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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, Devlin Barrett, Paul Krugman, Tracy McGrady, John Prendergast

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  It‘s going great.  Thank you, Lawrence.  Thanks for a great show.

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

This has been a news day of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad speeches from Sarah Palin in Hong Kong blaming regulation for the deregulation crisis; to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailing himself in New York; to Moammar Gadhafi diving straight into the kook end for a long, long, long swim; to Senator Jim Bunning concluding his speech on health care with a nap.  It‘s all in today‘s news.

“Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman will be joining us, as well Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

But we have to begin tonight with some very serious breaking news.

The FBI is investigating the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker.  The “Associated Press” reporting tonight that according to a law enforcement source, the word “Fed” was scrawled on the victim‘s chest.  Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker, also a single father who survived non-Hodgkin‘s lymphoma and held down two jobs while pursuing a teaching degree, this man was found on September 12th, hanging from a tree in the remote part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, which is in rural southeastern Kentucky.

This law enforcement source did not tell the “Associated Press” what was used to write the word “Fed” on the victim‘s body.  According to a report from a local newspaper last week, President Obama‘s appointed Census chief notified Census employees about this killing, telling them their colleague was, quote, “the victim of an apparent crime.”

Another executive of the Census Bureau told the “Associated Press” that law enforcement informed the agency that this was, quote, “an apparent homicide.”  FBI‘s spokesman David Beyer today said that the bureau is assisting Kentucky state troopers with their investigation into this case, saying quote, “Our job is to determine if there was foul play involved—and that‘s part of the investigation—and if there was foul play involved, whether that is related to his employment as a Census worker.”

Federal law enforcement involvement—may be involved here because it is a federal crime to attack a federal worker on the job or because of their job.

Joining us now is Devlin Barrett, Justice Department correspondent with the “Associated Press.”

Mr. Barrett, thanks very much for joining us.

DAVID BARRETT, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Hi, Rachel, how are you?

MADDOW:  Good.  Does what I‘ve—I‘ve just summarized here comport with what you‘ve been able to learn about the case so far?  Are—do I get anything or are there any new details?

BARRETT:  No.  That‘s a good description, and I guess, what I would add to that is what investigators found at the crime scene is obviously very disturbing, and what they‘re going through now is trying to figure out exactly what happened to this person.

MADDOW:  From what we‘ve read, it seems that the body was found on September 12th, a couple of weeks ago.  There was some local reporting at the time into what was described locally as a mysterious case.  Why are we hearing about it nationally now?

BARRETT:  I think investigators have taken great pains, both at the Kentucky State Police and FBI to better understand exactly what happened.  Obviously the details—the few details we know at this point are very disturbing and could feed a larger political argument if this ends up being the result of anti-government sentiment.  But they don‘t know that for absolute certain yet.  And what—part of what the investigators‘ job is to rule out any other explanation for what happened.

MADDOW:  And because the case has drawn the attention of law enforcement, because of the statement by the FBI spokesman today, that‘s, of course, the reason that this is the top—at the top of a national newscast right now.  We‘re all wondering if is—should be taken as some indication that this was a crime related to anti-government sentiment.

Are you able to report anything?  Are you hearing anything about even circumstantial evidence in that regard?  Is there any way to know even whether federal and law enforcement getting involved is an indication that they think that might be true?

BARRETT:  I don‘t think federal law enforcement would still be involved a week and a half after the body was found if there wasn‘t still that very serious concern.  And they don‘t have all the answers yet.  And some of the things they know they‘re not going to tell us because they‘re concerned that there may be perpetrators out there that they would very much like to catch.  But they don‘t know the process for certain and part of the process we‘re in now is proving all the other alternate explanations.

MADDOW:  When officials are tight-lipped about circumstances, one of the ways we figure out what‘s going on even when they won‘t tell us is by how agencies behave and how one part of the government advises another part of the government to behave.  Has the Census Bureau stopped any operations or issued any warnings to its workers as a result of this death?

BARRETT:  In the county where this death occurred, they have instructed their workers not to go door-to-door while this investigation continues.  Clearly, there‘s a great deal of concern within this Census worker community in that area.  And they would very much like to know exactly what happened.  But the investigators aren‘t really telling them a whole lot either right now.  That‘s, again, part of the investigation that they‘re work on.

MADDOW:  Devlin Barrett, Justice Department for the “Associated Press”

Mr. Barrett, thanks for taking the time to join us tonight.  Appreciate it.


BARRETT:  Sure.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We will stay on this breaking news story as more details become available, since it is just breaking federally or nationally tonight.  Further details may actually become available during the course of this hour.  So, please do stay with us.


MADDOW:  Opponents of health reform may be cracking under the pressure of actually working on health reform legislation.  Symptoms so far include falling asleep in public and declaring war on themselves, apparently accidentally.  Howard Fineman will join us next.  Paul Krugman will be here in just a moment after that.

Stay with us.  Lots to come.


MADDOW:  Do you want to see something that is an extreme rarity in the world of Washington politics?  All right, hopefully this works.  Can we do it?

Hey, ta-da!  What you‘re looking at right next to me is a live picture.  It‘s 9:10 p.m. roughly on a Wednesday night and Congress is currently still in session.

What you see there is the Senate Finance Committee.  They are currently engaged in a heated debate over 564 amendments in Senator Baucus‘ health care proposal.  Generally, when Congress is working after 9:00 at night or on the weekends, there‘s either something really important or really tricky going on.

What‘s happening right now in Congress is the real work of trying to get health reform passed.  It‘s not people yelling at each other in town hall meetings, it‘s not people yelling at the president from the floor of Congress.  It is “roll up your sleeves, let‘s start legislating” time.

And what we can now report is that “roll up your sleeves, let‘s start legislating” time is apparently a really bad time for some members of Congress who are opposed to health reform.  It‘s not wearing well on them at all.  The term “cracking under pressure,” in fact, comes to mind.

Take Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, an original member of the Senate Finance Committee‘s “gang of six.”  Despite his insistence over the summer that reform would lead to the government killing old people, despite his railing against Obamacare in fundraising letters to his constituents, Senator Grassley was pretty certain he said of one thing—he said that the idea of an individual mandate forcing every American to buy health insurance, he thought that was a pretty darn good idea.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA:  I think individual mandates are going to have to be accepted by a vast majority of people in Congress.  I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.


MADDOW:  A bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.  I‘ll support that.  Now?  Same senator.


GRASSLEY:  Another area of concern is the individual mandate to purchase coverage.  I become increasingly concerned with the intrusion of private—into private lives that the individual mandate represents.


MADDOW:  What happened to the bipartisan consensus?  You don‘t even have consensus with yourself, Senator.

And it‘s not just Republicans who are cracking up here.  Consider conservative Democratic Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota.  Senator Conrad has been an unbending opponent of the public option specifically.  And yesterday, he offered this thumb in the eye to the huge majority of Democrats—people of his own party—who support a public option.


SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA:  Let me just conclude for my progressive friends who believe that the only answer to getting costs under control and having universal coverage is by a government-run program.  They‘re not government-run systems.  In Germany, in Japan, in Switzerland, in France, in Belgium—all of them contain costs, have universal coverage, have very high quality care, and yet are not government-run systems.


MADDOW:  Not government-run systems?

Senator Conrad, this is one of those times where it‘s like you sort of regret that Americans don‘t speak more foreign languages.  Three more credits of French might have cleared this whole thing right up.  In fact, as the indispensable Ezra Klein noted in today‘s “Washington Post,” quote, all of—excuse me, before I‘m quoting—all of the country‘s rattled off by Senator Conrad that he listed as the gold standard for how you keep government out of health care insurance.

Ezra said, quote, “All have a level of government intrusion that their systems that would make the average tea partier retch.”  In France, for instance, every legal resident of France gets their health insurance from the government.

So, Kent Conrad is citing the huge success and low cost and quality care of government-run health insurance in another country as a way to prove that he shouldn‘t have government-run health care here.  It‘s like arguing that your neighbor looks awesome and is super-healthy after going to the gym all year, and what that means for you is that you should definitely eat more TV dinners.

So, we‘ve got Senator Grassley going to war with himself, saying he‘s increasingly concerned about the stuff he himself has been advocating for.  We‘ve got Senator Conrad arguing against government-run health care by pointing out how awesome it is.

And we maybe got a winner in Senator Jim Bunning, who “The Washington Post” reports finished up a big rant about how health reform would trample on American freedom and liberties and then followed it up by promptly falling asleep in the hearing room.  Quoting from “The Post” here, “Spectators noticed that the senator, who had been resting his chin in his hands, had fallen fast asleep.  As giggles rippled through the chamber, an aide shook Bunning, who woke with a start.”

And, yes, “The Post” published a picture of Senator Bunning napping in the hearing room.

“Roll up your sleeves, legislating time” on health care is not wearing well on the opponents of health reform.  Beyond declaring war on themselves, incoherence and public sleeping, what else have they got up their sleeves?

Well, joining us now is MSNBC analyst and senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for “Newsweek,” Howard Fineman.

Howard, it‘s nice to see you.  Thanks for joining us.


MADDOW:  Let me ask you about my premise here.  First, the idea that there is still a lot being done to stop health reform, but there isn‘t a lot of intellectual firepower behind these arguments against it.  They‘re just sort of hoping something will stick, is that how you see it?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think—I think you‘re right.  In the case of Senator Grassley, for example, I think he‘s going to argue, you know, whenever Barack Obama says tomato, Chuck Grassley is going to say tomato, you know?  Only it‘s a very serious thing.

There was a point at which Barack Obama was skeptical about a universal mandate himself, therefore Grassley was for it.  Now that Obama, having kind of looked at all the pieces on the checkerboard, says, “I think it‘s a good idea,” now, Grassley is against it.  The common thread here is that Grassley being against whatever Obama is proposing.

MADDOW:  Well, on that specifically, I mean, a lot of liberals aren‘t huge fans of an individual mandate either.  But that sort of makes ideological sense in terms of what we understand about liberalism.  In terms of Grassley‘s opposition now, are conservatives really going to go to the barricades against mandates?  They‘re going to go rally against individuals taking responsibility for their health care.  Isn‘t that what they‘ve been arguing for?

FINEMAN:  I think you make a very good point and I just think they‘re trying to make every argument they can think of, including that one.  I think that the conservatives, including Grassley, are worried about their own energized political base.  Grassley‘s up for re-election in Iowa in 2010.  He‘s sort of popular, but not nearly as popular as he was.

He‘s looking over his shoulder at his own right wing.  That‘s what‘s happening with him.  That‘s what‘s happening with all the other Republicans on that committee.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about something that happened in the House.  House minority Whip Eric Cantor complained that health reform is taking up too much of the energy and time of Congress.  He said, “We can‘t get anything else done.”  Is there something else of significance you know that Republicans want to be working on?

FINEMAN:  No.  And that was kind of a silly statement by Cantor.  The Republicans are—would love to take all the rest of the year on health care as they try to kill it and don‘t have a big urgent agenda of their own that they‘re trying to pursue.  They just don‘t.

They, basically, with a few small glimmers of exception, been in opposition and slowed down in opposed mode using every tool at their disposal, both rhetorical and procedural—that‘s what Barack Obama and the Democrats are facing.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you a big picture strategy question that includes the president.  What do you think is the connection between the president being like Flash Gordon right now, I mean, he‘s everywhere.  He‘s at the U.N.  He‘s on five Sunday shows.  He‘s on Letterman.  He‘s in Pittsburgh.

I mean, what‘s the connection between him being everywhere and this legislating that‘s happening on this huge policy issue in Washington?

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s a—that‘s a—that‘s a very good question and I don‘t know that there‘s a close a relationship as Barack Obama and his advisors hope or think that there is.  I mean, visibility will only get you so much.  Ubiquitousness will only get you so much.  I love the Flash Gordon comparison.

Barack Obama, when he was a kid, loved Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, you know?  But being everywhere, being on call, that doesn‘t necessarily make it.  What Barack Obama needed to be doing earlier on—in my view—is having a set of really clear, crystal clear proposals, tough proposals, one that his party backed and then he needed to hit Congress over the head with it, early and repeatedly in a political campaign really against the Congress.  That‘s how you have to make this crazy Congress—the way it runs these days or doesn‘t run—that‘s how you have to make it move.  Mere visibility won‘t cut it.

MADDOW:  Howard Fineman, MSNBC analyst, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek”—thanks for your time and your insight tonight, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Noted amateur economist, former vice presidential candidate and former half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, delivered a long lecture in Hong Kong in which she said that the financial crisis could have been avoided if only Wall Street had had fewer rules.  But they‘d only been able to cut loose a little bit more, let the Wall Street be Wall Street.  Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman joins us with his views—I suspect they may be different.  That‘s coming up next.

But, first, “One More Thing” about health reform and what is stopping it.  Last night, we led reports about Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas, the leading blue dog conservative Democratic voice in the House against the public option and other elements of health reform.  Reporting by ProPublica revealed that Congressman Ross got what looks like a way too sweet deal when he sold property and a business to a drugstore chain.

The implication what that, maybe, Congressman Ross‘ anti-reform stance was more in keeping with what that drugstore chain wanted than it was with what his constituents wanted.

Well, Congressman Ross still has not responded to our requests to appear on this show, which are absolutely sincere.  But he did release statements today attacking ProPublica for doing that reporting, calling on the drugstore chain he did that deal with to release their records about, and telling the “Arkansas Democrat-Gazette” today about the drugstore chain with whom he did he property deal.  He said, quote, “They‘re not into politics; they‘re into running a successful business.  My being in Congress had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

They‘re not into politics.  Anyone could have cut them a sweet deal like this from that drugstore chain.  That company doesn‘t care at all what happens in terms of health care.

Uh-oh!  A couple of years ago, right after Congressman Ross got paid all that sweet, sweet deal money for that property, the head of the drugstore chain that paid him the money, told the “Arkansas Democrat-Gazette”—same newspaper—this, quote, “Universal health care will ruin our health care in America.  There will be long lines, they won‘t be able to get treated, potential doctors will be afraid to go into medical school.  There will be an outflux of doctors.  In my opinion, it‘s not broke and don‘t fix it.”

That‘s the head of the company that Congressman Ross says not into politics.  Nothing to worry about, nothing to see her folks, keep moving.

Congressman Ross, come on this show.  Let‘s talk about it.  Come on.


MADDOW:  Former half-term Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, can officially add a third line to her foreign policy resume tonight underneath own house‘s own proximity to Russia and met the president of Columbia that one time.  She can now list, gave a speech in Hong Kong.

A couple of things to know about this speech which was delivered to a roomful of financial executives at an investors‘ forum—first, the speech was closed to the press.  However, we do have some appropriately grainy and shaky footage from somebody‘s handycam.


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I‘m going to call it like I see it and I will share with you candidly a view right from Main Street, Main Street USA, and how perhaps my view of Main Street representing perhaps a lot of other people, how that affects you, your business.


MADDOW:  Second interesting thing about this speech, Sarah Palin brought along as her advisor Randy Scheunemann, the controversial top foreign policy advisor from the McCain-Palin campaign.  Mr. Scheunemann made himself famous for—at least famous for D.C. at least, when it turned out that his lobbying firm signed a new contract with the Republic of Georgia, on the same day that John McCain, the candidate for president, spoke to the president of Georgia and released a statement supporting Georgia in what was about to become Georgia‘s armed conflict with Russia.

The implication was, that Georgia paid McCain‘s advisor.  McCain‘s advisor later got McCain to say, “We are all Georgians.”  And therefore, for the low, low price of Randy Scheunemann‘s company‘s lobbying fee, Georgia almost bought the U.S. military as an ally in a war against Russia.  That‘s cheap.

And Randy Scheunemann is who Sarah Palin brought on board to help her navigate foreign policy in her first speech abroad.

In this speech—which went on for a solid hour and a half before the question period—Sarah Palin argued that the economic crisis that we‘re in right now was caused by too much regulation of the financial world.  Not a typo, too much regulation.

Quote, “We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place.  Lack of government wasn‘t the problem.  Government policies were the problem.  The marketplace didn‘t fail.  It became exactly as common sense would expect it to.  The government ordered the loosening of lending standards, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low, the government forced lending institutions to give loans to people who couldn‘t afford them.”

That‘s how we got into this mess.  Really?  So the solution presumably is less regulation for Wall Street going forward?  I do not mean to demean the former governor‘s economic bona fides, but we do have an opportunity here to get a second opinion on this from the man who won the Nobel Prize in economics.

Joining us now is Paul Krugman, “New York Times” columnist, economics professor at Princeton, and, of course, Nobel laureate.  His totally readable, totally worth it, updated book, “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008” is now out in paperback.

Paul, thanks for coming back on the show.


MADDOW:  I know Sarah Palin isn‘t the most relevant topic, but I‘ve got to ask you—too much governmental regulation in the markets?

KRUGMAN:  May I ask you first, an hour and a half?

MADDOW:  Ninety solid minutes before questions.


MADDOW:  I know.

KRUGMAN:  That‘s half of Castro (ph).  Anyway.

MADDOW:  Is that what caused the financial crisis?

KRUGMAN:  Hour and a half speeches, maybe.


KRUGMAN:  You know, the first thing is that Governor Palin is not that far out of the Republican mainstream.  I‘m actually not sure she‘s out of it at all on this.  There are a lot of people who know insist that if we know government is bad, we know private sector is good, so it must have been government that caused the crisis.  And the absence of any facts that actually sort of go in accord with that point of view don‘t seem to matter.

I mean—of course, the way to think about it is that we had a pretty tightly regulated banking sector, from FDR up until Ronald Reagan, and a number of financial crises during that period, zero.


KRUGMAN:  Then we had Reagan deregulation, savings and loan crisis, further deregulation, East Asian financial crisis, and even more deregulation and—well, here we are.  So, yes, it‘s a pretty amazing point of view for anyone to be holding, but a lot of people do hold it.

MADDOW:  You say—your “The Return of Depression Economics” is not just about how we got into this problem.

KRUGMAN:  Right.

MADDOW:  It‘s also about sort of how to get out.  You say in the book that even if there are some tiny green shoots of good news out there right now, we are still living in the world in which the usual rules of economic policy don‘t apply.  We‘re living in the world, you say, governed by depression economics.  What did the depression teach economists about how to get out of one or avoid one?

KRUGMAN:  Well, it taught us a lot about how to avoid one, which is that you really have to, have to put some constraints.  I mean, it sort of roughly, banking is very useful but extremely dangerous and banks have to have all kinds of—you know, fencing put around them as a protection.  They have to have some guarantees so that we don‘t have bank runs, so people know their money is safe.

But then, we also have some regulation so that bankers don‘t take huge risks with other people‘s money on a “heads I win, tails you lose” basis.  We forgot all of that.  The short line about how we got on to this crisis is we forgot what our grandfathers learned at great expense. 

Getting out of - now that we‘re in the mess - that‘s much harder.  I mean, the last time, we got out of it with a world war, which is not something we hope to repeat.  

MADDOW:  The world war which wasn‘t as a war - useful.  It was useful because it was a huge economic outlet by the government.  

KRUGMAN:  That‘s right.  It was an enormous physical stimulus.  It was, you know - we‘re getting all worked up about Obama who would be spending at max about 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product.  World War II, of course, was more than 40 percent of gross domestic product at its peak. 

So this is trivial stuff that we‘re doing now.  Luckily, it‘s not confronting a great depression.  But I get depressed sometimes about depression because the lesson of the depression seems to be that getting out of this sort of thing requires efforts on the scale that is outside the realm of what‘s politically discussible right now.  

MADDOW:  Do you think that because there are some green shoots of economic recovery right now that further government action is even less likely? 


MADDOW:  That the worst things are, the more political possibilities for it. 

KRUGMAN:  Yes.  There is a certain sense.  You know, the Rahm Emanuel line, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”  But you know, it‘s starting to look like we did.  And now, things are not good.  Unemployment is high - it‘s still rising. But the sense that we have got to act because otherwise the world might end is fading away and that makes it very hard to do stuff. 

MADDOW:  One piece of that recovery effort, but also the re-regulation effort that we try to focus on in this show is consumer protection. 


MADDOW:  The president proposing new federal agency to regulate consumer financial products - things like credit cards and mortgages and all these other things that a lot of normal Americans have.  Do you think those proposals are smart and do they go far enough? 

KRUGMAN:  Oh, they‘re smart and they go far enough on that dimension.  But that‘s actually the smaller pieces of it.  Much more important is regulating the amount of capital the banks have to hold on hand and regulating the way bankers get paid.  The consumer protection ought to be the no-brainer simple thing - how could anybody object?  Of course they are. 

So that‘s - the reason consumer protection has become a touchstone here is because if we can‘t even do that ...

MADDOW:  Right.

KRUGMAN:  ... what chance do we have of actually fixing the bigger things?

MADDOW:  It‘s the regulatory equivalent of like, you know, voting in favor mom and apple pie.  The more complicated shouldn‘t be. 

KRUGMAN:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  Not much further down the road.  Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, “New York Times” columnist, thank you very much for your time.  It‘s nice to see you.  And I should also say that “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008” is out now in paperback.  My recommendation, if you‘re watching the show, is that you should probably read it.  It‘s very short.  And I think you will thank me for the recommendation.  Thanks, Paul.

KRUGMAN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK.  Today, I kept my window open in my office for most of the day, just so that I could hear the sheer number of sirens that blew all day, all day, all day long in New York City. 

It wasn‘t anything scary.  It was just that the leaders of the whole world were in town to go to the U.N., which actually is a tiny little bit scary but only Muammar Gadhafi could physically not stop himself from talking for a really long time.  That story is coming up next. 

But first, one more thing about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and alumni from the McCain-Palin campaign.  Two alums of that campaign will be running for higher office in California next year. 

Former eBay executive Meg Whitman announced today that she is running for California governor.  But that announcement was at least partially doused by the Carly Fiorina bigger, more confounding splash. 

The former Hewlett Packard CEO has yet to formally announce her bid for Senate in California, but she has formally unveiled this, a Web site so inadvertently hilarious that we‘re going to have to stop the flash animation before it gets to the best part. 

Watching this, if you think it‘s about to say, “Carly-fornia,” you‘re right and you‘re sick.  “Carly-fornia” - I get that her name is in there, but “Carly-fornia” is also the phonetic spelling for the way the current governor pronounces the state‘s name. 

The “Carly for California” committee responded to the negative coverage of their Web site.  In a statement to our producers today, they said, quote, “We were amused by the frenzy a splash page for an unannounced candidate generated and appreciate “The Huffington Post” and other left-wing blogs for the high traffic to our splash page.  I have to say, we were also amused by it, amused into a Carly frenzy. 


MADDOW:  Later on “COUNTDOWN,” Queen Noor of Jordan is guest and New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey shares her insights into how hard it has been for Muammar Gadhafi to find a place to sleep this week. 

And ahead on this show, my interview with two-time NBA scoring champ, seven-time NBA all star, Tracy McGrady.  Yes, the real Tracy McGrady, not Kent or our executive producer Bill dressed up like Tracy McGrady doing a stunt.  It‘s the actual Tracy McGrady.  It‘s true.

But first, a few holy mackerel stories out of midtown Manhattan today. 


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  We know the future will be forged by deeds and not simply words.  Speeches alone will not solve our problems.  It will take persistent action.  So for those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months. 

On my first day in office, I prohibited without exception or equivocation the use of torture by the United States of America. 


I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law.  Every nation must know, America will live its values.  And we will lead by example. 


MADDOW:  From here on.  That was the president today speaking before the U.N. general assembly.  But if you thought those shots at the previous administration weren‘t all that subtle, here‘s how we‘re going to do things differently, everybody.  If you thought that was not too subtle, wait until you hear what he said about other countries. 


OBAMA:  Sadly, but not surprisingly, this body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground, a venue for playing politics and exploiting grievances rather than solving problems. 

After all, it is easy to walk up to this podium and point fingers and stoke divisions.  Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions.  Anybody can do that. 


MADDOW:  As if on cue.  Right after the president took that overt shot at other countries use the U.N. to act like jerks, enter stage kookville.  Muammar Qaddafi, allotted 15 minutes to address the U.N. today, the Lockerbie bomber welcomer instead ranted for well over an hour and a half. 

He called for a new country called “Isratine” for the Israelis and the Palestinians.  He repeatedly called President Obama “our son.”  And he sort of said Israel maybe assassinated President Kennedy.  He also said that swine flu is maybe a military conspiracy or a corporate conspiracy.  Tell me again why Qaddafi is a new hero for American neoconservatives.

John McCain, just this summer

remember when he tweeted his excitement about visiting Qaddafi on Qaddafi‘s ranch?  What was that about? 

The only chance today at one-upping Qaddafi‘s craziness came in the early evening when the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took his turn at the mike and addressed his recent election. 


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator):  Our nation has successfully gone through a glorious and fully Democratic election, opening a new chapter for our country in the march towards national progress and enhanced international interaction.  They entrusted me, once more, with a large majority with this heavy responsibility. 


MADDOW:  Ahmadinejad‘s visit was greeted in the hall by the American, French, British, Canadian and other delegations walking out.  And it‘s been greeted in New York City by protestors railing against Ahmadinejad, against his government, against the fishiness of the last presidential election Iran and against the treatment of the Iranians who have protested that election. 

Tomorrow, activists will unfurl a mile-long banner in Iranian opposition green along the Brooklyn Bridge.  They‘re also planning on cheering at the Empire State Building when it lights up green tomorrow night at sunset.

The green lighting isn‘t being done specifically for the protesters.  It‘s for the anniversary of the “Wizard of Oz.”  But the protesters are happily celebrating the coincidence anyway. 

Seeing this new American president of ours address the U.N. for the first time, seeing him raise issues that never would have been raised by the previous administration, seeing him tout his policies as a sharp break from the most humiliating practices of the past administration, everything from torture to us not paying our U.N. dues, for an American audience, this is a reminder of just how much was changed by the last election. 

And that makes it all the more interesting and important that some human rights activists who frankly were psyched that Barack Obama was elected are now really unhappy with how his administration is acting.  Very unexpected politics from very unexpected sources. 

If you want a sense of just how unexpected this all is, consider that my interview on this subject, which is next, is with a seven-time NBA all-star Tracy McGrady.  He‘s my guest, next.  I will explain.  Stay tuned. 


MADDOW:  Quote, “I would love to say we‘re succeeding, but we‘re not.  We‘re failing pretty miserably.  We‘re failing in Darfur.”  Thus spoke movie star George Clooney earlier this month at the Toronto Film Festival and thus the word “Darfur” got into the American news again. 

Like it or not, celebrities caring about otherwise hard-to-cover international crises are a big reason that many Americans know that crises like these are going on.  And the crisis in Darfur, the disaster in Sudan that has killed more than 300,000 people already, is definitely still going on. 

Our president meeting with some African leaders this week as the U.N. general assembly convened in New York, well, there are new reports of intense fighting this week in Darfur. 

Now, hopes were high among human rights activists when President Obama was elected that this issue would not only be a priority for this administration, but that a fresh approach from a powerful, new internationally well-regarded African-American president would make peace possible for the first time since war and the ravaging of the civilian population of Sudan started six years ago. 

But so far, activists, broadly speaking - and I‘m not talking everybody, but there‘s been a lot of them - have been disappointed.  I should also say though that the pressure is not going away, in part because of those darn famous people who won‘t let it go away. 

This summer, for example, two-time NBA scoring champ and seven-time NBA all-star, Tracy McGrady, changed his jersey number.  Nobody does that, but he did.  He changed it from number one to number three in order to promote that there is a three-point program for making things right in Darfur, three points - peace, protection and punishment. 

“Three Points” is also the name of a documentary that you can watch online at Hulu about Mr. McGrady‘s travel to Darfur, what he saw there and his decision to become an activist. 



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I‘ve seen the whole town. 


TRACY MCGRADY, TWO-TIME NBA SCORING CHAMP: So we were just talking earlier about that soccer field and you said it would be just $1,000? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, just to clean the place and to make it like - you know, without grass.

MCGRADY:  It would be a flat surface.  But it would be everything that they need.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They put the goal posts -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the nets.  That‘s it. 

MCGRADY:  That‘s a done deal. 


MADDOW:  In March, Mr. McGrady and the co-founder of the Enough Project, John Prendergast, the director of the African Affairs of the National Security Council under President Clinton, they launched the Darfur Dream Team.  It‘s programmed to link American middle schools and high schools and colleges with schools that are for the refugees from the disaster in Darfur. 

Joining us now is Tracy McGrady and John Prendergast.  Gentlemen, it is nice to have you on the show.  Thanks for both being here.

MCGRADY:  Thank you.


MADDOW:  John, let me ask you about the big picture.  I mean, there was, technically, a peace agreement years ago, 2006, but this war and the war on the people of Darfur isn‘t over.  It‘s still happening. 

Has there been any progress?  Is there any way to explain things to an American audience that hasn‘t been following this closely?  Is there a way to talk about it in terms of progress?  Or is that an inappropriate concern for this now.

PRENDERGAST:  No.  On the one hand, I think hundreds of thousands of more people would have died had there not been this grassroots movement across the United States, this anti-genocide movement telling our government to pay attention to this issue - President Bush - now President Obama talks about Darfur. 

That‘s one side of the coin.  The other side of the coin has the action matched the rhetoric.  You know, when President Bush or President Obama articulates that genocide is occurring, they want you to expect there might be some real serious policy action that‘s taken in response commensurate with the utilization of that term.  But we haven‘t seen that. 

So we‘re hoping, as you said in the introduction, with President Obama - you look back at candidate Obama, you look back at candidate Clinton, you look back at candidate Biden a year ago, they were talking very tough about what they were going to do about Darfur once they got into office.  And they haven‘t done any of that yet so we‘re still hoping.  

MADDOW:  Tracy, in terms of the overall prospects for American activists, Americans caring about this issue and making things better and hearing John say it may have saved hundreds of thousands of lives is an inspiring thing.  How did you personally decide to do this? 

I mean, you have been involved in a lot of humanitarian and charitable work, Boys and Girls Club, Make a Wish Foundation, supporting military families.  But was it hard to make this decision to get involved in something international, something so far from home? 

MCGRADY:  It really wasn‘t.  I think - you know, I‘m a guy that - I don‘t live on the earth just to walk it.  I live on here to make a difference.  And you know, I‘ve done a lot of things in the community of Houston and Florida, within the states. 

But I wanted to do something more on a global level.  And this was huge.  I mean, it was a no-brainer for me, especially once I got over there and saw how bad it was.  You know, you can‘t come back and not do anything. 

And I kept my word.  My word was to make sure I got the awareness out back here in the States.  And I promised all of the refugee people that, you know, I was going to do that because it had that big effect on me once I left.  

MADDOW:  When you think about the way that America, as a country, not just the government but as a country, can exercise a maximum leverage to stop the genocide - to stop what‘s happening there, what‘s your fantasy in terms of -what‘s your dream in terms of the most that we could possibly do to get things right there?

PRENDERGAST:  Frankly speaking, November or whatever the date of our election was when President Obama was elected, he had been such - as a candidate, he had been so clear about the need for American diplomatic leadership. 

And in this case, in Darfur, the answer is not sending in the 82nd Airborne.  The answer is real serious American, political diplomatic engagement in support of peace - a sustainable peace in Sudan.  That‘s the answer. 

We can do it.  I have no doubt that we have the talented diplomats able to do that.  We need to marshal that political will and provide the kind of resources to do their job.  And it‘s not very - you think about what the most cost-effective things in the world could possibly be instead of sending billions of dollars in aid and peacekeeping troops, spend a few dollars up front in diplomatic help and watch that war end.  

MADDOW:  Diplomatic help and diplomatic pressure.  Tracy, one last question for you.  Because well-known people, athletes, celebrities, have really been, totally un-cynically, so important in terms of keeping the pressure on and keeping this crisis in the public eye, have you been able to persuade other athletes, other basketball players, other people that you know because of your stature to get involved? 

MCGRADY:  Absolutely.  I think a lot of guys that heard about what I was doing over there instantaneously just wanted to be a part of this program.  They were moved by it.  A guy - Derek Fisher from the Los Angeles Lakers is a part of it.  Baron Davis from The Clipper.  A couple of more guys that want to be a part of this because they understand that these are innocent people that are getting harmed, and they want to do something about it.  And you know, I thank those guys for really reaching out to me and wanting to be a part of this whole program.  

MADDOW:  Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady, John Prendergast of the Enough Project.  Gentlemen, thank you both for your time today.  Good luck with the Darfur Dream Team sister-schools program. 

I should tell our listeners that the Darfur Dream Team program is online as you might expect at “”  It‘s very cool.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) both for schools and individuals to get involved. 

Gentlemen, thank you.  Good luck to you. 

PRENDERGAST:  Thank you.

MCGRADY:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  We turn now to our really alternative medicine correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones.  Hello, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  You know, as the healthcare crisis deepens, communities are going to have to get a little more creative about serving the needs of their people.  Here‘s a very special success story right here.  



JONES (voice-over):  With the flu season upon us, senior residents of Casselberry, Florida, are getting flu shots courtesy of generous local business.  


Yes, one of those local businesses.  Let the healing begin.  Thanks, guys, but, why you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At this time, with rising costs to health care, it‘s a great way to give back to the community.  

JONES:  Give it up for giving back.  Plus, there‘s a complimentary buffet lunch, and the flu shots are administered by registered nurses in the VIP room.  Did I mention the civic-minded strip club is called Rachel? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think Rachel is going to be - should be commended for doing this for the seniors, really.  

JONES:  I agree.  But health care at a strip club?  Why not?  That would be a public option even Republicans could get behind.  Patients could receive treatment at the club during the day.  Then receive a voucher for that night when a single-payer system would kick in - usually $20 right here. 

So good on you, Rachel.  Because a healthcare plan with brass poles and prints thongs is better than no healthcare plan at all. 


MADDOW:  It‘s what they designed this story in order to be on this show.  

JONES:  Absolutely.  

MADDOW:  We‘ll be a strip club.  We‘ll call ourselves Rachel‘s and then we‘ll give free flu shots to old people. 

JONES:  Got everything. 

MADDOW:  Spectacular. 

JONES:  Fantastic.

MADDOW:  Well done, Kent. 

JONES:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We need you on this program for this very purpose.  All right.  Cocktail moment for you.  

JONES:  Yes.  

MADDOW:  The Dalai Lama -

JONES:  Love him.  

MADDOW:  Yes.  Went to Memphis yesterday to go to the National Civil Rights Museum, which was very cool.  But it is not as cool as how the mayor of Memphis greeted the Dalai Lama in Memphis.  This is amazing.  Watch it. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve always wanted to say, hello, Dalai!


MADDOW:  First, he taught the Dalai Lama how to do a fist bump, then he said, “Hello, Dolly!”  God bless him - Mayor Myron Lowery.  Very impressive.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.



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