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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Richard Engel, Paul Krugman, Melissa Harris-Perry


ANNOUNCER:  Live from the 92nd Street Y in New York City, this is a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW special event: “Leadership in America.”


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening.  So awesome to be here with a live audience.  Thank you so much for joining us here at the 92nd Street Y and thank you for joining us at home.

We begin tonight with President Obama taking an unexpected victory lap today—after what has been a remarkable period of legislative accomplishment, the big to-do list for the Democratic Party and this presidency breaking out in a sudden rush of checkmarks.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think it‘s fair to say that this has been the most productive post-election period we‘ve had in decades.  And it comes on the heels of the most productive two years that we‘ve had in generations.  One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck, I am persistent.  I am persistent.  I—you know, if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it.


MADDOW:  This lame duck Congress has been in session for 26 days -- 26 days.  And after what were essentially nonexistent expectations going into this, maybe they‘ll name a few post offices or something.  Well, probably not.


MADDOW:  Look what‘s happened.  Look at what‘s happened.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  They‘ve been arguing and fussing and fighting for months in Washington, but tonight, the tax bill has been passed, delivered to the president and signed.

LESTER HOLD, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Good evening.  A landmark vote on Capitol Hill today appears to signal a new era in gay rights in this country, while abolishing long-held military tradition and policy.  The Senate, late today, voted to repeal the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy against gays serving openly in the military.

WILLIAMS:  The Senate today passed the biggest overhaul of this nation‘s food safety system in decades.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The resolution of ratification is agreed to.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS:  With Vice President Biden presiding, the Senate passed new START, the arms control treaty with Russia the president had lobbied for relentlessly.

One other item in the “passed” column, that bill to provide health benefits for 9/11 first responders who became ill when they were working at Ground Zero, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  What a day in Washington.



MADDOW:  What a day in Washington.  What a 26 days in Washington -- 26 days that were expected to be a big nothing-burger.  Usually, it takes Congress 26 days to agree that they need another 26 days before they can start 26 days of debate.


MADDOW:  Today, one of my favorite people in Washington, a veteran NBC News producer who I will not name because it will embarrass her, but who has seen it all and who was therefore amazed by nothing—today, she told us that she has never seen another day like today in Washington in all the time she has been there.  If I were President Obama, I would have called a press conference today, too.


MADDOW:  I would have called the press conference today to cap a day that began with him officially signing the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  After two long years of legislative maneuvering, Mr. Obama concluded that signing statement, that signing ceremony by saying, quote, “This is done.”  And this is part of the quote.


MADDOW:  Just a few hours later, President Obama saw the Senate ratify his nukes treaty with Russia, his signature foreign policy concern, the thing he most wanted during this lame duck session.

Then right after that, Congress passed a bill to provide health coverage for 9/11 first responders.


MADDOW:  Something that Republicans—something that Republicans had been delaying for weeks and that had been many, many, many times pronounced impossible.

All of that happened in one day.  And that is on top of the rest of

the things this Congress has gotten done, with which you are familiar—

health reform, Wall Street reform, credit card reform, student loan reform

this much maligned United States Congress.  And trust me, I have at times been maligner-in-chief.



MADDOW:  This Congress, in the end, has accomplished more than almost any other in U.S. history.

This was the headline at “Bloomberg News” today.  No Congress Since the 1960s makes as much law as this one.

If you support President Obama‘s agenda, this has been an exhilarating finish to this first two years.  No, Democrats have not gotten everything they wanted both in terms of unfinished business, stuff they still want to work on, and compromises they‘ve had to make toward getting everything they wanted.  But still.

And, you know, on some of the unfinished business, the president today was still working on it, making an impassioned case today for immigration reform, saying that the DREAM Act, at a minimum, will still get done even though it has not yet.

Here‘s the thing, though—can‘t be a lame duck all year round.  Just a few short weeks, Republicans are about to have more power in Washington.  And what we have learned in this lame duck could be instructive in that regard.

We‘ve learned not just what Democrats wanted to do.  That was fairly transparent.  We‘ve learned not just what Democrats will fight for and how they‘ll fight for it.  That is evident.

We‘ve also learned what Republicans will fight for.  What are Republican priorities, when Republicans have more power in the next Congress, when they‘re called upon to exert more leadership in Washington, what will they do with their leadership?  What will they do with their power they have when the new Congress starts in January?

During this lame duck session, Republicans fought for less health care funding for 9/11 first responders.  They fought for less safety regulation of our food supply.  They fought to zero out funding for health care reform.  They fought to zero out funding for Wall Street reform.

In terms of the stopgap spending bill, they won both of those.  They put us their first priority, bonus tax cuts for income over a quarter million dollars a year.  They said they would do nothing at all unless they got that.  That was priority number one.

They fought to completely eliminate the estate tax for the very richest estates in the country.  And they fought to end unemployment benefits for Americans who are out of work.  I know this is not news to you.  But this is important going forward—unemployment benefits.

On the whole tax cuts compromise was being hashed out earlier this month, the big concession President Obama managed to wring out of the Republicans, right, was this 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.  Republicans had been blocking that extension and many other extensions previous to it for a very long time.

Having to give that up in exchange for these bonus tax cuts they were so desperate for for the richest people in the country, having to give up extending unemployment benefits was not only painful for Republicans, it was a bridge too far for many Republicans on the right.  When this tax cuts deal was announced, it revealed this huge grudge on the right against unemployment.

All these Republican presidential candidates, all these potential Republican candidates saying that they did not support the deal because of the extension of unemployment benefits.  They‘re really against unemployment benefits.  You have people like Mitt Romney coming out and saying not only should Republicans not approve that deal, but federal unemployment benefits should be gotten rid of altogether.  Unemployment benefits should be privatized.

Last week, Republican Senator Jim DeMint welcomed eventual Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich to South Carolina.  When the subject of unemployment benefits came up there, Mr. Gingrich said, quote, “I‘m opposed to giving people money for doing nothing.”

I‘m opposed to giving people money for doing nothing.  Let us review for just a second how Newt Gingrich makes his money.  What is it that Newt Gingrich does for his money?  What is Newt Gingrich‘s job?

For starters, he hands out fake awards in exchange for cash.


MADDOW:  Probably the greatest thing we‘ve ever done on this show. 

Live Newt girls.  It flashes.

Anyway.  So, Newt Gingrich makes money right now running a fake awards for small businesses scam, right?

Last year, he tried to give one of his fake awards to a small business called The Lodge in Dallas.  We covered this quite a bit.  The Lodge is a strip club.  I‘m told it is a very nice one as these things go.

Mr. Gingrich offered The Lodge a certificate.  He offered them this novelty gavel.  And he offered The Lodge a special dinner with the Newt.  All of course in exchange for a $5,000 donation.

When Mr. Gingrich realized he was giving one of his fake awards, for a $5,000 donation, to a strip club, he decided to rescind the award and the dinner invitation.  They got to keep the gavel.  They gave it to me.


MADDOW:  Then this month, though, he tried to scam The Lodge again.  He hit them up for $2,000 this time around just this month, even after having gone through this whole embarrassing thing.

This is how Newt Gingrich makes his money, but he doesn‘t think that you earned yours.  And he wants Republicans to campaign on that idea this year.  Newt Gingrich is a direct mail scam artist.  He hires the analogue (INAUDIBLE) spammers to troll the yellow pages looking for businesses he can fool into thinking they‘re winning a Newt award, and then he cons money out of them for accepting it.

The first radio job—first media job I‘ve ever had, they were running—somebody was running this scam at the mall that was by the station where I worked.  These people would troll the mall asking people to sign up for a free raffle, and then you‘d get a call congratulating you that you won the raffle.  You won the sweepstakes, come on down, come to our ceremony to get your award.

And the award is a day-long sales pitch to pay for a time share.

That‘s Newt Gingrich.  That‘s what Newt Gingrich does for a living—the equivalent of is.  And he is now trying to run for the Republican nomination for president by saying that people collecting unemployment insurance benefits, that they paid into, is the government giving people money for doing nothing.  And he‘s against that.


MADDOW:  And he wants Republican candidates to be against that, too.  Opposition to unemployed people is how the Republican Party is positioning itself heading into these crucial next two years.


SHARRON ANGLE ®, FORMER NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  We have put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry and said, “You don‘t want the jobs that are available.”

MADDOW:  Her fellow Nevada Republican, Congressman Dean Heller, recently warned that unemployment benefits may be creating a nation of hobos.  He actually used the word “hobos.”

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  If anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.

MADDOW:  Tom Corbett is the Republican candidate for governor in the great of state of Pennsylvania.  Mr. Corbett complaining at a campaign stop in Elizabethtown, quote, “The jobs are there,” but if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there.”

SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  You know, we should not be giving cash to people who basically are just going to go blow it on drugs.


MADDOW:  You know, maybe this will work for Republicans.  Maybe the country will look at that and say, you know what?  You guys are right.  Those darn unemployed people are a drain.  Lazy hobos, they‘re going to blow all their handouts on drugs.

Maybe this will work for Republicans politically.  Maybe nobody in the country actually knows an unemployed person or is one themselves.  Maybe the country wants this.

Guys like Newt Gingrich who want to run for president are trying out other things, too, that they want to be known for being against heading into 2012.


NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  I think it‘s fair to say they have, by killing jobs, become the party of food stamps.


MADDOW:  The party of food stamps.  He‘s trying this one out.  Have you seen this?  Democrats have become the party of food stamps.

Republicans are building their 2012 presidential campaigns on the contention that there shouldn‘t be unemployment insurance any more, Democrats should be derided as a party of food stamps.  See the pattern?  It‘s neat.  Maybe that will work for them politically.

But what if they put their money where their mouth is?  Republicans are about to get more power in Washington.  If they get the things that they‘re advocating for, what will it do to the country?

Unemployment benefits and food stamps happen to be the most economically stimulative things that the government can do.  Literally, I‘m not being hyperbolic.  Look, they got ranks.  You want to stimulate the economy, most effective things you can do.

If Republicans, going forward, are going to use their newfound power in Congress, and they do have newfound power, if they use it to argue against the things the government can do that are most effective at stimulating the economy, then what will that mean for the country?

By attacking and vilifying unemployment benefits and unemployed people and food stamps, they‘re not just waging war on the people most hurt by this recession, they are attacking what would help the whole economy the most.  They are attacking the economic recovery.

If they get what they want, even if they get some of what they want, there will be an economic impact.  Whether or not kicking the unemployed when they‘re down helps Republicans politically, who knows?  Maybe it will.  I don‘t think so.


MADDOW:  These policies will have a material impact on whether or not our country gets better, whether or not unemployment comes down, whether or not our country recovers from almost falling into another great depression.  Would that help Republicans?  Do they want that?

Nobel Prize-winning economist and “New York Times” columnist Paul Krugman joins us next.



MADDOW:  Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman joins me and my gavel next.  We‘re live at 92nd Street Y.  Please stay with us.



MADDOW:  Welcome back.  We are live at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

And two nights ago, I was joined on this very stage by a man who has the very ominous, very awesome nickname, “Dr. Doom.”  Economist Nouriel Roubini earned the name Dr. Doom when he essentially called the Great Recession before it happened.

During my interview with him on Monday night, Mr. Roubini said that something that economists, left, right and center, have been hinting at for a long time.  He said when you look at the economic policies being advocated by Republicans in Congress right now, things like the bonus tax cuts for rich people and scaled-back or eliminated unemployment benefits, he said it‘s almost like they are trying to take the economy for political gain.

He told us here on this stage, quote, “The worst, the better”—as in the worst, the economy is, the better for Republicans in 2012.

That statement stuck with me and has been keeping me awake all week.  So, I decided to call in the services of another economist, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.  He‘s also a columnist for “The New York Times.”


MADDOW:  Hi, Paul.  Good to see you.


MADDOW:  Just pretend we‘re alone.

KRUGMAN:  Right.

MADDOW:  Am I right that the stuff that Republicans are not only fighting hard right now but really setting themselves to fight in 2012 in the presidential fight, stuff like unemployment benefits, food stamps, that is the most stimulative stuff we can do for the economy?

KRUGMAN:  Yes.  I was trying to think about a way to describe where we are.  You know, if we don‘t have jobs because businesses aren‘t hiring, businesses aren‘t hiring because they don‘t have sales.  Businesses don‘t have sales because people don‘t have money.  People don‘t have money because they don‘t have jobs, right?

And what you want is some way—the government is supposed to be breaking that vicious circle.  The government—and one of the ways it can do it is by giving money to the people who need it most and who are going to spend it and helps the whole thing work better.  It‘s not only aid to the people who are unemployed but it also helps other people and maybe themselves get jobs.

So, yes, the things Republicans are opposing are exactly the things we need right now to get ourselves out of this trap.

MADDOW:  When you look at the progress of our economic recovery right now, and there has been a recovery even though we are still in very dire straits.  I mean, things are better than they were when President Obama was elected.  But we do need more stimulus.  How much more do we need?

KRUGMAN:  Lots.  I mean, we‘re way down here.  I mean, the—you know, when the first stimulus was announced, some of us sat down with the numbers and said, this is—this is way short.  This is maybe a third of what was needed.  And it turns out that actually has done worse than the forecast then said.  So, another stimulus as big as the one we did is definitely, you know, if you do the arithmetic, it says for sure we ought to be doing that.

I mean, yes, in the end, we‘ll have to, you know, find ways to have more revenue and to reduce medical costs, but right now, we really need the government and their spending.

MADDOW:  In terms of the deal that was struck between the president and the Republicans, obviously, the White House says it was the best they could get.  A lot of people feel that they didn‘t drive a hard enough bargain.  They didn‘t get enough of what they should have.  Ultimately, it will put $900 billion on the deficit and it will be some stuff that‘s expected to be quite stimulative and some stuff that isn‘t.

How much should we worry about the economic impact of financing tax cuts for rich people by putting that on the deficit?  Obviously, it won‘t help, but will it hurt?

KRUGMAN:  You know, if you do it—if it‘s really just for two years, it‘s not going to matter.


KRUGMAN:  The reason to be upset about that is not so much the two years that was agreed to of extending these high-end tax cuts, it‘s the fact that we‘ll play this whole game again two years from now.  In fact, we‘ll play it one year from now because all of the good stuff in that deal expires in one year, not two years.

So, we‘re going to be right over—you know, the blackmail is going to resume exactly a year from now and there‘s going to be a demand that Obama extend the Bush tax cuts for another two years or five years or maybe forever, and we can‘t afford that.

MADDOW:  This—that‘s what I‘m worried about in the big picture. 

That‘s why—I mean, who cares what Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney say.  Obviously, these guys don‘t have jobs, right?  They don‘t have power over anything.  But they are setting themselves up to run for 2012.

And so, I feel like what they say gives you some window into how Republicans are going to run.  And that‘s going to put a cast on all Republican politics for the next two years.  And so, are there responsible economists who Republicans believe who will make the case about the need for stimulus, who will make the case that the tax cuts aren‘t going to help?

KRUGMAN:  No.  I mean—


KRUGMAN:  Those people have been driven out or has have retreated into silence.  I mean, it‘s amazing.  I actually look back at the Great Depression at what Republicans were saying during the Great Depression.  And, boy, did they sound sensible and humane compared to the current crop, right?

They would also say, you know, we have to at least support the unemployed.  I mean, everybody agrees on that.  They might disagree with Roosevelt‘s policies, but no, this is—this is something where we really have seen all sanity driven from one of our two great political parties.

MADDOW:  So, when the president and when congressional Democrats, who will control the Senate but not the House, when they sit down to negotiate with Republicans on unemployment benefits and on tax issues which, as you correctly point out, are going to come up really soon, is the solution that they don‘t compromise at all, that they do stuff—that they try to get stuff done that isn‘t done through the Congress.

If there‘s no—if the middle ground is only worse, then how do they approach it?

KRUGMAN:  It‘s going to be a hard decision.  I mean, it was already a tough one.  I was, you know, I was torn but ultimately thought that the deal that was made was not worth making.  But the deal, the next deal that‘s going to be offered is going to be even worse.


KRUGMAN:  And so, at some point, you have to say no.  We‘re not going to—we‘re not going to submit to any more hostage-taking.

The president has some things he can do.  He‘s got, you know, there‘s still most of the money that was supposed to help homeowners, has not been spent.  He can try and get that moving, finally.

He can get tough on some of our foreign trade negotiations.  You know, the Chinese are part of our problem, not most but part of it.  It‘s really rough.

I mean, that‘s why, you know, this has been a very good few weeks for the president.


KRUGMAN:  But think about the next two years, and it‘s extremely frightening.

MADDOW:  Is this one of these things where if public opinion gets smarter, that politicians can be moved?  If people stop believing stupid stuff about—oh, if we cut the foreign aid budget, we can remove the deficit, can the public move the politicians?

KRUGMAN:  It‘s a long-term project, I‘m afraid.  And the noise level is enormous.  I mean, you try—you think about how many people in fact get their information about the world from FOX News.  I mean, it‘s really, really hard.

MADDOW:  I think about it all the time.




Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, “New York Times” columnist and somebody who I‘m still really excited whenever you agree to talk to me.  Thank you so much.

KRUGMAN:  Thanks a lot.

MADDOW:  Great to have you here.  Thank you.


MADDOW:  All right.  Still ahead, Melissa Harris-Perry is here live, about which I have been getting advanced fan mail, I kid you not.  And we‘ve got a live (INAUDIBLE) “Debunktion Junction.”  It‘s something that is very hard to do live with an audience.  So, we‘ve made it extra difficult and the (INAUDIBLE) hope that something funny will go wrong (ph).

We are live at the 92n Street Y in New York City.  Please stay with us.


MADDOW:  OK.  I have three things to show you.

The first one is historic.  The second one is something I know happened because I‘ve seen tape of it but I still don‘t believe it happened.  And the third is something that I find very funny, and I hope you do, too.

Thing one—this is the historic part.  A civil rights moment that was going to be held at the White House today but that they had to move to an auditorium at the Interior Department because so many people wanted to be there when it happened, when this happened.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States of America, the commander in chief, Barack Obama.


AUDIENCE:  Yes, we can!  Yes, we can!  Yes, we can!  Yes, we can!

OBAMA:  Thank you.  Yes, we did.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you, Mr. President.

OBAMA:  You‘re welcome!


OBAMA:  This is a good day.


OBAMA:  I am just overwhelmed.  This is a very good day.  And—and I want to thank all of you—


OBAMA:  -- especially the people on this stag stage, but each and every one of you who have been working so hard on this, members of my staff who worked so hard on this, I couldn‘t be prouder.

I say to all Americans, gay or straight, who want nothing more than to defend this country in uniform, your country needs you, your country wants you, and we will be honored to welcome you into the ranks of the finest military the world has ever known.



OBAMA:  And I want to thank all of you, especially the people on this stage, that each and everyone of you who have been working so hard on this, members of my staff who worked so hard on this.  I couldn‘t be prouder. 

I say to all Americans, gay or straight, who want nothing more than to defend this country in uniform, your country needs you, your country wants you, and we will be honored to welcome you into the ranks of the finest military the world has ever known. 


Some of you remember I visited Afghanistan just a few weeks ago.  And while I was walking along the rope line - it was a big crowd, about 3,000 - a young woman in uniform was shaking my hand and other people were grabbing and taking pictures. 

And she pulled me into a hug, and she whispered in my ear, get “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” done.  And I said to her, I promise you I will, for we are not a nation that says “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”.  We are a nation that says out of many, we are one. 


We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.  We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal.  Those are the ideals that generations have fought for.  Those are the ideals that we uphold today.  And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law. 


This is done. 



RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  If you are wondering why there are subtitles on the president who is speaking very clear English, it‘s to make things work for the live audience here at the 92nd Street Y.  They also account for some of the applause you were hearing. 

The whole psychology of the newsmaker thing, what makes that guy tick thing, it‘s not really the way that I approach the news.  I am usually interested more in what people do than what people are like. 

That said, it seems important to me that the president was freaking-elated to sign the “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” repeal bill today.  So that‘s one.  That‘s thing one, the historic thing today. 

Thing two, the thing that I can‘t quite believe happened, even though I know it did, is this.  You may remember, this happened in July at “Netroots Nation,” which is the big progressive conference that was held in Vegas this year.  Check this out. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This morning, Dan Choi gave me this to give to

you.  That‘s his West Point ring.  He says -


He says it doesn‘t mean what it did mean to him any more, and this is his discharge. 

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  He earned this ring and I‘m going to give it back to him.  I don‘t need his ring to fulfill the promise that I made to him. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you.  When it‘s signed, senator.  When it‘s signed. 

REID:  That‘s good enough for me.  When the bill‘s signed, I‘ll keep it safely and give it back. 


REID:  Hello, Dan.  When we get it passed, you‘ll take it back, right? 

1ST LT. DAN CHOI, UNITED STATES ARMY:  I sure will.  But I‘m going to hold you accountable. 

REID:  OK.  That‘s good. 


MADDOW:  So that was Dan Choi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

That took place in July.  And then today.  Sen. Reid posts this on Twitter. 

I literally see it while I‘m on Twitter wasting time. 

He posts this on Twitter, “Five months after I promised to repeal ‘Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,‘ I‘m so happy to give back this West Point ring to Lt. Dan Choi.”  And then, tada!  Link to this picture of Sen. Reid giving it back. 


Here‘s the best part, though.  Here‘s what‘s even better.  Dan Choi is such a fierce activist now, cast in flame, right?  Here‘s how Dan Choi responded also on Twitter to that. 

He wrote this, quote, “The next time I get a ring from a man, I expect it to be for full equal American marriage.” 


Take that.  All right.  So that‘s thing number two.  And I said I have one other thing I wanted to show you.  Thing three.  This is not the historic thing.  This is not “OMG, I can‘t believe it.” 

But this also happened and I think it is important that I tell you that it happened.  Behold Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, and a reporter from a conservative news service called Cybercast. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE CYBERCAST REPORTER:  I have a question for you about the working group that Secretary Gates put into effect he appointed at the Defense Department working group.  They recommended that a straight military personnel will have to shower with homosexuals openly.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA):  Oh, showering with homosexuals?  What do you think happens in gyms all over America?  What do you think happens in the House of Representatives?  Of course, people shower with homosexuals.  What a silly issue. 

What do you think goes wrong when people shower with homosexuals?  Do you think it‘s the spray, makes it catching?  I mean, people shower with homosexuals in college dormitories, in gyms where people play sports, in gyms elsewhere.  It is a complete non-issue. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE CYBERCAST REPORTER:  So that recommendation, you think, is a non-issue? 

BARNEY:  To accept the principle that homosexuals can‘t shower with other people is a degree of discrimination that goes far beyond this.  I mean, we don‘t get ourselves dry cleaned. 



MADDOW:  We don‘t get ourselves dry cleaned.  Tada!  Three things that, for various reasons, I‘m glad I saw today.  “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” is dead and Barney Frank is still hilarious. 

Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Perry.  She‘s an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University. 


(UNINTELLIGIBLE).  It‘s nice to see you.  I am so happy to know about the dry cleaning thing.  I always felt like an outcast in the community having never done that. 

The president looked elated at this bill signing today.  They moved it into an auditorium.  He sounded like he was back on the campaign trail when he talked about it.  How important are civil rights and justice issues to the potency of this presidency? 


AMERICAN STUDIES, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Well, OK.  They‘re at the core.  I mean, let‘s be real.  Part of the reason that Barack Obama wins the 2008 Democratic nomination and then the U.S. presidency is in part because of how Americans were feeling in that moment. 

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina decimated the City of New Orleans, we watched how we had failed as a nation on every meaningful civil rights issue of income inequality, of the distinctions between urban and rural areas, on black and white issues and we were horrified by who we were. 

And part of what happened was that Barack Obama, in 2008, reminded us of the best of our American narrative, that kind of “Yes, we can.” 

And so we rejected grandma on the roof of her home for days starving, dehydrating, and we said, instead, we can be a better country.  So civil rights were at the core part of what Americans were yearning for in the 2008 election. 

MADDOW:  You wrote today at “The Nation” about Obama in the age of accommodation, which is a hard thing to think about when talking about civil rights and justice issues because that‘s an area that doesn‘t feel very gray.  It feels very black and white.  What do you mean by the age of accommodation?

HARRIS-PERRY:  The age of accommodation is what we call that sort of turn-of-the-century moment when Booker T. Washington was the premier black leader and where he did things like basically accommodate to issues as horrifying as lynching. 

And after the signing of the tax bill, I‘d had an African-American activist friend whisper the words Booker T. Washington to me about Barack Obama.  And it hit me in such a horrifying place, I wanted to pause. 

And I wanted to just say that when we look at that age of accommodation, it‘s not what you think.  It actually was an age of failure.  And the thing is, we just don‘t tell the failure story. 

So let me just pause in all of this excitement about “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” and say, when W.E.B. Du Bois told black people to serve in World War I - he said, “If we served in World War I, we‘d get the right to vote.  We‘d get equal citizenship rights,” that all those things that are bundled with citizenship would come with military service and they did not. 

In fact, not only did they not, but lynchings of black men in their military gear became sport between the two world wars.  So I want us to remember that right now in more than 30 states in this country, if you are gay, lesbian or transgender, you can be fired for your identity, that the National Fair Housing Act does not protect against either gender expression or sexual orientation, that you still cannot marry in this country. 

So yes, it‘s an amazing - it‘s amazing.  I mean, you know, it‘s amazing.  But it‘s also still only a limited win, and the work continues.  We have to keep fighting and failing, fighting and failing. 


MADDOW:  Well, tell me about that - tell me about that dynamic tension.  To me, I feel like - a president, to win reelection, needs two things.  He needs an economy going in the right direction and he needs a base. 

Thinking about this base, there is a dynamic tension between this base wanting to hold him accountable and wanting him to win. 


MADDOW:  Is that tension dynamic or is it just dense? 

HARRIS-PERRY:  We‘ve got to fight and fail.  I mean, I think - look, I love Twitter, you know.  I have sort of a Twitter problem. 

MADDOW:  You do have a Twitter problem.  It‘s a good one.  Yes, you do. 

HARRIS-PERRY:  I like the world in 140 characters.  I like microwave.  I like things happening quickly.  But the fact is, it didn‘t take two years to pass “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”.  The first protest against the exclusion of gays in the military was in 1965 at the Pentagon. 

When we tell the story that the civil rights movement happened between Brown versus Board and the ‘64 Civil Rights Act, we‘ve got it wrong.  It goes back to the 1870s.  This is a country that moves slowly. 

And so it‘s not that, therefore, we say, well, don‘t worry, arc of justice, you know, it‘s all going to be fine.  It‘s that you fight and fail, fight and fail, fight and fail.  You yell at the president, but then when it‘s time, you say, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

MADDOW:  To have this White House invite Dan Choi to the signing ceremony, to have him there at the Capitol today after he was chained to the White House gates shows that they I think believe what you‘re saying. 

HARRIS-PERRY:  And they are not the Bush administration. 

MADDOW:  And they are not the Bush administration in many ways. 


Melissa Harris-Perry, associate professor at Princeton, will you please be on this show tomorrow night to talk to me about Haley Barbour in Mississippi. 

HARRIS-PERRY:  Well, as long as I can do it from New Orleans or you fly my daughter or husband up here, because they want me home for Christmas. 

MADDOW:  I will call -

HARRIS-PERRY:  You know that whole Congress thing? 

MADDOW:  I‘ve heard about that. 

HARRIS-PERRY:  Yes.  I did.

MADDOW:  I will call the General Electric Corporation to see what I can work out.  I‘ll trade in a bomber.  All right.  Melissa, thank you.

NBC‘s Richard Engel is still to come on tonight‘s live broadcast from the 92nd Street Y.  Please stay with us. 



MADDOW:  Debunktion junction, what‘s my function?  True or false?  True or false?  I cannot be trusted about food safety.  Not that I don‘t wash my hands or whatever, but when I have reported in the last few weeks on this show on the fate of the big overhaul for food safety, that information on this show has been untrustworthy.  Is that true or false?  Train conductor Kent? 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Dude, true.  So true.  Yes. 

MADDOW:  Sadly, it is true.  Despite our best efforts, we could not keep up with the Food Safety and Modernization Act which originally passed the Senate November 30th.  Before that, I had boldly predicted that nothing would pass the Senate during this lame duck session. 

So on November 30th, after the Food Safety Bill passed the Senate, I had to debunk my own bad prediction that nothing would get passed in the lame duck because food safety passed, except that it didn‘t. 

After November 30th, food safety went from the Senate to the House where we thought the bill also passed.  We reported that.  Then we had to take that back because, in fact, the House had to send it back to the Senate on a technicality so the Senate could re-pass it. 

But then, the Senate did not re-pass it.  It didn‘t happen because Senate attached it to the omnibus spending bill which died, which meant that food safety was dead again. 


(on camera)  The Food Safety Bill was part of the omnibus spending package that died in the Senate late last night. 


So genius over here said it would never live.  It lived.  Then it was still alive but it needed some help to stay alive when it went to the House.  Then, it was put on to a different life support system, the omnibus, which conked out, so it died, kaput. 

And then all of a sudden it was alive again.  It was alive.  Great!  The same Food Safety Bill did pass the Senate in a stand-alone bill on a voice vote on Monday night. 

And yesterday, no matter what you heard on this show previously, the not-dead, undead Food Safety Bill passed the House by a life-giving margin of 215-144. 

And so now, to be clear, after getting this wrong every way possible, here‘s what has happened.  I pronounced it dead.  Then it was alive.  Then it was alive but in poor health, then on life support.  Then it was dead, then alive.

And now, it‘s completely healthy and living indefinitely.  A White House official told us tonight, quote, “It will be law soon.”  Tada!  But you didn‘t hear it from me. 



MADDOW:  So “The Washington Post” reports that the CIA has now established a task force to deal with the Wikileaks issue.  They call it their Wikileaks task force.  Their Wikileaks task force.  Their WTF.  That‘s literally what they are calling it. 


It is the CIA‘s WTF.  I am not making this up.  The CIA‘s WTF.  The acronym for which was undoubtedly screamed at many televisions last night when Diane Sawyer at ABC aired this. 


DIANE SAWYER, ANCHOR, “ABC WORLD NEWS”:  London, how serious is it?  Any implication that it was coming here?  Any of the things they have seen were coming here?  Director Clapper?


SAWYER:  I was a little surprised you didn‘t know about London, Director Clapper? 

CLAPPER:  Oh, I‘m sorry.  I didn‘t. 


MADDOW:  The guy who, clearly, has no idea about all the arrests in London this week for serious terrorism allegations is our nation‘s Director of National Intelligence.  No idea.  Staff didn‘t brief him, apparently, nor did “Nightly News,” which reported it on Monday night. 

Nor did ABC‘s “Good Morning America,” which reported it on that morning.  Nor did the “CBS Evening News,” not to be confused with whatever the show is on CBS that‘s in the morning. 

The man in the job that was created after 9/11 so one person would be in charge of coordinating all intelligence for the whole U.S.  government had less intelligence on the big terrorism story in the world this week than Steve Doocy did and all of his friends at “Fox and Friends.” 

I worry about this.  And when I worry about these things, I call Richard Engel, NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent who is here with us tonight. 


Richard, thank you so much, my friend.  It‘s good to see you.  Thank you for doing this. 



MADDOW:  This is a staff party, actually.  This is all the interns.  How worrisome is it that the Director of National Intelligence was so off-guard about this question on London?  Is it unfair for us to assume he should have known this? 

ENGEL:  I don‘t know exactly what was - how the question was phrased.  And there‘s a lot of questions, when you have that many pieces of intelligence coming at you and they say, “What did you hear about London?” you could be confused. 

But the general problem that there are 4,000 government agencies collecting intelligence is the problem.  It is hard when there are that many people.  Roughly one million people employed in the national security industry gathering information to make sense of it all. 

MADDOW:  Gathering it and shoveling it upstairs, and upstairs is dealing with information that comes from one million people every day.  It‘s trying to drink out of a fire hose. 

ENGEL:  I‘ve been - exactly.  I‘ve been to some of these sites, fusion centers where you have CIA on one half, FBI on the other.  And they‘re getting thousands and thousands of data points.  And you could be overwhelmed with information. 

The best way is to actually know what you‘re looking for, to have sources, to have real intelligence instead of just becoming overwhelmed with information that is oftentimes just really a business. 

National security in this country has unfortunately become a business about - I think it was about $32 billion spent by the Department of Homeland Security to local law enforcement agencies in the effort to fight terrorists. 

That is a lot of money to gather intelligence especially when it‘s so much intelligence that it‘s hard to decipher. 

MADDOW:  I mean, the overall intelligence budget has doubled since 9/11.  And I‘ve been thinking - I wanted to talk to you about this today because of the 9/11 first responders health care bill passing.  It took us nearly 10 years to get that done. 

But it took us no time at all to double the intelligence budget.  And the question is whether we will ever know we‘ve got our money‘s worth, whether we‘re getting anything that‘s worth paying for with that doubling of our budget.   

ENGEL:  Well, a lot of the money has gone to probably useful things, hard equipment that - things in New York City for example, vehicles that can sniff out radioactive devices.  I‘ve been in these vehicles in New York City. 

And they are powerful enough to detect someone who‘s had a medical test and has swallowed a radioisotope in their system on a cruise ship passing New York City. 


ENGEL:  That is very powerful and that‘s expensive technology.  What they bought that is not useful are experts, lots and lots of so called experts on the Middle East, experts on terrorism, experts on Islam. 

I‘ve seen some of them as well.  Some of them are dangerous people who don‘t know what they‘re talking about, who are going and talking to law enforcement agencies, sheriffs‘ departments and spreading a lot of fear and nonsense and they‘re expensive. 

MADDOW:  Richard Engel is NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent.  Will you take me someplace else dangerous that doesn‘t worry my family sometime soon? 

ENGEL:  Yes, I will.  I promise I will. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

ENGEL:  I might worry your family a little bit.  But -

MADDOW:  No.  We‘ll lie to them about where we‘re going.  All right. 

Richard Engel, thank you so much. 


All right.  Coming up on this show, the very small story that made everybody in our office burst into tears today, but in a good way.  We‘ll be right back live from the 92nd Street Y.  Please stay with us. 


MADDOW:  This afternoon, in our newsroom, we saw this report come across the wire from a Fox News producer named Chad Pergram.  We read all this stuff when it comes across the wires.

This is a note that he filed about the final minutes of voting on the 9/11 health bill today, a vote that was held open for a lot of extra time, for an extra hour so a specific Congresswoman could come back to make the vote. 

Listen to this report, quote, “Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Democrat of New York, was the last member to come in and vote just before they closed it around 5:38 p.m.  She was wearing sweat pants and New Balance track shoes, no coat and crying.”

“I asked her why it was so important for her to come back, quote,

‘I was torn between two important things that I care about,‘ Velazquez

said, fighting back tears, ‘my mother and the 9/11 responders.‘” 

“Velazquez says her 90-year-old mother is in San Juan and suffering from bleeding ulcers.  Her plane landed at 5:20 p.m. and she came directly to the Capitol to vote.  She will return to Puerto Rico tomorrow morning.”

And that‘s for everybody who works on this show.  And we were secretly in tears in our newsroom cubicles today.



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