updated 3/8/2011 2:47:14 PM ET 2011-03-08T19:47:14

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Richard Engel, Jon Erpenbach

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thank you very much for that.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

When it became clear that John McCain and Sarah Palin were a bad choice for the Republican presidential ticket in 2008, when it started to become clear that Barack Obama and Joe Biden were going to win that election and probably win pretty big, right before that election took place, something kind of weird started happening in presidential politics.  The tactics of what had always been the political fringe, the kind of stuff that hecklers scream at political events—the fringy stuff started getting voiced by at least one of the candidates themselves.

Although it felt weird at the time, I don‘t think it was by accident.  I don‘t even think it was even unpredictable.  In fact, at the time we were reporting on this turn in presidential politics, this is right before the ‘08 election, we said on the air on the show that what was happening should be considered a new law in American political science.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  I hereby submit that the longer it‘s clear that liberals or Democrats are going to win an election, the longer it‘s clear that liberals or Democrats are winning an argument, the more likely it becomes that someone is going to get called a commie, socialist, Bolshevik, commie, pinko, comrade, five-year planner.

SARAH PALIN ®, THEN-VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Taking more from a small business or from small business owner or a hard working family and then redistributing that money according to a politician‘s priorities, there‘s—there are hints of socialism in there.

MADDOW:  Hints of socialism.  With 15 days to go, best thing they can come up with is Barack Obama is a socialist.  He‘s a commie.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  That was two weeks before the 2008 election.  And that law, that principle, I swear it still holds true.  The longer a political argument goes on and the longer it is clear that the liberal side of that argument is winning, the more likely it becomes that somebody is going to get called—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH WURZELBACHER, JOE THE PLUMBER:  Yesterday, I saw signs, “Unions for America.”  So, I (INAUDIBLE) to them.  I said, what America do you want to be for?  You want to be for the socialist America?  You know, the socialists have come into Madison.  It is a fact—it‘s a fact that card-carrying socialists and card-carrying communists in Madison, around the state capitol.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Card-carrying?  Tada!  Joe the Plumber, still around.

Mr. The Plumber appeared in Wisconsin this weekend as a featured speaker on a Koch brothers-sponsored counter-protest, pro-Republican bus tour to try to make it seem like those tens of thousands of people in the streets of Madison and rallying all over the state against the Republican union-stripping thing, that‘s really just one side.  There is another protest movement, too.  It is a protest movement that is made up of buses paid for by the Koch brothers and hired talent like Mr. The plumber.

This bus tour thing should by now seem familiar.  There was, of course, the bloody red hand print “hands off my health care” bus tour from the health reform debate.  Remember that?  That was the same Koch brothers-funded group that did the Wisconsin buses.

There was the big November is coming bus tour that the Koch brothers group launched before the midterm elections.

This whole bus tour, instant fake movement thing has really becoming a robust cottage industry for some corporations.  They like to make it look like there are humans on their side, so they pay in order to make that impression.

So, you get like a rally for the oil industry.  Remember this one?  This one in Houston?  It‘s actually made up of oil industry employees who were bussed to the rally by their company, making it part of people‘s jobs to go to rally in support of their corporation.

Or you get the American coal industry launching its faces of coal Web site where clip art stock photos of people are passed off as real live humans who support the coal industry and have faces.

Sometimes, the most direct way to see through this kind of corporate-funded P.R. made to look like real politics is just by looking at the fine print on the signs.  That big pro-oil rally down in Houston that we just mentioned featured signs carrying the fine print “energy citizens.”  What energy citizens?  Although un-Google-able, if you persist, you will find that it is an organization created by the American Petroleum Institute.

Now, this weekend we got the same sort of corporate funded rent-a-movement thing going on up in Wisconsin.

And, really, it‘s not just a pattern, it‘s like a template.  They always do it the same way.

Here are the signs they were holding at the anti-union rally in Wisconsin yesterday.  They say “Stand with Walker.”  And then what‘s that, what‘s the fine print on this?  What‘s that?  Oh, a project of Americans for Prosperity.  Americans for Prosperity founded by David Koch—substantially funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

Americans for Prosperity saw their budget balloon from $7 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2010, as the Koch brothers really turned their influence-buying efforts up to 11.  And that, of course, means more money for bus tours.

And the guy the Koch brothers have in charge of Americans for Prosperity, he‘s a real pro at this.  His name is Tim Phillips.  Remember the whole Jack Abramoff scandal?  That was a scandal, that, in effect, was a crime syndicate that was stomach-turning in lots of different ways.

But one of the most nauseating things about that entire scandal was Tim Phillips‘ part of it.  Tim Phillips worked with Ralph Reed, you may remember him.  He used to be the head of the Christian Coalition before he went to work with Jack Abramoff.

What did Jack Abramoff use Tim Phillips and Ralph Reed for?  He used them to essentially gin up fake Christian political support for whatever Jack Abramoff‘s clients needed.  So, let‘s say Jack Abramoff had a casino as one of his clients, right?  He would get the marketing company run by Tim Phillips and Ralph Reed to start a “We are Christians and we are outraged against gambling” campaign.

And what would that do?  You guessed it.  That would keep any new casinos from being built that might compete with Jack Abramoff‘s client casino.  So, they were essentially getting anti-gambling Christians to inadvertently maximize casino profits for Jack Abramoff‘s clients.

Or that there was the Mariana Islands thing, right?  Do you remember this one?  That the northern Mariana Islands, it‘s a U.S. commonwealth.  That‘s a helpful map—look, it‘s a dot.

The U.S. government did an investigation into working conditions there, and found that sweatshop workers there were not only working in sweatshop conditions, they were forced into prostitution.  They were forced to have abortions.

So, you know, maybe stuff being manufactured under those conditions, forced abortions?  Maybe the stuff being manufactured under those conditions should not carry the “made in the USA” label.  Maybe Saipan has not earned that.

Well, in the mid-1990s, Jack Abramoff took on the Northern Mariana Islands as a client and he then put Ralph Reed and Tim Phillips on the case.  Their marketing company got conservative Christians from Alabama to lobby their member of Congress in favor of the forced abortion, forced prostitution sweatshop on the grounds that those Chinese laborers were being introduced to Jesus while they were there.  Presumably, that was between the forced abortions and the forced prostitution.

I asked Tim Phillips about it when we had him here on the show in 2009.  His answer was essentially, you know, that was a really long time ago.

It may have been a long time ago but dude still has the same basic job.  He doesn‘t work for Jack Abramoff any more.  Abramoff, of course, went to prison for that kind of stuff.

Now, Tim Phillips works for the Koch brothers, helping to gin in support for their corporate interest, by recruiting in this case, right wing, pseudo-celebrities like Joe the Plumber to denounce opponents of the Koch brothers‘ governor as card-carrying communists.  And, of course, to make it look like the Koch brothers cause that overwhelming support.

A four-day, 10-city bus tour of Wisconsin by Tim Phillips‘s group culminated in several hundred people turning up for a rally in a rented arena in Madison on Saturday.  According to the group‘s own state director, AFP‘s own state director, the turnout of 600 people in Madison was the largest on the entire 10-city tour.

Americans for Prosperity and Tim Phillips aside, the Republicans and Koch brothers governor, Scott Walker, have lost this one.  We have more polling out today, this from another conservative institute showing that the state is lopsided in its dealings against Governor Walker and the Republicans.

Despite some, I think, bad reporting today that the standoff over the Republican union-stripping plan was coming to an end, it doesn‘t seem like it is, and the longer this goes on, the longer it becomes that clear the liberal side is winning—I‘m telling you, the more people will be called communists.  It‘s a rule—and the more guys like the Koch brothers will have to spend to make up for the: devastating political costs the Republicans have incurred by picking and losing this fight in the American Midwest.

State Senator Jon Erpenbach joins us now.  He‘s one of Wisconsin‘s 14 Democratic state senators who remain outside of Wisconsin to deny Republicans the quorum they need to pass that union-stripping bill.

It‘s good to see you again, Senator.  Thank you for your time.

STATE SEN. JON ERPENBACH (D), WISCONSIN:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, there was this reporting late last night and early this morning that Democrats were going to head back to Wisconsin.  This whole thing was about to come to an end.

What was—what was your reaction to that reporting?

ERPENBACH:  Well, when I first saw the headline I was a little surprised.  And then I read the quotes from Senator Miller.  And, basically, he hasn‘t said anything that we haven‘t been saying since we‘ve been down here.  We‘re ready to go back.

But that‘s not necessarily up to us.  As I‘ve told you before, Rachel, it‘s up to the Republicans to sit down and try and come to resolution over this.

So, I talked to Senator Miller last night.  And we were actually very frustrated last Thursday night because we thought there was some sort of headway with Governor Walker.  And then the Senate Republicans, Thursday afternoon, passed a resolution saying if we crossed state lines, we‘d be arrested, which really isn‘t obviously incentive for us to go back.

So, we were a little surprised that we were getting signs from Walker administration that maybe we‘re going to move forward, but from the Senate Republicans, obviously, taking a big step back.  So, there‘s a little frustration on that which led to the article on Sunday night.

But we are where we were from the very beginning.  We‘re taking it very much day by day.  We continue to reach out.  Senator Miller sent a letter to Governor Walker today and to Senator Fitzgerald, asking them to come on down and sit down with us and let‘s talk things over.

Obviously, the response we got back wasn‘t the warmest.  So, we continue to stay here and reach out.

MADDOW:  In terms of how this might end, what would you need to hear from Governor Walker or from the Republicans in order to get you back?  What are you waiting to hear?

ERPENBACH:  Yes.  Now, that‘s a really good question.  First of all, we would like to hear that they are honest and sincere in efforts to try and bring resolution to this.  We‘ve been very upfront about why we‘re here and we‘ve been very upfront about what we would like to see changed either in the budget repair bill or the big state budget that‘s starting to come up now as well.

There‘s a couple different ways for us to get out of here.  First of all, you can just take an amendment that the state assembly had on the floor the other day to restore a lot of what Governor Walker wanted to take away from collective bargaining.  The other option which seems to be the stumbling block right now is collective bargaining as a whole.  They‘re not budging, we‘re not budging.

So, take out that language in the budget repair bill, put it in the biennial budget, and we can debate that for the next three months.  And that would be done through the normal process, couple of committee hearings -- people would certainly be able to weigh in on it, and it would be done in the light of day.  And most importantly, it would be done face to face.

MADDOW:  Governor Walker is conceding that on his own side of the aisle, he may have lost one of the budget repair bill votes he was counting from on Republican Senator Dale Schultz.  Without Senator Schultz‘s vote, Republicans can only stand to lose two other Republican Senate votes and still pass this thing as far as I understand it.

ERPENBACH:  Right.

MADDOW:  Do you think that one way that this might resolve is that somebody—that your caucus to the Democratic side might persuade two other Republicans to vote against what Walker is doing?

ERPENBACH:  Well, there‘s actually a couple of things going on back home.  Obviously, we‘ve all seen the polls.  You‘ve seen the left-leaning, the middle of the road polls and then the right-leaning polls and they‘re all saying the same, that Governor Walker should take the compromise.  Most conservative poll came out on Sunday saying 67 percent of people in Wisconsin supported that.

Now, if you are a Senate Republican and you‘ve taken a look at all the recall efforts going on around the state of Wisconsin right now and you‘re seeing how quickly the Democratic side are actually gathering up signatures, you take the poll results, you take the recall information that you have, and that might nudge you to say, look, we need to—we need to bring resolution to this right away.

There are some moderate members of the caucus.  And just to be fair here, we get along with them very well outside of the capitol mostly, but we get along with them fine.  I know that as a fact, if collective bargaining were taken out and voted on separately, it would never pass the Senate.  And there‘d be five or six or seven Republicans who would vote against it.

So, obviously, it‘s causing them a great deal of concern.  They seem to be under more pressure than we do, based on the comments of Senator Fitzgerald today at the press conference.  So, again, we‘re going to do what we‘ve been doing every day, Rachel.  We are saying here.  We‘re going to reach out.  We‘re going to try and come to some sort of compromise over this so we can come home and vote.

MADDOW:  One last detail I wanted to ask you about, just because you seem closer to these things than I am, even though neither of us are in Wisconsin—and that is that we are hearing rumors that there‘s going to be a tractor motorcade on Saturday at the state capitol, a tractor-cade.  Are you hearing these rumors?

ERPENBACH:  Yes, I am.  As a matter of fact, we have, as you know, Rachel, we have a strong ag community in the state of Wisconsin—very politically involved on both sides of the aisle.  And they are going to be joining the protesters apparently on Saturday and bringing their combines and their tractors down to the square and showing up in full force.

And that‘s great to see.  Obviously, ag is an extremely important industry in the state of Wisconsin.  And we need to keep that as strong as we possibly can.  And they are certainly supporting our efforts and supporting more importantly the protesters‘ efforts down in Madison.  So, it‘s going to be pretty cool thing to see.  And if you‘re not doing anything next Saturday, Rachel, it might worth you while to hop a plane and head out to Madison.

MADDOW:  I hear you.  I hear you.

ERPENBACH:  Bring a windbreaker with your name it.  OK.

MADDOW:  I am taking it under consideration, sir.

Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach in exile in Chicago—thank you for your time tonight, again.

ERPENBACH:  All right.  Thanks.

MADDOW:  All right.  Eugene Robinson coming up in just a moment here in the studio, Richard Engel live from Libya, and the bizarre spectacle of John Ensign, finally resigning from the Senate because of his sex scandal, but years after that sex scandal happened.  That is all coming up.

But, first, “One More Thing” about Governor Scott Walker‘s union-stripping folly in Wisconsin—do you remember when Mr. Walker‘s administration said protesters had caused so much damage to the state capitol that it was going to cost $7.5 million to clean up the horrible, horrible mess those protesters made and repair everything they had broken?  Walker‘s administration has now said that—well, maybe that $7.5 million figure was a little high.  They have since revised the cleaning estimate downward by 95.3 percent!  I know.  Never mind!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Want to see one of the Koch brothers get begged for money by a real live sitting U.S. senator on tape?  Want to?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SCOTT BROWN ®, MASSACHUSETTS:  Your support during the

election, it meant a ton.  And it made a difference.  I could certainly use

it again.  Obviously, the

DAVID KOCH, KOCH INDUSTRIES:  When are you running for the next term?

BROWN:  ‘12.  It‘s coming.  I‘m in the cycle—I‘m in the cycle right now.  We‘re already banging away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Already banging away.

“Think Progress” today posting that clip of Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown—my senator—telling the real David Koch how important that Koch brothers money was to him and how he could really, really, really use some more, please.

And the Koch brothers have, in fact, been very good to Senator Scott Brown.  In November, 2009 when Scott Brown‘s race was really the only impending Republican Senate race, David Koch gave just over $30,000 to the Republican Party Senate campaign committee, the NRSC.  The brother‘s Koch - - the brother‘s Koch Industries‘ PAC gave the committee another $15,000 at that time, and they gave Mr. Brown‘s campaign $5,000 directly.

That Koch Industries‘ PAC has also given tens of thousands of dollars to another Republican Scott, to this guy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, which is probably why someone impersonating David Koch was able to get Governor Walker on the phone last month for 20 minutes in the middle of what was supposedly a very engrossing state budget crisis.

Repercussions from that prank call to Governor Walker continue reverberating for the governor.  Not at least because in that call, he tipped his strategy, he explained how he would try to trick Democrats into coming back to the state capitol, thus affording the Senate a quorum to pass its union-stripping thing.  He also explained how he would use the threat of laying off state workers for its political effect.

Well, now, that prank call is giving Governor Walker a whole new headache.  Wisconsin state Democrats have filed an ethics complaint over what Mr. Walker said to the guy he thought was David Koch, or what Governor Walker said to the man he believed was the oil billionaire who had funded his campaign—specifically, they‘re raising ethical concerns about this part.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER ®, WISCONSIN:  The coming days and weeks and months ahead, particularly in some of these more swing areas, a lot of these guys are going to be—they don‘t necessarily need ads for them, but they‘re going to need a message out with reinforcing why this was good thing to do for the economy and good thing to do for the state.  So, to the extent that message is out over and over again, that‘s obviously a good thing.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suggesting to the fake David Koch that the real David Koch should get out the message for Republicans, raising the idea of a little Koch-funded independent expenditure to support the state‘s Republican senators, particularly in swing districts.

You know, that‘s the thing, though, about independent expenditures. 

If a politician suggests them, they are no longer independent.

Wisconsin Democrats say Mr. Walker was not only illegally coordinating campaign expenditures in that moment, he was soliciting David Koch‘s financial help from the governor‘s office inside the state capitol.  You are not supposed to solicit campaign contributions from your public office.

You know, talking about the Koch brothers in 2011 is starting to feel a little bit like talking about Karl Rove in 2004.  If you care about progressive politics or even just fair play in 2011, you really can‘t get away from the Koch brothers.  They are becoming way too ubiquitous.  Their names pop up in every scammy political scandal, one after another, from Wisconsin union-busting and phony Astroturf bus tours, to the questionable partiality of the American Supreme Court justices.  It feels like every time a really gross, new political scandal erupts, big or small, there‘s the Koch brothers with a chair pulled up to the table.

I do not want it to be true.  I am sick of these guys already.  But every time you turn over a political rock, there they are.

Another example: the new Consumer Product Safety Commission database that was scheduled to go on line this week.  It is a no-brainer.  It‘s an online searchable database the public can use to find out about safety concerns for household products.

Like I said, sort of a no brainer.  It passed the House of

Representatives unanimously in 2007.  It passed the Senate by a mile.  The legislation creating it was signed into law by George W. Bush to precisely zero controversy because—dear Lord, who is going to object to consumer product safety information being put online?

This guy will.  The Vote American slogan has to do with the fact that Mike Pompeo was running against an Indian American opponent in the last election.  Vote American, even though the other guy is American, too, or he wouldn‘t be able to run, but you know what I mean.  Mike Pompeo was elected—thanks in large part to his largest campaign contributors, the Koch brothers and their PAC.  Koch Industries is based in Mr. Pompeo‘s district in Wichita.

After the Koch brothers spent many, many thousands of dollars lobbying on the issue of that dastardly consumer product safety database, suddenly, America found one congressman who was willing to try to kill it.  Mike Pompeo, Republican of Koch brothers—I mean, Kansas.  Mr. Pompeo has e tried to spike this database.

“The Kansas City Star” reporting today that it looks like he will fail in those efforts, but I‘m sure the men upstairs appreciate his efforts anyway.

I do not want to keep talking about the Koch brothers.  Really, I do not.  I want to say it‘s Koch because of the way it‘s spelled.  They‘re awkward.  They‘re boring.  I‘m not interested in talking about them.  I don‘t want to keep putting their names in the spotlight.

But dude, these guys are earning it every single day.

Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”

Gene, it is great to see you.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Great to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Are Koch Industries and the Koch brothers earning this reputation they‘re getting like I think they are?  I mean, I‘m prepared to be told that they‘re sort of just boogiemen and they are being blamed for more than they are responsible for.

ROBINSON:  Rachel, they are out working for you every single day.  And, look, the difference between the Koch brothers and Karl Rove or Lee Atwater or others that may have played a villain role is that these are the money guys.  These are the guys with all the money in the world.

These are the guys who own the biggest private or a second biggest, depending how you calculate it, in the country.  Their combined personal fortune is third to that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  So, you have not heard the last of the Koch brothers.

MADDOW:  And that‘s—does that that explain the timing?  Because we have entered in the post-Citizens United universe, into an era in which there really are unlimited horizons in terms of what money can buy you in politics.  I mean, they‘ve been politically active for a long time, but they really have turned it up to 11.  They are really doing a lot more than they used to be doing.

Does that explain the timing?

ROBINSON:  That partly explains the timing.  Everyone has cottoned onto the Koch brothers.  They did a lot of stuff for awhile that we didn‘t really hear about.

It‘s not that they just turned libertarian.  One of them founded the Cato Foundation.  The other has founded Americans for Prosperity.  They‘ve been out there working.  It‘s just that we‘re paying attention, frankly—and yes, they are doing more.

MADDOW:  Are we—because people are sort of cottoning to them, are we getting to the point that a Koch brothers endorsement starts being a liability for either candidates or causes that they endorse?

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think we‘re quite there.  We could get there.  I think some candidates, for example.  Now, Scott Brown in the state like Massachusetts, that‘s embarrassing to him.  That‘s a problem I think, given that he has to run in essentially a blue state.

For other candidates, it wouldn‘t be a problem.  I frankly think the Koch brothers would be just as happy to kind of fade into the background, and let their money do the talking, and not be out front at all.

MADDOW:  I think that‘s—I think that‘s may be what has changed, that they were able to successfully sort of keep everything quiet about them.  They‘ve been convening these major donor conservative strategy sessions for years.  And it was sort of—sort of knew about them vaguely in a conspiratorial sense, but it was behind the scenes.  And now, all of a sudden, it‘s not.  They seem angry about that.

But I do wonder if that means that they can marginalize criticism of them as always being liberal and therefore hysterical.

ROBINSON:  I think they can try.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  But I think what people have to do is look at what they‘re actually doing.  You know, now, it wasn‘t a real Koch brother talking to Governor Scott Walker, for example, it was a fake Koch brother.  But I think people will start looking at things like independent expenditures and that sort of thing in connection with the Koch brothers because now that we know they‘re doing all this stuff, let‘s see if it‘s all on the up and up.  Even post-Citizens United, there are rules.

MADDOW:  The—Congressman Pompeo has a long history with the Koch brothers.  They not only helped him get elected, they helped him get rich by investing in a firm that he founded.  Do we yet have a sense of sort of who the Koch brothers‘ caucus is in Congress?  Obviously, Mike Pompeo is a chairman, Scott Brown is a ranking member.  But are there are others that are sort of we‘re getting a sense of who they influenced?

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think we—we certainly don‘t have a full sense.  But I think we‘ll be trying to put together that database, and maybe even put it online someday along with that other database that they want to keep offline.  That‘s an amazing story.

MADDOW:  Consumer product safety -- 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  I—we can‘t have that.  We can‘t have that, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Not if the Koch brothers say we can‘t, not in America.

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.  So, now, you understand.

MADDOW:  Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post”—it‘s great to see you, Gene.  Thank for being here.

ROBINSON:  It‘s great to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Next on the Republican to do-list, taking on those other subversive financial titans whose lavish material indulgences have bankrupted state coffers nationwide.  Finally, there‘s a governor with a starch to take something back from those private jet-taking, Swiss bank account-holding public school teachers.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You are a senior, very visible member of your organization, whatever that organization is—a business, a theater troupe, a bowling league, whatever.  You are given principal responsibility for the advancement of the your organization‘s cause.  You are upstanding family man. Your organization likes the cut of your jib.

Then you utterly fail to advance your organization‘s cause while simultaneously getting shtooping somebody who works for you who is married to a guy who also works for you.  Did I mention that you‘re married, too.  You then give your shtoopy‘s son a job and your mom and dad pay almost $100,000 to your shtoopy and to the husband because that‘s what rich parents of misbehaving children like you do, and all of that becomes public?  You are fired.

If you are self-employed, you fire yourself.  You have a hard time finding work again because not even you would hire you.  That‘s the way it works for humans.

Unless you‘re Nevada‘s Republican Senator John Ensign.  In that case, all of that have happens to you and then you keep your job for a couple years until you decide to retire in order to put your family first, and then serve out your term with pay and with government-run healthcare.  John Ensign and the parallel universe of his family valuing culture war-mongering party and I do mean party.

Plus, new bonus material about Newt Gingrich and the 2012 Republican presidential field.  That is all coming up and I cannot wait, in just a few minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  What you‘re looking at here is footage from the last few days of just how intense the fighting has been in Libya and in towns like this one near the capital city of Tripoli.  In this thing we may be calling a civil war, it is military and mercenary forces supporting Moammar Gadhafi on one side, against some defected military and—as you can tell from images—a lot of civilians on the other side, civilians who are, in some cases, learning how to fire weapons for the first time, and then firing them in live combat on that same day.

President Obama said today that all options in response to the violence in Libya remain on the table, including military options as the U.S. tries to stop Gadhafi‘s use of military force against his own people.

But, right now, none of the options for how we or the West or anybody can intervene in Libya seem clear or easy.  France and Britain are drafting a no-fly zone resolution to be taken up at the U.N., if they so choose, but that probably will not go anywhere because Russia has veto power on the U.N. Security Council and Russia has already said many times that it is opposed to any sort of military intervention, including implementing a no-fly zone in Libya.

Even if NATO or some other international body decides to impose a no-fly zone, it is not sure that would stop most of the fighting or even most of the large-scale military attacks on rebels and on civilians.  Fighter jets just don‘t seem to be the decisive hardware in this fight.  Gadhafi can still continue to do massive damage and inflict enormous harm, without revving up a single jet engine.

Of course, just because none of the intervention options seem like good option doesn‘t mean that no one should do anything.  But even very low key attempts at intervention so far have often been going awry.  Gadhafi‘s regime, for example, has been holding three Dutch marines for more than a week now.  They were part of a small effort to evacuate Dutch civilians using a military helicopter.

Britain has also found its way into a mess in Libya.  Britain‘s conservative prime minister, David Cameron, trying to make good on a promise last week to establish British contact with rebel forces in Libya‘s east.  He definitely tried.  But as they say in Britain, it all went pear shaped.  The foreign secretary had to go to House of Commons today to explain why a team of British special forces troops and an intelligence officer were deposited in rebel territory with no advance warning by helicopter at 2:00 in the morning.

We know this is how they arrived because once they landed, they got arrested by the rebels with whom they were supposed to be establishing glorious, official British, “we come in peace” relations.  They rebels detained the British forces against their will and ultimately released them and sent them home, as a proverbial homeopathic dose of humility for the rest of the world feeling antsy about Libya and eager to send in their own troops, maybe.

Joining us now live from Tripoli is NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.  Richard, thank you very much for being with us tonight.  I really appreciate it.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s always a pleasure, Rachel.

That story about the British special forces is just one of a series of almost ridiculous stories that have come out of this, where you have the Libyan propaganda on one side, and then you have this incredibly badly botched attempt at establishing diplomatic relationships, which is proving to be the weirdest of all Middle East revolutions.

MADDOW:  Well, Richard, on the issue of weirdness, and in particular the Libyan propaganda, it seems like the Libyan propaganda, it sort of seems like the Libyan propaganda, the sort of state media element of this is being done better by Gadhafi than it has been done a little bit better by Gadhafi than it has been done by other dictators and other people in the region facing these big protest movements.

ENGEL:  Well, I wouldn‘t say it‘s better, but it‘s being more believed.  And you have a constant barrage of state media, of state television, radio playing songs in favor of Gadhafi.  You can almost hear it in your head when you go and sleep at night.  You can hear the songs over and over.  That‘s how repetitious they are.

And people talked about the new media and Twitter and Facebook.  This has been a conflict where the old fashioned styles of propaganda, radio and television, are still being used, and are still being used somewhat effectively, even though the argument has been ridiculous that the protesters are all drug addicts, that they‘ve been taking these hallucinogenic pills.  People in Tripoli seem to be accepting it, and they were telling us here in Tripoli that we could go for ourselves to see truckloads of these little, tiny hallucinogenic pills that have been evidently seized, they‘re supposedly coming from China as an attempt to corrupt the morals of the people.

But on the British side, it is just a catastrophic error what happened.  And you have to think the British came in, they wanted to establish these diplomatic ties with the rebels.  So, they came in a helicopter, six SAS agents and MI-6 agent.  The SAS is like the, well, James Bond is modeled after SAS.  So, the elite special forces.  The MI-6 is there, equivalent of the CIA, foreign intelligence and an army signals officer.

They land in farm land in the middle of the night in a helicopter, and then immediately get surrounded and arrested by farmers, and then handed over.  They had weapons.  They had false passports.  None of this was necessary.

The British war ships were already—had already gone in and out of the port of Benghazi.  They had good relations with the rebels.  They were supposedly looking for a hotel and advanced team so that a larger British operation and British contingency could come.

We and other people knew where all the hotels were.  You could just go up and drive to the rebels.  They weren‘t hiding in any way.  And like I said, the Brits have already been in contact with them, but no, they arrive in helicopters, in the middle of the night.  They get arrested.

And then there are conversations between the rebels and the British foreign secretary are all recorded and then played on state television, giving Gadhafi‘s regime yet another propaganda coups because now he can say that the rebels are in contact with foreign intelligence agents which they were.

MADDOW:  That is unbelievable.  I mean, it is a comity of errors.  But do you think that it is also more than a comity of errors?  Should this be sort of a cautionary tale in terms of what other countries are thinking about doing in terms of intervention or trying to involve themselves bodily by inserting troops or other sorts of forces into Libya into the middle of this conflict?

ENGEL:  We have just confirmed that Saudi Arabia is already sending weapons to help the rebels here, and there had been some reports that it was involved with the United States.  We have told that the United States is not involved, but that the Saudis are sending in.

The Saudis are very worried about a long term conflict here because although Gadhafi talks about al Qaeda and he says all the rebels are al Qaeda, there is al Qaeda presence in this country.  There is an al Qaeda presence that it is taking advantage of the chaos.  And Saudi Arabia and other governments in this region would like to see this conflict resolved much more quickly so that the al Qaeda militants don‘t have an opportunity, particularly al Qaeda in the Maghreb, which is the region of North Africa where we are right now, doesn‘t have the ability to take over, because al Qaeda is using this to an advantage.

So, at least Saudi Arabia is taking active steps to help the rebels in order to finish the conflict more quickly.

MADDOW:  NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, live from the bizarre and tragic scene that is Tripoli—thank you for staying up late and joining us tonight, Richard.  Really appreciate it.

ENGEL:  My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right. So, as food and gas get more expensive, is it more than supply and demand?  Is the price spike coming in part from Wall Street?  Just when you couldn‘t be more alienated from the financial sector, my friend Ed Schultz launches a week-long series tonight about why things really cost more right now.  It is an amazing series.  It kicks off tonight.  I highly recommend it.

Plus, John Ensign‘s weird retirement.

And a quick and easy test to find out if you have a case of the bad governor.  It‘s coming up right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The whole country basically other than North Dakota has been in a very deep recession, 49 different states have budgetary misery are happening now.  But here‘s a simple test.  We will call it the Rick Scott test.

A simple test for determining whether or not—whether your quality of life and your share of the American Dream is going to shrivel significantly this year for a real economic reason or just because you have a bad governor.

We call this the Rick Scott test because newly-elected Florida Governor Rick Scott didn‘t just use the state budget deficit to justify cutting public education down to the bone and through it.  He didn‘t say, oh, our state deficit is so bad.  I‘ve got to kill education to make the deficit better.

No, Rick Scott gets the bad governor test named after him because Rick Scott found a way to make huge devastating cuts to education in a way that does not help the state‘s budget deficit at all.

Rick Scott has just announced his new budget in Florida.  It takes more than $1.7 billion out of public schools.  And instead of putting that money back into the budget, the budget gives it away in corporate and property tax breaks.  So, K through 12 education gets absolutely eviscerated in the state of Florida and the money that is saved by the state no longer spending the money on the schools doesn‘t close the state budget gap at all.  It leaves it roughly exactly as is and instead gives the saved money away in the form of tax cuts.  So, you get all of the pain and none of the gain.

Is your state about to become a much worse place to live because of an actual economic shortfall in your state?  Or is your state about to become a much worse place to live because it‘s just what your governor wants?  It is the Rick Scott test.  It‘s empirical.  Tax cut for dummies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA:  I‘m David Vitter and I‘m running for the U.S. Senate for the sake of our children.  There are a lot of things I‘m going to change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Great, David.  You can start by changing Jack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  David Vitter rode his family values image all the way to the United States Senate when he was elected in 2004.  But about two and a half years into his Senate term, Mr. Vitter‘s name popped up in the phone records of the D.C. Madam.  He never faced criminal prostitution charges but he did admit to something he called “a very serious sin” and then he just stuck around.  He stayed.  He stayed in the Senate.

The Republican Party essentially stood by him, and this past November, David Vitter was re-elected.  David Vitter the hooker guy—still there.

Senator John Ensign also ran for office on the basis of his family values.  And he continued to tout them while in office.  In 1998, Mr.  Ensign called on President Clinton to resign the presidency because of the Monica Lewinsky affair, saying of the president, quote, “He has no credibility left.”

In 2004, Mr. Ensign took a chest-thumping, sanctimonious stand on behalf of the sanctity of marriage, saying in the United States Senate, quote, “Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded.  For those who say that the Constitution is so sacred that we cannot or should not adopt the federal marriage amendment banning marriage rights for gay people, I would simply point out that marriage and the sanctity of that institution predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation.”

The sanctity of marriage very important to Senator Ensign in 2004 when he was pushing for a marriage amendment to define marriage as not for the homos.

In the summer of 2009, however, we learned that John Ensign had had an affair with the wife of one of his staffers, who was also a staffer of his.  He also hired their son to work for the Republican Party while he was shtooping the young man‘s mom.  And then both the wife he was sleeping with and her husband had to quit working for John Ensign.  I don‘t have the heart to inquire what happened to the son.

At or around which point they had to leave his employ, Senator Ensign‘s parents paid the husband and wife $96,000 -- $96,000.  They tried really hard to make it sound like a gift.

Here‘s the most awkward lawyer letter of all time, which is apparently drafted to get that job done.  Quote, “In April 2008, Senator Ensign‘s parents each made gifts to Doug Hampton, Cindy Hampton and two children in a form of a check totaling 96 grand.  Each gift was limited to $12,000.  The payments were made as gifts, accepted as gifts, and complied with tax rules governing gifts.  After the senator told his parents about the affair, his parents decided to make the gifts out of concern for well-being of long time friends during a difficult time.”

One check to the couple and two of their children—do the math, adds up to $96,000.  Of course, the Hamptons have three children.  So, John Ensign‘s very generous parents, in order to make this math work out, must just not have liked the third Hampton child very much.  No 12 grand gift for you, third Hampton child.  Yes.

Having done a very bad job making this all seem OK, having done a very bad job as Republican Senate campaign chairman, which he was during all the affairs stuff, after weathering an FBI investigation of the cover up and still under a Senate ethics investigation, Senator Ensign never lost the public support of the Republican Party and he announced today that on his own terms, he is leaving the Senate, insisting beyond all shadow of irony that really he needs to put his family first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA:  As you all know, campaigns are ugly enough today.  And this campaign would be exceptionally ugly.  And because of that, I don‘t want to put my family through that.  And for these reasons, I will not be seeking re-election in 2012.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  He always puts his family first.  Senator Ensign today also giving a statement that needed very awkward levels of annotation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ENSIGN:  I want to pay a special word of thanks to my loyal staff.  During this time it‘s been very difficult on them, but they have handled themselves with professionalism and have served the people in the state of Nevada in an extraordinary way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Asterisk.

When he says he wants to pay a special word of thanks to his loyal staff for their professionalism, what he is saying is not the staff member I was shtooping or the staff member whose wife I shtooped.  So, that‘s not what I mean.  But the rest of my loyal staff that‘s who he‘s thanking for being loyal and for being professional.

You know what?  John Ensign is not in any rush here.  John Ensign says he is sticking around for the rest of his term, that is more than a year and a half left in the rest of his term at this point.  Of course, he‘ll continue to work alongside David Vitter in the Senate during that time.  He‘ll be there through the Republican presidential nominating process, that just today afforded us the spectacle of Newt Gingrich addressing something called the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum, in an event designed to keep what they call social issues, things like marriage and sexual morality on the front burner of Republican politics.

Newt Gingrich giving a barn burner of a statement about the importance of morality—Newt Gingrich, of course, who admitted to having an affair with a House staffer while still married to his second wife at the exact time that he, as speaker of the House, was leading the impeachment of President Clinton for supposed sexual immorality, Newt Gingrich today in Iowa lecturing the nation on the importance of morality.

Of course, the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition is part of a national government.  The Faith and Freedom Coalition is run by Ralph Reed who you may remember from earlier in tonight‘s show as the guy who, together with Tim Phillips, was caught up in the Jack Abramoff scandal, Ralph Reed caught up for being behind the “let‘s get anti-gambling Christians to be outraged about a new casino that might compete with one of Jack Abramoff‘s client casinos.”

Ralph Reed also of the guys behind the Mariana Islands thing—the U.S. did an investigation into working conditions there and found not only forced prostitution but forced abortions going on.  But the Mariana Islands were a Jack Abramoff client, so Ralph Reed became part of a marketing effort to get conservative Christians to lobby Congress on behalf of those forced prostitution/forced abortions sweatshops on the grounds that the migrant workers in question, hey, they were being introduced to Jesus.

But, tonight—tonight, Ralph Reed was speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition all about making sure social issues and values maintain a key spot on the Republican agenda.

Goodbye, John Ensign.  In a couple years, I guess, it‘s lucky that you‘ll be around for the big Republican legal defense of the antigay marriage ban this year.  Maybe you can help with that or you can consult on the Gingrich campaign, or you could become a life coach specializing in how to resign with dignity.  Maybe.

Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Good night.

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