Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
video 'podcast'

#ShowPlug 1: Even Senate GOP Aides slam Boehner, House #GOP for "pulling defeat from the jaws of victory" as Tax Cut Stunt backfires

#ShowPlug 2: @BrianBeutler on latest, w/even Rove slamming Boehner. Rep. @KeithEllison on GOP self-fulfilling demonizing of government

#ShowPlug 3: Occupied, Mike-Checked, Sworn at - and those were Gingrich's highlights, as poll shows him losing to POTUS by 16!

#ShowPlug 4: #NDAA appears to include not just detention of Americans but rendition. Scott Horton of @Harpers analyzes bill's real dangers

#ShowPlug 5: Oh, great. Two more Earth-sized planets. Somewhere for us to... store stuff? @CoolAstronomer Derrick Pitts joins me

#ShowPlug Last: Lowe's changes its story, says FFA had nothing to do with pulling its All-American Muslim ads. Does it all the time!?

watch whole playlist

#5 'Tax Cut Showdown'

#5 'Tax Cut Showdown', Brian Beutler
YouTube, (excerpt)

#4 'Field Of Nightmares', Evan McMorris-Santoro

# Time Marches On!

#3 'I Want You', Scott Horton
YouTube, (excerpt)

#2 Worst Persons: Korin Vanhouten & Eldon Alexander, Cassie Wright, Robert A. Niblock, YouTube

#1 'Space Balls II', Derrick Pitts

printable PDF transcript

On the show: , , ,

KEITH OLBERMANN: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

(Excerpt from video clip) FITZPATRICK: Pursuant to section 3-B of House Resolution 493, the House stands adjourned until 10:00 on Friday.

(Excerpt from video clip) STENY HOYER: Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we would like to ask for unanimous consent that we bring up the bill to extend the tax cut for 160 million Americans as you walk off the floor, Mr. Speaker.

OLBERMANN: That's when John Boehner turns off the TV. The Republicans not only kill a thousand dollars in tax relief for working-class Americans, but then they try to run away like kids who are about to soil their underwear. And try to turn off the T.V. coverage of all of the above.

Boehner, up a tree. A Senate Republican leadership aide says of the GOP in the House, "They are on their own." The nuts and bolts from Brian Beutler of TPM.

Plus, Congressman Keith Ellison, who today writes, "When your entire philosophy is that government is the problem, you make government the problem."

2012 or - more correctly - will Newt Gingrich make it to 2012? Called out during a meet-and-greet in Iowa.

(Excerpt from video clip) SORENSON: You know something, you're a f---ing a------.

OLBERMANN: Then Gingrich, occupado.

(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: Let me say first of all -

(Excerpt from video clip) PROTESTER: Mic check! We're taking over this press conference. Corporate one percent!

OLBERMANN: Oh, and a new poll - Gingrich would lose to Obama by 16 points.

Even more to fear from the National Defense Authorization Act. Not just detention of American citizens, but rendition of American citizens.

And, have you got a spare Earth anywhere? First Super Earth. Now, two new Earth-sized planets. So, we can - store stuff there? Derrick Pitts joins us.

Lowe's changes its story. It didn't bail out on "All-American Muslim" because of a Florida Islamophobic group. It bails out on eight to ten controversial shows a year!

And - bahh! If you think the mug shot is bad, wait'll you hear what happened to her truck during the mug shot.

All that and more, now on "Countdown."


OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Wednesday, December 21st, 321 days until the 2012 presidential election, 10 days until the payroll tax extension expires. And Speaker Boehner now working feverishly to control - not the debate - but your access to seeing that debate, even as members of his own party condemn him and declare a Republican defeat.

In our fifth story tonight - President Obama calling Boehner to tell him to pass the Senate's bill. Boehner responding by calling a completely gratuitous news conference, then turning off the cameras inside the House chamber just as the Democrats call for a vote.

In a statement today, White House saying President Obama called Boehner and "urged the Speaker to take up the bipartisan compromise passed in the Senate." According to reports, he also told Boehner "not to waste the next ten days simply because it's an inconvenient time of year."

The President then calling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and, according to the White House statement, "Again applauded him for the work he conducted with Minority Leader McConnell to achieve a successful bipartisan compromise that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate."

White House Press Secretary Carney today continuing to push that message, praising the Senate bill and blaming Boehner for the hold up.

(Excerpt from video clip) JAY CARNEY: The compromise exists. It is embodied in the Senate bill that was supported by 90 percent of the United States Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike. It is available, even now, for the House to vote on. There is a stalemate in that the Speaker will not act.

OLBERMANN: Boehner deciding today, instead, to grandstand. Calling a news conference with his eight House Republican negotiators sitting across from eight empty chairs.

(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN BOEHNER: We're here, we're ready to go to work, and we're hoping that Senate Democrats will appoint negotiators, come to the table and resolve these differences.

OLBERMANN: Majority Leader Cantor, for once on the mark here.

(Excerpt from video clip) ERIC CANTOR: People are sitting there across America scratching their heads, wondering what Washington is doing.

OLBERMANN: You got that right, sonny. Adding to the confusion, two senior House Democrats showed up at a pro forma session, normally the setting for mundane procedural business, to ask for a vote on the Senate's bill. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer making his case, as the GOP freshman Michael Fitzpatrick, serving as presiding officer, tried to slam the gavel to end the session.

(Excerpt from video clip) STENY HOYER: Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we would like to ask for unanimous consent that we bring up the bill to extend the tax cut for 160 million Americans as you walk off the floor, Mr. Speaker. You're walking out. You're walking away, just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle-class taxpayers, the unemployed -

OLBERMANN: Even after the officer left, Hoyer continuing, introducing Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the Democrat of Maryland.

(Excerpt from video clip) CANTOR: I am pleased to yield to my friend, Mr. Van Hollen.

OLBERMANN: But as soon as Congressman Van Hollen took the floor, the mic cut out, then the cameras do as well and the shot switches to the Capitol.

Hoyer and Van Hollen reportedly continued for 23 minutes - none of their comments on the record. C-SPAN responding to criticism that it cut them short, by tweeting that, "C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras, the Speaker of the House does."

That's right, that's John Boehner. You may have forgotten that since he never seems to do his goddamned job.

A desperate move from a desperate politician, now under fire from members of his own party.

One Senate GOP leadership aide anonymously telling CNN, "The House Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. They are on their own. This is a lose-lose situation for us. They've let the Democrats get the messaging advantage. The Republicans look like they are the ones blocking tax relief."

And a second aide saying, "The House Republicans pulled defeat from the jaws of victory."

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board with harsh words for House GOP leaders, writing, "The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter. This should be impossible."

Republican uber-strategist Karl Rove, today saying he agrees with that assessment, adding that the Republicans should now wait until the president leaves for the holiday, then blame him once he's gone.

(Excerpt from video clip) KARL ROVE: They've lost the optics on it. And the only way to win it is to stick there and ruin their own Christmases and wait till the president heads off to Hawaii for his, and then lambast the Democrats for having abdicated their responsibilities to pass a year-long tax cut.

OLBERMANN: Meantime, the White House taking to social media to advance its message, asking the Twitterverse to share how the expiration of the tax cut could affect their family budgets. Using the hashtag "40 dollars" - being the average amount per paycheck families will lose if the tax expires - the White House calling on people to tweet what they would do with that money.

The hashtag trending worldwide today, the White House estimating it reached an audience of over 3 million people.

Joining me now from Washington, Brian Beutler, senior congressional reporter for Talking Points Memo. Brian, thanks for your time tonight.

BRIAN BEUTLER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right, the Republican Senate aides to the House GOP, "This is a lose-lose situation for us... they've let the Democrats get the messaging advantage ... Republicans look like they're the ones blocking tax relief ... the House Republicans pulled defeat from the jaws of victory." Possibly the strongest intra-critical words from any one party towards other members of that same party of the year, but do they have any practical impact on what's going to happen here?

BEUTLER: It could. I mean the Senate - by and large, the Senate Republican caucus has less to lose as a result of this skirmish and this now-stalemate over the payroll-tax cut than House Republicans do. But the whole party is losing. They are losing a message. They are losing a policy fight.

And on top of that, the Senate Republican aides who are talking to reporters about this - and Senate Republicans themselves, who are, you know, up this cycle for re-election, who put themselves out on the line - in addition to wanting to try to bail their whole party out, they feel like they basically tossed a lifeline to House Republicans this weekend and those House Republicans, for a variety of reasons, just kind of shoved it away.

And now, you know, the, sort of - the results are evident. Mitch McConnell is a very, very shrewd tactician and they wouldn't have done this if they didn't think it was, like, a good way out of this payroll-tax problem for everybody.


BEUTLER: And now, the results are evident and they are peeved.

OLBERMANN: Well, Rove's comments, that the GOP should wait until things quiet down, pass the compromise, make a lot of noise - that they have already taken the hit and the best they can do is pretend there isn't much of one, is that actually what's going to happen now?

BEUTLER: You know, there is - I am trying to get a sense, you know, from people on the Hill about just, sort of, what options they are considering to sort of, you know, lose gracefully. They are not saying much.

But my sense is that there is a whole lot of ideas being bandied about - how do we get out of this? How do we put this issue to bed? And Karl Rove and other, you know, party strategists and members of Congress are batting around ideas. This is one of them.

The others that have been, sort of, batted about are that House Republicans say, "Okay, we will pass this, but with," you know, "an iron-clad promise from Harry Reid that he will appoint negotiators."

Other people want to get preemptive concessions from Harry Reid if they pass this, that Reid will stipulate there will be no tax increases as part of the negotiations on a full-year payroll-tax cut.

So, they are - they are trying to figure out how to get out of this. But there's - I haven't talked to a Republican on the Hill, or a Republican aide on the Hill, all week who thinks there is a path to victory for them in this political fight.

OLBERMANN: How did they get so far off their path and into the mire here? I mean, when even Rove and Senate Republicans notice - I mean, it's one thing if Democrats or reporters or commentators notice that this didn't seem to have a win element to it - but when Rove and these aides start talking about it, I mean, it's a bad situation. And it certainly, you know, reeks of bad - certainly, bad game planning. How did they get this far down that path?

BEUTLER: It's sort of a long, complicated story. It's not the result of any sort of grand strategizing by the Democratic Party. They didn't lure anybody into a trap. You know, as much as they might like to take credit for, you know, landing the House Republicans in this spot, that's not what happened.

The House - you know, a lot of House Republicans never really wanted the payroll-tax cut to begin with. Others kind of knew it was inevitable, but they figured "as long as we pretend we are not that hot on it, we can extract concessions from Democrats."

And yet more - when they knew that the big option on the table was this temporary, two-month extension - didn't want to have this fight all over again during the middle of primary season when President Obama was out on the road, when there was yet, you know, probably a greater chance, even, for intra-party skirmishing about it. They were scared of the whole notion of both giving Obama a victory on the payroll-tax cut of any kind and, particularly, of giving him a two-month victory where he could start hitting them, you know, over the head about trying to protect the rich all over again, when people are paying attention, when it's not the holiday season any more.

And so they, you know, they didn't give it much thought beyond just, "Well, let's deny him that." And the ramifications didn't really become clear, I don't think, until after they took the vote, and then there was sort of a "where do we go from here" moment? And there were no good answers to that question.

OLBERMANN: Boehner and his little group of merry men, who still seem to be - at least - plastering the smiles on their faces as they did in the press conference today, they have another one of these news conferences tomorrow at 10 in the morning. What on earth are they going to say during that?

BEUTLER: That's a good - it's Groundhog Day, I think, on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

You know, my sense from the Hill is that, you know, like I said, there is nobody saying, "We are going to win this. We have a way out. We just need some more time."

There is no grand strategy here, but I think, just as far as saving face, the people who kind of landed the House Republicans in this predicament don't want to see - and I don't think that the leadership necessarily wants to do this to them - a quick, immediate, embarrassing cave.

They want to pretend like they gave it their all, they made their case, be able to say - going out to the months and weeks ahead - that, you know, the Democrats kind of left them in the lurch and abdicated their responsibility.

And if they give it, you know, if they give it a few days, or a week, of having these kabuki press conferences and Capitol Hill theatrics about "Where are the Democrats? Why is half this table empty," etcetera, that they walk away feeling, like, that they didn't completely lose, that they extracted some political price from Democrats for not coming back to negotiate.

So, I don't think that you are going to - I don't think that you are going to see any major development, and I would wager that the real development will come when these press events that they schedule hours in advance stop happening.

OLBERMANN: Yes. And what happens - I mean, sort of the - off the playing field, to the next person who says, "You know, we need to really satisfy the tea party," after the results here, because there is nothing in Washington that is more cleanly provable then that that the person or the people who thought something up are blamed for it when it's badly executed.

BEUTLER: And, I mean, one of the reasons that John Boehner is unhappy about the fact he is going to lose on this is that - if he had gotten a full-year extension, that would be it for big business on Capitol Hill, big legislative business on Capitol Hill, for the rest of the year. And that means no having to reckon with his - with the tea party faction within his caucus.

If this two month-extension happens, we have to do this all over again between now and the end of February, and that doesn't please John Boehner and it doesn't please the tea party. I guess the good news for them is that there is not a whole lot of business on the legislative calendar for 2012.

But, you know, from the moment House Republicans won in 2010, it was pretty clear the dynamics of, you know, the new caucus were such that there was going to be big tensions, big divisions within the party. And that those were going to manifest in big fights and that John Boehner's job was going to have to be to steer this, sort of, chaotic caucus towards something that, you know, that looked like unity, that looked like common purpose. And that that was going to be a difficult challenge and that it might well fall apart.

Now, it's falling apart, and I think the big question is how he manages to do this all over again in two months and then beyond that. Whether, you know, those members whom he has been able corral, sort of, over the last several months, if they will listen to him this time or if they'll listen to him when he says, "I want to be your speaker again," in 2013.

OLBERMANN: An excellent point. The senior congressional reporter for Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler. As always, Brian, thanks for your time.

BEUTLER: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As Barney Frank said, he didn't think he'd led a good enough life to ever see Newt Gingrich become the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Today, we got our first quantitative analysis of what that would mean. It would mean a sixteen-point re-election victory for President Obama. That was the highlight of a bad day for Mr. Newt-ron, next.


OLBERMANN: Shouted down by Occupiers. Called a bleeping ass-bleep to his face by a voter. And down by 16 in the polls to Obama. A good day for Newt Gingrich.

It appears the President is just not signing a bill permitting the indefinite detention of Americans. He's also signing one permitting the rendition of us.

Another day, another extra Earth. Two more Earth-sized planets discovered. Derrick Pitts will explain.

And 16 days later, Lowe's changes its story. It decided to pull out from "All-American Muslim" long before that Florida hate group complained. In fact, it proudly reveals that eight to ten times each year it yanks its advertising from controversial shows. Uh-boy.


OLBERMANN: When David Alexrod articulated the idea that each new Republican presidential front runner gets more scrutiny by presenting his theory of "the monkey's butt." Little did he know one Iowa voter would take that almost literally.

In our fourth story on the "Countdown" - Gingrich addressed in terms like that in a meet-and-greet and that might have been his highlight over the last 48 hours.

First, there was a cyber attack. If you type into your browser you'll be redirected to some of the sites nearest and dearest to Gingrich's heart, including and You may also get linked to articles and videos jabbing at the candidate. A Democratic super PAC - American Bridge 21st Century - is responsible for that.

The organization is willing to give up its hold over that web domain. It has put the address up for sale on Craig's list for a mere one million dollars. They say they would be "happy to accept $500,000 in bling," instead.

In case you're wondering, Gingrich's official campaign website is

Now, the in-person attacks - this morning in Iowa, Gingrich was 'occupied' during a news conference at the state capitol.

(Excerpt from video clip) PROTESTER: Mic Check! We're taking over this press conference. Corporate one percent! He's the corporate one percent candidate.

(Excerpt from video clip) PROTESTERS: Put people first! Put people first!

OLBERMANN: Yesterday, at another campaign stop in that state, Gingrich got the monkey butt address.

(Excerpt from video clip) TOM SORENSEN: You know something? You're a f---ing a------. Well, it's honesty.

(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: Luckily, it's a free country.

OLBERMANN: Another encounter didn't go so well. Gingrich was asked about his stance on gay rights.

(Excerpt from video clip) SCOTT: how do you plan to engage and get the hope of gay Americans and those who support them?

(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT: I think for those for whom the only issue that really matters is the definition of marriage, I won't get their support. If that's the most important to you, then you should be for Obama.

OLBERMANN: Turns out, plenty of folks are taking Gingrich's suggestion.

According to a new CNN poll, voters prefer President Obama over the former House Speaker by just 16 points - 56/40. Last month, the president was winning that match-up by half that, only eight.

Mitt Romney is doing a little better when matched against the president, but not nearly as well as he was doing one month ago. The president now beating him by seven points. In November, it was Romney beating the president by four, so that's a swing of 11.

Romney is hoping his wife's support can help him boost his numbers. Ann Romney, appearing in a new ad for her husband, attesting to his character. Because the one thing you want to do with a Mormon candidate is remind people about his wife.

Rick Perry's wife also jumping on the ad bandwagon. Anita Perry using the airtime to talk about marrying her high school sweetheart and their Christian values.

Despite the show of family support, both of those candidates were passed over by the CEO of the Iowa-based Christian conservative group, The Family Leader. Bob Vander Plaats announced yesterday that his hair had not moved in 35 years, and that he's throwing his personal support behind Rick Santorum.

Today, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann confirmed that Vander Plaats had called her on Saturday to ask her to end her presidential campaign. She declined.

(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELLE BACHMANN: My numbers have always been above Senator Santorum's, so it makes no sense for me to drop out. Out of all the candidates in the race, I'm the only one that will be able to debate Barack Obama on the stage and defeat him. And I think it's very important that we have a candidate that can go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama.

OLBERMANN: Ah, whatever you say. One final note, if you were aware that former two-term New Mexico governor Gary Johnson was also vying for the GOP presidential nomination - first, congrats. Second, he is no longer in that race. Today, we learned Mr. Johnson is going to run as a Libertarian candidate instead. Third party.

Let's turn now to Evan McMorris-Santoro, reporter for Talking Points Memo, for the latest on our favorite subject - the Republican follies. Thanks for your time tonight, Evan.


OLBERMANN: The non-literal definition of monkey's butt - this is the Gingrich story right now, the anticipated close examination of who he is and how people think of him. And, necessarily, he is dropping out of the leadership, isn't he?

McMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, yeah. You know, one of the things about Newt Gingrich that was always so confusing when he became the front-runner was - he's just got so much baggage going in with him. I mean, he carries so much history and so much, sort of, negative - negative stories galore.

I mean, as a reporter, there is so much to dig into with Newt Gingrich. And it was always surprising that people actually were, kind of, backing him to begin with.

I mean, he came in and stumbled so badly when he started the whole campaign with the whole - talking about Paul Ryan. And now it just took a couple of days - maybe a week or so of tough scrutiny from his opponents, some tough campaign ads, some appearances - to - to really see his whole support collapse in Iowa completely.

I mean, he's still doing better than he was, but he's definitely not the guy who he was, you know, let's say, five, six days ago.

OLBERMANN: The confrontations with the voters that we saw - and nobody is saying either of those guys were Republicans - they make great theater. They make great videotape. But are they actually damaging? Are they reflective of anything? Or are they just two chance encounters?

McMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, they might be damaging to Gingrich, but I think they are definitely damaging to the Republican Party in a way.

You know, a good story from the Gingrich thing is that - beyond the guy who, sort of, confronted him and said that - that bleeped out-phrase - was a woman at that event who claimed to be an Obama - a Gingrich supporter and then asked him, "Well, aren't you too much of a narcissist to be president? Aren't you too -" So, he is facing that problem on his own.

But, you know, the encounter with the gay professor in Iowa - you know, Gingrich's campaign has pushed back a lot on that reporting today. You know, initially, the reporting was "Gingrich says, 'If you are gay, support Obama. If you are gay, don't vote for me."

The Gingrich's campaign's response was, "No, he is basically saying, 'If you think gay marriage is important, maybe you don't want to vote for me.'"

But, what ended up happening is that Gingrich pretty cleanly articulated the reason why gay people probably shouldn't vote for Republicans. His stance on gay marriage is certainly no different than anyone else running for president. I mean, Obama, officially, is not for it. He says he is evolving on gay marriage.

But, what ended up being sort of a moment that the Gingrich campaign is trying to, sort of, change the perception of and make it more - make it better for their candidate, I think, actually, just really fundamentally defines, kind of, where they are with this very important topic of gay rights.

I mean, you see them consistently getting sort of - well, not attacked, but confronted by gay rights activists all over the campaign trail and they all have these awkward moments. And Gingrich's was, sort of, the - maybe the most awkward, but it was just, sort of, one of many. And I think it kind of indicates where they all are falling on this issue. And I think Gingrich really cleaned up for everybody on that one.

OLBERMANN: And as I pointed out already, those two exciting encounters with American people probably were more enjoyable for Mr. Gingrich than the polling news. Minus 16 to the president, which was minus eight a month ago. And it's especially bad for Romney, who was beating Obama in the same polling last month.

The assumption was - Romney's viability was his electability and that seems to be out the window. And Gingrich's viability was his extreme chops for the tea party and the rest of the right wing and, that would lead to some sort of "taking back the country, blah, blah, blah, revolution making it 1926 again."

Both of these things - obviously, it's way early - but both of these things are really being battered, as concepts, by this new polling.

McMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, yeah. Well, you know, inside the poll is, sort of, information that suggests that Obama is winning partially because of this payroll-tax fight and because people are thinking he is better on the middle class than the Republicans are.

And this has sort of been where Mitt Romney's problem has been. Mitt Romney, of course, at first called this payroll-tax extension "a Band-Aid" and wasn't for it, before almost immediately flip-flopping and saying "Well, I would extend it, but I still think it's a Band-Aid." This kind of rhetoric, I think, it makes things tough for him.

Also, because of being of the fight with Gingrich and, of course, Gingrich gave him a scare there for awhile - I don't know how much that scare is going to end up being, we still have to see how it plays out. South Carolina is a big state for Newt Gingrich, so who knows?

But for now, the scare that he got from Gingrich really forced Romney into some tough positions that really got away from that electability argument. Put him right - farther to the right than I think he wanted to be, farther to the right than I think he was planning on being. And as that started to happen, the Democrats have pounced, shown it off, made the web videos, they've even run some ads in places. Made a lot of noise about it.

And as that's happened, you know, you've seen, sort of, Romney versus the Democrats - that's kind of tanked his numbers, really. I mean, it's - it's - it's just been a tough fight for him and one, I think, is based on the fact that he's had to go to the right where I think, maybe, he has to win these votes. But it's not where he wanted to be right now.

OLBERMANN: What a mess. Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo. Always a pleasure, Evan. Thank you kindly.

McMORRIS-SANTORO: Thank you so much.

OLBERMANN: If you are worried about that part of the National Defense Authorization Act that would permit the indefinite detention of American citizens, maybe you should also worry about that part that permits rendition of American citizens. The latest, ahead on "Countdown."


OLBERMANN: The Defense Authorization Act. It's not just detention, it's also rendition, next.

First, the "Sanity Break," and on this date in 1989 Vice President J. Danforth Quayle sent out this lovely Christmas Card to 30,000 people on his mailing list.

The cover is indeed his family, there's no mistake there. Inside was the Vice President's personal greeting, "May our nation continue to be the beakon of hope to the world." Beacon was misspelled "B-E-A-K-O-N. We assume he meant beacon, B-E-A-C-O-N. But it's possible he meant Beaker from the Muppets.

"May our nation continue to be the Beaker of hope to the world." Mee-mee-mee-mee-mee.

"Time Marches On!"

VIDEO: Cat soothes crying baby.

We begin with the TMO Adorable Clip of the Day, also a nominee for Adorable Clip of the Year.

As everybody knows, the best way to stop a crying baby is to send in the cat.

He's not sure how to stop the crying, but he knows this kid is really disrupting the nap. When in doubt, treat the baby like a ball of yarn. That's just Parenting 101, right in progress. That's it.


World of ballet.

And you know, you go to see the "Nutcracker" and they announce that, instead of the regular star, Mother Ginger is going to be played by former Yankees' first baseman, now Dodgers' manager Don Mattingly? That's what happened in Evansville, Indiana, hometown of Mr. Mattingly.

Donny baseball? Donny ballet. Donny ballet in drag.

It's very strange seeing him out there. I'll have to admit, though, his pointe work is flawless.

VIDEO: All-tuba orchestra performs Christmas carol.

Finally, it's not quite Christmas season without Christmas music. And Christmas music does not sound any better than when it's performed by an all-tuba orchestra.

Tubas on ice! Much better than last year's all-cowbell performance.

"Time Marches On!"

More than two weeks into its scandal, Lowe's has just, today, changed its story about why it pulled its ads from "All-American Muslim." Ahead.


OLBERMANN: "The Rumpus Room with Jonny Olsen" will not be seen tonight on Dumont, so we can instead bring you "Countdown," the longest continuously-running 8 PM news hour on cable. Unless you consider Fox - "news." We're live each night at 8 Eastern. Every night is a "Best Of 'Countdown'" night.

On his second day in office, President Obama signed an executive order shutting down the Bush-era practice of "extraordinary rendition," which involved picking up a suspected terrorists in one country and moving them to a so-called "black site" in another country, where conditions and/or laws concerning torture were sub par.

In our third story - a nearly-overlooked section of the new Defense Authorization Act, which already allows for permanent detention of American citizens, seems to provide the president cover for a revival of this tactic, rendition.

Under the heading "Disposition Under Law of War," which dictates what can be done to the detained, Section Four makes it clear that the president is allowed to "transfer to the custody or control of the person's country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity."

Or, in layman's terms, subject them to rendition.

While the president has stopped the Bush Administrations action of "extraordinary rendition," it is possible that Section Four would provide the legal justification for resurrecting a similar program.

Some claim that the Defense Authorization Act does not apply to American citizens at all. They point to an amendment added by Senator Dianne Feinstein, which states that, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States," seemingly indicating that none of this applies to American citizens or any person living in the U.S.

However, the idea that this will not "affect existing law" gives that amendment almost the opposite meaning. The Obama administration claims that - under its interpretation of current laws - it already has the power the detain anyone who it think supports al-Qieda, the Taliban-associated forces and, among the potential detainees, American citizens are included.

Let's try to straighten out the meaning of this bill with Scott Horton, contributing editor for Harper's Magazine. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

SCOTT HORTON: Great to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Does that amendment, added by Senator Feinstein, in fact, exclude American citizens from this bill, or does the president's interpretation of the law overrule it?

HORTON: No, it leaves the question open, fairly, I think. And, in fact, Senator Feinstein offered two amendments. The first one, I think, would have resolved this fairly clearly, to the effect that Americans would not be covered unless they were apprehended outside of the country. But that amendment failed, 55 to 45. So, the one that passed is much more ambiguous. I think it makes clear that the law is locked in as it stands, but I think there is a lot of room for argument about how the law stood before this measure was enacted.

OLBERMANN: So, the simple answer to the complex question is probably impossible. What is the simplest, however, answer to the question of what this bill has done to a president's ability to detain American citizens, captured on American property or soil or in the country itself in terms of detention or in terms, now, of rendition?

HORTON: Well, we have a very aggressive attempt to define the homeland as part of the battlefield. That, in fact, figured in the floor arguments for this measure.

And American citizens - clearly not exempt. They clearly can be determined to be with al-Qaida or associated forces. So, it's clear to me - even with the Feinstein amendment, there still would be a clear basis for the president, if he chose to do so, to seize an American citizen and subject him to treatment under this militarized version.

I think there are, sort of, two different ways you can look at this. You can look at an American who wears a foreign uniform of a power at war with us, as happened during World War II. That's a clear-cut case.

But then you've got the case of, let's say, a teenager in Ohio who uploads an al-Qaida video and sends emails arguing or praising al-Qaida's attacks. Well this- such a person could be labeled an al-Qaida sympathizer, as someone working with al-Qaida, could be seized and could be dealt with. But not in the view, I think, of a majority of the Supreme Court justices.

So, I think we have got a lot of room to argue about the second case. But it's not clearly resolved, and there is very good reason for civil libertarians to be troubled by this measure.

OLBERMANN: And about the Supreme Court - the rose-colored view of this suggests that yes, it may be vague but the Feinstein amendment probably covers the chance of throwing that kid in Ohio into the back of a van and locking him up indefinitely and, if it doesn't, don't worry, the Supreme Court will rule it unconstitutional.

But even that scenario would allow the government to keep somebody under wraps for a long period of time until that hypothetical Supreme Court ruling. We are talking about, essentially, three years, four years before there might be a ruling in such a case?

HORTON: Yes, well, the experience since the beginning of the war on terror was three years and up, certainly not less than that. I think it would be some measure of public outroar - uproar if this happened with a school kid from Ohio, but you have standing issues to resolve, many other things.

I think it would be - it would be difficult to get a determination in the Supreme Court quickly. And the Supreme Court is changing. So, you know, I think we have a snapshot from several years ago where the court majority would have been opposed to it. I think that's still the case today. But I think we could see some change in its composition before the question is actually presented.

OLBERMANN: The statement from the attorney general, that the president is going to issue a signing statement for the bill that would help clarify this - any indication what that might be or what should be most clarified?

HORTON: Not clear. I mean, I think there are two major areas where the Obama administration pushed back. One area, fairly effectively, had to do with the president's authority in this area - his authority to direct prosecutions, to choose the system that will be applied and so forth.

And I think the Justice Department probably is going to say, "In signing this, he is not stepping back from the historical view of presidential powers in this area."

But I think the area of greater concern, really, is with civil liberties. And I think there is he is under considerable pressure to step up to the plate and say something about how he will apply this legislation consistent with the Constitution, consistent with the Bill of Rights. And that's where I hope to see Eric Holder to take pen to paper and state something aggressive, but we haven't seen anything like that so far in this administration.


Scott Horton, human rights law authority, and of Harper's Magazine, great thanks for the attempt at the clarifications.

HORTON: Great to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Lowe's changes its story. The President of the University of Texas College Republicans does not. Details on each, ahead in "Worst Persons."


OLBERMANN: Last month we had just one earth. Now there's a Super-Earth plus tonight, reports of two Earth-sized planets newly discovered four Earths. Maybe we can send her to one of the spares. Even as the College Republicans apologize for her racist tweet, the President of them at the University of Texas, doubles down on her insults. "Worst Persons" ahead.


OLBERMANN: First, there was the new "Super Earth". Tonight, there are two more new Earth-sized planets. Tomorrow, we'll discover there's an extra Tim Tebow somewhere in the universe. That's next.

But first, because we can only hope there's just one of these following folks, here are "Countdown's" top three nominees for "Worst Persons in the World."

The bronze? To Korin Vanhouten and Eldon Alexander. Last Thursday was just not their day. They were cited in Ogden, Utah, for shoplifting some low-priced merchandise out of a WinCo Foods. After the cop let them go and started to leave, he saw them waving furiously to him from the parking lot. While they were in the store, allegedly shoplifting 25 bucks worth of small stuff, somebody broke into their truck and stole a stereo worth 60 bucks.

Plus, they had to take those mugshots.

The items they were accused of taking? Batteries, energy bars, and make-up.

Our runner-up? Cassie Wright, the president of the University of Texas College Republicans. Who has now acknowledged this was indeed her tweet: "My president is black, he snorts a lot of crack. Holla. #2012. #Obama."

She's not only acknowledging it, she's defending it, and insisting it is not racist. Because, she says, she's just satirizing a rap lyric. And, even though the College Republicans group has apologized for what she tweeted, she is portraying herself as the victim, re-tweeting some of the more vile responses to what she tweeted, then following up with one like this, "Two days later and people still don't care that Obama really did use 'blow' #imsurprised"

As she'll find out, the key is whether, after graduation, you continue to do the same stupid, self-destructive, and often illegal things you did in college. Like being president of the campus Republicans.

But how screwed up this really is was emphasized by Wright complaining when she was attacked on her Facebook page, "I find the fact that Obama was a drug user ironic, considering there is a popular song celebrating his election and character. Not sure how finding humor in this irony is open discrimination again [sic] any race, but believe what you will. I respect your freedom of speech, but please next time just don't use that freedom on my personal Facebook."

Translation? I respect your freedom of speech, except when you try to use it in public to criticize my freedom of speech in public.

But our winner? Robert Niblock, the CEO of Lowe's. Just when you thought the company's cave-in to Islamophobic pressure groups might fade away, Mr. Niblock's people have now changed their story.

For sixteen days, Lowe's has said nothing to contradict the claim by the Islamophobic group Florida Family Association that it got Lowe's to pull its ads from the TLC show "All-American Muslim." Now, it says Florida Family Association had nothing to do with it.

Tom Lamb, Lowe's VP of marketing, with a rather late "This Just In" bulletin, "The decision," he says, "was absolutely not, despite what's been reported in the media, influenced by any one group."

A Lowe's spokeswoman, Chris Ahearn, said that Lowe's ads first ran on "All-American Muslim" on December 4th, and that the next morning, one of Lowe's social media team reported to management that there was "negative chatter" about the show on several social media platforms, and that the decision to pull the ads was made shortly thereafter. And that what they sent to the Florida Family Association the next day was merely a form email:

"While we continue to advertise on various cable networks, including TLC, there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe's advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention. Lowe's will no longer be advertising on that program."

So, Lowe's says it wasn't the FFA's Islamophobia that convinced it to pull out of "All-American Muslim." It was the general Islamophobia on Facebook and Twitter and such. Not only is Lowe's claim a new one, but - get this - the spokeswoman also says Lowe's changes its ad line-up dozens of times each year, and as many as 8 to 10 times each year it will pull ads from shows that are controversial.

Really? So what other hate groups has Lowe's caved in to?

Robert Niblock, CEO of Lowe's - today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: In March 2009, the Kepler telescope was launched on a three and a half year mission in space to search for planets similar to ours.

In our number-one story - after already finding at least 30 planets, the Kepler telescope has made its biggest discovery to date - two Earth-sized planets orbiting a star nearly one thousand light years away, the smallest planets ever discovered. Combine that with the "Super Earth" found earlier this month and - suddenly - we're in a freaking crowd.

The two new places circle a star called Kepler-20, which is located just 950 light years away.

Kepler-20e has a diameter slightly smaller than Earth. Of the pair, it is the closest to the sun - their sun, not ours - taking one Earth week to circle its sun. Because of its close proximity, the surface temperature is just a summery 1,400 degrees.

Its partner planet, cleverly named Kepler-20f, has nearly the same diameter of Earth. It is slightly further from its sun, completing an orbit in a little less than three of our Earth weeks. It, too, does not have a surface conducive to hosting life, but it's cooling off - just eight hundred degrees.

That's tomorrow's forecast, enjoy the day, everybody.

But - according to the lead author of the study, Francois Fressin - it is possible that Kepler-20f began its life further away from its sun, leaving the slight possibility that it could have developed an atmosphere of water vapor, which would be gone by now. The two planets join three other gaseous planets in the Kepler-20 system.

The new find comes on the heels of the discovery of a planet larger than Earth, but located in the so-called "Goldilocks" range - the perfect distance from its own sun, so that its surface temperature is not too hot, too cold but just right. They call it Super Earth.

Joining me to explain what this means, in terms most can understand, "Countdown" contributor and chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute - Derrick Pitts. Good evening, Derrick.

DERRICK PITTS: How are you tonight, Keith?

OLBERMANN: I'm suitably impressed. I'm suitably impressed by these discoveries. Now, tell me why I care.

PITTS: The reason why you care is because - number one, when we figure out these planets are there, it gives us a good indication that our supposition is right. Our ideas about how planets form and where they should be orbiting other stars, we know that stuff is right. And that's a good thing.

But the real reason why we should care, when we get right down to it, is - we are looking for another Earth. Now, I am not sure if we are really looking for Krypton, so we can find out where Superman came from, or the Bizzaro World, but we really are looking for another Earth. Partially because we want to see if planets like ours can develop, are orbiting around other stars. In other words - how common are planets like ours? And, of course, the holy grail of all is - is there any other life out there?

OLBERMANN: By the way, "Kryptin," as Marlon Brando pronounced it. I always liked the "Kryptin" rather than the Krypton, but whatever.

PITTS: I see.

OLBERMANN: What - what is the size of the planet and its proximity to its star matters why, relative to habitability?

PITTS: The reason why it matters is because - if the planet is too close to the star, it turns out that you can't have water there as a liquid. And as far as we know it, for life to develop, just as it did here on Earth, it has to develop in this organic soup of organic chemicals and compounds that are mixed in water.

So, if the planet is too close to the star, then it's too hot for water to exist as a liquid and the chemical bonds that are made cannot form, because there is way too much energy in the system.

If we move that planet too far away from the sun, then what happens is - it's too cold for those bonds in the organic compounds to exist and life can't develop. So, we look for it right in that habitable zone around the planet, far enough away where water can exist as a liquid.

OLBERMANN: So, this is nice to know all of this, obviously, but - since there isn't a possibility foreseeable, even scientifically, even in terms of science fiction - of us traveling to the planets 950 light years away, what is the benefit of finding them? Among other things, we are seeing them as they were a thousand years ago. For all we know, they moved.

PITTS: The benefit for us is - if we can identify that other planets like Earth exist, what it means is, we can start looking for them around certain kinds of stars.


PITTS: And we can look for certain signatures. Now, what Kepler is doing is, it's looking at a group of 150,000 stars in a very small section of the sky, Keith, and - as you said - these are about a thousand light years away. What would happen if we could identify a star, a type of star, that would support this kind of planet, but closer to us? It would at least give us somewhere to aim our television programming to find out if we could get any response from the intelligent folks out there.

OLBERMANN: After having failed to do so here on Earth, you want to send our television programming to some poor Kepler-20f or similar folks nearby.

PITTS: We will see what they think.

OLBERMANN: I hope they enjoy it more. The first thing is to find out where the planets are and whether or not they could sustain life. And the next thing is to find out whether or not there's been life existent on them already, or might yet be. Is there any way to do that, given so far away? Especially in the case of the famous Super Earth?

PITTS: Well, it's a tricky business to try to identify whether or not we can find those organic chemical signatures - organic compound signatures - in the atmospheres of these planets. And that's what we are expecting, is that - when we find an Earth-like planet in the right region - the atmosphere will be able to show us this.

Now, in order for us to do this, we will need to use much more sophisticated, much more capable detectors than we have now. If you look at it this way, Keith - 10 years ago, we couldn't do what we are doing now. So, I would guess that, within 10 years, we will have the equipment to do so and we will have identified many more candidates to examine.

OLBERMANN: The chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute, "Countdown" contributor Derrick Pitts, on the discovery of these two twin Earth-size planets around Keplar-20 - Gabe Kepler and Gabe Kaplin. Great thanks for your time tonight.

PITTS: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That's "Countdown" for this, the 347th day since John Boehner and the Republicans took the House. Thus, 347 days in which the Republicans haven't passed a jobs bill of any kind.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Congratulations on getting through another day of this crap. Good night and good luck.