updated 8/11/2009 10:29:23 AM ET 2009-08-11T14:29:23

Guests: Kent Jones, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Wendell Potter, Amy Hagstrom Miller

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you.

And thank you at home for staying with us.

Tonight, we will look at the latest from some of the folks who have been getting extra rich, thanks to the health care system staying just the way it is.  Senator Barbara Boxer will be joining us, as well as former health insurance executive Wendell Potter.

Also, the radical anti-abortion movement is trying to turn the accused assassin of Dr. George Tiller into one of its new leaders.

Plus, Rod Blagojevich gets caught on tape again, but in a totally new unnerving way.

That is all coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with the ferocious campaign to kill health care reform in this country, and an investigation into who‘s really behind it.

Out of all of the kooky conspiracy theories that are being peddled right now about health care reform, that health care reform is going to mandate abortions, that health care reform will mandate free sex changes—there‘s one particular conspiracy theory that has managed to gain the most traction by far.  And it is the idea that health care reform is really just a secret plot to kill the elderly.

Conspiracists from right-wing talk radio to street corner screamers to Republican members of Congress—all maintain that the provision and the health care bill that says Medicare will pay for the consultation if you want to get a living will, even though was that championed by conservative pro-life Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, that‘s actually, secretly a plot to kill your grandparents.

The theory has been presented as fact by Republican members of Congress on the floor of the House of Representatives.  It has been promoted by conservative talk show hosts on both radio and on television.  It has been Facebook-ed by prominent Republican leaders, like Sarah Palin, who says that she‘s fearful that Obama‘s “death panels” will want to kill her parents.

And now, this bizarre, completely inaccurate, scare-the-seniors, “living wills are really a secret euthanasia mandate” conspiracy theory is the subject of a new television ad that is running nationwide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  For seniors, this will mean long waits for care, cuts to MRIs, CAT Scans, and other vital tests.  Seniors may lose their own doctors.  The government, not doctors, will decide if older patients are worth the cost.

Tell Congress don‘t pay for health care reform on the backs of our seniors.  They‘ve sacrificed enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The government will decide if older patients are worth the cost.  Death panels, that sounds awful.  It also sounds really made up.

As you may have seen at the end of that ad there, the organization that‘s behind this ad is called the 60-plus Association.  What‘s the 60 Plus Association?  I am so glad you asked.

As we‘ve done with some of the other groups pushing this kind of misinformation about health care reform, we decided to find out exactly who they are.

60 Plus is a registered non-profit organization.  They‘re based in Alexandria, Virginia.  On their Web site, they describe themselves as a, quote, “non-partisan seniors advocacy group.”  Non-partisan.

A look at the group‘s leadership seems to suggest at least a slightly partisan tilt.  The president of 60 Plus is a gentleman named Jim Martin.  You may remember him from some of his previous and recent advocacy work, such as the Public Service Research Council otherwise known as Americans Against Union Control of Government.  He was also involved with the National Conservative Political Action Committee.  Hmm, non-partisan.

Alongside Mr. Martin is the group‘s honorary chairman, Roger Zion, who the Web site itself promotes as, quote, “one of Washington‘s leading spokesman for the conservative cause.”  Indeed, Roger Zion is a former Republican congressman from Indiana who authored new book called, “The Republican Challenge.”

That‘s who‘s running this non-partisan group that‘s currently running ads scaring old people about President Obama‘s health care reform plans.

And who has a record of funding this organization 60 Plus?  Well, when 60 Plus started lobbying against prescription drug reform at the state level a few years ago, AARP actually looked into who was behind them.  And they found that, quote, “virtually all of their largest contributions in recent years have come from the same source—the nation‘s pharmaceutical industry.”

In 2003, the drug-maker Pfizer paid 60 Plus to help defeat prescription drug legislation in Minnesota and in New Mexico.  According to the AARP‘s investigation, Pfizer, quote, “hired Bonner & Associates, a Washington-based firm that specializes in ‘Astroturf lobbying.‘  The firm‘s paid callers, reading from scripts that identified them as representatives of 60 Plus urged residents to ask their governors to veto the legislation.  Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. later said it had paid Bonner & Associates to make the calls.”

Why does Bonner & Associates sound so familiar?  Oh, yes, they‘re the firm that‘s now being investigated by Congress after they admitted to stealing letterhead and writing fake letters to impersonate groups like the NAACP in their coal industry-funded efforts to defeat climate legislation.  Same guys.

60 Plus also appears to have had ties in the past to the platonic form of Washington things or people to whom it is best not to have ties.  That, of course, would be Jack Abramoff.  According to a “Mother Jones” magazine investigation, Jack Abramoff once instructed an Indian tribe to donate 60 Plus, saying that that would help garner support for their legislative causes with the House GOP leadership.

60 Plus is well-known in Republican and conservative circles.  And like other corporate-funded P.R. operations, it often takes on causes that you wouldn‘t logically connect to their stated purpose.  The 60 Plus Association, which again, bills itself as a seniors advocacy group, they took on a subject they want us to believe is near and dear to the hearts of seniors.

Back in 2003, it was the issue of nuclear waste, urging Congress to, quote, “move forward and approve the safe storage of nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain.”  Because seniors love nuclear waste being stored in Nevada.  Old people love that.

As we‘ve reported on this show before, the campaign against health care reform in this country is being brought to you by professional, corporate-funded, Republican-staffed political P.R. operations.  In this case, an organization that promotes itself as non-partisan but appears to be anything but.  These are professional P.R. operatives that are scaring real Americans with increasingly paranoid and kooky lies about health care.  And they‘re getting rich in the process, thanks to the largess of extremely interested parties who are more than willing to pay for their services.

Joining us now Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of the great state of California.  She‘s the author of the new novel, “Blind Trust,” her second novel.

Senator Boxer, thanks very much for being here.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  Thanks for having me on.

MADDOW:  We have been trying to look at the two sides in the health care debate and trying to figure out who seems interested, not in spreading information about health care or arguments about health care, but conspiracy theories.  And we keep coming back to these industry-funded groups.

Is that the same thing?  Does that mean that we‘re facing the same thing now that we faced in ‘93?

BOXER:  Well, clearly, they‘re better at it.  But I think, thanks to you and I say this sincerely, and Keith Olbermann, and a lot of other people in the free—thank goodness—free media, we are learning the truth.  And, you know, I think what the Republicans thought was that they would come on here with these groups and shout everybody down and that we would walk away, we Democrats would walk away.

And I‘ll tell you, I think we are being tested, and I think we will stand up to this, because at the end of the day, if you look at the status quo, Rachel, 14,000 people a day losing their health insurance for no other reason than the insurance company walks away, or they lose their job and they can‘t take their health care with them.

If you look at where we are in infant mortality, 29 out of 30 industrialized nations; 24 on longevity, life expectancy out of 30.  If you look at the way people are going bankrupt here, about 70 percent of bankruptcies are linked to a health care crisis.  It goes on.

And the last point I would make is, if you look at what will happen if we do nothing, the average family in America will be paying between 40 percent and 50 percent of their income on health care insurance premiums.  This is unsustainable.

If I can‘t stand up to some screamers and to Rush Limbaugh, then I don‘t deserve to be in the United States Senate.

MADDOW:  Well, is there a Democratic versus Republican fight going on that is about health care policy?  If we—everybody acknowledges the numbers—at least most people acknowledge the number of uninsured, the out of control costs, the difficulties, not only for American families, but for our economy and for our international competitiveness in terms of our business.  Are Republicans proposing a different way to meet those challenges?  Or are they saying, don‘t fix it, it‘s fine?

BOXER:  They‘re the party of nope.  And I like to think of myself as belonging to the party of hope.  It‘s no—it‘s no about everything.  And you know, I don‘t think they do buy into the fact that this is a problem for most Americans.  They say we have the greatest health care in the world.

Well, the fact is, we pay twice as much and our outcomes aren‘t as good.  We have 48 million people with no health care.  As a result, they walk into emergency rooms.  It‘s costing every American who‘s insured $1,100 to pick up the cost of uncompensated care that goes on at the emergency room.

So, I don‘t think the Republicans own up to that at all, and I don‘t think they‘re interested in really doing anything.  And if you look behind it, as you are, I think what this is about is a continuation of the presidential campaign.  That‘s what it reminds me of.

And I—I told some other reporter the other day that, you know, I‘d been confronted by screaming mobs myself, and the last one was when I went down to Florida when there was a recount going on over Bush v. Gore.  And I got down there to just talk to the press.  And people were screaming at me, “Get back to California, leave, go home, get out of here,” et cetera.

The only way they were quiet is when I said, you know, two of your idols, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan came from my great state of California, and they would not be happy to see you screaming at a senator who gets elected, you know, after an election the whole state partakes in.  And they quieted down.

But it is this election-type feeling.  Now, yes, there are some people that are utterly confused, that think it is about death panels and it is the sickest thing.  As you point out, a Republican, Johnny Isakson, simply thought it was good policy to say if a senior citizen wants to speak with a doctor about whether they want, you know, heroic health efforts made on their behalf, you know, when days are waning and they‘re sick, they should have a right to have that conversation.  If they don‘t want to do it, they don‘t have to do it.

Now, suddenly, this has become the cause celebre—it‘s nothing. 

It‘s nothing.

MADDOW:  It‘s not about policy.  It‘s nothing to do with what‘s in the bill.

BOXER:  It‘s a choice—there‘s a small sentence in there that says: if you want to talk to your doctor about what you want to have happened to you, if you get very sick, you can.  And we‘ll help you pay for it.  But guess what?  If you don‘t want to, you don‘t have to talk to anybody.  This is a free country, you know?

MADDOW:  It‘s—the thing that‘s hard for me is I feel like the more—the further the discussion gets away from the actual policy, the more it‘s obviously just about politics.  And it does put, I think, Democrats in a pickle in terms of whether or not to engage about this stupid conspiratorial stuff or whether to try to keep things tightly about the policy.  I guess that‘s a strategic decision every Democrat has to decide.

BOXER:  I have a job to do.

MADDOW:  Yes.

BOXER:  I‘ve got to fight for the people I represent.  And I got to fight for them.  And if I don‘t, if I walk away because I‘m too scared to stand up and say what I think and listen and answer and tell people, “Let‘s have a civil conversation”—if I don‘t have the courage to do that, I don‘t belong in the Senate, simple as that.

MADDOW:  Senator Barbara Boxer of California, author of the new book, “Blind Trust,” your second novel, which I‘m very much looking forward to—thank you for bringing a copy of it.  It‘s nice to see you.  Thanks for coming in.

BOXER:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Nice to see you.  Thank you.

Guess who else isn‘t crazy about President Obama‘s health care reform proposal?  You get one hint.  Profits for the 10 largest insurance companies more than quintupled between 2000 and 2007.  And for some reason, the health insurance industry opposes the public option.  For a look from the inside, former insurance executive Wendell Potter will join us next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Are you by any chance a health insurance company executive?  No?  Me neither.  And you and I, therefore, even though I know nothing else about you, you and I have one thing in common for sure.  We are both in the wrong line of work.

SEC filings show that between the year 2000 and the year 2007, profit of the country‘s 10 largest health insurance companies rose 428 percent.  In 2000, they had $2.4 billion in profit.  By 2007, it was $12.9 billion.

Now, of course, this is America, we are capital C “Capitalists,” nobody begrudges anyone a ginormous profit, particularly if they‘re serving an important national need, like providing health insurance to the American people.

So, while the 10 biggest health insurance companies were seeing their profits rise over 400 percent between 2000 and 2007, how were they doing at serving that important national need?  How were they doing at the whole providing health insurance to the American people thing?  Eww!  Apparently, while they quadrupled their profits between 2000 and 2007, the number of Americans without health insurance grew by 19 percent.

That seems bad.  But not for everyone - also by 2007, the CEOs of the 10 largest health insurance companies were taking home an average compensation of $11.9 million each every year, while the number of Americans without health insurance for whom a burst appendix can mean bankruptcy has gone through the roof.

It was the insurance industry that bankrolled efforts to kill the last effort of health care reform in Bill Clinton‘s first term.  And now, the industry says they‘re OK with reform of a sort.  They just want to make sure that they don‘t get any competition from a non-profit government-run insurance plan that patients could opt into if they didn‘t like what the private sector was dishing out.  You know, if I was a health insurance company executive, I‘m sure I would want that, too.

Joining us now is a former health insurance executive-turned-whistle blower, his name is Wendell Potter, and he was the head of public relations for CIGNA, one of the nation‘s largest insurers.  He‘s now a senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy.

Mr. Potter, thank you very much for joining us.

WENDELL POTTER, CIGNA FRM. HEAD OF PUBLIC RELATIONS:  Thank you for the invitation.

MADDOW:  The leader of America‘s Health Insurance Plans, the industry association, says that the health insurance industry is being unfairly blamed as the president and Congress try to reform the health care system.

Do you think it is unfair to single them out for blame?

POTTER:  I think that she‘s doing what she‘s paid to do.  I think that the health insurance industry deserves a great deal of the blame because they‘re very much behind the town hall disruptions that you see and a lot of the deception that‘s going on in terms of disinformation that many Americans apparently are believing.

MADDOW:  Why do you think it is that profits for health insurance companies have ballooned so dramatically over the past seven years or so?  We‘ve seen since 2000 to 2007, we‘ve seen such a dramatic increase in profits.  Why is that?

POTTER:  Well, for one thing, since 1993, in particular, the amount of money that the insurance companies take in on premiums, less and less of that is going—they‘re using it to pay medical claims—in 1993, it‘s about 95 percent.  In a couple years ago, it was down to just around 80 percent.  So, that‘s one way.

Another is that they kick sick people off the rolls when they do get sick or when people get injured—either through, whether they have bought their insurance through the individual market or through small employers.

It‘s—and also, they‘re paying fewer claims.

MADDOW:  Well, if the government were to provide a health insurance option to the public, for example, like a widening of Medicare so that anybody could opt into it if they wanted to do—could private insurance companies compete alongside a government-run non-profit plan like that?

POTTER:  Well, they could, absolutely.  I‘ve seen the health insurance industry change its business models many, many times.  The insurance companies who operate now are very different from the companies that operated a few years ago.  They adapt very quickly.  And the one thing they know how to do is make money.

MADDOW:  You worked for CIGNA for 15 years, you left last year. 

What caused you to change your mind about what you were doing and to leave?

POTTER:  Well, two things.  One, it was kind of gradually.  One instance or in one regard because I was becoming increasingly skeptical of the kinds of insurance policies that the big insurance companies are promoting and marketing these days.  And they‘re really pushing more people into the so-called consumer-directed plans that feature high deductibles, and that is a leading reason why so many more people are in the category of the underinsured.

The other thing that really made me make this final decision to leave the industry occurred when I was visiting family in Tennessee a couple of summers ago, and I picked up the local newspaper and saw a story about the health care expedition that was being held across the state line in Virginia, in the coal mining area in southwest of Virginia.  So, out of curiosity, I just went up there to check it out and was absolutely dumbstruck when I went through the fairground gates.  This is being held at the Wise County fairground.

And what I saw when I went inside the fairground‘s gates were hundreds and hundreds of people who were lined up, waiting in the rain, to get care that was being provided to them by volunteer doctors throughout the state of Virginia in animal stalls.  Other volunteers had come previously to scrub down the animal stalls to make sure that they were sanitary enough for these doctors to treat people who otherwise couldn‘t get any care.

MADDOW:  And this is the system that the health industry has been able to construct and lead us into over the past—over the past generation and that they‘re fighting so hard to preserve now.

POTTER:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  Wendell Potter, senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy, a man who‘s been through a very big change in his life in recent years—thanks very much for joining us, sir.

POTTER:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up: There‘s strange new news about an apparent drunken murderous rampage in a place where that same person committing that same drunken murderous rampage just nine months ago would not have been a crime.

And we welcome back to THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, Governor F-Word, Rod Blagojevich, back in the news—kind of.

That‘s all coming up.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead: News from Kansas about how the anti-abortion zealot soon to be on trial for murdering George Tiller is being made into a hero by the movement that spawned him.

Plus, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska calls for civility in the debate over health care reform right after she says that health care reform is a secret plot to kill her parents.  That‘s civil.

That‘s all coming up.

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

There used to be a town about 10 miles east of Mosul in northern Iraq.  It was a town called Khazna.  And today, Khazna disappeared.  At 4:30 in the morning someone rolled two dump trucks full of high-grade explosives into this little town, the result in explosions leveled the entire village.

Khazna was a working class town of Shia Muslims.  At least other explosions in Iraq today appeared to target Shia Muslims, as well.  In total, these bombs killed more than 50 civilians and wounded hundreds.

We‘re also getting reports from Iraq of a strange double murder inside the Green Zone in Baghdad this weekend.  After midnight on Saturday night, a British contractor and an Australian contractor, who both worked for a British firm called ArmorGroup, were shot and killed.  The man taken into Iraqi custody on suspicion of having killed them is a fellow contractor, a British man from the same company.

A spokesman for the Iraqi interior ministry as well as a witness who spoke to “The Times of London” newspaper says this was all a night of drinking gone awry, that the contractors were up until 4:00 a.m. drinking vodka.  They got into an argument.  The suspect pulled a pistol.  And in the end, two men lay dead and an Iraqi colleague who was in the room with them was also shot in the leg.

If this sort of thing had happened before January 1st of this year, the suspected killer in this case would have been immune from prosecution.  It is only since January 1st of this year, in the agreement for U.S. forces to leave Iraq, that foreign contractors have been actually bound by any law.  In this case, it‘s Iraqi law, and they are expecting to try him for homicide.

Now, we have one more story for you.  Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, you‘ll recall, was impeached and removed from office after being accused of trying to auction off Barack Obama‘s old Senate seat to the highest bidder.  But being removed from office doesn‘t mean he‘s been removed from public life.  Mr. Blagojevich made a surprise appearance in Chicago on Friday.  He was apparently hired to perform at an annual street party.

No, I don‘t know how much they paid him.  But honestly, I sort of just need to stop talking about this story right now because the video totally speaks for itself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One, two, three, four.  Hit it!

(MUSIC)

(FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR BLAGOJEVICH SINGING)

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  For the record, the guy on stage behind Blagojevich is not the real Fabio.  We actually called Mr. Blagojevich‘s spokesman today, Glenn Selig, to get the scoop on the guy who looked like Fabio.  And the spokesman said the man in the video is a Fabio look-alike.  And I can‘t believe it‘s not Fabio. 

What was fake-Fabio doing there with Rod Blagojevich singing Elvis?  Don‘t know.  And why did the governor choose to sing “Treat Me Nice” by Elvis Presley?  Well, the spokesman has an answer for that.  He said quote, “It was his choice on what song to sing.  He really likes Elvis and he thought it was a song he could do justice to.  It was a song he likes.” 

If you‘d like to book disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich with or without a Fabio impersonator for your next public event, we can make that happen.  Act today; don‘t delay.  Operators are standing by at “GovernorRod.com.”  That‘s “GovernorRod.com.”  You think I‘m kidding?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The story of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller‘s murder is not over.  Tonight, the pattern, the cycle of violence of the radical anti-abortion movement is renewing itself.  It‘s a pattern that we reported on the show in the immediate wake of Dr. Tiller‘s assassination. 

Here‘s what you need to know about what‘s going on now.  Back in 1993, after Michael Griffin killed Dr. David Gunn, the extremist anti-abortion group, Army of God, publicly released a manifesto of sorts supporting that murder, supporting Griffin, declaring the murder of Dr. Gunn justifiable and proclaiming violence against abortion providers in general to be not just justified, but perhaps even necessary. 

One of the signatories to this disgusting, terrifying letter was a man named Paul Hill.  Paul Hill, in 1994, shot and killed another abortion provider, Dr. John Britton, as well as James Barrett, a 74-year-old clinic escort. 

At least six of the people who signed that public statement in support of the murder of Dr. Gunn went on to do time themselves for violent anti-abortion terrorism.  And today, we now know that at least three of the people whose names are on that list are in touch with Scott Roeder, the man who allegedly gunned down Dr. George Tiller in his church less than three months ago. 

According to a new reporting from the “Kansas City Star,” Scott Roeder‘s jailhouse correspondents include Donald Spitz.  He runs the “Army of God” Web site where a copy of the pro-violence anti-abortion manifesto can still be found. 

Also, Dave Leach - he signed the manifesto and he wrote a how-to book for clinic violence.  There‘s also Michael Bray who was convicted in a series of clinic bombings back in the mid-1980s. 

This ominous theme in the militant anti-abortion movement is especially worrying because the perpetrators of violence aren‘t just being turned into martyrs.  They‘re being turned into leaders, role models within the movement by virtue of having committed acts of violence up to and including murder. 

And what we‘re seeing now is the elevation of Scott Roeder to an exalted role in the extreme anti-abortion movement.  Like Michael Griffin and Paul Hill before him, Roeder is being celebrated, visited, and consulted by militant movement leaders. 

The question of whether or not he acted alone is reportedly still being investigated.  And, of course, we‘re all left to worry whether the next Scott Roeder is being cultivated and nurtured and inspired by the extreme anti-abortion movement right now. 

Joining us now is Amy Hagstrom Miller - she is president and CEO of Whole Woman‘s Health, which is a network of clinics.  Amy, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I appreciate it. 

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER, PRESIDENT, WHOLE WOMAN‘S HEALTH:  Thank you, Rachel. 

I appreciate it. 

MADDOW:  What do you make of the parade of figures within the extreme anti-abortion movement corresponding with and going to meet with Scott Roeder?  What do you think it means? 

MILLER:  You know, for a long time, us, abortion providers, have known this man didn‘t act alone, these people are communicating and that it‘s a conspiracy and that they work together in strategy. 

To me, one of the interesting things right now is that they‘re parading, as you say, in broad daylight, almost in defiance that the government will do anything about it.  I think about other domestic terrorism.  I think about, you know, after September 11th, if we had a known suspect in jail, how the government would watch very closely anybody that came to visit him or her, anybody that called on her, anybody that sent him letters. 

And so to me, it‘s just amazing that these people are in direct contact with Roeder and that there‘s still a question in the air that there wouldn‘t be a connection, that this man acted alone to me is just crazy thought.  And that some of the biggest, most prominent leaders in the anti-abortion movement in the country are contacting him, are visiting, are writing, are in contact with him. 

And so to me, there‘s a connection here and there‘s also a flagrant sort of publicity about it that it‘s almost proud.  It‘s almost defiant asking, kind of knowing over the years of the continuum of anti-abortion violence that there used to, you know, conspiring.  They‘re used to working together and not having anybody do anything about it. 

MADDOW:  Do you see this as a cycle that renews itself in the militant anti-abortion movement?  When I first started looking into the question of whether or not Scott Roeder had been supported by a larger movement when he allegedly killed Dr. Tiller, one of the things I was struck by is the connections between so many of the people whose names come up again and again and again. 

And the fact that people have been documented as visitors to or pen pals with other people who had committed these violent acts in the past.  Is this sort of their M.O., that once somebody commits an act of violence, it essentially elevates them within the movement? 

MILLER:  Absolutely.  I think it‘s a culture of where there‘s heroes, there‘s martyrs.  I think they put him forth as a hero.  They talk about what he did as being justified, as being righteous. 

The language they use is very incendiary.  It‘s very tempting for people on that radical fringe to be a part of.  It‘s attractive.  And I think the leadership is very much in contact with him.  I think he‘s a soldier. I think he‘s a martyr on some levels. 

But I think that it‘s very strategic on the part of the leaders to attract people like him to their movement to put them forward as heroes, thereby attracting other people that might find that kind of rhetoric and that kind of action and that kind of fame attractive. 

MADDOW:  In the immediate aftermath of Dr. Tiller‘s murder, one of the things we were able to report on were the spikes in threats of violence against abortion providers.  We talked to a lot of people involved in providing abortion services who said that they themselves, among other people who did that sort of work, were trying to help each other out, notify people about folks to watch out for and the extremes of the anti-abortion movement. 

And overall, the threat level seemed to be - seemed to be quite high after that murder.  Do you know if that perceived threat level has dropped at all since then, or what it‘s been like? 

MILLER:  Absolutely, it hasn‘t dropped.  I mean, at my clinics at Whole Women Health, at clinics all over the country, we‘ve had protests.  We‘ve had some, you know, anti-abortion phone calls.  There are people who are being followed. 

There‘s enormous amount of conspiracy and things going on around Dr.

Carhart.  He‘s being targeted.  They‘re protesting his clinic in Nebraska.  There‘s been a lot going on.  And like I‘ve said before, we notice this when a Democrat is in office. 

But even after Dr. Tiller‘s murder - you know, they murdered the doctor, his clinic closed.  And there‘s a fear among all of us that they‘re going to be emboldened, that they‘re ramping up in a way that we haven‘t seen for a while. 

And I think, you know, the American public doesn‘t - this is - abortion providers have gotten used to, I‘m sorry to say, this kind of culture, this harassment and intimidation that we face on a daily basis is part of our workplace. 

It‘s part of - it‘s like this slow boil that we get used to, whether it‘s constant intimidation - there‘s constant protest.  There are constant calls.  And, you know, many of our doctors are followed.  Many clinic workers are harassed at school or at work, in the grocery store. 

And so, I think, a lot of people in our country don‘t realize that the ends that we go to as abortion providers to preserve women‘s access to what is legally and rightfully their right to obtain. 

MADDOW:  Amy Hagstrom Miller is president and CEO of Whole Woman‘s Health, which is a network of clinics in Texas and Maryland.  Amy, I know that it was hard to get you to a studio tonight.  We went to great lengths to do this.

MILLER:  Yes.

MADDOW:  But I know you have a very busy day.  Thank you very much for joining us. 

MILLER:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith‘s long-awaited special comment on the irresponsibility of the right and what is supposed to be a debate about healthcare reform. 

Coming up on this show, Sarah Palin, Michael Steele and a random congressman from Pennsylvania all try to get away with disowning stuff they did in public.  And they fail disastrously.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  There‘s exile and then there‘s exile from exile, which is where you‘ll find former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a.k.a. the torture guy.  He gave an interview to “The New York Times” magazine this weekend in which he describes personal circumstances that would make famous cartoon Shlamil(ph) Schleprock feel sorry for him.

Despite having been the official number one law enforcement officer in America, Mr. Gonzales, post-Bush administration, has not found work as a lawyer.  He‘s also yet to teach a class at Texas Tech University, and he already suffers the indignity of a petition signed by 70 of his fellow professors there who are protesting his hiring. 

He owes piles of cash in legal bills owing to investigations into his reported malfeasance as attorney general.  And the extra-special pitiable circumstance, his old boss and Texas pal George W. Bush hasn‘t called him since Alberto Gonzales left office - not once.  No calls, no texts, no tweets, nothing. 

Mr. Gonzales had this to say to the “New York Times” magazine about his attorney general experience, quote, “It has had an effect, a negative effect, no question about it.  And at times, it makes me angry because it is undeserved, but I don‘t want to be sound like I‘m whining.  At the end of the day, I‘ve been the attorney general of the United States.  It‘s a remarkable privilege and I stand behind my service.”  Put another way, wowsy, wowsy woo-woo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Sarah Palin, the former half-term Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate, is now calling for civility in the fight over health care. 

You may recall that Sarah Palin‘s other contribution to the health care debate so far was posting a statement on Friday saying that, quote, “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama‘s death panel so his bureaucrats can decide based on a subjective judgment of their level of productivity in society whether they are worthy of health care.  Such a system is downright evil.”

Such a system is also downright made up by Sarah Palin, but that was Friday.  And today, she‘s calling for civility.  She released another statement that said, quote, “We must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment.  Such tactics diminish our nation‘s civil discourse.” 

In other words, who, me?  Diminishing our nation‘s civil discourse? 

Me?  Fostering intimidation and harassment?  Me? 

As Steve Bennett noted at “Washington Monthly” today, I don‘t think it occurs to Gov. Palin that activists might be less inclined to intimidate and harass if their leaders stop telling them that their president wants to kill children and their grandparents.  Maybe that kind of over-the-top made-up allegation might lead to some fear and anger and intemperate behavior.  I don‘t know. 

The age-old problem that politicians face when they flirt with the extremist fringe is that people who aren‘t part of the extremist fringe might notice what they‘re doing.  So if you‘re Rick Perry, governor of Texas, for example, it might feel like a smart political move to tell a railing, far-right anti-government crowd that Texas ought to secede from the union.

But when the tape of you saying that gets played to people who aren‘t part of that rather exclusive railing crowd, when the rest of the country hears you talk about seceding from the union - poof!  There go your Rick Perry dreams for ever running for anything outside of Texas. 

Now, if you‘re Rick Perry, you‘re nationally famous now as the governor who proposes dissolving the union.  You‘re now famous nationwide as the governor who wants to break up the country.  You‘re famous as the governor who is quite literally against the United States of America, at least the least the united part. 

The extremist fringe may love Gov. Perry for threatening to secede.  But in politics the price of cultivating the extremist fringe - the price of that is losing your support from absolutely everyone else who is not on the fringe.  And that‘s why politicians get caught saying, “Who me?”  They try to both cultivate the fringe and to deny that they are doing so. 

So you get Sarah Palin allying herself with the off-the-kook end fringe by denouncing mythical death panels in healthcare reform.  And once those remarks draw wide attention, you get her trying to appear to be responsible by calling for civility. 

Same goes for Michael Steele, chair of the Republican Party for whom healthcare hooliganism has meant a whole new round of “Who me?” 

As anti-healthcare reform forces shutting down town hall meetings and threatening and intimidating members of Congress started to make news last week, Mr. Steele tried to publicly disown those tactics, telling “The Washington Times,” quote, “I had nothing to do with that.  I did not encourage that.  That‘s not something deliberately coordinated by me or by any one state party.”

Except Republican parties were promoting the disruptions of congressional town halls.  The national Republican Party even gave them a brand name, “recess roasting.” 

Even today, the Republican Party is still sending out press releases gleefully bragging about and promoting Democratic members of Congress having their attempts to talk about health care with their constituents drowned out by angry mobs.

But if you ask the head of the Republican Party about that, his answer is, “Who me?”  It‘s an awkward political move, courting the extremist fringe but not wanting to be seen as part of the extremist fringe.  But I do have a nomination for one “Who me?” that actually sort of takes the cake. 

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago, we featured a Pennsylvania Republican congressman on this show named Tim Murphy.  He was on the show because of a constituent letter he sent out concerning whether or not President Obama was really a citizen. 

The letter was so long and detailed about every possible permutation of every possible whack job conspiracy theory about the president‘s birth that it essentially for us became a skit. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Before being elected president, then Senator Barack Obama was plagued with questions about whether or not he‘s a natural-born citizen of the United States, as the Constitution requires.  To refute these claims, the Obama campaign in June of 2008, released “Certification of Live Birth,” stating Barack Obama was born in the state of Hawaii in 1961. 

Before giving birth, the suits claim, President Obama‘s mother traveled to Kenya with his father, but was prevented from flying back to Hawaii because of the late stage of her pregnancy, and therefore, gave birth to the president in Kenya. 

At the time of birth, the suits contend, President Obama‘s father was a Kenyan citizen subject to the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, thus handing down British citizenship to the president, while his mother was a minor at the time of birth, too young to confer American citizenship. 

Moreover, critics argue, his grandmother claims to have been present at the birth in Kenya.  Other suits claim that even if the president was born in the United States, he lost his citizenship when he was adopted in Indonesia. 

As a historical matter, U.S. citizenship can be forfeited upon undertaking of the various acts including naturalization in a foreign state. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Pennsylvania Republican congressman Tim Murphy going into arcane esoteric abstruse, impenetrable lengthy detail.  That wasn‘t even all of it about where President Obama might conceivably have been born. 

That was a letter to a constituent.  He provides all of this minute rendering of the minutia of birtherism before concluding in this letter, quote, “I will keep your views in mind and continue to monitor the situation carefully.”  In other words, “Birthers, I think you‘ve got a point.  I think you‘ve got a lot of point.  I understand these points.  I am propagating these points to my constituents.  I am monitoring this closely.

That was less than two weeks ago.  This weekend, the latest word on birtherism from Congressman Tim Murphy is “Who me?”  He‘s just published a piece in “The Pittsburgh Post Gazette” that says, quote, “President Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen.”  Hey!  “While some would rather distract the American public, I hope we can get back to reality and focus on what‘s important, such as creating jobs.  I know what is important and what is political theater.” 

Who, me?  If you want to stoke the birthers, Congressman Tim Murphy, if you want to stoke the people shutting down town hall meetings, if you want to stoke the deathers who say that healthcare reform is a secret plot to kill old people, if you want to stoke the secessionists in Texas, for crying out loud, it is your right to do so as a politician.  Sure, go for it. 

But it‘s also our right to notice and when you get judged as a birther, deather, secessionist hooligan because played to those folks, because you cultivated those folks.  “Who me?” is not really a defense.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We now turn to our Highway 61 revisited correspondent Kent Jones. 

Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  You know, Bob Dylan is always trying new things.  This time, he‘s trying something really different.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Rebel, visionary, iconoclast, one of America‘s most important artists.  For a man whose unpredictability has been his trademark, his latest stylistic experiment may be his boldest yet.  Are you ready for Bob Dylan? 

Christmas Album?  Now, when I think Christmas album, I think this -

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Not this -

BOB DYLAN, MUSICIAN:  I was just going to sing Caruso.

JONES:  Nonetheless, several music Web sites are reporting that the man born Robert Zimmerman is releasing a Christmas record which will include such holiday chestnuts as “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “I‘ll Be Home for Christmas.”

We got our hands on an early demo. 

(singing):  Frosty the Snowman was a jolly, happy soul  with a corncob pipe

and a button nose  and two eyes made out of coal

Reporter: I think this could open up new, family-friendly horizons for Bob like yet another side of Bob Dylan, or Bob the tank engine or Bob for babies.  You watch.  I‘ll make fun of Dylan‘s Christmas album, and it will turn out to be the coolest thing ever.  How will that feel? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Exactly what I was thinking. 

JONES:  I just expected it. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  Thank you for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 

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

END   

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