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updated 12/10/2009 10:25:11 AM ET 2009-12-10T15:25:11

MADDOW

December 9, 2009

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Guests: Jeff Sharlet, Anthony Weiner, James Oberg, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thanks very much.

The wild ride of our show from last night continues tonight with the rather explosive follow-up to our interview with the self-proclaimed ex-gay, unlicensed sexual reorientation coach Richard Cohen.

There's a reported change in Uganda's proposed law to execute people for being gay.

And we have new information about American conservatives wading chest-deep into this still-emerging scandal-a development that may change some plans in Washington in the near future. You will want to stick around for that.

Also, Congressman Anthony Weiner says that he wanted the public option, but he also says he's happy with the latest health care compromise. He'll tell us why.

And we have a UFO moment of geek coming up, which includes President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize and some really unbelievable Norwegian pictures.

All that and much, much more-ahead.

But we begin tonight with a big development in this story that with we've been watching very closely. The debate that's happening overseas right now over legislation to execute people for being gay. It's the anti-homosexuality bill of 2009. It's being considered in the nation of Uganda.

And a number of Americans, prominent and otherwise, are implicated in the genesis of this bill. As written, it calls for a sentence of life in prison for being gay. It also calls for death by hanging for being gay and being HIV positive.

Today, a Ugandan official announced that those two most controversial provisions in the bill will be dropped. The Ugandan ethics minister telling "Bloomberg News" that an amended version of the anti-gay bill will not include the death penalty or life imprisonment. According to this official, the new version of the anti-homosexuality bill is expected to be presented to the Ugandan parliament in two weeks.

Taking the death penalty and life imprisonment out of the bill is, of course, a victory for opponents of the legislation. But if only those two things come out, what stays in are things like a sentence of three years in prison for knowing somebody is gay and not reporting them to the government. Seven years in prison for what they call attempting to commit the offense of homosexuality-whatever that means.

Being gay would also still be an extraditable offense. So, if a citizen of Uganda was suspected of being gay, even in some other country somewhere, even in the United States, that would be grounds to extradite that person back to Uganda so they can be prosecuted and if convicted, imprisoned for being gay.

As far as we know, all those penalties are staying in the revised version of the bill. And what's more? The revised version of the bill will apparently add something new.

Uganda's ethics minister telling "Bloomberg" that in addition to formulating punishments for gay people, the bill will also include counseling. Counseling to, quote, and I'm quoting here, directly, "attract errant people to acceptable sexual orientation." That's putting an exclamation point on the connection we drew last night between the American conservatives' pet cause, the curing homosexuality industry and this bill overseas.

Last night on this program, I talked with Richard Cohen, an unlicensed American would-be therapist, who's head of group called the International Healing Foundation. They say they can change people from gay to straight. They have a variety of trainings and books and C.D. and DVD series for you to buy if you believe the debunked unscientific claptrap that they're selling.

Mr. Cohen's organization dispatched a staffer to address the Ugandan parliament earlier this year and an anti-gay conference, and the organization donated copies of Mr. Cohen's dubious training materials and books to the promoters of the "kill the gays" legislation. Mr. Cohen's writings have been used in Uganda as if they provide a scientific justification for this new anti-gay bill, even though Mr. Cohen says now that he's not at all in favor of the legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You're telling them exactly what they need to hear in order to justify the "kill the gays" bill. I mean, your book portrays gay people as predators who must be stopped to protect the innocent.

RICHARD COHEN, INTERNATIONAL HEALING FOUNDATION: No, no, no.

MADDOW: It doesn't?

COHEN: Not at all.

MADDOW: The legislator who sponsored the bill told the "Associated Press" today that he insists these strict measures, which I know you abhor, but these strict measures they're proposing, including execution, are necessary in their country to stop homosexuals from recruiting schoolchildren.

COHEN: Yes.

MADDOW: Let me also just read to you from your book, OK? Page 49. "Homosexual are at least 12 times more likely to molest children than heterosexuals; homosexual teachers are at least seven times more likely to molest a pupil; homosexual teachers are estimated to have committed at least 25 percent of pupil molestation; 40 percent of molestation assault were made by those who engage in homosexuality."

This is the claim that you make in your book, that exactly feeds these folks who want to execute people for being gay, what they need in order to justify that. Do you stand by what you said in your book?

COHEN: Actually, you know, that one particular quote, when I do republish it, reprint it, we will extract that from it, because we don't want such things to be used against homosexual persons.

MADDOW: But this is made up, fake authoritative stuff that in other countries is being taken as science and used to justify, quite literally, killing gay people. Do you see now why you're being used in a political context here?

COHEN: I see that they are using it, but you take-you took that one little quote out of a 300-page book.

MADDOW: Yes.

COHEN: And the thrust and the gist of the text is why people have same-sex attraction and the opportunity for those with unwanted homosexual feelings to come out of homosexuality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Right out of the gate last night, Mr. Cohen wanted to make it clear that he is against the "kill the gays" legislation.

But as we've reported, his organization flew a staffer over to Uganda to address the Ugandan parliament about homosexuality earlier in year, telling them the message of Mr. Cohen and his group that gay people don't really have to be that way if they don't want to be.

It wasn't until our producers asked last week that Mr. Cohen and his group actually came out and said they were against this bill. It was eight months ago that they dispatched their staffer to go advise them on these matters.

The event that Mr. Cohen's staffer attended was a conference in March. In follow-up meetings after that conference, Mr. Cohen's name and his works were specifically cited, as if they were credible scientific research on this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Homosexuality is not about sex, but about seeking the love of the father or the mother. OK? It's not about sex, really. Although sex happens to be in it; but, a person really is seeking for love of the father, love of a mother.

Richard Cohen is one of the writers who, one of the very authoritative writers who has written on the subject. He himself was a former homosexual. And he studied psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and used himself as a guinea pig, and was able to come out of his homosexuality. And today, he is a married man with three children. This is him, "Coming Out Straight."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The other line of defense from Richard Cohen and these American anti-gay activists who have gone to Uganda and worked with the people who were writing and promoting this "kill the gays" legislation-their other line of defense now is that their work, going over to that country to address the parliament there and speaking to these countries, they said their work had nothing to whatsoever do with this law. That claim is false and demonstrably so.

Today, we have the chance to speak to the Reverend Kapya Kaoma. He's an Anglican priest who went undercover to that meeting you just saw a clip of and to the anti-gay conference that preceded it. At the conference, the priest recorded the sound of anti-gay American activist Scott Lively urging Ugandans to put a stop to the gay agenda.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SCOTT LIVELY, ANTI-GAY ACTIVIST: If your definition of homosexuality is being able to do whatever you want to, and that you should be able to go and engage in sex with another person, and that because of that, the disease you have is going to spread to that person and they're going to take it home and give it to their wife, how much tolerance should we have for that? We should have zero tolerance for that. You should not be able to do that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW: American anti-gay activists urging the Ugandans to show zero tolerance for homosexuality.

According to the priest who attended that event, there is a direct correlation between that conference, between American activists, anti-gay activists from the United States, going over there and talking about homosexuality to a Ugandan audience and the ultimate legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. KAPYA KAOMA, ANGLICAN PRIEST: When he lives we have the meeting with the Family Life Network, which I attended as well, in which, now, the strategy came up: how do we stop the international gay agenda. And it was (INAUDIBLE), a person from the parliament who is on tape saying that after listening to Lively, the parliament felt that we need a new law in Uganda, which would take into consideration the international gay agenda. So then they came up with this bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Reverend Kaoma told us today that the misinformation spread during these conferences is often corrected here in America but not necessarily so overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAOMA: So we have this problem of evangelicals going there, making statements and then coming back to America, continuing to enjoy life, but they leave the fire burning. And today, even the great man-Lively can tell you now that he is opposed to the bill, you know. Has he told Ugandans that? He hasn't. He told the American audience. But the people he misled are Ugandans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: American anti-gay activists and conservatives were instrumental in making this bill happen in Uganda. Even as they say to American audiences now that they're against it, the question still remains:

will they use the influence they have wielded to such horrific effect in Uganda so far to get Uganda to stop doing what it's doing?

As yet, Mr. Cohen's only statement against the bill appears to have been to us, because we asked. Although all day, I've have been fending off insistent suggestions from the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff that we pitch in together to buy him an airline ticket to Uganda so he can go tell them his feelings against the bill now in person, since they apparently think that he is an authority on these matters.

Mr. Cohen, if you are watching and you would like to do that, we think we could raise the money to send you there in about four minutes. I'm only half-kidding.

As yet, we have received some distancing themselves statements from a number of conservative members of Congress who have reportedly have intensive dealings with Uganda as members of the secretive religious group, the Family. None of these members of Congress have told us that they are willing to communicate their feelings about this bill to anyone other than us, like, for example, say to the government of Uganda that's supporting this bill, and over which the Family has been so proud to proclaim its influence.

If you think this is bad now for American conservatives in terms of how deep they are in this mess, it is about to get much worse. Just in the next couple of minutes, the American involvement in this horrific legislation is about to have its lid blown off. We have to take a quick break right now, but Jeff Sharlet is standing by to join us next with some explosive new reporting about when and where the "kill the gays" plot was originally drawn up.

You don't want to miss this. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We've been reporting recently on the Americans who helped the Ugandan government formulate and justify the idea of executing people for being gay. Coming up: The American involvement, it turns out is much deeper than we had previously known. Stand by to hear why, how, and who.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Our guest now is author Jeff Sharlet. Jeff is a contributing editor to "Harper's" magazine. He's been a frequent guest on this show for his coverage of the Family, the secretive religious organization best known because it runs C Street, the infamous home for lawmakers in Washington, D.C., that's been tied to a number of political sex scandals this year.

As Jeff has previously reported on this show, the Family is directly connected to the Uganda "kill the gays" legislation. And Jeff joins us now to bring us some new reporting on that subject tonight.

Jeff, thanks very much for your time.

JEFF SHARLET, HARPER'S MAGAZINE: Hey, Rachel. Good to be here.

MADDOW: Just for context and to reiterate here, the man who introduced the "kill the gays" bill in Uganda is a member of the Family, yes?

SHARLET: Yes, a young member of parliament, David Bahati, a rising star, who has been over to the United States for our National Prayer Breakfast and has taken something of an organizing role in the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast and has been involved with the Family for some time.

MADDOW: Now, as I understand that you have some new reporting today about when and where Mr. Bahati first announced his intent to introduce the "kill the gays" bill.

SHARLET: Yes, exactly. I think a lot of us have focused on that March Kampala conference and the idea being that the Ugandans sort of got this idea from Scott Lively and Richard Cohen and so on. It seems David Bahati was thinking about this before that, as far back as the October 2008 Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast-where he floated the idea at a meeting.

There was some pushback, I should-it's important to acknowledge that members of the Family sort of expressed some disapproval of it, but in the balance, as one Family associate explained to me, there's always a balance between access and accountability, access to power and holding power accountable.

In that instance, they seemed to prefer continuing the access to power of these Ugandan officials rather than stepping in and nipping that thing in the bud.

MADDOW: So, just to be clear, I mean, we have a National Prayer Breakfast here in the United States that is run by the Family. It's become a very mainstream event, something that the president speaks at. The Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast is also a Family event. It's run there the way it is here in America.

SHARLET: Yes. I spoke today actually with the Family member who helped set it up. This year was the 11th annual national Ugandan prayer breakfast, but he was working on it in the early '90s.

I should say, he started with the best of intentions, but it's, really, again, one of these illustrations of where things can go awry when someone like David Bahati or Buturo, or these politicians who are backing this, see this sort of American export and use it as a vehicle to take American culture war to extreme ends.

MADDOW: Do we know if there were any Americans present, any American Family members or any other American elected officials that were present at that National Prayer Breakfast in Uganda, where Mr. Bahati first floated this idea of executing gay people?

SHARLET: Yes, there were a number of American Family members, Family activists, who working in Uganda, who are at the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast. The keynote speaker of the event was an American Christian business consultant. He runs something called Jesus Christ Quality Management Consultants, and also, the Institute for National Transformation.

President Museveni of Uganda promptly signed Uganda up for one of these institutes after the event. But also possibly present, we haven't been able to confirm this, is Senator James Inhofe, who's been especially active with the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast. He goes there about twice a year. He's gone to many of the breakfasts. The Ugandan Family associates thank Inhofe for his wisdom and insight in helping make the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast what it is.

MADDOW: It's one thing, Jeff, just in the big picture, to think about something bad happening on a human rights issue in another country. The reason that this is a big story in the United States, or at least, I think it justifies all the time that we've given it on this show is because it does seem to have a real American inflection. And if Americans, as you say, do have a lot of access and influence, that comes with-that ought to-that ought to have accountability come with it.

And so, I have to ask, if the idea of executing gay people, executing people for being gay in this country, in Uganda, was floated at a Family event, this proposed legislation was introduced there, and this Ugandan legislator who proposed it is a member of the Family, and the Ugandan ethics minister who is supporting it on behalf of the Ugandan government and president is also a member of the Family-what's been the reaction inside the Family here in the United States about this being proposed?

SHARLET: Well, that's actually where the really big news is. I think there's almost a schism within the Family. There's-you know, there's the Ugandan branch, which is actually promoting the bill.

And then there's men, like Bob Hunter, who actually sort of helped build the Family relationship with President Museveni, but is very firmly against the bill, has been sort of quietly working against the bill and trying to reach out to the Family's political allies, like Senator Inhofe, Senator Brownback and get them to step up. And they, unfortunately, have been resistant to do so. In fact, they have in influence in Ugandan government, but now they're saying, we don't want to interfere in Ugandan affairs.

That hasn't stopped men like Senator Inhofe or Congressman Pitts from interfering with things like condom distribution in Uganda. They've been very active on the most intimate details of Ugandan life. But on this issue, they're stepping back while some other members of the Family are really drawing the line here.

And I think that's important to recognize that across a spectrum, there is a lot of opposition. And the Family could have a really great impact on this if they are able to marshal the influence and power they have there.

MADDOW: To be clear, just in terms of our reporting in trying to get to the bottom of this, we have spoken to a number of elected-the offices of a number of elected officials, conservative politicians here the U.S. associated with the Family, and while a number of them have told us they're against this bill, not one of them said they would do anything publicly to stop it in Uganda.

Jeff, I have to ask you about one last thing. And I know you talked to our producers about this earlier today. And this may be the single most inflammatory thing we have reported to date. These Ugandan "kill the gays" guys, the guy who introduced the legislation, and the guy who's mostly promoting it in the government, the minister-the ethics minister, they're planning to come to the United States next year?

SHARLET: This February for the American National Prayer Breakfast. This will be-if it happens-it will be a repeat for David Bahati, the man who introduced the bill.

Now, here's another interesting-some element of schism within the Family. Buturo and Bahati think they're coming. Buturo told my researcher that he was coming. Bahati has a whole agenda laid out. When I spoke to Family associates today, they said, "Well, that may not happen."

So, again, you know, you keep that pressure up, there's a possibility that the Family might actually use the influence and not dis-invite those guys from coming to the American National Prayer Breakfast.

MADDOW: And if not, there's the prospect of the American president speaking at an event before an invited audience that includes the guy who promoted, who introduced legislation to execute people for being gay in his country with the support and encouragement of American quacks like ex-gay fake therapists. Wow!

Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor to "Harper's" magazine, author of "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power"-great reporting on this story. You've got amazing sourcing on this. As always, Jeff, thanks very much for sharing with us.

SHARLET: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, Senate Democrats came to an agreement about health reform last night. The compromise basically seems to have killed what was left of the public option. Unexpectedly, our next guest, who was all for the public option, is also somewhat fired up about the compromise that may have killed it. He is New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. He is the subject of the interview tonight.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If you're a fan of this show, you may know that we don't do a lot of-oh, new poll coverage. We're not a poll-driven show. That said, every once in a while one comes along that tells a big story.

A new Quinnipiac University Poll released today says that only 38 percent of Americans approve of the health reform plans being considered in the Senate right now. That is a low number.

But what Americans apparently do like is the idea of a public option. According to the same poll, 56 percent of Americans still say they want a public option. They want the option of a government insurance plan to compete with the private insurance industry.

The public option has, of course, been consistently popular, even in red states and conservadem states, where members of Congress haven't supported it. Through all the debates, through all the ups and downs, through all the screaming and shouting and hyperbolic sign-wielding that dominated, say, the month of August, the American public has been and remains in support of the public option. And so, naturally, Democrats are reportedly dropping it from the Senate's version of health reform.

Honestly, though, what was left of the public option after all of the compromising and watering-down was a fairly puny policy. And we knew that, even six weeks ago. Six weeks ago, we talked at length on this show about what the public option had been negotiated down to. You may remember, I even used this big sign to illustrate what little was left of what we thought as of the public option. Even back then, it looked like it would only be available to people without insurance and that it probably wouldn't be available at all in some states.

The one saving grace for the public option, when we talked about it six weeks ago, was that, at least, the public option at that point wasn't going to be attached to a trigger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It's the public option, maybe, some day. This is the triggered public option that only kicks in if certain yet-to-be-determined goals aren't met by insurance companies years down the road. Where we ended up today is not the trigger. So, not "maybe some day." We didn't get the most conservative of all those options. What we got was a public option that's only available to uninsured people, only in some places.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That's where we stood six weeks ago. And now, the public option has been whittled down even further.

NBC News reporting that according to the deal struck by Senate Democrats last night, if we do have a public option now-I'm going to have to go find that thing I threw across the studio six weeks ago-if we do have a public option now, it's going to be a trigger, the "maybe some day" trigger, that was one further watering it down compromise they hadn't given it away at that point. Now, they've given that away, too.

So given the fact that the public option is now officially almost meaningless, why would anyone, much less 56 percent of the American public, still be hot for it, still be all excited about it?

Why would people still be hanging their hopes on something that would really only affect about one percent of the population. It would only be available to uninsured people, only in some places, only if a complicated series of events were to trigger it, which would be very unlikely.

Why are people still so enthusiastic about what has become a teeny, teeny, tiny little idea? Maybe it's because the nitty-gritty of the public option is hard to explain. And maybe what people really like and are attached to is just the idea of having an option for health coverage that's public.

The elephant in the room here is that there are already a lot already of public programs providing health care in this country. And they're very popular and they work. And surveys consistently show that Americans are more satisfied getting their health care through these existing public programs like say, Medicare, than they are with what's being bought and sold on the private, for-profit market.

So rather than have a public option, which essentially does nothing, what about just expanding the existing popular, long-standing public programs that we have now? The Senate Democrats' new compromise reportedly includes a provision to allow Americans to buy into Medicare 10 years earlier than people can get it now.

So they'd be starting at age 55 instead of 65. Why not 50? Why not even younger? Medicare is the program for older Americans. Medicaid is the program for disabled and low-income Americans. What if Medicaid was expanded to cover people with incomes four or five times the poverty level instead of the patchwork of eligibility requirements that exist right now?

What about building up existing, working programs like those, or like SCHIP, the successful, popular, kids' health insurance program that President Obama already expanded from covering about seven million kids to more than 10 million currently covered?

These are programs that already exist. They are not new or experimental. They are tried and true. We know how they work. And the people who are enrolled in them tend to like them. Could this be the simple key to what has otherwise been a pretty puzzling political process?

Could we solve the health crisis just by building on what works? If so, I doubt that the public option is going to get a particularly teary funeral from a lot of liberals.

Joining us now is Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York. Congressman, thank you very much for coming on the show. It's nice to see you.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY): It's my pleasure. Thank you.

MADDOW: You're a progressive. You have supported Medicare for all. After we've seen a big rightward drift in the health reform debate over the last couple of months, are we now closing in on something that you think you could support?

WEINER: Oh, I certainly do. I mean, let's remember something. The public option is something of a contrivance and a compromise for people like me who believe that, look, we've had an experiment for the last 44 years in health care for those over 65 and it's worked.

It's low overhead. You don't have to worry about profits. Ninety-six percent of all people on Medicare say that they like it. Why did we come up with the number 65? Why not 55 or 45, like you said in your introduction?

You know, I think that we would have made a much smarter decision to begin with Medicare and grow it. People understand it. You don't have all the confusion in town hall meetings.

And you don't have that weird schizophrenia in my Republican friends who say, "We're against public plans, but we like Medicare." So I think this is not the camel's nose under the tent. This is his head, his neck, and his shoulders towards what we really should be doing - is thinking about how we take that Medicare experience and expand it to more Americans.

MADDOW: I'm going to get a little hardball here in the sense that just talking about the hard-edged politics of this. It seems to me like if liberals were really good negotiators, liberals would be crying and marching in the streets right now, talking about how awesome the public option is, how much they're going to demand the moon and the stars in return for being forced to give it up.

That's not happening. A lot of liberals, myself included, talking openly about the fact that the public option had been whittled down to something almost useless. Is this a bad negotiating tactic?

WEINER: Well, I've got to tell you - part of the concern I'm concerned about. I want to make sure that my progressive friends, and I'm really not sure who it is that you can say really supports Medicare. It's broadly supported across the political spectrum.

Even my conservative Republican friends who opposed it when it was created say that's such a great thing now. They don't even want to cut one dollar out of it. But the most important thing is we need to keep in mind what our values are and then let someone else decide what the politics are.

We started this debate by saying we need to have more affordable coverage for more Americans. Well, Medicare is a great place, with its one percent overhead to start. If John McCain and John Thune want to hold a press conference attacking this proposal because I like it, well, that's fine for them.

But I think we should keep in mind what we tried to do. This is going to be a success if we expand the program that works. And isn't that what we always say in Washington? Let's take what works and build on it. Let's get rid of what doesn't.

We were all negotiating about what to do if we can't expand Medicare. Well, now we're back at that place. I'll let the politics take care of itself, because I think this is good policy.

MADDOW: On the issue of Medicaid, which is, as we said earlier, for disabled and lower income Americans, one of the common - one of the pieces of common wisdom about policy in general is that programs that are intended just for the poor tend to be poor programs, because there aren't a lot of people with a lot of clout to complain and get improvements when they are not well served by these programs.

Would Medicaid get better by force if more middle-class people were in it?

WEINER: Well, this is an example where the House bill is a lot better than the Senate bill. We do two things to make sure that Medicaid doesn't become a dumping ground. Two, we increase the reimbursement rates for doctors, so it's not such low reimbursement rates that no doctors want to be it and the quality of care is diminished.

And second, we don't dump responsibility on the states to fund half of it the way it is now. We have a race to the bottom for a lot of states. Since the states have to pay for half of Medicaid, they have a way of diminishing the services.

But I think that, ultimately, what we should have is Medicare for all Americans and that is people of all incomes, of all age groups. That's the way we should do it, a single-payer system that takes out the profit, takes out the overhead and says, "Listen, we're already giving our money to doctors. Why are we giving 20, 25 to 30 percent to insurance companies for their profits?"

And that's why Medicare has been a success. We have a financing problem that can't be overlooked, but at least we know money going into Medicare is actually going to patients.

MADDOW: Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. You are one of the clearest, most clear-spoken people on this issue, inside or outside of Washington. That's why we've had you on so frequently to talk about it. Thank you.

WEINER: Thank you.

MADDOW: Just ahead, north shore of Oahu, 40-foot waves, Kelly Slater.

A segment so much cooler than this show is, we can barely pull it off.

Honestly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Congress took up one of the president's announced goals yesterday, a college football champion playoff, which kind of made being a member of Congress sound like fun for once. That's all ahead.

But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today's news. Whether or not you want to, you probably remember these photographs of American defense contractors simulating sex, posing semi-nude, wearing coconut brassieres and drinking vodka out of each other's hind quarters.

They were doing this while they were also assigned to be guarding the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. These guys worked for Armor Group, a subsidiary of the defense contractor, Wackenhut.

The photos were made public by the non-profit watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight. POGO called attention to Wackenhut's rather questionable handling of its well-compensated responsibilities in the war zone.

Well, now, it's time to say goodbye to the company that provided these regrettable images of our tax dollars at work. The latest example of the miraculous efficiency of giving jobs to for-profit companies that the government and the military used to do itself.

Yesterday, Wackenhut's Armor Group notified its employees that the State Department finally decided not to re-up the company's current contract in Afghanistan when it expires in June. Efforts will begin immediately to find another for-profit, rent-a-guard company to protect the most important American building anywhere in the world outside of America.

No telling if efforts will also begin anytime soon to have the State Department and the military do jobs like this themselves again, like we used to do, before Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld came up with the brilliant strategy of hiving off jobs like guarding our embassies to geniuses like this, for profit.

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal and our Afghan ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, testified to the House and Senate this week, Gen. McChrystal argued that one basis for optimism that will be able to shore up the Afghan government and keep the Taliban from coming back into power is because the Taliban were really bad at running Afghanistan when they were in power before we invaded in 2001.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: They were not credible in power and they are not credible as a political entity now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: No argument from most of the Afghan people. But it does seem that the Taliban doesn't agree. They apparently want their old gig back. According to a barn burner of a story in "The Washington Post" this week, there is the official government of Afghanistan as recognized by us and the international community.

But then, alongside it, there's a shadow government, a shadow second government run by the Taliban. Quote, "Like nearly all provinces in Afghanistan, Laghman Province has two governors, the first appointed by President Hamid Karzai and backed by thousands of U.S. troops. He governs this mountainous eastern Afghan province by day.

The second governor was chosen by Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and hunted by American soldiers, sneaks in only at night. He issues edicts on Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan stationery and plots attacks against government forces.

The Taliban has established an elaborate shadow government of governors, police chiefs, districts administrators and judges that, in many cases, already has more bearing on the lives of Afghans than the real government.

So on your list of reasons why the U.S. can't leave Afghanistan in year nine of the war, cross off "because the Taliban government will return to power." In many parts of Afghanistan, it seems that the Taliban government is already in power, at least after sundown.

And they pay pretty well too. Gen. McChrystal told senators yesterday that fighting for the Taliban is a pretty lucrative deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the military side, are the Taliban paying their soldiers more than we're paying Afghan troops?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, there's no set pay scale, but by our intelligence, they're paying them the equivalent of about $300 U.S. dollars a month and that is higher than we're paying Afghan army or police.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The Taliban pays better. So maybe the Taliban are fighting our troops because they see us as the occupiers or the infidels or whatever. But maybe some of them are fighting us quite literally because they get paid more to fight against us than we would pay them to fight with us.

And finally, from the "I can't believe human beings do this" file, the Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau surfing contest, known everywhere as The Eddie, has only been held eight times in the last quarter century on Oahu's north shore.

It's only been held eight times in the last 25 years because The Eddie only happens when conditions are at their most extreme. The big wave surfing contest - and it requires really big waves, waves at least 20 feet tall.

Well, this year, thanks to El Nino, the waves were enormous. At the contest yesterday, surfing superstar Kelly Slater led for a while and it looked like he was going to surf away with the title for the second time in his career.

But then, Greg Wall, supposedly the best big wave surfer in the world - look at those pictures, surprised everyone with a 100-point ride, which is a perfect score in surfing.

And he scored it on a wave that was 40 feet tall. The 24-year-old won the grand prize of $55,000 and a lifetime of respect and "I am not worthy" hand gestures from anyone who has ever described something that isn't actually gnarled as gnarly. Dude.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We have an excellent and totally visual "Moment of Geek" tonight involving a huge, blue, weird UFO in the skies above Norway, the very skies President Obama is about to enter as he flies over there to give his Nobel Peace Prize speech. We'll cover the speech tomorrow. But tonight, we will cover the UFO.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In tonight's "Moment of Geek," it's the kind of geekery that freaks some geeks out - UFOs, people, the most alienated geekery there is. As we speak, President Obama is flying to Oslo, Norway to accept his Nobel Peace Prize. He's takes the Air Force One version of a red eye, flying overnight, arriving tomorrow.

But Air Force is apparently not the most interesting thing in the skies over Norway this week. Take a look at this video from a Norwegian TV report. This is what people who happened to be looking up around 8:00 a.m. in Norway saw this morning. Look at this picture. Doesn't this sort of look like it was Photoshopped, even Photoshopped poorly?

Here's another view, which according to London's "Telegraph" newspaper, was taken by a guy on his way to work at a salmon packing factory. And no, I did not make that up as some sort of dime store Norwegian stereotype.

These images have caused general berserk-ery on the UFO-watching Web sites. Is this an alien vehicle? Is this some sort of crazy cosmic wormhole?

The reality, while still very cool, is slightly less extraterrestrial. It turns out that Russia was conducting a missile test at that time, an anonymous Russian military source said as much to a Norwegian TV station.

And in fact, the Russian military even sent out this notice. Check this out, right there. You see among all those numbers? This is the warning. You can't make it out? How about if we - there we go. How about that? That's basically the Russians saying, "We are planning on launching this rocket. Stay out of the way."

It also turns out that when Russians have launched rockets like this in the past near Norway, it sort of looked like the awesome "Welcome Obama" spirally lights that's driving everyone nuts today, this picture of the sky over northern Norway taken during a rocket launch in early November.

Joining us now is a 22-year veteran of NASA mission control, NBC space analyst and UFO confusion debunker, James Oberg. Mr. Oberg, thank you very much for your time tonight.

JAMES OBERG, NBC SPACE ANALYST: Hi, Rachel. This is a great bunch of pictures. They sure knocked my socks off.

MADDOW: I know. Well, I mean, we have these multiple images to go by. I know it's not the same as seeing it yourself. But do you think this really looked as cool to the naked eye, as it seems like it does from these pictures?

OBERG: We can believe that now, because these should be ads for camcorders. People are carrying better and better cameras with them, and getting enough pictures from different spots at different times so that this stuff really gets well recorded, well-documented.

If only real UFOs were as cooperative, we may be able to prove something there. But these have been seen for decades, in the same basic area and inside Russia. They always get reported as UFOs. The CIA always wants to hear about them, because it really tells stories about Russian rockets.

And then the UFO buffs say that CIA is interested in UFOs.

They're interested in Russian rockets. That's behind this kind of stories.

MADDOW: So sky watching UFO enthusiasts are unwittingly providing information about rocket launches from other countries and military capabilities of people who our government is interested in looking at.

OBERG: Not just providing information, but providing cover. That's the most delicious irony is that the Russian government, the Soviet government was happy that people thought these guys are from Mars.

They were testing space-to-earth nuclear weapons, warheads, secret missile bases and people would see them and report them as flying saucers. So people in the west say, "Oh, we've got more and more flying saucer nonsense." It wasn't. It was real interesting spaceships - Soviet spaceships.

And the UFO believers - well, they just said, "No. They must be from Mars, too." They were the last believers in the official Soviet cover-up of what the sightings really were.

MADDOW: The logical utility of illogic. It's spectacular. Does the pure strangeness of what this looked like, especially with this big spiral thing, make it harder to explain with science and facts what this really was? Does it make it possible to talk people out of the idea that this was something from aliens?

OBERG: People who want to believe it's aliens, they're going to believe it. And like you said, you just need to go to some UFO Web sites and discussion groups. And they're hard over that this is a wormhole. This is some kind of apparition.

A lot of them are sensible. And they've been finding facts about it and say, "Well, this is not something to bet your case on. Let's look somewhere else." That makes sense. In that direction lies maturity and progress.

And I think there are some things behind some UFO reports of interest to military intelligence, security, law enforcement, theology, folklore. I don't know if they're from Mars or from outer space or not. You can't prove they're not.

But it's worth trying to find those cases. And this is a good case, if it were, people can progress. They can look at it and say, "Yes. Isn't it (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for it. Let's find it. Let's move on."

MADDOW: It's a good encouragement to pay attention to weird stuff.

It might be useful.

OBERG: Watch the skies.

MADDOW: Whether or not it is the way that you think it could be useful. NBC's space analyst, James Oberg, thank you very much. We will be watching the skies.

OBERG: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks a lot. Coming up on "COUNTDOWN," some incredible coverage of the third free clinic. This one's in Kansas City that's been funded by "COUNTDOWN" viewers. Amazing footage, coming up.

And next on this show, with unemployment and wars and health care reform, what is Congress up to now? Two words, Tim Tebow. I'm not kidding. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We turn now to our bowl eligible correspondent, Kent Jones.

Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. Well, today, the House finally took steps to fix a dysfunctional system that has needed to be reformed for years. No, not that one - another one. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): We've got wars, unemployment, a health care crisis, blizzards. But luckily the House was hard at work today debating a college football playoff. A House subcommittee approved a bill that would ban the promotion of a post-season game as a national championship unless that title is the result of a playoff.

One congressman, Rep. John Barrow from Georgia voted no, saying, quote, "With all due respect, I really think we have more important things to spend our time on." The subcommittee chairman and the bill's cosponsor, Rep. Bobby Rush, said, quote, "We can walk and chew gum at the same time."

OK, whatever. But wouldn't it be cool if we had an eight-team playoff for all the marvels? The current system of determining the champion is a disaster - 34 bowl games. Really? Kids playing Pop Warner football don't dream that some day, they will get to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

As for the national championship game this year, it's Alabama versus Texas. Now, no disrespect but TCU and Cincinnati and Boise State also had perfect records. And now, they're looking up at a sign that says, "You must be this tall to ride this ride."

Horned frogs, bearcats, broncos, I feel you. Come on, let's do this. It would be the greatest thing ever. And one more thing - Missouri needs to be in the playoffs every year, because I said so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW: Well, if you ran for Congress, could you institute that sort of change, I think.

JONES: I know. It's very frustrating.

MADDOW: Did you just have footage there of a team that was playing on blue grass?

JONES: Yes, Boise State.

MADDOW: Plays on blue grass?

JONES: Yes. Yes.

MADDOW: And they're like bluegrass.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: And they call it the Smurf turf.

MADDOW: Really?

JONES: Yes. Absolutely.

MADDOW: Oh, I think that disqualifies them from everything. Thank you, Kent. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. Until then, you'll be joined with "COUNTDOWN" with Keith Olbermann starting right now. Good night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END

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