'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
December 4, 2013
Guest: Edwin Lyman, Ed Pilkington
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with some breaking news about a fascinating and
potentially scary detective story that kept us all glued to the news wires
all day long today as this story evolved.
This story starts here in the city of Tijuana in Mexico, right across
the border from San Diego, California. Last Thursday on Thanksgiving Day,
a truck left a big hospital in Tijuana, ultimately headed across the
country, well over a thousand miles, almost all the way to Mexico City.
That`s how far they were supposed to go on the route.
It was a very long trip and it was a very important trip, because that
truck was carrying this across the country. It`s an old piece of equipment
from that hospital in Tijuana. This particular equipment was used in
radiation therapy, which means that the equipment itself was radioactive.
The hospital was ready to replace the old equipment with new stuff. But
first, it had to send the old, now radioactive equipment to a facility for
storing nuclear waste.
That piece of old equipment from the hospital in Tijuana was loaded
with little pellets with something called Cobalt 60. It`s a radioactive
isotope, that used in the right way, could save you from cancer. But in
the wrong hands, use improperly, it is the kind of thing that must
definitely can kill you.
One of the worst nuclear accidents of all time happened in 1987 when
people searching for scrap metal in Brazil slipped into an abandoned
medical office that had been used for radiation therapy and that had never
been properly cleaned out. The scrap metal thieves made off with the old
piece of medical equipment that they brought home and they tried to take it
apart, then messed around with it, pried on it for a while and tried to
take its pieces apart. They ended up selling the pieces to a local junk
A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency says the junk
yard owner noticed that some of the scrap pieces they bought that day
glowed blue in the dark.
Junk yard owner`s friends and relatives started coming by to check out
the strange new thing that glowed in the dark, they passed around little
bits of it, the little glowing pellets the size of grains of rice, and a
lot of those people got very, very sick. Twenty people ended up in the
hospital with varying levels of radiation poisoning, and four people died.
So you can see that it was very important that the truck driver who
started off in Tijuana on Thanksgiving Day, you see how it is very
important that the truck driver needed to make it to the nuclear waste
disposal facility with this piece of radioactive obsolete hospital
equipment that he was carrying. And you can see why it became global news
today when it became know that that truck driver did not complete his
Sometime in the pre-dawn hours of yesterday, the truck driver says he
was woken up by a pair of thieves. He had stopped to sleep at a gas
station north of Mexico City. He was sleeping in the truck. The thieves
who woke him up were armed. They ordered him out of the vehicle. They
tied him up and then they drove away in his truck carrying the radioactive
And then the desperate hunt began for this truck with the highly
radioactive Cobalt 60 in its cargo bay.
Mexican authorities immediately alerted the International Atomic
Energy agency. The United States warned the border patrol to be on the
lookout in case anything like this tried to make its way into the United
Part of the worries that the radioactive material would be harmful to
anybody who accidentally or unknowingly came in contact with it. But, of
course, another part of the worry is that maybe somebody did it on purpose.
Maybe somebody might realize what they`ve got, or they stole it knowing
what they were looking for, because they wanted to get their hands on
something highly radioactive.
American officials told NBC News that there`s no reason to believe
that the thieves specifically were looking for materials with which they
could build a dirty bomb. They also told NBC that the material involved in
this specific case might not even make an effective dirty bomb, because it
would just burn up in the initial explosion, instead of dispersing
They also told NBC that anybody trying to handle this Cobalt 60 for
whatever reason would probably make themselves very sick or very hurt in
the process of doing so and maybe they wouldn`t be fit to continue making a
Mexican nuclear officials said their working theory was that the
thieves had just been after the cargo truck itself and its neat especially
mounted crane that`s the back of the truck right behind the cab. These
thieves seem to really find these trucks irresistible, and they get stolen
all the time. They said the radioactive material was properly shielded
when it was put on the back of the truck.
The issue was, if anybody opened up that shielded container not
knowing what they were getting themselves into it.
Well, the hunt started as soon as it went missing. It dragged on all
day long today with no sign of it. Until finally, late in the day,
authorities say found it.
The truck had been abandoned in a small farming town about an hour
outside of Mexico City. A half mile away from where they found the truck,
they found the cargo box. The authorities did find at least some of the
radioactive material still inside the box, but the shielded container had
been opened, and there are conflicting reports about whether or not some of
the radioactive material is still at large tonight.
What the authorities have not found yet are the people who stole the
truck and/or the people who personally handled the Cobalt 60 when they
pried open that shielded container.
Mexico`s top nuclear safety officials tell NBC News tonight that if
and when the thieves opened the box, they are likely to have burned
themselves in the process. He said wherever they are right now, if they
handled this stuff, they are either likely dead or in the process of dying.
Joining us to help us understand what happened is Edwin Lyman, the
senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Mr. Lyman, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it.
EDWIN LYMAN, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: So in terms of Cobalt 60 and other radioactive isotopes that
are used in medical procedures like this and that are more or less
routinely moved in and out of hospital settings, is Cobalt 60 something
that is dangerous to come into very casual or quick contact with? Would
you expect that the Mexican authorities are right that anybody who touched
this stuff today is likely to be ill or dying?
LYMAN: Well, absolutely. If the Cobalt 60 source was removed from
the shielding, in a midst, a very high energy gamma rays. These are
radioactive rays that can penetrate the human body very easily. And so,
simply being in close proximity to these sources can deliver a very, very
high dose in a short period of time. That`s why they`re used in
So I would be very concerned if anybody actually did remove the source
from its shielding.
MADDOW: In terms of the way these things are shielded and the way
they`re marked, nobody expects that truck thieves, if they`re common truck
thieves, have any specialist knowledge about radioactive material the way
these things travel, the way these things are packaged.
Are these things marked in such a way and packaged in such a way that
it`s A, hard to get to them, and, B, pretty clear that you will be
accessing if you opened the container is something that could hurt you?
LYMAN: There are international standards for marking and packaging
highly radioactive sources. But one problem is, there is no binding
requirements. So countries are really free to do as they choose. I don`t
know about the Mexican arrangements, but I do that there were many
incidents around the world for decades where the providence and the
identity of these materials is certainly not known to the people who
discovered them to very catastrophic effects.
MADDOW: In terms of the motivation here, nobody seems to be putting
forth the hypothesis that there were people looking to make a dirty bomb,
who set out specifically to steal this stuff in order to turn it into some
kind of weapon. But if for whatever reason it was trafficked or people
realized what they had, or that hypothesis, that seems unlikely is actually
the case, would this be an appropriate material for making an explosive
device that would disperse radioactive material over a very large area?
LYMAN: This has been a concern of people especially since 9/11. And
if you were able to effectively disperse the source, because these are very
highly concentrated materials, you could spread relatively low level
concentrations over a large area.
Now, at Fukushima, you could see what a relatively small amount of
material actually created the radioactive mess that went out for 20 miles
or more from the site.
Now, this amount of material would probably be less effective. But
you could certainly contaminate an area in a city, several city blocks to
the extent that it might deny people access to that area for weeks, months
or years, depending on how fast you could clean it up.
MADDOW: Well, to that point, we understand that authorities are
preparing to send a special team to the area where the cargo box was found
where the radioactive material was detected. What do you expect will
happen at that site? And what will they have to do to sort of protect any
sort of bystanders or I guess nearby villagers or people who didn`t know
what they were getting into who may have come in contact with it?
LAYMAN: Well, hopefully, it is shielded and close to where it was
lost. But they will have to survey the area very carefully.
And the incident you referred to in Brazil and other incidents, when
materials like this gets dispersed to other areas, people carry it around.
Then, you can have traces of it in places where you don`t expect. So
they`re going to have to look very carefully to make sure that they have
located all the material and make sure that people are -- that avoid
exposure at all costs. And let`s hope that there has not been an
opportunity for the material to get in close contact to people.
MADDOW: Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, thank you
very much for helping us understand this bizarre story. I really
appreciate you being here.
LYMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
If we learn more about this crazy story about stolen radioactive
material in Mexico tonight, we will let you know. Again, the most
interesting detail at this point until we know about the people who stole
this, who may or may not come in contact with it, the most interesting
outstanding detail at this point is that there are conflicting reports as
to whether or not the total amount of the radioactive material that started
out in that truck has been located or whether only some of that material
has been found and some of it is still at large. We`ll be keeping an eye
on these details tonight as news keeps coming in.
In the meantime, lots more to come tonight, including problems for the
people who invented or at least spread around the country the "Stand Your
Ground" laws, and a Republican lawmaker with a mushroom cloudy suggestion
for our country, and the release of those 911 tapes from Newtown today.
Please stay tuned. There`s lots to come tonight.
MADDOW: Earlier this fall, a group funded by the Koch brothers
specifically to target college students and young people launched these ads
to try to convince young people to not sign up for health insurance. The
pitch was that signing for health insurance is creepy.
It`s like having a guy with a big paper mache pop head perform your
prostate exam. Don`t get health insurance, young people, it`s gross.
The Koch brothers` idea here was that young people should opt out of
the health insurance, and if you wrote to their opt out of insurance Web
site, they would send you an opt out of health insurance kit for your
college with stickers and beer koozies and stuff so can give them to your
friends to let them know that getting health insurance is just not cool.
Around the same time, another conservative group linked to the same
billionaire conservative brothers launched this Web site in Alaska to
convince people in that state that they also should not get health
insurance. They actually launched two Web sites at once, one of which just
flat out told Alaskan that they should pledge to not get insurance. And
the other sort of tried to look more like a neutral site where you might go
to get answers about health insurance, but it ended up giving the same
advice, don`t do it under any circumstance.
Yesterday, "The L.A. Times" reported on the same kind of trick being
played in California. In California, though, it`s not some random
conservative group funded by the Koch brothers that`s doing it. In
California, it`s the state Republican Party.
California Republicans are a little bit of an endangered species right
now, but when they learned that the health insurance Web site for people to
sign up for insurance in California was going to be called CoveringCA.com,
as in Covering CA as in Covering California, the Republican Party in the
state came up with a dummy Web site that looked just like the real one.
Instead of CoveringCalifornia.com, their rip-off version was
If you ended up there accidentally, it kind of looked like you were in
the right place to sign up for health insurance. But you were not at that
right place. You, in fact, were at the Republican Party`s Web site that
was designed to make you think that health reform is terrible and in no way
should you ever think about signing up for health insurance because of
health reform`s terrible, terribleness.
The conversation in Washington about health reform is sort of an
esoteric one now. Republican House Speaker John Boehner was asked whether
the Republican Party would ever have its own health care policy, its own
policy ideas on the subject. His answer was, "We`ll see." No rush, we`ll
Today in the Republican-controlled House, there were four, count them,
four separate hearings on how terrible health reform is, but with no more
votes to repeal it scheduled, with no more plans to shut down the
government to try to stop health reform and proper Republican alternatives
to replace health reform, the Republicans` whole approach to this issue in
Washington has gotten a little esoteric, where it is not esoteric is in the
states, and the states really get no attention from the beltway press in
terms of their political importance. But that is where you can see much
more clearly than in Washington what the real fight is right now between
the parties over this issue.
And the real fight now between the parties is that one party really
wants you to get health insurance. They`re saying it at every turn, the
president is going to do an event every day between now and Christmas Eve
saying, hey, go get health insurance. One party really wants you to really
get health insurance, and another party is proving that they will do almost
anything possible to stop you from getting more health insurance.
Nowhere is that more clear that in Texas, which, of course, is under
complete Republican control and which has more uninsured people than
anywhere else in the entire country. Today in Texas, they unveiled 64
pages of new state rules and regulations that restrict people who want to
help other people in Texas sign up for health insurance.
So, if you want to be a health care navigator in Texas to help people
sign up for insurance, as of today, Texas says you must be fingerprinted.
You must pass a detailed background check. You have to display evidence of
financial responsibility. They will put you through 40 hours of training.
And after that, after all that, you will still be banned by law in Texas
from actually offering people advice about how to get health insurance.
The new Texas rules they unveiled today say that nobody in Texas may
recommend to anyone else that they sign up for health insurance plan.
Doing that is illegal. You also cannot tell anybody in Texas the
differences between the various plans that are being offered to them. You
can`t explain the differences between the plans. So if you want to help
people sign up for health insurance in Texas, effectively, that is now
And in Missouri, it is outright illegal. Missouri is being taken to
federal court right now over their efforts to make it basically impossible
for people to figure out how to get health insurance in that state.
Because the law that Missouri passed flat out makes it illegal for anybody
to offer anyone any advice concerning benefits, terms or features of any
health insurance plan. You can`t talk about that in Missouri.
So, sure, millions of people across the country who could not get
health insurance before now should be able to get it because of health
reform. But Republican-controlled state governments are making it illegal,
or at least hopefully impossible for you to find out that there are health
insurance options out there that you might like.
And conservative groups across the country are trying to convince you
that health insurance itself is just a terrible, terrible idea. And you
don`t want it anyway.
It`s clear that Republicans did not want the health reform to pass in
the first place. They didn`t want President Obama and the Democrats to
have a legislative win. They didn`t like the policy itself.
But now the policy itself is in effect. And it means that millions of
Americans now can get health insurance who could not get it in the past and
millions of Americans who did have health insurance before should now have
better and in most cases, more affordable choices for their coverage.
And all the talking about it in Washington, if you put it aside,
really, the real question is whether this much more under the radar
political effort in the states can effectively stop Americans from getting
insurance that they might really like if only they knew how to get it.
Joining us now is Michael Smerconish. He`s a radio host on Sirius XM.
He`s an MSNBC contributor. Michael spent eight weeks trying unsuccessfully
to find insurance options for himself and his family through
healthcare.gov, before it finally worked this week.
Michael, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Rachel, for having
MADDOW: So you had a miserable eight weeks, early experience trying
to get through the federal exchange. But now, it has worked for you, is
SMERCONISH: It is. I had Eureka moment yesterday. And what broke
the log jam for me was a new feature on the Web site that allowed me to
withdraw my prior applications. This time, I used a brand-new e-mail,
frankly an e-mail address that I obtained just for this purpose, because
the system wouldn`t allow me.
I made so many efforts I think the system thought I was somehow a
fraud, to which I responded if a crook spent that much time trying to
impersonate me, he deserves my health insurance.
MADDOW: You know, the exact same thing happened to me on PayPal the
other day. I spent so long trying to get back in to my old PayPal account,
that ultimately, I was ready to arrest myself, I seemed so suspicious.
I know you were Republican until a few years ago. You and I talked
about lots of policy issues like this over the years. What is your take on
Republican state governments and these conservative groups that are telling
people, don`t get health insurance that are trying to make it impossible
for people to find out about their options? What do you make of that
politically and practically?
SMERCONISH: Well, now that I`m in, I have 24 different plans that are
competing for my business. So I`ve got tremendous choice. And they range
in price from a thousand dollars a month to $2,000 a month. And the
deductible is what fluctuates in the balance, but I get it now why this was
an idea that grew out of the Heritage Foundation, because it`s an
antithesis of socialism.
I laughed when I hear that charge because it`s either Independence
Blue Cross or it`s Aetna. These are private insurers competing for my
business, so that I can then go into the marketplace and still select my
I completely understand how this is in sync with free market
capitalism. So, the Republicans now, you know, abandoning an idea that was
originally their own is purely for political purposes. And I think that
what illustrates this so clearly is what you just described. These
advocacy efforts to say don`t get insurance, that is so antithetical to the
idea, the Republican idea of personal responsibility.
I mean, what we really need to ask ourselves is, who will pay for
those who don`t get insurance or who are allowed to maintain an under-
insured policy. Well, society is going to pay. And that was part of the
premise at the outset, we wanted to cover people, right? But we also
wanted to make sure that those who had coverage were not caring for those
who used the E.R. as a primary care facility.
So what they`re doing now is so out of whack, dare I say with basic
conservatism, that I think it exposes their true hand.
MADDOW: Well, if Republicans have stopped trying to repeal Obamacare
now. I mean, they`re still complaining about it being terrible, but they
mostly seems to have stopped trying to get rid of it, and they`re plan does
seem to try to make it not work, to try to interfere with people getting
insurance, arguing, as you say, against the whole idea of insurance.
What that means in terms of their principles is one thing. What that
means in terms of their strategy, for me is very hard to see. Like if
that`s what they`re going to do now, if they`re going to tell people not to
get insurance, they`re going to try to make it hard to do, where does that
strategy end? Where does that lead to, for Republicans?
SMERCONISH: Well, if we really want to be Machiavellian about it, I
mean, people are signing up. Kentucky is a great example of the success
with regard to the Medicaid expansion. But if the Republican efforts like
you just described are geared toward turning away the young invincibles,
then what I think is really going on, is that they`re trying to subvert the
underpinning of this.
Remember, this model works if everybody buys in, if the young
invincibles are buying in, if I`m buying in, if people who are of means are
buying, so that we can provide that safety net for people who theretofore
haven`t had insurance. So, if the young invincibles are convinced
otherwise, then the economics of this thing are in jeopardy, and everybody
has to pay more for now expanded the tent for Medicaid recipients.
I think, frankly, that`s what this is all about, so that they can put
numbers on the board and say, see, we told you, this is a drain on our
MADDOW: I think that, see, I think that if they were -- if they
thought they could control that much of the economy and that much of the
policy board, I would see them aiming at that.
I think that they`re sort of short term hoping that`s going to happen.
But with 1.5 million people having already being told that they qualify for
Medicaid, with over hundred thousand people having already signed up for
private insurance companies, with more people having signed up for
Obamacare in the last two days than the whole first month of the program, I
think the train is out of the station, I think this is going to be, I think
it`s going to be politically influx for a long time. But it`s fascinating
SMERCONISH: Rachel, the debate has just changed. You know, when the
conversation was only about the inability to get online, and there`s a lot
of confusion out there. Eighty-five percent of Americans don`t need to
ever be concerned with going online. I`m continually contacted by people
who say, oh, I think I need to get to that Web site, and I`ll say, but you
have insurance through your employer, nothing is going to change for you.
So I think the confusion has really been a detriment to the
administration. But now, now that the site is functioning, functioning
quite well, and you can go online and see the choice you have.
Remember, I`m a Pennsylvanian, so we don`t have our exchange. You
know, I probably would have more than two dozen choices. If our governor
had cooperated, I think in addition to Aetna and Independence Blue Cross, I
would be looking at even more selections.
But in the end, people want to see, what does it mean to me, oh,
really? I can spend X, Y or Z? I think that`s what matters.
MADDOW: Michael Smerconish, Sirius XM satellite radio host, MSNBC
contributor, it`s really nice to see you, Michael. It`s been too long.
Thanks for being here.
SMERCONISH: Thank you.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. Lots more still ahead tonight, including those 911 tapes
out of Newtown.
And a big document dump to a British newspaper about one of the most
powerful and mysterious groups on the American political right. That`s all
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have acknowledged
more than once that we didn`t roll out parts of this law as well as we
should have. But the law is already working in major ways that benefit
millions of Americans right now, even as we have begun to slow the rise in
health care costs which is good for family budgets, good for federal and
state budgets, and good for the budgets of businesses, small and large.
So, this law is going to work, and for the sake of our economic
security, it needs to work. And --
And as people in states as different as California and Kentucky sign
up every single day for health insurance, signing up in droves, they`re
proving they want that economic security.
You know, if the Senate Republican leader still thinks he is going to
be able to repeal this some day, he might want to check with the more than
60,000 people in his home state who are already set to finally have
coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin and lets them
afford to take their kids to see a doctor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hey, how was your Wednesday morning? Feels like a long time
ago, right? Take a quick look at how Congressman Duncan Hunter of
California kicked off his Wednesday morning today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: I think that is the way to do it,
with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Good morning. It will be cloudy and cool today. There`s
traffic getting into downtown and massive aerial bombardment campaign.
The next thing the Republican Party thinks they are going to use
politically against President Obama after health reform turns out is a
doozy. That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Carter went up on the roof of the White
House today to show off the new solar water heaters installed there, and he
called for using solar power to produce 20 percent of this country`s energy
within 20 years.
Here`s Judy Woodruff at the White House.
JUDY WOODRUFF, REPORTER: These solar panels at the White House cost
almost $30,000, and they heat only the water in the building`s West Wing.
But they are meant to symbolize the Carter administration`s commitment to
solar energy. During dedication ceremonies today, the president said solar
energy is safer and more reliable than the energy we depend on now.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: That was June 1979, in the midst of a national energy crisis.
Americans just getting used to waiting in long lines at gas stations, when
President Jimmy Carter warmed his hands on those newly installed solar
panels and promised tax credits to anyone in the country who put up solar
panels on their homes and businesses. Let`s get energy independence of
these meddlesome Middle Eastern oil states. Go solar.
Well, seven years later, a Republican president named Ronald Reagan
had the solar roof panels taken down, supposedly for roof repairs. But he
never put them back up and they ultimately ended up gathering dust in a
warehouse in Virginia.
This summer, though, new and improved solar panels got put back up on
the White House roof once again, as part of a green overhaul of 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue. The new solar panels are expected to pay for
themselves in energy savings over the course of President Obama`s tenure,
and into that of the next president.
But just down the street, in a big meeting going on right now at the
Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, the White House`s solar panels are the
object of scorn and strategy. It`s the meeting of the American Legislative
Exchange Council, ALEC, the conservative policy writing consortium, where
mostly Republican legislatures shot for right wing proposals to pass in
Among ALEC`s offerings this year are initiatives to punish American
homeowners who choose to go solar. The idea is to make the solar-powered
homeowners pay a penalty for using fewer fossil fuels, disincentivize
renewable energy. An internal ALEC documents obtained by "The Guardian"
newspaper, ALEC stated objectives for 2014 include a new focus on blocking
renewable energy initiatives in the state and at the federal level.
They`re touting their efforts to introduce new laws that reform, freeze or
repeal state or renewable energy mandates.
These internal documents obtained by "The Guardian" boasts that 15
states have already introduced this kind of legislation, with ALEC`s help,
and that is ALEC`s who reason for existing. They try to get their bills
copied and passed as law in as many states as possible. That`s what they
The American Legislative Exchange Council, they write or they take
model legislation and then they shop it to other states. Sometimes, its
bills that have already became law, like in Wisconsin, the bill stripping
union rights or in Florida, the "Stand Your Ground" law, the so-called
Castle Doctrine Law.
The nationwide proliferation of that idea from Florida was once a
shining achievement for ALEC, creating a whole new legal determination for
justifiable homicide in states across the country. The "Stand Your
Ground"/Castle Doctrine thing was a proud achievement for them, until the
case of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed by
an armed neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman, who was found not
guilty of committing second degree murder in that case.
The case, of course, got a ton of national attention, and the stand
your ground laws got a ton of national attention. And since then, many of
the very familiar, very powerful companies with interests in ALEC have
stopped their association with the organization.
Our parent company, Comcast, has not ceased its association with ALEC,
but lots of companies with household names like Coca-Cola and Kraft and
Pepsi, even Wal-Mart, very publicly ceased being dues-paying members of
ALEC in the midst of that controversy. Even after ALEC announced that it
was getting out of the gun rights business, and they`d eliminate their
entire task force that wrote the "Stand Your Ground" bill, companies kept
fleeing from the controversy.
And it has had an effect apparently on this very well-funded, very,
very influential conservative organization. "The Guardian" newspaper today
posted a dossier of international ALEC memos and reports showing that a
third of ALEC`s revenue is gone, year over year, owing to big corporate
members leaving the organization. ALEC has also lost 400 state legislators
from their ranks.
The group is so worried about this attrition that they reportedly had
started an initiative to try to at least get those big corporate donors
back, trying to woo dozens of their former well-heeled members back to the
organization with something that is reportedly called the "Prodigal Son
Also, a promise to keep member`s names anonymous with the new
organization designed in the 501c4 category, which means that donors could
remain undisclosed to the public while they supported ALEC. They could
keep supporting the group, but avoid the embarrassment, something that may,
in fact, make corporate members more comfortable with the aggressive
legislative agenda that ALEC promotes, especially if they`re able to
deliver on that promise of anonymity.
Other documents posted by "The Guardian" reveal that ALEC is not only
trying to recover its corporate revenue, they`re also trying to bolster
their footing with Congress and state legislatures. They`ll be asking for
a stronger commitment from lawmakers that have stayed true to the
organization, asking that legislators pledge to act with care and loyalty
and put the interests of the organization first.
Put the interests of the organization first. How about the
constituents that voted you into office?
Joining us now is Ed Pilkington. He`s chief reporter for "The
Guardian" newspaper, which broke the story about ALEC.
Mr. Pilkington, thank you very much for being here tonight.
ED PILKINGTON, THE GUARDIAN: Great to be here.
MADDOW: It`s a long story, and you recovered a lot of information
from this group about which people have been very curious but known very
little. I should ask if I misstated any of that or that pretty much --
PILKINGTON: No, pretty well put.
MADDOW: What do you think is the big finding from this document dump?
What have we learned about this group that we didn`t know before?
PILKINGTON: Well, the thing that caught our attention, you mentioned
it was the "Prodigal Son Project, as they called it, stamped on the top of
one of their documents. They misspelled it. They call it prodical, with
the C, rather than G, which you can`t get everything right in life.
But nevertheless, it listed underneath it 41 companies, Coke, Pepsi,
Wal-Mart, GE, all the big companies America they lost in the last couple of
years and now are desperate to get back. And that`s the sort of
affirmation of what we`ve kind of learned bit by bit, which is that ALEC is
And I think the reason they`re in trouble really goes to the heart of
their -- one of the great strengths of ALEC was their secrecy. They were a
very secret organization. And that suits the companies who back them.
Most of their money comes from corporations, and corporations and
corporations turned up in room, they meet the legislators who are
introduced to them, and they together vote on legislation which then gets
passed around the states.
If that`s done in secret, that`s fine, that really suits them. They
get what they want, lower taxes or, you know, legislation to stop climate
change regulation, to stop people from putting up solar panels on the roof,
that you mentioned. That`s great.
But when it becomes public, if a spotlight is put on what ALEC is
doing, the work the Center for Media and Democracy has done, and other
groups have done, tirelessly over the last couple of years to open the door
on the activities. There is one thing that corporations like less than
taxes and regulations, and that is bad publicity. And that`s the story of
the Trayvon Martin fallout.
ALEC got caught up in that controversy of "Stand Your Ground" laws
which they`ve helped to spread, right across America, 26 states still have
them, partly due to ALEC`s influence. When ALEC got caught up in that, a
lot of the big companies agreed (INAUDIBLE) and they run as fast as they
MADDOW: So, in terms of their strategy for wooing back corporate
sponsors, is the promise of anonymity a key part of how they are intending
to win corporations back? And do you think that the sort of restructuring
they`re describing could actually effectively let them off of their
corporate sponsors, the anonymity that they seek?
PILKINGTON: It`s partly anonymity and it`s party increasingly sense
of regulation they were lobbying. Now, ALEC is not a lobbyist. It says it
does absolutely no lobbying at all.
Now, if you get two people in the room, one is the state legislator,
the other is a big corporation, and they agree legislation together, they
vote on it together, that legislation gets taken up by state assembly and
becomes law. Now, is that lobbying? I think --
MADDOW: It appears to be a beautiful relationship --
PILKINGTON: It is a bit of fun they`re having in this room, or could
it, maybe a little bit of lobbying going on there. There is a huge gray
area in America about lobbying. And I think it`s going to become more and
Last week, Obama flagged it up, they`re not going to allow lobbying
for groups like Karl Rove`s group, that actively do electioneering and do
Now, ALEC doesn`t do that. It doesn`t get involved in election
campaigns. It does arguably something even more serious, which is to get
involved in what happens to those people once they`re elected. You know,
what happens to someone who gets elected as a state assemblyman and what
laws are they going to pass. And that`s when ALEC gets involved.
And I think there`s going to be more and more debate about lobbying,
what`s acceptable. ALEC is a tax-exempt charity. It`s called an educated
body, and yet what it does is cook up legislation --
MADDOW: If I had the choice of choosing who could be elected in a
particular election or writing the laws that that person would introduce as
a legislator once they were there, I know which one I would pick.
Ed Pilkington, chief reporter for "The Guardian" newspaper -- thank
you very much for your time. It is fascinating, sir. Congratulations.
PILKINGTON: Thank you.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Today, "The Hill" newspaper in Washington reported that House
Republicans believe they have found their next big issue that they`re going
to hit President Obama with. They did sort of need something new right
now, right, for the holidays? And it turns out President Obama did not
close the Vatican embassy. They thought they had a live one there, but
that ended up not being true.
For hot second, they thought they had a huge story when they thought
they had discovered that President Obama did not cover babies. That`s
terrible. President Obama is so anti-baby.
They thought they had a great story. That one in turns out, the only
reason that that one conservative activist guy thought his baby was not
covered on his health insurance is because that one conservative activist
guy forgot to list that he had that baby on his application for insurance.
He forgot one of his kids, simple mistake, apparently.
The IRS scandal turned out not really being a scandal, trying to turn
the Benghazi scandal into a tragedy other than a tragedy. It never really
worked out for them. Even "60 Minutes" got humiliated in that effort.
Republicans have given up their plans to keep pulling stunts to try to
repeal Obamacare, now that hundreds of thousands of people are getting
health insurance they never had before. They really need a new thing to
hit them on if they`re going to keep hitting him on things.
But they think they got a new thing. They think they would like to
hit him now on Iran. According to "The Hill", quote, "House Republicans
are considering various legislative options that would either tacitly or
explicitly rip the Obama administration`s nuclear deal with Iran." Quote,
"A handful of House GOP lawmakers tell `The Hill` that the party is
debating how best to express disapproval of the multilateral Iran
agreement, which was struck shortly after Congress left for the
This is the new plan. Republicans are going to try to make President
Obama look terrible for negotiating that new agreement over Iran`s nuclear
program. And in the process of making him look terrible, they, of course,
will show the country that they, themselves, Republicans are much better on
the issue. They are much more trustworthy, much more sober, much more sane
when it comes to dealing with complicated and sensitive international
issues like Iran and nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Republicans want to show off how much Americans should prefer their
Republican approach when it comes to Iran. As part of that new political
offensive, behold Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter holding fort today
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUNTER: I think a ground war in Iran with American boots on the
ground would be a horrible thing and I think people like to toss around the
fact that we have to stop them in some way from getting this nuclear
capability. I don`t think it`s inevitable but I think if you have to hit
Iran, you don`t put boots on the ground. You do with tactical nuclear
devices and you set them back a decade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You do it with what now? With tactical nuclear -- oh, just
tactical nuclear devices, the little kind. Yes, what could possibly go
See, Republicans would prefer to be in charge of foreign policy and
national security matters right now, because they`ve got the big thinkers
who know that little, tiny nuclear wars in the Middle East are a much
better alternative to the kinds of dangerous talking that this president is
so recklessly undertaking right now.
A small, tactical nuclear device -- why not? I mean, if you start
small, you can always build on your success.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)
NARRATOR: On December 14th, we`ll have a moment of silence for
Newtown. But with 26 more school shootings since that day -- ask yourself,
is silence what America needs right now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s a new ad released today by Mayors Against Illegal Guns
and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which was a group formed
spontaneously in reaction to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary last
We will hit one year since those shootings next Saturday. And the
town of Newtown, Connecticut, is making it known that they do not want you
to be there for the anniversary.
At a press conference this week, Newtown`s first selectman asked that
well wishers please not visit the community on December 14th. Please do
not visit that day.
At that same press conference, the chief of police said his department
would be displaying a visible presence across town around the time of the
anniversary to keep traffic moving as quickly as possible through Newtown.
Town officials have also asked that people please do not leave any items of
any kind in the town. No gifts or memorial items or signs to be left in
Sandy Hook or in the surrounding communities.
Quoting the first selectman, "As much as we value the sentiment, it is
not in our best interests to have that happen. So we will have to react by
removing those items as soon as they appear."
You may remember that in the aftermath of the shooting, Newtown was
physically overwhelmed with all of the stuff that people sent to the town
which, of course, was all sent with the best of intentions. But regardless
of those good intentions, it became an added burden for the town in the
early days after the shooting to figure out what they were going to do with
all of that stuff.
If there is a lesson that Newtown has in its strength tried to
articulate in a sensitive but firm way, this past year since the shootings,
part of that lesson is that your need to express yourself in reaction to
this tragedy is not more important than the material effect that your
expression may have on the people who are still surviving this thing.
It may feel like the right thing to do, to try to make manifest in
Newtown your feelings for what that community has been through, but they
cannot use your stuff and it does not help them for you to physically be
there. And today, 10 days ahead of the anniversary, we are seeing
essentially a first run of that principle in action with the release of the
audio of the 911 calls that were made in Newtown the morning of the
shooting. The state`s prosecutor`s office, town officials, the Newtown
families have fought to keep these tapes out of the public domain, but "The
Associated Press" sued for them and so, the 911 tapes today were released.
There is no news value to the content of those tapes. If you want to
know what people said when they called 911 that day during the shootings,
and what the emergency operators said to them in response, you can read
that in the transcripts, including the exact moments at which their words
are punctuated by gunfire -- you can read those transcripts.
If you want more description and more feeling to go along with the
transcripts, you can read the lead from the local paper where journalists
describing the tapes. "Their out of breath voices trembling with fear and
interrupted by the blasts of gunshots, Sandy Hook Elementary School
employees pleaded with emergency dispatchers for help."
As we knew it would, that is what is contained in those audiotapes.
Having access to the actual audio of the calls so that the people of
Newtown and the families might come across them accidentally when they`re
broadcast, when they didn`t actually intend to hear them, the actual audio
is of no news value at all, unless you want the thrill of hearing the sound
of the actual individual gunshot that might have killed a 7-year-old.
But now, the audio is out and we will not play them here. You can
seek them out yourself if you really need to hear them. Congratulations,
If that`s what`s really important to you about this tragedy, those
tapes are out there. But if you ask Newtown itself, they would like to be
left alone. Today and especially next week, they are asking whatever
strong feelings that you have about what happened in their community,
whatever way you want to help them, take that inclination to your own
community, to perform an act of kindness and speak out politically in a way
that you want to.
But if you ask Newtown themselves, they would like to be left alone.
That does it for us tonight. Thanks for being with us.
"THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" starts right now.
Have a great night.
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