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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, August 4


August 4, 2009



Guests: Kent Jones, Gov. Bill Richardson, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Chris Hayes, Tom Perriello

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith. Appreciate it.

And thank you at home for tuning in tonight. And we are beginning tonight with a seemingly impossible headline.

Good news out of North Korea. Yes, American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, imprisoned since mid-March, facing 12 years in a North Korean prison labor camp, are now free. They are on their way home.

When the word came across the wire at 7:33 p.m. Eastern, there was a little burst of applause that went through our staff newsroom. These young women are heading home on a private plane with former President Bill Clinton, who, in a surprise move, arrived in North Korea yesterday. While the White House characterized Mr. Clinton's visit as a, quote, "solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans," North Korea, of course, treated the trip as if it was a state visit, or at least a high-level state function.

North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator actually met Mr. Clinton when he arrived on the tarmac. Kim Jong-il reportedly hosted a banquet for him in Pyongyang. Within hours of that meeting with Kim Jong-il, the dictator issued a special pardon for Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

As to what was said during these meetings, well, it depends on who you ask. North Korea state media is reporting that Mr. Clinton apologized on the women's behalf and relayed President Obama's gratitude for the pardon. The White House says that Clinton did not deliver a message on behalf of President Obama. We, of course, have no diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Well, President Clinton and both journalists are right now flying back to the United States. They are headed for Los Angeles, where Euna Lee and Laura Ling are expected to be reunited with their families.

While this is unusual and it was virtually unheard of during the Bush era, the use of high-profile, unofficial ambassadors-for example, like President Clinton-to negotiate with North Korea, it's not a totally new idea. Jimmy Carter met with the country's founder, Kim Il Sung in 1994. That led ultimately to a sort of nuclear freeze that only fell apart nine years later during the George W. Bush administration.

Bill Clinton sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to meet with Kim Jong-il in 2000 and twice in the 1990s. Then-congressman and now-Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico went to North Korea himself to secure the release of American prisoners.

Joining us now is Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Mr. Governor, thank you very much for your time tonight. Thanks for joining us.


MADDOW: First of all, you must be delighted with this news today.

RICHARDSON: Well, I am delighted. I spoke to Lisa Ling, who's related to one of the two American journalists, and she was ecstatic. And I kind of have been working on this with the State Department and with the North Koreans, and this is great news.

North Korea, hopefully, now will start talking to the United States. They refused for the last four months. The two journalists are home. And maybe we can start reasoning with the North Koreans that it's in their interest to not be so isolated.

But they clearly got a lot out of this trip with President Clinton, a former president coming to their soil, and the North Koreans, obviously, in exchange for that visit, have released the two American journalists. So, it's basically a win for all sides.

MADDOW: NBC News did report today that today's outcome is the result of months of secret negotiations. You say that have you been working with the State Department and with the North Koreans. We've also heard that President Clinton would not have gone on this trip without a guarantee that he would leave with the journalists with him.

Do you know if that's true? And is that generally the way these things work, that there has to be a prearranged agreement before anybody like Clinton would go?

RICHARDSON: Well, Rachel, I'm not privy to those very sensitive negotiations, nor do I speak for the administration. But you don't send a high-profile visitor, like a former president, without some kind of guarantee that there will be a release.

I think the good news is that I saw was when the North Koreans started talking about the word "amnesty," and the administration started saying these two American journalists deserve amnesty. They did something wrong. They crossed illegally.

But I saw the framework of a possible agreement. But the North Koreans like it related to myself and other envoys, they want somebody to come to basically ask for the release, find ways to give the North Koreans the prestige that they want to have, and getting President Clinton is a big, big plus for them because they'd been trying to get an American president there.

President Clinton almost went there a couple of days before he left office. President Clinton signed the nuclear agreement with the North Koreans. They like him.

So, they wanted international visibility for this. Kim Jong-il, who's ailing, wanted to shore up his domestic base. He wants to set up a succession for one of his sons. So, this is why he wanted somebody has high profile as former President Clinton.

MADDOW: It's sort of remarkably to my mind, there's been criticism on the right that because North Korea wants the sort of prestige that you just described there, that this-what happened today is actually bad news, that this shouldn't have happened, that they'll feel rewarded for having held these Americans for so long. What's your response to that?

RICHARDSON: Well, that was the policy of the past administration, although I undertook a couple of trips on their behalf, not officially. They basically felt, the previous administration, that you isolate North Korea. You call them the axis of evil. You don't deal with them because you're rewarding them for bad behavior.

Well, they do have bad behavior. But the best way to deal with them is to engage them, find ways that you can find common ground.

Look, there is a plus. We did get two American journalists out that had been in captivity for five months, and possibly, President Clinton's visit has brought at least both sides to a cooling off period because for the last few months, the relationship has been very negative, very tense, no dialogue. North Koreans are refusing to talk to anybody.

And so, maybe this visit will lead to a-some kind of dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea, or maybe North Korea decides to resume participating in what is called a six-party talks with South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, to reduce their nuclear arsenal. So, this is-this is a good news trip, good news for both sides.

Hopefully, North Korea comes out of their shell now that they had this high-profile visit and they'll get some points for releasing the two journalists.

MADDOW: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a man who's been right in the middle of incidents like this in the past-thanks very much for joining us and sharing your insights tonight, sir.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

MADDOW: OK. Coming up: American civic discourse gets rolled by muggers.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Ninety-five percent-haven't changed since the Bush administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're lying to me.


MADDOW: The health care fight devolves into staged intimidation in the United States. In just a moment, Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett will join us. He got a faceful of jimmed-up rudeness yesterday and he came out of it fired up and ready to go.

Stay tuned.


MADDOW: Have you heard the brand-new argument against health care reform?

First, we had the argument that health care reform was a secret plot to kill old people. Remember that?


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT ®, TEXAS: We have been battling this socialist health care, the nationalization of health care, that is going to absolutely kill senior citizens. They'll put them on a list and force them to die early.


MADDOW: That was just a couple of weeks ago. Republicans, including the man who you heard there, Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas, trying out the argument that health form is a secret plot to kill old people.

The new one they are trying out now might actually top that. A new press release from Liberty Council, a conservative legal group, warns today of a whole new thing to be scared of about health reform. And it's something I bet you never worried about before. Are you ready?

Brace yourself. Quote, "Obamacare Likely to Mandate Free Sex Change Surgeries."

Mandatory sex changes, that's the secret agenda behind health care reform? Honestly, I had no idea. The press release breathlessly warns that health care reform will, quote, "force Americans against their conscience to facilitate gender confusion.

Now, far be it from me to cast dispersions on the facilitation of gender confusion, but who do they think is supposed to be behind this dastardly plot to mandate sex changes? Liberty Council, for their part isn't saying. Presumably the underpants lobby would be a prime suspect.

Now, I know this sounds ridiculous, but this is the kind of argument against health care reform being made in conservative circles right now:

Health care reform is communism, or health care reform is Nazism, or health care reform is a plot to kill old people, or health care reform is a plot to steal everyone's genitals.

And when that's the quality of your policy critique, then this is what you're looking for from political discourse.


REP. STEVE KAGEN (D), WISCONSIN: This bill is not the end all.

It's got a good start and it's got a.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Members of Congress all live under every last rule they make for the American people!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What makes you better qualified to do that? Are you going to vote?



MADDOW: That was Democratic Congressman Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, experiencing what has become a trend across the country, town hall events being taken over by belligerent anti-health care crowds looking to shut down the events, to stop the talking about health care reform.

Kagen's local paper, "The Green Bay Press Gazette," wrote up the event this way, saying, quote, "If the event were a shouting match, the mob won. Kagen tried talking about the health care bill but the roaring chants deafened his attempts. Several elderly people covered their ears and grimaced at the level of noise."

In addition to Congressman Kagen, Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was in Upstate New York today when this happened.


DON JEROR, FORT STANWIX TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks when the president took six months to pick a dog for his kids?

HOYER: Ninety-five percent-haven't changed since the Bush administration.

JEROR: You're lying to me!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right. What are you waiting for?

JEROR: I don't have sophisticated language. I recognize a lawyer when I see one.


MADDOW: What happened to Congressman Hoyer there and Congressman Kagen is happening to Democratic members of Congress across the country. Check out this scene outside of a health care event held by Democratic Senator Chris Dodd today. Senator Dodd, of course, announced just on Friday that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama clearly said all you should do is take a painkiller! How come we don't just give Chris Dodd painkillers? Like a handful of them at a time! He can wash it down with Ted Kennedy's whiskey!


MADDOW: And as we talked about last night, Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas endured an equally nasty scene during a town hall event he held over the weekend. Congressman Doggett will be joining us in just a moment to talk about that.

In terms of the origins of these protests, a big portion of the media continues, I think, to miss the obvious. D.C. lobbying groups with ties to the health care industry have not only been organizing these events, these made-for-YouTube ambushes, they also have been taking credit for them.

Meet Conservatives for Patients' Rights. It's a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization that's run by a former hospital executive named Rick Scott. Rick Scott was actually forced out of the health care company amid a fraud investigation that ultimately resulted in the company paying a $1.7 billion fine.

Well, now, Rick Scott's Conservatives for Patients' Rights is e-mailing out town hall alert flyers and e-mailing out spreadsheets about where town hall meetings are so that they can be targeted by activists on the right. Here's their Web site today, for example, prominently featuring a long list of congressional town hall meetings.

This is a health care industry-linked lobbying group organizing uprisings at town hall events. And if you check out other groups linked to Washington, D.C. lobbying firms, like FreedomWorks, for example, can you find your instructions about how best to shout down and intimidate any possibility of civil discourse at these events. So that corporate lobbying groups are doing their part-they're turning out the mobs, telling them where to go and giving them their scripts.

And now, elected Republicans in Washington are doing their part, too

endorsing this strategy. The top Republican in the House, John Boehner, has released a statement approving of the disruption of the town halls, crowing over the, quote, "angry reception" given to Congressman Lloyd Doggett and promising a, quote, "long, hot August for Democrats."

And the National Republican Campaign Committee is now publicizing these disruptions in a new series of e-mails entitled "Recess Roastings." They're promoting and sharing the fact that town hall events have, in their words, turned into town hells for Democrats. Town halls, huh, they're town hells now. This message brought to you by the modern Republican Party.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas. He's the gentleman you saw surrounded by people screaming, "Just say no," at a town hall event over the weekend.

Congressman Doggett, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: Thanks, Rachel. What a great job of exposing this nonsense and what better cry than say no from the party of no, never, no way, on most every reform.

MADDOW: Well, you put out a statement after the town hall saying that the mob didn't just come to be heard but to deny others the right to be heard. Do you think they were just trying to shut you down, just trying to make this event not happen?

DOGGETT: Well, they staged this. This was-just like what you have been talking about tonight and last night. They had the Republican Party cameras out there to film all of this feigned outrage, and, yes, my real complaint is not their cameras or their taunts or their silly signs saying I was a traitor to Texas and a devil to all people-my complaint is that when other neighbors show up, they should not be silenced. And that's what this crowd did.

After I listened to their taunts and questions and discussed the bill with them for an hour, they insisted on yelling, just say no any time anyone else wanted to speak.

MADDOW: We've seen some of the memos and sort of talking points and instructions that had been leaked from the corporate organizers of these events, the people who are making sure that these happen all over the country, not just in your district, and they say that the objective is to rattle the congressman. What is it-what's it like to be on the receiving end of that sort of thing?

DOGGETT: Well, you know, it was-it was a bit of a surprise because I've been doing these events for 15 years and I have never had the Republican Party organize protesters like this. But I think it served a very educational purpose and it continues to, because people need to not sit back and think that President Obama and a Democratic Congress can solve all of these problems. They have to be engaged and involved.

We cannot turn over the agenda to folks that really remind me, Rachel, like that crowd of Republican staffers that showed up for Bush against Gore down in Florida. It's the same kind of approach.

MADDOW: I'm thinking exactly the same terms. In fact, our next guest is here to talk about the connection between the Brooks Brothers riot from Florida 2000 and what we have been seeing.

In terms of the Republican Party and what's happening here, Congressman Boehner, the top Republican in the House, and now, the National Republican Congressional Committee, they have sent out the footage of what was done to you at this town hall meeting. They're bragging about it. They're publicizing it. They're implicitly calling for more of this sort of thing.

And even though they're in the opposite party, they are your colleagues in the House. Does what they're doing make you angry?

DOGGETT: No, nothing surprises me about these people. They'll do anything they can to block health care reform just as they have for six decades. You know, it really shows how desperate they are. They use all of these bumper sticker slogans like, "throw mama from the train," because I guess the one that they're really all about, which is: have you hugged your health insurer today? That just won't sell with the American people.

So, they use these tactics, inflate their numbers. You know, these memos you referred to talk about inflating your numbers, spreading out your numbers. That's because they're under-numbered at the people that have been being abused by the health insurers come out and tell their story.

MADDOW: Congressman Doggett, you talk about doing these types of

events for 15 years, not having seen action like this before. Now that you

have been not only through this, but that you're being essentially trying -

they're trying to make an example of you on the Republican side about how people should continue to do what was done at this meeting that you convened, do you have any-any counseling, any advice for your fellow congressman who may be facing similar situations in the future?

DOGGETT: Don't give up or give in. This is too important. We have few more important issues in America today, and we need to be steadfast in our commitment to learn from those who have legitimate concerns and criticisms.

But there's no way you can rewrite this bill to satisfy this mob. We need to be firm and committed to a strong, public plan that will give that nudge to the insurers.

You know, they talk about taking a middle ground on this. Well, according to Congressional Budget Office, 96 percent of the people under our plan right now-before the blue dogs start messing with it -- 96 percent will be in private insurance. Isn't 4 percent in a public plan enough of a compromise? Do we have to give up entirely?

MADDOW: Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas-thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.

DOGGETT: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: And I wasn't there, but on behalf of the country, I'm sorry about what happened to you. It was very rude.

DOGGETT: Good night.

MADDOW: Thanks.

When it comes to professionally-organized, fake grassroots rent-a-mob, shutting down what used to be normal small "d" democratic processes, as Congressman Doggett suggested, today's organized health care riots have a long and impressive pedigree. Bush v. Gore, anyone?

As Congressman Doggett just reminded us, the GOP orchestrated so-called Brooks Brothers riot that shut down the recount in Miami using-used paid rioters recruited from Republican congressional staff members.

As we said last night, this is not spontaneous. What we are seeing at these health care events, this is not grassroots. This is a scripted phenomenon.

Chris Hayes will be here next to name the screenwriters.

But first: "One More Thing" about Congressman Doggett's home state of Texas. A Gallup poll conducted among thousands of voters over the first six months of this year has found that 42 percent of Texans now identify themselves as Democrats; only 40 percent identify as Republicans-which means technically, Texas is kind of a swing state now.

And Texas is not the only surprise in this new Gallup poll. Again, based on interviews with thousands of voters about which party they identify with, 37 states are solid or leaning Democratic. Those are the ones in blue. Only five states are solid or leading Republican: Utah, Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho and Alabama. That's it. The remaining eight states in the country are considered by Gallup now to be competitive: the aforementioned Texas, as well as other places we think of GOP strongholds like Mississippi-yes, Mississippi, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Arizona, South Carolina and Montana.

So, to recap, five states are Republican; 37 states are Democratic.

And even Texas is in play, according to the polling.

I wonder why all of the headlines now are about how the Democrats are in such big political trouble?


MADDOW: On November 22nd of the year 2000, weeks after the presidential election that year, we still did not know who had won Florida and who had, therefore, won the presidency-over 10,000 ballots remained to be counted by the Miami-Dade elections board. When Republican operatives, who the Bush campaign had flown in from around the country, heard that that count in Miami was going to go forward, the count of those 10,000-plus remaining ballots, those GOP operatives decided they would physically shut down that count.

The two direct organizers of the mob that turned up at the Miami elections office were New York State Republican Party chairman at the time, Brendan Quinn, and New York Republican Congressman John Sweeney, who's now better known for losing his seat in Congress after multiple DUI arrests and domestic violence allegations from his wife and an odd proclivity for showing up at frat parties and having his picture taken there, too.

The mob that the GOP sent to stop that count in Miami was billed at the time as a spontaneous grassroots uprising, one that just happened to be made up of no one at all from Miami, all Republican national operatives, including at least a half dozen who-according to IRS records-received payment for their services from the Bush/Cheney recount committee.

Here were the Brooks Brothers rioters, you know, just a bunch of ordinary Americans who wanted to see justice done, who were moved to spontaneous protest. Rioter one here: Tom Pyle, an aide to congressman-

Republican Congressman Tom DeLay. Rioter two: Garry Malphrus, former staff director of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice.

Rioter three: Rory Cooper, staffer with the National Republican Congressional Committee. Rioter four: Kevin Smith, former House Republican conference analyst. Rioter five: Steven Brophy, former aide to Senator Fred Thompson. Rioter six: Matt Schlapp, Bush campaign staffer.

Rioter seven: Roger Morris, aide to Republican Congressman Van Hilleary. Rioter eight: Duane Gibson, aide to Republican Congressman Don Young. Rioter nine: Chuck Royal, aide to then-Republican Congressman Jim DeMint. And rioter 10: Layna McConkey, former assistant to Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot.

Many of the Brooks Brothers rioters went on to pretty good jobs in the Bush/Cheney administration. That mob scene they participated in became something that Republicans put on their resumes when applying for the right kind of Republican Party job or the right kind of conservative movement job.

Well, now, the tea bag health care riots that we're seeing, the "shout them down, shut them down" thuggery being staged right now at town hall meetings about health care is again a source of conservative pride as corporate lobbying groups brag about their ability to turn out the mobs, to shut down the Democratic process. Because, of course, the single most important piece of the history of the Brooks Brothers riot is that it worked.

Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine. Chris, thanks very much for coming on the show.

CHRIS HAYES, WASHINGTON EDITOR, "THE NATION" MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me as always, Rachel.

MADDOW: In trying to make sense of the healthcare town meeting mob scenes that's we are seeing organized now and the strategy here, do you think this is the same kind of strategy that was behind the Brooks Brothers riot in Florida?

HAYES: I think it is very similar. I mean, the key phrase is something that was uttered by Congressman Sweeney and actually reported by a conserve editorialist of "The Wall Street Journal" back in 2000 which was that when he heard about what was going on with the recount, he issued the order to, quote, "shut it down."

I think shut it down kind of epitomizes exactly what the strategy is. I mean, it's hard for me to even talk on the television while they're screaming "shut it down." And I can imagine that it's difficult to sort of conduct any kind of public discourse, any kind of smoldy(ph) Democratic politics in the face of this sort of implacable, bullying, braying and intimidation.

And "shut it down," I think, is really the kind of catch phrase for everything that we're going to be seeing through the August recess in these town halls.

MADDOW: Right. It's not about making one side of the argument in an argument. It's making sure there can be no argument.

HAYES: Right.

MADDOW: Chris, one of the great regrets of Democrats that I have heard over the past decade is that they weren't called by their party to go fight in Florida the way that Republicans called their people to go fight in Florida. Looking back on Florida nine years down the road, now that we know what happened there, can you imagine how things might have worked out if Democrats had done the same thing that Republicans did?


MADDOW: I mean, is it conceivable that they might have asked Democrats to go there?

HAYES: Well, I mean, to consider the counterfactual, it's undeniable the Democrats got out-hustled and they got out-organized. And I want to say, at a certain level, right, what the right is doing right now is corporate sponsored and it's astro-turf but it's organizing. They're coordinating.

There is a set of very powerful interests that are spending literally millions of dollars a day to defeat this agenda and they're coordinating it. And the answer in a free Democratic republic like our own is to meet organizing with more organizing, to not get out-hustled to make sure that people who are going bankrupt from the health insurers are showing up at these meetings in blue dog districts, et cetera.

So I think there's a really crucial lesson from Florida, which is that you can't get out-hustled. You need to organize. And this is - look, democracy is about the nonviolent resolution of political conflict. And there is political conflict here, and Democrats have to organize their own forces.

MADDOW: the other approach to it, the other strategic lesson that could be taken here is that I think the lesson that the Obama folks took from the - this past year's presidential campaign, where they didn't try to organize people to go to McCain-Palin rallies, to shout down the "kill them all" rhetoric that they were hearing from their crowds.

HAYES: That's right.

MADDOW: They publicized it, essentially ...


MADDOW: ... that they used those displays of extremism to try to splinter the people who were on the right ...

HAYES: Absolutely.

MADDOW: ... who were either tolerating that stuff or denouncing it. Is it possible that the Obama folks will take that same approach to this display of extremism at these town halls?

HAYES: I think that's exactly what you are already seeing. I mean, this is sort of signature Obama political strategy, which is a kind of judo, right? To kind of use the excesses of your enemy against them.

And I think that you're already seeing that DNC and other people sending the message out showing the signs of swastikas that are showing up at these rallies. The images of Stalin, the screaming, the sort of red-face spittle-flecked anger that is coming out in these town halls to show that, look, this is isn't just, you know, some kind of middle of the road, undecided independent voter who's having some reservations about the possible cost of the health care bill.

These are radicals. These are extremists. These are zealots. And as someone who palled around with radicals, zealots and extremists, there's nothing wrong with that. They should just be called out for what they are.

MADDOW: Chris Hayes, Washington editor for "The Nation" magazine and appealing sort of zealot. Thank you very much for joining us, and I really appreciate it.

HAYES: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. Coming up, at least three members of Congress received letters from civil rights organizations imploring them to vote against climate change legislation. Except the letters were frauds, stolen letterhead, made-up claims, full-on lies.

We will visit with one of the congressmen who got this phony-baloney via U.S. post. And we'll introduce you to the frauds who sent it. This is a very, very ugly side of corporate PR and strategy. Stick around.

MADDOW: Happy birthday, Mr. President. And I say that secure in the knowledge that no one thinks of Marilyn Monroe when I say that. I should also mention that if, indeed, Mr. Obama's birthday is today, that would make him a Leo, a.k.a., the lion, which is an animal found mainly in Africa, which is the continent that Kenya's on. Catch on to this special birther day tribute to our president coming right up.

But first, it's time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today's news. As we celebrate the new that's American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been freed after 4 ½ months in captivity in North Korea. They are on their way home right now.

There is more American journalists held captive by an axis of evil country news to stay up on. A freelance reporter working for "Newsweek" magazine, Maziar Bahari, is one of the 100 people who were put on trial this past weekend in Iran for supposedly fomenting revolution.

Mr. Bahari was arrested in the post-election crackdown in June. "The New York Times" reports that at his trial, he was trotted out before Iranian-state media to give what "The Times" described as a short, chilling statement that was essentially a confession.

Mr. Bahari's employer, "Newsweek" magazine, very much wants him released. They put out this full-page advertisement in "The New York Times," in "The Wall Street Journal," calling on Iran to release the reporter. They put out - it's sort of a petition of sorts. It's signed by a who's who of journalists and playwrights and novelists and filmmakers.

Meanwhile, Iran is also confirming that it has in custody three young Americans, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal. Bauer and Shourd are reportedly freelance journalists and Fattal is an environmental worker.

They set out early Friday planning to go hiking into Iraq's northern Kurdish region. That area shares a really unmarked border with Iran. At about 1:30 p.m. local time, they called a friend who was supposed to be with them on that hiking trip, but who, at the last minute, had come down with a cold and decided not to go.

The hikers reportedly told him that they were, quote, "surrounded by Iranian soldiers." Well, Iran has confirmed that these three Americans are being questioned, that they have been charged with illegal entry.

One last sort of strange detail in this story is that the fourth man, the one who got a cold and missed the trip but got the phone call, his name is Shon Meckfessel. He's a graduate student studying linguistics.

You will also remember after I tell you he was the original bass guitarist for the band Cake. I only mention that because sometimes a detail like that is what helps keep a story like that on people's minds and therefore in the press. We will keep you posted as we learn more here.

And finally, happy birthday, Mr. President, birther update for the day. Dave Weigel at "The Washington Independent" notes today that the poorly-photoshopped Kenyan birth certificate that was supposed to prove Obama was foreign-born has actually ended up sort of splitting the birther movement.

Apparently, the forgery is just too obvious even for some birthers, which is turning them against the other birthers who say they believe in this thing. So, in other words, the birthers now have an over-the-top ridiculous faction and an over the over-the-top ridiculous faction.

But fear not, divided and disheartened birthers, there is some good news for your movement of paranoid delusion today. You have a celebrity in your ranks.


That's right. No less than authority on official foreign government documents than Chuck Norris has weighed in on the controversy. He has written a blog post lending his support to the birthers.

Addressing Obama directly, Mr. Norris calls for release of some other birth certificate he imagines the president has and says, quote, "Why not just prove them wrong and shut them up? I agree with CNN's Lou Dobbs," end quote.


MADDOW: If there were an in-house award for the weirdest moment ever on this television show, I asked the staff. And apparently our first nominee would be that time that Jonathan Mann came on the show and sang a song to Paul Krugman while I blew bubbles at him.

I admit that was kind of weird. But the second nomination, second place nomination, would have to go to the time that we played those animated Christmas carol singing lumps of coal.


Yes, nothing warms the heart during the holiday season like winter-clad lumps of coal turning "Frosty the Snowman" and "Silent Night" into jingles for coal. And it turns out the people behind these singing lumps of coal, America's Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, they are also behind the latest "are you kidding me" corporate lobbyist scandal.

Because when the corporate lobbyists are not ginning up tea party mobs to shout down members of Congress at healthcare reform meetings, they may be committing mail fraud.

Check this out. Last night we reported that the right-wing lobbying firm Bonner and Associates admitted writing letters pretending to be from a Virginia Hispanic group and local Virginia chapters of the NAACP. And these letters urged the Democratic congressman named Tom Perriello to vote against climate change legislation.

Well, tonight, we have new information. When Bonner wrote those fake letters, they were working for America's Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, these singing lumps of coal guys. The same people who brought us those Christmas carols have now admitted that Bonner and Associates was working on their behalf, when Bonner sent a total of 12 fake letters opposing the climate change bill. And not just to the Congressman Perriello, but also to two other members of Congress.

Now, the head of the coal industry group said in a statement, quote, "We are outraged at the conduct of Bonner and Associates. It's clear that an employee of Bonner's firm failed to demonstrate the integrity we demand of all of our contractors and subcontractors."

Outraged, outraged that Bonner and Associates might impersonate someone else as part of a corporate lobbying campaign. How did the nice coal industry people have ever known this would happen? Maybe they would know this because this is what Bonner and Associates does for a living, and they keep getting caught for it over and over and over again in public.

Try the Google, "Mother Jones" caught Bonner 1996 listing the Detroit Association of Black Organizations as a supporter of a sugar subsidy. The black coalition, of course, had no idea why it was being listed. It did not support a sugar subsidy.

In 2002, just another example among many, "The Baltimore Sun" caught Bonner trying to kill state healthcare reform in Maryland on behalf of Pharma while masquerading as local grassroots groups.

In 2006, the AARP uncovered a scheme in which the drug company Pfizer hired Bonner and Associates, who hired phone bank operators, who posed as old people who were opposed to prescription drug legislation in Minnesota and New Mexico.

But now the coal industry is shocked, shocked, I say, outraged, that this company famous, for ginning up fake support for corporate campaigns, ginned up fake support for this campaign.

Joining us is now Congressman Tom Perriello, Democrat of Virginia and recipient of several of Bonner and Associates fake anti-climate change bill letters. Congressman Perriello, thank you so much for coming on the show.

REP. TOM PERRIELLO (D-VA): Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Now, I definitely want to ask you about these fraudulent letters. But I know that you also have just done a town hall meeting tonight. And given how town halls have been going these days, I feel like I have to ask you how it went and how are you doing?

PERRIELLO: It was great, actually. I think we are seeing a growing wedge between national Republican tactics and the decency of regular folks at the Main St. level. And you know, tactics like this with Bonner and Associates obviously turn people off. It's the sort of Karl Rove kind of tactics that made people not like the party in the first place.

But we're able to sit down and disagree here, but disagree respectfully. We spent about 2 ½ hours having a conversation. Some people converted, some people didn't. But the important thing was we were having a real conversation.

And I think that's what the national Republicans have been afraid of, is that people are remembering why they like healthcare reform and energy independence in the first place.

MADDOW: Well, on the issue of these fake anti-climate legislation letters that you received, how did you figure out that they were forgeries? How did you know that there was something wrong here?

PERRIELLO: Well, obviously, we tried to respond to all constituent letters. And when we had one from the NAACP, not surprisingly, I know the names of the folks at the local chapter and called them up surprised. And lo and behold, it was not them and neither was Ms. Avocado or whatever it was at the Latino organization, the name they came up with.

So it's the sort of thing that's pretty easy to figure out. I think, you know, it doesn't even really faze us more. We're so used to these dishonest tactics. But I think it really is a wake-up call to a lot of independents and moderate Republicans that these are the sort of tactics that are being used. Because you know, people are pretty decent and pretty intelligent. And this is the sort of thing that really turns them off.

MADDOW: Those organizations in your district - I mean, obviously, the NAACP is a real organization. The Latino organization - that was also impersonated, another real organization in your district. How mad are they?

PERRIELLO: They are pretty upset. Obviously, anything like this, where someone is claiming your letterhead and then claiming your position is just outrageous. They also did JABA, the Jefferson Area Board for the Aging, which is one of these great service organizations in our community that helps our seniors.

And for them to get dragged into something like this really is, I think, a blow to folks in the area. But it's also just a turn-off again to these sorts of corporate-lobbying tactics. When, you know, genuinely decent people can disagree about health care and about energy independence. We could have a conversation about it.

We still have that sense of southern hospitality here where we can spend that time together and disagree. We don't need, you know, the outside agitators and this dishonest tactic coming in. I think it's really sort of where the wedge is right now between some of the Republican tactics in Washington and, you know, the real decency of Republicans back home.

MADDOW: And it's not just Washington versus local beltway versus home district. There is also an element of deliberate corporation action here. I mean, this wasn't coming from a national Republican Party here. This is a corporate lobbying firm doing work on behalf of a corporate interest.

And that, actually, to me is the link to what we are seeing in the healthcare town meetings that have been shut down is that those do seem to be not just political tactics but deliberate tactics by special interests who have a stake in these things. And if that's the case, what is the right way for Democrats to respond?

PERRIELLO: Well, I think in some cases, our communities take care of it themselves. I think there is a real division even here between people who are genuinely motivated by their own thoughts and desires to oppose these plans, who are genuinely concerned about fiscal responsibility. And they want to have conversation and those who were here to disrupt and prevent a conversation from happening.

You know, I think the fear in some ways from those is if we actually get the facts on the table, whether it's about euthanasia myths or anything else, that all of a sudden we take their cards away and they have to actually make the argument on their merits.

So what we're seeing is people are really concerned about health care. I come from an area here where we have very high unemployment. A lot of people rotate between jobs. We have a lot of people in the age 50 to 64 bracket who have a real hard time getting private insurance.

There's a real sense of urgency from some of the population. And then from others, there is just a desperate concern about where the budget is going. That is a good conversation. What is not is when people just want to rabble-rouse. And when that's coming from the outside, there is a tracker following me who is not even from the state and has sort of been a little ignorant of Virginia politics.

But you know, even he seemed to be won over by people's hospitality over time. So I think, when we get back to those kinds of values, it's going to be good. And we can have a discussion on the merits. And I think on energy and health care, that's going to play out in a good way.

MADDOW: Congressman Tom Perriello, Democrat of Virginia in his first term, thanks very much for joining us, sir. Nice to talk to you.

PERRIELLO: Thanks for having us.

MADDOW: Coming up on "COUNTDOWN," Keith follows up a special comment by talking to Markos Moulitsas of "The Daily Kos" about the big money and the health care fight right now. We'll be right back.


KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Today is Obama's 48th birthday. Happy birthday.


(voice-over): White House reporter Helen Thomas turned 89 today. President Obama gave her cupcakes, the secret to health and longevity. But also born today, Louis Armstrong, Billy Bob Thornton, "Law and Order's" Richard Belzer, NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon and - wait for it - Bush's Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

I'll bet he never got Helen Thomas birthday cupcakes. All these people are Leos which, if you are astrologically inclined, means that they are generous, warm-hearted, creative, enthusiastic, broad-minded and expansive, faithful and loving. But also pompous patronizing, bossy, interfering, dogmatic and intolerant.

Here's President Obama's horoscope for today. Omar's daily astrological forecast says, "For the remainder of the summer, you tend to shine in group activities." Says astrologer Sally Brampton, "What happens over the coming 12 months will convince you that something your mind has invented could very easily and very quickly become a reality in your life."

And finally, the Filipino Web site, "," which I'm sure the president consults every day, says, "Vitality increases this year. You'll spiff up your image, impress your loved ones and attract new friends. Shockingly good news comes in September," which means healthcare reform will pass. Happy birthday that, conservatives. The stars are against you.


MADDOW: "COUNTDOWN" with Keith Olbermann is right now. It was great.