'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
Video via MSNBC: Oddball
Guests: Ezra Klein, Jeff Rossen, Wendell Potter, Robert Reich, Michael Eric Dyson, Reese Halter
SAM SEDER, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Dire diagnosis: The uninsured in America now up to 50 million. Unemployment unchanged. And the cost of care more than anticipated. Is the government's condition critical when it comes to enacting health care reform?
Help wanted: In the wake of the latest great recession, American companies have created 1.4 million jobs - overseas. Had those jobs been made in the USA, unemployment rates would have dropped a full percentage point.
Personal foul: The right's latest attack on the president - how dare he commend the Philadelphia Eagles for giving Michael Vick a second chance?
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president has made this something vital enough to pick up the phone and make a phone call during Christmas vacation.
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SEDER: And, thousands may have been stranded by the snow, but it didn't stop the climate change skeptics from stirring up a storm.
All the news and commentary - now on Countdown.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still trying to spin the weather.
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SEDER: Good evening from New York. I'm Sam Seder, in for Keith Olbermann. This is Tuesday, December 28th, 679 days until the 2012 presidential election.
And the problem has worsened as high unemployment drags on. The remedy isn't yet working as well as it should, and the threat from the opposition is to kill it in its crib.
In our fifth story: health care and health care reform well on its way to becoming once again the defining political issue of the Obama presidency.
First, the problem: getting worse because of the great recession. The number of Americans without health care now exceeds 50 million - this according to a new report from the Kaiser Foundation. That's not just from newly unemployed Americans but also underemployed and temporary workers who never get health care through their employer.
More than 4 million Americans lost their health care coverage in 2009 alone according to that Kaiser report. One-fifth of nonelderly people are now uninsured.
And while some unemployed people can afford to retain health care coverage, more than half do not - this according to a study from Rutgers University.
Many of these people fall into a huge gap that still exists in the health care system. They aren't poor enough to receive Medicaid. They aren't old enough to receive Medicare. And parts of the health care reform that might help them have not yet kicked in.
Indeed, "The Washington Post" reports that one part of the health care reform law is so far attracting fewer people than expected, those high-risk pools. A temporary measure designed to provide insurance to people with pre-existing medical conditions until all insurance companies are required to accept such patients in 2014. But these high-risk pools are still fairly new. So part of the problem may be marketing. And now, some states have started to advertise their availability.
Another problem, according to the directors of these pools, is that some potential customers are skeptical about joining because of the uncertainty - the uncertainty over the fact that federal lawsuits and GOP lawmakers might try to kill health reform and health care.
Meantime, one of the great lies of the health care debate, the one about death panels, will get its chance at a new life - so to speak. End-of-life counseling will be available to some Americans because of a Medicare regulation, which means that patients who want their wishes honored can get advice on how to create an advanced directive, for example. But that kind of regulation may be exactly what Republicans plan to attack, even if they don't have the power to overturn it.
Under the Congressional Review Act, the House and Senate may pass resolutions of disapproval which would overrule any new regulation that they don't like. And while President Obama could obviously veto such a resolution, Republicans can use it as a political tool.
And regarding all those fired-up Republican congressmen, the ones who derided Obamacare, it turns out only five of them out of 242 GOP House members are willing to turn down their congressional health plans.
Congressman-elect Joe Walsh is one of them. The Tea Party favorite from a Chicago suburb has also turned down the congressional pension and retirement packages. Quoting Walsh, "I don't think congressmen should get pensions or cushy health care plans," but perhaps the former business consultant can simply afford to live without it.
Let's bring in "Washington Post" staff writer, "Newsweek" columnist and MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein.
Good evening, Ezra.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Sam.
SEDER: So these high-risk pools - are they, in fact, not working as expected, and can the issues that they're experiencing be fixed?
KLEIN: But definitely, they are not working as expected. High-risk pools in general don't work. They were a big part of John McCain's program in 2008. That's why a lot of people thought it wouldn't work. And they're not going to work now.
What you're basically doing is segregating the sick, often small-risk pools somewhere else. And ask yourself, I know health care pretty well, I don't know who I'd call to get into a high-risk pool tomorrow. Most people never heard of them. So, the first problem we have is that nobody knows there are high-risk pools, and that's why they have very, very few people signed up.
Two, they're not very well-funded. There's about $500 billion in the high-risk pools, and that level of funding, the premiums are very high. You're going to high risk pool. They say you need to pay $600 a month.
You don't have it. You don't have health care insurance.
So, they can be fixed with more money, but the real way they're going to fix them is we're going to get passed this sort of little patchwork stuck up attempts get into 2014 and if this bill is repealed, the actual provisions and actual pieces of it meant to fix this problem will come into effect and then, we will get past this problem.
SEDER: That "if" is starting to feel a little bit bigger. But - so, let me ask you this: these high-risk pools, they were supposed to be a temporary measure. They're filling the stopgap between 2014, like you said.
Was there something better that could be done here? I mean, was the answer simply to just start health care reform now, or was there another patch that could have worked better?
KLEIN: That would have been better. The reality is it's very, very, very hard in the current system unless you really do something new to it to deal with the problem of sick people. Insurers won't take them, and if you only have sick people on their own in an insurance plan, the premiums are incredibly high. So, there isn't a great fix except for fixing the health care system.
You could have had health care starting much quicker. The Medicare prescription drug benefit started much faster than health reform did. There are a lot of reasons for that. Some have to do with trying to get it right, and some have to do with moving around in the Congressional Budget Office. They figured they needed to get it under $1 trillion on the first 10 years, and that meant starting it in essentially the fourth year of the first 10 years.
KLEIN: So, they played a little bit of a game with the price tag and it's hurting people.
SEDER: And so - all right. If you had a sense that these high-risk pools were going to be a problem, are there other elements or other patchwork stopgaps that may in some way also raise a red flag for you?
KLEIN: Yes. You've been hearing about some of this. It's not that they're bad. The high-risk pools are helping people. They're not working as well as we might have wanted them to, but they're helping people.
We put a lot of smaller regulations on insurers. We didn't say you have to accept all sick people, but you have to accept all sick kids, for instance. And when you do that without other things, like for instance the individual mandate, which make sure that healthy people are in the pool, it just raises costs, it brings sick people in and it doesn't bring anyone else along with them. So, the average premium goes up.
So, there are a bunch of those, and you've been seeing stories where this or that company says under the new regulations my health care plan either will become too expensive or it won't work. When the actual bill comes into effect fully in 2014, a lot of that will stop happening. They'll be subsidized options. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that market's effect on the individual and small business mainly, premiums are going to drop very precipitously, 20 percent to 30 percent.
But until then, what we have, it's not that it will make things particularly worse. It's just not going to do enough to make them better, and, frankly, things are bad enough that we need a lot to make them better.
SEDER: And they've sort of become a political liability, right? I mean, this is - this is going to be fodder for Republicans, isn't it? I mean, when they want to attack the health care reform.
KLEIN: Every little thing that goes wrong, whether it's a problem with health care reform or not, whether it's your company raised premiums because that's what they were going to do anyway, or there was a provision that made them raise their premiums because a provision wasn't well designed, or maybe their health care plan wasn't well-designed, is going to be blamed on health care reform. Democrats are going to eat it on this for a little while.
On the bright side, if they can survive until 2014, there are going to be 30-some million people who get coverage and many, many more beyond that who get break, who get protections, and Democrats are going to get blamed for that, too. But for now, the Democratic Party has to be able to hold strong on this and has to be able to protect this plan, and much more importantly, implement it effectively so that they can get to the point where it actually begins delivering its primary benefits to the American people.
SEDER: "Washington Post's" Ezra Klein - many thanks.
KLEIN: Thank you.
SEDER: All right. Let's turn to Wendell Potter, a former health insurance industry executive and now a senior fellow for the Center of Media and Democracy; also author of "Deadly Spin."
Good evening, Wendell.
WENDELL POTTER, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY: Hi, Sam.
SEDER: Well, let's begin where we left off with Ezra. Does the patchwork nature of health care reform lend itself to the kind of problems that these high-risk pools are experiencing?
POTTER: Well, yes, because the Democrats felt that they had to begin patching up the system that we had, which is a health insurance system that is very unfair and very expensive. And, so, consequently, we have a patchwork and a Band-Aid, actually, until 2014, when the changes are up and running, when the bill is - or this law is fully implemented. And also, until the Medicaid program can be expanded to include people who are up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
SEDER: And, you know, when we talk about it as patchwork, we're talking about it in broad policy terms. But the fact of the matter is that there are actually people whose lives are going to be saved because of this, aren't there?
POTTER: Oh, yes, absolutely. And 45,000 people die every year because they don't have health insurance. And this will bring a lot of people into coverage. So, hopefully, that number will start to come down. Unfortunately, until this bill is fully implemented, we may see that actually creep up.
SEDER: Now, some of these state directors of these pools cited uncertainty in terms of whether or not health care reform was going to be attacked or disassembled by lawsuit, that it was scaring off some potential customers. So, has the Republicans' attempts to delegitimize or defund this law, it actually has had a real effect in keeping people from enjoying the benefits of this benefit.
POTTER: Oh, it absolutely has. It's been demagoguery from the beginning of the debate through the midterm campaigns and fearmongering. And the fearmongering has really made people afraid of reform and turned many people who can benefit from this legislation against it and made them fearful of it and skeptical of it. And again, as we said just a moment ago, this is - there are deadly consequences to this.
SEDER: Now, one prominent conservative, Charles Krauthammer, has suggested that Republicans not try to defund the health care law but instead essentially hold show hearings and point out its defects. Is that another problem for Democrats? I mean, given the complexity of the law, can it make it hard to explain to the average citizen?
POTTER: Yes. And that's exactly what I predicted they would be doing. There will be show hearings, and the Democrats should be working right now in anticipation of what the Republicans will be saying and what the insurance industry will be saying before friendly committee chairs.
What we will be seeing will be a lot of spin actually written by people like I used to be, the spinmeisters for the insurance industry, feeding the talking points to the committee chairs. So, we'll be hearing things like what we need are commonsense market-based solutions and insurance companies need to have greater flexibility to design plans that give us more choice.
So, the Democrats need to counter that kind of spin, which is not at all - which will be used to disguise the real intention of what the insurance industry really wants.
SEDER: Yes, and I just want to turn for a minute on this issue of the end-of-life care counseling. Just to be clear - why don't you explain to us exactly what that is and why any patient would want that?
POTTER: Well, as someone who lost his father just about three weeks ago, I can tell you how important this is. My dad was 93, and a few years ago, he and my mother did go forward to have advanced directives so that when he was at the end of his life, we knew exactly - his treating physicians knew exactly what he wanted.
And this legislation with the regulation or the resolution will do just that, which was not able to be included in the legislation because of opposition from the demagoguery of the Republicans. It will enable doctors to be reimbursed for providing that counseling to people when they want to have a conversation about their end-of-life care.
SEDER: Yes, and this is actually going to be a result of essentially executive - of the administration's regulation -
SEDER: - that sort of piggybacks on the legislation.
POTTER: That's right.
SEDER: Well, former Cigna executive and author of "Deadly Spin," Wendell Potter - many thanks for your time tonight.
POTTER: Thank you.
SEDER: Joe Miller's last best hope for that Alaska Senate seat ended today. A federal judge dismissed his lawsuit and lifted the stay that blocked Alaska from certifying the election. The judge rejected Miller's claim that the state's method for counting write-in votes violated the federal constitution. Miller had argued that state law required voters to spell the write-in candidate's name correctly and abbreviations weren't allowed.
The state Supreme Court had already unanimously ruled against him. Alaska is now free to certify Lisa Murkowski as the winner. Murkowski won the election by more than 10,000 votes. This court declines to second-guess the highest court of the state, the judge said.
Joe Miller may not have the job he wanted, but American companies are creating jobs, enough to move the unemployment numbers down. Just not in this country. Next.
SEDER: Here's a thought: American companies created 1.4 million jobs this year. Not in America. What that could have done to the unemployment rate - next.
Plus, why what the president said about Michael Vick is giving people something to talk about instead of snow.
And the more the right denies climate change, the more it seems to change. The snowstorm is proof. Coming up.
SEDER: As the government changes how it will measure unemployment in this country, finally, some good news to report on the job front.
In our fourth story: with profits up and the market holding steady, American companies are adding jobs - in Europe and Asia.
One-point-four million jobs have been created overseas in the past year, compared to fewer than a million jobs domestically and, according to the Economic Policy Institute, if all those jobs had been added here, the unemployment rate would have dropped almost a full percentage point from 9.8 percent to 8.9 percent.
To further illustrate, researchers at the Asian Development Bank Institute break down the numbers. Let's say you buy an iPhone from Apple. Its wholesale price is about 179 bucks. About $61 goes to Japanese workers for some - for making some of the parts, 30 bucks to workers in Germany, and 23 to workers in South Korea for other parts, and $6 to Chinese workers for putting the iPhone together.
After workers elsewhere around the world take their share, American workers, primarily researchers and designers, are left making $11 off that same iPhone for that same American company, Apple.
This as the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announces it will change how it evaluates long-term unemployment. Currently, the cap on how long a person is counted as being without a job is two years. But starting this Saturday, January 1st, the monthly jobs report will show how many people have been without jobs for up to five years. The change will not affect how the unemployment rate is calculated, but it will make figures more accurate.
As one BLS spokesperson says, "We realize more and more people are unemployed longer than 99 weeks. So, we need to break it down further."
But what about those forced into early retirement because they can't find a job? "The Associated Press" reporting that many baby boomers are headed for financial disaster because they have not adequately saved for retirement. With traditional plans being phased out, more boomers are relying on the stock market as well as the price of their homes, which have dropped in value.
In 2011, just a few days from now, more than 10,000 boomers a day will turn 65, a rate that will continue for the next 19 years.
Time now to call in Robert Reich, labor secretary in the Clinton administration, now professor at U.C. Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and the author of "Aftershock: The Next Economy in America's Future."
Great thanks for your time tonight.
ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Good evening, Sam.
SEDER: Now, first, what are the implications of all these baby boomers retiring in terms of Social Security?
REICH: Well, Social Security does have enough money to pay for all of these baby boomers. After all, Social Security, money comes out of the general fund. I used to be a trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund, and I can tell you, regardless of whatever happens, we have as a nation a duty, a law that says that Social Security's going to be paid.
SEDER: And, in fact, the - Alan Greenspan chaired a committee back in the '80s anticipating this demographic bump, wasn't that right?
REICH: That's right. And one of the problems, Sam, is that so much money has been concentrated at the very top of the income ladder in recent years, much more than Alan Greenspan anticipated, that the cutoff of income to which Social Security, payroll taxes are applicable, actually is a little bit too low relative to what Social Security officially needs in order to maintain solvency.
So, probably one of the reforms we're going to see over the next few years, I hope not actually raising the age of eligibility - I hope it's actually raising the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes.
SEDER: And when we're at a time when there's so many people in their 50s who are unemployed and may not be able to get back into the job - the job market, I mean, it's unlikely to happen. But wouldn't it be a good idea to actually lower the eligibility for Social Security retirement?
REICH: It might be, Sam. In fact, a lot of people right now are saying that the eligibility age for Social Security retirement, given the depth of our continuing jobs recession - and this jobs recession does continue - maybe should be lowered so that you create openings for younger people coming into the job market who right now don't have a chance because there are so many older people clogging up the pipes, as it were.
SEDER: And so, let's talk about these new parameters for long-term unemployment. Why doesn't it affect the unemployment rate?
REICH: Because the unemployment rate really is based upon how many people are actively looking for work at a given time in a given month. And many people have been unemployed for two years or more, they've given up. They essentially are too discouraged to even look for work, so they are not normally considered as part of that most recent figure, which is 9.8 percent.
If you figured all of the people who are too discouraged to look for work and many of them, again, have been unemployed for more than two years or three years - that 9.8 percent would be much higher.
SEDER: And so, what will counting those who have been jobless for longer than those two years tell us about the recovery? Will we see - will we see the recovery in those people? Or are those people just basically out of the job market?
REICH: Well, hopefully those people will be back in the job market someday. But the longer you're out of the job market, the harder it is to get back into the job market, partly because employers are kind of suspicious if somebody's been out a long time. What are you doing? What have you been doing? Also because some of the habits and some of the practices of being connected to the job market are lost after two or three or four years.
Those people, though, being counted is very important because it gives us a much more accurate picture of how many people actually are out there unemployed for a long period of time, needing perhaps all sorts of assistance like extended unemployment benefits.
SEDER: You wrote recently that history will record 2010 as the year Washington became business-friendly. That's not the conventional narrative. We're watching Obama trying to bend over backwards for business. Why do you see it differently?
REICH: Well, businesses actually did quite well in 2010. In fact, profitability has soared. The biggest American companies are now sitting on over $1 trillion worth of cash. Their profitability came mostly from selling abroad, selling in rapidly growing markets like China and India and Brazil, and also from keeping their American payrolls down or cutting their American payrolls directly.
That means we're seeing a real disconnect for the first time I think ever in terms of a recovery - so-called recovery - a disconnect between corporate profits, which are going way up, and jobs, which are not going way up here in the United States.
SEDER: And, in fact - I mean, that's exactly - I mean, the fact that these businesses are sitting on all that money, tax cuts is not going to spur their hiring, right? I mean, what we need now is demand.
REICH: Exactly. I mean, supply-siders, people on the conservative right who say all we need is more tax cuts for the wealthy and for big corporations are not taking account of the fact that big corporations have as much money as they need. There is nothing constraining them in terms of hiring people except for the fact they're worried there's not enough market. People don't have enough money in their pockets here in the United States to buy the goods and services that would justify more hiring.
SEDER: Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Clinton -
many thanks for your time tonight.
REICH: Thanks, Sam.
SEDER: The president thinks that giving Michael Vick a second chance was good call. This raised a stink. Guys, is it that slow a news week?
SEDER: Obama applauds the Eagles' owner for giving Michael Vick a second chance. The right, predictably, gets upset - next.
But, first, it's a big day for birthdays. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee was born today, as was Oscar winner Denzel Washington and former President Woodrow Wilson. And in another sort of birthday on this day in 1846, Iowa was established as the 29th state, which, 143 years later, caused a few problems, when a group of dead baseball players confused it for heaven.
Let's play "Oddball."
SEDER: We begin in Australia where Hugh Jackman creates the cricket version of the Hans moment classic man getting hit by football. The ball. His groin. It works on so many levels.
After a few minutes, Hugh was finally able to recover, even knocked the next pitch out of the park. Still, he needs to do a better job protecting his wicket.
From down under to up north; you will recall a few months ago, Sarah Palin ran into some problems with words, Tweeting the word "refudiate" after saying it several times on air. Now, we all had a good laugh at her lack of spell-checking. But on Sunday's episode of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," we got the real story. And it turns out the joke was on us.
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SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Oh, geez. Yesterday, I Twittered the word "refudiate" instead of repudiate. I pressed an F instead of a D and people freaked out. Now we're saying, no, no, no, the English language is a moving, breathing, evolving art. I can invent a word.
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SEDER: Yes. Apparently she confused the F with the D key in her attempt to type the word redudiate. Still not a real word, but her correction obligates us to re-redudiate our assumption that she was constrained by the English language. She's far to mavericky for that.
Finally, we got to Atayaman (ph), Turkey, with a warning for all you dare devils out there who cross the street against the Do-Not-Walk Sign. Don't try that in front of a truck. Unseen by the driver, Bicare Ozan (ph) is forced to sprint ahead of the truck to avoid being run over. Eventually, some witnesses were able to yell at the driver get him to slow down and eventually stop.
Mr. Ozan escaped with minor injuries and a newfound sense of his top sprinting speed.
Michael Vick's second chance after prison and the president's acknowledgment that second chances are a good thing. Why the right thinks it's a bad thing, next.
SEDER: I know the following statement will be tough for some of you to swallow, but tonight, there's shock and outrage coming from Fox News over something the president did. In our third story, the White House has confirmed the president called the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles in part to congratulate him for giving a second chance to an ex-convict.
The right-wing noise machine is asking, un-ironically, is that presidential? Sunday, Peter King of NBC Sports and "Sports Illustrated" reported the phone call between Eagles' owner Jeffrey Lurie and the president. According to Lurie, one topic discussed was his team's decision to sign quarterback Michael Vick. The owner said the president told him, quote, "so many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. And it's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. He was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall."
Vick's downfall, of course, came due to his involvement in running an illegal dog fighting ring. A federal judge found that Vick played an active role in killing pit bulls at his Virginia home and sentenced him to two years in federal prison.
Last year, after serving his time, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Vick to a two-year contract. President Obama has been vocal in his support of second chances for convicted felons. In January, he called for more funding for the Second Chances Act, a federal effort to help prisoners transition from jail to jobs. The act was signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm about to sign a piece of legislation that will help give prisoners across America a second chance for a better life.
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SEDER: The White House yesterday confirmed that the Obama/Lurie phone call took place, emphasizing that the president condemns Mr. Vick's crimes. According to Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, the president also talked to the Eagles owner about the green technology being used in his team's stadium. Today, because that's what they do, Fox News got outraged.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it is controversial that the president has made this something vital enough to pick up the phone and make a phone call about during Christmas vacation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's almost a year ago where the Christmas day bomber almost blew up his crotch and blow up the plane, and the president really didn't speak about that for a couple days before. But this is something he had to make a phone call about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some feel this is not presidential. Let us know what you think.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The criticism is to specifically praise giving Michael Vick this kind of a chance in some way excuses, perhaps, what Michael Vick did, or sends some sort of a message to people that it's not that bad.
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SEDER: You know, I know a president who actually excused what an ex-felon did. Scooter Libby, convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury relating to the outing of CIA Agent Valerie Plame, has - now has a nice cushy job as senior vice president at the Hudson Institute, a job he might never have gotten if President Bush hadn't commuted his prison sentence.
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BUSH: Scooter is a loyal American who worked for Vice President Cheney, who got caught up in a - in this Valerie Plame case and was indicted and convicted. And I chose to commute his sentence. I felt he had paid enough of a penalty.
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SEDER: Joining me now is Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University, and author of "Can You Hear Me Now? The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson."
Dr. Dyson, welcome.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Thank you, my friend, for having me.
SEDER: First off, to make it clear, no one's condoning the crimes that Michael Vick committed. But tell me if I'm wrong here. In the media, at least, it seems to me there appears to be two standards for two different crimes and for two different presidents.
DYSON: You're absolutely right. No one is excusing the crimes. Mr. Obama, President Obama, made it clear that he condemned the crime. Anybody with any reasonable sense of justice would condemn the crime, as Mr. Vick himself has done.
But, on the other hand, Scooter Libby was involved in national security interests by outing a sitting CIA agent, Valerie Plame. You know, if you don't know about it, go see the movie, read the book, read two of the books that are out by her husband, Joseph Wilson, ambassador, and Valerie Plame, and you'll see how Scooter Libby did a great disservice to national security.
Yet, this is being swept away and modified under the impetus of the Republicans' assault upon President Obama for saying, look, Michael Vick served his time; he did a wrong thing; he admitted his crime; he's continually admitting his crime; and now he's gone on to do well. Isn't this what America is about? Second chances, redemption, and the possibility of coming back after having been let down or letting other people down? So I think this is much ado about nothing.
SEDER: Right. But, you know, in a general sense, you know, of course, there are a lot of people out of work. But there is a cycle that repeats itself for ex-convicts. And that cycle has ripple effects across communities, regardless of the unemployment rate. Do you think the president's doing enough to address that?
DYSON: Well, he has to do more. I think that he called for more funding for the Second Chances Act. That's important. President Bush, as you've just indicated, signed that. I think Mr. Obama, President Obama, has to really take hold of this issue. The disparity between sentencing for powder cocaine and crack cocaine led to this three strikes and you're out under a Democratic president, President Clinton.
And I think that under Mr. Holder, the attorney general, we've tried to address that. And President Obama, of course, has stood behind those efforts. But I think we have to be more aggressive. Most people are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, who have been in prison, especially in these African-American and poor communities.
So it stands to reason that if you've got a person in jail who is seeking now, after coming out of jail, to get a job and gainful employment, if they're being prevented from gainful employment, that rebounds negative upon the community.
First of all, what options do they have left except to engage in an act of recidivism, returning to a former act of criminality, which does bad for all of us. And secondly, it doesn't take advantage of the services and skills they may be able to render.
So I think it's horrendous. And I think President Obama needs to be a bit more aggressive about pushing this forward, to suggest that those who are capable of rendering active service in the American employment scene need to contribute, and will solve two - will kill two birds with one stone.
SEDER: Right. Now, let me ask you, what do you think personally of how Michael Vick has comported himself since he's left prison? I mean, he's -
DYSON: He's exemplary. He's an amazing human being. I think that Michael Vick has taken continual responsibility for what he did wrong. And you can see a growing sensitivity toward the fact that initially he thought, well, look, I did something wrong, I got busted, I got caught, I would have lied before. But you see a deepening awareness in him, working with Tony Dungy, with his spectacular lawyer, Billy Martin.
I think that the team that they assembled around him has made him understand that what he did was wrong. Then Donovan McNabb reaching out, along with Andy Reid, and then convincing Jeffrey Lurie to give a second chance to Michael Vick. And let's be real. Giving a second chance to Michael Vick becomes a no-brainer, especially because he's an athletic genius. But his character has also been reformed.
So Michael Vick is seeking to measure and to create an equivalent between the athletic genius he displays on the gridiron and the humanity and integrity that he displays off of it. I think he's done an extraordinary job and needs to be commended.
SEDER: We can't really expect more from him. I mean, this is exactly what we want the penal system to do, right, to reform people.
DYSON: Absolutely. And Presidents, you know, Obama and Bush and many presidents before them have excused people who have done horrendous things. And every day people have excused people. Look at what happened with Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused twice of raping a woman and served six weeks out, and is now back playing football, not nearly the cry. If you hurt and harm a female, who is a human being, it seems that you are exempt from some of the scrutiny that is applied to hurting dogs.
And I think that even though it was horrendous and atrocious what Michael Vick did, let's also say that we have to be concerned about and careful about being concerned about women in this culture, as well. I think that's what we need to pay attention to, as well.
SEDER: Excellent point. Michael Eric Dyson, sociology professor at Georgetown University, thanks for your time tonight.
DYSON: Thanks for having me on.
SEDER: If it snowed in New York City and nobody seemed to be plowing the streets, would it - oh, wait. That happened.
And whenever it snows, the deniers call it proof that global warming is a myth. But this year's snowstorm actually means it's happening.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, part two of her look back at the 2010, the year that should have been just another midterm.
SEDER: It was the most severe blizzard to hit the East Coast in four year, stranding commuters and holiday travelers inside their homes, on the road, and at airports. Our number-two story tonight, Snowpocalypse 2010 continues to wreak havoc, as local governments throughout the region struggle to deal with the aftermath of the storm.
Newark Mayor Corey Booker began taking aid requests from homebound residents via Twitter. Here he is yesterday personally delivering diapers to a woman who couldn't make it out to the store.
In New York, the city's famously busy streets have slowed to a near halt, as snow piles have made navigating the sidewalks a daunting task. And if you think clear skies means flights are back to normal, NBC's Jeff Rossen would like to set you straight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ROSSEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day of snow, a week's worth of headaches from the northeast and beyond.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just found out our flight was canceled. We can't get out until after our return flight was supposed to get us back to New York. So they can't get us out until Friday.
ROSSEN: Some passengers have camped out here for three days. This woman just found out she'll be sleeping here again tonight. So she tried to rebook.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Busy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now he's busy.
ROSSEN: Flights are finally taking off and landing, but not fast enough. In New York alone, 3,000 passengers were stuck today. And in the northeast, about 900 flights were canceled.
MIKE PANGIA, AVIATION EXPERT: It's like a domino effect. Once you cancel flights in one area, planes can't get to other cities, even if the other cities are not affected by snow.
ROSSEN: Today, travelers in Orlando felt the pain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just a nightmare. I mean, I was talking to everybody trying to find directions. You know, no hotels were available.
ROSSEN: And in Atlanta.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you call the airline, everyone is on the phone. So you wait for, like, half an hour in order to get to someone.
ROSSEN: And in Milwaukee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was such a mess, and there were so many people in there, like, screaming and crying.
ROSSEN: Passengers on a Cathay Pacific flight sat on the tarmac at JFK for nearly eight hours, no food, no water, no bathrooms.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every time the captain updated us, which he tried to do about every hour, all he could say was I don't have any additional information for you.
ROSSEN: Experts say it could be after new year's before flights are back on schedule.
No great shakes outside the airport either. On the streets of New York City, hundreds of buses stuck. Thousands of cars buried.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By now it should be clean, right? And it's not.
It's still here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god.
ROSSEN: In this home video posted on Youtube -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: are you out of your mind?
ROSSEN: New York City workers are towing a plow caught on camera smashing a parked SUV in Brooklyn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?
ROSSEN: The sanitation department tells NBC News this is common during snowstorms, and the car's owner will likely be paid for the damage. Now with intersections still resembling sledding hills, anger is building.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mayor Bloomberg, shame on you!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course I'm angry. I pay taxes like everybody else. Why should we not get services?
ROSSEN: New York's mayor responded.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: We won't get to everybody every time. We will make mistakes. Yelling about it and complaining doesn't help.
SEDER: That was NBC's Jeff Rossen reporting. If you thought the weather was bad, wait for the high-pressure system coming in from the right. With climate change deniers, it's not the heat; it's the stupidity.
SEDER: The New York City Fox affiliate reported last night that this week's snowstorm was the city's fifth heaviest snowfall based on inches of snow recorded in Central Park. Only one of the top five, back in 1947, was not from the past 15 years. January 1996, fourth heaviest, February of this year, third heaviest, February of 2006, heaviest on record.
In our number-one story tonight, you know what time it is when winter's first snowfall comes along. It's time for the right-wing global warming deniers to get their chuckle on. The Fox gang reacting to the storm, claiming right on cue that cold weather pours hot water on global warming.
Our next guest will explain why snowfalls can actually get worse during global warming. But first, we wanted to explain the technical meteorological reasons that storms like this fuel global warming denial. For that report, let's go to our Countdown meteorologist, Sam Seeder. Sam?
Thanks, Sam. Now, this is Sunday's storm right over the northeast, dropping more than two feet of snow in some regions. But then we got a high-pressure system coming in from the energy-producing states, specifically lobbing pressure that emanates from companies that stand to lose money if we actually go green.
This effect is known as the Koch Brothers, sometimes referred to as Los Armanos (ph). Now, combine that with a strong front of ignorance sweeping up from down south. And keep in mind, on their best day, you're looking at 60, 65 percent stupidity levels down there. And that gives you a strong chance of thunder and prevarication. And it just sits right on top here and hangs there.
And, of course, you get that current of blustery hot air out of just one radio studio in Palm Beach, Florida. And that gust actually controls an entire stream of Republican lawmakers, leading all the way up to Washington, D.C., and creating an entire system spinning counter-fact-wise.
Keep in mind, with the chilling factor on the mainstream media, it's going to feel several degrees stupider than it already is. So, please, folks, bundle up. Back to you, Sam.
Countdown meteorologist Sam Seder, thanks for that report, Sam.
As promised, here to explain why global warming equals bigger snowstorms, conservation biologist Reese Halter, the author of "Wild Weather, the Truth About Global Warming."
Thanks for joining us tonight.
REESE HALTER, AUTHOR, "WILD WEATHER": Good evening, Sam.
SEDER: So, let's start with the obvious. Global warming's real. It's happening. So why have we seen two of New York's biggest snowfalls ever this year?
HALTER: Well, imagine going into your kitchen, walking up to your refrigerator, opening up the freezer, leaving the door open. The motor would ramp up, get warm, as the Arctic has. And the cold air would continue to spill out, eventually cooling our kitchen.
That's what's happening. Couple that will with a high-pressure system in the mid-latitudes pulling that icy cold polar air all the way down to Miami. Mix it with the precipitation from the Atlantic, and voila, we've got our storms in NYC.
SEDER: So does that mean that some of the areas of the Earth are going to become colder forever? Or does this all even out over time? Or help me out here, what happens?
HALTER: Well, you know, as - the deal is we're missing an incredible amount of ice in the Arctic, for instance, and also the Antarctic. Let's stick with the Arctic, because that's closer to home here; 770,000 square miles this September were missing. That's 100,000 square miles bigger than Sarah Palin's Alaska. All right?
Also, the ocean is warming up two degrees. The Arctic Ocean is two degrees warmer. In biology, that's huge. Our friends, the iconic Spiraled Narwalls have told us that.
So instead of that air being bottled up - the jet stream usually moves west to east - it is spilling and pouring out. And look what's happened in the UK. They've had the coldest December ever.
SEDER: So NASA expects 2010 to be the hottest year on record. If that means a few days off from work, a few blizzards, maybe a couple more days of sun, what difference does it make?
HALTER: Oh, look, it's huge. Our oceans - let's look at the oceans.
Forty percent of the phytoplankton, the base of the food chain, is missing. That phytoplankton pulls at least a quarter of the rising CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Let's look on land. In the Amazon in 2005, we had a one in 100-year drought; 500 million trees were blown over in a wicked storm. And 2010, five years later, we've got another 100-year drought event.
If we look in America, our - the fourth largest forest cover on Earth, in Arizona, in Idaho, in Wyoming and Colorado, our forests, instead of being sinks, that is pulling the CO2 out, are sources; billions of trees are dead from bark beetles. We've got problems, Sam.
SEDER: Well, that doesn't look too - doesn't sound too inviting. I appreciate your time here. Conservation biologist Dr. Reese Halter, thank you for joining us. Very scary.
HALTER: Thank you.
SEDER: That's December 28th. I'm Sam Seder, in for Keith Olbermann. You can hear more from me daily, Monday through Friday, on "The Majority Report" at Majority.fm. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" is next.
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