Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, August 19, 2009
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons

Guests: Howard Fineman, E.J. Dionne, Wendell Potter, Mark Potok, Shannyn Moore


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Rahm Emanuel lives. "Democrats Seem Set to Go It Alone on a Health Bill." Finally - "their go-it-alone view is being shaped by what they saw as Republicans' purposely strident tone against health care legislation during this month's congressional recess." Really? I hadn't noticed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: On what planet do you spend most of your time?



OLBERMANN: Back on this planet, the president's official White House line remains.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He can and will continue to work to try to get agreement on both sides of the aisle on this.


OLBERMANN: Just get the Democrats to agree with it. The Republicans can agree to run against it while everybody's insurance premiums are going down.

"The Daily Beast" analysis: Insurance wants 35 cents out of each of your dollars for corporate profits. Vegas casinos can only take 20 cents out of each of your dollars.

Deadly serious: The gunman at the president's Arizona town hall, the right-wing Internet radio host who interviewed him was also armed and believes the government manufactured Waco and 9/11.

Japanese Major League Baseball team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, quarantined in a hospital because they all might have - which highly publicized flu strain?

"Worsts": Remember Governor Bobby Jindal?


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects.


OLBERMANN: Guess who just applied for $300 million for high-speed rail projects for Louisiana?

Polling plus snark produces the inescapable conclusion: In 2012, the Republicans should not nominate her for president. They should nominate her.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST: Top 10 ways the world would be different if Britney Spears were president. Whoa. Think about that.



OLBERMANN: All that and more - now on Countdown.





OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.

A new poll even from the right-tilting Rasmussen Reports now showing not only Americans overwhelmingly want a public option but that support for health care reform collapses without one. And yet, after a morning filled with reporting about the White House deciding Democrats need to go it alone on reform - in our fifth story on the Countdown - in the afternoon saw a briefing in which the press secretary insisted there was no Plan B to bipartisanship.

President Obama having campaigned on a platform of affordable, accessible health coverage for all, including the creation of a, quote, "new public plan" that would, quote, "help individuals purchase new, affordable health care if they are uninsured or want new health insurance."

The White House is now claiming to have been caught flat-footed by

anger over the casual defense of a public option. Even though that

Rasmussen Poll shows 57 percent of all voters would find health care reform

untenable without it. Quoting from "The Washington Post": "'I don't

understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their

waterloo,' said a senior White House advisor who spoke on the condition of

anonymity. 'We've gotten to the point where health care on the left is

determined by the breadth of the public option. I don't understand how

that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health care


Let me take a moment here to help the advisor understand with a quick comment. There are two health crises in this country right now, Mr. Advisor. The obvious one - 46 million uninsured; not merely a crisis but a blight on our standing as a civilized nation and a reflection not of the unparalleled generosity of our people but of the few, the powerful, and the greedy who manipulate so much of this nation.

But I guess the second health care crisis would not be as urgent as burning as shameful as obvious if you've been in government with government supplied care for years or decades. The insured of this nation are also getting hosed. Premiums jump annually or even more often. Deductibles continue to rise. Reimbursements continue to drop.

The insurance companies steer you to the doctors with whom they have deals. Many of the best doctors won't take insurance of any kind anymore. Rationing exists today - rationing decided by influence and cash.

And the Senate Finance Committee is currently considering another kind of reform that would let the insurance companies rape their customers at nearly twice the current percentage.

This is not waterloo, Mr. Advisor - closer to Armageddon. Get your head out of the district and back into the country where as a wiser fellow just said the other day from the presidential seal, "We are being held hostage by the insurance companies."

As for how the White House plans to respond to the mess it has created, possibly with more of the same, on the one hand, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel seeming to indicate to "The New York Times" that Democrats now see little chance of Republican cooperation on health care reform.

On the other, White House Press Secretary Gibbs is still insisting in today's briefing that bipartisanship is the only way forward, that there is no Plan B.


GIBBS: We are focused on a process that continues in the Senate with both parties. The president, again, met with Senator Baucus on Friday in Montana and they discussed the progress that was being made among Democrats and Republicans on the finance committee. That's our focus.



OLBERMANN: As we've mentioned on this newshour before, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Speaking of which, fresh town hall insanity:

That one health care giant is no longer even bothering to pretend he is Astroturf. United Health Group is now directly urging its employees to attend anti-reform rallies, mass-mailing a letter, and setting up a hotline to direct its own callers, its own people to local events. Quoting from the letter, "It is critical we, as leaders in the health care industry, are communicating with our members of Congress to ensure that they understand our story and views."

Isn't that what lobbyists and truck loads worth of campaign donations and bribes are for?

Outside a town hall event in Bozeman, Montana, Democrat Max Baucus shouted down with chants of "No, no, no" and getting a little confused about those crazy things called video cameras, describing the protestors to "The New York Times" as, quote, "'agitators whose sole goal was to intimidate, disrupt, and not let any meaningful conversation go on. There were a couple of people in the crowd with YouTubes,' Mr. Baucus added - meaning cameras - and he posited the agitators were paid and probably from out of state. 'I could just sense it,' he said."

First hint that some of the senator's instincts might be admirable but it is wrapped inside the caustic reminder this is the brain trust now running health care for Democrats in the Senate.

Meanwhile, in another town hall event in Dartmouth, Mass, last night, Congressman Barney Frank dismissing a Nazi comparison as all such comparisons should be dismissed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say we need to limit Medicare expenditures in order to do that, in order to reduce the deficit. That's the origin of this policy. This is the T4 policy of the Hitler, of a Hitler policy in 1939 - where he said certain lives are not worth living, certain people we should not spend the money to keep them alive.

My question to you is, why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported the policy. Why are you supporting it?

FRANK: I'm going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?


FRANK: It is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated.



Time now to bring in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: A clear majority of Americans in a poll conducted by a conservative-leaning polling group want a public option. It is the essential ingredient, 57 percent to them.

Mr. Obama campaigned on such a plan; the White House having nearly burned its hands to cinders, playing with the fire of not doing it. Did they wake up and smell the coffee today to say nothing of the cinders?

FINEMAN: It's hard to know. It's hard to know, Keith. I think that Barack Obama and his people may have taken the wrong lesson from the failure of Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton's health care plan all those years ago. It wasn't that the Clinton plan was devised in private inside the White House so much as that it was mind-bogglingly complex.

What the White House has done is allowed the Congress to control this process up to this point, Keith, and that's been a terrible mistake, because a popular president, especially, needs to come in with a clear, sharp agenda and basically beat the Congress of the United States over the head with it even if it's your own party - especially if it's your own party.

Ronald Reagan did that in the early '80s with his tax cuts. That's the model that Barack Obama should have pursued here because you're taking on 1/7 of the economy, you're taking on huge industries as your introductory remarks talked about. You know, you've got big insurance companies. You've got tons of big interests here who don't want to change.

He needed to attack the Hill with a specific, detailed plan rather than passively sit back and let - not only the Hill but his own advisors, Keith, inside the White House tell him, "Mr. President, it's just too tough." Barack Obama did not have a lot of legislative experience or for that matter Washington experience. He compensated for it by hiring a lot of Washington insiders, including Rahm Emanuel, a brilliant guy, who probably I think told the president, "You know, it may be too heavy a lift, sir. Let's go for something else." That may turn out to have been a big mistake.

OLBERMANN: All right. So, what is going on right now? Because we had indicators in both directions - Mr. Emanuel saying the White House and the Democrats are prepared to go it alone. Mr. Gibbs at the news conference this afternoon saying there is no Plan B on bipartisanship. Which is it?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it's the former. I think increasingly the White House and the leaders on the Hill are looking at a Democrats-only option. Of course, the ironic problem with that is, in part, because the president hasn't pushed it hard enough, there might be a Democrats-only option without the most popular feature to Democrats in it, namely the public option. Because if they go it alone, they're going to have to use this procedure in the Senate called reconciliation. My understanding is: you can't put the public option in a reconciliation bill for arcane legislative reasons. So, they may end up with the worst of both worlds here.

OLBERMANN: The cynical among us might suggest that this - to some degree - was the strategy all along after at least the right-wing rage against Obama was funneled into the health care debate, which it has little to do with, that you counter-balance it by letting left-wing rage about abandoning the public option boil up the way it has. Was this political jujitsu? Did it work? And if so, did - what the practical means by which it worked?

FINEMAN: Well, I think there is - you have a point there. I think -

I think what some White House people are doing is saying, let's get the left gin up about this so that perhaps they will put the pressure on and they counter-balance what's happened over the last few weeks on the right. But it takes the president to do that and if he really wants the public option, he had to have focused on it from the beginning.

I know you showed at the beginning of the segment that he campaigned on it during the campaign. Yes, it was in the campaign - it was in the literature of the campaign, but it wasn't something he dwelled on and focused on like a laser beam either in the campaign or now. So, even if the left - even if the bloggers on the left really push it, that's not going to do anything on the Hill without the president, himself, trying to hold his own party members' feet to the fire. He isn't doing that.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and "Newsweek" - great thanks for the perspective especially on is - on the auspicious occasion in the history of this event. Thank you, sir.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: It's - I was flummoxed there because it's MSNBC "Big Show" alumni night.

For more, let's turn to "The Washington Post" columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, E.J. Dionne.

E.J., good evening.

E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: My favorite alumni connection.

Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Having long ago dispensed with the notion of a grassroots movement can we now also get rid of this complement that was calling it astroturfing? I mean, if a health care giant like United Health Group is directly organizing health care employees to attend town hall health care events, and antireform rallies, that's not grassroots, that's not Astroturf. That's just asphalt.

DIONNE: You know, if it gets too much attention, it could become a tar baby for them.


DIONNE: I think that it's not surprising that people - companies are turning out their employees to oppose something that they think is going to hurt the company. I mean, we talk about powerful, big business because they have real power. I think it would be more significant - as this reporting goes on - if something about the strategy of disruption and all of that. If that's also connected to these companies - because I think there are a lot of people who are turned off by that kind of activity, you know, that kind of disrupting speaker shouting at people.

But there's another - there may be a plus side here for the pro-health care reform side. I think there may be splits developing among the health insurers. I still think there are some insurers out there who look at the possibility of 46 million new customers and I think you still may have some of them making a deal in the end. I still think this thing is going to pass, myself.

OLBERMANN: Well, certainly there is somebody at United Health care who's split on this because they released this e-mail to the public which obviously is the first suggestion that they're not as infallible - the insurance giants - as we might think they are.

But let me - on the subject of.

DIONNE: That's comforting.

OLBERMANN: Well, it is. But this is not comforting - the fallibility of some of the senators here, Mr. Baucus and the protestors at his town hall. And again, I think his instincts were great about who they were and calling them agitators, but this phrase, "There were a couple people in the crowd with YouTubes." This man is running health care for the Democrats in the Senate? Why is - why do we - do we have nobody better?

DIONNE: Weren't people watching us on that radio with pictures thing right now?

OLBERMANN: Yes. There it is.

DIONNE: You know, maybe he is more sophisticated than we know. Maybe he knows most people will actually see him on YouTube. But, you know, there is something kind of archaic about this whole debate. You showed that Ronald Reagan speech on Medicare and how terrible - or how badly off our children would be if they passed that terrible Medicare.

This whole - this whole argument against socialized medicine is such an ancient argument. It goes back 50 years, and all of our competitors in the world, capitalist countries, who have government-led health care systems that insure everybody, seem to be doing just fine. So, I think Baucus, with all his problems and his dependent relationship with Chuck Grassley here, I don't think it's as archaic as some of the arguments that are being thrown out there by opponents of this bill.

OLBERMANN: The ratio of opponents to proponents - did we see that changing? Has there been some sort of sea change or tipping point in this that - just going back to that town hall event in Dartmouth, at Massachusetts, where Congressman Frank was clearly being supported by that crowd as that woman went crazier and crazier, and we've seen the number of public option proponents in many of the town halls around the nation outnumbering those who were there to defeat reform. Has there been a change do you think?

DIONNE: I think there has. First of all, I think it's great that Barney Frank represents the House I grew up in. So, I think of him as one of my Congress people. And he always speaks his mind. He once was at a raucous town hall and everybody was yelling, and he looked at the crowd and he said, "Look, we politicians are no great shakes but you voters are no day at the beach either," he said. You can tell Barney has a safe district up there.

But I think it's good that he spoke back. And I also think that what you said earlier about this fight about the public option finely ginning up some energy on the left side of this debate, or the pro-reform side of this debate, the other guy has got out there first.


DIONNE: I think it was a mistake on the pro-health care reform side not to organize as quickly as the other side, but they're starting to come out. I think you're right about the way you read Barney's town meeting.

OLBERMANN: And Howard Fineman's point was great, too, that the president and the White House kind of let this thing get away with them and they didn't leave when they could have. In any event, much more to discuss as we continue.

E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post" - great thanks as always.

DIONNE: Great to be with you. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: As I mentioned, a Senate committee is now contemplating increasing the insurance company's take on every one of your dollars. If the increase is granted, you would, in essence, be responsible for 35 cents out of every health care dollar. For contrast, legally, casinos can only keep 25 cents out of every gambling dollar and usually they stick to 20.

If you think that's armed robbery, wait until you hear the back story emerging tonight from the men who showed up armed to the Obama health care town hall in Phoenix. One of them believes the government manufactured Waco and 9/11 - to silence armed American citizen militias.


OLBERMANN: When making as much on your dollar as the Vegas casinos do is no longer enough, the insurance industry's bid to boost its take to 35 percent.

Later, crazy woman tells Jewish congressman he's defending Hitlerian policies, congressman notes woman is crazy, Rush Limbaugh and FOX News defend crazy woman.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Back when Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky began to build their Vegas gambling operations, the Web site "Daily Beast" reports, even these mobsters considered it cheating to make more than 20 cents profit on every dollar spent by gamblers.

In our fourth story tonight: The insurance companies already make almost 20 cents profit on every dollar you pay in premiums, but health care reform will change that. How? The Senate is debating whether or not to make you pick up as much as 35 cents of every dollar billed by your medical providers.

In Vegas, they used to call casinos that made more than 20 percent profit a flat store. The flat store reputation was the kiss of death because gamblers knew they could get better odds elsewhere. Today, Nevada regulations restrict casino profits to a max of 25 percent. New Jersey casinos take home no more than 17 percent profit by law.

So, why is the Senate Finance Committee run by Democrat Max Baucus considering making even Americans who have insurance pay 35 percent of their medical bills?

According to "Business Week," quote, "United Health Group urged a more industry-friendly ratio," these are the same people sending their own employees to the town halls. "Subsequently, the committee reduced the reimbursement figure to 65 percent, suggesting a 35 percent contribution by consumers more in line with what the big insurer wants. The final figures are still being debated." You bet they are.

Joining us tonight: a veteran of the insurance industry, former communications chief for CIGNA, Wendell Potter, now senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy, and one of the heroes of the current drama being played out.

Much thanks for your time tonight, sir.

WENDELL POTTER, FMR. CIGNA EXECUTIVE: Thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN: This premise in "The Daily Beast" - consumers picking up 35 percent of the tab. Is that - that equivalence there to insurance companies making 35 cents per dollar on every dollar in premiums - is that in fact equivalent? Can you sort this out, the actual relative numbers?

POTTER: Yes, it's pretty complicated but the insurers have a variety of ways to screw the consumer, and this is one of the techniques. What they've been doing over the last few years is shifting more and more of the financial burden, the financial costs of health care under the shoulders of consumers, working men and women. They want to do this because it's the last way they have - the last trick up their sleeve to try to control health care costs for themselves and for employers.

They also have been spending less and less of every premium dollar on medical claims since 1993. Then, about 95 cents of every premium dollar was spent on medical claims. Now, it's down to about 80 cents.

The other measure you were talking about that was in the "Business Week" story is even worse because you will still have to pay your insurance premiums and you will still have to pay a lot more out of pocket. What they're trying to get done in the legislative language is to make sure you pay at least 35 cents of - 35 percent of the premiums - of all your medical bills. When you go to the hospital and you have a bill that's $20,000 - that's average right now - that's a chunk of change.

OLBERMANN: What is - give us again this numbers as simply as possible. Roughly, what is the reimbursement now and what would, for consumers, a change to 35 percent mean practically?

POTTER: The reimbursement now varies from insurance company to insurance company. That would represent kind of a floor presumably. But it would be one that insurance companies would rush to. In other words, they would make you pay that much out of your own pocket.

For many people who are still in Medicare - excuse me - in HMOs and

some PPOs, they've been accustomed to just paying a co-payment. This is a

vast shift in the financial burdens being shifted to Americans. And it is

it is a reason why you already are having a lot of people filing for bankruptcy and losing their homes right now.

If you consider the fact that the average median income in this country is $50,000, if you're asking people to pay that much out of their own pocket for medical claims, you're going to have a much worse crisis of bankruptcies and foreclosures in the near future.

OLBERMANN: Let me step up from this 35 percent figure for a second

and the debate it. The more we talk about this and the more this unravels

in front of us and the more the atmosphere is heated up at these town halls

as a veteran of this industry and now as a veteran of the truth industry relative to this industry, are we - is the American public, the average American citizen under attack - actually more or less defending himself in a war by the insurance companies? And are the insurance companies on the offensive or the defensive at the moment?

POTTER: Well, the insurance industry is very savvy. In fact, they enlisted a lot of people to be their foot soldiers unwittingly. A lot of these people who are showing up at these town hall meetings and attacking the idea of a public plan are doing so without realizing that they are pawns of the insurance industry.

It's sad to say, but the insurance industry is very, very savvy at manipulating public opinion. They do this through front groups that they've set up, through big P.R. firms they hire to feed talking points to politicians and to talk show hosts and to editorial writers and people that these people trust - so that they think they're hearing it from people who are telling them the truth, not realizing it is coming straight from a special interest that wants them to think a certain way.

OLBERMANN: And, briefly, what did you think as a former professional in this field about the United Health Group and this memo getting out urging their own employees to show up at these - at these town halls as if they were disinterested parties just telling their side of the story?

POTTER: It goes on all the time. I used to do it when I was at



POTTER: All the companies do that.

OLBERMANN: Goodness. Every day, it's worse than we thought it was the day before.

Wendell Potter, insurance industry whistle-blower, former head of P.R. for CIGNA - again, my first opportunity to say this to you, sir. Thank you for speaking out.

POTTER: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: This is not quite the Carl Lewis rendition of our national anthem, but as versions of "God Bless America" go, this is some bad singing.

And a woman compares the policies of a president and a Jewish congressman to Hitler, and the media elite, (INAUDIBLE), anti-Semitic snobs attack the congressman. "Worst Persons" is ahead.


OLBERMANN: "Bests" in a moment, and you have to imagine Bob Costas saying this "they do not fight with hams. They do not fight against ham."

First, on this date in 1934 was born Richard Raskind, former Navy lieutenant commander, one of the great eye specialists and surgeons in the country, and someone with the courage to undergo gender transition, and, by the way, become the 20th ranked women's tennis player in the world, as Dr. Renee Richards. Happy birthday, doc, and thanks again for fixing my eyes all those years ago. Let's play Oddball.

To beautiful Dodger Stadium, where last night the home blue battled the St. Louis Cardinals. During the seventh inning stretch, recording artist Erica David battled the lyrics of "God Bless America." Accompanied by my pal Nancy B on the Dodger Stadium organ here is Erica David.


OLBERMANN: You see Dodger First Baseman James Loney, who enjoyed it, as did other of the players. Ms. David would recover to leave the crowd in take me out to the - As we mentioned in the intro, you can download her from i-Tunes. To Punjab in India, where five years ago the transmission in taxi driver Harp Deb's (ph) Fiat broke. He lost every gear except reverse, but he continued to drive customers anyway, backwards. For some reason, people still get in the cab. Five years later, Deb is still driving backwards, and has become something of a local celebrity. He uses this charming siren to alert those around him and contorts his body to get a look out the back window for the whole ride. Not exactly a private ride for the passenger obviously, nor comfortable one for Mr. Deb. Quoting him "I do have frequent pains in the neck and I have had severe vomiting in the past."

Pain in the neck? Vomiting? You, sir, sound like you're ready for midtown Manhattan.

Polling plus comedy suggests that she is not the best choice for the Republicans for president in 2012, if they're going for the wink vote. And this started serious and got worse. That gun owner at a presidential town hall is one dot away from the government manufactured Waco guy.

These stories ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three best persons in the world. Dateline Lombard, Illinois, number three, best ad-libber, Jennifer Stringer. She gave birth again on Monday, called the paramedics. But she never got out of the house. The daughter arrived safe, sound, and in a hurry in the house. Paramedic Jack Shafer can't believe it. The last time Ms. Stringer went into labor, in March of last year, she called and he was the paramedic they sent that time. At that time, she gave birth in his ambulance. The father said, as soon as he saw Shafer, he screamed out, you got to be kidding me!

Dateline London, Ontario, number two, best dumb criminal, an unidentified 25 year old car thief, crashed into another vehicle, jumped from the car and tried to run away, or, translated into universal police speak, the perpetrator alighted from the vehicle. He ran just far enough to pick up a little speed, which was when he collided head first into the telephone pole. He's OK, comparatively.

And dateline Hokaido, Japan, number one, best irony. Japan pro baseball team the Nippon Ham Fighters - for years, Bob Costas has done a routine for his friends centering around his comedic emphasis of the name Nippon Ham Fight. And the response to this of a Japanese baseball veteran who castigates him. "Not Ham Fighters. Nippon Ham Fighters. They do not fight each other with hams. They do not fight ham. They do not oppose ham. Nippon Ham. Nippon Ham Fighters."

Today, after three of the players tested positive for it, the entire Nippon Ham Fighters team has been quarantined in the hospital for exposure to Swine Flu.


OLBERMANN: When a man carrying a semiautomatic rifle outside an Obama event said in Arizona, "I still have some freedoms," nobody was disputing that. When it turned out, though, he was one step from those who feel the Branch Davidian shoot out was manufactured by the government, and in our third story on the Countdown, also openly sympathetic to a '90s militia group whose members were convicted after being accused of conspiring to blow up federal buildings; the man who walked around with an assault rifle outside a presidential event in Phoenix Monday was part of a planned event, staged by Earnest Hancock of the group called Freedoms Phoenix. Hancock carried a nine millimeter pistol to the Phoenix protest himself, and he, quote, interviewed other gun carriers.

He says he met with the Phoenix Police People last week to inform them of the group's plans. Mr. Hancock is also an online radio host and frequent defender of the Viper Militia. In July, 1996 federal agents arrested a dozen of the so-called Vipers, along with the 90 high powered rifles they had, 500 pounds of a bomb making compound ammonium nitrate fertilizer, blaster core, blasting caps, gas masks, bullet proof vests and uniforms with a Viper insignia.

Asked about the Vipers, Mr. Hancock said, quote, "this militia scare is what got them. It was all manufactured. The entire case was made up, just like Waco, by the same government, he says, that lied about 9/11."

Hancock said he knew all the Viper defendants, was good friends with one, and added, "I've been feeling this coming again. It's the same people. It's Rahm Emanuel, Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton. All of these were the same people who were doing it back then."

Let's turn to the director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Potok. Good evening, sir.


OLBERMANN: We started this explanation. Would you continue it? Who populated this Viper militia group? What's its relevance to today?

POTOK: Well, I mean, this really was a classic militia plot, in the sense that these were people who were gathering weapons, not only weapons, which they can I suppose make the argument were defensive in some way, but, as you said, this huge amount of ammo. This came right on the heels of the Oklahoma City bombing. And so the government was justifiably very worried about this.

You know, not only that, but they produced films in which they surveilled a whole series of federal buildings, you know, which apparently they were attempting to bomb or planning to attack. That is who they were. You know, I think the relevance really of the group is that they are a reminder of a level of criminal violence that came out of the militia movement, and can continue to come out of the radical right today.

OLBERMANN: The Viper defendants pleaded guilty to lesser weapons and conspiracy charges. Mr. Hancock said then they don't have criminal records. They just like their guns. Obviously, a lot more than guns had been confiscated. What differentiates the gun fetish and even the ammo stockpiler or even just the over enthusiastic defensive person, who I guess exists, from the groups that should be taken as serious criminal threats?

POTOK: I think the Amfo (ph) is really what separates these groups. When you start stockpiling materials to make huge bombs - Amfo, of course, was the very same material used to blow up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma city - you know, you are no longer talking about even a kind of paranoid defensiveness. You are talking about an offensive action. And I think it's quite clear that's what was going on in this case.

It's also worth mentioning that the feds very often brought weapons charges instead of conspiracy charges, simply because they are so much easier as a practical matter to make in court.

OLBERMANN: That's the ammonium nitrate fertilizer you're referring to, just clarify that. This may sound like a facetious question, or maybe it's an obvious one. But what the hell does all this that this man is talking about have to do with health care reform?

POTOK: Well, almost nothing. I think the relationship is simply the idea, which is fueled by the fact that we have a liberal president, by the work that's been done in the auto industry, and rescuing banks, and so on, by the idea that the federal government is becoming this giant behemoth. And these are people who think the federal government is perfectly willing to murder people in order to enforce political orthodoxy.

This is exactly what Hancock was referring to when he said Waco was manufactured. It's that idea, the government blew up - or was perfectly willing to blow up that building or attack those people in Waco in order to force them back into political orthodoxy.

OLBERMANN: Do you have any idea, is there any linkage, evidence that the people who organized the protests against these town halls, the interruptions of them, had any idea that they'd be bringing these people out of the wood work, people like Mr. Hancock?

POTOK: No, I don't know that. What seems very clear though is that the people who are coming out and some of the things they are saying, not to mention the weapons they are carrying, really are reminiscent of the central ideas of the militia movement. You know, the government is evil; it can be in no way trusted; it is perfectly willing to murder your grandmother, you know, or any person who has too many guns or in some other way flouts orthodoxy.

OLBERMANN: Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is always terrifying and illuminating and necessary, all at the same time. Thank you, sir.

POTOK: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And the threat to the president people like the Viper militia represent. When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the thoughts of her special guest, Frank Rich, of the "New York Times."

Not far afield, the woman shouts at Barney Frank for supposedly supporting the Hitleresque policies of President Obama. He portrays her, accurately, as a lunatic. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News defend the anti-Semitic lunatic. Worst persons ahead.

And then which of possible presidential nominees will you be talking about in 2012?


OLBERMANN: Actual polling, plus simple, albeit weird common sense, suggesting the Republicans would be better off nominating Britney Spears for president in 2012 instead of Sarah Palin. That's next, but first time for Countdown's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Remember when the president outlined the stimulus in February, and the governor made his coming out debutante speech and turned into Kenneth the Page?


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: While some of the projects in the bill makes sense, that legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes 300 million dollars to buy new cars for the government, eight billion dollars for high speed rail projects, such as a magnetic levitation line from Las Vegas to Disney Land, and 140 million dollars for something called volcano monitoring.


OLBERMANN: You will recall that within weeks Mount Redoubt in Alaska promptly started erupting all over Jindal Pal, Sarah Palin's state. Nobody was killed because of something called volcano monitoring. Now it's that wasteful spending, eight billion dollars for high speed rail projects. Governor Jindal suddenly wants that money. Louisiana has applied for 300 million of the eight billion for a high speed rail project from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Kenneth the hypocrite.

The runners up, pinheads Brian Kilmeade of Steve Doocy on cluster Fox and Friends, After this Fox brain washed woman asked Congressman Barney Frank, "why do you continue to support a Nazi policy," he asked her on which planet she spent most of her time. These buffoons defended the woman. Doocy, "let's face it, he was downright rude. Somebody asked him a question. Give them an answer. Don't give them attitude."

Kilmeade, "smug." You guys realize you are aligning yourselves with anti-Semitism, right? The woman compares the first good president of the United States in eight years to Hitler and does so to a Jewish congressman? He should give them attitude. Rudeness, smugness is going on television and defending it like it was OK. This is 2009, not 1946. Unless, is Fox News restricted?

Our winner, same topic, Boss Limbaugh. "It's fabulous and fantastic and hilarious that a woman shows up at a Barney Frank town hall meeting with an Obama as Hitler poster and this Nazi stuff in his district. I mean, this is unreal. But the killer for me was here's Barney Frank says, what planet do you live on to this woman. Isn't it an established fact that Barney Frank himself spends most of his time living around Uranus? So when he starts talking about where people live, ha, ha, ha. Folks, I just can't. This is all so much fun to watch. And it's all so much fun to analyze."

That is fantastic. Hitler posters and Nazi references in front of a Jewish Congressman. That's hilarious, if you bet on Hitler in the Second World War. Also, honest to god, do you know anybody over the age of 12 who still makes Uranus jokes? You know the late Bill Hicks' description of Limbaugh right? "Doesn't Rush Limbaugh look like" - I can't even quote it. You have to listen to it yourself. Rush, one too many Uranus jokes, Limbaugh, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: 2012 may be a long way off in terms of political life cycles, but GOP hopefuls have a long way to go to earn their party's nomination. A new poll suggests one GOP favorite, while popular among Republicans, could not compete against President Obama. So who could the party of Lincoln bring back out of the wilderness? I'll give you a hint. It's Britney, bitch. Our number one story, that is a song lyric.

Anyway, if Sarah Palin is the best they've got, perhaps Ms. Spears could teach her a thing or two about staging a comeback. The latest Marist poll shows if the 2012 elections were held today, a lot of people would be confused, and Republicans ought not to nominate Palin, Sarah Heath Palin.

In a match up with the president, 56 percent of registered voters say they'd vote for the commander in chief, 33 percent for the ex-governor. The president beating Palin in almost all voting blocs, independents, whites, blacks, Latinos, men, women. The only group she would score a win, with registered Republicans, 73 percent of whom say they would vote for her over Obama.

The only region where Palin would keep Obama under 50 percent would be the south. But Obama would still beat her there, 49-38. While Palin may be down, she should not be counted out. Instead of soliciting advice for a comeback from, say, Newt Gingrich, perhaps she should take a page from the Britney Spears playbook. Although, it would require an appearance with David Letterman.

After shedding 200 plus pounds, K-Fed, a newly fit Ms. Spears appeared last night on "The Late Show." The bikini clad pop star laying out a comprehensive plan for not only foreign policy, but entitlement programs as well. Entitlement programs that involve pie.


DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": Top ten ways the country would be different if Britney Spears were president. Are you ready? Here we go. Number ten.

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER: I'd be the first president to wear eye shadow since Nixon.

LETTERMAN: See how many times she switches from hip to hip while we do this. Number nine.

SPEARS: We would only invade fun places like Cabo.

LETTERMAN: That's right. OK. And roll to the right, number eight.

SPEARS: Free pie for everybody.

LETTERMAN: Free pie for everybody. Number seven.

SPEARS: My situation room would be a cabana at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas.

LETTERMAN: That's right. Number three?

SPEARS: Challenge the U.S. to put a night club on the moon by the end of the decade.

LETTERMAN: Exactly. Number two?

SPEARS: Three words. Vice President Diddy.

LETTERMAN: And the number one way the country would be different if Britney Spears were president?

SPEARS: Finally the media would pay some attention to me.

LETTERMAN: There you go.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now, radio host, contributor to "Huffington Post," Shannyn Moore. Good evening, Shannyn.


OLBERMANN: Surprised not to see you in Alaska. The snark aside, Britney Spears sure has hit some low points in her career. Is the ex-governor capable of learning a thing or two from her about staging a comeback?

MOORE: I don't know that I'd want to see that kind of comeback exactly. You know, I think she could learn a few things maybe. I guess Britney has some accountability with "Oops I Did It Again." Maybe she could come out with "Oops I Quit It Again." Just guessing.

OLBERMANN: Not bad. The Marist poll that shows her as a force within the GOP, but nowhere close in terms of the general electorate, even in the south, does that not sort of prove that whatever the current strategy is that we've discussed so much involving the former governor, we're not sure exactly what she's doing but it's not working?

MOORE: Well, her polls have totally plummeted in Alaska. She's got more people against her than for up there. If you remember back a year, she was the most popular governor in the country. Now it's just a huge plus point. I think maybe she should look at a network job or something of that effect. I don't think she can recover. She just can't. She's come out with too many absolutely crazy statements. And I think it's impossible at this point.

OLBERMANN: Network job like what, page in the NBC building or you mean like a broadcast network job or - never mind.


OLBERMANN: What happens to her? And this is meant really seriously. What happens if health care reform passes and they offer reimbursement for end of life counseling, but there are no death panels. I mean, does she just become the joke of the first part of the 21st Century? Where does she fit into the political equation, if they do not - if there are not massive euthanasia panels brought into existence immediately?

MOORE: Well, there have been lots of things that Sarah Palin has talked about that don't exist. So I don't know if this will just be on the list. I don't think this is going to be a big surprise. You know, she's part of the party of no you can't on so many different levels, and right now I think the administration is sort of wavering on the yes we can. And they really need to be told yes you will.

And so as far as the death panels go, that's just something in part of Sarah Palin's world, and it's been picked up. And, you know, same with talking about Nazis when it comes to this. It's just part of that dribble that really is an excitable word for the base and gets them going.

OLBERMANN: It seems as if one of the problems here is there's always drama. Sherry Johnston, who is the mother of the father of Sarah Palin's grandson, pleaded guilty today to possession with intent to deliver the pain killer Oxycontin. She faces prison time. What is the Palin response to this? A, I'm sorry this has happened to Mrs. Johnston, but it really doesn't have anything to do with me. Or, B, you're attacking my family again?

MOORE: Right. Sadly, a lot of people in the country pled guilty to similar charges today that aren't related to Sarah Palin. And, you know, people have people in their families that do bad things all the time, get caught, and they need family support. I can pretty much guarantee you what we've seen so far. Sarah Palin's not even going to call her family.

OLBERMANN: Alaska radio host, contributor of the "Huffington Post" Shannyn Moore, down here in the lower 48. Great thanks. Good to see you.

MOORE: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 2,302nd day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. With this late note out of the "Wall Street Journal." It is reporting that the White House and Senate Democratic leaders are going to consider a strategy shift that would break the legislation of health care reform into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes. We'll see that story develop throughout the evening and tomorrow.

In the interim, I'm Keith Olbermann. In the meantime and in between time, that's all for now.

And now to discuss with her special guest Frank Rich the threat President Obama faces from those gun-carrying crowds at the town halls, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.