Friday, April 2, 2010

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, April 2nd, 2010
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Quick Comment, Worst Persons
Via YouTube: Quick Comment

Fridays with Thurber:
A Box To Hide In
via YouTube, h/t fferkleheimer

Guests: Howard Fineman, Lawrence O'Donnell, Wendell Potter, Ed Rendell


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

Not the beginning of the end, but perhaps the end of the beginning - 162,000 new jobs last month.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are beginning to turn the corner.


OLBERMANN: The Republicans claim that job gains are all temps from that evil census. And on health care, they continue to preach the apocalypse.

Boehner says it will hurt Boeing and AT&T.

DeMint lies that because of the individual mandate, the IRS will hire 16,000 new enforcers. The individual mandate, of course, being the Republican idea.

The insurance industry idea: game the new system as they gamed the old one, re-label overhead as health care, sell only to the healthy. The warnings from our special guest, Wendell Potter.

They expect all 50 governors to resign. A far-right group sends letters to at least 30 of them, giving them three days to quit or face removal. This group is apparently nonviolent. The fear: other groups who might not be nonviolent.

Governor Beebee of Arkansas -


GOV. MIKE BEEBEE (D), ARKANSAS: What it basically said was that resign, reapply and we'll reinstate you if you'll sign this deal.


OLBERMANN: Our special guest, one of the other recipients, with his first comment in a Countdown exclusive, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania.

"Worsts": a CNN commentator threatens to pull a shotgun on any census worker trying to get him to fill out the supplemental census.

The comment: the Florida urologist who asks patients who voted for Obama to get their health care somewhere else.

And - the greatest American humorist of the 20th century joins this program - kind of. Tonight's short story, "A Box to Hide In."

All the news and commentary - now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.

The month of March, we learned today, not only saw America add jobs, but was the best month for job creation in three years.

And, so, of course, in our fifth story tonight: Republicans responded by asking why President Obama is doing nothing about jobs.

The numbers themselves are nothing spectacular on their own, but compared to the past two years, they represent a potential sea change in America's economic direction. According to the Department of Labor, 162,000 more Americans went to work in March than did the month before. And it turns out, revised figures show that January, too, had seen an increase in jobs, rather than the loss earlier reported. Unemployment nevertheless remains unchanged at 9.7 percent, in part because more people are now back looking for work, counterbalancing those new jobs.

Speaking at a North Carolina lithium battery plant that receives stimulus money and will now expand and hire new workers, President Obama told employees a lot remains to be done to bring America's economy all the way back. But he also said we are beginning to turn the corner.


OBAMA: Just one year ago, we were losing an average of more than 700,000 jobs each month. But the tough measures that we took - measures that were necessary, even though sometimes they were unpopular - have broken this slide and are helping us to climb out of this recession. We've now added an average of more than 50,000 jobs each month over the first quarter of this year. And this month's increase of 162,000 jobs was the best news we've seen on the job front in more than two years.



OLBERMANN: Even before the numbers were out, Republicans downplayed the increase, pointing out, as the Labor Department said, that the increase included 48,000 temporary census workers. Republicans apparently are not counting those 48,000 additional Americans who got paychecks last month because the paychecks came from the government. Never mind that those paychecks will in turn stimulate local economies, Republicans seem to have forgotten that unemployment figures are not a snapshot of the well-being of corporations but of the well-being of Americans.

GOP Chair Steele called it unacceptable for the president to declare economic success - which the president did not do - in his Web site today, wrote that the job growth was a disappointment, quote, "because job gains came mostly from census."

Mr. Steele, a gain of 162,000 jobs does not come mostly from 48,000 of them. In fact, the private sector created 123,000 jobs last month, including 17,000 manufacturing jobs - 17,000 actual new jobs making things.

Nevertheless, Senate Republican Leader McConnell questioned whether the stimulus helped at all. House Republican Whip Eric Cantor said, quote, "Americans deserved more than up and down rollercoaster like unemployment reports of the past few months."

So, let's look at that rollercoaster of the past few years, and see if you see where the stimulus might have kicked in. The numbers in red represent the steeper and steeper job losses under President Bush, you'll remember him. Mr. Obama's job losses are in blue and so are his increases in the past few months.

Let's turn first to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, also senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for "Newsweek" magazine.

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: How much steeper would a rebound in that chart have to be for Republicans to say, "Wowee, America sure is lucky to have Barack Obama in the White House"?

FINEMAN: Well, the Republicans are never going to do that - and to its credit, the White House isn't expecting them to. And as you pointed out, Barack Obama really wasn't crowing there. He was talking about progress but he was being very careful not to overpromise or over-crow if I can create a term there.

And there are two reasons - one is to control expectations. That's the political side. But the substantive side, from talking to one of the leading outside-business advisers to this administration, he told me earlier that the White House continues to be very concerned about the long-term unemployment and debt situation. They know they're facing a long climb out of this, that there are structural changes in the job force - for example, now, more women working than men. You know, it's going to be a long climb back and the White House knows that.

OLBERMANN: But that graph that we show, that red and blue graph with the perfect formation, almost mirror formation - are the Democrats smart enough to take that graph and put it on every ad from now to November and ask which side of the curve should America be on?

FINEMAN: Oh, yes. I think they are. And talking to Gene Sperling, he's one of the top treasury officials a little while ago, yes. Gene goes back to the Clinton years, knows how to talk about the economy in political terms, and he said, darn yes, I mean, this is real growth. He focused on those manufacturing jobs.

The trend is in the right direction. They know that, and the Democrats will get out there and aggressively sell it. You know, the president's job approval numbers are down now, but if these numbers continue month by month, and if that chart continues to change in a positive direction, you can be sure that that's what they're going to be selling, and selling hard in the fall.

OLBERMANN: Are people going to be buying without a significant change in unemployment numbers between now and November, which no one is predicting?

FINEMAN: Well, that's the big question. I mean, Gene says, you know, you're still looking at plus-9 percent unemployment.

I think the other thing beside the unemployment number which is a terrible drag politically is the debt situation, and the possibility of more mortgage foreclosures. You know, that's the next wave to come yet again, and I think that's something that they're looking at. There's just a huge amount of debt that Americans are trying to work their way out of on the family side, which is why they're not spending, which is why the recovery isn't more robust yet.

OLBERMANN: What does it mean that Republicans discount 48,000 jobs because the people who got those jobs now work for the government? I mean, it's a fair, appropriate caveat to make, but doesn't it also feel like they come across as less concerned about the fate of the workers than of businesses?

FINEMAN: Well, there's no question, and that's a very good point that you make. But beyond that, it shows me that the Republicans don't understand. They make this false dichotomy between the public sector and the private sector.

If you look at American history, it's the combination of the two that's made the economy robust - whether it was public works projects and road building a century and a half ago, or today, we're dealing with human capital.

And if I can make a point here, the census is about collecting data on this great human capital that are the people of the United States. There's actually gold in them thar hills, Keith. You know, that data is valuable.

So, even looked at in Republican terms, this is a very valuable thing that the census workers are doing, even if you don't want to look at the human side of the equation.

OLBERMANN: Yes. But you know this, if Obama managed to hire personally 275,000 people to work at the White House in meaningful jobs, the Republicans would accuse him of wasting taxpayer money.

FINEMAN: Well, the good thing about the president - the good and bad thing about the president is he doesn't waste his time these days worrying about the core - what the core of the Republican Party thinks. That's gotten him in some trouble in terms of partisan politics, but it also allows him to think in big terms, which I think he's doing now.

OLBERMANN: MSBNC political analyst, Howard Fineman, also, of course, of "Newsweek" magazine - great thanks for your time tonight. Have a great weekend, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thanks. You too, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Of course, playing defense on jobs does not keep Republicans from being on the offense on health care. House Leader Boehner tying the two issues together in an op-ed piece today, suggesting that the new health care laws will cost America jobs rather than create them by freeing people up to start their own business without fear of losing health care. Boehner, pointing to several big employers claiming new health plan taxes will cost them tens of millions of dollars.

House Speaker Pelosi pushing back today with an estimate of a net 4 million jobs created, all told, from health care reform.

Republican Senator Jim DeMint upping the ante on the claim that the IRS will hire 16,000 new personnel to enforce the insurance mandate, telling "Politico" yesterday, reforming health care will mean maybe hundreds of thousands of new government jobs. That estimate apparently is also relating to health care. In so much as Senator DeMint could only have obtained it with the help of a good proctologist.

With us tonight, once more, MSNBC political analyst, Lawrence O'Donnell, formerly chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee.

Good evening, sir.


OLBERMANN: Let's start with those 16,000 new IRS personnel, or how ever many million it might actually be in Mr. DeMint's estimate. The enforcers - is that what they're supposed to be?

O'DONNELL: Yes. Yes. I love this.


O'DONNELL: So, I could go and on, you're going to have to cut me off.

OLBERMANN: Go ahead.

O'DONNELL: I'm warning you now.

Sixteen thousand new agents - there are currently 17,000 IRS agents. OK? So what he's saying is this small provision of the tax code, this little tax credit, requires that we double our enforcement personnel.

And the agents are the people with badges at the IRS. There's a total of 93,000 people working at the IRS who are not involved in those same activities. And so he's gone on to say rhetorically at certain points, he's gotten carried away to say it may require hundreds of thousands of new people at the IRS, which is currently under 100,000 people.


O'DONNELL: So, he is so far off on this thing. We could go on and on about it. And one of the great delights in this is a piece of legislative language. We don't do a lot of legislative language here, but I think you're going to like this one.


O'DONNELL: Because on the enforcement provision of the individual mandate, which is what they're talking about - they're talking about they're going to have agents with guns chasing you to make sure you've bought health insurance. Here's what the law now says about the enforcement of the mandate. It says, "In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed by this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure."

So, the penalty for failing to pay the tax if you fail to have health insurance is nothing. The question then becomes: how many IRS agents do you need to enforce an unenforceable provision?

OLBERMANN: Well, not even an unenforceable provision, but unenforced provisions.

O'DONNELL: Specifically written to not be enforced. The great secret of the bill is there is no real individual mandate. We're not supposed to tell people this because then they might not buy the health insurance.

OLBERMANN: But I've got it now. That's an Obama secret army dressed up as IRS agents.

Mr. Boehner's numbers here that companies are claiming millions in losses - but does that equal job losses? Or once again, are the Republicans representing the idea of the corporate human being? Is his best friend Mr. Chevron?

O'DONNELL: Thanks to the when the - in the days when Republicans were writing the tax code, these big corporations that Boehner is worried about are getting away with murder on double-dipping on a - on a tax credit and deduction for health care that has been wisely written out of the law. Now, those companies have come forward and said, whoa, this changes our bookkeeping now. We're going to have to record a very big tax cut, a very big tax hit in our books.

They have not said, and we're going to have to cut jobs as a result. I mean, one of these companies - Goodrich is saying, it's going to cost us $10 million. That is not very many tires to Goodrich. They're not talking about cutting jobs. They're talking about fairly paying their taxes in a way they haven't before.

OLBERMANN: The other number thrown out today from the speaker, 4 million new jobs - is that credible?

O'DONNELL: Well, that's wishful thinking. I mean, we're talking about picking up maybe 32 million people into the health insurance system, would that add 4 million jobs? Once you expand it out, economists can expand the multiplier effect and say, well, you know what, the hot dog stand outside that clinic is actually going to sell more hot dogs because the line to the clinic is going to be longer - you might be able to get to 4 million somewhere down the road, but I wouldn't want to have to justify that one.

OLBERMANN: It counts to people who take care of the guys who clean the pharmacies at night.


OLBERMANN: Got it. All right.

O'DONNELL: It's theoretically possible.

OLBERMANN: Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC and "The Huffington Post" - reading statute for us.

O'DONNELL: I could go on and on.

OLBERMANN: Well, it was beautifully done. As always, great thanks.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: A list of the top 10 ways the insurance industry is likely to try to game the new system under health reform, with Wendell Potter.

And not one of the top 10 ways to affect political change in this country, send mildly threatening letters to at least 30 governors, telling them to resign within three days or they will be removed by nonviolent real patriots. The recipient of one of those letters, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, makes his first comments on the subject - coming up exclusively here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: One of at least 30 governors to receive a letter demanding he resign within three days or face, quote, "removal," joins us for his first and exclusive interview about it.

The foremost whistleblower in the health insurance industry on new list of the top 10 ways that industry will try to evade health care reform.

A CNN commentator threatening to pull a shotgun on any census volunteer who shows up on his property.

And the saga of how this titan of American literary and humor history wound up writing the last segment of tonight's show.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Never any doubt that insurance companies would try to game the system even after health care reform passed.

In our fourth story on the Countdown: For every piece of the new law, expect a mammoth attempt at avoidance, according to experts.

Insurance industry whistleblower, Wendell Potter, joins us in a moment.

Sentiment, if not practicality, following along the lines of this anecdote - a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution overhearing an insurance company executive joking about the prospect of being forced to sell plans to the elderly, this according to "The Huffington Post." Quoting the executive, "We'll sponsor dances and make our pitch at 11:00 p.m." Or, the executive added, "We'll put the company's office on the second floor with no elevator."

Indeed, of the top 10 ways in which insurance companies might game the system complying with the letter but not the spirit of new laws is a major thrust by making things difficult for the consumer or the doctors.

Another way would be to simply take advantage of what the health care bill fails to do. For example, adults with preexisting conditions do not get mandated coverage until 2014, so insurance companies obviously have until then to deny such coverage. And until 2014, there is no prohibition on companies raising premiums at outrageous rates. Aetna and Cigna have already announced steep rate hikes in response to reform, as noted by "Daily Kos." WellPoint is trying to re-label overhead expense as actual health care to meet new laws about the ratio of your money that goes to your care.

Joining me now as promised, the former head of public relations for Cigna, currently, the senior fellow on health care for the Center for Media and Democracy: Wendell Potter.

Wendell, good evening.


OLBERMANN: We touched on some of this. But a huge part seems to be insurance companies exploiting to the absolutely hilt, provisions that don't go into effect any time in the immediate future, correct?

POTTER: That's correct. And we'll be seeing that for quite a long time.

And another way that they'll be able to charge us more is, as those - as we get older, charge us at least three times as much when we're older than when we're young. So, that's one of the things that the legislation enables them to do.

And they will be shifting a lot more of the cost of health care from them to us. It's part of their effort to give us more skin in the game, as they put it.

OLBERMANN: And the efforts to minimize the impact, the effects of new requirements in reform - how big a problem is the - is the "doing it as little as possible" way out of this for them?

POTTER: It's a very significant problem. They have hundreds of lawyers who are looking at every sentence in this legislation to figure out where there might be a loophole and how they might avoid paying for care because that's what their shareholders expect and analysts on Wall Street expect, for them to pay less and less for health care every year - every quarter as a matter of fact. So, they'll be looking at ways that they can do that, particularly as they are forced to take all comers and eventually to cover preexisting conditions. They'll be looking for new ways to deny care and avoid paying for care.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of the preexisting conditions, the insurance cartel actually did back down in that thing we've discussed for the full week now about the near immediate mandate to cover children with preexisting conditions, once the secretary of health and human services, Secretary Sebelius, threatened new regulations and news outlets covered the prospect of that and also with the insurance industry was doing.

Is that a template for what the Obama administration can use to battle back against the pushback from the health care industry?

POTTER: I think it is. And the administration and Congress and others will have to watch the insurance industry very, very closely - even when they say that they will abide by the letter of the law, if they think that there is any wiggle room or someone's not paying attention, they'll try to flat regulations, as they have for many years.

OLBERMANN: Which additional laws will be needed to sort of close those gaps and those loopholes? I think they've become pretty obvious once the insurance companies' most egregious new actions come to light. We saw that in some degree with this attempt to get around the giving of insurance to kids with preexisting conditions.

But do we - once it's obvious what laws are going to be needed to supplement these current laws, how difficult is that going to be after this experience of the year-long battle to get just this far in health care reform?

POTTER: It will - it will clearly be different, but - or difficult. But keep in mind, I think, most of us will have said that this is the beginning for reform, and this will be something that will have to happen over the course of time. And I think that people will become increasingly aware that the public option is going to be needed to keep these companies honest. I think as we start seeing more and more about what they're going to be doing to get around this law, we'll see how important it is for the public option to be enacted.

OLBERMANN: Do you se that as a result of these extraordinary spikes in premiums that we'll be charged in the next four years?

POTTER: Absolutely. I think they clearly want to get as much as they can in premiums before the legislation kicks in. One of the provisions is if they want to sell insurance through the exchanges, they can't gouge too much. But they certainly are going to be trying to raise rates as much as they can get away with.

OLBERMANN: Wendell Potter, the former insurance executive from Cigna, now with the Center for Media and Democracy - as always, sir, great thanks for your time.

POTTER: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Remember the Monty Python movie "Life of Brian" where the cowardly revolutionary group in Jerusalem plans to give Pontius Pilate two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Roman imperialist state? A current right wing group did not get the joke. They thought that was an instructional movie of some kind. They have written to each state governor demanding they resign within three days or face legal removal. One of the recipients, Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, gives his first reaction to the letter - ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Dr. Cassell, meet Hippocrates. H-I-P-P-O-C-R-A-T-E-S.

The Florida physician who doesn't want to treat you if you voted for Obama.

First, this brief plug. We've already plugged it twice this week, and it remains 18th on the Amazon's bestsellers list. Dirk Hayhurst's poignant, hilarious, thought-provoking story of his journey through the reality of being a Minor League baseball player. A book favorably compared to "Catcher in the Rye," it's called "The Bullpen Gospels." You will not be wasting your time, your money or your emotion.

Let's play "Oddball."

To Key Largo where Good Friday is celebrated by local tradition via the scuba diving Easter bunny. Multi-colored eggs placed around a coral reef. But before you scream eco-crime, be aware that real eggs and nontoxic colorings were used to prevent any damage to the delicate environment. Waterlogged salty eggs - ahh!

A local dive center plans an underwater Easter egg hunt on Sunday and later brunch featuring, what else, but eggs over easy, sunny side up, scrambled, poached, salty. You get the idea. The event will benefit charity and gives this guy something to do, other than his underwater Santa Claus routine.

To Melbourne, Australia, and a theme emerges, mate - underwater ticktacktoe. And if you think there is no good reason to go underwater to play ticktacktoe, or even to play ticktacktoe above water for that matter, you would be correct - unless, of course, you're trying to break the world record for the longest consecutive game for underwater ticktacktoe ever. The current record is 24 hours.

And by the way, what fellow would wait too much time on his hands doing this one up? This time around, it's the owner of a diving business and 36 of his friends who were shooting for 36 hours. Two divers at a time, one-hour shifts. Somehow that sounds like cheating. Anyway, this too benefits charity.

And to Blankenburg, Belgium, and from the great underwater depths, a giant Japanese sea crab, allowing for obvious Appalachian crab-zilla. Eleven feet wide, legs are five feet wide. Hmmm, giant crab legs - ahhh!

The big fellow was visiting that aquarium in Belgium following a stay in an aquarium in Birmingham, England - kind of a crab on the road, if you will. His tank is carefully pre-chilled to match the extreme cold of this 1,000-feet deep natural environment.

The giant crab is reportedly very docile and doesn't even bother those smaller crabs. At least the smaller crabs we've heard from lately. There are people's heads in there.

Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania's first interview since he and at least 29 other governors received letters from a right wing group demanding their resignations or warning them to be prepared to be, quote, "removed." Next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The offices of at least 30 American governors have received letters from a fringe group warning the state executives to resign or face, quote, removal. Our third story on the Countdown, the first comments from one of the recipients, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, when he joins us in a moment.

This group appears to be non-violent in its intent, just seriously confused about the nation's laws and electoral process. But in the wake of the Hutaree plot, the FBI is worried what it might inspire from groups on either farther fringes. The Associate Press reporting that the group sending the letters calls itself Guardians of the Free Republics, and has sent them to governors of both parties, and has issued a deadline in three days.

A joining memo from the FBI and Homeland Security includes this: "we are concerned that unidentified individuals could attempt to follow through with this call to action through violent and criminal means." The FBI says the group appears to be non-violent and aligns itself with the Sovereign Citizens Movement, those who believe they are exempt from basic civic duties, such as paying taxes.

The groups website contains an action plan to, quote, "replace corporate government and restore the American republic, albeit quietly, efficiently and quickly, without provoking controversy, ridicule, violence or civil war."

Well, they already missed on the ridicule part. As promised, joining me now, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Governor, thanks for some of your time tonight.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Hi Keith. How are you?

OLBERMANN: Threat is in the eye of the beholder, sir. Do you interpret this as a threat of any kind?

RENDELL: Not really. If you could read the massive epistle they sent us, it's more comical than threatening. Although I don't know what the interpretation of the word remove means. But they give us their website. So I don't think they're about to do violence and identify themselves by giving their website.

When I was DA, we had this old saying, if they call, they're not coming. And you know, so I don't feel threatened at all. But it is very disheartening. And to be honest - and I've said this before - it's tremendously disheartening the level of discourse in America, and what's going on. It seems to be a total breakdown of civility. It seems to be threats. And the threats are not just on one side of the equation. They can be on both sides of the equation.

I happened to be on Fox when the health care vote was taken, and Boehner's speech, followed by Nancy Pelosi's speech, and then the vote. And they came back to me after it passed, and I said how good I thought the health care bill was for the country, not perfect but good, and how I thought it was going to - as people learned more about it, how it was going to be more highly regarded.

And we got at the governor's residence about 50 or 60 very angry phone calls, angry because I was smiling. Because I was smiling.

OLBERMANN: But that leads to my next question, is where do you think

i mean, is this a spotlight - sort of benign spotlight on the context of political uneasiness or disconnection or just lack of courtesy, as you described it, of our time, or is there some other meaning for what is happening here?

RENDELL: I think this is all being prompted by the lack of civility and by the anger in political debates, not just in Washington, but in Harrisburg, in Sacramento, in Albany, in Springfield. Political discourse has become so rigid, so ideological, so partisan, and so unwilling to put heads together and try to do thing that are for the benefit of the people, that it - it inspires anger.

I saw Representative Boehner's speech before Speaker Pelosi's. And it wasn't so much what he said, but the angry tone. It was like a call to arms. And it was frightening. And you know, he's an intelligent man. But to deliver that speech in that tone was basically just base baiting. And it's not hard to understand why people who don't truly grasp what's going on, who are misinformed and ill informed and, in many cases, lied to by politicians, why they are whipped to a fevered pitch. And it is absolutely disheartening.

And so many of the Republicans - and it's not just Republicans. But so many of the Republicans always pay homage to Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan wouldn't have stood for this for one second. Barry Goldwater, not for one second.

I was so disappointed in John McCain. He had a chance to speak up and really put an end to this. Ronald Reagan would have done it. Barry Goldwater would have done it. He would have said, come on, folks, this is America; we can disagree, but we don't have to be disagreeable. We all agree on goals. Let's figure out how to get there together. I can't tell you - I've been an elected official for 33 years, and I'm disgusted with my profession right now.

OLBERMANN: Is this why - that context, is this why you suppose the FBI is treating this a little bit more seriously than, you know, essentially long, formal requests that you guys all leave, and leave the various governors' mansions to these fringe groups? Why they seem to be taking it more seriously than they otherwise would?

RENDELL: Absolutely. If you look at the list of 30 governors, it truly is bipartisan. There are progressives. There are conservatives, et cetera. But I think the FBI is legitimately worried. But it's not surprising.

Every time I'm on television, whether it's the Sunday shows or - and I say something nice about the president, we get all sorts of nastiness. And nastiness, some stuff that I couldn't repeat on the air. I mean, just really bad stuff. And - and good God, what's happening to us?

And the question is where does it end? And how does it end? And how do we bring a stop to it? That's, to me, right now, the seminal question for the American discourse, and for where we're going to go. We need some people to stand up. And we need some Republicans to stand up. And we need some Democrats to stand up. And we need a clear message, cut it out. Cut it out. We don't appreciate lunacy. And we don't appreciate threats on either side of the equation.

Let's get back to what made this country a very special place. But somebody's got to do it. Somebody's got to do it. And it's got to be done in a bipartisan way. If we ever needed a Ronald Reagan or a Barry Goldwater or a Jack Kennedy, we need him now. I think the president is trying. He's trying his best. But he's in a very hostile atmosphere. He's got to fight back.

In fact, as you may recall, I was on the air early on saying, come on, let's fight back. But fight back because we need to get stuff passed. But somebody's got to step back, take a deep breath and say enough is enough.

OLBERMANN: Amen. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, great thanks for your time under the circumstances, particularly tonight.

RENDELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Take care. Something new tonight; how I wound up with the privilege of including some of the greatest American humorist writing ever in this little show.

First, the worsts, how grand-standing by Senators Bunning and Coburn may have cost flooded out Americans their flood insurance. And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, I'm not exactly sure what she's doing, but it involves job gains and bikinis. If that can't get you to stay around, I don't know what could.


OLBERMANN: Now tonight's comment, and once again life imitates art. I was just telling this story last night. It was one of the inspirations for the worst persons segments. The late, great comic and friend of this program George Carlen used to joke about the fact that literally, statistically, somewhere on Earth, there had to be the world's worst doctor, and someone has an appointment to see him tomorrow.

Well, we found him, Dr. Jack Cassel. He is a urologist in Mount Dora, Florida. The photo that you will see in a second was snapped by a would-be patient and sent to the newspaper "the Orlando Sentinel." Dr. Cassel put it up on his office door: "if you voted for Obama," the sign reads, "seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your health care begin right now, not in four years."

It is bad enough that a physician could ignore the rules that are supposed to be the first things he learns, the ideas of doing no harm, treating those that need help, et cetera. But this weasel has tried to parse his way out of it. Contacted by the newspaper, Dr. Cassel tried to finesse the thing: "I'm not turning anybody away. That would be unethical," he said. "But if they read the sign and turn the other way, so be it."

Of course, this is a distinction without a difference. That the doctor is hiding behind his passive aggressive politics first, healing second idea does not change the fact that the photo was sent to the paper because a patient, referred to Dr. Cassel, saw the sign, and sought urologic care elsewhere, just as the sign and the doctor told him to.

The doctor even admits three of his patients complained to him about the sign. This is another case in which conduct by a conservative - his office is full of anti-health care reform flyers. He said he preferred not to treat people who support the president. And his wife is running for local office as a Republican. Behavior like that is considered perfectly acceptable, even admirable by conservatives. But it is almost inconceivable to liberals.

And before that is dismissed as partisan rhetoric, remember the health care clinics you paid for? Nobody was asked their political viewpoint before they got care. It would have been unthinkable, just as unthinkable as the fact that you and I, as layman, have greater medical ethics than this barber in Florida, Dr. Cassel.


OLBERMANN: Friday night and an entirely new way and different way to wrap up the week in news. We will unveil the grand experiment next. But first, here are tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Eric Erickson of CNN and the conservative site Red State, says you should fill out the Census; it's a constitutional obligation. But the more detailed supplementary Census, the American Community survey, not so much. "I'm not filling out this form. I dare them to try and throw me in jail. I dare them to. Pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at my door. They're not going ton my property. They can't do that. They don't have the legal right. Yet they're trying."

Eric Erickson, now available without a prescription on CNN's new John King show. Fortunately, CNN is not in the business of incendiary opinion over there. They do real journalism with responsible analysts. Ask them. They'll tell you, while Eric Erickson is hiding behind his wife's shotgun.

By the way, I've been meaning to ask this for a while; What's the deal here? Eric Erickson, Lars Larson, Hugh Hewitt, can't any of these conservatives afford two complete names? Keith Keitherson.

Our runner up, Orly Taitz Limbaugh. You may have noticed he does not take kindly to criticism, like the president calling him out today, or the voices in his own head telling him he's crazy and just shut up, quickly. Speaking of Mr. Obama, Limbaugh asked plaintively, "who has called him a Nazi? Who do we know that's called him a Nazi? Socialist? Yeah. Stalinist? Yeah. Marxist? Yes. Nazi? We compare health care in America to what the Nazis tried to do in Germany and get the control of the people in that regard."

Limbaugh is hiding behind a very small fig leaf here. Sorry for that imagery. No, he never called him a Nazi. Of course, essentially each Tea Party features a sign with Obama with a Swastika or a Hitler mustache, or both. One last August 6th, Limbaugh said "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate." One last August 10th, Limbaugh said the Obama flag at looked a lot like Hitler's youth movement. And when this February 17th, Limbaugh cited "Mein Kampf" and called Obama's remarks on the stimulus plan, quote, "the big lie."

He wasn't calling him a Nazi. He was just saying he is as bad as Nazis. See? When you ask how Limbaugh sleeps at night, that's how. That and the drugs.

But our joint winners, Senators Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Tom Coburn or Oklahoma. Remember those little grand-standing stunts, where each blocked the extension of unemployment benefits until there were cuts elsewhere? Well, there were accidental cuts elsewhere, in turned out, to American flood victims. The unemployment extension packages also included the extension of the National Flood Insurance Program. The Bunning and Coburn rants managed to delay the extension of NFIP just long enough to create a hole in the coverage for an untold number of American home owners.

In the wake of some of the worst flooding in this country in 100 years, as of this week, five and a half million flood policies holders in flood plains, some of them became ineligible to renew their policies until April 12th or therefore. So if there's any bad rain basically in the northeast for say the next ten days, and people whose insurance had run out get flooded out, they are out of luck, thanks to Senators Jim Bunning and Tom Coburn, today's worst persons in the world.


OLBERMANN: So months ago, when I started reading allowed to my late father in the hospital, he did something he had never done before. He made a suggestion about the show. He said you should read those James Thurber short stories on the air. I said, well, they don't have a lot to do with political news. He said, so what; it's your show and they are great.

Nevertheless, it seemed an unlikely story at best. Then I read him Thurber's fabled "A Piece Like Mongoose," which had a decidedly political theme. And one night, while talking about my father and end of life care. I read it again on "Countdown."

That's why I'm sitting here again tonight in the comfy chair. Some background, James Thurber was probably the best overall humorist of the 20th century. His comedic short story writing compares to Mark Twain. His works inspired several plays and movies, most notably "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "The Male Animal."

His drawings are models of economy of line. Full-time artists of his time considered him one of them. And his captions, often a singular mix of mundane life and the utterly bizarre, are probably unmatched in cartooning. "All right, it says for this one, "have it your way. You heard a seal bark."

He died in 1961. After I read the "Piece Like Mongoose" here on the show, I got an email from James Thurber's literary agents. And I'm thinking it's a bill. It was anything but. Four of our regular viewers happened to be watching that day, Barbara Hogenson (ph), the literary agent, and Laurie Styler (ph), who works with Barbara, and Rosemarry Thurber, who happens to be James Thurber's daughter, and her daughter Sara. And they were delighted.

As our conversations evolved, they all thought there was no better way to honor Rosemary's father and mine than for me to, every once in a while, read a short story or fable to close out the week here.

So I'll start with my absolutely favorite. I first read it out loud in 1979 in college, and a friend of mine said, you should quit this broadcasting stuff and just read him allowed full time. I'd be happy to do it.

This was in James Thurber's 1935 book "The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze." And I'm reading it from the marvelous 1996 compilation, "The Library of America, James Thurber, Writings And Drawings."

"A Box to Hide In" by James Thurber.

"I waited till the large woman with the awful hat took up her sack of groceries and went out, peering at the tomatoes and lettuce on her way. The clerk asked me what mine was.

Have you got a box, I asked? A large box? I want a box to hide in.

You want a box, He asked? I want a box to hide in, I said.

What do you mean, he said. You mean a big box? I said, I meant a big box, big enough to hold me.

Oh, I haven't got any boxes, he said. Only cartons that cans come in. I tried several other groceries, and none of them had a box big enough for me to hide in.

There was nothing for it but to face life out. I didn't feel strong and I had this overpowering desire to hide in a box for a long time. What do you mean, you want to hide in this box, one grocer asked me. It's a form of escape, I told him. Hiding in a box, it circumscribes your worries and the range of your anguish. You don't see people, either.

How in the hell do you eat when you're in this box, asked the grocer. How in the hell do you get anything to eat. I said I'd never been in a box and didn't know, but that would take care of itself.

Well, he said finally, I haven't got any boxes, only some past board cartons that cans come in.

It was the same every place. I gave up when it got dark and the groceries closed and hid in my room again, turned out the light and lay on the bed, and feel better when it gets dark.

I could have hid in a closet, I suppose, but people are always opening doors. Somebody would find you in a closet. They would be startled. And you'd have to tell them why you're in the closet. Nobody pays attention to a big box lying on the floor. You could stay in it for days and nobody would think to look in it, not even the cleaning woman.

My cleaning woman came the next morning and woke me up. I was still feeling bad. I asked her if she knew where I could get a large box. How big a box you want, she asked. I want a box big enough for me to get inside of, I said. She looked at me with big, dim eyes. There's something wrong with her glands.

She's awful. But she has a big heart, which makes it worse. She's unbearable. Her husband is sick, and her children are sick, and she is sick, too. I got to thinking about how pleasant it would be if I were in a box now and didn't have to see her. I'd be in a box right there in the room, and she wouldn't know.

I wondered if you have a desire to bark or laugh when someone who doesn't know walks by the box you're in. Maybe she would have a spell with her heart if I did that and would die right there. The officers and the elevator man and Mr. Grammage would find us.

Funny, dog gone thing happened at the building last night, the doorman would say to his wife. I let in this woman to clean up 10-F and she never came out, see? She never there more than an hour. But she never came out, see? So when it get time for me to get off duty, I says to Crimmack in the elevator, I says what the hell you suppose happened to the woman that cleans 10-F? He says he didn't know. He says he never seen her after he took her up.

So I spoke to Mr. Grammage about it. Sorry to bother you, Mr. Grammage, I says, but there's something funny about that woman that cleans 10-F. So I told him - he said we better have a look. And we all three goes up, knocks on the door, rings the bell, see, and nobody answers.

So he said we'd have to walk in. So Crimmack opened the door and we walked in. And there was this woman, cleans the apartment, dead as a herring on the floor, and the gentleman that lives there was in a box.

The cleaning woman kept looking at me. It was hard for me to realize she wasn't dead. It's a form of escape, I murmured. What say, she asked dully? You don't know of any large packing boxes, do you, I asked? No, I don't, she said.

I haven't found one yet. But I still have this overpowering urge to hide in a box. Maybe it will go away. Maybe I'll be all right. Maybe it will get worse. It's hard to say.

So that's Countdown, portions written by James Thurber. I always wanted to say that. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.