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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, April 15th, 2011

Guest Host: Chris Hayes

Guests: Stephanie Gosk, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Andrew Rice, Michael Pietsch


CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thanks so much. 

Have a great weekend.



HAYES:  Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.  Rachel has the night off, because—well, the news has been, let‘s face it, pretty crappy lately.

We begin tonight with a little bit of good news, despite the fact today is April 15th, you do not—you do not have to file your federal income taxes today.  April 15th is, of course, burned into our cerebral cortexes as Tax Day in America.  But this year, all the procrastinators out there get a great reprieve for the weekend, that‘s because this April 15th is the day Washington, D.C. observes Emancipation Day.

Eight and a half months before Lincoln issued his famous emancipation proclamation, he signed into law something called the Compensated Emancipation Act.  It‘s a law that immediately freed about 3,000 slaves in the District of Columbia.  That bill was signed on April 16th, 1862.  But since April 16th is a Saturday, this year, it‘s observed today, April 15th, Tax Day.

So, in case, you‘re watching the show right now while frenetically trying to get your tax returns done, stop, relax and put it away.  You have all weekend.

But, even if taxes aren‘t due today, the date still manages to loom large in our national imagination.  It‘s the day that the makers of the Ayn Rand film “Atlas Shrugged” chose to unveil their master piece.

And it‘s a day in which Ayn Ryan devotee Paul Ryan‘s budget was officially voted on and passed by the United States House of Representatives.  Every single Democrat voting today voted no on that budget.  And they were joined by four Republicans who also oppose the Ryan budget.

The big headline about the Paul Ryan budget is, of course, that it abolishes, kills and does away with Medicare.  No matter what Republicans try to tell you over the next few months, they voted to abolish Medicare today.

What‘s less known about the Ryan budget though is that it contains about $4 trillion worth of tax cuts mostly for the wealthy and for corporations.  Now, the conceptual terrain that Ryan budget has come to occupy in the minds of the Beltway represents, I think, thus far, probably the greatest victory for a 2-year-old movement that essentially began—left we forget—two years ago today.

Remember two years ago today?  The big inaugural tax day Tea Party held in cities and states across the country, from the Alamo to the nation‘s capital, legions of Tea Partiers flooded into the public square to demand an end to the oppressive taxation in this country.

The symbolism of the Tea Party, the fact it had its first protest on Tax Day was no accident.  In the imagination of the American right, taxes essentially represent the boot of tyranny.  Taxes are the fundamental means by which the government restrains our freedom.

And explicit in the Tea Party movement is the notion that we are overtaxed.  TEA, as the signs of these events will inform you, stands for “Taxed Enough Already.”

Now, that “Taxed Enough Already” narrative has taken on tremendous force when we talk about our current budget situation, because there are two sides to the budget ledger: taxes and spending.  But thanks to the Tea Party and an incredibly well-funded set of corporate interests and wealthy people who don‘t want to see their taxes go up ever, the conversation we‘re having about the budget right now is almost exclusively a conversation about the spending side.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Washington does not have a revenue problem.  Washington has a spending problem.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  We don‘t have a revenue problem.  We have a spending problem.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER:  Washington does not have a revenue problem.  It‘s got a spending problem.


HAYES:  America has a spending problem.  Not a tax problem.

Even the Democrats in their own weird way have sort of conceded this point.

Earlier this week, President Obama unveiled his budget priorities and it was three-to-one in favor of spending cuts rather than new taxes.  Why three-to-one?  Who knows?  Perhaps it‘s because—in the words of the Tea Party—we are just taxed enough already.

But are we taxed enough already?  Or is it possible that we are perhaps—dare I say it—undertaxed?  Is there such a thing?

Let‘s take a look.  Compared to other parts of the world, we are quite undertaxed actually.  All of the countries that are scrolling up from the bottom of the screen, right now, are countries that have higher taxes than we do.  United States ranked 20th in the world in terms of tax burden.

So, compared to the rest of the world, we have relatively low taxes.  Well, you will hear, we‘re not socialists like France, we don‘t need high taxes like them.

OK, OK, forget about the other countries then.  How taxed are we right now compared to how taxed we‘ve been in the past?

The answer to that question is truly remarkable.  When you look at almost every metric, we are at historic lows in terms of taxation in this country.

What you‘re looking at are corporate taxes collective over the last 60 years as a percentage of GDP.  Here‘s where we were in the 1950s and then watch what happens.  Look at that.  Corporate tax revenue has sunk like a rock over the last 60 years.  It‘s now near its lowest point ever.

By now, we‘ve all heard of the poultry tax burden by a parent company that names with Benerals (ph) Electric, right?  Well, that really is the rule rather than the exception these days.  Corporate taxes are as low as they‘ve ever been.

OK.  Well, what about the wealthy?  The wealthy are getting crushed by taxes right now, right?  You hear that from the Tea Party.  You really do.  You hear stuff like this all the time.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Already, the top 1 percent of income-earners pay about 40 percent of all taxes into the federal government.  So, if you want to talk about fairness, the top 1 percent are paying 40 percent of all of the income.


HAYES:  Ah, this is a very deft slight of hand.

Conservatives, in arguing against taxes going up in the wealthy, want you to focus on what percentages of all income taxes are paid by the wealthy.  Maybe your conservative co-worker sent you an e-mail about this or your kid‘s baseball coach or you‘re right wing dad.  The wealthy pay all the income tax in this country.  Everyone else is just along for the ride.

Slight of hand here is that‘s just income taxes.  Middle class and working class and poor people pay payroll taxes and they pay sales taxes.  They paid tons of state and local taxes.  They pay their fair share.

The wealthy, on the other hand—look at what‘s happening to their marginal tax rate over the last five decades.  Does that pattern look familiar at all?

What we‘ve been seeing, the central fact of the American economy over the last several decades is an increase in inequality with more income going to the people at the very top.  At the same time, the people at the very top have seen their tax burden decrease.

This week, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston published a great article called “Nine Things the Rich Don‘t Want You to Know About Taxes.”  In it, I learned for the first time that every year, the IRS conducts this study of the 400 wealthiest tax filers.  And what the data revealed recently is remarkable.

According to Johnston, the average American pays about 22 percent of their income to federal taxes.  The richest 400 Americans, 16 percent, pay about 16 percent of their income to federal taxes.

So, the wealthy need to pay more taxes, right?  That‘s what President Obama is now calling for in the Democratic Party, but President Obama is also saying everyone else‘s taxes must not go up.

And this is where it gets tricky because that may not necessarily be true.  It‘s true that in the midst of recession, raising taxes is almost certainly a bad idea.  But even the middle class right now is by historical perspective undertaxed.

Here‘s what average families paid in income taxes in 1955.  Now, watch what happens.  Again, near the lowest level in half a century.

If we just allowed all of the Bush tax cuts to expire, we‘d be looking at a budget that is far closer to being balanced.

Oliver Wendell Holmes was once said that taxes are what we pay for civilization.  And as this budget battle continues, as the line gets drawn, and as the center gets shifted away from discussions of taxation, I think it‘s really important we keep in mind that as we have an aging population and a more prosperous population, certain parts of government are just going to cost more.

And that‘s not a bad thing.  It‘s the benefit of prosperity and long age.  Yes, we need to control things like health care costs, but we‘re also just going to have to all pay a little more to make sure that we have the social contract that we deserve.

You almost certainly won‘t be hearing that from any elected official any time soon.  But it‘s still the truth.

Joining us now is an elected official, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.

Congressman Weiner, great to have you here in studio.   How are you doing?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.

HAYES:  I‘m going to get back to this tax point in a second, but I want to start with the vote on the budget today.  The Democrats completely held the line, no votes for the Ryan budget.

Did that surprise you?  Was that—

WEINER:  No, to some degree, we have this rare moment in American political life that people are actually lining up in a way that people can see the real differences.  You know, we went in this period over last year when we were considering the health care reform act where Republicans were acting like they cared about Medicare, protesting, that oh, no, you‘re cutting things from Medicare, when in fact we extended its life.

It really hid a fundamental truth about the Republican Party.  They

have never been comfortable with Medicare or Social Security, all these

programs that really create a social safety net.  And now, they are finally

at least to their credit—acting purely like they are.  They really don‘t like Medicare and now, they are showing it with their vote.


Democrats, one of the reasons, very fundamental, that people are Democrats, they believe in programs like Medicare.

HAYES:  One of the dynamics we are seeing in this—in this budget discussion is Republicans want to cut, cut, cut spending and president saying, yes, we need to cut spending but.

And when you talk about taxes, the president says we need to raise taxes on wealthiest and the Republicans say nonstarter.  That‘s what John Boehner tweeted.

It seems to me like as long as that dynamic continues, there‘s an imbalance, right?  Do you feel like that‘s true?  Do you feel like we have an out of balance conversation about taxation?

WEINER:  You know, everyone says we want everything on table except really only one side is really being honest about it.  Up to now, the Republicans have almost insisted exclusively that this tiny sliver of the budget, nondefense discretionary funding means aid to education, aid to people who are hungry and things like that, they are the only place that you can look for this.

But there‘s another element of this that you didn‘t touch on in your opening about how tax burden gets redistributed without us really noticing.

HAYES:  Actually a good point.

WEINER:  You know, right now, what really the Ryan plan does on things like Medicaid and Medicare says that we the federal government aren‘t going to pay for them, but it‘s not like when you make those cuts, the bill fairy comes in and pays for them.  It just means that cities like mine in New York and localities all around the country are going to have to pay higher tax burden, devote less resources to things they usually devote towards, which are schools.

So, it‘s a way that it kind shows that they are reducing the taxes when in fact they are just shifting it to the local level—something they always say that they are opposed to.

HAYES:  And then you end up at a situation also where you can—you can pay less in taxes and pay more for health care and it is still coming out of your pocket.

WEINER:  Right.  And I would point out, the large number of bankruptcies in our country, among people who have health afflictions and who have no insurance, they are, by and large, middle class and less well-to-do people.

You know, the very well-to-do in the world don‘t have to worry about being bankrupted by a disease.  They also don‘t have to resort to putting things at credit cards at 20 percent interest.  So, there‘s all of these little ways that the middle class and those struggling to make it, even when you appear that you‘re lowering rates are actually have higher taxes.

HAYES:  Speaking of the middle class.  I mean, I think you and I mostly in agreement about letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those making over $250,000.

What do you think two to three years from now let‘s—you know, let‘s hope there‘s a recovery and robust job growth—are those or do we have to return to Clinton rates up and down the income scale, are we going to have to pay more in taxes and not just the people at the top?

WEINER:  Well, here‘s what I think we do have to do.  And this was inherent in the health reform act also.  We have to assume national responsibility for some problems and not just shift them all to the cities and states.  So, there‘s a competition, who‘s going to have the lowest rate so you have people in Texas who have crumby health care because they have a lower rate and less coverage and caps on what they can do and they go in and sue and the like.

I think the important thing is we have to internalize as a country, there are some things the federal government can do better.  We can create large pools, for example, in providing health care for seniors, despite what Paul Ryan says, he ignores a basic element of the economy.  When we join together as a big group, we get a better deal.  Just ask the people at Wal-Mart.  I mean, we understand that.

So, I do believe that we have to start putting the burden where it belongs.  Right now, we‘ve been increasingly shifting the burden to states and cities so the tax cut has been nonexistent for most middle class people.

HAYES:  You‘re a politician.  So, you—it‘s your job to stay in touch with what your constituents are feeling.  And, obviously, New York City is a very high tax place.  There‘s a state income tax and there‘s a city income tax.

Do you think that people feel overtaxed?  Or do they feel economically strained and the economic strain manifests itself as feeling overtaxed?

WEINER:  I‘ll tell you what?  They felt it.  No one when you asked them says, boy, I wish I could pay more taxes.  No one says that.  And, by the way, I want to stipulate for your viewers, I want there to be no taxes if I can figure out a way to do it.

The one thing that people do complain about is the sense of abject on fairness going on the last eight, now nine years, the idea that incomes of middle class people have been flat.  They keep hearing about how all of the big gilded period in American life has ended.  For a lot of them, they never experienced it, because, frankly, their incomes were flat because so much was going into health care, so much was going to keep up the high cost of college.

So, I think that the deal the American people would gladly accept is give us some fairness to the thing, even if it means I may have to pay a little bit more.  And I‘ll tell you one other thing, I hear from well-to-do people with a conscience, they say, you know what?  I don‘t benefit living in a country where the top 2 percent make as much as the bottom 40 percent.  It‘s an unhealthy economy.  They all invest in companies that want to sell products and want to sell services to middle class people who can‘t afford to buy them.

HAYES:  Yes, and I think you‘re right.  The fairness also eats away at the basic legitimacy of the system.  I mean, to the extent that people feel that they are sending in this form and someone else is rigging the game in their favor, then they hate it, because they felt like they‘re suckers.

WEINER:  Perhaps the greatest trick, the greatest—you know, the Kaiser (INAUDIBLE) moment about the Tea Party movement, is how so many middle class and less well to do people have been co-opted what is a basically a corporate interest wealthy person movement.  They don‘t realize it apparently that fundamentally what they are arguing for is that people who really have done very well in this country should pay less of a burden and they—the very same people wearing the pointy hats have been asked to do a lot more.

HAYES:  All right.  Congressman Anthony Weiner, joining us on a Friday night thanks a lot.

WEINER:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.

HAYES:  Appreciate it.  Yes.

Recently Oklahoma passed legislation banning Sharia law because strict Islamic law was this close to taking control in Oklahoma.  Now, the home state of James “Mountain” Inhofe and Tom Coburn is rejecting a $54.6 million grant from the federal government that would improve health care because—because it is apparently the stocking horse for federal tyranny.  Stubbornness as stubborn does, next.

But, first, on more cool thing about doing your taxes this year.  Not only do you have a extra couple days to get them done, but when you finally do, the government is offering you something that might or might not actually make you feel better about having paid taxes in the first place, a receipt—a receipt telling you what the government did with al of your tax money.  This year, once you paid your taxes, you can go to a Web site set up by the White House, enter how much you paid in taxes or choose your income level from a drop-down menu, the site will generate an itemized receipt telling how much of your money went to national defense, health care jobs, education and so on.

If you want your own tax receipt, we have a link to the White House‘s tax receipt page at the Maddow Blog.


HAYES:  Republicans‘ revulsion towards a social safety net can be heard in Washington, D.C.  But it can be seen and felt in Republican controlled states.  Tonight‘s “call your friends and say did you see what they did” moment is brought to you by the state of Oklahoma—where the Tea Party tail is wagging the general welfare dog in a big bad way.

Stay tuned.


HAYES:  OK.  So, last night, we al gathered around the campfire to watch Montana‘s Democratic governor veto-brand a puzzle of nutty reactionary bills from the Republican legislature.  Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer declaring, “You shall not pass” to the Republican sponsored bill that would risk putting cyanide in the water and the one that would make it harder to become a voter.

So, that‘s the Democratic approach to dealing with Tea Party-inspired legislative initiatives at the state level.

Today, we get the Republican approach, fresh out of Oklahoma, where rookie Governor Mary Fallin has just turned down $54 million from the federal government -- $54 million to help the state set up a health insurance exchange where they are going to have do by law, with or without the $54 million.


GOV. MARY FALLIN ®, OKLAHOMA:  Today, we are announcing that we will not receive any money when and if they should try to send money to the state of Oklahoma, the $54 million, the early innovator grant.


HAYES:  That was not for the record as far as we know a hostage video, but it sure looked like one.  I guess that‘s how you look when you‘re giving up $54 million.  I mean, $54 million is 54 times what Dr. Evil wanted from Austin Powers.  And it‘s more than 10 percent of Oklahoma‘s entire budget shortfall.

Federal government awarded Oklahoma a grant because Oklahoma applied for it and Governor Fallin‘s transition team approved the application and then she lobbied for it.

But between the applying and accepting, these guys, Oklahoma Tea Partiers, made such a fuss of any government involvement, federal and state, the Republican lawmaker and Governor Fallin decided it would be better to let the money go, to just say, “We don‘t want your stinking $54 million.”

Politicians chose to protect their political hides and now, the residents of Oklahoma, the one who stood to benefit from getting health care, they get to make up the difference, because federal law requires states to do something about health insurance for their people.

We‘ve seen new Republican governors turn down a lot of federal money, notably grants for high speed rail.  Florida Governor Rick Scott turned down $2 billion—billion with B—for a fast train route in his state.  Ohio Governor John Kasich said no to 400 million bucks and so did Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, more than $800 million.  Never mind, maybe you can hit up the teacher‘s union for it, build his own railroad.

Unless they‘re just in the face of it that turning down tens of millions of dollars of money at the same time saying your state is broke seems crazy.  But at least with the infrastructure project, you could make an argument that you‘d get stuck paying for cost overruns and upkeep, I guess.  I wouldn‘t make that argument personally, but I can see it.

Oklahoma is a whole other deal and it‘s one with serious constitutional implications.  The argument here, at least from the legislature, is that the federal law itself is objectionable.  Senator Republican Brian Bingman telling reporters, “We‘re concerned about actually falling into the trap of adopting Obamacare, which is really what we‘re against.”

But complying with federal law isn‘t a trap.  It‘s the foundation of our federal system or at least the foundation of the federal system since Grant and Lee shook hands at Appomattox.

To be clear: Oklahoma wasn‘t legally compelled to take the money it turned down, but sure that the Supreme Court striking down the Affordable Care Act, the state will be legally compelled to implement the dreaded Obamacare.  And those same state legislators who browbeat Fallin into turning down the grant money don‘t seem willing to do so.  That, as history has shown, is something of a problematic stance.

Joining us now is Oklahoma state senator and Democratic minority leader, Andrew Rice.

Senator Rice, thanks so much for coming on the show.


HAYES:  First of all, what is the cost of this sort of ideological stance to the people of Oklahoma?  What does it mean for your state?

RICE:  Well, it‘s a big cost to the state because by rejecting the federal money, tax money we send to Washington that‘s coming back to Oklahoma, we are going to have to move money from general revenue that would go to public schools, that would go to child abuse prevention, and move it over to do this exchange, which is complying with health care reform anyway, but sort of using smoke and mirrors, the governor is trying to sound like, well, we‘re going to do it our own way is not really.

HAYES:  Can you walk me through the politics here?  Because I mean, until a couple of weeks ago, this is—this is the same governor, Governor Fallin and her team that had wanted the grant.  Someone really spooked her.

How did that—how did that happen?  How forceful are the forces that are—that are pushing this?

RICE:  Well, yes, for a moment there, I was hopeful.  She had a momentary sanity and realized that when you‘re elected and the campaign is over, you‘ve got to govern from the middle.  And then the Tea Party and right wing and this sort of monster that we‘ve created—the Republicans have created in Oklahoma, you know, Barry Switzer said that, oh, your football fan base is monster that needs to be fed by winning season.  And we got a new monster in Oklahoma that‘s even bigger, which is people believe in socialism and there‘s death panels and when then governor who campaigned against this dreaded health care reform, all of a sudden, wants to accept the money, they revolted it and she and everybody else in the Republican majority did a flip-flop.

HAYES:  It strike me from reading through the quotes of the members of the state legislature there, that this is—this is just the first step, it‘s not going to be enough.  Is it—is it going to be enough?  Are they going to be satisfied?  What more—what other pounds of flesh are they going to want to extract as implementation goes forward?

RICE:  Well, yes, the very right wing represented from the House, Representative Britz (ph), who authored the ballot to opt out of health care as if you can just, you know, opt out of federal law said today in a press release and says it doesn‘t matter that they are going to use state money that we don‘t have to do this exchange because it‘s complying with “Obamacare,” quote, unquote, anyway.  So, they‘ve really got themselves in a fix that they really do want to govern responsibly.

HAYES:  Wait.  I‘m sorry.  He said it doesn‘t matter, that—meaning that he—it‘s not good enough for him, the money is being turned down because it‘s still going to comply with the law.  And his objection is compliance with federal law.

RICE:  Yes.  I mean, there‘s a belief here that Oklahoma, whether the lawsuits that are making the way through the courts are successful or not, that Oklahoma should not comply with federal law which, of course, is basically unconstitutional.  And there‘s a strong political—I mean, colleagues of mine in the state Senate ran away from this because they were starting to get threatened by the Tea Party.  These are very conservative Republicans I‘ve served with, that they are going to be primaried in the primaries next year by people farther to the right than they are for carrying this legislation.

So, they are still going to do the change.  They‘re just going to do it in the Oklahoma way.  Now, I don‘t know—they‘re still going to have to abide by the statutes and federal law, 2-14 (ph), the health care reform stipulates.

So, it‘s just a lot of back and forth, trying to have it both ways.  And it‘s interesting.  You know, my office being a minority leader, I get a lot of calls.  We had a huge surge of calls the last two days from people from both parties who just feel like that the governor and the legislative leaders are just trying to have it both ways and it‘s starting to back fire, even in a very red state like Oklahoma.

HAYES:  Oklahoma state senator and Democratic minority leader, Andrew Rice—thanks so much for your time.  Appreciate it.

RICE:  Thanks.

HAYES:  In Waukesha County, Wisconsin, the difference between a Republican and a Democrat winning the Supreme Court election was a 14,000 vote mistake.  The news is that it appears there was no shadiness involved.  The bad news is this was not the first time this particular election official had problems with math.  That‘s next.


HAYES:  What you want out of your vote counter is that your vote counter be really, really fastidious.  If you were advertising for the job, a vote counter, or a county clerk, which was what the position that oversees elections in Wisconsin‘s Waukesha County is called, you would use that favorite phrase of job postings everywhere, “detail-oriented.”

Now, I‘m not particularly detail-oriented myself.  My work has a lot of typos.  My grammar is kind of bad, which is why it‘s wonderful I have editors and producers and lovely little invention called spell check.  For that reason, I don‘t think I would make a very good vote counter.

But there‘s more and more evidence emerging that the people who does count vote in Waukesha County is not very detail-oriented either.  You‘ll recall that in the most bitterly fought and closely watched Supreme Court race in recent memory, possibly ever, it looked as if the Democrat had pulled off an improbable victory.  JoAnne Kloppenburg was leading by the slimmest of margins, approximately 200 votes, in an election that was widely viewed to be a referendum on Scott Walker‘s union-busting.

Then the Republican county clerk of Waukesha came forward to say that the votes of an entire city had been left out of her count by accident, more than 14,000 votes.  All because Kathy Nicholas didn‘t remember to hit save on the personal computer she uses to keep voting records.  That was her explanation for why the Republican, Justice David Prosser, a man who was also her former boss, was suddenly ahead by 7,000 votes.

There‘s still no evidence that any of that was nefarious or due to fraud.  But it does seem like there was at least significant incompetence in play here.  And it turns out this incompetence is not a new thing.  It‘s quite a legacy of Kathy Nicholas.

A long list that we reported on before and frankly far too long to go into tonight, but here‘s what‘s new.  If you look on the county clerk Web site at the 2006 race for attorney general, the official returns show that there were more votes than there were ballots cast -- 17,000 more votes than ballots.  Keep in mind the Republican, J.B. Van Hollen, a man still attorney general of Wisconsin, he won by fewer than 9,000 votes statewide, which means a discrepancy of 17,000 votes just in Waukesha County would have been more than enough to swing the election to the Democrat.

That point was made by the Democratic Party chair of Wisconsin in a letter he wrote this week asking the nonpartisan Government Accounting Board to investigate Waukesha County‘s vote counting procedure.  His request has been granted.  That investigation will stretch back at least five years.

This is kind of a big deal.  Have you ever had a job manning a cash register?  At the end of the night, what you have to do is resolve the numbers, the stuff and the receipt has to match the amount of money in the drawer to the penny.  And it‘s sort of the same thing if you‘re running an election or at least it should be.  The votes you post on your Web site should have to match the number of votes that you have counted.

It isn‘t rocket science but it‘s very meticulous work.  The kind of job best done by people who are detail-oriented.


HAYES:  Today, while most of the nation‘s political attention was focused on high jinx on Capitol Hill and reality TV presidential candidacies and the like, President Obama announced what appears to be a major policy change in our current military intervention in Libya, policy change that looks at least at first like a pretty steep slide down the proverbial slippery slope.

To understand just how consequential the announcement is, we have to go back to last month, to the top of that slope when President Obama had to choose between a variety of responses ranging from doing nothing to diplomacy, to full-scale big time boots on the ground military force.  It was a range of options for responding to what was arguably and increasingly dire situation, a ruthless dictator clinging to power, whose brutal campaign to put down an armed rebellion had landed his forces on the doorstep of the largest rebel-held population center.  Once inside, he pledged to show no mercy.

The president, in a signature display of Obama-ism, chose the middle path of intervention.  Along with allies in Europe, the United States, United Nation‘s resolution implementing a no-fly zone that would be enforce with a lot of hardware capable of blowing things up.

The president had no good words to share about Moammar Gadhafi.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant, Moammar Gadhafi.  He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad and terrorized innocent people around the world.


HAYES:  But—and this is crucial, the president said the mission would be limited.


OBAMA:  I said that America‘s role would be limited and that we would not put ground troops into Libya, that we would focus our unique capabilities on front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners.


HAYES:  Not only would the mission be limited, but regime change would not be the goal.


OBAMA:  Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.


HAYES:  A line in the sand was doubly drawn by our own country‘s Defense Secretary Robert Gates.


DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Does this administration want to see the rebels prevail and overtake Gadhafi?

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I think the president‘s policy is that it‘s time for Gadhafi to go.  That‘s not part of our military mission.


HAYES:  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly agrees.  The defense secretary continued to reiterate the limits of the operation again and again as often as he could.


GATES:  Deposing the Gadhafi regime, as welcome as that eventually would be, is not part of the military mission.


HAYES:  The president and secretary of defense said getting rid of Gadhafi wasn‘t part of the mission and so, too, did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.


GREGORY:  So, the mission can be accomplished and Gadhafi can remain in power?

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  That‘s certainly, potentially, one outcome.


HAYES:  Mission can be accomplished even with Gadhafi still in power. 

That‘s where we were up to at the top of the slope.

And then this morning, the overwhelming feeling of slippage.  Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron co-wrote an op-ed in today‘s “Herald Tribune.”  Quote, “So long as Gadhafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds.  Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders.  In order for that transition to succeed, Gadhafi must go and go for good.”

So long as Gadhafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations.

Now, perhaps Sarkozy wrote the whole thing in French and somehow means something different that was lost in translation.  But to me, it sounds like the allied mission in Libya cannot end with Gadhafi still in power, which is a slightly terrifying prospect in light of what is happening in Libya right now.

Yesterday, Gadhafi brought out his best fist-pumping skills, some sort of I‘m not going anywhere rally.  Today, the despotic leader‘s military forces laid siege to a strategically important city in the north, Misrata.

According to reports on the ground, the Libyan military has been firing indiscriminately into residential, civilian areas, even using cluster bombs.

Gadhafi does not plan on stepping down and his military remains loyal and strong, and we won‘t leave until he‘s gone—how does this end?  When does it end?

Joining us now live from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi is NBC‘s Stephanie Gosk.

Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS:  You‘re welcome.  Nice to be here, Chris.

HAYES:  Let me begin with the op-ed from Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron.  I wonder, (a), what is the reception in Libya, and, (b), what do you think it is intended to accomplish?  Who is this for?

GOSK:  Well, really, this is more of a letter to show a singularity of purpose to the international community than it is to actually try to threaten Gadhafi.  NATO has had really a tough go of it since they took over control of the operation two weeks ago.  In first week, there were two friendly fire incidents that include the destruction of a number of rebel tanks and the rebels don‘t have a lot of tanks.  And then you saw the situation that you mentioned earlier, in Misrata, that has continued to deteriorate over recent days to the point of humanitarian crisis.

It prompted both the foreign ministers from the U.K. and France to say that NATO needs to intensify its operation.  They also complained they don‘t have enough ground attack planes to execute that.  Now, that was a call on all of the countries part of the NATO alliance, but it also was a thinly veiled reference to the United States that has pulled back into that supportive role but does have the ground attack planes, including the A-10, what they call the “tank buster.”

And so, now, what we‘re seeing, the argument really goes, the only way to protect civilians in this country, to protect the civilians in Misrata, is to remove Gadhafi all together—Chris.

HAYES:  I think most people have this general sense that Libya has stalemated.  That there‘s been a little back and forth that reached the kind of uneasy and very violent equilibrium.  Is that more or less the case?  How is the balance of forces right now between the Gadhafi forces and the rebels?

GOSK:  Well, we were out close to the front line today, which right now is between Ajdabiya and the oil town of Brega.  And what we saw there was very interesting and it lends itself to the argument that perhaps the stalemate could end.  First of all, NATO has been conducting a series of successful airstrikes in the region and intensified effort for sure.

What we saw on the ground today was better organization.  The troops really are being led by a core group of former military officers.  These are officers that defected from Gadhafi‘s army when the uprising began here.  They say they are going to get better weapons, although they don‘t say where those weapons are coming from.

And what we saw on the ground, they were attacked while we were there.  Instead of turning and running, which is what we‘ve seen all along, they actually stayed put and they fought back and maintained their line.  If the airstrikes continue and they continue with this kind of success, you could actually see some movement.

I think where the more prominent stalemate is, is in the idea that we could have some sort of political solution to this situation.  You have Gadhafi who refuses to go and you have the rebels shown earlier in this week who refuse to negotiate with any kind of plan that allows him to stay in power—Chris.

HAYES:  NBC‘s Stephanie Gosk, thank you so much - live from Benghazi. 

We really appreciate it.

A line between authentic and fake is getting blurrier and blurrier in the country.  The seeping of commercial contrivance into the bedrock of American culture happens every day.  But until now, the United States government has avoided it.  Well, until now.  And I‘m not talking about a certain reality-TV-host-turned-birther-Republican-hopeful.

Please stand by.


HAYES:  One of the most brilliant writers of our generation is gone, but he left one last keepsake.  Late David Foster Wallace‘s longtime editor will be here to talk about his final book that‘s out today.

Stick around.


HAYES:  There is nothing like the real thing—but the real thing can be tremendously inconvenient and expensive to achieve.

The Egyptian pyramids are a genuine wonder of the world, but they are 5,800 miles and thousands and thousands of dollars in Washington.

If you want to see the real Eiffel Tower, up close, not only that you have to get all the way to Paris, but you‘re way better off knowing how to speak French, lest the locals give you the stink eye.

And you can watch the racy soap opera “Rome” from HBO on DVD, there‘s practically no way to experience ancient Rome anymore unless—unless you live in the United States of America, where for decades we have shown the world that replicas of anything are generally cheaper, more convenient and better air-conditioned than the real thing.

This is America.  We don‘t make the real thing.  We make the real thing better.

I speak reverently, of course, about Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, where on one street—one street—you can find yourself space to space with the Sphinx, greeting by a Roman gladiator, or staring up at the Eiffel Tower.

Now, our country‘s rapid descent into crash commercialism could be perceived as depressing, Gershon (ph) was never intended to do the soundtrack for an airline, and reality TV hosts are not supposed to be the front-runners for the Republican presidential nominations.

But that‘s how we roll nowadays.  And it‘s some consolation that until now, America‘s representative government at least has never crossed the line and officially chosen fake culture over real culture.

Enter the United States Postal Service.  This piece of official postal tender defects the Statue of Liberty, the singular icon of American ideal, the torch, the beacon of freedom, the icon of liberation, the gate way to the promise land, et cetera.  This is the Statue of Liberty in real life, 125 years old this year, again, from France. It is awesome and authentic.

Notice any differences?  They exist I assure you but mainly out of the frame, because this Lady Liberty on the stamp is not a picture of our national treasure.  It‘s a picture of a national treasure taken across the street from the fake medieval casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and in front of the fake New York casino in Vegas.  That‘s the one.

The post office issued a stamp with that Statue of Liberty on it.  They did it in December.  And a stamp collector got suspicious and contacted “Linn‘s Stamp News,” a stamp-collecting magazine.  “Linn‘s Stamp News” got Lincoln Stephens on the Postal Service and we know, the USPS bought the wrong picture from a photo service.  And it‘s not the Statue of Liberty.  You have to take a ferry boat, too.

The Postal Service recognizes its error but they‘re sticking with the stamp, no pun intended, I guess because—what‘s the difference?  Fake or not, it‘s America.  In fact, with an economy based entirely on casino capitalism, massive foreclosure rate and some of the highest unemployment in the country, there is a case to be made that Vegas baby is as good a stand in for our weary republic at the moment as any.

For their part, the folks who own the New York, New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas aren‘t so sure the whole thing is a mistake.  Quote, “Don‘t discount the genius of the U.S. Post Office.  Everyone thought they were honoring just one great American institution, when in reality, they were honoring two—the Statue of Liberty and Las Vegas.”

Yes, bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to stay up all night at a $5 craps table.  Welcome to the fabulous America open 24 hours.

We‘ll be right back.


HAYES:  As we mentioned at the top of the show, today is Tax Day—at least in tradition, if not this year in fact.  One of the most little noticed provisions in the budget deal just passed in the House this week was an agreement that the Internal Revenue Service would receive no additional funds to hire new agents—this in spite of the fact that the government accountability office estimates there is a total of $330 billion in unpaid federal taxes outstanding at this very moment.  It‘s a lot of money.  In case, you don‘t have a calculator handy it is nine times the amount of money saved in the latest budget deal.

Now, it‘s fairly politically easy to cut money for the IRS because, really, who likes tax collectors?  Since the time of Jesus, telling people you‘re a tax collector has not exactly been the best opening line when making conversation at a cocktail party.  Did they have cocktail parties in biblical times?  I don‘t know, but I digress.

Of course, without tax collectors, there are no taxes.  Without taxes, there is no civilization.  And so, in this sense, the people who process those forms that we have or are about to mail in are all atlases.  They hold all of this up.  They are in their quiet, anonymous way kinds of heroes.

And it is their quiet heroism that is the theme of a very much anticipated novel that is released today.  That book is “The Pale King.”  It‘s about a group of IRS agents in Peoria, Illinois, in 1985 and it also the final unfinished novel written by the late genius David Foster Wallace.

Author of two previous novels and several collections of essays and stories, Wallace was considered by many—your host included—as the greatest writer of his generation.  He killed himself on September 12th, 2008, after a life long struggle with depression.

At the time, he was working on a novel, one near but not at completion.  In the wake of his death, his editor, Michael Pietsch, was left to take the copious pages left in his study, some printed and neatly stacked, others handwritten on pads and somehow wrestle them into the form of a novel, the one that is published today.

Joining us now is Michael Pietsch, the executive vice president and publisher of Little Brown and Company.

And, Michael, it‘s my great pleasure.  Thank you so much for joining us.


HAYES:  Can you tell us, the process seems tremendously difficult and daunting, the combination of just the sort of emotional grief of reconciling yourself to Wallace‘s death and then to take all of these pages and somehow make a novel out of it.  How did you go about doing it?  How long did it take?

PIETSCH:  The challenge was like no challenge I‘ve ever—I‘ve ever had.  As you said, I was still in a state of grief when I first encountered these pages that David had left behind, but then paradoxically, I found myself in his presence.  The first chapter that I read was a chapter narrated by a character named David Foster Wallace whose characteristics were very much like David‘s own.

So, I felt as though he were there and I began to experience this world that he had created, this massive, comically brilliant, challenging world that he had been working on for a decade.  My task was to take this manuscript, which was close to 3,000 pages of various materials, a lot of it very—multiple drafts of the same chapters, and find the story he had been attempting to write, that he had been writing, and then try to find the most coherent and most complete novel inside there that I could find.

And what I found I was awe struck by.  It‘s a brilliant, massive world full of deep questions and challenges pertinent to our lives every day.

HAYES:  One of the themes in the book—and I have to say up front, I don‘t want to pretend like I read the book, because I‘m actually—I‘m so much looking forward to it.  I‘ve been putting it off, so it‘s this thing that‘s out there.  But I‘ve been obsessively reading the reviews.

And one of the main themes is the kind of boredom these IRS agents have to deal with and tackle day in and day out—which I think he calls a kind of heroism at one point in the book.  What do you think attracted him to this topic?

PIETSCH:  I believe that what David Wallace wanted to do in writing this novel was try to write a novel that really looked deeply into ordinary people‘s—everyone‘s everyday lives and to focus on emotional meanings that touch everyone.  And what he looked at was the extraordinary complexity of every day life when this age—he set the book in the past, but it could be the present moment because we‘re all bombarded with these complex and sometimes tedious matters and that is what life is made up of.

And I think he was trying to work in this novel on how we fight through all of that to get in anything that really matters, including connecting to other human beings or finding love or finding the meaning of your life.  You have to fight your way through boredom, through tedium, the way these IRS agents have to—have to deal with the numbing work of looking at numbers from other peoples lives every day of their life.

HAYES:  I‘ve been reading about the fact that he did a lot of preparation for this and far—way far back, 10 years you just mentioned.  What kind of things was he doing?  I know he was corresponding, right, with accountants and taking classes himself.  How much did he sort of immerse himself in this world?

PIETSCH:  I have—I received a box of books that he used in research and that included the IRS tax code from 1985, books on IRS from before that.  He took accounting classes.  And these books—and these books are heavily, heavily marked with David‘s notes.  He studied accounting not just accounting but the tax code in 1985, and books about accounting and the IRS and resistance to paying taxes at that time to understand as fully as possibly what these agents‘ lives might have been like.

HAYES:  Michael Pietsch, he is David Foster Wallace‘s long-time editor and the publisher of “The Pale King” which is out today.  Thank you so much for your time.  I really appreciate it.

PIETSCH:  Thank you.

HAYES:  That does it for us tonight.  Rachel will be back on Monday.

You can read more of my work at or follow me on Twitter, username: ChrisLHayes.

Have a great weekend.  Good night.



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