'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, March 9, 2009
Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons
Guests: Richard Wolffe; Debbie Wassermann Schultz, Arianna Huffington
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Republican obstructionist congressman, Patrick McHenry, admits Republican obstructionism is designed merely to obstruct. "Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint."
Which explains this crap about the president and his economic team.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I don't think they've made the tough decisions. Some of these banks have to fail.
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OLBERMANN: Now you want them to fail, Senator?
After the Republicans sold deregulation to the highest bidder, tonight, the startling story of how the financial industry spent $5 billion over 10 years on politician so they could be allowed to screw up the economy any way they wanted.
Research soul search: Stem cell research back in play after years of Bushian straw men.
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PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values.
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OLBERMANN: Immoral values: Another backlash against Boss Limbaugh.
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NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: You've got to want the president to succeed. You're irrational if you don't want the new president to succeed, because if he doesn't succeed, the country doesn't succeed.
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OLBERMANN: When Newt Gingrich is the only one making sense, your party is - gosh, what can I call it? "An elephant that's become mired in its own muck," the quote from Michael Steele still putting foot in mouth with too much honesty. How will the Republicans try to rein him in next?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rush Limbaugh is just an entertainer. A great entertainer! A beacon of truth and light in times of uncertainty!
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OLBERMANN: And Michael Wolff criticizes the "New York Post" chimpanzee cartoon, Michael Wolff criticizes FOX News, Michael Wolff criticizes Rupert Murdoch. The "New York Post" starts slandering Michael Wolff in its gossip segment for the first time ever.
Our Worst Persons in the World segment.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ned Flanders, the worst person who ever lived.
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OLBERMANN: You stole my material, Brockman. Oh, good for you.
All that and more - now on Countdown.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, this is good.
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OLBERMANN: Good evening from Tampa, Florida.
At a time when the financial crisis has been referred to as the economic equivalents of both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, if you have suspected that Republican criticism of President Obama's economic policies are shams, gimmicks, strategies, stalls and not solutions - tonight, a Republican congressman, with a key role in crafting that party's message, has admitted as much, confirming in our fifth story on the Countdown: That the GOP's plan has nothing to do with saving the economy but everything to do with saving the GOP.
The Republican Party is dropping any pretense that its obstruction of Obama and his policies is based on anything other than politics.
Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, conservative congressman, who has participated on GOP message teams, explaining to the "National Journal" today that his party's only goal in the House is to bring down the Democrats - as much as it can - before next year's midterm elections. Quote, "We will lose on legislation but we will win the message war every day and every week until November, 2010. Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint."
That might explain why on the Sunday morning political talk shows yesterday, other congressional Republicans, like Senator John McCain, just sounded winded.
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MCCAIN: I don't think they made the hard decision, and that is to let these banks fail, to let General Motors go into bankruptcy and re-emerge and reorganize with new contracts with labor and others. I don't think they've made the tough decisions. Some of these banks have to fail.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, (R) ALABAMA: Close them down, get them out of business. If they are dead, they ought to be buried. We buried the small bank; we got to bury some big ones and send a strong message to the market. And I believe that people will start investing in banks.
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OLBERMANN: On the left, Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, in his "New York Times" column reintroducing his concern that the president is not doing enough, that the stimulus is still too small, leaving Obama vulnerable to the whims of Congress when he might decide he needs a second one.
Krugman's newspaper in an interview aboard Air Force One published this weekend, is asking President Obama if he is, as some have suggested, a socialist. The president is not refuting that question and its premise, but calling the reporter back later to say it was hard for him to believe the paper's question had been, quote, "entirely serious."
On CNBC, the billionaire investor, Warren Buffett, an Obama supporter, is admonishing Republicans for beating up on the president.
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WARREN BUFFETT, BILLIONAIRE INVESTOR: I think that the Republicans have an obligation to regard this as an economic war and to realize you need one leader.
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OLBERMANN: White House press secretary - rather, Mr. Buffett is also calling on the Obama administration to be clear with its economic message and its priorities.
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BUFFETT: Job one is to win the war, job - the economic war, job two is to win the economic war, and job three. You can't expect people to eye night behind you if you are trying to jam things down their throat.
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OLBERMANN: Then, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs interpreting that as criticism of Washington in general and not of the president in particular.
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ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not entirely sure that
the message wasn't directed at Washington writ large. Many of the things
that Mr. Buffett said, the administration would understand and agree with -
particularly, I think, the stories that I read this morning talked about the notion that Mr. Buffett said Democrats and Republicans are going to have to get along and work together in order to get the country out of this economic mess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good luck.
Time now to call in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe.
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Congressman McHenry's comments first, admitting that all of this has nothing to do with coming up with policies for saving the U.S. economy or helping the American people or anything else, but it's about driving down Nancy Pelosi's approval numbers in hopes of softening up the Democrats for next year's midterm elections.
Did he just give away the secrets in the Republican vault? I mean, can we accept from here on out that nothing the Republicans might do or say is meant to be constructive, but literally, it is meant to be destructive?
WOLFFE: Well, I think we could have drawn that conclusion from the Republican Party's position on the stimulus package. But, it didn't work then politically, and it's certainly not going to work now. Their numbers have declined in terms of their ratings since that stimulus debate. And what we are looking at here is just bad policy and bad politics.
For a party that had such low approval ratings to be playing politics so overtly at a time of national crisis and for what? Because of a House speaker who, with all due respect to Nancy Pelosi, her name recognition is tiny. They're choosing the wrong targets and playing the wrong kind of politics.
And just to extend what Warren Buffett said, had Democrats tried to do something similar in the wake of 9/11 and said our focus is going to be on the midterms, well, you can only imagine what the debate and the reaction would have been.
OLBERMANN: The political opportunism as Congressman McHenry reveals it is one thing, but Senator Shelby didn't just say the banks should be left alone to meet their own fate, to fail, if that's the case, he suggested having federal regulators step in and shut them down.
How is that not government intervention? How is that not, in a sense, nationalization? And just because there's no bank standing at the end of this - how is that not socialism from this man? How is Senator Shelby not a socialist by his own term and definitions?
WOLFFE: Well, I love the socialist debate. You know, it's just - it's so amazing that people throw the word around and they have, obviously, no idea what it actually ever meant. You just got to be grateful that this Congress isn't dealing with the Soviet Union because, otherwise, they would have threatened Sweden with nuclear annihilation.
The issue here is not about the market prism that Shelby is looking at the world through. That prism is broken. I mean, when you have Alan Greenspan saying that his market based model was completely wrong, when you have Warren Buffett saying people need to get behind the plan that the administration is doing. I mean, the idea that you can be laissez faire here about these banks is just completely wrong. It's mis-suited.
And that's, I think, where the Republican Party has got to move, and, frankly, some Democrats has got to move to the old debates about what works and what doesn't, with government intervention and market forces just doesn't match the time or what people are looking for. So, saying, you know, it's just a matter of tough love and the investors will come in isn't going to do it because market forces haven't worked one way or another in this situation.
OLBERMANN: And some people seem to be backing up. Senator McCain, of course, suspended dramatically or at least announced he had suspended dramatically his presidential campaign, threatened to bail out of the first presidential debate, famously lied to David Letterman about all of it because he had to go to Washington because the financial crisis was at such a stage of the economy was cratering and we have to do everything we could and put priority number one through 1,000, was making sure the banks don't fail.
Now, he wants some banks to fail. He wants them to, knowingly in advance, with preparation, government intervention to make sure that they fail. What happened to him?
WOLFFE: Well, maybe Senator McCain was too busy trying to decide what his campaign should look like. But, we did actually allow a bank to fail. It was Lehman Brothers, it failed. And it triggered a whole wave of crises that really took us to where we are today. Lehman wasn't the sole problem but it was a clear way that the whole crisis added momentum.
So, the idea of letting banks fail is not realistic and it can wipe out what's left of these banks. And let's be clear, according to the market, these banks already have failed. Citibank used to trade at 55 bucks a share; it's now a dollar-and-change. You know, these banks are a shell of what they used to be, but the idea that you can just let them all collapse and everything will be fine in the next day isn't born out by recent history.
OLBERMANN: The president's reaction to the "New York Times" interview, dismissing criticism of how he's handling the economy that's coming from blogs; actually, it was coming from Paul Krugman, saying he didn't lose any sleep over the economy.
Did that sound a little too Bushian for his own good, for our own, if his job is to inspire confidence? Did that interview inspire any confidence anywhere?
WOLFFE: Well, there was that weird thing when, that not only did he say he doesn't pay attention to this kind of criticism, but he calls back the "New York Times" reporter. It's very unusual for a president to be so concerned about one particular question that he has the time or the inclination to do that.
Look, all presidents, at a time of crisis, like to say they are above the crisis, but they are tracking the media very closely. Maybe he doesn't really read the blogs, but they're looking at that kind of opinion as it gets formed, and it does have an impact no matter what he says.
Does it smack too much of President Bush? Well, I think you got to look at the results here. Are the policies the same? Not so much.
OLBERMANN: All right. We'll give him a pass on that one though.
MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe - great thanks for your time, Richard.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So, if our economic predicament is not President Obama's fault, whose then is it? The answer is not just President Bush. The question is not at all academic because, unless Americans see what happened, the same people who broke the system then will succeed in keeping it broken now for their own gain. The key here that financial firms and their executives are not synonymous, that executives got rich by risking their companies, not so much by breaking the system of rules but rather by breaking the system of rules, systematically rewriting them over decades, hoping to muddy the waters about culpability now, to prevent the return of those rules later.
In a report from the nonpartisan Wall Street Watch project reveals that the deregulation was bought and paid for by Wall Street executives, paying politicians, buying unprecedented freedom from Washington oversights - specifically Wall Street, meaning banks, security firms, private equity and hedge funds, insurance and real estate.
In just the past 10 years, they spent more than $5 billion to push Washington out of the way - from 1998 through last year, spending $3,441,000,000 on lobbying, employing 2,996 D.C. lobbyists last year, not counting untold lobbyist in the 50 individual states. They put 142 former Washington officials on their lobbying payrolls. They spent $1.7 billion in direct campaign contributions.
And here is what they bought. In 1998, Citibank was allowed to merge with the insurance giant, Travelers, even though it was literally against the law for that to happen. Citibank won an exception because everybody knew they were about to get the law changed anyway.
A year later, Congress obliged, killing the landmark depression era Glass-Steagall Act, which had erected the wall between regulated Main Street banks and unregulated investment banks. Without that wall, the stage was set for firms to merge until they were, quote, "too big to fail" and to sink the money from your checking and your savings accounts into risky new derivatives. Regulators let firms hide those risky investments off their books which meant they did not have to keep enough money on hand to cover possible losses. All of this permitted by the Financial Accounting Standards Board in rules pushed for by the bank executives.
When a Clinton regulatory agency said, hey, we want oversight on his derivatives, Clinton's own treasury secretary, a Goldman Sachs veteran, said no, uh-oh. In 2000, then-Senator Phil Gramm, John McCain's reported choice to be treasury secretary had he been elected, got legislation through Congress signed by President Clinton that set derivatives free from virtually any regulation. In 2004, the Bush SEC scrapped a 20-year-old rule that made banks keep a certain amount of cash on hand to cover investment losses.
So, who decided now how much cash the banks had to keep on hand? The banks did. That new rule pushed by Goldman Sachs and its chairman, Henry Paulson, future treasury secretary for Mr. Bush and star of the bailout crisis.
Why would Wall Street executives push for this change? With derivatives deregulated, financial wizards could turn bets on just about anything into a derivative. And they did, including mortgages.
Once they could turn mortgages into derivatives, they had every incentive to make even the worst mortgage - yes, predatory lending - because they could turn them into derivatives too and then sell those to somebody else. Of course, no financial firm would buy a derivative based on a predatory mortgage because then they could also be sued by the bar, correct? Well, no.
Wall Street accomplices like Congressman Bob Ney, blocked efforts to let the victims of predatory lending sue everybody who profited from it and leaving Wall Street executives with virtually nothing to risk., by pushing the worst mortgages imaginable, and millions to gain by using the exploding paper value of mortgage derivatives to win big bonuses of real money for themselves. All of this fuelling the housing bubble as mortgage brokers and lenders told the worst borrowers sign on the dotted line.
And the regulators who could have stopped it? According to Wall Street Watch, from 2002 to 2007, the Federal Reserve took a grand total of three formal actions against subprime lenders.
From 2004 to 2006, the Bush treasury secretary or comptroller of the currency took a grand total of three consumer protection enforcement actions. He wrote a new rule to stop states from enforcing their own consumer protection laws. And he used the clause from a law passed in 1863 to nullify state anti-predatory lending laws.
That's all over with the Republicans out of power, right? Except that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's chief of staff is a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist. Another Goldman Sachs veteran, Gary Gensler, is Mr. Obama's choice to head that same regulatory agency that once tried to oversee derivatives but who, at his hearing last month, refuse to apologize for having opposed regulation of derivatives.
And except that, as of 2008, Democrats now get more Wall Street money than do Republicans.
And according to the newspaper, "The Hill," big banks getting bailout money gave politicians more than a quarter of million dollars just from November 25th to the end of this January. And then there is government's flip side - when it takes its ability to regulate things out of existence for puritanical, or worse, political reasons. And people don't just lose their homes, they lose their lives.
There's no telling if Christopher Reeve could have been saved by stem cell research, he died just three years and two months after George Bush stopped American - stem cell research dead in its tracks.
But are you telling me that in the seven years and seven months since that cynical day, nobody in this country died from the often fatal side effects of paralysis or Alzheimer's or a dozen other horrific conditions because the research that could have saved that one person never happened because George Bush, brow furrowed and soul suppressed, said no? Well, today, Barack Obama said yes.
OLBERMANN: Putting science ahead of politics after 7 ½ horrible, fatal years of just the opposite, President Obama reverses the Bush position on stem cell research. Congresswoman Nancy Wassermann Schultz joins us next.
Boss Limbaugh taken to the cleaners by Newt Gingrich. And Billo the clown claims victory over al Qaeda.
Worst Persons is ahead. Countdown continues from Tampa.
OLBERMANN: Remember science? Remember cool science, the can-do American spirit of conquering frontiers and space and medicine alike?
Our fourth story tonight: As of today, science is back. On August 9th, 2001, rather than doing something about the CIA's al Qaeda warning three days earlier, Mr. Bush gave his first primetime televised speech in order to ban federal funding for research using new human embryonic stem cells, and later, using his first veto to block Congress from expanding that research.
At a White House ceremony today, President Barack Obama announced new guidelines to protect the pursuit of science from the pursuit of politics, including a new executive order reversing Bush's stem cell funding ban.
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OBAMA: Promoting science isn't just about providing resources, it's also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those who are here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it is inconvenient, especially when it's inconvenient.
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OLBERMANN: House minority leader, John Boehner, opposes the decision while Nancy Reagan, who watched her husband, the late president, drift solely and irreparably into Alzheimer's, applauded the decision. Stem cells is being seen as valuable tool for research because they are capable of developing into any other kind of human cell, offering hope for everything, from repairing spinal cord damage like that suffered by Christopher Reeve, to treatment for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or cancer, even burn victims, blindness or other forms of organ failure.
With us now, Florida Representative Debbie Wassermann Schultz, a veteran of the bioethics war ever since the battle over Terri Schiavo.
Congresswoman, thanks for your time tonight.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D) FLORIDA: Oh, thanks for having me, again, Keith. I appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: Today's reversal of this Bush policy, it certainly felt monumental and was obviously expressed that way to the research advocates in that room with President Obama. Can you elaborate on why it was so monumental?
SCHULTZ: Well, I mean, just think about the millions of people who have family members who are suffering with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, juvenile diabetes, kidney disease. I mean, there are so many potential avenues for disease research that we can utilize now with the opportunity to do the research - the stem cell research that the president's authorization will allow now.
What President Bush did a number of years ago was inserted his own views and the views of people who have - who are in the minority of opinion in America, into the personal lives of millions of Americans. And that is not what our American government should be all about. We should make sure that we foster science and make sure that we use the government to help improve people's lives.
OLBERMANN: Why did the president leave it as an authorization? Why did he leave it for Congress to decide whether federally funded researchers can create their own stem cell lines? And given that he's left Congress to do this, what do you think Congress is going to do?
SCHULTZ: Well, I think we are going to certainly look at whether we pass a statute that authorizes stem cell research, but immediacy was important here. I mean, we need to make sure that we can get the funding into this research as quickly as possible, because the sooner that we get that funding available, the more likely it is that we have a scientific breakthrough that can help millions of people.
So, you know, Congress has a tremendously large legislative plate right now and the odds of getting to that legislation quickly, as quick as President Obama lifting the order - the executive order could, were small.
OLBERMANN: The president today talked - used this opportunity to talk about his faith. He called human cloning wrong. He said he would have strict guidelines for the stem cell research. He said federal funds would not be used to create new lines of stem cells .
OLBERMANN: . just to fund research on them. If the president - if this president views these clumps of 50 to 100 cells as sort of precious, too, based on some religious or nonscientific sentiment just as Mr. Bush did, even if the outcomes are different, what's the actual difference in the thought process between the two presidents?
SCHULTZ: The difference in the thought process is President Obama specifically focused on the embryos that have been created and donated to research. I mean, there are many, many women who go through IVF, in vitro fertilization, now who don't use all the embryos that are generated and they donate those rather than simply discard them to the potential for research. And those are the available embryos that will be utilized now when, otherwise, they would have simply been discarded.
These are not - these are not embryos that are going be used to generate life. They are embryos that will be used to make sure that we can save the lives, potentially, of millions of people worldwide.
OLBERMANN: You mention where mainstream America is on this. It supports this now. There's no question about that from all polling and all voting. What then is the political goal for John Boehner and other Republican leaders to make a - make a mess out about this - to make a stink about this?
SCHULTZ: Well, it's just - they are so incredibly selfish. I mean, that's - you mention the Terri Schiavo debate a couple of minutes ago, Keith. I mean, whether it was the Terri Schiavo debate or involving themselves in a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices or stem cell research, people on the extreme right-wing fringe of the Republican Party, they want to inject their own personal values, their own personal views on the policy-making in America.
And on November 4th of last year, the American people said, we want a do-over. We want to push the reset button on so many of these extreme policies that President Bush handed down. And we want them undone.
We want to make sure that we can explore the boundaries of scientific research. We want to make sure that we can, you know, really make it possible to become energy independent and end offshore oil drilling. But we can make our own reproductive choices.
Those are all executive orders that President Bush handed down some at the last seconds of his administration that the American people are going to breathe a sigh of relief now that President Obama is in the White House because they get their do-over.
OLBERMANN: In retrospect, looking at the Republicans and the Schiavo disaster, it was like Cro-Magnon man panic over the sight of an eclipse.
Thank goodness this has been undone. Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida - great thanks for joining us tonight.
SCHULTZ: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Green is universal - we tell you once a year at least - and also kind of grotesque when it's spewing out of a fountain. Eww!
Speaking of grotesque and spewing, Ailes lets his people call the president "Hitler" and a monkey. Murdoch uses his radio and TV waiver for revenge. And Billo offers possibly his dumbest analysis of current events ever.
Worst Persons is ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment, and how I turned down my best and only shot to play Major League Baseball. First, speaking of playing Major League Baseball, 70 years ago yesterday, James Allen Bouten (ph) was born. He was in the ground breaking book, "Ball Four" that Bouten pulled back the curtain on Major League Baseball, candidly depicting the womanizing, greeny popping, drinking, fun having rampant in baseball's clubhouses. The book caused such a stir that then commissioner Buey Cue (ph) asked Bouten to sign a statement saying the entire book was a fictional work. He didn't. It wasn't. Nearly 39 years later, "Ball Four" voted one of the top 100 American books, sports or not, of the 20th century, is still in print. Happy belated birthday, Bull Dog and smoke them inside.
Let's play Oddball.
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OLBERMANN: We begin at a council meeting in Medina, Ohio, where the city's elected officials have convened a special session to find out the source of an ongoing gas leak? Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madame President, can I remove the anti-emergency clause.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And discussion. Mayor? Would you like to -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a first.
OLBERMANN: Motion to clear, you smelled it, you dealt it. All in favor, opposed. This is apparently from last year. But it's just making the rounds now. We have determined that the source of the audio is either a punk kid using a fart noise machine or this town needs some Colon Cleanse.
To Savannah, Georgia, where they are either getting a jump on St. Patrick's Day or this is the crime scene of a horrific Vulcan murder. Not logical. It's the greening of the fountain in Forsythe Park. It's been the same routine for 70 years, gallons of green dye plopped into the water and spewed out of the statues. Hundreds of people showing up before St. Patty's day for the fountains greening, which is hundreds more than show up each year for the fountain's cleaning. Just saying, be nice, people.
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OLBERMANN: The backlash against Boss Limbaugh. He's irrational. He is kryptonite. He's to the Republican party now what Jesse Jackson was to the Democrats in the 1980s. And he is still jiggling. That is just the criticism from his own party.
Just when it seemed like RNC head Michael Steele couldn't sink into any more muck, he gets spoofed on SNL. These stories ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three best persons in the world.
Number three, best joke, Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, who has now lost third baseman Alex Rodriguez for - I don't know - four weeks, nine weeks after hip surgery. I ran into him here last night and he said, can you play third base? I'm desperate. I pointed out that I'm 50 years old and I wasn't any good when I was 10 years old. He replied, can you play third base, I'm desperate. I can't go to my right and I can't go to my left. But I'm really bad on balls hit right at me.
Number two, best break in. In Canberra, Australia, around 2:00 a.m. this past Sunday, 42-year-old Beat Ettlin (ph) and his wife, fast asleep when an intruder blasted through their bedroom window, shattering glass and awaking the couple. Still groggy, Mr. Ettlin's first thought was, quote, it is a lunatic ninja coming through the window. Close. It was a kangaroo. Wearing only his tighty whities, Mr. Ettlin tackled the roo and forced it out the front door.
Number one, best foiled drug smuggling attempt, in Barcelona. Police arrested a 66 - year-old Chilean man for attempting to sneak 11 pounds of cocaine into the country. Some of the drugs found in a six pack of beer that was emptied and filled with white stuff. The rest of the drugs in a cast on the man's leg. Not tucked into the cast, in the cast. Instead of plaster, the guy used condensed cocaine as his cast on his leg which was actually broken. Police were tipped off when they read one of the signatures on the cast, which read, in fact, "sorry about your leg, good luck with your cast made entirely out of cocaine."
OLBERMANN: The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich begins to almost sound like the adult in the metaphorical room of Republicans. That even spells more bad news for the GOP or heralds its new de facto leader, or both. In our third story in the Countdown, Gingrich takes on boss Limbaugh, sort of. While another prominent conservative says it plainly, quote, "Rush is wrong."
Appearing on "Meet the Press," Mr. Gingrich found a description for anyone who wants the president to fail, one word, irrational.
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NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: This president has popularity. The fact is his current approval rating is about the same as George W. Bush at the same point in 2001; 58 percent for a new president is very normal. You have to want the president to succeed. You are irrational if you don't want the new president to succeed. If he doesn't succeed, the country doesn't succeed. That's not -
DAVID GREGORY, "MEET THE PRESS": Do you think the Republicans are discordant on that point, about whether they want him to fail?
GINGRICH: I don't think anyone should want the president of the United States to fail. I want his policies to be stopped. But I don't want the president of the United States to fail. I want him to learn new policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP
OLBERMANN: Though Mr. Gingrich obviously did not mention Limbaugh by name, it should be noted that, thus far, Gingrich has not issued an kind of apology, though Boss Limbaugh did respond. More on that presently. But a former Bush speech writer, David Frum, has called Limbaugh out by name. In an upcoming "Newsweek" cover story, entitled, "Why Rush is Wrong," after describing on the one side President Obama's appealing demeanor, quote, "and for the leader of the Republicans, a man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network focus groups as, quote, losers. Do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition. Of course, he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise."
While the progressive Democratic group Americans United for Change put up another TV ad tying Boss Limbaugh to the Republicans, Michael Steele, GOP chair, continues to spin into the drain, telling the "New York Times," quote, "I'm trying to move an elephant that has become mired in its own muck." With that happy image in mind, let's turn to the editor of "Huffington Post," Arianna Huffington. Thanks for your time, Arianna.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Since Mr. Gingrich is ostensibly one who might run for president, let's take him first. Is he positioning himself as a cooler, nicer, more rational Republican, as an antidote to Boss Limbaugh? And by extension, you know, the next de facto leader of the GOP?
HUFFINGTON: Gingrich understands, Keith, that there is a real void at the top of the Republican party, and there are, in fact, kind of two sections in the Republican party; those who are groveling at Rush Limbaugh, who basically don't dare say anything with which he might disagree, or take it back as soon as they say it, and the rest of them who realize, like Gingrich does, like David Frum does, that if the GOP continues to follow Rush Limbaugh, they are going to be out of power.
This is the valley of death. There is nothing there for them. These are the two sections of the party. Unfortunately, Gingrich's ideas are not exactly new. He wants to eliminate the capital gains tax, the estate tax and reduce corporate taxes to 12.5 percent. These are the same kind of ideas that got us to the brink of disaster where we are at the moment.
OLBERMANN: Here is something even more frightening, Arianna. I think I agree with Limbaugh about Gingrich. He has now responded to Gingrich and said, "I'm surprised by nothing when I'm dealing with people in the media who think they are in politics." He's obviously referring to Gingrich. "They are fly by night operators and most stand for nothing until they see a poll about what the American people want. Also, they are running TV ads against me. Newt Gingrich wishes they were running ads against him."
Years ago, at a dinner in Washington, I made the mistake of saying to the man next to me, I totally disagree with Gingrich, but at least he believes in what he is saying. The guy snorted. He said, he doesn't believe in anything. He says what the focus groups tell him to say. If that's even slightly true in this case, and you have evidence from me and Boss Limbaugh about this, what does that say about Republicans' actual opinions of Limbaugh? Is Gingrich reading the tea leaves correctly?
HUFFINGTON: It depends on who is in your focus group. If you are focus group testing just the 20 something percent of Americans who stuck to George Bush to the bitter end and who are the Rush Limbaugh ditto-heads, then you get one certain perspective on the Republican party. But remember, 20 percent of identified conservatives voted for Barack Obama. So if you look at that Republican party, you get a very different answer.
The bottom line, Keith, is that right now Bill Buckley must be turning in his grave, because the Republican party is represented at the intellectual level by Rush Limbaugh, by Joe the Plumber and by Sarah Palin, basically the drug addict, the accidental celebrity and the woman who could see Russia from her porch.
OLBERMANN: It is not a very high IQ total, if you were to give it to sum. Here is a question that occurs to me, this tension between these two parts of this party, is the party going to survive this? Are we going to come out at some point in the long-term future with two parties who wind up suing each over the use of names like Republican or conservative?
HUFFINGTON: Well, that will depend really on whether the so-called good part of the party, the sort of Gingrich, David Frum part of the party comes up with some good ideas. So far they haven't. One of the problems I'm having with what David Frum wrote is that he's comparing Limbaugh to the Jesse Jackson of the 1980s. I went back and re-read Jackson's speech at the '88 convention. And really it is an incredibly good speech. He issued a moral challenge to America. It was very prescient, talking about the greedy even do not benefit long from the greed. He talks about the people we need to take care of, the people who get up in the morning, take the early buses, as he put it, and go to work in hospitals and hotels, making up the beds we slept in at night.
God, have you heard anything from Rush Limbaugh that invoked empathy or compassion?
OLBERMANN: For himself, yes. To paraphrase Senator Benson, I know Jesse Jackson and Rush Limbaugh, you are no Jesse Jackson. Arianna Huffington, founder and editor of HuffingtonPost.com, as always, great thanks for your time, Arianna.
HUFFINGTON: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I have one simple request. That is to have a freaking RNC chairman with freaking electrodes attached to his head. SNL supplies the evidence. Worsts, it's Bill-O versus both his bosses for top honors.
When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she is joined by a whistle blower from a horrifying case of the shoddy wiring in Iraq by KBR that led to at least 13 American troops getting electrocuted.
First, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration's 50 running scandals, Still Bushed.
Number three, detention-gate. The Supreme Court non-decision decision on the Bush administration policy of indefinite detention of terror suspects on American soil. This case involved Ali al-Mari, the alleged al Qaeda sleeper agent. He had been held for five and a half years in a Navy prison in South Carolina as an enemy combatant. His case before the Supreme Court challenged the constitutionality of that status. Last week, al-Mari was charged in a regular civilian court, so the Obama administration argued al-Mari's legal challenge was moot. The Supreme Court has agreed. But the court also vacated a lower court decision that had accepted the president's unlimited authority to indefinitely detain people living in the United States.
Number two, lawyer-gate. A bevy of Bush administration attorneys continuing to favor an uncertain future. The latest is David Addington. Mr. Addington was a key advocate for President Bush's signing statements, a central player in all of the Bush post-9/11 terror policies. Addington is still looking for a new job, as are 70 percent of other former Bush officials. As to the notorious John Yoo, Michael Ratner, president of something called the Center for Constitutional Rights, says that lawyers such as he should beware of European countries that prosecute torture no matter where it occurred. According to Mr. Ratner, quote, I think people like Yoo will be taking their chances if they want to go to Europe for a very long time.
Number one, signing statement-gate. All those signing statements to which we've just referred, in which Mr. Bush challenged 1,200 sections of bills over eight years, like a Congressional torture ban. Today, President Obama ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric Holder first before relying on any of those signing statements. However, this president has reserved his right to issue such statements, noting that he will act, quote, with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well founded.
Such signing statements were used sparingly for 200 years. Bush the great exception. Mr. president, the separation of powers is pretty clear here. If you are good with it, sign it. If you think it harmful or unconstitutional, veto the whole thing. If you don't plant on forcing part of it, get a new plan.
OLBERMANN: The president turning into the Rock Obama. The RNC chairman turning into Boss Limbaugh's pet. And the worst persons in the world turning into a "Simpson's" gig. That's next, but time first for Countdown's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Bill-O the clown. For palpable nonsense, perhaps nothing has ever surpassed this: "look, by all accounts, the Bush administration defeated al Qaeda. All right? Al Qaeda was marginalized, been downgraded as a threat to the world. So we won the terror war." Tell that to the 17,000 troops the U.S. is about to send to Afghanistan, or the NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, who told the BBC that we and our allies are not winning the war in large sections of Afghanistan, or try telling it to any other grown up. "By all accounts, Bush defeated al Qaeda." Never mind all, just name one, Billy. Just name one account.
The silver to Roger Ales, who had to approve this genius action today at Fixed News. They are now reading on TV comments from their own blogs. Today's were supposedly about the Obama decision on stem cell research. Some news model named Harris Faulkner actually read these allowed without vomiting. From Tim Owens, "Hitler would have loved it." From Dan Thompson, "it is the only thing that Obama has done right. Dan Thompson in Pine Hill, New Mexico. Remember, if you give a monkey a keyboard, he will eventually type a word correctly. Ouch Dan."
Ouch Dan? Fox using possibly apocryphal bloggers as excuses to compare the president to Hitler and to a monkey. And you top that off with "ouch, Dan."
But our winner, the font of all this evil, Rupert Murdoch. Michael Wolf, a "Vanity Fair" writer, and author of the seminal book on Murdoch, "The Man Who Owns the News," was on this show and elsewhere lending his expertise in what he described as a fracture between Mr. Murdoch and his New York rag, in the wake of their printing of the racially tinged Chimpanzee cartoon. Wolf suggested paper's editor Col Allen (ph) was the sole reason that cartoon was printed, that Allen could lose his job over this, and that Murdoch was furious.
The Post has since responded by printing several rumor based stories with no proof about Mr. Wolf's private life, and by calling him bald and trout lipped. They had never previously mentioned Wolf in their gossip section. When the government established the rule denying a company the right to own multiple TV stations and newspapers in one city in this country, this is exactly what it was endeavoring to prevent, using one guy's newspaper to avenge criticism of the same guy's TV network, or vice versa. So keep it up, Rup, keep giving them reasons to revoke that waver.
Rupert Murdoch, arrgh, today's worst person in the world!
OLBERMANN: It would be difficult to improve on the reality of the comedy provided by a major American political party following the policy instructions of a guy who used to appear on radio as a top four disk jockey named Jeff Christy, and could not even do that well enough to not get fired. But in our number one story, after weeks in the non-political doldrums, "Saturday Night Live" actually managed to improve on the many moods of Boss Limbaugh.
The show was back to its satirical self this past weekend. First, Fred Armison's normally calm, cool and collected Obama, along with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, met with the partisan trifecta of Senators Coburn, Hutchison and McCain. Taking his wrestling alter ego out of retirement, host Dwayne Johnson showed what happened when the president gets mad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. What happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened was you made Barack Obama angry.
And when you make Barack Obama angry, he turns into the Rock Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess that what I was just saying was there were some special projects in this bill that don't smell right to me.
DWAYNE JOHNSON, ACTOR: Hmm. Is interesting point, but me no like.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Later, embattled RNC chair Michael Steele, played Keenan Thompson, stopped by the Weekend Update desk. How is Mr. Steele doing now that Boss Limbaugh has hijacked the party? Turns out that is not the only thing the boss has taken over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is going to bring people back to the Republican party is an off the hook marketing campaign, holler. I mean, issues. We have to control this government spending, Seth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is something on your head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What, this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's just the electrode the Limbaugh people put in there. Rush Limbaugh is just an entertainer - a great entertainer - a beacon of truth and light in times of uncertainty. You're down with the GOP? Yes, you know me.
I mean, the Republican party has been controlled by older white men for the past 100 years. And there's nothing wrong with that, right? I mean, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If there is one thing I know about older white men, they ain't never broke. Ow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: While SNL did its job channeling the week's partisan rancor, attentive viewers of "The Simpsons" might have caught a subtle channeling of this program last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is responsible for these outrages? The man whose side of the story we didn't even bother to get, Ned Flanders, the worst person who ever lived!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's see what else is on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I for one welcome our new Simpsons overlords. That is Countdown for this the 2,130th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. From Tampa, I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END