Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, December 17th, 2009
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons

Guests: Howard Fineman, Bernie Sanders, Jonathan Cohn, Chris Hayes, Craig Crawford


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

Pushing for real health care reform in the Senate: The AFL-CIO urges substantial changes in the bill. The SEIU President Andy Stern: President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign. Such as?


BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If a mandate is a solution, we could try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house. The reason they don't have a house is they don't the money.


OLBERMANN: The two-part White House tortured defense of the Senate bill: A, "We told Howard Dean he was wrong and he didn't listen to us." And, B, "You're crazy."


DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOER: To defeat a bill that will bend the curve on this inexorable rise in health care costs is insane.


OLBERMANN: Our special guests: Senator Sanders of Vermont; the author of "Sick," Jonathan Cohn; and Howard Fineman.

Attack from the right: An abortion language compromise for Ben Nelson, which he still can't support.


SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: As it is right now, I can't and don't.


OLBERMANN: And the Ben Nelson Air Force base paranoia. The lunatic fringe pushes a fairytale that Nelson was threatened: "Support the bill or we will close a base in Nebraska?"


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: I mean, how much closer do you get to treason?


OLBERMANN: Better yet, I mean, how much closer can you get to accuracy? The conservative blogger who made the story up as has already issued a partial retraction and the Republican senator from Nebraska says he doesn't believe a word of this.

Sister Sarah wears a visor. So, it's a McCain visor with the word "McCain" crossed out with a marker.

And health care, the comic relief.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I wonder if I could ask unanimous consent for just an additional moment.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: In my capacity as senator from Minnesota, I object.

LIEBERMAN: Really? OK. I don't take it personally.


OLBERMANN: Oh, don't worry, we will.

All that and more - now on Countdown.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't know what's happening here. I think it's wrong.



OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.

"If a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house. The reason they don't buy a house is they don't have money."

Who said that? Not Governor Howard Dean, not insurance industry veteran Wendell Potter. Instead, those words were spoken by Senator Barack Obama back in February 2008 when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Our fifth story on the Countdown: President Obama still praising and pushing the Senate health care reform plan that would try solving the national health care crisis by mandating that every American buy insurance even if, in Obama's old own former words, they don't have the money.

Day three of the fallout from Governor Howard Dean's contention that current Senate health care bill does not represent real reform and should be replaced by components passed by reconciliation, including day two of the White House effort to discredit Doctor Dean for having said so.

Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod, misinterpreting the governor's call to kill the bill, to mean kill the bill outright, not kill it and go instead to reconciliation.


AXELROD: I think that would be a tragic, tragic outcome. We're on the verge of doing something that would make an enormously positive difference.


OLBERMANN: Mr. Axelrod adding that Governor Dean's op-ed in "The Washington Post" today was predicated on a bunch of erroneous conclusions, after Dean writing there in part that, quote, "If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health care bill, any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care, and transfers millions of taxpayer dollar to private corporations is not real health care reform. Improvements can still be made in the Senate, and I hope that Senate Democrats will work on this bill as it moves to conference."

In other words, he thinks there's still time to fix what's wrong with this piece of - legislation.

Two politically powerful unions today are voicing their frustrations with the Senate health care reform bill, but stopping short of calling for its demise. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka calling the House bill, "the model for genuine reform," saying that Senate bill in comparison "bends towards the insurance industry."

SEIU President Andy Stern is scolding the president in a letter to his members, writing that "President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign."

About that, as we mentioned, the most compelling to voice to speak against the current Senate health care reform bill - part of it anyway - was that of Senator Obama in an interview he gave in 2008.


OBAMA: If a mandate was a solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody buy a house. The reason they don't have a house is they don't have the money. And so, our focus has been on reducing costs, making it available. I am confident that if people have a chance to buy high quality health care that is affordable, they will do so, and that's what our plan does. And nobody disputes that.


OLBERMANN: Now, President Obama and the Democratic leadership still without the votes to get even this bill an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

Senator Ben Nelson, conservative Democrat of Nebraska, is saying today that he is a "no" unless more stringent restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion are included in the bill. He also doesn't see how the Democrats can win his vote in the next week.

Senator Casey of Pennsylvania is still working on an abortion language compromise that Senator Nelson now having already rejected what he'd seen of it so far.

Then there are the Republicans twisting and deliberately misinterpreting what progressives like Governor Dean mean when they say it's time to kill the bill.


MCCAIN: I now find myself in complete agreement with Dr. Howard Dean, who says that we should stop this bill in its tracks, we should go back to the beginning, and have an overall bipartisan agreement. Dr. Dean, I am with you.


OLBERMANN: And that's why John McCain is not president, because, in fact, in suggesting the 51-vote of reconciliation, he was suggesting the opposite, of cutting McCain and the Republicans completely of a process already poisoned by attempts to achieve bipartisanship with nihilists.

Also on the floor of the Senate today a truly refreshing moment when freshman Senator Al Franken of Minnesota presiding over debate this afternoon ruled that he had heard enough out of the senator from Aetna.


LIEBERMAN: . will provide an opportunity for broad savings in health care and health insurance for pretty much everybody in our country.

FRANKEN: Senator? Senator has spoken for - I'm sorry. The senator has spoken for 10 minutes.

LIEBERMAN: I wonder if I could ask unanimous consent for just an additional moment.

FRANKEN: In my capacity as senator from Minnesota, I object.

LIEBERMAN: Really? OK. I don't take it personally.


OLBERMANN: And there, perhaps, the true tragedy of Joe Lieberman, how should it be taken if not personally? What is someone's health if the health of a loved one if not profoundly personal?

Majority Leader Reid's office tonight, by the way, explaining that exchange as a time management dispute and not some form of retribution. It said Senator Reid had instructed presiding senators hold all members to their allotted time to speak in an effort to get a bill passed by Christmas.

A gentleman now is taking time out from the process to join us, Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent of Vermont.

Much thanks for doing so tonight, sir.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let me cut to the chase. With no changes in the bill, the bill existing exactly as you know it right now - would you vote for the Senate health care reform bill?

SANDERS: Well, I'm not sure. Right now, what I am trying desperately to do is to make this bill a better bill. So, I'll tell you in a few days if I've been successful.

Clearly, when people say that this bill has many serious flaws in it, they're right. I worry very much about a massive bailout of the insurance companies, of the drug companies, of escalating prices. And that is the reality that we got to deal with.

On the other hand, people cannot forget that in the real world, when so many of our people are hurting, when we got 46 million people uninsured, this legislation provides health care to 30 million people. It does away with the odious practice of providing - of making sure that people get health care despite the kind of illnesses they may have had. It goes a long way towards the disease prevention.

So, what you got is a bill which is by no means the kind of bill that I feel very good about. But it does a number of good things.

As you may know, yesterday, Keith, I was on the floor of the Senate doing what I think is the right thing in presenting legislation - which is the real solution. And that is a Medicare for all, single-payer program, which is the only way, in my view, that this country will ever have universal, comprehensive, cost effective health care.

Unfortunately, among other things, we ran into Republican obstructionism on that effort as well.

OLBERMANN: Short of that effort, you mentioned attempts to change this bill. Are you working through other amendments? Do you have anything that we should know about in terms of you want to modify and how you might do it?

SANDERS: Well, right now - well, let me just tell you - right now, we're working with the White House, we're working with the Democratic leadership to make this bill significantly better, so that it helps more people and we do everything that we can to try to control the absolutely outrageous increase in health care costs in this country, which is a danger not only to individuals and small businesses, but to the government as well.

OLBERMANN: Can you expand, Senator, on something you told reporters yesterday. The quote was, "Reconciliation is absolutely an appropriate way - or route, rather, to go."

SANDERS: Well, Keith, let's be clear. What should have been understood and what the dynamic of this is, is you have 60 people in the Democratic Caucus. And a number of them, in my view, have never been serious about strong health care reform. And, in fact, from the very beginning, that should have been understood and we say, "You know what? We don't have 60 votes."

We're going to have 51 votes to do something that is significant, maybe not as broad, maybe not as comprehensive. But there is a heck of a lot that you can do with 51 votes so that we don't have to compromise every other day and, I think, look kind of foolish before the American people. I think that was an understanding that should have occurred at the very beginning of this process.

The truth is: we don't have 60 votes for strong health care reform which takes on the insurance companies, which takes on the drug companies. We should have known that from the beginning.

OLBERMANN: Is it too late to go to reconciliation now?

SANDERS: I can - I can certainly live with that option. Whether or not it is feasible, it's a very complicated process. You're going to need to get key chairman who are not enthusiastic about going that route.

OLBERMANN: You've known and worked with Governor Dean a long time in many different contexts. How do you feel about the effort to get this current bill passed in part by discrediting things he said in the last couple of days?

SANDERS: Oh, like, you know, I've known Howard Dean for many, many years. I think a lot of his criticism of this bill is constructive. And I think he makes good points.

On the other hand, as a United States senator, a member of Congress, I would rather deal with the reality, though. A lot of people who are hurting out there, there are a lot of people who need health insurance. And that has got to be taken into consideration.

We've got to all deal with the reality that if this bill goes down, what does it mean politically in this country? When is the next time a legislation is going to come up which will increase health care reform for 30 million people, provide insurance, deal with some of the major abuses in terms of pre-existing conditions, deal with disease prevention?

So, those are the kind of very difficult issues. You know, is this a good bill? It is not a good bill. But we're going to try to make it as good as we possibly can.

OLBERMANN: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, greatly illuminating as always - and we are greatly appreciative of your time, as always, sir.

SANDERS: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: For more on the politics of this, let's turn to our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: That's an unfortunately timed bit of tape to turn up candidate Obama versus President Obama. Obviously, there's a very valid reason many progressives, the two biggest unions now, feel ill-used, maybe even misled.

Is trying to discredit Governor Dean as - for want of a better word -

crazy or, you know, some sort of intellectual midget or outsider, is that enough to appease critics of this? Isn't that insulting both to him and to them?

FINEMAN: Yes. It's insulting in a way to the president and to all the critics, including the unions.

Here's the problem, Keith, from the very beginning the White House has been at best ambivalent about the public option. From the very beginning, Rahm Emanuel and other top White House people were telling anybody who listened that the public option was not essential to the bill. And, yet, President Obama kept saying, somewhat in concert with things he said during the campaign, you know, we'd love to have it. It's great. It's my preference, et cetera, et cetera.

What it seems to me the White House was doing is being too cute by half, Keith. They said to themselves, "You know what, let's let the liberals in the Senate play with this idea. Let's let them talk about it; let's let them try to get it in the bill; let's let Chuck Schumer of New York and others close to the unions, et cetera, really make an effort to do it. And you know what - it will fall away at the end."

The problem with that is, now they're caught in their own rhetoric, because the base of the Democratic Party really wanted this. They just didn't want to be toyed with. And that's the way it looks to a lot of people. That's the reason why people like Andy Stern of SEIU and the Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO are angry, because they feel they've been used in a cynical way.

OLBERMANN: David Axelrod was on PBS tonight. He said he expects a vote on health care before the holiday and the quote was, "We're going to get this done."

What - A, what does he know that we don't? Because based on what all of us have seen, it doesn't look likely. And, B, is there something not essential to the core of the problem the White House is having contained in that quote - that it is somehow they have set this deadline now out of thin air after months of really dragging their feet on the process, letting all August go - and, yet, now, it must be done by a certain deadline and almost the accomplishment is much more important than what the accomplishment actually is?

FINEMAN: Yes. Yes. Well, first of all, there's a - there's a fatigue that's setting in up there. You see a little bit of it today. You showed that clip of Al Franken and Joe Lieberman. Things are getting testy. Time is growing short.

They just had another emergency meeting of the Democratic Caucus tonight.


FINEMAN: Yet another one. Now, it wasn't about health care primarily. It was about the defense bill which suddenly has become problematic. The Republicans are doing everything they can, by the way, to stick - you know, put procedural sticks in spokes of the wheel here. And that makes it all the more difficult in setting the time limit of Saturday, which is the day by which Harry Reid has to file a cloture motion in order to vote before Christmas.

You know, they're trying to give themselves a hard and fast deadline.

I don't know if it's going to work.

OLBERMANN: Is there a possibility - and this just occurs to me, so if it's crazy, say it's crazy - is there a possibility that this might wind up with so many objections from so many peripheral areas - the Ben Nelson thing being typical of this, never mind Republican objections - but all the various moderate or, you know, wishy-washy Democrats on this, that the only way the administration can get the victory it wants so desperately is if it now backs off and goes to reconciliation, and winds up, in fact, getting the stronger measures passed because they go to reconciliation?

FINEMAN: Well, they could try that. But first of all, as Bernie sanders said, there are all these committee chairmen who don't like that idea. But beyond that, Harry Reid can't utter the word "reconciliation" until the moment where he absolutely has to do it.

As soon as he starts floating out the idea that maybe we go to reconciliation, the ball game is over as far as the original piece of legislation is concerned - and this is what Republicans and other Democratic opponents of the bill really want. They want to break the sense of urgency. They want to take the bill down. They want to go to something else because they feel, if that happens, that somehow or other there will never be a bill. And that, in fact, is possible.

OLBERMANN: Hmmm. So you can't get 60 votes for a regular bill but there will never be 51 votes in a reconciliation process.

FINEMAN: There could be, Keith, but getting - stepping off one boat and on to the other could be very tricky and difficult.

OLBERMANN: All right. Everybody get your - get your dinghies out.

We're dinghy time.

Howard Fineman, let's help them on to the boat - Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC - great thanks, my friend.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The rush to get this done within the week when the White House and House and Senate Democrats let it languish and get out of their control for the entire month of August, this is one of the most curious aspect of the entire reform process. And it is manifested itself thusly. Doctor Dean suggested today the Senate bill could really use state-run insurance exchanges. Senator Kerry then told "The Washington Post," the Senate bill really has state-run insurance exchanges in it.

So, to resolve the difference, check the official public version of the latest compromises, except there isn't an official public version of the latest compromises.

What's in? What's out? What's next? The author of "Sick," Jonathan Cohn, joins us.


OLBERMANN: To reform the health care reform, what is the smartest route to go, reconciliation, conference, a faith healer? The author of "Sick," Jonathan Cohn, joins me next.

And who's that on the John McCain visor? Only somebody crossed out John McCain's name with the magic marker and must have taken them a lot of time to completely obliterate it like they had some sort of anger towards him or something? Yes, Sister Sarah.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Last night on this newshour, I said that with the Medicare buy-in gone from this bill and the insurance mandate intact, the time had come for defenders of real reform to abandon the Senate bill.

But in our fourth story tonight - the question remains how and what next?

Last night, I suggested that the Senate use of the reconciliation process in which budgetary matters require only 51 votes for passage, the way every vote is supposed to go. But the Senate has other option. No matter what bill passes the Senate now or eventually, that it's still not the final bill because the House passed a very different bill with a public option for one thing.

So the next step could be - for Democratic negotiator - from the House to sit down with Senate counterparts in conference committee and hammer out a compromise between these two bills. That compromise would be the final bill sent to the president. And that compromise represents the real last chance in legislative go-around, any way, to restore some sanity to health care reform.

As we mentioned earlier, former governor and DNC chair, Doctor Howard Dean, advised Senate Democrats to add state-based exchanges to the bill before sending it to conference. State-based exchanges, he wrote, "would filter out the worst insurance policies."

Senator John Kerry, who pushed the same idea earlier, however, told Ezra Klein of "The Washington Post," such exchanges are already in the Senate bill. All of which might be easily reconciled or explained if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had actually released the Senate bill - the current bill that is.

Let's turn now to Jonathan Cohn, senior editor of "The New Republic," and the author of "Sick: The Untold Story of America's Healthcare Crisis and the People Who Pay the Price."

Great thanks once again for your time tonight, sir.

JONATHAN COHN, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: Why would the state-run exchanges satisfy Doctor Dean and by any chance you know whether or not they're in the bill?

COHN: I do know, actually. The big issue here is the role that the exchanges play. Do we want a system where basically almost any insurance company can just satisfy very minimal criteria and be able to sell policies to these exchanges? Or do we want to have some kind of very smart administrative body run by people who are really checking carefully to make sure the policies cover everything they're supposed to, that, and ask them to bid for good prices?

What Governor Dean very rightly is seeking is to have that second model, an aggressive, what they call a prudent purchaser. Basically, it's like having a really smart human resources department shopping for you on your behalf.

Now, where I think Governor Dean got it wrong, and I think he just had outdated information, is that we know that when the bill moved from the finance committee to Senate Majority Leader Reid's office, he added some language to the bill. And I remember very clearly because it was one of the first things a lot of us noticed when Reid unveiled his bill.

I assume that is still in the bill. There's no reason to think it came out. And I think that's a good thing. The language could get better.

The House bill actually has an even stronger version of this. So, you know, when we move ahead in the process, if we move head, I'd like to see it move more in that direction.

But the Senate bill, the last we saw of it, at least, has that kind of language. It has what Governor Dean says it needed.

OLBERMANN: You heard Senator Sanders and Howard Fineman both discuss the political - the most obvious political issue that they saw in terms of going reconciliation on this, which is that there are - there are committee chairmen who are very upset about it and you'd have to move an entire process from one track to another, which is obviously never an easy thing in the Senate.

Is there more to arguing against reconciliation? I mean, surely, a bill approved by 51 Democrats beats a bill watered-down to suit a couple of conservative Democrats.

COHN: Well, you would think so, if you could get the same bill. And this, I think, is the biggest problem of all, is that you have this thing called the Byrd rule. And it basically says that you can't put something in reconciliation that doesn't, you know, directly affect the government's bottom line.

Now, I would argue the entire health care bill affects the government's bottom line. You would probably argue that as well.


COHN: But it's not up to me. It's not up to you. It's up to this guy, the Senate parliamentarian who gets to make that call.

And they study this issue and the people close to this - and I think a lot of people who would have liked to have gone this route came to the conclusion they were likely to end up with a bill with huge chunks taken out of it. And you'd end up actually - believe it or not - with something even worse than what we have now.

OLBERMANN: Yes, we wouldn't want a bill with huge chunks taken out of it.

Conference committee - does that offer you any hope in terms of get some of what's in the House bill into the Senate merging it and getting a more House-like bill to the president?

COHN: Absolutely. And I think this is really where progressives should be directing their energy. The House bill - particularly when we're talking about the structure of the exchanges, the amount of money being put into subsidies - the House bill is really superior on this front. And they are going to have to reconcile those two bills together.

I don't think that you can do everything. I don't think we can fix all the flaws in the Senate bill. And the house Hill has some flaws of its own.

But there's definitely a chance to improve this bill if we get to conference. We do actually have to actually get to conference which means getting a bill out of the Senate.

OLBERMANN: Jonathan Cohn, the author of "Sick," also with "The New Republic" - again, great thanks.

COHN: Thanks a lot.

OLBERMANN: Progressive criticism of the bill has not stopped the conservative lying machine. The latest from that, a Democratic senator was threatened with the closure of one of his state's military bases if he didn't fall in line. The story has already been partially retracted.

And the Republican senator from the same state says he didn't believe any of it's true. Yet, he still wants congressional hearings on a half retracted rumor that he personally thinks is completely false anyway.


OLBERMANN: "Bests" in a moment. And Tiger Woods gets a slap on the back from Rudy Giuliani.

First on this date in 1531, from the Vatican, Clement VII issued the papal bull establishing something called the "Holy Inquisition" in Lisbon. And somebody said, "No one expects the Portuguese inquisition." But his friend said, "You know, that just doesn't sound right."

Let's play "Oddball."


Quotes may have been made up by me. To Cambridge, Massachusetts. No, that is not some plain clothed Santa, having arrived ahead of schedule and in daylight. He's a suspect bank robber, trying to allude the coppers by jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Yay. Police say the ink pack inside the bag burst and stained the guy's pants. At which point he dashed in a house and later tried to escape through a window. The roof top game ensued, though the culprit - eventually, he gave himself up with no injuries to anybody, except his own lungs. Ho, ho, ho.

To Tokyo. Apology for the somewhat dim video here. But the guy in the white tux is getting married, and insisted it be streamed online, because his bride is a video game character. Her name is Na-Na from a popular Japanese dating simulation called Love Plus.

What's the plus? I don't wish to know that. Anyway, after the wedding, with 40 guests in attendance, all of whom had bloodstreams, the newlyweds went on their honeymoon to Guam. The groom, by the way, calls himself Sal-9000, Not revealing his real name for fear of being misunderstood or possibly treated with therapeutic drugs. The happy couple breathlessly excited about Friday's premiere of "Avatar."

To Baltimore, a river runs through it. Actually it's a water main break worthy of at least 39 minutes of live, late breaking, self-respecting news broadcast. Traffic and weather together. Forty two inch - 42 inch water pipe failed, gushing up to the 1600 block of Argon Drive this afternoon. The flooding crossing several other thoroughfares. Traffic is a mess. No reports of injuries. However, repair crews are asking residents do not come out of their homes because, you know, it's a bit damp.

Anatomy of a right wing smear. Did you hear about the White House threatening to close an Air Force Base in Nebraska unless Ben Nelson supports health care? Even though the hearings on the next base closings don't happen until after the next presidential election?

That's ahead, first time for Countdown's top three best persons in the world.

Dateline West Palm Beach, number three, best Freudian slip, Orly Taitz Limbaugh, responding to a snowstorm at the Global Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. "God dumps a snow storm on them, all over this man-made fraud." Wouldn't that be naturally occurring fraud? By the way, your premise is the snowstorm in Denmark was unusual or atypical or a-seasonal weather, which is one of the premises of climate change. Thank you.

Dateline Minneapolis, number two, best tear it down before it falls down, the 28-year home of the Minnesota Twins, the Metrodome. They're moving into a new field next season. In fact, they move the business operations out later this month. Not soon enough for Twins outfielder immortal and should be Hall-of-Famer Tony Oliva. On the Twitter feed came this strange but true alert: "Tony Oliva got stuck in the rest room yesterday when the handle fell off the door." For clarity, we should point out, this is not the same rest room in the Metrodome in which a year ago, at a college football game, a man and woman, who did not previously know each, were arrested for having sex while a crowd watched, which resulted in her losing her job, and maybe her marriage, and him losing his girlfriend and having to get a lift home from a different total stranger. Still, run across the street and use the one at the filling station, if you know what I mean.

Dateline New York, number one, best thanks for the help, Tiger Woods. The wife and kids are headed to Sweden for the holidays. Everybody is headed to divorce court. He's taking time off from the PGA Tour. The estimate is his infidelity will cost the business of golf 220 million dollars. But he's got Rudy Giuliani pulling for him. "He's a nice man, particularly with children. He was extraordinarily generous to my son and my son played golf with him."

Thanks, Mr. "I had to move out of the mayor's mansion after wife number two call me dallying with wife number three."


OLBERMANN: The latest desperate, holy, irresponsible lie out of GOP and its right wing media cohorts, very instructive about this process. In our third story on the Countdown, the accusation based on a rumor already partially retracted by the blogger who first presented it, that the president had threatened Senator Ben Nelson with closing an Air Force Base in Nebraska if Nelson did not support health care legislation.

Notably, Senator Nelson himself denied the rumor, as did the White House. Nelson saying, quote, "if I had been threatened, I would have gone public with it." He added that the story was "yellow journalism at its worst."

And yet Nebraska's Republican senator, Mike Johanns, along with 19 other Senate Republicans, sent a letter yesterday to the Senate Armed Forces Committee requesting a hearing about the rumor. They also want to know if there are any ghosts in the White House. This even though Senator Johanns himself has said, quote, "when Senator Nelson said it didn't happen, I trust Senator Nelson. I have no reason not to trust him. The White House can work with us and say, look folks, it did not happen. We're happy to appear before whatever committee. I think that really does put this to rest."

So the Republican senator believes his colleague's unequivocal denial, but he and his fellow Republicans want to stir this pot regardless, as do their toadies.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This morning there was one source. Today, I am told there are three separate sources. Michael Goldfarb at the "Weekly Standard," he confirmed to me today that he had a Senate aide inform him that the White House has threatened to put Nebraska's Offutt (ph) Air Force base on the BRAC list. That is the Base Realignment and Closure List. If Senator Ben Nelson doesn't fall in line with health care, they will close this base. Senator Nelson has denied this story this afternoon. The White House denies this story. But Goldfarb and "The Weekly Standard" are standing by their source. To me, that borders on treason.


OLBERMANN: How did you feel after Goldfarb then retracted part of it, back like the rest of the right wing media echo chamber cites sources. In fact, these sources are each other. The rumor appears to have begun with a Tweet, according to Media Matters, from right wing blogger Matt Lewis:

"hearing Ben Nelson has been threatened with closing his air force base."

From there, other blogs picked it up. Goldfarb of "The Weekly Standard" pushed it, claiming a so-called Senate aide force. Goldfarb has now issued a partial retraction. Apparently that news did not get to Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck, who joined him. But Limbaugh, as Media Matters notes, accidentally skewered the logic of the whole story. He noted the next base closing commission doesn't convene until 2013, which means the White House would be threatening a senator with something that could not happen for four years and until after the next presidential election.

Let's turn now to the Washington editor of "The Nation," Chris Hayes.

Good evening, Chris.

CHRIS HAYES, "THE NATION": Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Who are we supposed to expect less of in this equation? The right wing hosts, the bloggers, the senators, or is senator Johanns the clear winner here, because he wants to have hearings even though he admits there's nothing to this story?

HAYES: Yeah. In a crowded field of imbeciles in the United States Senator, Michael Johanns, who is new in this Congress, has really kind of distinguished himself already on a number of fronts.

Look, this is a classic - I mean, you said the right wing noise machine. This is classic, classic. And I love the fact - it's so perfect that like Twitter is the new frontier for where this kind of infection can start, that someone anonymously Tweets something. The next thing you know, it's on a news network that's broadcasting to millions of people.

OLBERMANN: I am told Glenn Beck alien Planet Skyron. The anatomy, which we've touched on - we've seen it with the death panels and even the birther stories. This was the Obama complaint from October, which kind of got lost in the Fox News is not really news. That's how you create a story out of whole cloth. Create a rumor, get it on the net. Then it's picked up by a TV or radio host who is either too stupid or too unethical to recognize that there is no source. Then, once it's discussed, you can put it in your newscast, because there's been discussion and controversy.

HAYES: Right. That's exactly - that's exactly the game that they've been playing all the way back through - you know, in the Clinton years, and it's been documented, obviously, time and time again. David Brock, who founded Media Matters, is sort of the canonical text on this strategy. And Media Matters does a good job of whacking this stuff down.

At a certain point, there is kind of a self contained universe in which this stuff permeates. There's no question. I was talking with someone the other day about talking to conservatives they're friends with, family members, who are absolutely convinced, to this day, no matter how many times it's been debunked, the Community Reinvestment Act, which was passed in 1977, was what caused the financial crisis, that Barney Frank is entirely responsible for it. There's no question that, months down the road, or years down the road, people are going to off-handedly say that Senator Ben Nelson was threatened with a base closing to get health care passed.

OLBERMANN: Clearly, he doesn't care about that base, because he hasn't gotten in line. The Obama camp, have they gotten any better with dealing with this sort of stink bomb mentality from the right wing?

HAYES: You know, I don't - to be honest, I think one of the things that's happened right now - and in some ways, it's been an incredibly different period to watch this health care debate happen.

OLBERMANN: You think?

HAYES: The one thing that I think has been salutary about it is the fact that we are - there is a debate happening right now, A, that the Republicans are completely irrelevant to. And, B, it's increased the level of discourse immeasurably that that's the case. There are all sorts of substantive critiques Republicans could have been making of these bills in the summer. Instead, they chose to go to the death panel route.

Right now, when you have this kind of intramural dispute that's happening in progressives spheres, it's a much more substantive debate. And I think, in some ways, it's crowded out a lot of the noise.

The public is clearly frustrated. They're not psyched about the bill. And very worried about unemployment. But the debate happening in Washington, in a weird, perverse way, I think, is more substantive and more focused on avoiding this kind of absurdity than it usually is.

OLBERMANN: And has it succeeded? Has this also crowded in the idea

that the Republicans, who were opposing all this, may trot out reasons for

temporary reasons or excuses for how they're behaving, but ultimately, as I used the term before, they're just nihilists on this?

HAYES: Yeah. I think that has dawned on people increasingly, that this is an implacable opposition that's just going to be the way it's going to be. It's not going to support anything. And those are the terms right now that have been set very clearly. An incident like this just confirms that to everyone, that - that the members of the United States Senate on the Republican side just see - whether it's Coburn making Bernie Sanders have someone read his amendment the other night or it's this - they just see their job as to be essentially practical jokers, to pull stunts and to kind of mug for the cameras.

But they're not actually interested in anything above and beyond that.

And they've kind of withdrawn themselves from the project of legislating. And I think that's just - that's clear to everyone in Washington at this point.

OLBERMANN: And it's available on Twitter. Chris Hayes of "The Nation." Great thanks, Chris. Take care.

There's another one tonight. You heard this Michelle Malkin about the second grader suspended and sent to a psychologist, because asked to draw something that reminded him of Christmas, he drew Christ on the cross? Wow, great story. None of it's true, but it's a great story, Malk.

This sadly is true. Sister Sarah wearing a visor in the Hawaiian sun, a visor that has John McCain's name crossed off it with a magic marker. Is it Hawaii or Hawaii? It's Hawaii. Thank you. You're welcome.

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour - soupy sales, 1964. When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, more on the infamous anti-health care reform prayer cast, and some of the folks behind it, who really don't want you to know that they are behind it.


OLBERMANN: The thought must cross your mind ever time you see a Kerry bumper sticker or a McCain one: what do you do with all those old campaign materials? Well, if you're Sarah Palin and the hat fits, you just cross the word McCain off with a marker and you wear it anyway.

That's next, but first time for Countdown's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Orly Taitz Limbaugh. One of the great historians, he, described the second Reagan term and the only George H.W. Bush term as eight years of prosperity. "Now after eight years of prosperity under Bush 43, we're again seeing the seething hate for profits."

Let's see. The recession from July 1990 to March 1991. The recession from March 2001 to November 2001. And the current George Bush recession, which started in December 2007. Oh, oh, I forgot, when Limbaugh talks about prosperity and profits, he means his own personally; screw the rest of you.

The runner-up, Sean Hannity. This is special; he was outraged - outraged - because "the president has a new pen pal, North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-il. Now according to "The Washington Post," the president wrote Mr. Kim a secret letter that was delivered last week to the communist dictator by the administration's special envoy to North Korea."

This month is the second anniversary of the day Kim Jong-il got another personal letter hand delivered in secret. It was from President Bush. I guess that was OK. Maybe he had better penmanship or something.

But our winner, Michelle Malkin. She has exposed more persecution of Christians trying to celebrate Christmas, in this case a little boy who had been asked to draw something that reminded him of the holidays. "Public school lunacy of the day; a second grader in Taunton, MA was kicked out of school, suspended and ordered to undergo a mental evaluation for drawing a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross."

It's the freaking Roman Coliseum out there for Christmas fearing celebrants, people. While Ms. Malkin's readers are threatening the teacher, one small problem with the Malkin story - actually five small problems. According to the superintendent of schools in Taunton, Mass, the nine-year-old was not kicked out off. He wasn't suspended. And his class had not been asked to draw something that reminded them of the holidays. And actually he didn't draw a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross.

He drew a picture of himself on the cross. Just in case his message was not clear enough, he wrote his name right above the picture. You know, maybe you want a doctor to ask him if everything is OK at home. Also, since 1914, Taunton, Massachusetts has been known as the Christmas city, because of the huge Christmas display set up each year on Taunton green, at town expense. Michelle "facts, what are facts" Malkin, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: The good news is Sister Sarah Palin recycles. But in our number one story, the bad news is she recycles McCain campaign visors and crosses out the McCain part with a magic marker. One of the visors anyway. The family Palin vacationing in the African Republic of Hawaii. TMZ spotting Sister Sarah on the beach, wearing a McCain campaign visor, with her running mate's name blacked out. She insists it's not a political statement, telling "Politico" "I'm so sorry if people took this silly incident the wrong way. I adore John McCain. So much for trying to be incognito."

You could just wear a different visor. Palin's beach shirt, however, sending a less ambiguous message: "if you don't love America, why don't you get the hell out." Perhaps of more interest, the winning of more friends and influencing of more people; the "Salt Lake Tribune" reporting Ms. Palin annoyed leaders of the Utah Republican party last week when she didn't have time for them during her book signing stop. She also has not paid a local hair dresser who styled her coif before an event at Costco. The hair dresser also says she was given the Palin rules, including don't speak to the former governor unless spoken to.

The one silver lining to report, a Utah Democrat shopping at Costco, while Palin was there, could not find tomatoes that she wanted to buy. Management informed Helen Rappaport (ph) that the store did have tomatoes, but they were taken off the shelves so no one could throw them at the ex-governor. I didn't know this was a problem. Ms. Rappaport ended up getting her tomatoes for free.

Possibly the dumbest statement ever made on television was that one right there. Time to call in MSNBC political analyst, columnist for, Craig Crawford, also co-author of "Listen Up, Mr. President, Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do."

Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, CQPOLITICS.COM: I'm going to try that at signings, free fruits and vegetables with every book.

OLBERMANN: You don't get it until you leave the store. We have bipartisanship at last here. To paraphrase "It's A Wonderful Life," every time Sarah Palin goes to a Costco, a Democrat in Utah gets free tomatoes.

CRAWFORD: There you go. Of course, the danger is that might catch on, and when they get the free tomatoes, they can always throw them. Of course, there are plenty of other projectiles where there are groceries nearby, eggs, whatever.

OLBERMANN: Buy another copy of the book and throw that. Stories about Sister Sarah are like, in fact, buying at Costco. The minimum amount they come in is four dozen at a time. In there, there was one thing of substance. Once again, you get these reports. They just dribble out and they seem to be small details. But it's once a month that she's blown off some Republican group that wanted to see her. In the attempt to build some sort of grassroots organization or even a tree organization, why would you blow off local Republican groups?

CRAWFORD: Well, maybe Utah is just not a big enough state. I don't know if they have more people than Alaska or not. You might have to count the caribou in Alaska to get the population of Utah, for all I know.

I think, seriously, she is focusing on the more conservative Republican groups. And I think making a point, in many cases, of more moderate groups - or not playing along with them, because I think she aims to be a spokesperson, whether as candidate or whatever, for the party's right wing.

OLBERMANN: So if you're the spokesperson and part of that is to sell the idea that you talk to everybody, how come there are rules that say you don't talk to her unless she talks to you first?

CRAWFORD: Well, that might be another money-making idea. They charge extra for photos. So maybe if you pay a little extra, you can - or get more than one book, you can actually talk to her.

OLBERMANN: This visor story. She left Hawaii in college because there were apparently too many Hawaiians. That's per her father. This is how she makes her triumphant return? She's made a lot of money off the book. Can't spring for a visor at the airport?

CRAWFORD: Well, I'm sure that pro shop where she played golf would have been glad to donate a visor for the promotion. But, also, if the idea, as she said, was not to be noticeable, to be incognito, then a marked-out visor with a magic marker seems to call more attention than if it wasn't there.

OLBERMANN: Or even if you left the McCain thing on there, people might just wear the hat. What the heck.

CRAWFORD: Why not?

OLBERMANN: The interaction between her and McCain continues to be fascinating. Senator McCain - Palin told "Politico" about Senator McCain, she will do everything I can to support his re-election. Do we know at this point, does he want her to?

CRAWFORD: Well, there is one scenario, Keith, where he just might. J.D. Hayworth, the conservative radio commentator in Arizona and a former member of Congress, a pretty right wing guy, very anti-immigration, is talking about challenging McCain in the primary. That might be a case where McCain would need to shore up with Sarah Palin, the support among conservatives, I suppose.

But, you know, I think one thing McCain - that Palin has been up to here is - with her book and everything else, is trying to distance herself from the mistakes of the McCain campaign and get past the point where people blame her for his loss. I think that's a lot of the complication - the complicated stuff going on between her and McCain.

OLBERMANN: The mistakes like buying visors that you can easily cross the name out using just a marker of some sort. Craig Crawford of CQPolitics and MSNBC, as always, great thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD: Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 2,422nd day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.