'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, September 9th, 2011
Guest host: Sam Seder
watch whole playlist
#5 'Already Running', Craig Crawford
#5 'Already Running', Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II
#4 'Blocking the Vote', Ari Berman
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Signed, Sealed, Indebted', Allison Kilkenny
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#2 Gov. Susana Martinez and hypocrisy
#1 'Out of Orbit', Derrick Pitts
printable PDF transcript
SAM SEDER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Pushing for jobs or re-election? The president follows up his bicameral speech with a pep rally that looks suspiciously like a campaign event, but after talking about cutting Medicare, what's left in the stump speech?
Lindsey Graham can see into the future.
(Excerpt from video clip) LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thirty states have some form of voter ID requirement, so I think this is the future of the country, something we should embrace at the federal level.
SEDER: And Senator Graham's future, if Republican states legislate voters suppression, why can't the federal government?
Check's in the mail. The Post Office teeters on the brink of bankruptcy after a poison pill was passed in 2006 by a Republican-controlled Congress. Neither rain nor shine, but budget crisis?
(Excerpt from video clip) ANTOINE DODSON: Hide your kids. Hide you wife.
SEDER: A six-ton satellite is on the verge of plummeting to Earth. Where? Well, NASA isn't exactly sure, but they were able to calculate the odds of it hitting a person. So, the question becomes, Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?
And the touching story of a granddaughter of undocumented immigrants who rises through the ranks to become a governor, a governor who wants to deport all illegal immigrants. Bye-bye, grandma.
All that and more, now, on "Countdown."
(Excerpt from video clip) ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Hasta la vista, baby.
SEDER: Good evening from New York. This is Friday, September 9th, 424 days until the 2012 presidential election. I am Sam Seder sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
After a rousing appearance in front of a joint session of Congress Thursday to announce his $474 billion American Jobs Act, President Obama staged a rousing rally today to drive support for his American Jobs Act.
The fifth story on "Countdown," President Obama in full campaign mode, trying to sell his Jobs Act and his 2012 re-election campaign. In Ohio, Tuesday, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, Wednesday and Richmond, Virginia, this morning -- home district to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The president taking the stage before 8,000 cheering supporters, urging them to get behind his plan and push Congress to do the same.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: Tell your congressperson, the time for gridlock and games is over. Prove you will fight as hard for tax cuts for workers and middle class people as you do for oil companies and rich folks. Pass this bill. Let's get something done!
SEDER: Congressman Cantor has done whatever he can to keep the president from getting anything done, even so Mr. Obama had some kind words for his adversary.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: I was glad to hear some Republicans, including your congressman, say that they're -- they got -- they see room for us to work together. They said that they're open to some of the proposals to create American jobs.
SEDER: While Cantor said he could support the president on tax relief for small businesses, cutting red tape and other measures, he didn't like the threat that he packed them with.
(Excerpt from video clip) ERIC CANTOR: I think what I took is certainly the substance of the speech had in it some policies that both of us, on both sides, can work on. I did also hear the fact that if you don't pass my bill, I will hold you accountable, and my response to that is, the my-way-or-the-highway approach doesn't work.
SEDER: So, what will work to create jobs for the millions of Americans who need them? The president offering a payroll tax cut for workers worth $175 billion, one for businesses costing $65 billion, $50 billion for transportation infrastructure, $49 billion for unemployment insurance, $35 billion in aid to states and cities, another $25 billion to rebuild schools, $8 billion to help the long-term unemployed find jobs, and $5 billion for youth jobs and training. Despite Cantor's compliments and a pledge by House Republican leaders to seek common ground, the GOP has begun demonizing the Jobs Act using their favorite word for the president's efforts to boost the economy: stimulus, as in failed stimulus. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, said he wasn't impressed.
(Excerpt from video clip) PAUL RYAN: I don't think it's going to do a lot for growth. All this stimulus hasn't worked. It's temporary. It gives you a debt hangover at the end of the day, and so I'd like to see if we can focus on maybe some more of the corporate tax reforms stuff.
SEDER: House Republican Policy Committee Chair Tom Price called the speech desperate and didn't think much of the payroll tax cut for workers.
(Excerpt from audio clip) TOM PRICE: From a policy standpoint, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's a good nugget from a rhetorical standpoint for the class warfare that he seems intent on fighting.
SEDER: And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, claiming the president's first stimulus cost 1.7 million jobs said, "Americans have 1.7 million reasons to oppose another stimulus." The majority of American voters who want Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid untouched might have their own reasons to oppose the president's plan, given his willingness to cut social insurance for the rest of his plan.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: It's a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts, by making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and by reforming our tax code.
SEDER: Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California said she likes much of what she heard from Mr. Obama, but not all.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAXINE WATERS: I worry a little bit about what he's going to do with Medicare and whether or not he's going to cut Medicaid in order to help pay for this.
SEDER: One thing we know for certain, she's not alone. I'm joined now by Craig Crawford, who blogs on politics at craigcrawford.com and is the author of "The Politics of Life." Welcome, Craig.
CRAIG CRAWFORD: Good evening, Sam.
SEDER: So, Craig, tell me, what do you think about the Jobs Act as described by the president last night, given that you wrote in your blog, "Where is it?"
CRAWFORD: Yeah. It's like, you know, pass what right away? Well, we have right now -- there were some details in his speech, but it was a little hard to decipher. So, all we really have a 34-minute speech and a bunch of anonymous briefings with chosen reporters with a few details, here and there, and we're not going to get -- probably be two weeks before we get the whole package, including how they're going to pay for it. But, in the meantime, I think there was some poker-game tactics there on both sides for the president. In other words, it makes it harder for Republicans to attack it, in the first couple of days after the speech, if they don't know what's in it, and it doesn't disappoint Liberals yet because they haven't seen what's in it.
SEDER: I mean, that's the thing that we're anticipating might disappoint Liberals, right, is how we pay for this? I mean, when the president starts talking about things like Medicare and Medicaid?
CRAWFORD: Yeah. Yeah, and I don't know why he had to put the Medicare and Medicaid language in there because it was going so well with his base, to bring that up. You know, back when the House Republicans, they passed the privatizing Medicare plan, I actually thought the House might have a chance. The House Democrats might have the a chance to win back the House with that great sledgehammer, but the president has sorted of robbed that from them because he keeps talking about it.
SEDER: Right. I mean, it makes it that much harder to run as the protectors of Medicare when this is sitting on the table.
CRAWFORD: Yeah, and that was a plea to Independent voters to say, this is going to be paid for. He's so defensive about being called a big-spending Socialist, like so many of the Republicans do that he puts that kind of language in there. The trouble on both sides, really, is presidents win by winning the Independent voters, but there are House members, in particular, they have to win those hard, partisan voters, and so that -- there's a split there sometimes in the agenda of the president, and his own party's House members, and that's what we're seeing here.
SEDER: In his speech last night, the president said he's going to go across the country, and we saw him in full campaign mode today. Is it -- do you expect this is what we are going to be seeing from him right up until election day in 2012?
CRAWFORD: You know, what I thought -- I really thought, during the speech last night, it was so strident and tough and insisting that it be passed right away. I mean, Keith pointed out last night, it was 16 times. You know, "pass this bill, pass it right away." I really thought at the end of the speech he might turn around and just hand the bill to Boehner. That would have been very effective. But out on the campaign trail, he is trying to keep the pressure on Republicans. I don't know what their strategy might be at the White House, but in my view, maybe the best thing that could happen to him is Republicans actually don't do anything, and he can run against them as the "do-nothing" Congress, Harry Truman style, and it's all their fault.
SEDER: Yeah, I mean, let's talk about that for a minute. I mean, what do you think the strategy -- I mean, what do you gain by holding -- by basically separating the idea of what's going to create jobs and the, sort of, draconian cuts or any of the cuts that he's talking about that people are going to have a problem with?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, I think the big problem with his approach, and it's a box he gets into over and over again, and it sometimes looks likes he talks left and then walks right. So, last night he was talking left. I think the next couple weeks we'll see him walk right, and that's because it's the only way he can get anything passed. But here's the problem, Robert Reich pointed out in The Huffington Post today, that okay, fine, if you have to water down your packages so much to get Republican votes, so much that they don't actually do any good, then what's the point? Why bother? Because, at the end of the day, you're not really helping the economy.
SEDER: I mean, when you ask about that question, why bother, I mean, does it sound like this is more about the 2012 campaign than it is about actually getting -- you know, ramming something through?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, I hate to say it, I think this is more about his job than anybody else's, 'cause I think they've just thrown in the towel on any kind of big program that, you know, a lot of economists talk about that would actually do any good. And so they're just ticking and tacking here, and trying to figure out how to avoid blame when unemployment doesn't go down. Although, I know some of their calculation is that this package is good enough to get unemployment down maybe a point, or a point and a half, something like that. Which would still be pretty high for a president to get re-elected, but if they can say, "Hey, look, it's going down. It worked," that would be their strategy.
SEDER: They'd be going in the right direction. Well, Craig Crawford, politics blogger at craigcrawford.com and author of "The Politics of Life," great to have you on the program.
CRAWFORD: Good to be here.
SEDER: For more on the president's speech and the start of his campaign to get the jobs act passed, more or less as he proposed it, I'm joined by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Representative Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri. Thank you for joining us tonight, Congressman.
EMANUEL CLEAVER: Good to be with you.
SEDER: So, give me your sense. What's your take on the Jobs Act? Is it really big enough to make a difference?
CLEAVER: Well, obviously, if I had designed the bill, I would have made it a bit larger. I would have left out the reference to Medicare and Medicaid. But there are 99 percent other components that I can embrace wholeheartedly, and I think that the president, understanding that he's trying to negotiate some legislation through the most pathologically partisan Congress in U.S. history is not, you know, going to just present something that will get all of the Democratic members' votes in the House and no Republican votes. And now, last evening, I was excited about the possibility that we would have some real negotiations going on and that there was a chance to get the president's jobs program approved. Today, it appears as if Republican leadership is moving back away from what I thought last night was a very cordial reception to what the president proposed. I am going to go out and support the president in this jobs program. There are some good things about it, particularly for the urban core because the President is talking about some targeted spending for the long-term unemployed. He's talking about the payroll tax holiday, 6.2 percent, would give the average American family about $1,500 a year and hopefully they can buy a refrigerator or stove or big-screen TV, whatever. In other words, we need some economic growth going, and I think that would happen, and small businesses, up to $5 million, you'd also have an opportunity to reduce your taxes by a 6.2 percent payroll tax. So I think that it's good. But, of course --
SEDER: Well, Congressman, let me ask you -- I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt.
CLEAVER: Sure. Sure. Go ahead.
SEDER: I mean, first off, we know that tax cuts like the payroll tax moratorium is not as stimulative as actual spending.
CLEAVER: I agree with that.
SEDER: Putting that aside because, obviously, he has got to, like you say, it's a pathologically partisan House that he's got to deal with. But are you concerned at all that by cutting -- by putting a moratorium on taxes that are meant for Social Security that it begins to undercut the argument that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit?
CLEAVER: I think it does. But I think in the final analysis, the president, at least based on my conversation with the administration officials, they are saying that they can do this in a way that will not damage, or otherwise put in jeopardy, Social Security. So, what I'm expecting over the next couple of weeks is the full plan. Now, remember the president only presented a broad outline. If there is no way to assure the Democrats in the House in particular that we can hold harmless Social Security, then I think you're going to see a little uneasiness in the House because Social Security -- the safety-net programs, including Medicare -- are extremely important to the aged. I sent out a letter four months ago, telling my constituents in Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri, and the suburban areas around it that I was going to hold fast to Medicare. Now, we've got to fix it and there are ways to fix it without damaging the benefits. And if that can be done --
SEDER: Congressman, I'm sorry. We just have a minute, but let me ask you.
SEDER: Would you support raising the Medicare eligibility age?
CLEAVER: I think that's something that we can consider, but not for this generation. You know, if we did it 10 years from now and factored in the savings, then I could do it, but just doing that right now, as many people are struggling trying to come out of this recession, I don't think I can support it.
SEDER: Well, Congressman, I gotta ask you, why would you support that even 10 years from now? I mean, there's no evidence it's going to save much money and it's gonna make it much harder for those 65- and 66-year-olds to go and get insurance.
CLEAVER: Well, here's the deal. We know we've got to do something to make sure that Medicare continues. Now, we have a number of deals we can do. One is a means test, you know, the extreme, those who are extremely wealthy should not take Medicare, or even those who are going to, you know, get $150,000 or $200,000 a year in retirement shouldn't take Medicare. I mean, there are some things we could do to tweak it without damaging it. Look, I have an 89-year-old father. I hope to match him in age. I'm not interested in doing anything to damage a strong Democratic principle, and that is that we're going to protect those who are in the sunset of life and that we're also going to make sure that Social Security is there for them to live on. My Father --
SEDER: Representative Emanuel Cleaver, I'm sorry, we've got to go, but I appreciate your time, sir. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, thanks very much.
CLEAVER: Good to be with you.
SEDER: Barriers to the ballot box that not only affect how we vote, but who votes. Senator Lindsey Graham defends Republican-backed voting restrictions. And, in a classic case of hypocrisy, a governor admits her grandparents were among people who violated the law coming to America as undocumented immigrants. But heritage won't stop her from separating other families who are also undocumented. Next.
SEDER: The GOP war on voting. He insists that restrictive voter ID laws are the way of the future, nationwide. So, Senator Graham, no desire to suppress people from voting whatsoever? Right.
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night, but what about a divided Congress? The right wing has officially gone postal.
Talk about denying your roots. She continues to demonize undocumented immigrants in her state, but guess how her grandparents got to the U.S.?
And what are your chances of getting hit by space junk? The odds are better than you might think. Derrick Pitts will explain.
SAM SEDER: The Republican war against Democratic voters may soon have a second front. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham pushing in a senate hearing for a federal voter photo I.D. law. The kind of law that's been successful on the state level in suppressing ballots from poor people, young people and other Democratic-leaning voters who may not have, or can't afford, driver's licenses and other forms of legal identification.
The fourth story on the "Countdown": Don't leave home without it, your government-issued currently valid picture I.D., or prepare to go home without casting your vote. In a moment, we'll go over the latest with Ari Berman of Rolling Stone magazine.
In his latest article in the magazine, "The GOP War on Voting," Berman tracks GOP efforts to obstruct poor and minority voters. "Just as Dixiecrats once used once poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and funded, in part, by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the tea party, 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process." Senator Graham put it a little differently this week when he talked about his own state's voter I.D. law.
(Audio from video clip) GRAHAM: I think what South Carolina did makes eminent sense to me, and the law of the land, as I understand it, is the Indiana system's been upheld and you will see more of this, Mr. Chairman, not less. Thirty states have some form of voter I.D. requirement, so I think this is the future of the country.
SEDER: At the same Senate hearing, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois saw the issue a little differently.
(Audio from video clip) DICK DURBIN: At first blush it might appear that I.D. requirements are reasonable. After all, who can't produce an I.D.? Where there's an old -- well, there's an old saying that applies here: The devil is in the details.
SEDER: To go over the details and the devils, let's bring in Ari Berman who writes for both The Nation and for Rolling Stone and is also the author of "Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics." Welcome, Ari.
ARI BERMAN: Always nice to see you, Sam. Thank you.
SEDER: So, Ari, lay out for us the four just general areas in which Republicans have sort of systematically proposed legislation to prevent people from voting.
BERMAN: Yeah. So, since the 2010 election, legislation has actually passed in 12 states, and this is what they're going after: They're making it harder to register to vote, asking for things like birth certificates that they haven't asked for before; they're making it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register people to vote; they are cutting back on early voting, which the Obama campaign used so successfully in 2008; they are requiring government-issued photo I.D.s, which people don't realize that 10 percent of U.S. citizens don't have, including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans; and writing the legislation is such a way that it really hurts certain groups of voters, students, in particular, and minorities in particular; and then there are, in certain states, Iowa and Florida, they're disenfranchising ex-felons altogether and preventing them from voting after they've served their time and paid their debt to society.
SEDER: So, this is really quite a coincidence, isn't it? I mean, that this is happening in so many states across the country and then we conveniently have Senator Graham, suggesting that perhaps maybe the federal government should get involved in this vote suppression.
BERMAN: Just in time for Barack Obama's re-election campaign, right? What Republicans did is they looked at how the Obama campaign turned out a new electorate in 2008, through young people, through minorities, through new voters. And they said, we're not going to let that happen again. We are going to engineer our own electorate. So, it doesn't matter whether Barack Obama is up or down the polls. It doesn't matter if the economy gets better or worse. It doesn't matter if you have Mitt Romney or Rick Perry as a GOP nominee. We want to make it much more difficult for these core Democratic constituencies to vote, and you're right, the devil is in the details. You have scrutinize these laws and then you see who they're really aimed at. They're aimed at these Democratic constituencies and preventing them from voting in 2012.
SEDER: And so, you know, we've sees instances on a state by state level, on a smaller level and a more localized level of this type of disenfranchisement over the years, 2004, Ohio, they -- they made sure there wasn't enough ballot -- ballot boxes, essentially, or voting places in certain districts, but now we're starting to see it systematized. Is this a function -- I mean, have these laws been out there just waiting? Is that essentially it? They've been waiting for the opportunity?
BERMAN: They've been waiting for the opportunity, and they've been incentivized by Obama's election in a way that they weren't incentivized before, and they took a look very creatively, they had a lot of power, they didn't have power in all of these states. So, you have all of these new GOP governors, all of these GOP legislators and this was their stealth issue. People thought they were voting about the economy in 2010 and Republicans turned around, and they cracked down on their political opponents, and then they made it harder for them to vote. And so, you're seeing this legislation state by state by state introduced -- you're seeing the same legislation introduced state by state by state. It's very systematic, it's very well-funded and it was passed with a ton of speed in emergency ways. And so, Democrats really, before they even could blink, this legislation was already passed, and there was very little they could do about it in these dozen states.
SEDER: Now, the Justice Department has to approve these -- these new laws, right, in southern states?
SEDER: How likely do you think it is that Holder, Eric Holder is going to be aggressive in -- in shooting down some of these laws, which clearly disenfranchise African-Americans?
BERMAN: Well, the Justice Department has the authority under the Voting Rights Act to scrutinize these laws. They're looking at them right now in Southern states. Members of Congress have asked the Justice Department to be more aggressive. Rep. John Lewis, of course an icon in the civil rights movement, from Georgia, who was beaten just for trying to exercise his right to vote in the South. He told me that he would like to see the Justice Department be a lot more aggressive in this issue. We've seen in recent days, that they are scrutinizing these laws. They've sent pointed questions, for example, to states like South Carolina. But what we see, I mean, are they willing to pick a fight with GOP governors on this issue? If they're not willing to pick a fight, we could see both Democratic campaigns and I think more disturbingly, the "small D," democratic process, the right to vote, one of the most important rights we have in this country undermined in the 2012 election and subsequent elections.
SEDER: Well, Ari Berman of The Nation and contributor for Rolling Stone, great reporting, and great thanks for joining us.
BERMAN: Thanks for having me, Sam.
SEDER: New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez thinks nothing of criticizing those who would "are here illegally, who broke the law." So, what's to make of her own grandparents? Who came here illegally and in doing so, broke the law.
SEDER: Coming up, the New Mexico governor is making a push to get rid of all undocumented immigrants. Oh, and did I mention her grandparents were undocumented immigrants?
But first, the "sanity break."
It was on this day in 1965, Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. All of Koufax's friends and family were thrilled with his accomplishment, although his mother did make sure to tell everyone in the neighborhood, "You know, he could have been a doctor."
"Time marches on!"
To the Internets, where the world's newest superhero has made his first appearance -- Spider-Cat! Spider-Cat, Spider-Cat, does whatever a Spider-Cat does. I'm not sure what his backstory is, but I assume it involves some sort of radioactive catnip. Besides climbing walls, this cat also has the super ability to nap through anything. Before you know it, they'll be turning his story into a disastrous Broadway show.
To California, where the news of the day is the continuing power outages -- and now, we throw it to the field for some expert commentary from reporter Vikki Vargas.
(Excerpt from video clip) VIKKI VARGAS: Uhhhhhh --
SEDER: Amazing. She was actually able to verbalize what goes on in Michele Bachmann's head.
San Diego, where crime has gone stop motion. This blockhead thinks he has the perfect disguise for a crime spree -- Gumby! After being out of work for years, the lovable green claymation character has sadly turned to a life of crime. He joyfully walks up to the clerk, claiming to have a gun and demanding money. But the store clerk says, nopey. And so, evil Gumby backs away, dropping 26 cents in the process. The bendy bandit's lack of fingers make it impossible for him to recover it. Our failed crook walks out grumbling under his breath, "I'm Gumby, dammit." Before you know it, he's going to end up in the "pokey." Get it? Gumby and Pokey?
"Time marches on!"
The second-largest employer in the U.S. is broke, in large part due to Republican efforts five years ago. So, paying benefits 75 years in advance is a bad idea? Next on "Countdown."
SEDER: "Countdown" comes to you live each week night at 8 p.m. Eastern, and the program is replayed at 11 p.m., 2 p.m., 7 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.
Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night will keep United Postal Workers from their appointed rounds. But Republican efforts to privatize the Post Office just might. In our third story tonight, the Postal Service is now facing a $9 billion deficit. And the postmaster general says the agency may have to shut down operations if it can't make up the difference.
While some in Congress are blaming the Post Office's inability to keep up in the digital world for its budget woes, the real issue might be conservatives committed to privatizing the Postal Service and busting its unions. The Postal Service is the second-largest employer in the United States. Only Walmart has more employees. But the Post Office has considerably more unionized employees, making it a Republican target, according to a new report in Truth Out, and it is now on the edge of financial ruin. On Tuesday, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe testified at a Senate hearing that the Postal Service needs to "eliminate Saturday delivery, close thousands of local post offices, restructure its health plan and lay off hundreds of thousands of workers or face insolvency."
(Excerpt from video clip) PATRICK DONAHOE: But we think that by the August/September time frame next year, given no action, we will be out of cash to pay employees and pay contractors.
SEDER: There may be another, less draconian solution, though. Undo legislation passed under the Bush Administration that puts enormous financial burden on the Post Office.
A 2006 law mandates that the Postal Service pay health benefits 75 years into the future at a cost of $5.5 billion a year. That, according to Allison Kilkenny in today's Truth Out, puts an impossibly large burden on the agency. She writes "Congress was mandating coverage for future human beings. It was an impossible order. And strangely, a task unshared by any other government service, agency, corporation or organization within the entire United States. It was this, and not the invention of e-mail that became the Postal Service's death knell."
On top of that, because of a simple accounting error, the agency has overpaid its pension fund by $50 billion. Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat of Massachusetts, has introduced legislation to correct the error and balance the Post Office books. But Darrell Issa, Republican of California, has introduced another bill -- The Postal Reform Act, which could further imperil the agency's finances and its unions. Postal Union representative Chuck Zlatkin told The Nation Issa's bill would "Wisconsin" the Postal Service, and allow Congress to "rip into the contracts, close post offices without hearings -- it's basically the Postal Service Destruction Act."
Joining me now, Allison Kilkenny, who wrote that story for Truth Out, and is also a writer for The Nation magazine. Allison, thanks for being here.
ALLISON KILKENNY: Hi, Sam. Thanks.
SEDER: All right, so, let's -- let's take it from the beginning here. Why has the Republicans sort of targeted the Post Office in this way?
KILKENNY: Well, the American Postal Workers Union is one of the largest unions in the country. They have over 500 million members, so it's enormous.
KILKENNY: 500,000, I'm sorry.
SEDER: I was going to say, that's a lot.
KILKENNY: 500,000 members. So, it's absolutely massive. And, it's, as you said, the second-largest employer in the country -- second only to Walmart, which is not the biggest fan of unions, as we all know. So, this is sort of a mouthwatering target for the GOP because it's an enormous union and it's sort of another way to push the country ever towards the abyss of total privatization, which is their dream.
SEDER: All right, so let's work through this. The Post Office because of -- I guess what it was - it was a voice vote back in 2006 -- is required to actually pre-fund the health benefits for people who aren't even born yet.
KILKENNY: It's completely stupid, and this is one of the reasons that the Postal Service now faces this $9 billion deficit, but there's also, you know, another stupid reason that the Postal Service is in this hole, and that's the pension funds we were also talking about. So, the health care benefits and the pension funds are the reason they're in this hole right now. Both of these things could be fixed by minor tweaking of accounting, and yet there are people like Darrell Issa standing in the way, who are saying, "No, we can't do this." And this is because of ideological differences. Darrell Issa doesn't see the need for these public services because he's anti-government.
SEDER: So, okay. So the Post Office could actually shut down --
SEDER: -- within weeks?
SEDER: And so how much -- how much are taxpayers supporting the post office right now?
KILKENNY: Zero. The Post Office is paid for entirely by the sale of stamps. So that's another myth that is circulating right now, that this is going to cost, you know, taxpayers, that we're going to have to bail out the post office. We wouldn't have to do that at all if we just had these minor accounting tweaks.
SEDER: And so -- so, now how do we figure out just how much the Post Office has overpaid to this pension and health fund? I mean, I understand that's an issue as well.
KILKENNY: Yeah. Well, there's a bill right now that was introduced by Stephen Lynch called HR 1351. And that's all this bill is proposing. Let's audit the Post Office, let's find out how much they've overpaid, and let's save the Post Office, and that's all this bill is proposing. And now Darrell Issa has introduced something that is being called, you know, the Postal Destruction Act. It's the exact opposite.
SEDER: Okay. Well, so -- so -- all that Stephen Lynch wants to do is basically say, "They've overpaid into this pension fund, they don't need to, as determined by some agency that would be required to look at this by his legislation, and then give that money back to the Post Office," and -- would that basically solve the crisis totally?
KILKENNY: It would totally solve it. And we also -- we already know by an independent investigation from the Postal Regulatory Commission that they've overpaid their pension funds by $50 billion. We already know that, but this would be, like, sort of the official audit and just to get the Post Office back on the right track, but the money's there. It just needs the accounting tweaks.
SEDER: Are people using the post office anymore? I mean --
KILKENNY: Absolutely. Their highest year -- the most volume now that they ever dealt with was in 2006, so there's a rumor circulating right now that this is the fault of the Internet, right? That everybody is e-mailing, we don't need the postal service any more. But that's not true, because in 2006, the Internet had already been around for quite awhile, and the Post Office was doing fine. It's just that when Wall Street blew up the world's economies in 2006, businesses weren't doing as, you know, as much mail with the Postal Service, so the Postal Service was hurt along with everybody else, but they'll recover as the economy recovers.
SEDER: And so my understanding is that there have been some local protests about this. I mean, how effective have they been? And do you expect more people -- I mean, because I haven't heard much about this story. Do you expect more protests as people learn more about this?
KILKENNY: I hope so. I was sort of hoping that President Obama would at least give a little shout out to the Postal Service in his jobs speech because, I mean, talk about dealing with a lot of jobs, you know, so many postal workers have already been laid off, so many more will be laid off if they go through with these plans. So no shout out from President Obama, which was a big disappointment, but I'm sure there's going to be tons more protests. They've already announced some for later in the month because, you know, the Postal Service is facing imminent doom.
SEDER: Yeah. Well -- and where have been the most recent ones?
KILKENNY: I'm actually -- I'm not sure where the most recent protests have been. I know that the union's incredibly active so we're definitely going to see more, so just follow the Post Office union, they always have announcements about stuff like that.
SEDER: Will do. Alison Kilkenny of The Nation and co-host of the Citizen Radio podcast. Thanks for joining us.
KILKENNY: Thank you.
SEDER: Better get your crash helmet on. There's a fairly good chance a satellite from space might fall on your head. Okay. Not a great chance, but there is a chance. We'll explain. You're watching "Countdown" on Current.
SEDER: Don't worry, it's only a seven-ton satellite falling to Earth. If you see any shooting sparks and smoke, call the local authorities.
And in "Republican turns out to be monstrous hypocrite" news, she is the governor. She wants to bar undocumented immigrants from getting driver's licenses. And she admits that her grandparents immigrated to this country without papers. Next.
SEDER: In an era when one burnishes their right-wing nationalist tea party credentials by calling for moats and circling our borders and bashing undocumented immigrants, or decrying legislation offering citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants, even if those children go to college or fight in our military, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez found out what happens when politicians crave tea party support and fall in line with their warped, vitriolic view of the world.
Bowing at the alter of the right wing, she is using claims of terror threats to justify her immigrant-bashing calls for proof of citizenship for the issuance of licenses in her state, and, just this week, she slammed supporters of the Dream Act, which would allow for the children of undocumented immigrants, here by no choice of their own, to become citizens if they go to college or serve our country in the armed forces. And then, sensing the inevitable reporting of the truth, she admits --
(Excerpt from video clip) SUSANA MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish)
SEDER: Which for those of us who don't speak Spanish translates to "I know they (my grandparents) arrived without documents, especially my Father's Father."
That's right. This governor, who is criticizing "people who are here illegally, who broke the law" would be known by the tea party as an anchor grandbaby. And, notice, when her family did it, they arrived without documents. When others do it, they're here illegally, which just goes to prove that whether you're Michele Bachmann taking Medicare payments for her family business, Rick Perry taking stimulus money to balance Texas' budget, or an anti-gay gay Republican spending too much time in public restrooms, when you fall in line with the right-wing's extremist vision of America, there's a 99.7 percent chance you will wind up being revealed as a hypocrite.
SEDER: I kind of feel like -- a little like Chicken Little right now. You know the story of the barn animal who claims the sky is falling? But in our number one story on the "Countdown," the sky is falling, the sky is falling! Hyperbole aside, a six-ton satellite is on the verge of crashing down to Earth.
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite was put into orbit in 1991 to measure chemical compounds in the ozone layer, as well as winds and temperature in the stratosphere. The satellite was effectively turned off in 2005 after it ran out of fuel, and has been steadily dropping lower and lower, towards the surface. Luckily, the good folks at NASA have got us covered. They're able to anticipate exactly where the pieces of the satellite will land. They say the majority of the wreckage will land somewhere between 57 degrees North latitude, and 57 degrees South latitude, an area that spans six continents and three oceans.
I feel safer already.
The satellite is 35 feet long and 15 feet wide, but scientists claim that it will break up into much smaller pieces as it comes down. Still, if you're somewhere in the danger zone, and billions of people are, I suggest breaking out the best umbrella you have for the next couple of days.
Let's bring in Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute Science museum, as well as a "Countdown" contributor. Thank you for being here, Derrick.
DERRICK PITTS: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SEDER: So, Derrick, tell me, now, should I be breaking out my hard hat or my anti-satellite-falling-on-me gear that I got for Father's Day? Like, how good are my chances of actually being struck by this thing?
PITTS: Well, if you have a titanium umbrella, you might think about using it. But, in truth, honest to goodness, the chance of actually being struck by something -- anything falling from space, is about 1 in 21 trillion. For this particular instance, the chance is 1 in 3,200 that a person might get struck by something.
SEDER: Wait a second, 1 in 3,200 -- isn't that a better chance of me winning the lottery?
PITTS: It is a much better chance of you winning the lottery, but the thing you have to mix into this is the fact that most of the Earth is covered by water. 75 percent of the Earth is covered by water. And of the entire Earth's population, the Earth's population uses about 5 percent of the land area on the surface, so the likelihood of actually getting struck works something more like this. A person would have to see a piece re-entering, track it and then run to jump underneath it, in order to get struck, really.
SEDER: And I guess that means that the chances of me winning the lottery and then getting struck -- very slim.
PITTS: So, I recommend what you do is you make sure you buy a lottery ticket on the day it re-enters.
SEDER: All right, well, fair enough. So, as the satellite enters the atmosphere and it begins to break up, when will NASA be able to get an idea of where the pieces will be or will they only find out when they get reports of like shards of satellite hitting the ground?
PITTS: No, they actually will have a very good idea a few hours before it actually reaches the surface of the Earth. They'll be able to really tell exactly where it's going to hit. It should come down in a 500-mile long swath and of the material of that six tons, there'll be about 1,200 pounds -- about 26 pieces that will survive re-entry. Now, coming down through re-entry really is a difficult process because it's incredibly hot. Most everything burns up. But when you really think about it, this is not the heaviest piece that's ever fallen from space, but a big piece could possibly reach the surface still.
SEDER: Is this something that we can expect more of in the future? I mean, there seems to be, like, a lot of space junk that's just up there, floating around. I mean, how much -- how much of a danger does that pose if it all comes crashing down?
PITTS: Well, there is a lot of junk in there, orbiting around Earth in near space. That's true, but there's plenty of room up there, so the chances of collisions and things like that happening would be on the increase as we add more stuff, but the chances of more stuff coming down, it happens all the time. Just last year, there were 75 metric tons of material that re-entered and, about once a year, an object of six-ton size falls into the Earth's atmosphere again. And, if you look back in history, Mir Space Station came down in 2001. That was 143 tons. So, most of that burned up. About 1,500 pieces made it to the surface, But that was mostly in the Pacific Ocean and Western Australia.
SEDER: All right, let's turn the page for a minute, here, Derrick. I keep hearing reports about solar flares that are heading our way and how they're gonna stop our communication satellites from working and it could cause other communication, electrical problems. Is there anything that we can do to prevent this from being a big issue?
PITTS: Well, one thing we can do is we can have better prediction of when these things occur and how and when they're going to affect the Earth. Typically, when there's a solar flare on the surface of the sun, there's a 36-hour lag time between the event itself, and when the electromagnetic particles from the Sun reach the Earth's magnetic field and then disturb our communications, so a little bit better prediction would help us an awful lot. For the communications themselves that are actually affected by this, the manufacturers can build them to be a little bit more robust so that they can better resist. And the other thing that we can now do is we can sometimes turn the satellites so that the more sensitive parts of the -- of the instrument are away from the direction of the Sun, so that helps, also.
SEDER: All right, we just got a minute here, but I got to ask you about this. I saw that NASA released new photos of the moon, that actually show the tracks from men walking on the moon and some of the refuse and garbage they left behind. I mean, shouldn't the astronauts have cleaned up after themselves?
PITTS: You know, it will be a real gold mine for some treasure hunter to go back to the moon and collect some of these pieces because what they left behind were really quite valuable pieces. You know, they left their -- their life -- their life backpacks that they used, walking around the surface of the moon because it was extra weight. They left great really, really camera bodies sitting on the moon. They just brought back the film magazines. And it'll make a great museum for some us in the future.
PITTS: Attention, eBay.
SEDER: Derrick Pitts, "Countdown" contributor and chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute Science Museum Thanks for some of your time tonight.
PITTS: Thank you.
SEDER: That's "Countdown." I'm Sam Seder, filling in for Keith Olbermann. You can listen to my daily radio show, "The Majority Report" at majorityreportradio.com. Have a good night, folks. Thank you.