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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, September 4, 2009

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guest Host: Ana Marie Cox

Guest: Tom Frank, Sam Tanenhaus, Jonathan Turley, Robert Reich, Jamie Court

ANA MARIE COX, GUEST HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you.

And thanks to you for tuning in.

Rachel has literally gone fishing.  But we carry on with a very busy show, including the latest declaration of states rights, the ongoing struggle to push health care reform forward, a legal challenge to two mega insurance companies in California, and we give Al Franken some pointers on how to get on the TV.

But we begin tonight in the very latest in far right-wing nuttery.  First, they sounded the alarm about the president‘s secret Kenyan birth certificate, the Birthers.  Then they warned you that his health care reform plan was really a plot to kill grandma, the Deathers.

And now, the conservative cornered that specializes in conspiracy theories has been inspired by the president plan‘s to address students next week.  Consequently, the indoctrinators are spreading the word about what the speech really means: President Obama is coming for your children.


MONICA CROWLEY, MONICAMEMO.COM:  This is what Chairman Mao did, Laura.


CROWLEY:  This is like Max Headroom.  This is going into every single classroom.  There‘s no escape from him.


ANDREA TANTAROS, MEDIA CONSULTANT:  They do this type of thing in North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

MICHELLE MALKIN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  We know that the left has always used kids in public schools as guinea pigs and as junior lobbyists for their social liberal agenda.


COX:  Now, that sounds farfetched, but it does explain the shadowy juice box lobby, and plank at the Democratic platform about getting rid of nap time and changing the preamble of the Constitution from “We, the people” to “mom.”

According to the White House, the text of the president‘s speech will be released on Monday so that parents can read it ahead of time.  It will cover such controversial subjects such as setting goals and staying in school.  It sounds like a speech I had skipped personally.  Certainly, those were two things I always try to avoid: goals and school.

And if the conservatives were making arguments about boredom and annoyance and having to call every time I wanted to go to the mall, I‘d be right there with them.  But predictably, they‘re going with the whole evil socialist dictator conspiracy theory instead.

And it‘s not just a pundit talking point anymore.  There are actual elected politicians using it.  Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty told a radio station today that the president‘s speech, quote, “is uninvited,” and that he‘s concerned about the content and the motive of the speech.

Florida Republican Party chair, Jim Greer, released a statement this week saying, “I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are used being spread President Obama‘s socialist ideology.”  And Republican State Senator Steve Russell of Oklahoma told “The Oklahoman,” “This is akin to something you would see in North Korea or under Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq.”

Right.  That all forgotten other fake reason we invaded Iraq, too many children in school.

Joining us right now is Tom Frank, Wall Street columnist and author of the book “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.”

Thanks for coming on the show, Tom.

TOM FRANK, WALL STREET JOURNAL COLUMNIST:  How are you doing today, Ana?

COX:  I‘m good.  It‘s really good to see you.

Now, is this the kind of reaction you‘d expect from the right?  This immediate leap from the president giving a speech to the kids, accusing him of socialist indoctrination?

FRANK:  It‘s going way too fast for me.  Look, I‘m from Kansas.  A lot of your viewers are going to know that I wrote that book “What‘s the Matter with Kansas?” and a lot of it has to do with that controversy there about, you know, teaching evolution, the theory of evolution in schools.

Schools are often sort of the battleground for the culture wars.  But these fights take decades.  It‘d go for years and years and years, fighting about the textbooks, fighting about evolution.  One fact will get in and then it would be thrown out, and another fact will get in.  This happened overnight and they‘ve concluded overnight with no evidence, or no—I mean, discernible, -- no evidence is discernible to you and me on the reality-based community that this is an attempt at socialist indoctrination?

I don‘t—I don‘t see how this—well, yes I do see.  I do see, Ana, I know exactly how it happened.

COX:  Well, it‘s really—it‘s really fast escalation.  That‘s true.  And there are school districts that are now refusing to show the speech and there are parents that are saying they‘re going to keep their kids away from schools so they‘re not exposed to it.

To me, it seems like there‘s something kind of uniquely right wing about kind of just—the first reaction to this kind of thing being to jerk your kids out of it, to not engage at all, to just like completely turn around and huddle in.

FRANK:  Right.  Well, it‘s the same impulse it gives you, you know, home schooling.  And it‘s—this is a—there‘s a fear sort of across the right and it runs throughout the culture wars.  This fear of public schools often they call them, you know, state schools or government schools.

And this is a place, this is a site of indoctrination.  That that‘s what goes on at, you know, your sort of Norman Rockwell public schools.  That‘s what they‘re really for.  And there‘s, you know, a distrust of teachers and of academics and of intellectuals generally, I should say, professionals.  Where you‘re talking about lawyers, you know, and their endless war against the trial lawyers.

COX:  Elites, I think, you‘re talking about Tom, elites.

FRANK:  Yes, elites.  Or doctors, what, you know, and you‘re talking the abortion war or, you know, this thing found in my ear, Ana.  Or in this case, school teachers, you know, there‘s this deep distrust of professional groups and they call them, yes, of course, elites.  And they‘re always trying to impose their, you know, ideology on we, the people, right?

COX:  Well, now, this is also—there‘s a little bit of a something, the reverse action here, because President Bush—H.W. Bush addressed school children in 1991 and there was outcry then from Democrats, but it didn‘t seem quite so emotional.  It wasn‘t the same kind of like pulling the school out of children reaction.  Do you think there‘s—and what explains that different tone to the outrage over Obama‘s speech?

FRANK:  Well, could it be that George H.W. Bush was not a commie, you know?  I mean, that might something to do with it.  I mean, look, obviously, this is—these are charges that only apply to liberals.  It only applies to Democrats.  And frankly it only applies to people like you and me.

The right, you know, they love having, you know, un-American activities commissions because it‘s always understood that they‘re the ones that get to tell the rest of us what the un-American activities are, you know?  That‘s why it‘s such great fun.  It only goes one direction, Ana, you know?

COX:  Well, it‘s fun for us in some ways.  I mean, it‘s fun now that I don‘t live in the Midwest anymore.  I imagine it‘s fun for you then.  You don‘t live there anymore.  But I imagine living there, if we were there, it wouldn‘t be nearly as much fun.

FRANK:  Oh, yes, but the food is so much better.

COX:  The barbecues especially, I know.

Tom Frank, “Wall Street Journal” columnist and author of the book “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule”—I understand it‘s out in paperback right now.

FRANK:  That‘s right.

COX:  Thank you—thank you so much for joining us, Tom.

FRANK:  It‘s my pleasure.

COX:  Now, no conversation about conspiracy theories put out by the right wing fringe is really complete without some mention of the ultra-conservative Web site WorldNetDaily.  “The Washington Independent‘s” Dave Weigel posts a story today highlighting the growing prominence and influence of the site among conservative media outlets.  WND‘s take on the president‘s education speech includes the implication that the speech—the speech that the president‘s plan to lecture kids about not dropping out of school could be part of plans to build a Civilian National Security Force.

But you might remember WND from such advancements of a whole host of other paranoid conspiracy theories.  The site has been leading the way in both the Birther and Deather movements, and it‘s currently warning that the White House is spying on your Facebook page—because President Obama wants to know why you haven‘t friended him yet.

Joining us now is Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the “New York Times Book Review” and “Week in Review,” and the author of the book, “The Death of Conservatism.”

Sam, thanks for coming on the show.


COX:  Now, what does it say about the Republican Party that WorldNetDaily is sort of a leading voice in it and.

TANENHAUS:  Well, there‘s been a long history of this.  Tom Frank alluded to it.  There‘s a—the main precursor to this kind of activity was something called the John Birch Society, which was an “Americanist,” so called Americanist group.  (INAUDIBLE), in the early 1960s, they published a magazine called “American Opinion” and they had ideas.  This fits into the whole school controversy that the PTA have been infiltrated by communists.


TANENHAUS:  Fluoridated water communist plot.  Dwight Eisenhower with a willing tool of the communist party, all of this kind of things.  What was interesting was then-conservatives and leading figures within the GOP realized at some point they had to put a stop to it.  So, leading Republicans like Senator John Tower from Texas, Nelson Rockefeller in New York, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, some of whom—some of these figures had flirted with the John Birch Society decided, no, that‘s not enough.

This is what we haven‘t seen today.  We haven‘t seen the political leaders come forward and put a stop to it. Let me tell you exactly how it happened.

In 1965, the greatest conservative intellectual of the period, William F. Buckley, Jr. put out a special issue of “National Review” in which he denounced the John Birch Society in essence, read them out of the conservative movement and made sure Reagan, Goldwater, and John Tower were on board, and John Tower stood on the floor of Congress and read Buckley‘s columns aloud and had them entered into the congressional record.  That‘s what we‘re not seeing now.

COX:  Well, now, what‘s missing here?  Is there—is there a Buckley figure that‘s missing?  Is there a Tower figure that‘s missing?  Who, is there someone—are we just lacking a conservative figure sort of rally these group of people and get by, as I‘m sure they did not call it then that what we call it now, and in order to reject these birthers and deathers?

TANENHAUS:  Yes, Ana Marie, that‘s exactly the problem.  If you look at the rise of conservatism in its great period, what I describe in this book, it was really led by intellectuals.  People like Buckley, James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, very serious-minded humanist intellectuals whose ideas then penetrated the Republican Party and shaped its attitude.

Now, what we see are supposed intellectuals on the right who are really mouthpieces of the party and don‘t differ with it in any way.  So they give you not denunciations of these sorts of conspiracy theories, but highbrow versions of them.  In other words, they agree.

COX:  Like in the “National Review” recently actually about this birther thing, they‘re sort of very—I think, very proudly pat themselves on the back about writing this editorial, saying that they didn‘t buy into the birther movement, but then.

TANENHAUS:  They pulled out some evidence.

COX:  That‘s right.

TANENHAUS:  (INAUDIBLE) the great historian.

COX:  They‘d put out—they had someone write a piece, saying, “Well, I don‘t believe in the birther movement, but it raises some interesting points.”

TANENHAUS:  Right.  This is something like a certificate of live birth, not a true birth certificate.

COX:  Right.

TANENHAUS:  So, there may be some germ of truth to it.  In his great pioneering essay, which is still the leading authority in all of this, the sorts we all have to turn to, Richard Hofstadter‘s essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” he described how all of this worked.  And what it depends on is producing reams of evidence, so-called, that hints at some sinister conspiracy that‘s trying to take America away from you.

COX:  I have in my hands.

TANENHAUS:  Well, the John Birch Society was formed one year after Senator Joseph McCarthy died.  That‘s the idea.  The enemy is—as Tom Frank and you said before—it is the elite.  That‘s a great term for it, the managerial elite.  All of the intellectuals in the culture, all the teachers, the doctors, the lawyers, the writers, the thinkers, the poets—everybody especially those working in federal government, will take your country away from you.  It was a very effective strategy for gaining power.

COX:  And obviously, that fear is feeding into what the reasons why people are gravitating towards this now.  I know a lot of young, really smart conservatives, I hope that one of them out there is going to turn out to be the next Buckley or better.

Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the “New York Times Book Review” and the “Week in Review,” and the author of the book brand new, “The Death of Conservatism”—thank you so much for joining us.

TANENHAUS:  My pleasure.

COX:  Time to introduce a new word to the health care conversation, “tenther.”  It‘s a term for hard core conservatives such as states—such as those in states like Georgia who believe that the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the Feds from enacting a whole bunch of government programs, like for instance, a health care program that doesn‘t really exist yet.  I‘ll talk to Jonathan Turley next.


COX:  But, first, “One More Thing” about indoctrinating school kids.  It seems like superstar LeBron James, singer Kelly Clarkson and the gearheads from the NASCAR circuit have joined President Obama‘s secret plot to turn kids into drones of a fascist communist dictatorship.  LeBron and Kelly will be featured along with the president in a 30-minute documentary airing Tuesday night called “Get Schooled: How You Have the Right,” which basically talks about President Obama‘s speechwriter, Kelly Clarkson‘s music director, and LeBron James‘ account manager, how they landed their high profile jobs through education and hard work.

NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart, they‘ve teamed with the White House to spread this horrible message to kids.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The drive to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The drive to learn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To stay in school to do your best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s up to all of us.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You owe it to yourself to educate yourself. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Makes success possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So as schools get a started across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Head back to the classroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Put your foot on the gas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  . grab on to your future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  . with both hands.


COX:  Now that is sinister.

Now, what these guys really want to do is to brainwash your kids into racing the family car, shooting baskets all day, and auditioning for “American Idol”—which actually sounds like a really excellent way to spend your time.


COX:  In a key decision against Bush administration‘s tactics, a federal appeals court ruled today that former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be sued for detaining a U.S. citizen without charges.  Abdullah al Kidd, a former University of Idaho football player was on his way to study in Saudi Arabia in 2003 when federal agents detained him at the Dulles International Airport.  He was strip-searched, handcuffed, and confined to high security cells for two weeks before being released without testifying and without charge.

Ashcroft asked for absolute immunity because he was acting in his official capacity.  But the three-judge panel voted two to one against him, saying in the majority opinion, “We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history.”

One small step for al Kidd, one giant leap for accountability.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We want freedom, total and complete freedom.  Secession!  Secession is the answer.  We hate the United States.  Get it out of our lives, get it off our backs.  Move on!


COX:  As unhinged as secessionists of 2009 seem to be, their throaty rejection of the federal government of the United States, is hinged, sort of, on the Constitution of those very same United States.  Specifically, the good old Tenth Amendment, the one that says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited to it by the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Tenthers use the Tenth Amendment to fend off government programs, like economic stimulus, with all of its unemployment insurance and infrastructure building.  There isn‘t just the governor of Texas and tea party kooks and guys holding signs on the street corners who use the Tenth Amendment as an excuse to reject help for states‘ ailing economies.

In Georgia, a group of Republican state senators, including the state Senate majority leader and the Republican caucus vice chairman, want to change the state constitution to allow lawmakers to invoke the Tenth Amendment against the not even fully realized bill, sort of still an amorphous idea of health care reform.

Yesterday, Republican State Senator Judson Hill said, quote, “The Tenth Amendment protects us from federal mandates.  United we stand to protect Georgians, united we stand to protect these freedoms for Georgians.”

Protect is an interesting choice of words here.  It makes it sound like health care—the health care that the not-yet quite legislation they‘re worried about may be providing is a bad thing.  They might want to ask the nearly 3 million Georgians, 34 percent of the state‘s population currently uninsured, if they feel well-protected.  And, of course, it‘s too late for the million-plus who the state has already failed to protect from Medicare.

But let‘s just consider all of them victims, that the 42 percent, that‘s 42 percent of the population of Georgia, that is either uninsured or already covered by government subsidized health insurance.  Georgians aren‘t yet calling for secession, but if they do, they‘ll run into a naming problem.  And there is, of course, already a Republic of Georgia.  Maybe they can be the Republic of Uninsuredia or maybe Stickistan (ph).

Let‘s bring in George Washington University law professor and constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley.

Thanks for joining us on a Friday night.


COX:  Now, can you explain the Tenth Amendment and what these tenthers are talking about?

TURLEY:  Well, the Tenth Amendment is very important.  And, in fact, it‘s one of the things that defined our federalism system.  Many of the framers were uncomfortable with the national government.  They wanted a guarantee that states had a certain sovereignty to them, that we allow states to go their own way.

And indeed, that‘s an important principle.  I happen to believe in states‘ rights.  I happen to believe that really, liberties are best kept close to the people on the state level.  But you can take that too far because we are obviously a national government that is composed of 50 sovereign states.

And what the Tenth Amendment advocates are doing here is pushing the language of the amendment far beyond where the Supreme Court has ever been willing to go.  It‘s very rare if the Supreme Court to strike down any law under the Tenth Amendment.  On its face, as you‘ve noted, the Tenth Amendment says that any powers are not given to the federal government or not prohibited to the states remain with the states.  That‘s an important principle of federalism.

But the Supreme Court has really rejected the vast majority of efforts that say that large federal mandates and programs intrude upon state sovereignty.  I mean, in 1991, in New York versus the United States, they did strike down one law dealing with low-level radiation.  But that was because we were giving the states the duty to enforce the federal law.  Otherwise, it‘s pretty much been a losing hand for people who have been arguing this type of point.

COX:  Now, you say it‘s rare and it‘s a losing hand, but I‘ve read that the tenthers themselves, they point to states that ignore federal laws like Daylight Savings Time and helmet laws.  Is it possible to use that same logic to the Daylight Savings Time, you can also use the same logic to reject the federal programs to provide health insurance?

TURLEY:  Well, it‘s not very good logic even in those areas.  So, I wouldn‘t—I wouldn‘t start importing it here.

The answer is no.  That states do have the right to go their own way.  And many states have said that we‘re not going to be forced by the federal government to do things we don‘t want to do, like have helmet laws.  The federal government in turn can withhold federal funding.  They can put pressure on the states.  But states can certainly refuse that federal money and go their own way.

There‘s a big difference between that and saying that somehow we‘re going to not allow Georgians to benefit from a national program.  Now, by the way, this Georgian law is, in my view, perfectly absurd.  I can‘t—I don‘t understand what it is that they‘re thinking.  If the Tenth Amendment means what they say it means, you don‘t have to change the state constitution because the federal government can‘t do it.  And so you could just rely on the Tenth Amendment.

COX:  Right.

TURLEY:  And so, I‘m perfectly confused as to why they‘re doing this and certainly what they‘re doing.

COX:  It seems like they‘re kind of confused too, quite honestly.

TURLEY:  Well, that‘s why we‘re here.  We‘re here to help.

COX:  Jonathan Turley, George Washington University law professor and a constitutional law expert—thanks for coming tonight.

TURLEY:  Thank you.

COX:  Well, Republican opposition to reforming health care isn‘t really exactly the most cogent thing in the world.  It would be inaccurate to credit the Republicans for actually killing health care reform.  The Democrats are doing a very good job of that all on their own.

Are Republicans making a mistake by protesting with such vigor?  Should Republicans listen to the ghost of Lee Atwater, the Karl Rove of his generation before there was a Karl Rove?  He literally quoted the Napoleon mantra, “never interfere with an enemy with it‘s in the process of destroying itself.”

Here now is Robert Reich, professor of the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley, and former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton—Secretary Reich thank you for joining us.


COX:  Hi.  So, Republicans are really using every tactic they can—the kitchen sinks of tactics, including the sink, the faucets, plumbing underneath it, to try and disrupt this health care reform argument.  Is that what‘s working here?  Is that what we‘re seeing in action?

REICH:  Well, in August, undoubtedly, the administration and Democrats were outmaneuvered by Republican and is right-wingers who used the town halls and a lot of right wing radio to basically discredit or create a lot of confusion and a lot of fear in the public‘s mind.  That‘s a big part of it.

But also, as you just said, the Democrats themselves have not exactly displayed a united front.

COX:  It‘s true.  And I wonder sometimes we‘re giving the Republicans too much credit when they‘ve won the media war.  But they haven‘t actually moved public opinion very much.  In a new poll out this week actually, 82 percent of Americans say the health care system needs fundamental change and needs to be rebuilt.

So, how are Democrats losing this fight?  Like, what should Obama say to turn it around?  It actually seems like he has a public with him already.  So, what does he need to say?  Who is he trying to talk to here?

REICH:  Well, I think he‘s got to talk and he‘s going to try to talk to the so-called blue dog Democrats.  These are conservative Democrats.  Many of them have been from—you know, we‘re elected in 2006 from very close districts, often traditionally Republican districts.  That‘s how Democrats took over Congress again in 2006.

So, the blue dogs and a lot of other conservative Democrats are very worried.  They‘re worried that their constituents may not be with them.  They‘re worried about what they heard during August, even though it was not exactly grassroots.  A lot of it was so-called Astroturf generated by national Republican right-wing organizations.

What Obama is going to try to do, what the president is going to try to do is calm them down, tell them and the American people exactly what he wants, why he wants it, why it‘s good for the country, what he doesn‘t want, and in a sense try to create much more of a coalition—perhaps even additionally reaching out to a few Republicans like Olympia Snowe in Maine.

COX:  Those magic words, Olympia Snowe.  We‘re just talking about the latest Republican salvo—Republican State Senator Judson Hill was asked if under his proposal Medicare would be considered unconstitutional, and he said, quote, “That‘s a very good question, I don‘t know.”

He later had to clarify that statement.  Since Medicare is currently a federal program the Republicans claim to love.  But is this illustrates sort of how Republicans are playing politics, like they‘re sort of just using whatever‘s available, very opportunistic politics with this issue?

REICH:  Opportunistic politics may be an understatement right now, Ana.

Look, the fact of the matter is that federal programs, like Social Security and Medicare, are among the most popular programs anywhere in the American history.  Everybody relies on them.  I heard people in town halls say, don‘t—you know, don‘t take away.  I don‘t want the government to take away my Medicare.  I don‘t want the government to take away my Social Security.

Well, of course, the irony is, that what the president is proposing or what Congress is proposing, I should say, because the president has not actually proposed anything is a.

COX:  I‘m crossing my fingers.

REICH:  . is something very, very modest.  Even the public option is just an option.  I mean, it‘s an insurance option.  You don‘t have to use it, nobody has to use it.  And yet still, Republicans and right-wingers are trying to scare people.

COX:  And hopefully, the president can talk some sense into everyone on Wednesday.

Robert Reich, Berkeley professor and former secretary of labor under President Clinton—Secretary Reich, thank you for your time tonight.

REICH:  Thanks, Ana.

COX:  Now, if your employer opposes health care reform, that‘s one thing.  But if your boss sends you a memo pressuring you to lobby against reform, is that illegal or is it just creepy and coercive?  A couple of health insurance giants are about to find out.  That‘s coming right up.


COX:  I know I shouldn‘t presume to tell Sen. Al Franken how to improve his TV sales.  But a little later, I‘ve got some ideas on how to jazz up his healthcare reform pitch.  Minor tweaks, nothing really serious. 

Plus Kent Jones has the weak - W-E-A-K - in review.  But first it‘s time for a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. 

First, an update.  Earlier this week, Rachel reported on the existence of these very disturbing photographs.  They were taken by employees of the contracting company called Wackenhut, which the United States has been and continues to pay $180 million a year to guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.  Because clearly the most important American building anywhere in the world outside of America should be guarded by these guys instead of having U.S.  Marines do it, which is how we used to guard our embassies. 

The Project on Government Oversight, an independent non-profit watchdog group wrote the State Department and passed on these photos it says are from Wackenhut whistleblowers. 

And now, we know how the State Department is responding.  As of today, 10 of the security guards featured in these photographs in various states of undress have been shipped out of Afghanistan.  Eight of them were fired and two were reassigned. 

A team from the State Department inspector general is currently on the ground conducting an investigation.  Alcohol has been banned from the offsite camp where the guards live.  And diplomatic security personnel have been assigned to baby-sit the contractors. 

So far, the Wackenhut contract has not been terminated, although that remains a possibility.  Because allowing your employees to party in the seminude and drink vodka out of each other‘s hind quarters, also known as taking a moon-shot, isn‘t enough to lose a contract.  How come that‘s never come up in any of my employment reviews? 

And finally, in my regular life, I visit the White House fairly often.  I can tell you it‘s not a very high-tech affair.  You‘re left wondering, “Where are the retinal scanners?  I bought this staffer‘s eyeball for nothing.” 

But one thing the White House cares a lot about, security-wise, are the visitors logs, which are the center of a debate over secrecy in Washington.  Candidate Obama and President Obama claim that his administration would be the most transparent in history. 


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency. 


COX:  And while the administration‘s record on openness has been somewhere this side of stellar, today, it announced an important step towards breaking with the secrecy policies of the previous administration. 

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney went to such great lengths to maintain an information blackout on the inner workings of the federal government that a whole new good government watchdog group had to be formed - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also known as CREW. 

In the spring of 2006, various organizations like CREW were looking into meetings White House officials had or may have had with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  So the administration and the secret service secretly and very quietly signed an agreement that the visitors logs, the ones kept and maintained by the secret service, would not be made public. 

Dick Cheney‘s lawyer went so far as to write a letter, again, a secret letter, demanding that the secret service destroy any data on who visited Cheney at his official residence.  So CREW filed a lawsuit.  The Bush administration argued that visitors‘ logs were under the White House control and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act request. 

A judge rejected this claim not once but twice.  And yet, once in office, the Obama administration continued to make this claim in court and in public. 


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Why would the president have any objection to the public knowing who is coming in here to visit? 

I think we‘ve taken actions to let people know who are, I think, again, Peter, this dates back to litigation long before we ever showed up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think you might have to uphold a precedent here? 

GIBBS:  That‘s part of what‘s being reviewed by the council. 


COX:  Which brings us to today‘s announcement.  The Obama administration will, beginning this month, post visitor records online.  As a result, CREW has dropped its lawsuit.  Of course, there are caveats and exceptions to the rule. 

For example, when the White House determines a meeting to be of national security concern or of a strictly private nature, those meetings will stay off the public record.  And we‘ll have to take their word for it. 

Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  When it has to shine through a filter, reflect a mirror and pass through a series of Web fiber-optics to finally reach its destination, it is somewhat diluted.


COX:  Welcome back.  Rachel has the night off.  I‘m Ana Marie Cox. 

Much of the news this summer was dominated by citizen outrage, a lot of it corporate-sponsored and contrived against the attempts to reform our health care system.  This show did some digging and found the second largest health insurer in the country, United Health Group, promoted some of the grassroots outrage. 

And “” uncovered a letter sent by United Health Group to its employees asking them to write letters and make phone calls to members of Congress and attend town hall meeting after advocacy specialists provided them with talking points. 

The letter went on to tell employees that, “You may be contacted during business hours by a member of the United for Health Reform Advocacy team.”  That is so crushing corporate communication above and beyond or perhaps below filing TPS reports. 

At the time, United Health Groups encouraging employees to oppose health care reform seemed creepy - another point of top-down profit-driven outrage.  The Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group based in Santa Monica, California, believes the activity may also have been illegal. 

Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to California Attorney General Jerry Brown asking his office to investigate United Health Care and another insurer, WellPoint, for allegedly violating California‘s Labor Code by pressuring employees to lobby against reform. 

The letter says in part, “While coercive communications with employees may be legal, if abhorrent, in most states, California‘s Labor Code appears to directly prohibit them.” 

The attorney general‘s office says it‘s reviewing the letter, leaving open the question of the claim‘s legitimacy. 

Joining me now is the president of Consumer Watchdog, Jamie Court.  His organization wrote the letter asking Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to investigate the United Health Care Group and WellPoint.  Mr. Court, thank you for being here. 


COX:  Now, what California labor laws does your group believe that United Health Care Group or Net Health Group(ph) and WellPoint might have violated? 

COURT:  Well, the Labor Code clearly says that no company can control or direct the political activities of employees.  And when you have a health insurer telling employees, “We‘re going to contact you during business hours about getting involved in a lobbying campaign to stop a government-run option that‘s going to put this industry out of business in those terms,” that‘s a pretty big way of controlling activity. 

So this wasn‘t just giving information on both sides of an issue.  This was aggressive lobbying and WellPoint directed its employees to a Web site where you can contact members of Congress with a specific message to stop the government-run public option and save the private industry, asked them to write letters, and it made them register and log in. 

So a big component here is that the surveillance, the control, the fact that someone‘s being contacted at the office, not at home, being told what to say and what to do, and also being urged to attend town halls.  We think that‘s controlling - directing to control political activity. 

And having been a part of these town halls in southern California, I can tell you there was an unbelievable amount of professional organizing.  And there were rank-and-file soldiers.  And now, we‘re really wondering how many of them were for the health insurance companies themselves. 

COX:  Now, what argument would be that it‘s in the insurance companies‘ interests to fight against this reform?  So how has it not - isn‘t it also in the employees of those insurance companies‘ interests to be on the same side as their employer? 

But you‘re saying because of the surveillance and because of the lack of options here, that‘s what makes the difference? 

COURT:  Well, they shouldn‘t be - you call them at home.  Afterwards, you don‘t link it to their employment.  You know, United Health says it‘s voluntary, but then, why are you sending out a letter to employees on company stationery?  Why are you doing it?  Why are you contacting them during business hours with a very specific dire message? 

I mean, this is really companies that are desperate to put their soldiers in the field.  So being an employee, you have the right to get involved in political activity.  But you shouldn‘t be coerced into it.  You shouldn‘t be having your employer tell you what to do and shouldn‘t be doing it on business hours. 

I mean, if it‘s being done during business hours, that‘s a company not just encouraging you, but directing and controlling you.  And if I‘m an employee and my employers tell someone to call me at my office about getting involved in the lobbying campaign, I‘m wondering if I don‘t, what are the repercussions, particularly when the language is dire here. 

COX:  And that brings us to the question, which is that do you have any whistleblowers?  Do you have any indication that there are people that work for United Health Group or WellPoint who were upset by this, who have come to you or made complaints to other people that you have heard, you know, third hand, that they were upset by this tactic? 

COURT:  Well, actually after the story appeared in the “L.A. Times,” we have had some employees contact us who were upset about the practice.  And we are going to forward those names to the investigators of the Attorney General‘s Office. 

So it‘s clearly something that doesn‘t settle well with some employees.  But also, you know, if you‘re an employee at these companies, when you‘re being told, “Look, this industry could be put out of business if health care reform succeeds,” and if there is a public option to the private market, then you‘re really wondering, “Wow, what are my options here?” 

And that to me is controlling or directing political activity.  It‘s not simply providing information. 

COX:  Well, we‘re definitely going to be following this very closely.  Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, thank you so much for being here.  We really appreciate it. 

COURT:  My pleasure. 

COX:  Now, ahead on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith has even more fact checking in store for Glenn Beck - you know, the guy who is upset we‘re broadcasting from this commie building. 

And ahead on this show, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota has the most rational, cogent, calm and informative conversation with tea-partying reform haters the other day and it was caught on tape.  Very, very boring tape. 

In a minute, we‘ll offer Sen. Franken a few tips on how to make his constituent meetings more popular on the TV machine and maybe even the tubes of you.  His TV guide is coming right up.


COX:  Remember earlier when I said Rachel was out fishing?  Now, I know some of you were thinking, “Yes, right, fishing.  That‘s some kind of euphemism.”  But what if I had proof, what if I had pictures of Rachel with a gigantic fish she caught today? 

Now, if I‘d said she‘d been hiking the Appalachian Trail or guarding the embassy in Kabul, totally different. 


COX:  There‘s video out on the interwebs of Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota allegedly ambushed by a bunch of anti-tax, pro-tea party conservatives.  This is going to be good. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you going to vote the way the people want, the people who elected you? 

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-MN):  I thank you for your passion.  You know, we need that.  And we need to have these conversations.  You said you want reform.  You want reform.  You want reform.  We all want reform.  So the question is how do you do it? 

Let me give you an example between McAllen, Texas and the Mayo Clinic.  In McAllen, Texas, they have a system where the doctors own the hospital, the doctors own the clinics or emergency centers.  Health care for people with Medicare there is three times as expensive as Mayo Clinic. 

Now, why is that?  Well, one is demographics.  They have a poorer population.  They have a poorer community, a large Hispanic population, but so does El Paso, and El Paso does it for half the cost.  Why is the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?  Well, because the doctor sees the patient as a profit center. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You honestly feel, given how everything is, that it can be paid for by the government and by the taxpayers?  Given everything else right now? 

FRANKEN:  I think that‘s a great question, and that‘s a question that we‘re going to have to wrestle. 




FRANKEN:  Yes.  Here‘s what I do know.  Here‘s what I do know - I can‘t

give you a definitive answer for that, like how much is this going to cost



FRANKEN:  ... et cetera.  OK, but this is what I do know.  If we continue the way we‘ve been going, it‘s unsustainable in terms of cost. 


COX:  Oh, tea party protesters with legitimate claims and calm questions?  Sen. Franken sharing all of this important information about inefficiency and Medicare, everyone agreeing that reform is needed.  How civilized.  Didn‘t anyone interrupt with some kind of out-there question or something? 

FRANKEN:  The example I took of McAllen, Texas, that‘s Medicare.  That‘s Medicare paying three times as much in McAllen, Texas as Medicare patients in Rochester. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  McAllen - is that where we have a lot of immigrants? 

FRANKEN:  I told you that they have the exact same demographic as El Paso which does it for half the cost. 


COX:  What was that?  A question was asked and an answer was received and accepted.  There was no screaming.  There was no shouting. 

Sen. Franken, I know you‘re new to this.  But honestly, if you want to get lots of national attention, you should call on some of your old skills from your former career.  If you want to make the news media cover your every healthcare discussion, you have to make it entertaining. 


FRANKEN:  I know the way that the way we‘re going now is unsustainable. 

COX:  For a start, you have to get some anger in there. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want us to stand up to them and tell them no! 

COX:  Angrier. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Radical communist and socialist -

COX:  No, no, angrier. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All I do know is that‘s what we in Texas need. 


COX:  OK, that‘s better.  But Sen. Franken is still sounding really rational, measured.  Meet someone who reacts emotionally to everything. 

GLENN BECK, HOST, “GLENN BECK”:  I‘m just a guy who cares. 

COX:  Too tame.  We need more. 

BECK:  This is from Moscow. 

COX:  Too calm.  More. 

BECK:  I‘m sorry.  I just love my country. 

COX:  Better.  But there‘s still something missing.  It sounds like good TV, but it doesn‘t look like good TV.  Much, much better.  Sen. Franken, take note.  This is how you get on television. 

And Sen. Franken, given your background in radio, if you want to get media coverage from that, too, we could just - you take some tips from your fellow Minnesota congressional delegate representative Michele Bachmann. 

She knows how to do this, just say things like we have to slit our wrists, be blood brothers to defeat health care, or that “I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it.”  Or go on the airwaves to say something like this. 


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN):  With women politicians, they want to make sure no women, no woman becomes president before a Democrat woman.  And so, they‘re doing everything they can to, I think, sabotage women like Sarah Palin, or perhaps women like myself or similarly situated women to make sure we don‘t have a prominent national voice. 


COX:  And that‘s how you get national media attention.


COX:  Here now is Kent Jones with a look at the last seven days in lame-itude.  Hello, Kent.  What have you got?


COX:  I‘m good.  What has been weak this week?

JONES:  I knew you were come coming.  I made you a wheat cake.  Here you go. 


(voice-over):  First up, birther babble of the weak.  Check out this bombshell from our friend at “World Net Daily,” quote, “‘WND‘ has found new evidence that Stanley Ann Dunham, President Obama‘s mother, was in Seattle on August 1961, within days of her son‘s birth, contrary to the accepted narrative.” 

Seattle?  Why that means Obama isn‘t really from America.  He‘s from northwest Washington State!  And Seattle, why, that‘s just minutes away from Canada.  Yes, Canada.  That‘s it.  The pieces are all coming together.  It‘s weak. 

Next, rock hard buns of the weak.  In the town of Silt, Colorado, this artistic sculpture of a naked rock climber so insulted local sensibilities that someone tried to cover the offending glutes with surfer shorts.  Cowabunga!  The local paper, “The Post Independent” went into a spasm of punning. 

Quote, “In hindsight, the town board should have seen it coming. 

However, it seems they chose to turn the other cheek.”  We have a trifecta.  Cheesy art, cheesy censorship, cheesy butt gags.  Voila!  It‘s a masterpiece of weak. 

Finally, flaming idiots of the weak.  In El Salvador, the locals of one small pondered how best to commemorate a huge volcanic eruption back in 1922.  And then it came to them, let‘s throw balls of fire at each other.  Might I suggest putting up a statue - clothe, not clothed, whatever. 

Better than throwing fire at each other?  Weak. 


Very dangerous.  Very dangerous.  Don‘t do that at home. 

COX:  Don‘t do that or take that to a town hall. 

JONES:  Yes.

COX:  I mean, you‘re giving people (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

JONES:  Absolutely not.  I have to ask, OK?  What‘s on your t-shirt? 

COX:  The big reveal? 

JONES:  What‘s on the t-shirt?  Oh, very nice. 

COX:  It‘s a tribute of sorts. 

JONES:  1976 -

COX:  The fallen liberal lion -

JONES:  Excellent.

COX:  I actually was looking for a Wellstone shirt.  If anyone can find a Wellstone shirt, I‘m very interested in it.  Classic. 

JONES:  Classic.  Yes.

COX:  Wellstone shirt - 

JONES:  Very good.

COX:  Yes.  Thank you very much, Keith.

JONES:  Absolutely.

COX:  And thank you very much for watching tonight.  Rachel will be back next week.  You can find at “”  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts now.  Have a great Labor Day weekend.  Good night.



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