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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, September 24, 2009

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Sen. Charles Schumer, Gilbert Acciardo, Peter Dreier, Ken Burns

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you very much for that.

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

We are still trying to determine the truth about the hanging deaths of census bureau worker Bill Sparkman.  We will talk to the friend who warned Mr. Sparkman that it could be dangerous for him to do Census fieldwork door-to-door in Clay County, Kentucky.

We have some news for you also this hour that you will not hear anywhere else about why it is you‘re hearing so much about the group ACORN these days.  It‘s another RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, follow the money investigation.

And the legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns will be joining us live this hour.

This next hour, frankly, is sort of like 10 shows in it one.

But we are starting it off with some breaking news from D.C. on health reform.  Some unexpected indications tonight that by this time tomorrow, we will know if there‘s going to be a public option for health care.  We will know if Americans will have the choice of a government-run public insurance plan, alongside the private insurance we can choose now.

Many Americans believe that adding a public option to the mix of choices we‘ve got on health care is the only way health reform will really reform anything.  Although the public option has been proclaimed dead many a time over the course of this debate, we have learned that it is actually very much still alive, and, in fact, tomorrow, two amendments for a public option will be presented before the Senate Finance Committee.  Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Charles Schumer announcing this evening that they will demand a role call vote on those proposals.

What does it mean?  It means tomorrow is the judgment day.  It‘s time for senators to pick sides.

Joining us now, just out of the finance committee hearing room is the senior senator from the state of New York, Charles Schumer.

Senator Schumer, thank you so much for helping us break this story. 

Thanks for joining us.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW:  What‘s going to happen tomorrow in your committee with these public option amendments?

SCHUMER:  Well, tomorrow is really the first day of the fight.  It

won‘t be the last.  We are going to offer—Senator Rockefeller and myself

two public option amendments, and have a finance committee vote.  Your viewers should know that this is the beginning of the fight, because the finance committee is more conservative than the Senate as a whole, the finance Democrats tend to come from rural and redder states.


We‘ll then move to the floor of the Senate, where the public option has a better chance than in the finance committee, and then we‘ll move to conference committee with the House where it has a better chance still, because the House has been very strong.

And my prediction is that, at the end of the day, we will have some form of public option and a good form of public option in the final bill.  Tomorrow‘s fight—to be honest with you—is uphill, given the membership of the finance committee, but we want to start the debate, because the more the public hears what the public option really is, the more they like it.

MADDOW:  Why do you think that getting senators in the finance committee on the record, starting tomorrow, on the public option is a first step toward getting one in the final bill?  Do you think that people voting right now is the best strategy?

SCHUMER:  Well, we do, because the way the public option is snuffed, we all know the insurance industry doesn‘t like it.  It brings real competition to them in a way that no one else does.  Right now, in most markets, you have two or three insurance companies, and nobody else.  And the public option, not having to make a profit, that‘s about 10 percent, 12 percent of the income.  Not having to do all this advertising and merchandising, that‘s another 10 percent to 20 percent of the income.  We‘ll have a real advantage.

But the public doesn‘t know it—or propaganda from the right and from the insurance industries has convinced people they‘re going to be forced to get rid of their present health care and go to, quote, “a government plan.”  It‘s an option.  And you have the option to go to a public option.  Even if you stay in a private insurance, and you prefer that, the public option will make it better, because it will force the insurance companies to bring the cost down.

And so, by having this discussion with the nation‘s eyes focused on the finance committee and on the debate, we‘re going to win this fight.  If we were just doing one vote at the end of the day, the insurance industry would probably be able to snuff it out.  But you keep doing it, building up support—we have a good chance of winning.

MADDOW:  Your public option bill and Senator Rockefeller‘s public option bill are different.  They‘re both for the public option.  But they have different approaches.


MADDOW:  Will you vote for both amendments?

SCHUMER:  Yes.  I will.

Senator Rockefeller‘s is stronger, it‘s more like Medicare.  I would prefer it, frankly.  But my amendment called the “level playing field” option is the one that probably has the chance of winning tomorrow in the finance committee and elsewhere.  And if we were to get a public option in the finance committee—as I said, it‘s an uphill but hardly a forlorn or lost fight—that would guarantee that there be a public option in the final bill, because of the five committees that have dealt with health care, four have put public options in their bill.

MADDOW:  So, it‘s—since you‘re the senator from New York, I can make this lame joke, but if it can make it there, it can make it anywhere.


SCHUMER:  You betcha.

MADDOW:  One last question for you, if, we tend at the end of the day, what does get voted on, what you‘re voting on with the full Senate is a health reform bill that doesn‘t contain a public option, will you say now that you vote against that?  That would do a lot to add pressure to the—to the forces that want a—that want a public option in the bill.

SCHUMER:  Right.  Well, those of us who are in the lead on health care have decided we‘re not going to draw a line in the sand, but we‘re certainly not going to say we will vote for a bill without a public option.  We‘re fighting hard for the public option.

Obviously, you have to look at the overall bill.  What are the affordability provisions, how does it treat middle class workers, how does it treat the states with Medicaid?  How does it treat children?  And make an overall judgment.

But public option will be very important to me in deciding whether to vote for final passage.

MADDOW:  We‘ll know a lot more about whether that‘s going to happen based on what starts tomorrow.

Senator Chuck Schumer, thank you for your time tonight.  I know you‘re busy right now.  Cheers!

SCHUMER:  Good to talk to you.  Thanks.  Bye-bye.

MADDOW:  The Republicans are a very, very, very, very small minority in both the House and the Senate right now.  And that is why it is ultimately Democrats, liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats who will decide what kind of health reform we get or if we get it at all.  Learning tomorrow who‘s going to be on record in favor of these various types of the public option will be a big part of knowing what Democrats are ultimately going to come up with.

But that is not stopping Republicans from trying to stop the whole health care reform process all together.  And the way they‘re trying to stop the process is by slowing the process down so much that it just dies from sheer boredom—or exhaustion.  Consider the 564 amendments that have been filed on just this one version of the bill in just one committee—

564 amendments that all have to be discussed and voted on.

How long will that take?  Well, here is a sense of how the pacing was going as of yesterday.


SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), FINANCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  Voted on—about 25 amendments.  And I look forward to an even more productive day.


MADDOW:  At 25 amendments per day for 564 amendments -- 23 work days to vote on all of them?  And if today is the third day of hearings, five work days in a week, 30 days hath September, at this pace, I think this thing doesn‘t get voted on until October 26th for just this one bill in just this one committee, if they keep up this pace.  And that, of course, is exactly the point.  Opponents of reform are gung-ho about waiting.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER:  We need to slow down and get this right.  We need to give the members of Congress the time they need to understand what they‘re going to be voting on.


MADDOW:  The reasoning for slowing it down is that in Washington, the way you kill a bill is to slow-walk it—and Democrats know that.



SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  Mr. Chairman, let me just complete my thought here.

BAUCUS:  You have about one minute, you‘ll complete your thought.  OK. 

We‘ve got.

KYL:  I‘ll complete my thought and then make another point, Mr.


BAUCUS:  This is delaying, Senator.  And we just have to move on.

KYL:  Mr. Chairman, I am not delaying.  I‘m making an extremely important point.

BAUCUS:  It‘s very, very important point, but you‘re also delaying.


MADDOW:  A very, very, very important point is that the Republicans are delaying.  That‘s their tactic: full stop.  Let‘s see if the Democrats can pick up the pace.  We‘ll be right pack.



BILL SPARKMAN, CENSUS WORKER:  When it came time for my stun teaching, income could be a problem.  It was the United States‘ Census Bureau that solved that problem when I went to work in a permanent, but part-time position three years ago.  I then took the plunge into Western Governors in August 2005.  My job with fifth graders all day, doing Census work for about 35 hours a month, keeping track of my son who was now 16.


MADDOW:  That was Bill Sparkman, delivering the commencement address at Western Governor‘s University in Salt Lake City, Utah, last year after getting his teaching degree there.  We thank the school for making that footage available to us.

Mr. Sparkman was a part-time fieldworker for the U.S. Census—a single dad and a cancer survivor who held down two jobs while he pursued that degree.  Well, on September 12th of this year, Mr. Sparkman was found dead near a cemetery in the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeastern Kentucky.

Last night that, that nearly two-week-old local news of Mr. Sparkman‘s mysterious death became breaking national news when an unnamed law enforcement source told the “Associated Press” that Mr. Sparkman was hanged and that the word “Fed,” F-E-D, presumably as in federal government, was scrawled on his chest when his body was found.  And no second source has come forward to confirm the “Fed” allegation at this point, and a Kentucky state police spokesman told us today that the “A.P.‘s” initial report on the death contained some errors.  But he would not give us specifics on what the errors are.

So, we‘re left with a still incomplete, still troubling story.

But here‘s what we know: Mr. Sparkman‘s body was found on Saturday, September 12th.  He reportedly had been dead since the morning previous, since the morning of Friday, September 11th.  A determination has still not been made by law enforcement as to whether his death was a homicide, a suicide or an accident.  But police say it definitely was not natural causes.  The cause of death has been ruled to be asphyxia.  Autopsy results are still pending.

As to whether or not Mr. Sparkman was hanged, that detail is becoming complicated and hard to figure.  The “Lexington Herald-Leader” says they were told by the commander of the state police post that‘s leading the investigation of Mr. Sparkman‘s death that Sparkman had a rope around his neck that was attached to a tree, but was not hanging in the traditional way that many people envision.  The state police released a statement today that said, “Mr. Sparkman was found with a rope around his neck that was tied to a tree, but he was in contact with the ground.”

And the FBI says it‘s working with local law enforcement on the case, and, of course, it is a federal crime to attack a federal worker on the job.

By and large, though, authorities are being tight-lipped about this investigation.  We are meanwhile learning more from area residents about what kind of risks Mr. Sparkman might have been exposed to going door-to-door as a Census fieldworker in that part of the country, and, of course, the question of whether anti-government sentiment might be a plausible motive for violent crime there.

The Daniel Boone State Forest where Mr. Sparkman was—Sparkman was found—excuse me—has been known to have a history of drug-related crime, including growing marijuana and trafficking in meth.  Dee Davis, who heads the Center for Rural Strategies in had southeastern Kentucky told the “Associated Press” today that this is a dangerous time of year in that area, because people who grow marijuana are harvesting their crop now.  Mr.  Davis told the “A.P.,” quote, “There are places you would not send a Census worker this time of year.”

Also, a local retired state trooper says that when Mr. Sparkman told

him recently that he was going to be going door-to-door for the Census,

state trooper told Mr. Sparkman to be careful, elaborating to the

“Lexington Herald-Leader,” quote, “Even though he was with the Census

Bureau, sometimes people can view someone with any government agency as

‘the government.‘”

Well, joining us now is that retired Kentucky state trooper, Gilbert Acciardo.  Mr. Acciardo knew Bill Sparkman for 12 years.  He worked with him in an after-school program and was the first to report him missing.

Mr. Acciardo, first of all, let me say I‘m sorry for your loss, and thanks for being here with us today.

You were a friend of Mr. Sparkman.  Sorry.


MADDOW:  Is he able to hear me?  Are we having an audio issue?


MADDOW:  Oh, he can‘t hear me.

Mr. Acciardo is on—is with a satellite truck in rural Kentucky right now, in front of Kentucky State Police Building, and we‘re going to see if we can get our audio issues with him worked out—before or after the commercial?  After the commercial.  Boy, things are going to be great after the commercial.

Stay with us.  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  As we continue our reporting on the death of a par time U.S.  Census worker in rural Kentucky earlier this month, we‘re joined now by Gilbert Acciardo.  He‘s a former Kentucky state trooper.  He‘s retired now.  He knew the man who was killed in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Bill Sparkman, for 12 years.  He worked with him in an after-school program.  He was the first to report Mr. Sparkman missing.

Mr. Acciardo, first of all, let me say that I‘m sorry for our technical issues.  Let me also say that I‘m sorry for the loss of your friend and I‘m thankful for you joining us here today.  Thank you, sir.


MADDOW:  You told Mr. Sparkman to be careful when he was doing Census work in the area in which he was eventually killed, and where his body was found.  What were you telling him to be careful about?

ACCIARDO:  Well, he‘s used to the London area that‘s a little more populated, and he was going into—he told me he was going into counties like Lee County and Owsley County when we did do his Census work, and that‘s a lot more rural, a lot more isolated.  A lot of places over there, you don‘t even have phone service.

So, it was a general statement from a friend—friend to a friend, “Hey, just be careful when you‘re over there.”

MADDOW:  Were you worried about potential criminal activity in the area?  Were you worried about he would get in a car accident and not have cell service?  Were you worried about people being specifically unhappy with him working for the Census?  What—what in particular made you worry about him going to that part of the state?

ACCIARDO:  Well, really, just a couple of things.  The road system over there is a little bit—they have smaller roads over there, and I was just afraid for his safety on driving the roads.  And I just—I felt like he need to, when he did his home visits, he need to make sure people knew he was there to collect statistics.

MADDOW:  Did he ever express any concern to you about his work with the Census Bureau—any problems he‘d ever had on the job?

ACCIARDO:  No.  Just the opposite.  He really enjoyed his Census work, and he said people were really good to him.

MADDOW:  In terms of this part of southeastern Kentucky and

specifically those counties that you were—you had expressed some concern

about him traveling to, are folks in this area familiar with the Census and

its purpose?  I don‘t know if there is a way to generalize about that, but

is there any fear that you‘re aware of that the Census might be seen as sort of a government intrusion?


ACCIARDO:  No.  I‘m not aware.  Of course, it‘s been 12 years since I worked for the state police, and I wasn‘t aware of any problems then, and I‘m not aware of any problems like that right now.

MADDOW:  In terms of Mr. Sparkman and your friendship with him and his state of mind, I understand that you saw him just a few days before he—before he disappeared.  Can you shed any speculation—shed any light on the speculation that he might have killed himself?

ACCIARDO:  Well, I can just tell you that I did see him a couple days

before he disappeared, and he had a smile on his face—as he always did -

and he was just happy to be there.


MADDOW:  There‘s also been some speculation in particular because of Daniel Boone State Forest has been known to have some marijuana growing, some meth trafficking, some other drug issues.  There‘s been some speculation that this might not have had anything to do with his job.  He might have been the victim of a drug-related crime, might have stumbled on a drug-related scene.

Does that seem at all plausible to you?

ACCIARDO:  Well, I think that‘s the big question that we have—at school, is, you know, what was the cause of death for Mr. Sparkman, and what was he doing over in that area?  I‘m not even sure that he was doing Census work.  I don‘t—I don‘t think that‘s been confirmed.  So the big question is, what was he doing over there, and what was the manner of death, and the cause of death.

MADDOW:  Gilbert Acciardo, former state trooper in Kentucky, friend of Bill Sparkman, his death in rural Kentucky this month is receiving national attention now.  Mr. Acciardo, thank you for your time today, and again, you have all of our condolences on the loss of your friend, sir.

ACCIARDO:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK.  So, there are smear campaigns in politics, and then there‘s what‘s happening to a community organizing group called ACORN.  Tonight, a dash of truth about which seriously—about which seriously rich corporate interests are out to paint ACORN as a vast left-wing conspiracy against the American way of life.  Here‘s a little hint: You can look at ACORN‘s primary political sin as they‘re trying to raise the minimum wage.  That‘s next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  It may seem like the only thing happening in Congress these days is the never-ending fight over and of health reform.  But if you happen to be watching the House floor at 3:00 this afternoon, this is what you would have seen.


REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA:  Who has consistently called for the clean-

up of the corrupt ACORN, the criminal enterprise ACORN and all of their

affiliates?  It‘s been people on the Republican side of the aisle that have

done that.  This is the star of ACORN.  He is—he is the lead chief

organizer.  He is the—he is the person who told the people at ACORN, “I

will invite you into the—and we will be setting the agenda for America,”

even before he is inaugurated as president of the United States.  This is

the man who worked for ACORN


MADDOW:  This is the star of ACORN!

That was paranoid Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, today, railing against the community organizing group ACORN, and falsely accusing President Obama of being ACORN‘s lead chief organizer.  This sort of animus toward ACORN is something that‘s been percolating on the right for a really long time, but it‘s broken open recently as even Democrats in Congress have decided to go along with efforts to defund and demonize ACORN, and some Republican governors have even enthusiastically defunded ACORN as well, despite the fact that those governors didn‘t fund them in the first place.

Thanks for the right-wing crusade against it.  ACORN has become a household acronym, and Republican America‘s most reliable trumped up bogeyman.  It was the sixth most covered story in the country last week.  ACORN has been caricatured by people, like Congressman King, as a corrupt, criminal enterprise that steals elections and turns a blind eye to prostitution.  That‘s the story line the mainstream media has latched on to, as well.

What you might not know from all of the breathless ACORN damnation coverage is what ACORN actually does.  They do things like advocating for a higher minimum wage.  They do things like helping low-income families file their taxes.  They do things like helping low-income families find jobs.  They do things like registering people to vote. 

That sort of work, as you might expect, has the tendency to rile up the kinds of industries that really don‘t want minimum wage to go up and really aren‘t that psyched about lots of poor people being registered to vote. 

And as we discovered most recently in the healthcare debate, when industries sense a threat to their profits, they go into kill mode.  They create corporate-funded purportedly grassroots organizations to derail and destroy whomever they believe to be the source of that threat. 

Well, in the case of ACORN, I‘d like you to meet Richard Berman.  He‘s a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist who is essentially a hired gun for corporations. 

Say you‘re a company that doesn‘t really want the minimum wage to be raised.  But you also don‘t want to be seen fighting ACORN yourself.  What you do is you hire Richard Berman.  And what you get is “,” a grassroots-ish looking Web site dedicated to destroying ACORN and its, quote, “political thugs for hire.” 

If you go to the bottom of that Web site, you‘ll see that “” is run by something called the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit think-tank that happens to be run by Richard Berman, who also happens to be the man behind grassroots-ish Web sites like the anti-labor one, “”  Also, “” which assures people that there really isn‘t that much mercury in that fish.  Go ahead. 

Because Mr. Berman‘s organizations are nonprofit, it‘s almost impossible to find out who pays him for his services.  Luckily for us, Richard Berman is a bit of a chatty Cathy. 


RICHARD BERMAN, LOBBYIST:  Businesses themselves don‘t find it convenient to take on causes that might seem politically incorrect.  And I‘m not afraid to do that.  You‘re not going to get a lot of companies who want to say that “I‘m funding Rick Berman to go after you.”  They‘re just not going to do it. 


MADDOW:  But go after them, he does.  Richard Berman heads a laundry list of more than a dozen front groups that take on causes for business interests, like, say, the food and beverage industry.  And of course, it‘s perfectly fine for him to head up all of these nonprofit, purportedly grassroots organizations. 

Anyone in America has the right to lobby on anything they want to the all.  The problem in the case of ACORN is that the effect of corporate-funded PR efforts like “” has been a jihad launched against ACORN by the right-wing media, which has since been joined by the mainstream media, minus any sort of real fact-checking of these corporate-organized facts about them. 

A new study just released by a pair of university professors reveals the embarrassing extent to which the media has gotten the ACORN story really, really wrong.  As groups like “” bought full-page ads in the “New York Times” to hype ACORN‘s voter registration scandal, news outlets picked up the storyline and ran with it. 

According to this new study, about 80 percent of stories about ACORN voter fraud failed to mention that ACORN was the group that reported the irregularities in the first place. 

About 72 percent of stories about ACORN failed to quote anyone from the organization at all responding to the charges against them.  And 11 percent of the stories made the blatantly false claim that Barack Obama once worked for ACORN, a claim repeated on the House floor today by Congressman Steve King, a claim that is not true. 

The media coverage of ACORN has been driven by a right wing campaign against it, a corporate-funded grassroots-ish PR effort to plant the idea that ACORN is somehow a cancer on the democracy.  And it‘s an effort that is working. 

Last week, Congress voted to cut off all federal funding for the group.  Yesterday, the IRS severed ties with them all together.  Today, ACORN laid off all eight employees that it had in the great state of North Carolina. 

The people who are paying Rick Berman for his work, those people who think that their profits are threatened by what ACORN does, they‘re getting way more than their money‘s worth, whatever they‘re paying Rick Berman. 

Joining us now is one of the authors of the new study, “Manipulating the Public Agenda: Why ACORN was in the News and What the News Got Wrong,” Peter Dreier.  Professor Dreier teaches politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles.  Professor Dreier, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight. 


MADDOW:  Is there a connection that you can discern between the type of work that ACORN does and the people who started this campaign against them, which is now, of course, mushroomed into a national event?

DREIER:  You know, ACORN‘s made a lot of enemies in the four years it‘s been doing organizing work in America‘s inner cities - banks that they have fought, insurance companies they have fought, low-wage companies that pay poverty wages, and companies that provide payday rip-off predatory loans. 

In fact, ACORN was the first group in the country to warn about predatory lending.  And if people had listened to ACORN, if the policymakers had listened to ACORN when they were warning about this, we wouldn‘t have the foreclosure and mortgage meltdown that we‘ve had in the last couple of years. 

So ACORN has made a lot of enemies.  And when they registered voters in low-income neighborhoods - disproportionately those people vote for Democrats, although ACORN itself is nonpartisan. 

So the Republican Party in a lot of parts of the country has been against ACORN.  And they have been trying to destroy ACORN for many years.  Karl Rove, as we now know, was responsible for starting a campaign to try to get the U.S. attorneys to prosecute ACORN for voter fraud. 

And when the U.S. attorneys like David Iglesias said there was no voter fraud, he fired him, because he wanted to get rid of ACORN.  So the media have picked up on this scene that ACORN is corrupt and ACORN is involved in voter fraud when the reality is, there was absolutely no voter fraud that ACORN participated in. 

But you would never know that by reading the “New York Times” or the “Washington Post” or the “Wall Street Journal” or other mainstream media. 

MADDOW:  Well, give me some sense of the distance between the truth of what happened with ACORN and the charges that led to them being smeared as a voter fraud organization and the way that it‘s actually covered.  What‘s the distance between the way the voter registration stuff is talked about, and what actually happened?

DREIER:  OK, I‘ll give you an example.  We looked at 600 stories, every story about ACORN in 15 major media outlets.  And what we discovered was that in almost all of those stories, voter fraud was the major theme. 

ACORN has been doing this grassroots organizing for 40 years and they‘ve gotten some attention.  But the attention really peaked during the presidential election last year when John McCain and Sarah Palin attacked ACORN for voter fraud. 

What really happened was that ACORN was registering voters in low-income neighborhoods.  And ACORN would go around to neighborhoods and supermarkets and other places and have people fill out voter registration forms.  In a handful of cases, people would write phony names, for example, Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. 

And whenever ACORN found that one of those forms had a phony name on it, they did what they were required to do by law, which is to report the abuse, report the problem.  So when ACORN did that, they weren‘t engaged in voter registration fraud; they were following the law. 

But then what happened is that - in many parts of the country, the Republican attorney general and district attorneys would accuse ACORN of making those phony claims, of making those phony names, instead of saying that ACORN was, in fact, doing their job. 

So in almost every story about voter fraud, the mass media, not just the right-wing media, but the mainstream media, failed to report that ACORN was abiding by the law.  It failed to report that not one person in this entire country voted who actually signed one of those forms in a misleading way.  So there was absolutely no voter fraud. 

There were some voter registration problems which ACORN reported.  But despite that, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the rest of the right-wing media and the mainstream media, unfortunately, picked off on this notion that ACORN is responsible for wide-scale voter fraud. 

And that‘s what you‘re seeing on the houses of the Senate and the House - on the floors of the House and Senate this last week.  You‘re seeing people basically following up on these misleading charges against ACORN.

MADDOW:  The more that I look into the misleading nature of the charges against ACORN, not just from people from whom I expect misleading charges, but from reporters and mainstream media, people in the mainstream media who ought to know better, the angrier I get. 

And I think that we‘re going to be covering this - the lies about ACORN - over a number of shows, over upcoming days, including talking specifically about this latest scandal about this entrapment video with people posing as a pimp and a prostitute. 

Professor Dreier, I hope that you might be able to come back and join us again as we continue to talk about his story and try to understand how this went so off-the-rails over the next few days. 

DREIER:  Sure.  I would be happy to.  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.  Professor Peter Dreier is a professor at Occidental College.  He‘s co-author of an important new study about ACORN, which we are posting a link to at our Website, “”  Oh, this story gets me mad. 

Right.  OK.  Now, for something nicer.  Baseball, jazz, the Civil War.  Filmmaker Ken Burns doesn‘t mess around with the small stuff.  His latest epic documentary is called “The National Parks,” and it will make you want to go to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. 

And it will make you think big thoughts about America and our national purpose and the big thoughts that we have had as a country that really no one else has had before we had them.  Ken Burns will be right here in the studio in just a few minutes.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  The U.N. Security council has existed since 1946.  Since 1946

since it was founded, an American president has presided over the Security Council exactly once - today.  President Obama was the chairman, facilitator, pass-me-the-talking-pillow, presider guy over the U.N.  Security Council today in New York. 

And for his trouble, he earned a 15-to-nothing unanimous vote from the Security Council in favor of a little project he‘s got that he likes to think of as abolishing nuclear weapons worldwide - 15 to nothing. 

Now, this doesn‘t mean that all nuclear weapons go away.  But it does mean that when Obama gave that big speech in Prague saying America‘s vision, America‘s mission in the world was a world free of all nuclear weapons, he just got Russia and China and Britain and France and Mexico and Japan and Uganda and all of the other Security Council countries to say that they are on board with that idea, too. 

Not bad for a day‘s work.  Remember when George W. Bush named a guy to be his U.N. ambassador who said he wanted to lop 10 floors off the U.N. building?



The secretariat building in New York has 38 stories.  If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn‘t make a bit of difference. 


MADDOW:  Under George W. Bush, that guy was America‘s man at the U.N. 

Things are different now - very, very different. 


MADDOW:  So there is a state forest near where I live and I take my dog on my walks there like all my neighbors do.  But to do that this year, we all have to walk past a big sign at the entrance that says, “This state forest is closed for the whole year,” because Massachusetts is so broke this year they‘re not paying to staff and maintain a bunch of the state forests and parks and ponds including the one by my house. 

Ironically, my little nearby state forest only exists today because of the last time that we were this broke, the Great Depression when the government of Franklin Roosevelt decided that they wanted to put people to work and stimulate the economy by creating a civilian conservation corps that would hire people. 

They hired 100,000 people in Massachusetts alone to build the roads and plant the forests and construct the camp grounds and the dams and the bridges that gave the people of my state something great then, that frankly is still really great now, generations later, even if we can‘t have rangers there this year. 

The documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, puts this little piece of the creation of our national parks in perspective in his new beautiful miniseries which is called “The National Parks: America‘s Best Idea.”  Check it out. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Over the course of the Depression, more than 3 million men would find work at one time or another with the Civilian Conservation Corps.  They would build more than 97,000 miles of fire roads in national forests, combat soil erosion on 84 million acres of farmland, and plant 3 billion trees - more than one half the total reforestation accomplished in the nation‘s history. 

During that time, some $218 million would be pumped into projects solely within the national parks, including trails and buildings that remain to this day. 

ALFRED RUNTE, ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORIAN:  The Depression is a golden age, because the National Park Service is a federal agency.  And it‘s going to get all of Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s “let‘s rebuild the nation” dollars. 

And the budgets of the National Park Service soared and as the National Park Service looks at projects that could put people to work, Congress agrees, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt agrees.  And the National Park Service suddenly finds itself swimming in money relative to what it had in the 1920s.  

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  We are definitely in an era of building today - the best kind of building, the building of great public projects for the benefit of the public and with the definite objective of building human happiness at the same time. 


MADDOW:  Building human happiness at the same time.  Big tracts of beautiful land set aside from private exploitation, not only for public use and for conservation, but as a repository, a preserve, a safe-kept locket of what our country is, and the fact that is belongs to all of us together.  What a good idea. 

“The National Parks: America‘s Best Idea” starts Sunday at 8:00 Eastern on PBS.  And Ken Burns is here with us now to talk about it.  Ken Burns, congratulations and thank you so much for being here.  I‘m geeking out that you‘re here. 

KEN BURNS, FILMMAKER:  Other way around. 

MADDOW:  Oh, thank you.  Well, congratulations.  You have to be very proud of this. 

BURNS:  We‘re very, very excited.  We have spent 10 years working on it - six shootings.  We have been to places where you think someone is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey, buddy.  Are you getting paid for this?  Come this way.” 

But building human happiness - you know, that‘s what governments are supposed to do.  And we‘re now in an argument that governments are essentially bad.  There was a time when the government stepped in and made things better in every single way, that we could bring jobs and money and a sense of cohesion. 

And that‘s what the parks - they thrived during the Depression, not just because they got the first shovel ready stimulus dollars of Franklin Roosevelt‘s new deal, but because they brought Americans together. 

And I think they still can do that.  The idea is still durable.  It‘s still flexible.  It‘s still changing and evolving, just like all men are created equal and all white men of property, free of debt. 

We started off by saving natural scenery, and now, we save a lot more - Manzanar, Shanksville - all these places that reflect a complicated past, a past that we are in the screaming that goes on in talk radio we ignore today.  But it‘s in our national parks.  They‘re the repositories of us, not just a grand geological story. 

MADDOW:  And what does - I think that expansion of the idea of what we preserve and protect and decide to pay for the upkeep of as a nation, that expanding to be not just the beautiful places, not just where half dome is, but also the place where we had slave cabins and internment camps.  What does that expanding of that idea of what we protect say about what we value in common?

BURNS:  That‘s exactly right.  I mean, we co-own all of this land, so therefore we co-own the beautiful spots.  But we have to own our history well, and own up to it as well.  So central high school, still the working inner city high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the place where, in 1957, the crisis of school desegregation crystallized is a unit of the National Park Service. 

So is Manzanar where Japanese American citizens were interned.  So were the slave cabins that made the comfortable life of the plantation owner possible.  All of these places we‘ve been willing to include in our idea of who we are. 

I know of no other country on earth that is willing to look at

that dark past.  And yet, we sort of now reduce everything to sort of this

dialectical preoccupations - it‘s red state or it‘s blue state.  It‘s black

or white.  It‘s male or female.  It‘s in or out.  And the parks right there

our best idea. 

MADDOW:  On the idea of building human happiness, one of the things that I think is interesting about the reception of this documentary of yours compared to the other ones is that people are reading an ideological text into this. 

And it‘s because we have very much romanticized - we sort of have come up with this great fable that we tell ourselves about how we can pursue human happiness and our government should not restrict us from that. 

But the other part of the American dream is that our government believes that policy can advance human happiness while protecting freedom. 

BURNS:  Exactly.  It always has.  The Homestead Act, the Land Grant College Act, these national parks - this was an activist government going in and not intruding on individual rights, but expanding them. 

And that‘s what the parks tell us about.  This is a bottom-up story of regular people who fell in love with the place from every conceivable background.  It‘s also the story of the richest of us, not hoarding the money in some greedy, selfish way, you know, like Ayn Rand. 

This is people saying, “My god, we own beautiful scenery, shouldn‘t everyone have access to it?”  That‘s Theodore Roosevelt, that‘s the naturalist Charles Sheldon(ph), that‘s Stephen Mather, the first director of the Park Service.  These are people who are the elite, the richest people in the nation who sort of counter-intuitively say, “Let‘s share it with everybody.” 

I mean, this is a great story that‘s not only bottom up, but top down.  And it meets in the middle in the most spectacular landscapes on earth, which we all co-own.  But think about what would happen if there were no national parks, you know? 

The Grand Canyon would be lined with mansions and we‘d never see that view.  The everglades would have long since been drained and be filled with tract housing and all sorts of ugly development.  Yosemite, one of the most beautiful valleys on earth, would be a gated community.  Yellowstone would become “Geyser World,” something like that. 

We‘re talking about the difference between Pottersville and Bedford Falls.  And we choose in “It‘s a Wonderful Life” to live in Bedford Falls.  We reject Pottersville, but yet so much of the arguments today are, “Wait a second.  That selfishness is very much what America is about.” 

You know what?  It‘s not what we‘re about.  We‘re about sharing these things in common.  It‘s about commonwealth, which is wonderful idea and not socialism.  Because if it‘s socialism, then the people you call at 3:00 a.m. when your house is on fire, that‘s socialism.  And the people in Afghanistan, risking their lives, that‘s socialism.  And the people that are picking up your trash, that‘s socialism, too.

MADDOW:  And we‘re so afraid of that word that we can‘t talk constructively about government without butting up against it at this point.  We will get over that.  We‘re just having a national tantrum, I believe it. 

BURNS:  Yes, a little hiccup. 

MADDOW:  Ken Burns, it‘s such an honor to have you here.  Thank you so much.  

BURNS:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  The miniseries that‘s called, “The National Parks: America‘s Best Idea” - it is a 12-hour long series.  It‘s worth every minute of your time.  It premieres this Sunday at 8:00 Eastern on PBS. 

OK.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Michael Moore joins Keith to talk about his new film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”  It‘s very romantic.

Next on this show, my friend Kent Jones delivers just enough Chuck Norris.  I don‘t understand the Chuck Norris against the American flag phenomenon.  Kent insists it‘s both important and that he can help me understand it.  That is next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  We turn now to our fourth vengeance correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  The conservative protest needs leadership.  Fortunately, a man has stepped forward, a Texas ranger named Walker. 

MADDOW:  Oh, no.

JONES:  Take a look.


(voice-over):  Actor, martial artist, Total Gym spokesman, pillar of modern conservatism, Chuck Norris is a man of opinion.  So obviously when Chuck Norris proposes a new idea, my job is to shut my pie hole. 

Now, in order to keep the glorious 9/12 revolutionary movement charging forward, Norris urges his fellow patriots to abandon the American flag in favor of the far more mavericky Betsy Ross flag or Gadsden flag, “Don‘t tread on me.”  That means you, affordable health care. 


JONES:  And here‘s the kicker, quote, “If you insist on posting a modern USA flag, too, then get one that‘s tea-stained to show your solidarity with our founders.” 

Now, he didn‘t specify whether the tea stain should be Earl Gray, oolong, orange pekoe, just probably not English breakfast. 

Now, far be it from me to disagree with Lone Wolf McQuade, but I want to take his alternate flag idea one step further.  How about “Old Chuckie?” Or the “Rattle Chuck?”  Or the United States of Chuck.  Final score, Chuck Norris one; tyranny, zero. 


MADDOW:  Desecrate that flag, America. 

JONES:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  They‘re getting so weird. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  I have a weird update for you on the story we have been covering the last couple of days. 


MADDOW:  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran -

JONES:  Right.

MADDOW:  Here for the U.N.  Iranian protestors turning everything green in protest. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  They ran mile-long banner down the Brooklyn Bridge today to protest against him.  And there was this happy coincidence that they had asked for the Empire State Building to be turned green today as part of the protest. 

Empire State Building said no, but happily, it was going to be green anyway for the 70th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz.”

JONES:  Of course.

MADDOW:  But OK - it‘s not.  That is a live shot of it that we‘ve got

can we put that up?  That‘s the live shot of the Empire State Building. 

It‘s red. 

JONES:  Not green -

MADDOW:  No.  They say it‘s still for “The Wizard of Oz” but now, it‘s red instead of green. 

JONES:  What about “The Wizard of Oz” people? 


MADDOW:  I know.  Ruby slippers?  Come on.  We‘re looking into it. 

Thank you, Kent.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now.



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