starts as marine snow, basically tiny little loogies of microscopic dead and living organic matter which, over time, picks up other material and turns it to full on aqua phlegm.
The scientific term for these oceanic goobers - mucilage. And it isn‘t just a harmless sea cold. According to the study, the floating blobs are getting larger up to 124 miles long.
For those in the east coast, that‘s six miles longer than Long Island. For those on the west coast, that‘s three miles longer than it takes to drive from L.A. to San Diego. For those in the Midwest area, that‘s twice as long as Lake Erie. And apparently, not only kind of gross, it‘s also kind of scary.
Joining us now is Emmy winner and scientist Bill Nye, the science guy. He‘s also the author of “The Bill Nye, the Science Guy: Big Blue Ocean.” You are the right person to talk to about this, Mr. Nye.
BILL NYE, AUTHOR, “THE BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY: BIG BLUE OCEAN”:
Thank you, Alison. Yes.
STEWART: Can you explain the sea mucus to us? How does it form exactly and why does it look like giant sea snot?
NYE: Well, so it does. Yes. You know this expression, “diatoms.” These are microorganism that have the beginnings or rudimentary glass shells or body parts. And in order to hook up, if I may, to get themselves to stick to each other, they excrete these cool proteins that are an adhesive. It‘s glue, sea glue.
Well, this adhesive is especially successful. And normally, these things get broken up, these conglomerations of diatomaceous stuff - diatom stuff. But what‘s happening apparently is the ocean‘s getting warmer. And the Mediterranean Sea is a bit of a dead end to start with.
And us the upper layer of the ocean or the sea gets warmer, it becomes more stable. There‘s less mixing. It‘s like the inversion layer in a valley, where a packet of cool water, as it goes up, expands. It cools off. If it‘s warmer above, it gets pushed back down.
So these things are becoming more and more stable and they‘re becoming bigger and bigger - these globs of goo. And the trouble is, from a human standpoint, or if you‘re a fish, the globs of glue also hold all kinds of, if I may, gross material.STEWART: Like what?
NYE: The excretions of - well, the excretions of other animals, which are very well suited to the harboring of bacteria.STEWART: Like E. coli?
NYE: And if you‘re a human swimming - yes, that‘s the one, if I may. And so, yes, it‘s gross. And so this is another consequence of climate change, of the world getting a little warmer, especially the Mediterranean Sea, getting warmer.
I‘ve seen these conglomerations. There‘s an expression you used in your little piece there, “snow,” “ocean snow.” And that‘s the falling, the detritus, the stuff, these planktons, these drifters. As these tiny, tiny animals and plants die, they fall down.
Well, the glue is still active. So you‘ve got this dead stuff with this bacteria growing in it and they‘re all stuck together in these huge masses of goo. Not good.STEWART: Is this a new phenomenon?
NYE: No, no. As a matter of fact, I‘ve seen this stuff scuba diving myself. But normally, it‘s like a little cotton ball. But you guys have footage there of these things that look like they‘re as big as soccer fields.
And then they - it looks to me like they‘re forming these enormous patches. And you used the expression “124 miles.” I think that a civilized person would call that 200 kilometers, but I know what you‘re saying. They‘re big. They‘re just huge.
And so, this wouldn‘t matter unless you were a person, a human
who wanted to have the same quality of life that your parents had when
you‘re swimming in the sea. And if you‘re a fish, trying to swim around
these things, these globs of goo, this mucilage, which is so very French
for glue - marine mucilage -
STEWART: Mucilage -
NYE: Yes. The stuff gets into your gills, if you‘re a fish, and the bacteria that it carries get in you. And it‘s all bad, that way. As people say, as the big organisms get sick, that‘s a bad sign for people.
STEWART: All right. One more to answer. As a scientist, are you fascinated with this or grossed out by it? Any of the two words - fascinated or grossed out?
NYE: Well, with I‘m fascinated as a scientist, but when I‘m scuba diving or swimming with it, I‘m not a big fan.
STEWART: Bill Nye, the science guy - Mr. Nye, thank you so much for walking us through this.
STEWART: But that wouldn‘t be pleasant. Thanks. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith takes on Rush Limbaugh‘s boast that he spawned Glenn Beck.
And next on this show, a Republican congressman, a topless photo, and crabs. You‘re encouraged to get your mind out of the gutter.
STEWART: We turn now to our Polynesian subsistence correspondent, Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Alison. You know, a lot of people dream about getting out of the rat race of civilization. Here‘s a story about a congressman who did it. Check it out.
(voice-over): Republican representative Jeff Flake of Arizona is known on The Hill as a fierce foe of earmarks and the stimulus.
REP. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): There‘s also a lot of money, so-called refundable tax credits that go to those who pay no income tax.
JONES: Clearly, anyone who thinks tax cuts and the stimulus go to people who don‘t pay income taxes needs to take some personal days. So when it came time for a vacation this summer, Rep. Jeff Flake transformed into just Jeff “Survivor.”
For seven days, Flake went full Gilligan, fending for himself on an uninhabited tropical island in the Pacific where he ate coconuts and fish he speared himself, made fire from dry branches, and slept in a hammock on the beach.
At night, Flake dreamed of a life being more awesome than this he faked. Flake also wrote in his diary and took lots of pictures like this one. The chair recognizes the distinguished gentleman from Arizona.
To pass the lonely hours, Flake took to studying the plentiful hermit crabs on the island. From day three of his diary, he writes, “I‘m using the sharpie to label hermit crabs that wander through my camp.”
Oh, yes. That‘s a fantasy that goes back to Captain Cook, to discover the wild creatures of the South Seas and then draw on their backs with a sharpie. Rep. Flake, we applaud your spirit of adventure, though I fear you may have lost the hermit crab vote forever.
STEWART: I don‘t buy it. That‘s the Honolulu Hilton.
JONES: It could be. We don‘t know.
STEWART: He just wanted to show his guns. He just wanted to, you know - nice.
JONES: Nice hermit crabs.
STEWART: Kent, thanks a lot.
STEWART: And thank you for watching tonight. Don‘t forget, you can E-mail the show at . And you can find the podcast at iTunes or “Rachel.MSNBC.com.” I‘m Alison Stewart, in tonight filling in for Rachel. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Good night.
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