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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, December 21st, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: John Stanton, Ezra Klein, Thomas Friedman, Aram Roston

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Here it is, the Monday before Christmas and it appears that there will simply never be a slow news day again.  I thought today would be so mellow.  Yes, not so much.

The health reform fight has gone beyond dramatic, senators moving from standard parliamentary procedures to at least appearing to pray for another senator to die—or at least praying that he become incapacitated.

In the interview tonight, we‘ll be joined by Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner from “The New York Times.”  And we have a big follow-up on a report from Friday night on Senator John McCain.  It‘s a follow-up we are only able to do because I think the American heroes who work at C-SPAN must work all weekend, even through giant snowstorms.  By working all weekend through a giant snowstorm, they have brought us lost and now found footage of John McCain doing something he says he never did.

That is all ahead this hour.


But we begin tonight with the United States Senate as the most dysfunctional game of baseball ever played.  In baseball, you‘ve got your home team and away team, right?

And right now, in the Senate, the Democrats are the home team.  They‘ve got 60 seats.  They‘re the majority party in the Senate.  The Senate floor is sort of their home field if you will.

That, of course, makes the Republicans the away team.

And the way that it works in baseball is that when you are heading into the last inning, if the home team is winning, the away team gets one more crack at it, right?  One more chance to make up the deficit and try to win the game.

If they can‘t do it in their last at bat?  Sorry.  Game over. 

Everybody hit the showers.

Well, for Republicans, the past week has been their final at bat on health reform, their last chance to kill health reform and thereby win this big political game.  Their only way to win is to prevent 60 Democrats from uniting to beat the Republican filibuster, preventing 60 Democrats from uniting to move forward with a vote.  That‘s the only way they can win.

So, this past week was that sort of the top of the ninth inning, the Republicans‘ last at bat, their last hope.  Three outs to stop health reform.

Out one came on Wednesday when Joe Lieberman signaled that he was not going to join their filibuster.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  I‘m getting toward that position where I can say what I wanted to say all along, that I‘m ready to vote for health care reform.


MADDOW:  Out two came on Saturday when Democrat Ben Nelson announced that he wasn‘t going to join the filibuster either.


SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA:  The change is what‘s necessary in America today and that‘s why I intend to vote for cloture and vote for health care reform.


MADDOW:  So, that‘s two outs, top of the ninth.  Republicans losing but they‘ve got one swing left.  And up to the plate steps Republican Senator Tom Coburn, unable to score by getting Nelson or Lieberman on their side, last night, Tom Coburn swung for the fences.


SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can‘t make the vote tonight.  That‘s what they ought to pray.


MADDOW:  I‘m not naming any names but one of these Democrats is really old, really sick.  He‘s been in and out of the hospital.  It‘s really late at night.  It sure would be a shame if he couldn‘t make it.

And with that creepy, creepy at bat, Tom Coburn and the Republicans struck out.  Ailing 92-year-old Democratic Senator Robert Byrd did, in fact, make it to the vote last night.  Republicans forced him to come to the Senate chamber to vote.

Republicans did not come from behind to win.  They failed in their last at bat in the top of the ninth.

Now, usually, at this point in a baseball game, you don‘t bother playing the bottom half of the ninth inning.  The home team is already winning.  There‘s no point.

The only thing that could possibly be achieved by playing the bottom half of the ninth inning is that the winning team might run up the score even further, or I guess somebody could get injured.

There was no doubt about the outcome of this game.  For all of its policy flaws, for all of the unseemly, legislative horse-trading that‘s gone into making it happen, health reform is going to pass the Senate.  It is a done deal.  Democrats have their 60 votes.  It is a done deal.  It‘s done, done, done, done, done.

And yet, in this most dysfunctional game of baseball ever played, Republicans are demanding that the bottom of the ninth inning be played anyway.  The Senate could hold a final vote on health reform right now.  At the drop of a hat, it would pass, 60-40.

But the Senate is not doing that because Republicans are keeping on, keeping on with all of the delay tactics they can muster, even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion.  They know what the outcome is going to be.  They‘re using arcane Senate rules to stretch this thing out until at the very earliest 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  They are playing a game they have no chance to win.

Should they continue to do that when everyone knows what the outcome is going to be?  Should have, could have, would have—who am I to say?  But the fact is, they are.

During a closed door luncheon today, Senate Republicans reportedly considered throwing in the towel, but they ultimately decided against it.

Republican Senator John Cornyn telling the Web site, Talking Points Memo, quote, “We‘re fighting ‘til the bitter end, ‘til hell freezes over and we‘re skating on the ice.”

What‘s going on right now in the Senate—the reason today was the 22nd consecutive day the Senate has been in session—is not because anything is going to change about the policy anymore.  It‘s not because Republicans have a chance to defeat the bill in the Senate.  This is purely because Republicans believe it is good politics for them to be seen doing this thing that has no point.  They think it makes them look good and they think it must make Democrats look bad.

Unfortunately for Republicans, in pursuit of that, they have done stuff like delaying a vote on funding U.S. troops.  Democrats are now running a national TV ad hammering that decision today.  The delay tactics have also led to 92-year-old Robert Byrd getting wheeled into the Senate chamber at 1:00 a.m., on two separate occasions, even as Tom Coburn appeared to pray that Senator Byrd wouldn‘t be able to make it.

This fight for health reform in the Senate is over.  Democrats won.  And rather than admitting certain defeat, Republicans are forcing the full ninth inning to be played.

If they can‘t score any more runs I guess they‘re just hoping to bean a few batters or something.  Hoping that someone sprains an ankle running around the bases?  Anybody?

Joining us now is John Stanton.  He‘s been covering every angle of the health care reform fight for “Roll Call” newspaper.

John, your reporting has been invaluable to us here on covering this from New York.  Thanks very much for joining us to help us understand what‘s going on here.


MADDOW:  I know there was a meeting today among Senate Republicans where they discussed maybe throwing in the towel on this delay strategy.  Can you tell us anything about what happened at that meeting?

STANTON:  Well, apparently, the luncheon was actually just called to get them together to talk about what they were going to do next over the next couple weeks, and my understanding from some folks that were at the meeting was that several members have been feeling a lot of pressure to go home.  They have families at home.  Some have missed a lot of fundraisers because they‘ve been in for, as you said, 22 straight days and they do a lot of their fundraising on the weekends.  And when they didn‘t get to go home, that‘s a lot of money they‘re not getting for re-election campaigns.

And so, folks are pretty itchy to get home and some of them took those concerns to their leader, Senator Mitch McConnell.  Senator McConnell and the other leadership sort of teamed or rallied their troops so to speak and said, “Look, you know, we sort of committed ourselves to this thing.  We can‘t really back out of it now,” and got everybody back onboard on staying in until Christmas Eve.

MADDOW:  Given that the delaying in practical terms is sort of pointless, there does seem to be a foregone conclusion here, do you think they‘re going to be able to hang together on this all the way through Christmas Eve?  Are there possibilities for defections?

STANTON:  You know, it‘s interesting.  This is the first time I‘ve ever seen it like this.  I‘ve been doing this for more than 10 years and I‘ve never seen it quite like this.  With the two parties as at each other but also united internally.

You know, normally, you get to a Saturday vote and members are pretty quick to back out of whatever it is they‘re doing to force a Saturday vote.  We‘ve now had, you know, several 1:00 in the morning votes.  They‘ve been in session with people speaking on the floor until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning on a regular basis.

So, I tend to believe that they‘re going to actually force this all the way through.

MADDOW:  What‘s been the effect on the Democrats here?  You described both parties as being sort of internally unified, but the Republicans are going scorched earth, it seems from the outside like it has unified the Democrats in ways that other things have not.

STANTON:  It really has.  You know, there was a meeting last week at the White House where all of the Senate Democrats went over to speak with President Obama about the health care issue.  And, you know, they‘ve been pretty divided on it.

And Senator Evan Bayh, who is not known for his fiery oratory, he‘s sort of a moderate senator, gave a speech apparently at this closed door meeting where he said, “Listen, we have to come up with a deal.  If we don‘t the only people that are going to win are the Republicans.  And, you know, I don‘t want to see this.  I don‘t want to see the Republicans win because we can‘t figure out a way to make this work.”

And, you know, coming out of that meeting a lot of—a lot of the Democrats sort of felt like that sort of summed it up for everybody and brought it home for the entire conference.  And so, then you saw Senator Feingold decide to vote for cloture on the defense bill despite the fact he is very much an anti-war senator and Senator Nelson‘s deal came together very shortly after.  So, I do think it has unified them.

MADDOW:  I think, particularly coming from Evan Bayh who‘s been very comfortable to work with Republicans on lots of things.

STANTON:  Yes.  And he was also one of the guys that sort of initially hesitant to get in on the deal on the health care bill, too.  So.

MADDOW:  Republicans did shock a lot of people with their decision to filibuster that military funding bill last Thursday night.

Do you know if that was a controversial decision among Republicans? 

Was there dissension within the Republican Caucus?

STANTON:  There was a lot of dissension, particularly for Senator Thad Cochran from Mississippi.  He‘s the ranking member of the appropriations committee.  He and Senator Danny Inouye, who is a chairman, have a gentleman‘s agreement basically that they don‘t vote against appropriations bills.

Also getting an appropriator to vote against appropriations bills is difficult generally speaking but, you know, Senator McConnell and his team sort of put the screws a little bit, it sounds like on Senator Cochran and he ultimately decided to vote with Republicans which is what made Senator Feingold have to end up voting for cloture.

Some of the other Republicans at first were a little hesitant about it, but in the end, you know, they feel like they‘re sort of known for being the national security party and feel like they can take any kind of a hit that they may get from it.

MADDOW:  I guess we shall see.  John Stanton, reporter for “Roll Call” newspaper—thanks for your time.  Look forward to having you back on the show.  It‘s nice to have you here.


MADDOW:  The long struggle to get 60 votes in the Senate wound up with a few super-expensive, straight-up payoffs: hundred million dollar arrangements with conservadems to buy their individual votes.  Whatever passes this body, the Senate has, through this process, proven conclusively that as an institution, it is busted, broken.  There is something deeply wrong that wasn‘t wrong before.  We‘ll talk about fixing it next with everyone‘s favorite child wonk, Ezra Klein.

And later on the interview tonight, we‘ll be talking with “New York Times” columnist Thomas Friedman.

But, first, “One More Thing” about health reform: some progressive activists are still firing away at the Senate version of the bill, saying it would be better to kill it and start over than pass something so flawed.  The kill the bill caucus‘s liberal wing now includes Markos Moulitsas of  He still says the bill doesn‘t yet even qualify as reform.  It also includes our frequent guest, Jane Hamsher of the  Jane has a petition out now to kill the Senate bill calling it, quote, “an ungodly mess of errors, loopholes, and massive giveaways.”

That said, Howard Dean, the former Democratic Party chairman, who had been saying the Senate should kill the bill, he now says the Senate should pass it, so it can potentially be improved in the conference committee—which is where they combine the Senate and the House bills and try to come up with some sort of compromise between them.  Even still, Dr. Dean says he still doesn‘t like this thing—which is damnation through the faintest phrase in health reform‘s modern history.


MADDOW:  Tonight on the interview, I get to pick the brain of a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner about the Copenhagen climate summit, plus Afghanistan, plus Iraq, plus health care reform, plus the economy, for however long he‘ll stay.  “New York Times” columnist Thomas Friedman joins us—ahead.


MADDOW:  The state of Nebraska—and only the state of Nebraska—gets a pass on paying anything at all for a nationwide expansion of Medicaid.  Senate health reform bill would make more people eligible for Medicaid, and under the bill, every other state in the country will help pay for its own new Medicaid patients.  But not Nebraska, Nebraska is special.  Nebraska‘s new Medicaid patients will be paid for 100 percent by the federal government.

Why are Nebraska‘s Medicaid patients so special?  Because the majority does not rule in the United States Senate, because a 60-vote super-majority is now required to pass anything in the United States Senate, and, of course, more specifically, because Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson is so conservative that he represents the 60th of those 60 votes that Democrats needed to pass reform—which makes all Nebraskans very special.

Incidentally, there are a lot of free Medicaid for Nebraska-type stories buried inside the Senate bill, a lot of which are not particularly infuriating on policy grounds, more curious than infuriating.  But all of them indicate a whack process in the Senate—thanks to Montana Senator Max Baucus, for example, residents of one small town, Libby, Montana, who have health problems caused by asbestos exposure from a now-closed mineral mine there, those people will be eligible for Medicare coverage and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, he won more than $10 billion for community health centers across the country, including at least two in his home state.

When you absolutely need every single vote in your 60-member caucus, you have to start meeting every single individual senator‘s demands, at least the senators who choose to make them.  This system, this idea that the Senate can‘t pass any legislation without 60 votes allows the minority to exploit a Senate rule in order to thwart the will of the majority, majorly.  It also makes individual senators remarkably powerful if they choose to be obstructionist in their own right.

The filibuster is not in the Constitution.  It is a rule imposed on the Senate by the Senate, and its use has increased dramatically in recent years.

Here is a chart that we‘ve use before on the show, to illustrate the growing use/abuse of the filibuster.  It shows how many times the Senate voted on ending a filibuster in each session over the course of my lifetime, starting in 1973, just to pick an arbitrary date, when it happened 31 times.

You‘re looking at the huge spike at the end of the graph, that‘s the 110th Congress.  That‘s the first term after the Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006.  Suddenly, the filibuster is on the table 112 times.

Here‘s another way to look at it.  In his “New York Times” column today, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman points to research which puts the filibuster into percentages.  In the ‘60s, only about 8 percent of major legislation was affected by the filibuster or the threat to filibuster.  By the 1980s, it was 27 percent.  By 2007, 70 percent of all major legislation faced a filibuster threat.  That‘s a quantitative change so big it‘s a qualitative change.

In other words, the 60-vote threshold might as well be an official Senate rule now, and that has, of course, policy implications that make no sense for the country at all.

Joining us now is “The Washington Post‘s” Ezra Klein.

Ezra, thanks very much for coming on the show.  Appreciate it.


MADDOW:  Senate Democrats just operate under the assumption that they will need 60 votes for everything now.  Do they have a choice?

KLEIN:  Not really.  I mean, you could have gone through reconciliation which was the other option here, but that means you can‘t do anything the way you normally would do it.  It‘s an arcane process, completely hemmed in by rules.  You couldn‘t have insurance market regulations, on and on.  They do think they need 60 votes to pass any legislation normally.

And, as you pointed out in the intro of the segment here, that‘s a very new fact in the history of the Senate, that they didn‘t used to be like that.  When Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare, you know, they wrote a memo internally in his administration that just said, you get 55 votes, you‘re done.  Nobody would write that memo in the Obama administration.

MADDOW:  Well, how did we get to this point?  Obviously, a decision was made to start using the filibuster in—as I said—a qualitatively different way.  It was initially—almost by definition—something that was very rarely used, something that defined an extreme circumstance in the Senate.  But there was this very clear pivot point after the 2006 midterms for the 110th Congress that it was going to be used all of the time.

Do we know anything about that decision?

KLEIN:  A bit.  It‘s a mixture of rule changes and strategy changes.  It begins with Mike Mansfield, sort of a legendary old Senate leader who created something called “dual tracking,” wherein it used to be that if you filibustered, everything came to a stop.  It was like stopping a car in a one lane highway.

Dual tracking made it so you could filibuster something, they would do that a little bit, they‘d come back, check in tomorrow if they‘re still filibustering, if they were, they‘d come back the day after that.  So, the cost of filibustering got a lot lower.  As that happened, people didn‘t really filibuster that much more.  Still by custom, it wasn‘t done much.

Then you have Gingrich and Bob Dole in the ‘90s who realize you can overturn essentially the Democratic majority by making them into a failure by, you know, the American people don‘t reward you if you don‘t get anything done.

And then, after—you know, in the late sort of oaths (ph), you begin to have this situation in which it just is constant and part of that story is just wild polarization of the country, right?  I mean, you look at Glenn Beck, you look at what‘s going on out there, there is no political upside to cooperating.

And, you know, I think what political scientists say on this now is that you can have a system, right, in which the minority party has either the incentive to see the majority fail, or it has the power to make them fail.  But you really can‘t run a country if they have both.


Well, this has been a subject of frustration to people in both parties at different times and at different, more or less, convenient intervals.  I know the “gang of 14” idea came up when Republicans felt like Democrats in the minority in the Senate were filibustering too many judicial nominees.  The way they hammered out a deal on essentially making Democrats approve all Bush judicial nominees, almost all of them, was by threatening to get rid of the filibuster all together.

How hard is it to get rid of the filibuster?  I feel like I‘ve read a lot of different analysis about how many votes it would take and what process you‘d need to kill it if you wanted to.

KLEIN:  People disagree on this.  Well, what they do agree on is that if you tried to get rid of the filibuster, what the minority would do is essentially bring the Senate to a halt.

The Senate doesn‘t just run on the filibuster.  It also runs on what‘s called unanimous consent, where everybody has to agree to do things.  Everybody has to agree.  That‘s how, you know, folks held up health care reform action in the beginning of the debate this time around.

So, Republicans could really stop the chamber as the Democrats threatened to do in 2005 when Bill Frist read into remove the filibuster.

What you‘d basically, I think, need to have is Congress will need to remember that it is supposed to be an independent branch of government that is supposed to act on major, going concerns.  And so, you‘d have the two parties get together and decide, “We don‘t want it to be the case that when we‘re in the majority, we can‘t do any of the things we promised the American people we‘d do.”

And so, six years from today, when we don‘t know who will be in power the filibuster phases out.  But for that to happen, you need Congress to begin acting like a branch of government and not just an attachment or an accessory of the president—which hasn‘t been the case for sometime now.

MADDOW:  Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post”—great to have your analysis.  Thanks for joining us.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  President Obama called the climate change accord that was just reached in Copenhagen an unprecedented breakthrough.  On the interview, which is coming up next, we‘ll get a second opinion on that subject from someone who just got back from Copenhagen.  He is “New York Times” columnist Thomas Friedman.  That‘s next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Our guest for the interview tonight is three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The New York Times,” Thomas Friedman.  He has just returned from the climate change conference in Copenhagen.  His book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” has just been updated and revised to discuss the financial meltdown of 2008 and it‘s now available in paperback.

Mr. Friedman, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES:  Great to be with you, Rachel. 

Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  So, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” is about the potential for a green, economic revolution.  I would love to hear your observations on what just happened in Copenhagen in terms of its potential impact on the U.S.  economy.

FRIEDMAN:  Well, you know, I heard in the lead-up that President Obama called it an unprecedented breakthrough.  I think it was more of an unprecedented breakdown.  And that‘s sad in a way, Rachel.  This process goes back 17 years—this kind of U.N. process to try to get every country working simultaneously, each in its own way, to reduce their carbon emissions.

And you just felt there in Copenhagen that there were too many moving parts, too many countries, too little trust, particularly with the two countries, Rachel, at the core, the United States and China.  Each worried that if they cut a little more, they‘ll give economic advantage to the other.

And so, what I basically have been arguing is that I think we have to come home, focus on our own energy bill, make it the best bill we can, get a price on carbon either through cap-and-trade or carbon tax, whatever can get through the Senate, and let‘s launch our own green revolution because honestly I believe, Rachel, more people will emulate us if we do the right thing and really lead on this issue.  More people will actually emulate us than we‘ll do so under the compulsion of a treaty.

MADDOW:  Your narrative on global warming is mostly that if we put a domestic price on pollution, if we—as you say—really get our own energy bill right, the resulting market forces will force us to get really green really fast.  You think that could be a huge economic boon to the U.S.  But on the other side, the ones who aren‘t just arguing that global warming is a Hollywood liberal hoax, are saying that a price on carbon would be economically devastating.

What do you think about those arguments?

FRIEDMAN:  Well, you know, it‘s an important question and the—I‘m actually writing my column for Wednesday about this.  So, if you don‘t tell anybody, I‘m going to share it with you.

MADDOW:  Whisper.  Yes.

FRIEDMAN:  So, the best example of that is actually Denmark.  So, back in 1973, when the Arabs imposed their first oil embargo, two countries are really hit most, the United States and Denmark, because it had a very pro-Israeli policy.

And Denmark at the time was 99 percent dependent on Middle East oil.  Today, they‘re zero dependent on Middle East oil, partly because they discovered some oil and gas, but basically, what they did was—they imposed a whole range of energy taxes, CO2 taxes, carbon taxes.  What was the result?  Well, now, you know, more than 30 years later, Denmark has the highest energy efficiency in Europe.  They have reduced their carbon emissions.

But, most importantly, Rachel, they have launched a clean tech industry, one of every three wind turbines in the world today are made by Vestas, a Danish company.  The two leading bio-fuel companies, Novozymes and Danisco, Danish companies.

This year I believe 11 percent of Denmark‘s exports will be from clean tech companies.  But the way they did it was that they put this taxes on and they did it in a revenue neutral way.  And then, they rebated them in different ways to incentives to companies and to consumers so the companies would make the products, the consumers would buy them, and they would start to get scale to make an export industry.  

MADDOW:  So you think it could - you think that a major adjustment could be made toward recreating a manufacturing sector, all of the other things that would need to happen in the United States in order to do this. 

You think it could happen without a shock, essentially.  We could do this without having to pay a cost that didn‘t - that only reaped dividends later? 

FRIEDMAN:  Absolutely.  I think, obviously, you‘d phase it in.  There are smart ways to do this especially if you make it revenue neutral.  I think it would be palatable to a wider range of people. 

You know, Rachel, whenever I get into a kind of climate and global warming debate, you know, I always hold up my book and it says, “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” and say, “Oh, you don‘t believe in hot?”  No problem.  Got an eraser?  Let‘s erase hot, OK?” 

Just in what I call a flat and crowded world, that‘s a world where more people can see how we live, aspire to how we live and actually have our jobs now and a world that is going population-wise from 6.7 billion today to 9.2 billion projected by the year 2050. 

Just in that world, there‘s going to be so many Americans, so many people consuming like us, eating like us, driving like us.  Clean tech, you know, energy efficiency has got to be the next great global industry. 

And the country that owns clean tech is going to have the most energy security, environmental security, innovative companies and, I think, global respect.  And that country has to be us. 

MADDOW:  At the end of 2009, now, looking back not just at the year but at the decade, a lot of international observers are saying that this decade was pretty grim for America and not just because of 9/11 because a lot more reasons. 


MADDOW:  But pretty good for countries like China, India, Brazil - those were the countries incidentally that snuck around in Copenhagen and met behind President Obama‘s back. 

In thinking about not only the challenge of leadership in the new economy and in the new world that recognizes the imperative of the global warming gives us but thinking about our leadership role in the world, what do you make of the fact that these major countries are colluding against us secretly on an issue like global warming? 

FRIEDMAN:  Well, you know, you know, it‘s scary but it‘s a sign of the times, Rachel.  You know, so I was staying at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Copenhagen which is near the conference center. 

They had a monorail running back and forth all day.  If you wanted to go into Copenhagen, it came every 10 minutes.  My cell phone - I could call home, call my office, call my wife, anytime, anywhere from Copenhagen. 

I come home.  I landed in Newark Airport.  Rachel, it‘s like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones, you know.  Your cell phone goes out half on the cell from Newark to Washington, D.C.  We need nation building at home now.  And I really think this can be the key to it. 

But you know, to pick up on where you and Ezra left off, one of the real - and this gets to the China question - one of the frustrating things for me right now is that, you know, there‘s only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, what China has, and that‘s one-party democracy. 

And that‘s what we‘ve got in America today.  We‘ve got one party is playing and one isn‘t at all.  And so when you have one-party autocracy, you can order optimal solutions from the top down.  But you have a one-party Democracy, you have to get all 60 votes, as you were talking about, from one party. 

Well, votes one through 50 cost you a lot.  Votes 50 to 59 cost you a fortune.  And wow, vote 60 is called Ben Nelson and that‘s a giveaway to the whole state of Nebraska, you know.  And so, you basically have this in the health bill, you know, that you were talking about.

But Rachel, you also have it in the climate bill, that if there were six, eight Republicans who were ready to join this bill, the giveaways to coal and the legacy industries in this country could really be minimized.  And so we‘re going to get a suboptimal bill. 

How long can we, as a country, thrive when our chief competitor can order from the top down optimal and we can only produce suboptimal? 

MADDOW:  Author, Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist for the “New York Times,” Thomas Friedman.  The book is called “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” released 2.0.  Mr. Friedman‘s first visit for you - to the show - I really appreciate your time.  Thanks for joining us. 

FRIEDMAN:  Thanks for having me.  Anytime, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK.  Attention bronze gods and goddesses.  There is a tax on tanning that is on the way.  And the jaw-dropping story about a guy who is being described now as a straight-up con man who apparently punked the Bush administration into ratcheting up the terror alert level six years ago today. 

These are two stories, in other words, about things inappropriately turning orange.  Both on the way.


MADDOW:  Still ahead, six years ago today, the Bush administration apparently got punked.  The country got the bejesus scared out of it.  And tonight, we know exactly how.  We‘ve got an incredible story. 

And after a blizzard forced airlines to cancel more than 3,000 flights, there are some welcome news for anyone who has ever spent hours stuck on a plane on the ground.  That is all coming up. 

But first a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Anyone unhappy with the removal of the public option from the Senate reform bill?  Anyone unhappy about that but who hasn‘t given up hope that it will one day still become a reality?  You might want to consider hiring a lobbyist who work for cosmetic surgeons because they are really good at getting what they want. 

Before the Senate voted on the reform bill in the wee hours of the morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid made a few changes.  He took out a five percent tax on elective plastic surgery because plastic surgeons complained that the tax discriminated against middle class women.

The Senate then replaced the cosmetic surgery tax with a 10 percent tax on tanning.  The cosmetic surgery tax was given the nickname the Bo-tax.  The new tax will be known as the snooky. 

Finally, some very good news.  We can now show you something that we used to think was lost and gone forever. 


(on camera):  Back in 2002, when the Senate was debating whether to give President Bush authorization to go to war in Iraq, Democratic Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota delivered an impassioned speech against the war, against giving President Bush authorization to use force.  And then something happened toward the end of his next appearance on the Senate floor.  


FMR. SEN. MARK DAYTON (D-MN):  I also am not a legal scholar but I

cited the - in using my - making my comments the opinion of the counsel at

the Library of Congress Research Service which -


MADDOW:  It just - like it just goes to black.  This is the C-Span archives.  That never happens.  It just goes to black. 


The reason we were even looking for that piece of C-Span footage in the first place for Friday‘s show was because Sen. John McCain made a big public show of how outraged he was that Democrats were not letting anyone have any extra time in the Senate to finish their remarks. 

They were doing that in order to keep the Senate on track to pass health reform by Christmas.  Sen. McCain said he had never in all his many years in the Senate ever seen a senator denied just a little bit of extra time to finish his or her remarks.  Never. 


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ):  I‘ve been around here 20-some years.  First time I‘ve ever seen a member denied the - an extra minute or two to finish his remarks.  And I must say that I don‘t know what‘s happening here in this body but I think it‘s wrong.  I‘ve never seen a member denied an extra minute or so as the chair just did. 


MADDOW:  The reason we were looking for that missing C-Span clip is that the transcript from that day indicated it would have shown John McCain personally denying a senator a little extra time back in 2002. 

But as we explained on Friday night, the tape was just lost.  It inexplicably went to black right at that critical moment.  Now, I am so excited to tell you the footage has been found.  It has been restored. 

The American heroes at C-Span apparently saw our segment on Friday or at least heard about it and they contacted our producers today and gave us this statement explaining what happened. 

Quote, “C-Span video library content created prior to 2003 was originally captured on two-hour VHS videotapes which were later digitalized for permanent storage in our archives.  This process is occasionally susceptible to small errors that can occur at top of the hour tape changes.” 

An example of this type of error was discovered in the digital online file from the U.S. Senate floor proceedings of October 10th, 2002, at noon, Eastern.  That was when McCain was doing the thing with that senator.  All right. 

Now get this.  This is amazing.  Quote, “We have re-digitalized and reposted this particular Senate session directly from the analogue tapes.”  Yes!  When we figured out about this glitch, the folks at C-Span went back to the original VHS tapes from 2002.  They re-digitalized and reposted the missing clip, God bless them.

And over the weekend with the big snowstorm, ah.  Without further ado, we may now bring you the precedent established by Sen. John McCain for the very thing John McCain swore was unprecedented. 


DAYTON:  I also am not a legal scholar but I cited the - in using my -

making my comments the opinion of the counsel at the Library of Congress

Research Service which opined and I realize lawyers and others change -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Your time has expired.  

DAYTON:  Can I ask for - I have 30 seconds to complete my - objection is heard. 

MCCAIN:  I object.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Objection is heard.


MADDOW:  I object.  Either Sen. McCain cannot remember that he himself objected to a senator getting an extra 30 seconds to finish his remarks during the Iraq War debate or Sen. McCain knows perfectly well that this stuff happens in the Senate. 

It happens and he just said it was unprecedented out of sheer hack-i-tude.  And I have a case about Sen. McCain.  I‘ve got to say, I love C-Span, really.  I love you guys.  You are perfect in every way.  Never change. 


MADDOW:  A quick follow-up to my discussion with Tom Friedman about the climate change summit in Copenhagen.  The former half-term governor of Alaska and former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, has summarized her analysis of the Copenhagen summit on Twitter. 

She tweeted, quote, “Copenhgen = arrogance of man2think we can change nature‘s ways.  MUST b good stewards of God‘s earth, but arrogant&naive to say man overpwers nature.” 

Then, 13 minutes after that, another epiphany.  Quote, “Earth saw clmate chnge4 ions; will cont 2c chnges.  R duty2responsbly devlop resorces4humankind/not pollute&destroy; but cant alter naturl chng.”

Indeed.  Can‘t alter “natrl chng.”  Just can‘t.  Even if we had many, many ions.


MADDOW:  Six years ago today, December 21st, 2003, the Bush administration‘s Homeland Security Department scared the bejesus out of the entire country. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE NEWS ANCHOR:  America is on high alert tonight.  Just four days before Christmas, the Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced that the government has raised the terror threat level from yellow or elevated to orange, which is high.  


MADDOW:  And to make sure the American people didn‘t miss the message, in case the color orange was insufficiently frightening, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge upped the tension by evoking the specter of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, saying, quote, “Strategic indicators are perhaps now greater than at any point since September 11th, 2001.” 

So what were those strategic indicators that caused the grounding of flights, the presence of police and heavy assault gear on New York City streets, the dispatching of scientists to monitor radiation levels in major cities? 


TOM RIDGE, FORMER UNITED STATES HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  The U.S.  intelligence community has received a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports.  These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond. 


MADDOW:  You know, I know this is - I know how the story ends up.  And I know that was a long time ago, six years ago today.  But even watching this footage now, I feel a little scared watching it. 

Who were these so-called credible sources, though, that brought up this reaction from the government?  It turns out it was one source who, as it turns out, may have been sort of a con man. 

It‘s a man named Dennis Montgomery, chief technology officer of a software company who, according to my next guest‘s reporting, managed to convince the CIA he could detect magic bar-coded messages from al-Qaeda hidden inside broadcast signals from Al-Jazeera. 

Mr. Montgomery reportedly claimed that he alone could not only read those signals but translate them.  And he could translate them into latitudes, longitudes and flight numbers supposedly of the planes and targets that al-Qaeda would use to strike again, all buried inside Al Jazeera‘s transmissions. 

If you think this idea sounds a little far fetched, the CIA didn‘t at first.  But eventually, they got suspicious. 

With the help of French intelligence officials, they reportedly hired another company to check this guy‘s work, essentially to try to re-create what it was he said he that was doing and to find the things he said he was translating.  They discovered that those magic barcodes were never there in the first place. 

Joining us now is a journalist who has pieced together this amazing story.  It‘s published in, of all places, this month‘s “Playboy” magazine.  He‘s Aram Roston.  Aram, thanks very much for being here.  

ARAM ROSTON, JOURNALIST:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  I should also mention that you are also author of “The Man Who Pushed America to War” about Ahmad Chalabi.  I want to qualify my conclusion that this guy seems like a conman because you don‘t report that. 

What you report is that this was a really weird contract for the United States government to have taken on.  What made - what exactly did he convince the CIA that he could do? 

ROSTON:  He, in essence, convinced them he had this magic technology that could predict terrorist attacks.  And there always was an urgent threat he was finding and rushing it to the CIA.  There was an imperative act - that was when he was always convincing the CIA. 

And it was a special group within the CIA that he convinced.  It was a very small number of people that actually knew who he was, and it was a slightly larger group of people who knew what this intelligence even was. 

At first, they didn‘t want to reveal the sort of bizarre source of all this, this idea that it was somehow secretly encoded in Al Jazeera.  Because, in reality, the people who knew the most - they didn‘t believe it. 

They believe - most knew that it couldn‘t work.

MADDOW:  So obviously, this information that he was predicting made it all the way to the top, because we did get that nationwide terror alert six-years ago today. 

But are the people who made the decision to act in such a massive and expensive and fear-inducing way in behalf of the country - did they not know what his methods were?  Because even a basic description of his methods sounds like Harry Potter.  

ROSTON:  Yes.  No, they didn‘t know.  He apparently refused to reveal exactly how he was finding it.  That was proprietary, you know, secret information for him. 

MADDOW:  Which gets to the larger issue about contractors doing basic fundamental government work.  If it is proprietary technology, if it‘s secret so that people can protect the grounds on which they get their contract and make their money, then nobody can check their work, right?  

ROSTON:  Exactly.  I guess the idea of like, if you can keep a secret small enough, can you never actually confirm whether the intelligence is true or false.  And that‘s what happens.  Classification meant nobody ever knew.  You know, nobody knew what the source was and nobody could act to say, “This makes no sense, folks.”  

MADDOW:  Well, the terror alert that was six years ago today - it lasted until the middle of January.  Do we know what made Homeland Security finally decide that there wasn‘t a credible threat anymore? 

ROSTON:  Back then, they finally - first of all, remember, it‘s also classified.  These people technically can‘t talk about it.  Even if they all know it was false intelligence, they‘re still not allowed to talk about it technically because it‘s still technically classified.  But it was finally deemed non-credible by the CIA.  Better - you know, wiser heads prevailed.  

MADDOW:  Now, one of the things that you report, which is sort of the kicker in this entire story is that the same guy and his magical terrorism-predicting software which may or may not exist, has another government contract right now, has been taken on by another part of the U.S.  government.  How did you find that out and what do we know about that contract? 

ROSTON:  It‘s not right now, but it was this year. 


ROSTON:  It was in 2009.  What happened is, first, he goes through financiers.  So he had one financier, Warren Tripp(ph).  And Warren Tripp used to be an associate of Michael Milken, the famous junk bond king. 

Then, he became an associate of this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and his financier.  Then, there was a woman named Edra Blixseth, who was a prominent socialite and investor.  She‘s married to a famous billionaire, Tim Blixseth. 

She became his financier.  The most recent company - it got a contract in 2009 - January 2009, for $3 million from the U.S. Air Force.  And it‘s - there is evidence that the people knew that the Air Force knew that the CIA had deemed this guy not credible.  There is evidence.  

MADDOW:  But the contract is over? 

ROSTON:  It is.  They do get money, though. 

MADDOW:  Wow.  Aram Roston, contributor to “Playboy” magazine, author of “The Man Who Pushed America to War,” has reported on the incredible magic Al Jazeera barcodes scam of the war on terror.  This is fascinating reporting.  Thanks for joining us.  It‘s good to meet you. 

ROSTON:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  I appreciate it.  OK.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Congresswoman Maxine Waters lays out just what might happen with the Senate health care bill when it gets mashed up with the House health care bill. 

Next on this show, starting in the new year, airlines can only keep you waiting on a hot, stuffy, smelly, unsanitary plane on the tarmac for three, long, misery-filled hours.  Good news. 


MADDOW:  We turn now to our tarmac appreciation correspondent, Mr.

Kent Jones.  Hello, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  Well, the great migration is upon us this week.  And today, plane travel got just a teeny, tiny bit largely somewhat less Kafka-esque. 



JONES (voice-over):  Don‘t want to bum you out too much, but remember those jet blue flights that left planes full of passengers sitting on the tarmac for up to 11 hours?  Or when those 47 Continental Express passengers were kept overnight on a plane because airline employees refused to open a gate? 

Or when the more than 1,600 planes from January to June of this year that were delayed on tarmacs for more than three hours with passengers still on-board?  Let me out!  Snakes!

Well, the government is finally doing something about it.  The Department of Transportation announced that airlines will only be allowed to keep passengers on board a plane for three hours before they must be allowed to get off a delayed flight. 

So after three hours of breathing in the suppressed anxiety of

hundreds of strangers - 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ve got to get out of here. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Calm down, get a hold of yourself.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   Please, let me handle this. 

JONES:  And being entertained by the flight staff - 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Before we leave, put away your electronic devices.  Fasten your seatbelt.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Press the button to make the seat back, raise them. 

JONES:  You get to go back in the airport for the cuisine and the literature.  And instead of the tiny cramped restrooms on the plane, you can use the spacious, elegant bathrooms in the terminal.  So much better.  Not Larry Craig better, but you get my sense.  


MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Most appropriate because the whole Maddow family is in town, having - visiting from west coast, laughing inappropriately throughout tonight‘s broadcast.  I thank you all, mom, dad, David, everybody.  Thanks. 

That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. 

Until then, E-mail us at  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. 

Good night.



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