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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Noah Shachtman, Kent Jones


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

A lot of attention being paid today to the fight within the left over whether or not to support health reform now that it‘s been so watered down.  I‘m here to tell you that this is the other side of that fight.


LOU ENGLE, PASTOR:  Let‘s take hands together and let‘s pray right now for our leaders, the senators who are in this debate now.  Would you just lift your voices just for a few moments?  And let‘s just altogether pray together.

Lord, right now, we‘re calling on you.  Oh, Lord, come and come to our senators.  Would you break into their hearts and minds?  Would you rule over them?

Lord, we‘re praying, give them wisdom.  The wisdom that comes down from up above.  For such a time as this we cry out to you!

And we thank you, Living God, that you hear in Jesus name, amen.


MADDOW:  Those two vaguely looking familiar men you see there at the end of that clip, those are two sitting Republican U.S. senators, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.  They were the headlining politicians at last night‘s effort to stop health reform with prayer.

Senators DeMint and Brownback were the headlining politicians at last night‘s online anti- health reform prayercast.  But the marquee pastor chosen to lead the prayers at the anti-health reform event was Lou Engle.


ENGLE:  We dare to believe today that you overthrow, overrule keys, that you actually rule in the Senate debates even as we pray.  So now we stand before you and worship you.  The God who answers prayer, rise, oh, God.  Hear, show mercy and turn this nation to you, we pray.

In Jesus name, break in—break in at this moment as we lift our voices all across America.  Come, Lord.  Hear from heaven and intervene in Jesus name we pray.


MADDOW:  Liberals are debating whether or not it is smart and ethical to have a mandate without a public option.  On the Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback side of the aisle, they are approaching this rather differently, as you can see here.

Lou Engle leading the prayer part of the anti-health reform fight with Senators Brownback and DeMint is founder and president of a group called Call to Conscience, as we reported last night.  Call to Conscience describes itself as a movement to bring holiness and purity back to America.


ENGLE:  What happened to California will release a spirit that is more demonic than Islam, a spirit of lawlessness and anarchy.  And a sexual insanity will be unleashed into the Earth.


MADDOW:  It is Mr. Sexual Insanity there who presidential hopefuls, like Senator Jim DeMint and Senator Sam Brownback have turned to as their interlocutor, for killing health care reform maybe not by voting it down, maybe not by filibustering it, maybe not by delaying it to death, maybe not by getting liberals to fight each other to death over it, but killing health care reform through God‘s intervention.


SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  If we have the government making decisions about the most personal and private part of our lives, it is so naive to think that that coverage is not going to include a number of things that cause people of faith a lot of heartburn, whether it‘s funding abortions, whether it‘s rationing care, whether it‘s funding medical marijuana, whether it‘s euthanasia.


MADDOW:  Funding abortions, rationing care, medical marijuana and killing people.  None of which is actually in the bill.


TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  The Democratic leadership wants to fund abortion in this bill.  And it‘s a real tragedy, because abortion is not health care.

DEMINT:  It‘s not about health care.  It‘s about government control.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK ®, KANSAS:  It‘s a debate about life or death.


MADDOW:  Also not actually talking about what‘s in the bill.  But as off the wall as those senators‘ claims sound about health reform, the senators often sounded almost rational next to the other leaders of this national prayercast.


BROWNBACK:  Most people agree with this statement, I‘m satisfied with my own health care.  I think it costs too much and I‘m concerned about people that don‘t have health coverage.

PERKINS:  I think that about milk, though, too.  I mean, I think I pay too much for it, but I like it.


MADDOW:  And that penetrating interviewer‘s name is Tony Perkins.  Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council which doesn‘t just produce prayercasts against health reform.  They also produce broadcast ads against health reform.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They won‘t pay for my surgery.  But we‘re forced to pay for abortions.


MADDOW:  The Family Research Council‘s Tony Perkins was joined at the prayercast against health reform by James Dobson of Focus on the Family.  Mr. Dobson phoned it in literally to the anti-health reform prayercast and he gave his own interpretation of what he thinks the health reform bill would do.


DR. JAMES C. DOBSON, FOCU ON THE FAMILY ACTION:  Heavenly Father, the principles of righteousness that you taught us are just being abandoned now by our governmental leaders.  And if they prevail in the measures that they‘re now considering, even more babies will die.  More than 50 million already have.  And in other measures, the institution of marriage itself, will be destroyed.


MADDOW:  It‘s amazing that they found room in the health reform bill to abolish marriage.  I mean, what with all the room taken up in the bill by the “killing the babies” and the marijuana and the expensive milk being taken away.


DEMINT:  We cannot fall for this idea that we need to keep our faith in a closet and let the country go its own secular way.


MADDOW:  Senator DeMint not falling for that old separation of church and state canard, even as Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, another participant of last night‘s event, praised, in this case, for power.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Lord, as leaders of our country, Lord, I pray as a stand-in for myself, I pray as a stand-in for others, Lord, who may not have looked to you in all your ways, Father, as leaders.  Father, we want to represent you in the way that we should.

And so, Lord, I ask for forgiveness for that and our own country.  Lord, we know that we have failed and we haven‘t done as we should.  And so that‘s why now, Lord, we ask for your forgiveness.  And we repent and we turn from that.

And we say, oh, Lord, we deserve your wrath.  But would you yet give our nation mercy?  We ask for your mercy.  We cry out to you, oh, God.

This is our moment and this is our time.  Lord, we are at the end of ourselves.  And now, we need you.


MADDOW:  At the end of ourselves and now we need you.

And now, I‘m not sure what we need.  But we have had a bit of a revelation about some of the less well-known opposition to health reform.  We will have much, much, much more on that in just a moment.


MADDOW:  Yesterday, we reported an unexpected political role for the American family dining chain that‘s famous for its wings.  That chain, of course, is Hooters.  They‘re famous for their wings, right?

Online ads promising $150 Hooters gift card actually led to an online signup for the Chamber of Commerce‘s campaign to kill health reform.

Well, today, “Talking Points Memo” followed you will on their own reporting on that with news that Chamber of Commerce now claims they are, quote, “the victim of a fraud.”  In other words, they allege that someone is luring people to the chamber‘s anti-health reform campaign with Hooters gift cards, but it‘s not the chamber who‘s doing it.

A public relations firm connected to the chamber suggests that people in favor of health reform set this whole thing up in order to make the chamber look bad—which if you think about it, isn‘t a very nice thing to say about Hooters.  And I have heard that their wings are awesome.


MADDOW:  On health reform, there is in Congress a de facto “kill the bill” caucus.  We call it the “kill the bill” caucus or actually “kill bill” caucus for short.  Not because it saves much time in saying it, it really annoys our executive producer whose name is Bill Wolff.  And he doesn‘t like anybody saying “kill bill.”

Charter members of the kill bill caucus include, of course, almost every single one of the 217 Republicans in the House and Senate.  Like, for example, Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who made his kill the bill intentions abundantly clear from the very outset.


DEMINT:  If we‘re able to stop Obama on this, it will his waterloo. 

It will break him.


MADDOW:  Mr. DeMint‘s sort of companion in the House in terms of admitting the dream of unified party line opposition to health reform is Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MINORITY WHIP:  I will guarantee you that we are committed to making sure that not one Republican will vote for this bill.



MADDOW:  Republicans had no ambiguity about this from the very beginning.  They knew they were in the kill bill caucus.  From even before it was cool.  And they knew their strategy was to slow the whole thing down.  Stop the momentum, get the thing sputtering and stalled so they could have a chance of killing it altogether.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  This is too important to be rushed.  We need to take our time and do it right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This doesn‘t take effect for four years, Matt.  We don‘t need to pass it in two weeks.

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  The president and some Democrats insist we must rush this plan through.


MADDOW:  Yes, what‘s the rush here?

Unified Republican opposition has not been about coming up with a policy they would feel more comfortable voting for.  It has clearly been about stopping President Obama‘s number one domestic priority.  It‘s just basic political combat.  It‘s totally understandable.  You deny your opponent a victory.

In Senator DeMint‘s phrasing, you don‘t help your political opponent accomplish something even if it would be good for the country.  You deny your political opponent the ability to accomplish that thing if you can.  You make him look like a failure.  You—as Senator DeMint says, you break him.

But the kill bill caucus also has senior members in it who are not Republicans.  They‘re members of the Democratic Caucus, like Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, both of whom say they are committed to health reform but neither of whom have acted during this fight in a way that would suggest that that is true.

You can tell that with Ben Nelson after he said back in mid-November that he‘d be OK with the abortion language in the bill as long as the public option was taken out.  Now that the public option has been taken out, lo and behold, Mr. Nelson is still not OK with the abortion language.

You can tell that with Joe Lieberman when you see his disregard of his own policy positions.  Supporting a Medicare buy-in for, oh, say nine years and then threatening to filibuster any final bill that includes that same thing.

One way to understand Senator Lieberman‘s otherwise erratic and irrational behavior over health reform is that Mr. Lieberman has been shaping this bill to wins that are designed not to get any particular policy that he is in favor of, but rather to make the bill so conservative that liberals will turn against it.  Remember that after supporting the Medicare buy-in for nine years, Senator Lieberman admitted that he decided to hate the idea this year in part because he heard that liberal Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner liked the idea.

Senator Lieberman has used his threat to kill the bill by filibuster to change the policies within the bill into something many liberals say they can no longer support—a strategy to kill the bill ultimately by cleaving off support from the left.  In other words, exactly the position that we‘re in now.

And now, the kill bill caucus has some unlikely new members, like former Vermont governor and Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, influential liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas from DailyKos, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  Powerful forces in labor like the AFL-CIO and SEIU are also taking a hard line on how bad they think the bill has become.

Liberals are having a hard time supporting this bill, but on political grounds, they‘re having a hard time supporting this bill mostly on policy grounds.  A lot of liberals were convinced, for example, when candidate Obama argued against an individual mandate, giving insurance companies millions of new customers without controls over what we, the people, would be made to pay for.

I raised that issue with David Axelrod as far back as early September of this year.


MADDOW:  I think part of the reason that progressives have viewed the idea the public option with so much importance is because of the fear that there will be a mandate without serious reform, that attempts to regulate the insurance industry won‘t be effective.  And when the president moves from his position during the campaign, which is that he was against individual mandates, to being for individual mandates now, I think there is concern that regulations of the insurance industry won‘t make insurance less junky, less resented as it is now.  And that we‘ll all be forced to buy something that actually isn‘t very good, that it‘ll just pad the insurance companies‘ pockets.

Is there sequencing there?  Is there a guarantee that the reforms work before individuals are forced to buy coverage?

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR:  Well, there is—no individual is going to be forced to buy coverage.  There‘s going to be—in the sense that there‘s going to be a hardship exemption, let‘s say, if they don‘t want to buy coverage.  It is—it‘s also a fact that when people don‘t buy coverage and then get sick or seriously injured, then it is a burden for the rest of us.


MADDOW:  That policy discussion happening more than three months ago.

By and large, liberal concerns about the policies of this bill have remained relatively consistent.  And as the policies have become less liberal in the bill, liberal opposition to the bill on political—on policy grounds has grown.  It just so happens that, politically, that puts liberals in a big, uncomfortable, yellow leather “Kill Bill” jump suit with people who are opposing the bill on totally different grounds.

Well, we ended up with is the biggest, weirdest tent ever.  The kill bill caucus finding a political marriage of inconvenience between people like Howard Dean, a great progressive champion, and John McCain, who today said this about Governor Dean.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  If you live long enough, all things can happen.  I now find myself in complete agreement with Doctor Howard Dean, who says that we should stop this bill in its tracks.  We should go back to the beginning and have an overall bipartisan agreement.  Doctor Dean, I am with you.


MADDOW:  He almost held in the chortle there—almost.

We‘ve got a marriage not only between John McCain and Howard Dean, we‘ve got a marriage between people like Howard Dean and conservative Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who tells THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW tonight, quote, “Credit where credit is dude.  Governor Dean is absolutely right that the Reid bill will do more harm than good to the future of America.  Liberals, conservatives and independents agree that it is time to start over.”

There‘s a principled fight happening now in progressive circles with policy wonks like, say, “The Washington Post‘s” Ezra Klein, having a substantive back and forth with labor leaders and other prominent progressive voices.  There are big difficult questions being asked in harsh terms, sometimes, about whether or not this bill is worth progressives still supporting it.

The political question though to ask about that fight is whether or not this revolt on the left is just going to have the effect of killing the bill or whether this revolt on the left really could make the bill better and then get it past?

Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an associate editor for “The Washington Post.”  He‘s also an MSNBC political analyst.

Gene, it‘s nice to see you.  Thanks very much for being here.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s great to be here, Rachael.  As long as you don‘t put my face on Uma Thurman‘s body.  That would be—that would be wrong.  That would be so wrong on so many levels.

MADDOW:  If I do it, I‘ll use the Gene Robinson doll that I have.  I won‘t just do it two dimensional.  You don‘t mind that, do you?


ROBINSON:  I don‘t mind that.

MADDOW:  OK.  That‘s so much worse.

All right.  Gene, the worry here is that this fight on the left means that bill won‘t pass, that this will—this will interrupt the chances of health reform passing at all.

Is it possible, though, that the fight on the left actually improves the policies and the bill and we‘re still in a position to pass something?  Is that possible?

ROBINSON:  Well, I suppose it‘s possible.  Theoretically, I—I guess

I don‘t see exactly how that happens, Rachael, because the entire movement, the sweep of movement on this thing has been to the right, has been a way from policy position that‘s are near and dear to liberals.  And I‘m not sure why it would suddenly turn on a dime and start moving back in the other direction.


I thought that might have happened, for example, when the public option looked like it was going to be replaced by the Medicare buy-in.  And that looked like—well, that‘s kind of an interesting idea.  And, gee, maybe that would work.  But it turns out the answer is none of the above.

So, I‘m not—I‘m not overly optimistic that it‘s going to move in what, frankly, I would consider a positive direction.  But it does put liberals in a difficult position.

And, for me, at least, you have to ask the question: if what comes out in the end is a terribly flawed, attenuated, weakened bill that doesn‘t really control the insurance companies or what they‘re charging or how they‘re acting, but that does cover 30 million people who are not covered now and may make it so that medical costs are not the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country and people aren‘t relying on emergency room so much for their medical care and so, you know, all the scandalous things that happen now—if faced with that bill from scratch, would you not vote for that?

And I think that‘s the question that a lot of people are going to have to ask themselves.

MADDOW:  I think, though, the reason that, either subconsciously or consciously, is motivating a lot of the revolt on the left is not just frustration with how far the policies have drifted but the fact that, as you say, they have only drifted rightward.  It seems like all of the political leverage has been among conservatives, Republicans as a bloc voting no.  Conservative Democrats deciding that they can get anything that they want out of it.

And at least on the case of Joe Lieberman and the Medicare buy-in, seeming to choose a policy position purely on the basis of what might make liberals mad.

And I—so, being on obstinate has really worked on the right.  And I‘m wondering if there is a calculation here that maybe liberals should try being obstinate, too.  Maybe that could win some concessions.

ROBINSON:  Well, but the problem is that you need 60 votes.  And you‘re going to get zero Republican votes.

MADDOW:  Right.

ROBINSON:  You‘re going to get absolutely zero.  So, you got to keep all 60 Democrats.

So, the people who have the leverage are the Democrats on the right who say, “You know, I might just vote with the Republicans if you don‘t give me what I want.”  And what they want is for the bill to move more to the right than to the left.  So, you move it to the left to satisfy Bernie Sanders, and then you‘ve got another 10 demands from Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, and you got some for Mary Landrieu and make sure maybe you can take care of Landrieu with another $300 million.

But that‘s the dynamic and the way I see it continuing to play out.  I think, you know, short of some sort of intervention by the president and the majority leader, and I‘m not quite sure what they do at this point.  I think they‘re going to be trying to kind of hold the battle lines basically where things are now and try to get it through.

MADDOW:  Briefly, Gene, do you think that delay equals defeat?  We saw Ben Nelson today questioning the Christmas deadline.  Certainly, the White House—one of them is done in August and we‘re heading into Christmas right now.  The longer that it drags on, do the chances of it passing get less?

ROBINSON:  You know, I think—I still think the chance of a bill passing and being signed by the president are extremely high.  The bill, however, gets less and less attractive from my point of view as time goes on.  So, that‘s a problem with the length of time.

But I think the next obvious deadline is State of the Union speech and I think if they don‘t make that one, they keep pushing ahead until they get something he can sign.  So, I don‘t think it becomes in the absolute sense less likely.  I think a bill that is really good, sound, innovative policy becomes less likely.

MADDOW:  On the plus side, I guess, silver lining, there could be more prayercasts for me to cover if it took a really long time.

ROBINSON:  Yes.  Yes.  Does it—am I now at the end of myself like Michele Bachmann?


MADDOW:  You‘re standing in for yourself, Gene.


MADDOW:  Yes.  You are standing in for yourself, as she said.

Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, associate editor for “The Washington Post”—Gene, it‘s always great to have you on the show.  Thank you so much.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Rachael.

MADDOW:  OK.  What costs more, two trips to the salad bar at Sizzler or the software Iraqi insurgents are using to hack into our drones?  In the interview tonight, we‘ll be joined “Danger Room‘s” Noah Shachtman.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  If you have satellite TV, you have a little dish on your roof and pay some number that ends in “99” every month for your satellite service, all your shows and maybe video games and music are beamed down to your apartment or your house from a friendly satellite in the sky.  But if you‘re $29.99 or $49.99 a month isn‘t buying you enough, if you want, for example, to be able to see what your neighbors are getting beamed down to them, then you can try some vaguely dodgy seeming Russian software called SkyGrabber.

According to SkyGrabber‘s inadvertently funny, maybe reversed translated from the Russian Web site, quote, “You‘ll get new movie and best music and funny pictures for free.”

The software costs about $26.

Now this is our sort of our hoopty mock-up of the type of setup that we‘re talking about, courtesy of the creative folks in our props department.  Laptop, fake satellite dish.  And assume that we loaded up the SkyGrabber software.

So, we just point that disc up to the sky and as the Web site says, SkyGrabber makes your life more exciting and interesting.  It‘s neat, right?

And it‘s a lot more besides just neat, it turns out.  Because insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and, I‘m guessing, Pakistan are using a rig basically as fancy as this to grab stuff like this, live video feeds from unmanned predator drones, predator drones that are looking supposedly for them. 

But with $26 worth of software, the people in the military and CIA are hunting can see everything the military and CIA see.  And if you‘re one step ahead of me here, yes, they can see it with something as simple as SkyGrabber because the video feeds coming up the predator drones are not encrypted. 

You need a password to buy toe socks on, but military surveillance footage?  Not encrypted.  The story was first reported today in the “Wall Street Journal.”  But it turns out the U.S. military has known that its surveillance footage was vulnerable to hackers as long ago as the Bosnian war back in the ‘90s. 

But according to “the journal” today, quote, “The Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn‘t know how to exploit it.  The Pentagon appeared to have gotten that one wrong.  “The Journal” reporting today that the U.S.  military apprehended a Shiite militant in Iraq last year and found files full of intercepted drone feeds on his laptop. 

But in July, they found more pirated videos on more laptops and they concluded that they had a problem on their hands.  Our next guest calls this the worst security breach that has become known in years. 

And although the military says it is working on a fix, there‘s apparently going to be a lot more to work on.  The U.S. Air Force reportedly, in the process of buying as many as 375 Reaper drones, a faster, more souped-up version of the Predator.  These come at a cost of about $10 million or $12 million a pop.  And the Reaper?  The new and improved model just coming online now, same vulnerability. 

Joining us now is Noah Shachtman, contributing editor for “Wired Magazine” and editor of “‘s” “Danger Room” blog.  Noah, good to see you here again.  Thanks for coming in. 


MADDOW:  Let me just ask you first if I got the basics of this right.  It‘s really this easy for anybody to, like, see through the eyes of the aircraft? 

SHACHTMAN:  Well, there‘s probably a little bit more to the pointing of the satellite.  There might be a little bit more software involved.  But in some ways, it is actually more - the scenario you‘ve described is more difficult because actually that Direct TV signal where you get all your channels from, well, that signal encrypted.  So it might actually be harder to steal Direct TV than to steal the drone footage. 

MADDOW:  Is the issue encryption?  Because it‘s - the reason it seems hard to believe that it is encryption is because it seems like such an easy thing to fix.  Is there a downside to encryption tactically that makes this harder to fix than it seems? 

SHACHTMAN:  No.  Basically, what was going on was everybody wanted to get more and more drones into the field during the beginning of the Afghanistan War, through the beginning of the Iraq War and as the wars have continued.  So you want to get more and more drone feeds down to the troops on the ground. 

And the way they‘ve done that is with these terminals called rovers.  It is basically beaming that satellite footage down to your laptop.  And in order to crank these things out quick, they decided not to encrypt them because they were using a lot of commercial software.  And they just decided to go with the quick and dirty way. 

MADDOW:  Well, can encryption be put on this as an after-market effect at this point? 

SHACHTMAN:  Can you load on some new encrypted transmitters.  And I think those new Reapers will probably come with encrypted transmitters.  But the thing is, until all the receivers are encrypted, too, and there‘s thousands and thousands of them, it won‘t work out.  So it may take years to fix this problem. 

MADDOW:  So wait - so the locking it up is easier than unlocking it?  Or at least there are more transceivers than there are transponders.  And so, it‘s going to be harder to make sure that people can read encrypted transmissions, which, of course, is the critical thing for the troops in the field.  That‘s the problem can that you can change the technology on one side easier than you can on the other? 

SHACHTMAN:  Correct. 

MADDOW:  Doesn‘t this seem like the sort of thing that could be solved with some sort of DARPA trick involving Twitter and balloons and $10,000? 

SHACHTMAN:  You would think. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

SHACHTMAN:  You would think.  I mean the really kind of ridiculous part is like for me to go to Creech Air Force Base where they fly these drones out of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Nevada.  I had to sign all these waivers.  I had to get a secret security clearance for a couple days. 

I had to go through big thick doors with big thick guards, you know, into rooms with their flashing lights saying, “Oh, scary civilian here.”  And I couldn‘t take pictures of the footage or anything like that. 

But then -

MADDOW:  You could have sat in your car in the parking lot with the rabbit ears and in 1995 Mac and watched what they were doing? 

SHACHTMAN:  That‘s right.  It‘s kind of like they bolted shut the front door but left the back door wide open. 

MADDOW:  I know that you did some follow up reporting on this today.  You think this problem applies to more than just drones?  This is all surveillance that we‘re doing with aircraft? 

SHACHTMAN:  Yes.  In fact, drones are just kind of the tip of the iceberg.  The hundreds of planes that are flying near regular manned aircraft that are flying over Iraq and Afghanistan every day - pretty much all of them appear to have the same problem, too, because those rover receivers are unencrypted.  So if you want to send down to them, you‘ve got to be unencrypted, too. 

MADDOW:  How big of a technological leap are we talking about?  It‘s one thing to be able to see what the military and the CIA can see.  How big of a leap would it be before hackers could jam those video feeds or swap in false feeds of things that are not really happening but look like that?  Or even control the drone or crash the drone? 

SHACHTMAN:  Swapping and false feeds - that‘s a pretty serious technical leap.  And controlling the drone - that is like three or four leaps more because those signals actually go in a very particular direction, whereas a lot of feeds go in every direction. 

MADDOW:  In every direction - I see.

SHACHTMAN:  That‘s why you can pick it up. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Thank you.  Noah Shachtman, editor of “‘s” “Danger Room” blog and somebody who apparently makes me smarter every time I talk to him.  It‘s a real pleasure, Noah.  Thanks. 

SHACHTMAN:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  For weeks now, Oklahoma Senator James Mountain Inhofe has announced to one and all that he would be traveling to Copenhagen to the climate change summit and he‘d be traveling with there with a truth squad.  Then, he would give the assembled egg heads a big piece of his global warming-denying mind. 

It turns out Sen. Inhofe talks like a mountain but acts like a molehill.  Details of his not really all that big trip, next. 


MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN”, Keith is joined by one of the senators who now says he may vote against the health reform bill, Bernie Sanders.  And still ahead on this show, what a country does when its massive supply of valuable bird poop runs out.  That‘s our first ever moment of geopolitical geek.  Plus, Christmas, health reform and Chuck Norris.  A recipe for success.  That‘s all coming up. 

But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. 

President Obama is on Air Force One right now on his way to Copenhagen.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 20 other members of Congress arrived there earlier today.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the global warming conference there yesterday, pledging a bunch of money to save the rain forests and help developing countries be part of the whole world effort to stop boiling the earth. 

But with all these Americans heading to this big summit, it was the promise - or maybe the threat of Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe‘s trip to Copenhagen that promised the most excitement. 

Sen. Inhofe said months ago that he intended to lead a truth squad to Copenhagen to try to undermine negotiations by the president of the United States to try to fix the problem of global warming, a problem which Sen. Inhofe and his truth squad denies the existence of. 


BILL BENNETT, HOST, “THE BILL BENNETT SHOW”:  And John Barrasso‘s going with you, right?  John Barrasso? 

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-OK):  Yes.  Barrasso and there‘s another secret person going with me.  We‘re going to have a team of three, a truth squad of three. 

MADDOW:  So you‘ve got Sen. Inhofe, Sen. Barrasso of Wyoming and the secret person who was later revealed to be Mississippi Republican anonymous Sen. Roger Wicker, the James Inhofe truth squad. 

They were like the mod squad of Peggy Lipton about the justice system was the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.  But when Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton and all the bigwigs arrived in Denmark, the Inhofe truth squad was nowhere to be found. 

We confirmed with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that truth squad, denialist, congressional delegation with Senators Barrasso and Wicker - that has ended up getting canceled.  And Sen. Inhofe apparently traveled there with just one single staffer.  She‘s not really much of a squad. 

Once in Copenhagen, Sen. Inhofe did not have any meetings, nor did he lead any fact-finding missions.  But he did have one super-fun press conference in the three total hours he spent on the ground before turning around and going home again. 

Sen. Inhofe‘s truth squad may have been a bit of a bust.  But at least he doesn‘t have the additional stress of worrying about the carbon footprint of his 18 hours of flying time to go make his lonely little one staffer no truth squad, no meetings point. 

Next up, Congressman Jim Traficant, Democrat from Ohio became former Congressman Jim Traficant when he and his famous hair were expelled from Congress and he was convicted of bribery, racketeering, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. 

That was back in 2002.  James Traficant went to prison.  He was released this past September.  And if you expected him to lay low, now is the time when I remind you about that hair.  This is the hair of a man who is only the second person to be expelled from Congress since the Civil War. 

Does this look like a man - does this look like the hair of a man who is going to retire into ex-con obscurity?  Exactly.  OK?  All right.  Today Congressman Traficant held a pep rally/press conference/fundraiser in Youngstown, Ohio.  1,200 people showed up paying $20 a pop to see the man, the myth, the legend. 

Mr. Traficant at his press conference announced that he is circulating nominating positions in three House districts because he wants and intends to run for Congress again.  He‘s also not ruling out the possibility, he says, of running for president. 

To raise funds, the former Ohio congressman is auctioning off three oil paintings he did in jail.  The paintings are of a horse, of Betty Boop, and naturally of Elvis.  Naturally. 

Finally, if all you want for Christmas and Hanukkah is a stunningly well-produced E-card, we have found one for you, thanks to the folks at “Rebel Virals,” a marketing team that‘s based in Bristol, England.  This is pretty great, but it comes with a warning. 

If you think you might be uncomfortable seeing Santa Claus having his constitutional rights violated, now might be a good time to go mix up a quick cocktail. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re interrogating him now. 

KIEFER SUTHERLAND, ACTOR:  I have the power to give you from the president of the United States that grants you immunity from past and present crimes.  What you are doing in this country? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Delivering packages. 

SUTHERLAND:  How long you have been planning this operation? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How long?  It takes all year. 

SUTHERLAND:  All this planning for one day? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s my job.  It‘s what I do.  Look, I know how it looks.  The beard, the packages, flying without a passport.  But I‘m Santa. 

SUTHERLAND:  Yes.  Prove it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The red suit, jingly bells, my radio on your roof. 

SUTHERLAND:  Give me the names.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen -

SUTHERLAND:  Stop wasting my time!  Give me the names!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have the real names. 

SUTHERLAND:  I‘m tired of you, you understand me?  What I‘m going to do is take out your right eye and then, I‘ll take out your left.  And then I‘ll cut you.  I‘m going to keep cutting you until I get the information I need.  You understand me? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Think about what you‘re doing, Jack.  No presents for you this year. 

SUTHERLAND:  I don‘t believe you.  You don‘t understand anything about me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are on the naughty list now, Jack.  The naughty list. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh and, Jack?  Merry Christmas. 


MADDOW:  “”  Santa Claus will reportedly be transferred to Thomson Correctional Center in Northwest Illinois by next summer or early fall.  Santa is no longer considered a flight risk now that his reindeer have been disappeared and his elves have been put under 24-hour surveillance by a series of CIA-controlled Reaper drones. 

Pakistan is thinking about letting them hide in Baluchistan now. 

We‘ll keep you posted.


MADDOW:  For South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, this week‘s news may be as good as it‘s going to get for a while.  The South Carolina House Committee found yesterday that Gov. Sanford had not committed serious misconduct in June when he ran off to Argentina to visit his mistress, leaving his wife, his aides, and his entire state and us to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

Instead of impeaching Sanford on any of 37 possible ethics charges, the House Committee voted to censure him saying the governor had brought, quote, “Ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame on the governor‘s office and the state of South Carolina.” 

And that‘s a sign of when things have truly gone pear-shaped in your life, when that is a good news day for you in politics. 


MADDOW:  Tonight, our first ever moment of geopolitical geek.  It‘s about poop.  And I would not just use that word “poop” metaphorically in a story like this.  I mean it literally.  Here‘s how this goes. 

Do you remember when Russia and Georgia had that war last year and John McCain said, “We‘re all Georgians now,” and there was a little worry that maybe John McCain was declaring a U.S. war on Russia because, like, “Hey, why not?”  And then John McCain lost the election? 

So Russia and Georgia don‘t get along.  They had that war.  As part of Russia‘s ongoing effort to constantly stick it to Georgia whenever they can, Russia wants two places called Abkhazia and South Ossetia to become independent countries. 

Russia‘s kind of sponsoring their independence in trying to get other countries to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as nations.  Now, Russia is not having very much luck with this little project.  Before this week, only three countries, including Russia, had gone along with these little places or countries thing. 

But then, all of a sudden, on Tuesday, a fourth nation recognized Abkhazia.  It‘s a nation called Nauru.  Nauru is literally the smallest republic on earth.  It is eight square miles.  It‘s a third the size of Manhattan. 

Why would a teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny island nation in the south pacific care about the nationhood of Abkhazia on the other side the world?  Money.  A need for money related to the aforementioned poop. 

In terms of its per capita GDP, Nauru used to be the second wealthiest in the world.  It made billions of dollars by mining the island‘s one resource, phosphate.  Where did the phosphate come from?  Fossilized bird poop.  But by the end of the last century, the bird poop was all but exhausted. 

It had been mined and processed.  And even though birds are happy to make poop all the time, fresh is not the same.  It has to be fossilized.  Now, the proceeds Nauru accumulated in its years when bird poop mining was good for them did not last, thanks to a combination of bad investments and bad luck. 

Nauru lost $30 million in a prime bank note scam.  They lost another $60 million to embezzlement from one of the country‘s financial advisers.  Millions more lost in failed property ventures. 

Then, Nauru got the brilliant idea to get rich again by investing the nation‘s remaining pennies in a London musical based on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci.  It was called “Leonardo: A Portrait of Love.”  It flopped.  Nauru lost another precious $3.5 million on that. 

So now, low on luck, low on fossilized poop, desperately low on funds, Nauru turned to other sources of income.  Nauru served as a money-laundering site for Russian mobsters in the late 1990s.  Nauru hosted a bunch of fake banks as an offshore tax haven. 

Nauru housed asylum seekers from Australia in return for economic aid.  Nauru even severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan because China said they‘d pay them $130 million if they did that.  And now, new scam.  Nauru on Tuesday established diplomatic ties with Abkhazia, as if Abkhazia is a country.  It‘s reportedly in return for $50 million from Russia. 

But that‘s not all.  On Wednesday, Nauru added a second one, becoming only the fourth country in the world to recognize that other place that Russia wanted recognized, South Ossetia.  How much did recognizing that second country cost Russia?  Nothing. 

Nauru still only gets $50 million, which means, I think, that Nauru charged Russia $50 million to recognize Abkhazia and then they charged them nothing for also recognizing South Ossetia.  Two for the price of one, which means they did not drive a particularly hard bargain. 

No wonder their economy is in such a bad shape.  But, you know, when it comes down to it, who are we to judge really?  Foreign policy for profit.  I mean it sounds bad.  But apparently, it is nothing compared to the terrible economic consequences of running out of poop.


MADDOW:  We turn now to our forced vengeance correspondent, Kent Jones.  It‘s very intimidating. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  You know, there‘s one conservative voice we really haven‘t heard from in all the health reform debate.  And frankly, I‘m a little scared if we don‘t hear from him.  So here we go. 

MADDOW:  All right. 


JONES (voice-over):  Just when thought health reform hyperbole stakes couldn‘t get any higher, lone wolf McQuaid steps into the fray.  Conservative enforcer Chuck Norris gave Obama‘s health reform plan a muscular smackdown on “” 

Note the timely holiday theme.  Quote, “As we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder, what would have happened if Mother Mary had been covered by Obama-care?  What if that young, poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds via Obama-care and facilities via Planned Parenthood, et cetera, to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy?” 

“Imagine all the great souls who could have been erased from history and the influence of mankind if their parents had been as progressive as Washington‘s wise men and women.  Will Obama-care morph into Herod-care for the unborn?” 

Herod-care?  Oh, right.  That‘s brought down the socialist Roman Empire.  Apparently, that plan wasn‘t blocked by Sen. Josephus Liebermanus.  And as long as we play what if, let‘s say Herod-care had a strong public option.  Mother Mary might have had the baby Jesus in a hospital instead of a barn.  Nonetheless, God rest you, merry gentlemen. 


MADDOW:  I look at the whole crux - the whole crux of his argument rests on the idea if only we still had stoning for abortion. 

JONES:  Yes, that, too.  Herod-care, run away. 

MADDOW:  It‘s beautiful.  If we didn‘t have them, we‘d make it up. 

Thank you, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Thank you for watching.  That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow.  You can E-mail us,  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts now.



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