Guests: Jonathan Alter, Tarina Keene, Jane Mayer
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: It is alarming to look into the teleprompter and see the words, the Cooch. It‘s very upsetting.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: Well, I dropped crazy from it which would have emphasized crazy. Yes.
MADDOW: People in Virginia call him the Cooch. It‘s hard to talk about him without people in Virginia knowing that it is, however, very awkward.
OLBERMANN: We‘re just reporting the facts.
MADDOW: That‘s right. We report uncomfortably, you decide uncomfortably.
MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Within the next hour, we‘ll bring you the guy the Republican Party has chosen to be their face of the party for the elections this year.
We will bring you the really rich guys behind the Tea Party—supposedly grassroots tidal wave that is sweeping America.
And we will opposite of celebrate the return of probably the creepiest guy to make American news headlines in—oh, say, the past five years. The creep is back. And no, before you jump to a perfectly snarky conclusion, before you click send on the hate mail, all of those people on the show this hour, the new face of the GOP, the Tea Party rich guys and the creep, they‘re all different people.
That‘s all coming up.
But we begin tonight with a perfect illustration of how rights are taken away in this country. How do you take away something that people enjoy as a right?
Option one: the most direct option is to try to make that thing illegal. If it turns out that you are treading on people‘s constitutionally protected rights in order to try to make this thing illegal, then the courts, of course, will stop you and you‘ll be left with fuzzier options. You could try persuading people not to do this thing you disapprove of, you could try persuasion, you could try scaring people, you could try threatening people—or go about making it so difficult to do the thing you disagree with that even though you can‘t technically outlaw it, you can de facto prohibit it by making it almost impossible for anyone to do it.
That last option is a very effective means of eliminating rights in America, eliminating them even when it‘s illegal to technically take that right away. “The Washington Post” is reporting that the crusading super-conservative, increasingly high-profile attorney general of the great state of Virginia declared now the state can begin regulating first trimester abortion clinics.
Because the antiabortion movement chased abortion services out of many hospitals and doctors offices, it is a service that is largely provided in specialized clinics now. And right now, in Virginia, these clinics are regulated in the same way as other offices where patients receive other forms of outpatient services, places like, places where you get oral surgery or plastic surgery.
But under the crusading attorney general‘s new legal opinion, clinics that provide abortions could instead be regulated like hospitals—in which case, according to abortion rights groups, 17 of the 21 abortion providers in the state of Virginia would probably have to close their doors.
If the attorney general got his way, those 21 clinics would be newly required to be no more than 15 miles from an emergency room. In most cases, their hallways would have to be widened, structurally, in order to be able to fit two gurneys through the hallway at once—even though they don‘t generally use gurneys. They would need to have swinging doors installed in all of their doorways.
None of this has anything to do with abortion services—none has anything to do with providing abortion services more safely. It‘s because the state of Virginia would be requiring clinics to operate as if they are hospitals which they are not.
Now, it should be noted just because the state‘s attorney general, Mr. Ken Cuccinelli, says this is how he interprets the law, just he puts out a legal opinion claiming it‘s suddenly OK to regulate abortion clinics to death, that doesn‘t mean it‘s the law, that doesn‘t mean it is the law. He‘s issued his legal opinion. But as attorney general, he has a lot of leeway to do that.
Back when he was a state senator, Mr. Cuccinelli consistently supported bills that would have done exactly what this new legal opinion attempts to do, would force abortion clinics into hospital-style regulations. But none of those bills ever passed. So, having failed to actually change the law through democratic means, he‘s going with what he sees as his next best option, he‘s jut declaring that the law has changed anyway in his opinion.
And that particular page out of the playbook is one that we‘ve seen before. The approach to restricting constitutionally protected rights is a road that we‘ve been down before. We know where this road, in fact, ends.
Once upon a time, the country was introduced to another crusading national spotlight-seeking, super-duper antiabortion attorney general, his name was Phill Kline. Like Mr. Cuccinelli, Phill Kline also seemed frustrated at his inability to just make abortion illegal in his state in Kansas. And so, he, too, took matters into his own hands. He decided that as attorney general of Kansas, he was just going to go after abortion rights by any means necessary.
Like Ken Cuccinelli, crusading attorney general of Kansas, Phill Kline, started off by issuing a legal opinion. An opinion he thought would help him in his crusade to stop abortion. He attacked abortion in Kansas by using child abuse reporting statutes. He used child abuse reporting statutes as a means of getting his hands on the medical records of women and girls who had undergone abortions so he could search for evidence of some sort of wrongdoing within those records and then prosecute abortion providers. That was his plan.
As part of that fishing expedition, Phill Kline and his underlings subpoenaed guest records from a hotel near the clinic run that was run by the late Dr. George Tiller. They then compared the subpoenaed information from the hotel to medical records that had names redacted from them. They can—they had gotten those records from the state with the names removed. But when they compared those records to the hotel records, they figured out how to identify patients who had had abortions by name.
Thanks to that particular operation, Phill Kline‘s office put together a list that allegedly included names of 221 adult women who had had abortions. Eventually, those medical records and others they managed to collect over time were traded around like baseball cards.
On Phill Kline‘s way out of office in 2007, there was sort of a mad scramble in his office to decide what to do with those records. Naturally, they weren‘t going to leave them behind. They were so valuable in the antiabortion wars. They apparently thought they might be able to use them or maybe get some other local district attorneys to be able to use them somehow to try to stop abortion.
So, these private medical records that were obtained in the first place under shady circumstances involving a hotel record subpoena, they were stored for a while in the assistant attorney general‘s garage. Then they spent 40 days that rubbermaid tub in another staffer‘s apartment. At one point these private medical records were all photocopied by a member of Phill Kline‘s staff at a local Kinko‘s store.
As you might have imagined by the very fact that we are talking about this, the whole operation in Kansas sort of blew up. There were big repercussions for Phill Kline. Not only did he get voted out of office as attorney general by the good people of Kansas, he‘s now under investigation for alleged ethics violations. He could wind up losing his law license.
Just last week, one of his underlings who also faced ethics charges related to this anti-abortion crusade was publicly censured by the state board in Kansas that is in charge of disciplining attorneys.
And, of course, Phill Kline never did manage to fulfill his dream of prosecuting the late George Tiller for providing abortions. But if you think about the overall point here, Phill Kline‘s crusade didn‘t entirely fail. The overall point of what Phill Kline was trying to do was to take this constitutionally protected right away from women, law be damned—to use the law as an instrument to take away a legal right.
Now, the effort legally failed, but to an activist like Phill Kline, the law was not really what‘s important here. What was important was the outcome. In Kansas, the outcome was at least in part that the private medical records of 221 women who had had abortions were photocopied, including their names, in full view of anyone who happened to be hanging out at Kinko‘s on January 8th, 2007.
The result is that every woman who has had an abortion or thought about having an abortion or who thinks she might someday need an abortion will now have to wonder whether she will be followed to a clinic or to a hotel near a clinic by crusading antiabortion activists from a state attorney general‘s office—whether her medical records will get passed around by people who think of private medical records as opposition research.
That‘s why Phill Kline‘s campaign against abortion in Kansas wasn‘t a complete failure, because he succeeded in making it seem harder and riskier and scarier to get an abortion. It is a long and messy road, but that is how constitutionally protected rights are taken away in this country.
And now in Virginia—act two.
Joining us now is Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice in Virginia.
Tarina, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.
TARINA KEENE, NARAL PRO-CHOICE VIRGINIA EXEC. DIR.: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me first ask you about this legal opinion that‘s been issued by your state‘s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli. Is the strategy to make it too costly for abortion clinics to stay in business?
KEENE: Oh, absolutely. He‘s been trying to do this for many, many years—especially while he was in the state Senate, at least for eight years, and he did so unsuccessfully. So, now, he‘s simply trying to circumvent the legislative Democratic process and is doing this through this opinion and is giving the power over to the board of health.
MADDOW: Why is it regulating abortion clinics as if they are hospitals, telling them they need to abide by all the same regulations a hospital needs to abide by—why is that such a hardship for clinics? Why would that have the effect of shutting clinics down?
KEENE: Well, if you think about your typical doctor‘s office, most of them are rented facilities and they‘re very small. They‘re not hospitals. And if you had to retrofit an existing office, whether you own the building or you don‘t, you‘re talking about $1.5 million to $2 million a year to—or I‘m sorry, $1.5 million to $2 million total to actually have that retrofitted to become a small hospital or what we call ambulatory surgical centers.
MADDOW: And you were the source of the quote to “The Washington Post” that in your estimate of the 21 clinics that provide abortion services in Virginia right now, you think that 17 of them would be shut down if this went into effect?
KEENE: Oh, absolutely. These are small facilities that simply could not meet these guidelines.
And it‘s really sad because abortion is already very hard to access in Virginia. Eighty-six percent of counties and towns in the state of Virginia do not have an abortion provider and many of these facilities also offer reproductive health care, other types of family planning services. And also some of them are used as general practitioners offices.
So, if they‘re shut down, we‘re talking about a lot of women losing their only access to health care.
MADDOW: Tarina, let me ask you about this in the broader political context. Phill Kline in Kansas, Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia—these are politicians, Republican politicians, conservative politicians who made their vociferous opposition to abortion part of their campaign for office. Crusading antiabortion politicians are very common on the conservative right right now.
On the other hand, crusading for abortion rights, to protect a woman‘s right to choose is something you hear very little about, even from very progressive Democrats who are running for office.
Do you think that Republicans have been able to sort of steal this debate? Would it help to have Democrats campaigning on this issue?
KEENE: I would like to see that. I think, unfortunately, it has become such a difficult issue to talk about. They have hijacked the language and, unfortunately, what they‘ve also done is they‘ve made people feel like abortion is dangerous and it‘s also scary.
So, it‘s hard for a pro-choice candidate, whether they‘re Democratic or Republican, to actually talk about this because it‘s so easy to listen to the rhetoric of the other side and instead of actually really giving it some thoughtful analysis as to why people are pro-choice and what that actually means. That means comprehensive sex education. That means access to family planning, birth control.
And if we had those two things in order, we could reduce the numbers of abortions in this country and in the state of Virginia. But no one even wants to talk about that either. It‘s a very difficult issue.
MADDOW: Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice in Virginia—thanks very much for joining us and helping us give this story a national spotlight. Appreciate it.
KEENE: Thank you so much, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, after all that, after Bob McDonnell‘s speech with studio audience and Eric Cantor‘s pizza party and Paul Ryan‘s display of intellectual prowess, and Bobby Jindal‘s “Hi, I‘m Bobby” moment of unfortunate-ness, after all of what we have seen in the past year with Republicans trying to come up with the face of the Republican Party, after all the guys have been auditioned since the McCain/Palin loss in the last election to Barack Obama and Joe Biden—after all of that, Republicans seem to have settled on who is going to be the face of the new Republican Party. It‘s John Boehner. The face of the Republican Party. That‘s next.
And later, the “New Yorker‘s” excellent Jane Mayer has been in Washington since Watergate. She says she has never seen anything like it. Find out who she‘s talking about—just ahead.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: So, what do you do with a newfangled “Star Trek” meets horror movie pain weapon? A weapon rejected by the U.S. military for use in war zones oversea overseas. After it‘s been rejected by the military, what‘s the next stop for a technology like that? Here‘s a hint: it‘s in the Pacific time zone. That‘s coming up next.
MADDOW: Politics 101. In the first midterm election after a president is elected, the president‘s party loses seats. Just about every time you can set your watch to it.
This time, Republicans are raising expectations that they will not only gain seats in this election, they think they will go all the way. They will gain control of Congress—like they did in 1994, the last time a new Democratic president had to face his first midterm.
In 1994, though, the so-called “Republican Revolution” had a face—more than a mascot, less than a leader. He was the party personified in that election by a specific Republican official. It was Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House after that year‘s big Republican gains.
As Republicans try to replicate 1994 all over again this year, who‘s going to be this year‘s Newt Gingrich? Who‘s the Republican counterweight to President Obama? Who represents to voters this year what Republicans have to offer?
Sometimes, in looking for this year‘s Newt Gingrich, Republicans have just gone with actual Newt Gingrich again. Given how things work out once Mr. Gingrich became speaker when he got charged with the largest ethics fine in history and then quit, “old Newt” might not be the best choice for the role of the “new Newt.”
Similarly, while there is much popular interest in the ways and sayings of former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, the fact she, too, quit her job in politics and functions only now as a media celebrity makes her also an awkward choice.
Republican Party chairman Michael Steele—well, he has the right job as party chairman to play the role, but it‘s only commie, pinkos, and TV show hosts like me who want Michael Steele to be on TV and in public talking every single day of the year, including Sunday and holidays. Actual Republicans don‘t seem to feel the same way about Mr. Steele.
Other candidates for the job of being the Republican counterweight to Obama have risen and fallen and risen and fallen over the course of the past year. There are the clear candidates in waiting like Mitt Romney, who can‘t get near a microphone without explicably talking about how much he hates France. Also, Minnesota Governor Tim Pa—I‘m sorry, Tim Pawlenty.
There have also been Republicans given big stages on which to speak this year and some cases, Bobby Jindal—big stages from which they visibly fell off of.
Some Republicans have been allowed to introduce big national policy proposals, like Congressman Paul Ryan‘s budget, in order to boost their national profile.
But it seems like now, as we head into the homestretch for this year‘s elections, as the primaries start to wind down, Republicans seem to have settled on their mascot guy, their candidate, their counterweight to the president—the guy who will personify what Republicans have to offer America in 2010. And I am honestly surprised to say this, but it seems like they have picked John Boehner, the Republican congressman who would be speaker of the House if Republicans won the House this year.
Mr. Boehner gave a major speech today in Cleveland, laying out the Republicans‘ economic strategy. Mr. Boehner is also the Republican scheduled to give a speech on Iraq on the day of the hand-over of command in Baghdad, when the president has requested time from the networks for a primetime Oval Office address.
Republicans appear to have plighted their troth for this election. In the blue corner, it will be President Barack Obama—in the red corner, it will be this guy. Three, two, one, go.
Joining us now is Jonathan Alter, MSNBC political analyst, “Newsweek” senior editor and columnist, also author of the book, “The Promise:
President Obama Year One.”
Mr. Alter, thanks very much for joining us.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Republicans have a project called Boehner for speaker.
But Democrats are raising money over the notion of John Boehner being
speaker. So, is the elevation of Boehner as the face of the Republican
Party, is that a good thing for Democrats or a good thing for Republicans -
ALTER: I think it‘s very good thing for Democrats. Look, the Republicans want this to be a referendum on Obama. The Democrats want the midterms to be a choice. The path that they‘re on or, you know, return to the past and George W. Bush.
They can make it another choice—straight-up Obama versus Boehner. It would be wonderful, for instance, to see them debate, presumably Boehner would say, no, if Obama said, let‘s have a discussion on TV the way they did last year about health care, except this time maybe just make it Boehner and Obama.
The point is: he‘s an excellent foil for the Democrats. And it‘s not just because of all the jokes about his orange complexion that politicians have been using for the last couple of years. This is a guy who was most famous before he came the House minority leader for having passed out checks from the tobacco industry on the floor of the House of Representatives. That‘s not an allegation or an exaggeration. He actually did that.
And in the years since, you know, he‘s no Newt Gingrich when it comes to talent. He just doesn‘t really have any political chops.
So, I think the Democrats are just delighted that he‘s stepping forward.
MADDOW: Well, in terms of why this has happened then—I mean, Republicans aren‘t strategically dumb heading into a big, important election like this. Why would they be putting Boehner forward in this way?
Nobody had to give a big economic speech about the Republican counterpoint to the policies. Nobody had to make a big policy speech that was going to get attention for having called for the resignation of all the economic team. Nobody has to give a counterpoint speech on Iraq on August 31st.
Why are the Republicans putting them up?
ALTER: Well, Rachel, I have to tell you, because of some technical difficulties, I‘m not sure if I heard your question. I‘m not getting audio right now. But I‘ll try to answer it anyway.
The—the Republicans, you know, feel like they have a really good message with the status quo. And so they feel free to kind of distort the Obama performance. So for instance when Boehner said today, quote, “the stimulus has gotten us nowhere,” that‘s not an opinion, it‘s a factual misstatement. This Congressional Budget Office, which is nonpartisan, has estimated that the stimulus has provided between 1.5 million and 3.5 million new jobs and that it has expanded the economy by as much as, you know, 4.7 percent in the second quarter.
So, you know, facts can be stubborn things as Ronald Reagan said. They‘re out there now giving the press the opportunity to actually assess which of the candidates—which of the politicians is telling the truth on the facts about the economic condition of the country. And on that basis, if we can get back into what sometimes is called the reality-based community, then maybe we can have a real argument based on facts as opposed to opinions.
And I think the Democrats‘ challenge, Rachel, is to tee this up appropriately. It should be done on—on Boehner‘s and the Republicans‘ decision to argue this on taxes, on extending the tax cuts for the wealthy.
So, the Democrats now have an opportunity to say, OK, that‘s about $300 billion minimum. Should we spend that giving more millions to millionaires or spend that money on millions of new jobs? That‘s a pretty good compare-and-contrast for Democrats. We‘ll see whether they can execute on that.
My feeling is if they can‘t use that, then maybe they should get into a new line of work because there are real opportunities politically here for the Democrats to lessen their losses, not pick up seats, but lessen their losses and hold the Congress if they can stigmatize Boehner and the Republicans—and just explain what they represent, which is a return to Bush economics.
MADDOW: Jonathan Alter, MSNBC political analyst, “Newsweek” senior editor and columnist and author of the book “The Promise: President Obama Year One”—also a man who can perform a television segment with one ear tied behind his back.
ALTER: That part I heard. Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks, Jon. Appreciate it.
“The New Yorker‘s” Jane Mayer joins us in just a moment. Remember when we introduced you a little while back to billionaire brothers who really didn‘t want anyone to know that they were funding the Tea Party Movement? Jane Mayer figured out all that and what else they‘re funding too that they really don‘t want anyone to know about. That‘s coming up next.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One 1,000. Two 1,000. Three -
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MADDOW: Those aren‘t people at a very, very elementary acting class. Those are people meeting the pain ray or, to use its given name, the active denial system. The active denial system.
Sounds like an indexed term in a child psychology textbook, but it‘s actually a pain ray, an invisible pain ray developed by the defense contractor Raytheon for the U.S. military.
The thing shoots a beam of millimeter waves that penetrates human flesh through your clothing causing a sensation supposedly akin to being hit with scalding water or by the blast of heat you get when you open a really hot oven.
Once the pain ray hits you, the only way to stop the pain is to - watch what these guys do - get out of the way of the pain ray. Run away. After being developed for the military by Raytheon, the pain ray was sent to Afghanistan this summer. It was to be used as a crowd control device, as they say, in the field, in the war zone, on people other than volunteers and journalists.
Interesting point, though, the military didn‘t accept it. The military promptly sent the pain ray back to the United States from Afghanistan without using it. Military spokesman saying only that, quote, “The operational need for the device was not approved by commanders.”
So no reason given as to why it wasn‘t approved. It just wasn‘t approved. You think of all the things the military has approved over time, but this, the pain ray - this was too far for them, too much. They didn‘t want it.
And so now, because the U.S. military has determined that the pain ray is not suitable for use in a war zone, the pain ray is coming home. The pain ray is coming home to be used here, against Americans, against American prisoners, at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, California.
Prisoners deemed unruly at this L.A. County facility will now find themselves on the receiving end of the smaller version the too-hot-for-Afghanistan military pain ray. The full-scale version is called the active denial system. As I said, the smaller one they‘ll be using in the jail, they‘re calling it an assault intervention device.
Same pain, different name. The military one gets mounted on a humvee. The jail one you see right here. It‘s about 7 ½ feet tall and apparently lives in this office. The jail got the device for free as part of an operational evaluation by the Department of Justice and Penn State University. So it‘s sort of an experiment, an experiment on prisoners. Want to see what it does again?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One 1,000. Two 1,000. Three -
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MADDOW: Because it was supposed to be used for the military, the Pentagon funded the development of the pain ray to the tune of about $40 million. The pain ray will now be used against Americans in a trial, a publicly-funded experiment, for which people who are locked up in Los Angeles County‘s jails did not volunteer. America, these are your tax dollars at work.
MADDOW: OK. So let‘s say your dad founded a really big oil and chemical company. Let‘s say just for the sake of argument that it‘s the biggest privately-held oil and chemical company in the whole world, the second largest privately-held company of any kind in the whole country.
And because your dad founded that company, and because dad‘s will was awesome, you and your brother are now tied in the rankings for the ninth richest men in America - USA, USA.
If those were your circumstances, what would make sense is that you, as the head of a giant oil and chemical company you inherited from your dad, you would do things like trying to stop the government from limiting greenhouse gas emissions. You live for greenhouse gas emissions.
You‘d be trying to make sure there was no tax on fossil fuels. You‘d be trying to prevent chemicals like formaldehyde from being labeled as causing cancer. You make many, many millions of dollars after all from formaldehyde.
You‘d be doing all of these things because they would be good for the bottom line of the business you inherited from dear old dad. Now, chances are if you‘re sitting at home watching this show right now, you probably did not inherit a giant oil and chemical company from dad. I‘m very sorry.
But the brothers who did, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries - they have done all those things that I mentioned. They‘ve done that advocacy and service of their company‘s bottom line, through the company, through Koch Industries.
But they‘ve also funneled a ton of money into organizations with really innocuous sounding names, groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy. Who‘s against that? Or Citizens for the Environment - sounds like hippies. There‘s also David Koch‘s latest venture, Americans for Prosperity. Who‘s against prosperity?
All of these groups have been started or funded by the Koch Brothers and they just happen to serve the financial interests of Koch Industries.
Last summer, we discovered it was groups like Americans for Prosperity that were largely behind all of the supposedly organic grassroots tea party rallies around the country. They were paying for the buses, organizing the speakers, putting together training kits for attendees, making talking points, designing the Web sites - all that stuff.
However legitimate the personal fervency of the activists, tea partiers who attended these rallies, particularly the early ones, were essentially instructed to rally against things like climate change legislation by billionaire oil tycoons.
But it turns out that in addition to fighting against all of that stuff specifically related to the oil and chemical industry, which make sense because that‘s where they got dad‘s money from, the Koch brothers have also been bankrolling efforts to reduce social services in America, to defeat health reform, to defeat the economic stimulus package for the economy.
These are things that may have some vague connection to the bottom line of Koch Industries. But mostly, they show the Koch brothers are pursuing an agenda that is beyond just their own narrow, if very rich, corporate self-interest.
They have an interest that is hardcore ideological, hardcore conservative. And dad‘s money to pursue that agenda, it turns out, goes a long, long way.
Joining us now for the interview tonight is the “New Yorker‘s” Jane Mayer, author of “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who are Waging a War Against Obama.” Jane Mayer, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
JANE MAYER, AUTHOR, “COVERT OPERATIONS”: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the distinction I made in the introduction. It seems like a lot of what the Koch brothers have funded has a direct impact on Koch Industry‘s profitability. But can you describe for us the more ideologically-motivated stuff they‘ve been funding?
MAYER: Well, sure. I mean, the two interests do dovetail to a large extent. But they are very hardcore libertarian ideologues and have been for many years. And their early years, actually, are very revealing.
I go into the family story to some extent in this piece in the “New Yorker.” And they were early backers of and followers of a man named Robert LeFevre, who is really an anarchist and believed that the government should be completely decimated, basically.
The only thing he believed in was a government that would protect individual rights. And so from those early days, they were supporters of getting rid of things like social security, income taxes, all kinds of regulations. They wanted to get rid of the FBI, the CIA.
They are - Charles Koch who is interestingly heads of one of the most important and influential companies in the country is also a man who has described himself quite recently as a radical. And so it‘s a radical ideology they have.
MADDOW: One of the things that is striking is the distance between the sort of John Birch-era, Koch, the father, ideology you‘ve described and modern day, even very far-right conservatism.
For example, the idea of getting rid of the FBI and CIA is something that would strike a lot of today‘s modern sort of national security conservatives as kind of off the deep end, right?
MAYER: Well, it would, but I mean, they are extreme libertarians. It‘s like they are the major funders of libertarianism in the country and have been for a number of years. But at a certain point, the two things collide quite nicely for them in that what they have been spending a lot of money on is fighting regulations on things like, as you‘ve mentioned, the environment.
And they‘ve got a history of serious pollution problems and some even criminal problems having to do with pollution record. And so when they go after the federal government, they‘re also aiding their bottom line.
MADDOW: The strategy of the brothers has been to try to influence policy by bankrolling a lot of right-wing think-tanks, a lot of right-wing organizing outfits. Why did they determine that that was the best route to take? I know that you describe in the piece how one of them, at one point, ran for office.
MAYER: Well, that‘s true. It‘s really interesting. In 1980, David Koch, the brother who lives in New York City, became vice president of the libertarian ticket. And actually, it was - if you take a look at that campaign, the language was much like the tea party now.
They even talked about having a tea party then to get rid of taxes. But anyway, it was a flop at the ballot box. They got something like one percent of the vote and they realized they couldn‘t really win in kind of the open democratic marketplace.
So instead, they decided to go recede from public view and start funding a complete apparatus of public opinion that would push America in their direction in other ways.
And there‘s a book about them and about the libertarian movement called “Radicals for Capitalism” in which they are described as deciding that politicians were just actors and it would be better to write the script for the politicians than to be the politicians.
So people that started writing the scripts were the think-tanks that they started funding and the academics that they started funding and some of the pundits they started funding.
MADDOW: One of the things that‘s most intriguing about them is that, until recently, you‘ve heard so little about them. They‘ve really taken sort of great pains to keep their own names out of the headlines to do this in a very low-key way.
Do you have any insight into why they haven‘t been more transparent about their political donations and what they‘re trying to do?
MAYER: Well, one of the people who worked with them for a long time who talked to me said that they prize their privacy partly because they think it helps their bottom line. One of the things that they really don‘t want is to be in the center of political controversy because, for instance, they make an awful lot of household products that everybody knows in this country.
Things like Brawny Paper Towels and Dixie Cups and Stainmaster Carpet, Lycra, and all kinds of things that - Georgia Pacific Lumber and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). These things we‘re all familiar with and they don‘t, I‘m told, really want to have the public connect those products to their extreme politics.
And you know, it also might bring Congressional investigations if they were in the news more. So they try to be way behind the scenes.
MADDOW: I did notice that - I was sort of scanning your piece at first looking to see if anybody in Democratic politics or in the administration was going to weigh in on this subject. We‘ve been sort of talking about the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity since the early days of the tea party.
We didn‘t go as deep as you have been in this piece for the “New Yorker.” But it‘s very interesting to see that you got a comment from David Axelrod about them. I wonder if you got the sense that the administration, the Obama administration, is frustrated with the influence of the Koch brothers, if they want there to be more public awareness of what they‘re doing.
MAYER: You know, I mean, I can‘t really speak for the White House, but I get the feeling that they - what they‘re frustrated about is that the tea party has been able to be portrayed through most of the media. Not necessarily yours because you‘ve done a terrific job on covering Americans for Prosperity.
But in many places, it‘s been considered kind of a spontaneous uprising that just came from nowhere. And there is certainly the real anger out there in the country.
But what I think is frustrating for the White House from what I can see is that very few people have connected the dots to explain the corporate interests that are organizing a lot of it and who are trying to exploit it in many ways, push their own agenda, organize people so that, as you mentioned, they will start rallying against things like cap-and-trade policy and energy.
These are issues that are pretty abstruse issues to people. They‘re not usually the kinds of bread-and-butter issues that people go out in the streets for. But they‘re big issues for fossil fuel industry and they‘re pushing the tea party in that direction.
MADDOW: Astroturf, after all, is a petroleum product, it should be reminded. Jane Mayer, author of the must-read piece on the Koch brothers in the latest issue of the “New Yorker.” It‘s linked over at “Maddow Blog” today. Jane, thanks very much for your time. I really appreciate it.
MAYER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” RNC chairman Michael Steele popped up on Spanish language television today to try to make the case to Latinos that, actually, Republicans are not that gung-ho about Arizona‘s new “papers, please” law. Like an episode of “Three‘s Company,” it was all just a big misunderstanding.
Coming up on this show, the very unexpected return of the man known to THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff as the creepiest guy on earth. It‘s all coming up.
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GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R-VA): The economy, at least, in Virginia started to grow again, but it‘s mainly through spending cuts.
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MADDOW: Or not. That was Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia this morning touting his state‘s $400 million budget surplus, taking credit for that surplus on the basis of his own proud fiscal discipline. A Republican dream come true.
It would be, except for the fact that what also helped balance Virginia‘s budget was massive, massive spending, spending by the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus, which Gov. McDonnell has repeatedly derided saying as a candidate for governor of Virginia that, quote, “This bill contains significant categories of spending that may do little to help the economy.”
Saying as governor, that, quote, “We cannot continue to have all of the states rely on the federal government.” Except presumably for Virginia, which got a whopping and is getting a whopping $2.5 billion of stimulus money. Stimulus money that even stimulus-hating Governor Bob McDonnell had to acknowledge this morning actually helped with the state‘s budget.
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MCDONNELL: I think in the short run, most governors would say that some of the money that came in the last couple of years into budget certainly plugged a few holes. But you know, long term, that‘s not going to be the solution.
A little short-term help from Washington has certainly reduced some of the cuts, even though we‘ve cut $10 billion. But long-term, what we‘ve done here in Virginia this year was significant new structural cuts. It‘s what you‘re going to have to do to remain solvent in any number of areas of the state budget.
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MADDOW: A little short term help. Got a little short - a little something, $2.5 billion of it. You can either take credit for your balanced budget and stop talking smack about the stimulus money that got you that balanced budget. Or you can refuse to take the credit for the balanced budget because you don‘t like how you didn‘t earn it. Really only have two choices, one or the other. What‘s it going to be, governor?
MADDOW: There are people in the world who make news in such a way that the further you get in time from when they were in the news, the less you believe they really existed, that they have some composite of crazy things you remember from other stories.
Here, I have graphed it for you. For some people in the news, the more time goes by, the less the person seems like real life. Jonathan Keith Idema - Jack Idema - is one such person in the news, a person you wished you had never, ever hear from again.
It is hard to believe he actually existed but he did, and, apparently, he still does. Jack Idema is back in the news, more on how in just a moment. But first, the patches that make up this particular quilt of “did that really happen.”
Mr. Idema first turned up in the news as a self-styled American soldier of fortune in Afghanistan. He went to Afghanistan in 2002, and by that time, he had already been convicted of wire fraud in the U.S. He had already built up criminal records in three states and he had already tried unsuccessfully to sue Steven Spielberg and his production company for a movie that Jack Idema claimed was secretly about him.
But then, he went to Afghanistan where Jack Idema soon started to claim that he was advising the northern alliance and also rounding up Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters with his private, anti-bad guy squad that he named Task Force Saber 7. What happened to Task Force Saber 6 and Task Force Saber 5, we do not know - a mystery.
But Mr. Idema‘s most infamous move was still to come. He opened up his own jail in his house in Kabul. He would arrest people and then imprison them in his jailhouse. Once, he even convinced U.S. authorities to accept one of his prisoners. That prisoner was later released.
If what Jack Idema was doing sounds a lot like kidnapping, the Afghan government agrees with you. They arrested Jack Idema in the summer of 2005. He was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to a 10-year prison term on charges of illegally entering the country and, you know, running a private torture prison in his house - a private prison in his house where he tortured people.
Footage from that prison aired not only on news shows covering the story five years ago but also in the last two consecutive al-Qaeda propaganda videos released on the anniversary of September 11th, as in “Look what Americans do. Join the war against America.” Thanks, Jack.
Mr. Idema was pardoned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai after serving two years of his 10-year prison sentence. The soldier of misfortune left Afghanistan and reportedly returned to the U.S., where we like our private prisons run by giant corporations, thank you very much, not by individuals working from home.
So we thought and we hoped that was the last we would hear from Jack Idema, the creep who, as time went on, you really couldn‘t believe was a real guy who really did that stuff. So long, Jack.
We were wrong. Noah Shachtman, over at the indispensable “Danger Room” blog, calls our attention to the fact that Jack Idema has resurfaced, apparently holed up in a house in Mexico.
According to local news reports, local police in Mexico want very much, please, to talk to him about accusations that he held people in his house against their will.
There are other more lascivious accusations, too, and none of which we can verify. But needless to say, Google Alert set and we will keep you posted as this story develops and as we hope it fades away again forever.
That does it for us tonight. “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
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