ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
August 2, 2013
Guests: Rick Nolan, Gayle McLaughlin, Steven Czifra, Micheline Maynard,
Eddie Alterman, Nathanael Greene, Karl Brauer
CHRIS HAYES, HOST: Good evening, from New York. I`m Chris Hayes.
Tonight on ALL IN:
The future of cars is not only super cool. It could make us all live
longer. I`ll talk about saving the planet one car at a time.
Also, if you`re not sure how you feel about the practice of solitary
confinement, tonight, you`ll hear from a man who spent eight years in
solitary and the toll it has taken on him as a free man.
Plus, the foreclosure crisis left a lot of people without any help and
without any hope. But one city has finally taken steps to deal with the
problem and actually get struggling homeowners back on their feet. And
guess what, the banks hate it.
But we begin tonight with vacation!
As of tonight, everyone`s favorite Congress is officially on recess.
And, you know, there is nothing better -- nothing better -- than taking
some well-deserved time off after you spent months and months working
Here`s what Congress has done this year. They`ve passed and sent the
president 22 bills. If that sounds like a lot of progress for seven
months, let me assure you it is not. Here`s how much Congress had gotten
done by the August recess going back to 2006 when Democrats first took
It used to be they were getting somewhere around three times as many
bills passed in the same amount of time. But not anymore. Now, of course,
to be fair, John Boehner famously told us all last week not to judge
Congress` productivity based on how many bills they passed. That`s crazy
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We should not be
judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many
laws that we repeal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: OK, Speaker, let`s give that a try. How many laws has
Congress repealed this year? Zero. Zero laws. They have not actually
successfully repealed anything.
Now, in all fairness to Speaker Boehner, House Republicans have in
fact taken many, many votes to repeal Obamacare. They have voted for
repeal several times this year. For a grand total since Boehner became
House speaker of 40 aimless, pointless, symbolic votes that will not result
in anything actually being repealed.
That includes one of the last votes they took today before heading out
So, how should we evaluate this Congress, how should we figure their
Well, here are some numbers we could judge the 113th Congress by.
Thanks to the sequester that members of this Congress either allowed to
happen or openly cheered for, they`re responsible for 700 fewer research
grants for the National Institutes of Health. Around 750 fewer patients
admitted to NIH clinical center, roughly 752,000 civilian employees in the
Department of defense furloughed, 4 million fewer meals for needy seniors
for Meals on Wheels program.
Or if you want to look at what little Congress has been working,
there`s 11 million undocumented immigrants whose very presence in the
United States would become a federal crime under a Republican measure
passed in committee in the House. And approximately 300,000 Dreamers who
have already been given legal student who would be at risk of deportation
under a House-passed amendment.
There`s the $38 billion the Senate passed immigration bill would spend
on militarizing the U.S./Mexico border, including the 19 border agents per
mile of the border, and the 11,000 American women who would lose access to
abortion under a House-passed abortion ban. And the 4.1 billion in cuts to
the food stamps program passed by the Senate.
Probably the easiest grade 113th Congress has is this, an approval
rating of 8 percent. I don`t know about you but I think 8 percent sounds
like a really low "F."
Joining me tonight is Michael Steele, MSNBC contributor and a former
Republican National Committee chairman.
Michael, am I wrong? The United States Congress, particularly the
Republican House of Representatives, is a total disaster?
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Yes, it is. It`s been almost a
little bit embarrassing to say that, because of the gravity of the issues
that you`ve talked about and pointed out on this show and others, that you
think people would recognize -- yes, immigration, health care, the economy.
The economy, jobs, what about a jobs bill? What about putting things
on the table that will put people back to work? The unemployment rate,
yes, 7.4 percent. But you still have a significant flat-lining of
employment for those who are out there looking, who have been reduced from
full to part-time.
So, this Congress has let a lot of things slip by them. Playing to an
audience, and I don`t know who that audience is, other than themselves and
the folks down at the other end of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, because the
rest of us are sitting here scratching your heads. And you`re going on
vacation for 30 days?
HAYES: The thing I have to say about it is this. I mean, you and I
are going to have very different prescriptions for how to solve the economy
and what the problems are and, obviously, I`m going to have different
ideas. But I just feel like this Congress in particular, more than the
last Congress, this Congress in particular is not even being competently
managed by particularly Speaker Boehner.
I mean, yesterday, this week, you have this crazy thing where they`re
going to do a routine appropriations bill to fund HUD and Transportation
and they had to pull it because it didn`t look like they had the votes. It
just seems to me like it`s almost this king is dead game of thrones feudal
warfare on the House side in which there`s no actual coherent, unified
leadership to push an agenda, were there actually an agenda.
STEELE: Well, I think, you know, the partisanship aside, I think it`s
a fair point. You`re absolutely right. You and I, as we would see in the
House, between Republicans and Democrats, would have a different
prescription for how to solve the problem. That`s if we actually got in
the room and sat down to try to work out the prescription to solve the
problem. They`re not doing that.
And the concern that I see, particularly for the GOP going into next
year, is that what is going to be the conversation with the country?
STEELE: How do you convince the country that you`re serious about
promoting the business of the nation, the business of communities that are
out there trying to make ends meet, when you look at the record and see not
much is getting done?
HAYES: There`s two big items, I think, on the horizon when Congress
comes back. There`s, what is going to become of the immigration bill the
Senate has passed? Is it going to get a vote in the House?
And right now, I feel like Boehner`s painted in such a corner that
he`s doing the old stall tactic. Like, if he pretends it`s not there, if
everyone just goes along. But I don`t think -- you think the stall tactic
is going to work? They`re going to have to have an accountability moment.
STEELE: Yes, there is that moment where you`re going to have to sit
down and the heads will have to be counted and the hands will have to be
raised to cast the vote. I do not see how they get through this Congress,
coming back in September, and not at least make a good faith effort at
passing an immigration bill, particularly given that the Senate has done
its part. You need to get a bill to conference.
Let the members in the House and the Senate go to conference, work out
a bill to get to the president`s desk. We need to stop this, you know,
Obama can`t get a win, because in the process, we`re hurting ourselves.
We`re seeing -- seen as obstructionist, we`re not seen as promoting and
progressing is agenda in a way the people see the nation`s business getting
And there`s no clearer example of that, Chris, than on the gun issue.
And this is where it hits both Democrats and Republicans.
The nation -- 90 percent of the nation say we want something done on
this. And they blinked. They took a pass. They didn`t address it. And
the same is true on this issue with immigration.
So I think there`s a real setup potential here for disaster next year.
If we don`t play close attention to getting something done between now and
HAYES: I should note, you`re right, there were some Democrats balking
at assault weapons legislation. But that was largely Republicans,
particularly in the Senate.
Final, quickly here is, the other thing on the horizon is the idea
that Cruz, Lee and Paul have, senators, to essentially precipitate a
government shut-down of some sort unless Obamacare is defunded. A lot of
people are saying that`s a bonkers idea.
What do you think of that?
STEELE: I have to agree with the Republican leaders who feel that
this is not the message we want to send to the country that is still trying
to deal with this economy. And, you know, the idea that the way you`re
going to do is basically hold it hostage, to hold the economy hostage, hold
families and communities hostage, those who are federal employees, it
doesn`t make sense to me.
Look, I`m all for, you know, taking care of Obamacare, getting it
right. We know it`s a problem. Max Baucus on the left, others on the
right, have said this needs to be fixed. I don`t think this is the way to
get it done.
Again, if they`re a problem, put your solutions on the table.
HAYES: That`s the issue. The solutions -- the solutions are missing.
Michael Steele, former RNC chairman, thank you very much.
STEELE: You got it. You got it, my friend.
HAYES: All right. Let`s turn to Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan of
Minnesota. Rick was first elected to Congress in 1974. He left Congress
at the end of his third term in 1980, and then spent 32 years as a
businessman before being re-elected to Congress last November.
So, Congressman, you have this really unique perspective on this
Congress. And you can speak to in a historical context of whether this
congress is as bad as I said it is. What do you think?
REP. RICK NOLAN (D), MINNESOTA: Well, it is bad. I mean, the
pundits, the experts, have looked at it. And we`re on the road to becoming
the most unproductive Congress in the history of the United States.
And, you know, I would have thought Speaker Boehner understood the
legislative process when he said, as you quoted him at the beginning of the
show, you know, it`s a good thing not to pass any bills and put any more
laws on the books. The fact is that when you pass a bill, it becomes law,
it can either be repealing something, it can be changing something, it can
be protecting and preserving something. But we`re doing very darn little
of any of the above.
HAYES: You and I have spoken before about some of the big differences
between when you were in Congress the first time and in Congress now, that
are deeper necessarily than John Boehner`s having a hard time controlling
his caucus and speak to just how much members of Congress are actually
working right now, how much time they`re spending doing the people`s
business, how much time they`re spending fund raising.
What has changed in those three decades since the last time you were
in the Capitol?
NOLAN: Well, Chris, there are a lot of little changes and big
changes. The two big changes, I really -- the flip side of the same coin.
My last election added up to like over $20 million. My previous one was
only a couple hundred thousand dollars.
The pros up here on the Hill tell members that they should be spending
30 hours a week in the Republican and Democratic call centers across the
street dialing for dollars. At one level, it`s understandable. I mean,
the political scientists tell us, the ones with the most money generally
get the most votes.
The flip side of that coin is that we`re not spending our time
governing. I had my staff do a little research on the number of
subcommittee and committee meetings that we had when I served in the past.
And the three terms that I served, we spent between 7,000 and 8,000
subcommittee meetings. This Congress has had somewhere between 400 and
NOLAN: So people are spending all their time raising money instead of
governing which is what we`re expected to do here.
HAYES: Here`s the other question I have. There`s a trope that we
have in the progressive press and on this network about, these Republicans
are the worst Republicans ever, and they`re just so extreme.
And I believe that. I don`t say it because I don`t believe it. But I
also wonder what your perspective, having served with an earlier cohort of
Republicans, are these Republicans, particularly House Republicans, are
they more extreme, are they more willing to ascent to norms in place?
NOLAN: Well, I`ll tell you -- I was surprised to see the extent they
subscribe to the Grover Norquist philosophy, which Norquist has said time
and time again, let`s squeeze the federal government down to a size so
small we can get it into a bathtub and drown it. And that seems to be the
philosophy of the extreme right, which is making governance virtually
impossible for Boehner. He can`t put together a majority for anything.
There`s only been like 22 bills that have been passed that have become law.
A bunch of those are naming post offices.
HAYES: And a bunch of the other big ones had the votes supplied by
Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats, to actually get --
NOLAN: Exactly. Hurricane Sandy, the debt ceiling, violence against
HAYES: When you take away those and you take away the post office-
namings you`re basically left with the Obama repeal votes and that`s what
Congressman Rick Nolan of Minnesota, thank you so much. It`s always a
pleasure to talk to you.
NOLAN: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: After years without any substantial progress across the
country, one city has a bold plan to help struggling homeowners. The
city`s mayor joins me next.
HAYES: Coming up, a rescue plan so simple and so obvious you`ll
wonder why it wasn`t implemented across the country four years ago.
And later, you`ll meet a man who spent eight years in solitary
confinement. He turned his life around but he wants to turn the practice
of infinite isolation into a thing of the past.
Stay with us.
HAYES: Day by day, we get numbers that the country`s entering into a
significant housing recovery. In some areas of the country, it almost
looks like another bubble. In 20 large U.S. cities, home prices have
increased an average of 12 percent since last year. According to a just-
released survey comparing May 2012 to May of this year.
In four cities, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Atlanta, prices
are up 20 percent or more year to year. And yet, just like the overall
economic recovery itself, it looks like this housing recovery is incredibly
uneven. Certain areas are really recovering, while others are not.
And for the areas that are not, there`s still six years after the
bubble burst dealing with the foreclosure crisis that no one has ever
really dealt with. The areas in red and pink on this U.S. map show the
percentage of homes that are under water in any given region. That means
homeowners owe more in their mortgage than the house itself is worth.
Those pink and red areas have 30 percent to 100 percent of their homes
In Contra Costa County, California, near San Francisco, 33 percent of
the homes are under water, according to this Zillow.com data. But one town
in that county is finally doing something about it. The city of Richmond,
California, has offered to buy the mortgages of more than 600 underwater
homes at market value from the banks that hold those mortgages.
Richmond`s mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, says the city would help the
homeowners refinance at an affordable rate. If the banks refuse to
participate the city is prepared to use eminent domain to buy those
Joining me to explain this plan is Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.
And, Mayor, the first question to you is, why are you going to do this
and how`s it going to work?
MAYOR GAYLE MCLAUGHLIN, RICHMOND, CA: Well, let me tell you, Chris,
the housing crisis is not over in the city of Richmond, California. Just
last year alone, we had over 900 foreclosures.
MCLAUGHLIN: And nearly half of the mortgages in the city of Richmond
are under water. And this clearly destabilizes families, destabilizes
neighborhoods, and hurts the city as a whole. The banks sold my community
predatory loans and now they have no solution.
So, the city is stepping in. We`re taking these troubled loans off
the hands of the banks. And we`re paying them fair market value for them.
And then we`re working with the homeowners to help them refinance and to
refinance at the current -- in line with current home values.
HAYES: So we`re clear about what fair market value means here. Fair
market value means current value, which means the loss, the haircut, is
taken by the bank?
MCLAUGHLIN: It`s a fair market value as the industry indicates what
fair market value is. It`s something that, you know, underwater means that
the current value of the home is way under what the original mortgage was.
And we`re doing this. We`re doing this in partnership with others.
We have a private firm, mortgage resolution partners, that is providing the
funding and the technical assistance, and we have a community group called
ACCE, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, that`s doing the
HAYES: Do you have the legal authority to do this?
MCLAUGHLIN: We absolutely have the legal authority to do this. We
call on the banks first of all to voluntarily sell us these mortgages at
fair market value. But if they won`t, we have the option to utilize
eminent domain. Eminent domain is for a public purpose.
And the public purpose in inquiring these mortgages is to keep
foreclosures from happening in our neighborhoods, which creates blight,
which creates lower property values. The blight draws crime in.
And our overall economy suffers as a result of lower property values
HAYES: Aren`t the banks going to absolutely go bananas if you do
this? They`re going to fight you tooth and nail, they`re going to sue you,
they`re going to threaten not to lend. I mean, are you prepared for what
the banks are going to do if you do this?
MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, absolutely. First of all, our agreement with MRP,
Mortgage Resolution Partners, is that we are totally indemnified by them.
Any legal costs incurred will be made by MRP.
But when the banks threaten to, you know, do -- not lend to families
in Richmond, we -- or families moving into Richmond, that is illegal. So
we clearly think that if those policies were implemented, we have the
option of bringing them to court and bringing legal action against them.
HAYES: Mayor Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond, California, I hope you are
as tough as you sound in this because they`re going to bring a world of
hurt down against you and I`m really happy to see someone taking the reins
on this. Thank you so much.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Coming up, I`ll talk with a current UC-Berkeley student who
spent eight years in solitary confinement.
Stay with us.
HAYES: There`s a very strong case to be made. It`s a case that I
personally find very compelling, that on any given day, 80,000 people are
being tortured in the United States.
This is the number of people who are not beaten, not waterboarded, but
who are in solitary confinement on any given day in prisons across the
country -- isolated in a cell alone for 22 hours or more a day, oftentimes
for years on end, indefinitely. It`s a practice that has been criticized
almost universally by human rights and civil liberties groups across the
A 2011 U.N. report found that solitary confinement can amount to
cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and even torture.
And there is no state whose solitary confinement practices are more
under the microscope right now than California, where hundreds of prisoners
are on hunger strike protesting, among other things, the state`s infamous
solitary confinement practices. According to officials there are 477
inmates in six prisons on hunger strike right now. Today, signaling the
protests are in fact making an impact, California Corrections Secretary
Jeffrey Beard will meet with members of a coalition representing the
But that protest is just one of the challenges being made to
California`s prison system right now. In 2011, the Supreme Court agreed
that California`s prisons violated the Eighth Amendment`s ban on cruel and
unusual punishment and found the prison system led to needless suffering
and death. That`s a quote.
The court ordered California Governor Jerry Brown to reduce the
state`s prison population by 30,000 people. After partially complying with
that order, Brown asked the court to block the requirement on the remaining
And today, he was rebuffed. The Supreme Court of the United States
refused to let California delay the release of thousands of inmates from
state prisons to relieve crowding. It`s a blow to the state`s barbaric and
seemingly lawless mass incarceration system.
And I wanted to talk to someone who has lived through it. Steven
Czifra is a 38-year-old student at UC-Berkeley, a man who spent a total of
16 years in California`s correctional system, eight of those in solitary
confinement. While he was in prison at a secure housing unit at Pelican
Bay State Prison, he spent 22 1/2 hours in his cell each day and was only
allowed 90 minutes outside of his cell which he would spend alone in a
concrete, windowless pen.
Steven Czifra joins me now from Berkeley, California.
Steven, thank you for joining me tonight. My first question is, how
did you end up in prison in the first place?
STEVEN CZIFRA, SPENT YEARS IN SOLITARY: Breaking the law. Stealing
cars, just -- basically delinquent --
HAYES: And when you were in prison, how did you go from being in
general population, what was the thing that triggered going from general
population to being placed in solitary confinement?
CZIFRA: Well, for years up until just before going into solitary
confinement, I was a model prisoner. I worked as a teacher`s assistant,
teaching other inmates how to do office work. Just before I was set to
parole, I got in a fight with another inmate. And while on my way to my
cell, I spit on one of the officers. And they gave me four years in
security housing unit for that.
HAYES: Wait a second, you got four years in solitary for spitting?
CZIFRA: Yes, for spitting on an officer. And they gave me -- they
tried to give me a three strikes case. And the judge on the trial
confirmation date didn`t agree that taking the rest of my freedom was worth
-- was commensurate with the crime. So, they gave me four more years in
prison and four years in solitary confinement.
HAYES: What was life like for those four years for you?
CZIFRA: Well, I mean, it was terrible. It was lonely. It was --
scary, bleak, and really wasn`t -- it wasn`t until, looking back in
hindsight, in reflection, that I was able to see what had really happened.
When I was there, it was -- it wasn`t even -- there wasn`t any sense of
reality around it. So it wasn`t like I was sitting in my cell thinking,
oh, this is what solitary confinement is like. I wonder what the damage is
going to be?
It wasn`t until I looked back and was able to live with other people
and saw how they were operating and the way I operated, just as far as day
to day, anxiety level, sleep patterns. Just the kinds of things that
occupied my thoughts versus what I saw other people paying attention to.
It was night and day.
HAYES: Explain that difference. You`re saying that the experience of
solitary, aside from the actual experience while you were in it, has had
lasting psychological effects for you now that you are rehabilitated and
out in the world and a contributing member of society. That experience
still lingers for you.
What are those effects?
CZIFRA: Sure. So I`m a student. And, you know, I`ll read a book,
maybe if I get an assignment to read a book, I`ll have to read it no less
than three times and typically take copious notes. And nothing sticks.
You know, I`m always kind of, you know, paying attention to my surroundings
in a hyper vigilant way. Every -- all the different facets of my daily
life carry very heavy consequences. You know. After having been in
solitary confinement, for what I thought was pretty, I don`t know, it was -
- I don`t think it -- I don`t think the fairness level was, you know -- the
crime fit the punishment, so to speak.
CHRIS HAYES, HOST: Yes. Let me ask you this. We talked to the
Department of Corrections in California today. And this is the statement
they had. And I want to get your response to it. They said, there is no
so-called solitary confinement in California prisons. And the security
housing units at Pelican State Bay prison, in fact there is no unit within
the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that could be
described as solitary confinement. The SHU is specifically designed to
house offenders whose conduct endangers the safety of others or the
security of the prison. What`s your response to that?
CZIFRA: Sure. So far, one of the hunger strikers has perished. So,
I mean, this is serious enough that people are refusing food and refusing,
you know, life, you know, the life, the meager means to life that`s being
offered to them, they`re taking this to their graves. So to suggest that
this doesn`t constitute solitary confinement or it`s not even worth looking
at is ridiculous. But, I mean, just -- what is solitary confinement? Some
of these people haven`t touched another human being in excess of 30 years.
They haven`t, you know -- they haven`t -- in any meaningful way they
haven`t left their cells for anything other than, you know, a modicum of
movement. Maybe 10, 20 feet away from their cells for 10, 20, 30 years. I
mean, what are we talking about when we say solitary confinement? They`re
alone. They`re desperate. They`re willing to die. They are dying. I
mean, to act like there`s no issue is absurd.
HAYES: Steven Czifra, I want to really thank you for sharing your
story with us tonight. Thank you very much.
CZIFRA: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: We`ll be right back.
HAYES: It`s already 2013 and we still haven`t seen any flying cars
like we were promised in so many movies and TV shows about the future. But
we look to be on a precipice of an absolute automotive revolution that
could save the planet and your life. That`s coming up.
First I want to share the three awesomest things on the internet today
beginning with one man`s quest for religious freedom. Nukosh Novi of the
Czech Republic fought his government for the right to wear a religious head
covering in his government photo I.D. And it look like he was successful
in his efforts. Mr. Novi says, he belongs to the church of the flying
spaghetti monster. Apparently, the devout are encouraged to wear a pasta
screener on their heads.
First give thanks to an Ariel deity comprised of spaghetti and meat
balls. And they call themselves pasta-farians. As think progress reports
a check government spokesperson says that Mr. Novi`s request complies with
the laws of the Czech Republic where head gear for religious and medical
reasons is permitted if it does not hide the face to which we say, thanks
be to God ramen.
The second awesomest thing on the internet today is a rather humbling
public service announcement. Earlier this summer, we learn that the
inventor of the Jif, Jif actually pronounces it like Jif the Peanut Butter.
Now, a guy named Ralf Herrmann says, we`ve all been mispronouncing the name
of the most famous punk in the world Helvetica. Ubiquitous typeface seen
in many a corporate logo. Why should we trust Ralf Herrmann? Because not
only he`s a typographer, he`s European, he knows about what these sorts of
To educate the American masses, Mr. Herrmann is offering the proper
pronunciation on his website.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RALF HERRMANN, TYPOGRAPHER: Neue Helvetica.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Mr. Hermann has thus far only taken on the classy fonts of the
old world so allow me to offer up the proper pronunciation of the more
accessible typefaces. Such as Comic Sans. And Times New Roman.
And the third awesomest thing on the internet, it`s first Friday of
August. With any luck you`ve been drinking since 2:00 and chances are
after viewing this show you`ll be ready to cut a rug. In situations like
this, it`s important to have the song of the summer ready to go on your
play list. And may we humbly suggest that song Robin Thicke`s "Blurred
Lines." In spite of frankly, perhaps because of the deeply questionable
gender politics of his lyrics, it has all the makings of the perfect summer
song from a perfectly manscaped singer to parodies galore.
What more do you need? Well, the Jimmy Fallon treatment, the late
night host along with his -- roots and Robin Thicke put a new spin on the
song with the help of instruments used in music class.
Although I don`t know about you but could have used more cowbell. You
can find all the links for tonight click three on chris.com, we`ll be right
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: The year that I took office,
my administration pledged to reduce America`s greenhouse gas emissions by
about 17 percent. From their 2005 levels, by the end of this decade. And
we rolled up our sleeves and we got to work. We doubled the electricity,
we generate from wind and the sun. We doubled the mileage our cars will
get on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: One of the things President Obama did in his big climate
change speech earlier this summer was focus on a bit of good news in the
world of climate. Carbon emissions are down. Now, the conventional wisdom
is emissions are down to their lowest level in two decades because of
fracking. But that is just part of the story. A recent study by CO2
Scorecard group, an environmental research organization out of Florida,
says that half of the four percent drop in U.S. emissions from 2011 to 2012
came from lower energy use.
And a big chunk of that came from Americans driving fewer miles and
using more fuel-efficient vehicles. Only one-quarter of that drop came
from natural gas. America`s one of the most car-dependent places on earth.
While some of that has to change the brute fact is that we have a massive,
expensive built infrastructure that exists as it is and that requires lots
of cars. I`m talking about our wide stretches of road and suburban
infrastructure, the sprawling transit system that we`ve developed. And
this means the fight against climate change can be fought by of course
driving less but also by making cars that contribute dramatically less
This week, BMW unveiled their first-ever electric car. The I3. With
the hope of challenging Nissan, Chevrolet and Tesla, the three companies
that hold almost 75 percent of the market for electric cars. Now, these
cars aren`t cheap. The BMW I3 will start around $40,000 or the Tesla
starts at $70,000. The Tesla is notable for being the first successful
American car startup in almost 100 years. In May, the company paid off a
$465 million government loan.
Nine years ahead of schedule. It plans to have a network of high-
speed super charger stations that will be expanding throughout the country
by year end which will allow you to drive from L.A. to New York just on
battery power. Since the dawn of the automobile, dreamers have dreamt of a
mass-produced, affordable electric car. And we may now find ourselves on
the threshold of that reality.
Joining me now, Micheline Maynard, author of Forbes and Voyages.
Eddie Alterman, editor in chief of Car and Driver magazine, the largest
monthly automotive magazine in the country. Here at the table, Nathanael
Greene, director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Nathanael, I`ll begin with you. If you`re shifting from oil in the
tank of a car to an electric car that`s powered on the grid, if that grid
is powered by coal energy, are you actually getting a benefit from the
perspective of the planet, from the perspective of carbon?
NATHANAEL GREENE, DIRECTOR, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Well,
right now, you plug in a car anywhere in this country and you`re doing
better than the average car on the road. So, yes.
HAYES: So, even right now?
GREENE: Right now.
HAYES: Beginning now, the answer is yes?
GREENE: Yes. These provide us a real benefit. If you plug in an
estate where we start to make a switch to more renewable power, clean wind,
solar power, you`re doing better than even the new cars that are coming
out, the new hybrids. So, these electric vehicles provide a real benefit
right now to us. And the really cool thing about them is you plug them in
now, they`re doing the benefit, as we get our grid cleaner and cleaner,
they get cleaner and cleaner.
HAYES: They get cleaner and cleaner as the grid gets cleaner and
HAYES: The technology that you have now is going to use that grid
technology. Micheline I feel like the electric car this is this kind of
futuristic dream, almost this like lefty cliche, like why don`t we have an
electric car that we`ve been dreaming about? Is this a real thing? Are we
actually going to get the mass-produced electric car revolution?
MICHELINE MAYNARD, FORBES CONTRIBUTOR: I`m not sure we`re ever going
to have an electric car that sells in the same numbers as the Toyota
Corolla or, you know, even the Chevy Cobalt. But I think we`re -- the
market`s splintering so you have enough people interested in buying
electric cars and hybrid electric cars that will go out and do it. I mean,
Toyota didn`t sell a single hybrid in the year 1998. And they`ve sold over
three million Priuses.
SHARPTON: Was there a slow uptick on hybrids?
MAYNARD: Oh, absolutely. I mean, what happened at the beginning of
hybrids was they were super expensive compared with, you know, it`s not
that they`re any cheaper now, but car prices have kind of come up to where
hybrids are. So, yes, high prices hurt them at the beginning and also the
technology wasn`t familiar. And now hybrids, at least the Toyota hybrids,
pretty much drive like anything else. And that`s where we have to get with
electric cars for them to get big numbers.
HAYES: Because I`m a liberal caricature, I of course drive a Prius
myself, and that`s a great car, I love it. That doesn`t come from any
Toyota sponsorship. Eddie Alterman, do you think this is hyper reality?
EDDIE ALTERMAN, CAR AND DRIVER: I think it`s a little bit overhyped
to some extent. I mean, I look at it as sort of a spectrum. We have to
get to more electrification and that`s going happen. But I don`t think
it`s going to happen all at once. You know, we`re projecting that in 2014,
there will just be .3 percent of new cars sold that are battery electric
vehicles. It`s a very, very long way to go. But you know, I think you
really do have to look at it as a spectrum from pure internal combustion
all the way to something like a fuel cell electric vehicle.
HAYES: Here`s what I thought was interesting though. I read that
Tesla has grabbed about eight percent of the luxury market in just this
year. And it seems to me like you could imagine a trajectory, depending on
how the price goes. You know, the iPhone was $799 when it came out. I
mean, that`s a luxury item, $800 for a phone. They`re now $99.
Nathanael, is there evidence to think that we`re going to see a cost
curve like that where we could get town to something that`s actually
GREENE: I think there really is. The electric vehicle is the
fastest-growing segment of the auto market. It`s starting from a tiny,
HAYES: Of course.
GREENE: Percentages are easy to achieve. But it`s like a consumer
electronic product. And because the battery, you know, where the huge
expense is, so if we can get the volume like what we`re starting to do,
past 100,000 vehicles probably this year, and that starts to drive out the
cost. I think these are going to really be a consumer product.
HAYES: The other thing I think is fascinating about Tesla is the way
they are trying to disrupt and reinvent the entire market of how cars are
sold, Mickey. They have been pushing, they want to sell directly, they
don`t want to go through the dealership cabal. They`ve had, you know,
North Carolina was going to essentially ban them from selling directly.
And then they dropped that piece of legislation. But they have had a hand
to hand combat fight in a lot of states over this. And they seem to be
doing pretty well at winning. Could this change the car market in general
if they win, Mickey?
MAYNARD: You know, Ford was one of the companies that tried to own
its own dealerships and it had to throw in the towel on that idea. But
they were trying to do it with mass market cars. Tesla is a very high-end
product. And Tesla`s only going to sell about 15,000 model-S cars this
year so it`s not really that big of a market threat. But what they`re
doing is changing the way people at that end of the market are treated in
the way that they go buy cars. I was in a Tesla dealership in Scottsdale,
They can`t actually sell me a Tesla there but they were very kind,
they gave me a real walk-around the model-S if I wanted one, they said they
would arrange for a test drive if I wanted one. Here, sit in our cafe,
that kind of thing. And so it really is a boutique product and it`s being
sold as a boutique product. And even some luxury carmakers have tried to
do this. But they haven`t done it in the way that Tesla has.
HAYES: Mickey and Eddie, I want you to stick did around because I
want to talk about the brave new world of self-driving cars which I think
is fascinating and possibly could save thousands of people`s lives.
Nathanael Greene, director of Renewable Energy Policy up at Natural
Resources Defense Council. Thank you so much.
GREENE: Great to be here.
HAYES: New car standards are helping the environment. The fact
remains, cars kill a lot of people. We come back, we`ll talk about
advances in technology that are making cars safer by removing the human
element. Stay with us.
HAYES: We`re talking about the automotive future of the United
States, how we can drive safer and live longer. Still with me Micheline
Maynard of Forbes, Eddie Alterman of Car and Driver. Joining us Karl
Brauer, senior director of Kelley Blue Book.
Eddie, we have a tremendous amount of auto fatalities in this country.
There`s about 32,000 highway deaths every year. Compare that to rail, 759,
and aviation which is 494. And zero commuter airline deaths. It`s always
amazing to me our risk tolerance for driving is so much higher. If you had
subway fatalities that were anything like what cars are, even proportion or
per capita, no one would go on the subway. The same is true of planes.
And yet we tolerate it from cars. And cars have got much safer recently.
But one possible revolutionary technology would be removing human drivers
and having computer-driven cars so that people can`t get drunk behind the
wheel, can`t text behind the wheel, can`t fall asleep. How close is that
to a reality?
ALTERMAN: Well, that technology is already front loaded into the cars
right now. You now, I think the difference between rail and cars is in
cars you have this feeling of control. That you`re in command of this
thing. You`re not just on a plane, you`re actually in charge of the
vehicle. So what`s strange is, you know, these semi-autonomous cars,
they`re already on the road now.
They`re wresting that control away from the driver and it`s eerie. I
was just in a new Mercedes-Benz S-class and that thing is semi-autonomous.
It keeps itself between the lanes. It will actually steer for you. And it
has to remind you to put your hands on the wheel. I mean, it`s like the
ultimate texting machine.
HAYES: So, this is interesting. Because first of all, we`re showing
some video of a blind man who -- visually impaired man who`s in a Google
self-driving car. And Google has gotten a lot of press from their self-
driving cars. What I`m hearing from you though is actually incrementally
and marginally self-driving ability is entering the market right now?
ALTERMAN: It`s not a technological hurdle. It`s more a legal hurdle.
HAYES: Right. Because we have to figure out insurance. And Karl, I
think the other thing I imagine is there`s a psychological hurdle in car
drivers that you would have to overcome for them to get behind the wheel of
a self-driving car.
KARL BRAUER, KELLEY BLUE BOOK: Well, in some drivers of course. I
think there`s also a psychological part of some drivers that are like, how
soon can I give this up so I don`t have to deal with it anymore? So, it
depends on the driver. I do think there`s going to be this transition, and
Eddie`s totally right, the technology isn`t the issue. It`s stringing
together the legal and the technology across brands and types of cars. But
individually, the cars that are coming out, you know, contain within the
cars, it`s pretty much there, it`s getting them to talk to each other,
getting them to be aware of stop lights that are coming up and traffic
flow, and that technology basically exists too. But having them all talk
to each other, who`s going to be liable when something breaks, that`s
HAYES: OK. So, that`s the fascinating thing. I`m hearing from you
guys basically the technology is there. And in fact, you know, you can see
video right now on the internet of factories where there`s basically self-
driving vehicles zipping past each other with massively dangerous
chemicals that they`re holding and nothing ever goes wrong, more or less,
because you know, they`re computers. Mickey, what are the frontiers and
the obstacles legally to creating a legal framework where this could work?
MAYNARD: Well, I`m thinking about a couple of things. I`m here in
Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the EPA and the transportation department have a
pilot study going on here where there are little devices spread around our
sidewalks and devices set up to cars. And so if you meet one of these
devices and there`s no traffic, it might change the light for you. So it`s
not just the cars themselves, it`s the little things embedded in the
infrastructure. And that`s pretty exciting because you know how long you
sit at a light sometimes and nobody`s coming. And you wonder, can I go?
Can I run the light?
Not that anyone would. But I think the legal hassles here are what if
a self-driving or self-assisted car goes crazy and scoots through a light
and hits somebody? You know. So, you now, who`s at fault? Is it you the
driver? Is it the manufacturer? I mean, that`s going to be a field day
for a lot of lawyers. So, I think the car companies want it to be bullet-
proof before they go farther than they`ve gone already.
HAYES: And you can imagine with collision if you have two cars, you
know -- which -- right now we sort of adjudicate this in terms of who`s at
fault. Presumably you could use the same metrics of adjudication to figure
that out and dish that out. But you would have the manufacturer, you`d
have the driver, you`d also have the software maker, they`re different than
the company that actually made the physical car.
Is there anyone Eddie working on this? I mean, it seems to me that I
kind of want the driverless future to come as quickly as possible. Because
I think it would be awesome to be able to, I don`t know, read or talk to
someone while you were actually driving somewhere. But is anyone making --
in the case of Tesla you have an actual company that`s fighting to kind of
create the infrastructure that`s going to make an electric car future
possible, maybe. Is there anyone doing that legally on self-driving cars?
ALTERMAN: It`s very adhoc. And I know that the automotive
manufacturers lobby is working on it and they`re trying to string it
together. And also what Mickey was saying in Ann Arbor that`s happening,
the vehicle to vehicle communications study, that`s going to factor into
this. But as of now, it`s really the manufacturers pushing for it. But in
a way they`re almost pushing for their own demise.
ALTERMAN: I mean, they`re pushing for, you know, the autonomous
vehicle. What`s going to differentiate brands at that point? It`s going
to be a very, very interesting --
HAYES: Karl, the other problem here, the other challenge in terms of
market entry is, Tesla can enter its own, you know, you could drive an
individual Tesla on the grid as it exists now. How do you start selling
individual self-driving cars? They have to be embedded in a whole system,
BRAUER: Right. And how do they interact with all the cars that
BRAUER: I mean, you`re not going to have a day where you wake up and
all the unconnected, quote on quote, cars are not allowed on the road
anymore, or maybe you are, which would scary for all those of us who have
muscle cars and stuff. But there`s going to be this transitional period
where some cars are connected and some aren`t and I don`t know how much
that`s going to mess with things. But you know, I just think of the movie
"I Robot" that Will Smith did a couple of years ago.
I thought that was actually a very good representation of where it
could go. Where you were supposed to let your car be driven by the system
but you could take control if you wanted to. And of course, everyone in
the movie was yelling at Will for driving, what are you doing, driving your
HAYES: Right. Micheline Maynard of Forbes, Eddie Alterman of "Car
and Driver," Karl Brauer of Kelly Blue Book, I really enjoyed that, thank
you very much.
That is all in for this evening, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts now
with Melissa Harris-Perry sitting in for Rachel. Good evening, Melissa.
There are lots of folks out there who are very happy to see you.
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