'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, December 19th, 2011
#ShowPlug 1: The @RonPaul Evening News: he leads the PPP Iowa poll. Has he become a contender for GOP Nomination? w/ @KenVogel
#ShowPlug 2: Gingrich sinking in Iowa, Palin (remember?) hints at possibly reentering race, or somebody entering. @SteveKornacki w/overview
#ShowPlug 3: The 387th Performance of Congressional Kabuki Theater, on payroll cut extension. W/Delaware Senator @ChrisCoons
#ShowPlug 4: Even for the military, the Bradley Manning hearing is getting curioser and curioser. I'll be joined by @LtDanChoi
#ShowPlug 5: Just so long as ERICA Jong is ok. Kim Jong Il is dead; thus Alec Baldwin now safe. TV's @FrankConniff joins me
#Showplug Last: And a farewell to somebody you'll wish you had known. My goodbye to Michele O'Callaghan of @Late_Show /FB Night in America
watch whole playlist
#5 'The Great Decline', Ken Vogel
#5 'Paul Position', Ken Vogel
#4 'Revolting', Sen. Chris Coons
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
# Goodbye Michele O'Callaghan
#3 'Bradley Manning Trial', Dan Choi
#2 Worst Persons: Gov. Paul LePage, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Ted Nugent
#1 'Kim Jong-Dead', Frank Conniff
printable PDF transcript
On the show: Chris Coons, Frank Conniff, Dan Choi, Ken Vogel
KEITH OLBERMANN: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? One of the new polls in Iowa - Gingrich 14, Romney 20, Ron Paul, 23.
(Excerpt from video clip) FRANK LUNTZ: What's interesting to me is that Ron Paul is running the most negative campaign in Iowa as he's climbing in the polls.
OLBERMANN: A negative campaign? Succeeding among Republicans? Who'da thunk it?
Though another poll has him third, tonight the question - seriously taken and seriously addressed - can Ron Paul win the Republican nomination?
Newt "Breakfast At Tiffany's" Gingrich, still first in Gallup's poll and still pitching - ignoring Supreme Court decisions he does not approve and arresting judges with whom he does not agree.
(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: You'd instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshal.
OLBERMANN: Michele Bachmann lies about whether or not PolitiFact said she had lied. And she gets smoked once again on gay rights, this time by a grown-up.
(Excerpt from video clip) KATHY SCHNELL: I wonder, also, if you're aware that 10 percent of the population is gay. And if you have 28 children, 2.8 of those kids are very likely gay.
(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, that's according to the Kinsey Report.
(Excerpt from video clip) MARCUS BACHMANN: Your facts are wrong.
OLBERMANN: And if anybody knows the facts about gays in America, it's Marcus Bachmann.
Payroll Tax Cut Extension Kabuki Theater. The House voting tonight. The latest with Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.
The Bradley Manning hearings. Lieutenant Dan Choi kicked out and roughed up. He joins us this evening.
A goodbye to one of the great human beings, Michele O'Callaghan. And a good riddance to somebody who was not -
(Excerpt from video clip) KIM JONG IL: Why aren't more people intelligent? Like me? I'm so lonely.
OLBERMANN: All that and more now, on "Countdown."
(Excerpt from video clip) KIM: Poor little me.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Monday, December 19th, 323 days until the 2012 presidential election. Two weeks after the Iowa caucuses and three polls show three different leaders. They all carry two messages, though - Newt Gingrich is collapsing and Ron Paul appears to be taken seriously.
In our fifth story on the "Countdown" - Gingrich is still ahead in the Gallup poll tied with Romney in the CNN poll, but in a third survey, the Texas congressman is leading. All of which might be why one ex-candidate tonight hinted at getting back in - or somebody else getting in. "It's not too late for folks to jump in. Who knows what will happen in the future," she said.
The latest Iowa results from Public Policy Polling showing Paul at 23 percent, Romney, 20, Gingrich, 14. Of particular note, Gingrich's share of the vote has gone from 27 to 22 to 14 over the past two weeks.
Romney's headline - it is hard to say if such things matter anymore, but he has won the endorsement of Iowa's largest paper, The Des Moines Register. In 2008, the paper had bypassed Romney and endorsed John McCain.
Only a newspaper editor could sell a growing rep as a flip-flopper as a positive:
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK GREEN: He has morphed himself, transforming from an independent to a moderate Republican and liberal Boston with a Washington - with the Massachusetts legislature, to now a proud conservative.
I think throughout that entire transformation he has taken a very close perspective of the issues that he has traditionally had beliefs on, and - and in some cases adjusted it. He's acknowledged that he's made some mistakes in the communication of it, but what we thought was very refreshing - that you had a candidate who acknowledged that, perhaps different positions at different times, in response to some of the things that are unfolding in this country. I think that that showed some maturity on our behalf.
OLBERMANN: The mind reels.
Something more tangible ahead at the New Hampshire primary. Public Policy Polling's latest survey there shows the former Massachusetts governor leading the pack with 35 percent of the vote. Paul comes in second with 19, Gingrich third, with 17.
As for the national outlook - that third poll that I referenced - Gingrich again losing support. A month ago, he was atop the CNN poll. Now he's tied with Romney at 28, Ron Paul from nine to 14 percent.
If you had not been buried under this avalanche of numbers yet, Gallup also has a national poll. Gingrich was up two weeks ago by 15. Now his lead is two. That's the one on the left.
Since Gingrich rose to poll leadership with the self-destruction of Herman Cain, his turn in the Republican shooting gallery has been widely forecast. White House adviser David Axelrod articulated it last week with his "monkey's butt" theory.
It is too early for one of Gingrich's cheeks to have shown up in the polls, but he has now made another series of threats against the independence of the judiciary. During a Saturday conference call with reporters, Gingrich said that, as president, he would defy Supreme Court rulings which he opposed. And yesterday, he took it a step further with an exchange on CBS -
(Excerpt from video clip) BOB SCHIEFFER: One of the things you say is that, if you don't like what a court has done, that Congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before Congress and hold a Congressional hearing. Some people say that's unconstitutional, but I'll let that go for a minute. I just want to ask you from a practical standpoint, how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol police down to arrest him?
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: If you had to.
(Excerpt from video clip) SCHIEFFER: Do you?
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: Or you'd instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshal.
OLBERMANN: This, of course, all follows Gingrich's comments during the debate last Thursday, when he called the courts "grotesquely dictatorial."
And yet, despite his drop in the polls - whatever the cause - Gingrich appears to be sticking with his pledge for positive campaigning. His wife, on the other hand, made no such pledge.
Callista Gingrich, wife number three, has taken to Twitter to attack Mitt Romney. In the past 24 hours alone she has retweeted two anti-Romney posts, both originally from an account with the handle "United States." The first calling Romney a sound-bite candidate. Then she - or he hit - him on his Bain Capital days.
Long ago and far away, of course, Michele Bachmann was an early favorite in Iowa. Now, she has been chewed up - yet again - on tape again, at a meet and greet again, this time by a woman wearing a Bachmann sticker and holding a sign that read, "Gay-friendly Iowan," and with husband Marcus Bachmann chiming in unhelpfully.
(Excerpt from video clip) SCHNELL: I wonder, also, if you're aware that 10 percent of the population is gay? And if you have 28 children, 2.8 of those kids are very likely gay.
(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELE BACHMANN: Hi.
(Excerpt from video clip) SCHNELL: She's not listening to me.
MICHELE BACHMANN: Hello, John. Well, that's according to the Kinsey Report.
(Excerpt from video clip) SCHNELL: Well, 10 percent of the population -
(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELE BACHMANN: That's what the Kinsey Report says.
(Excerpt from video clip) MARCUS BACHMANN: Your facts are wrong. Nice to meet you.
(Excerpt from video clip) SCHNELL: That's not valid?
(Excerpt from video clip) MARCUS BACHMANN: No, it's not at all. It's been a myth for many years.
(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELE BACHMANN: And you two know it.
(Excerpt from video clip) MARCUS BACHMANN: Good to meet -
OLBERMANN: Speaking of wrong facts - for weeks, the turnover of front-runners has prompted speculation that somebody could still enter at this late hour and wind up with the GOP nomination.
This afternoon, Sarah Palin - relegated to appearances, not on Fox, but on its virtually-unwatched business network - suggested, "It's not too late for folks to jump in. Who knows what will happen in the future?" Leading to one immediate question - remember Sarah Palin?
We will get to Ron Paul in a moment - and Palin, too - but first, the overview of Iowa. And a pleasure to be joined by Politico's Chief Investigative reporter, Ken Vogel. Good evening, Ken.
KEN VOGEL: Hey, great to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, Republicans are reacting to something about Gingrich, at least in Iowa. Is there any idea - what? Or are there too many options?
VOGEL: Yeah, there are too many options. He had his turn as the non-Mitt Romney and he didn't have the - the money, or the infrastructure - or really the campaign strategy in place to sustain it.
He - he bragged about running an un - an unconventional campaign, that he was using social media and - and sort of, you know, riding on the power of his big ideas to - to win support, but, in fact, it turns out that he was just the non-Mitt Romney of the moment and he - like the other non-Mitt Romneys before him - had their little boom and then collapsed.
His collapse has been rather stunning. You would have thought that, peaking at the time that he did, that he would be able to ride that right into Iowa. However, he just didn't have it, and so, now it's Ron Paul's turn.
OLBERMANN: So, have we made this - in terms of Gingrich - more complex than it actually is? I mean, The Associated Press reported there's more than a million dollars in anti-Gingrich ad buys in Iowa, but at this moment, anyway, he doesn't have enough money to do more than release his own PAC ads and hope we play them for free. Is this largely just dollars in play? Is that what we're actually seeing in Iowa?
VOGEL: There's a lot of that, yeah. It's this idea that he could run this non-traditional campaign that had neither the resources, in terms of money, or boots on the ground to be able to, you know, do what's necessary in the state of Iowa, where these voters really like to have that - like to be coddled, like to have that hands-on treatment from the candidate and, also, like to see the candidates' ads on the air.
And, let's face it, these ads that have been assailing him have been fairly effective at raising some of the baggage and some of the skeletons that he's had in his closet that would be a problem for him, not just in a prolonged and protracted primary battle with Mitt Romney or anyone else, but in a general election.
So, it's a combination of folks making good arguments against him and him not having the money to be able to respond.
OLBERMANN: Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post made a great point on this show last week, that Gingrich - when he's talking about judges, when he's talking about Israel - is reverting to a very old habit of his, which is micro-tailoring the campaign message to wherever, basically, what area code he happens to be in at the moment.
So, if Iowans, who are having a relatively good bounceback from the economy - the unemployment is, like, six percent there, as opposed to the national average of just under nine - if Iowans are, you know, full of evangelicals who need Israel to fit the rapture vision and who hate judges 'cause they enabled gay marriage in Iowa, and social issues are the major thing among conservatives, why didn't Gingrich go up when he micro-tailored his message?
VOGEL: And that's a good question. I think it's just that he - he sort of had his moment. And he was unable to sustain the momentum that he got through his good debate performances.
And, let's face it, he is an imperfect messenger on a number of these issues, but particularly the social-conservative, the religious-evangelical messaging. He's just not the right guy to be making that case. He's, you know, thrice divorced. And - sorry, twice divorced - and he has this long history of ethics problems that his rivals and supporters of his rivals were able to exploit in a way that took a lot of the veneer off him very quickly.
OLBERMANN: As to Romney, some of the numbers in the polls are the closest thing he's actually had to a surge in these many months. Is he in trouble now, too?
Because The New York Times reported today that he negotiated a retirement agreement with his former partners that has paid him a share of Bain's profits ever since. Is that the last thing that Mitt Romney needs right now? The idea that he's still effectively on the Bain payroll. And, you know, he's not as unemployed as he infamously boasted about in that one sound bite.
VOGEL: I don't think that's going to hurt him a whole lot in the GOP primary. I think what you've just articulated - this idea that he has not been able to get over mid-20 percent in polling - is something that traces back to his flip-flops on social issues that have continued to plague him, in particularly social-conservative circles.
However, I don't think that this - this agreement with Bain Capital, which, let's face it, is not going to hurt him that much in the GOP primary, because folks like this idea that he has this real-world business experience, even if it involves laying people off, which is something that the Democrats are going to hammer him with if he is the nominee. But, I think for that to hurt him, we're going to have to wait for the general election where it could really be a liability.
OLBERMANN: The Palin quote - before we get to Ron Paul - is she - do you think she's hinting at coming back in? I mean, is it plausible for anybody to launch a campaign today and wind up with the nomination this summer given the number of, you know, dead candidates there are on the field, metaphorically speaking, of course? Or dead candidacies that there are on the field?
VOGEL: Possible, but highly unlikely. I think what we're seeing with Sarah Palin is that she misses the spotlight. She's not getting any of it. As you mentioned, she's on Fox Business News. She's in talks about going into a second season with her TLC reality show.
She is - there is this sense about her that she is yesterday's news. She no longer even, is being looked to very much by the Republican base in sort of a kingmaker capacity. She misses being in the spotlight and talking about potentially getting into the race - though I think it's highly unrealistic that she could have a chance - is a way for her to attract some of this attention back.
OLBERMANN: All right, Ron Paul. Something happened, and something is happening, relative to the Congressman from Texas. Do we yet know what it is? Is it trite to say that there's some new veneer of plausibility?
VOGEL: I think that he has actually been entirely consistent. In some ways, his supporters would say nothing has happened. He's been there all along and he's been preaching the same message all along.
The fact that he is doing very well in Iowa, and has a legitimate chance of winning, shows that there is a place for these types of views in the Republican party. Because, while we were talking about Gingrich sort of tailoring his views to the audience that he's trying to win support from, Ron Paul has definitively not done that and there are many things that he has said that have really alienated social conservatives and the types of evangelical voters who are so important in the Iowa caucuses.
So, the fact that he is in the running and leading in some of the polls in Iowa is remarkable, and I think a testament to his consistency - and maybe to the sort of unsteadiness of the field - but also to the fact that, you know, this guy has been preaching this fiscal conservatism since before it was cool - since before the tea party was in existence - and there is a place for that in the Republican party.
OLBERMANN: Love him or hate him - is his candidacy and his campaign, are they underrated because Public Policy Polling also came up with this number, that 22 percent of the voters in the Republican category believe that Paul has run the best campaign in the state. Eight percent said Gingrich. Five percent said Romney. Are the mechanics being overlooked in this process?
VOGEL: Yeah, he actually has run a very efficient campaign and we should not overlook that. He has raised a lot more money and he's been up on the air in Iowa. He has boots in the ground. He has county offices. And - when you combine that with this energy that he has always had, going back to 2008 when he won 10 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses without much of an organization at all, and this was before the tea party sort of rose up around some of the ideas that he has been preaching for years - when you combine those two things, it shouldn't be surprising that he's in contention in Iowa.
OLBERMANN: So, contention in Iowa. Does that mean contention for the nomination? Does he have a real chance at it?
VOGEL: I just have trouble getting to that point. I think if he wins Iowa, certainly. It could get him a bounce in New Hampshire and could - could reinvigorate his campaign, or at least invigorate his fundraising to the point where he could run a long primary battle with Mitt Romney.
But I think that a win for Ron Paul in Iowa, short of a Mitt Romney win, would be the best thing that could happen to Mitt Romney, because it would essentially eliminate the second tier of candidates - like Newt Gingrich, like Rick Perry - these folks who need to do well in Iowa to be able to boost their campaigns.
And Mitt Romney would much rather face Ron Paul in a long, protracted battle for the Republican nomination than any of those other candidates I mentioned, because he'll look moderate in comparison. And he won't be forced to tack right on some of these social issues because Ron Paul won't force him to go there.
OLBERMANN: Ken Vogel, the chief investigative reporter from Politico. As always, Ken - and especially tonight - great thanks.
VOGEL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The House votes on the payroll-tax-holiday extension, sometime overnight, as America once again wonders - if the House and Senate vanish tomorrow, would the machinery of government go slower or faster?
That's next. This is "Countdown."
OLBERMANN: Nancy Pelosi tweets, "Only thing standing in way of payroll tax cut is tea party GOP in House with their latest made-up crisis just before - just days before Christmas." In other words, it's business as usual. The latest ahead, voting between 10:00 PM Eastern tonight and 2:00 AM Eastern tomorrow morning.
The Bradley Manning WikiLeaks hearing. Lieutenant Dan Choi is forcibly removed from it. He'll join us.
He's already a bad musician. Tonight "the Nuge" is also the "Worst Person in the World."
And Kim Jong Il, I'm sorry. Kim Jong Il, dead. Alec Baldwin no longer worthless.
Details coming up.
OLBERMANN: House Republicans threatening to reject a Senate plan tonight to extend the payroll-tax cut for two months. The one they supported until the tea party wing of their own party "revolted."
In our fourth story tonight - House Speaker John Boehner will conduct three separate votes between about 10:00 Eastern tonight and 2:00 AM Eastern tomorrow morning. One of them would try to summon the Senate for conference, another would be a sense of the House resolution demanding a one-year extension of the cut, not a two-month one. If no legislation is passed by the end of the year, the middle class will bear the brunt - 160 million Americans would see their taxes go up and Medicare would suffer major cuts. Boehner who indicated support for the two-month extension just last week - today, rejecting it:
(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN BOEHNER: I've been around here for a while. I've seen Congress kick the can down the road, kick the can down the road. It's time to stop the nonsense.
OLBERMANN: Time to kick your can down the road. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney calling the episode "kabuki theater," saying Boehner was being pressured by tea partiers to drop his support.
(Excerpt from video clip) JAY CARNEY: The Speaker of the House, in his conference call with House Republicans, urged them to support this measure, said it was a victory and the right thing to do. So, he was for it before he was against it.
OLBERMANN: Representative Phil Gingrey, the Republican of Georgia, saying not only are he and other tea partiers in open revolt but that John Boehner is their "Braveheart."
(Excerpt from video clip) PHIL GINGREY: Now everybody else said, "Look, this is a 'Braveheart' moment. You, Mr. Speaker, are our William Wallace. Let's rush to the fight. Get us back to Washington. Let's get our work done and we're doing that."
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: So, is that what you told John Boehner - that he's your William Wallace?
GINGREY: That's exactly - well, I called him Mel Gibson. I couldn't remember William Wallace. But now I know, of course.
OLBERMANN: Maybe now somebody should also tell him, William Wallace didn't make it, in the movie or in history.
Meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today, refusing to re-open negotiations, issuing a statement saying, "Senator McConnell and I negotiated a compromise at Speaker Boehner's request. I will not re-open negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders, and supported by 90 percent of the Senate."
Majority Leader Eric Cantor of the House pushing back:
(Excerpt from video clip) ERIC CANTOR: Harry Reid's going to have to call the Senate back to get down to work with us, so we can resolve this for the working families and tax payers of the country. And I think we'll all be better off.
OLBERMANN: The Republicans might first want to try to be "all better off" within their own party. At least five moderate Republican senators voicing disapproval today, including Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who called his Republican colleagues in the House, "irresponsible and wrong" for rejecting the Senate bill. Senator Richard Lugar, the Republican of Indiana, also voicing his displeasure:
(Excerpt from video clip) RICHARD LUGAR: I'm hopeful that our majority, now Republicans and Democrats today, will proceed - because it seems to me this is best for the country, as well as for all the individuals who are affected.
OLBERMANN: As for House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi tweeting today, "The only thing standing in way of payroll tax cut is tea party GOP in House with their latest made-up crisis just days before Christmas."
Joining me now from Wilmington - Senator Chris Coons, the Democrat of Delaware. Thanks for your time tonight, Senator.
CHRIS COONS: Thank you Keith. Thanks for a chance to be on.
OLBERMANN: What happened to this agreement that the compromise that Harry Reid negotiated with the Senator McConnell - is that not binding because John Boehner suddenly says it's not?
COONS: Keith, this is just yet another example in what has been a long, sad and tragic tale of a frustrating inability on the part of Speaker Boehner and the tea party caucus within the House Republican caucus to keep their word, to continue and execute on good-faith negotiations.
As I understand it - and I've been communicating back and forth with Senate Democratic leadership through their communication office, as well as with Congressman Carney of Delaware, who's there this evening - this deal came apart pretty quickly over the last two days.
What I think is hugely frustrating is that it is not that obvious to the average American exactly who's causing all the chaos in Washington over the past year.
This particular fight, this evening - this deal that was negotiated in good faith between Speaker Boehner, the Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Republican leader Mitch McConnell - should be perfect proof, that we can't even get a two-month extension of a badly-needed payroll-tax cut, something that's widely agreed on.
When the agreement was reached, it was celebrated and announced between McConnell and Reid, and here we are less than 48 hours later and they're walking it back and Boehner's claiming there was never any agreement. I think this is just hugely frustrating to the average American. It's deeply frustrating to me, Keith, that we are playing chicken with the economy and with the lives of 160 million working Americans.
OLBERMANN: As we're understanding it from the Hill, Senator, there's a three-stage procedural process, in terms of votes that will take place in the House beginning at about 10:00 tonight. Starting with a bill to concur with the Senate version of this, which is what Republicans say they're going to vote down. Secondly, there would be the vote to go to conference with the Senate on the whole package, and third would be a sense of the House asking for a year's extension on the cut and not a two-month one.
Is there something to be read into the nature of this sort of tripartite vote tonight? Does that tell you what's actually going on in the House?
COONS: Oh, I find it hard to understand exactly what's going on in the House on the best of days. My hunch is that there will be - there will be a real effort on the part of the House Democrats to assemble enough Republicans - who still see some sense in passing what is a bipartisan and broadly supported extension of the payroll-tax cut - and make their best efforts to get that first vote passed. From everything I'm hearing, it will likely fail because of the revolt within the Republican party and the ongoing tension and contrast that you describe between the House and Senate Republicans.
And so, in the second and third votes, they're going to try and take the upper hand politically and suggest that, somehow, they've always wanted a one-year tax-cut extension. Leader Reid made his absolute best efforts to negotiate, in good faith, a one-year extension - and I'll remind you, what's at stake here is not just the extension of the payroll-tax cut.
It's also the extension of unemployment insurance for, I believe, about two million Americans as well as fixing an ongoing, required annual cut in reimbursement for Medicare. So, starting less than 12 days from now, if the House acts on the course that we think they're on, they will put a real crimp on America's economy. They will increase payroll taxes for 160 million Americans, they'll throw two million Americans off of unemployment insurance, and they'll make it harder for millions of Americans to see their doctors.
Not exactly the sort of "Braveheart" record that I'd want to be going into the Christmas holidays with, or the end of the year, with if I were a freshman House Republican.
OLBERMANN: Ultimately, given the outcome of the votes tonight will say something about this, but do you expect - under any circumstances - the Senate to return to vote on anything about this?
COONS: I don't. Leader Reid's been very clear - that he negotiated in good faith, that he and Mitch McConnell reached a conclusion. I mean, let's be clear - a one-year extension would be better than a two-month extension. And many of us in the Senate Democratic Caucus pressed for it, asked for it.
But, as Leader Reid walked through with us, in detail, all the different riders - the extreme policy positions that were jammed into this bill on the Republican side - we understood why he ultimately broke off trying to negotiate a one-year deal.
As you know, the ultimate package that we did pass on Saturday included a measure that compels the president to hurry up and make a rush decision about the Keystone pipeline. That, enough, was a policy rider that really didn't belong in this. It's got nothing to do with the payroll-tax cut extension. But there were a dozen others that they tried to jam into this bill at the last moment.
I can understand why Leader Reid, in frustration, gave up on the more desirable year-long extension and simply accepted a two-month extension. We expect that the Senate will be back in session at the end of January, negotiating - in as good of faith as they can muster - with the Republicans in the Senate and House on how to extend these payroll-tax cuts, extend unemployment insurance for the entire year.
OLBERMANN: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Thank you kindly for some of your time tonight, Senator.
COONS: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: You did not know her, but there is an extraordinary reason that the three national television programs will have presented farewells to her in less than 36 hours. The passing of Michele O'Callaghan - next.
OLBERMANN: We are, tonight, without one of the great people. Not somebody you knew, probably, and I'm sorry for that. You missed somebody special. But a legend in the television community.
Michele O'Callaghan had been the primary make-up artist on "The Late Show With David Letterman" for 18 years. She had the same role with HBO's "Real Sports" for about half that length of time. She worked on nearly all of Bob Costas' shows on NBC and HBO. Specifically, on "Football Night in America," which is where I worked with her from 2007 through 2009.
Well, she was listed as the make-up artist. In fact, she ran each and every one of those shows. The first time I went on with Letterman, it was "Meesh" who talked me down from something close to an out-of-body experience, and when I started on the football show on NBC, she did the same thing.
She was blunt and hilarious, and - at one and the same time - the best source for information about your own show and the person who most earned your confidence. She believed life was to be lived no-holds-barred, and, as was mentioned by her best friend at her funeral mass this morning, for "somebody who acted like she hated everybody, there sure were a lot of heartbroken people there saying goodbye."
In fact, the big church in the New York suburb of Pleasantville was literally standing room only today. Her adoring husband, Tommy, and their kids held up admirably. Three kids, or - as she used to say to the visitors to the makeup room at "Football Night," - "Three kids, but that doesn't count K.O. or Costas."
Peter King from "Football Night" was there this morning, and Mary Carillo and Frank Deford from "Real Sports." And, bless him, David Letterman and Paul Shaffer, and must've been half the "Late Show" staff were there, and Alan Kalter, who sat with me and helped me get through it.
And I don't know how they did it, but they all went back and did a show for tonight, and David was going to talk about Michele. And that'll be three guys holding back tears on their programs, because Costas did it last night on "Football," too.
That's a tribute, I guess. I think the mass was more of one, though you hate to seem like you're judging these things by attendance.
But the true tribute was the fact that Michele had been fighting cancer for more than a year. And the hair went, and then it came back, and then it went again. And I saw her six weeks ago, when I went and did Letterman's show, and she was still working whenever she could, no matter what the doctor said about hugs or infections. You just didn't lie down when life was at full speed - which it always was for Michele.
When I asked her how she was, she said, "Well, I'm bald again." It was awful at times in the last year. It was awful at times this morning, but if I don't note how much time was spent laughing with her in spirit today, that spirit would probably come down and hit me in the back of the head. Hard.
Which reminds me, if you've ever seen Mr. Letterman make fun of the size of my head, this was an observation he reached with the help of Ms. Michele O'Callaghan. Mary Carillo told me today she had once seen some comment I'd done, knew Michele also worked with me, and had wanted to pass along her regards.
Michele told Mary she'd have plenty of time to do that because it took so long to finish my makeup because I had the "biggest effing head" she had ever seen and she couldn't get it all covered while just standing on one side of me. She had to walk around in back of me to reach the rest of it.
In point of fact, she used to do exactly that, and, more than once, she warned me that I wouldn't see her for awhile, but that I shouldn't worry if it seemed like she'd disappeared. She was just crossing behind me and would be right back on the other side.
Every Sunday, it was like that. And for David and Paul and all the guests on "The Late Show," every day, it was like that. And for her family, every moment, it was like that.
So, please forgive all of us if none of us are exactly the same again. We are tonight without one of the great people. Thanks, Meesh.
OLBERMANN: Dumont's "Court of Current Issues" will not be seen tonight so we can instead bring you "Countdown," the longest continuously-running 8:00 P.M. news hour on cable, unless you consider Fox - "news." We're live each night at 8:00 Eastern. Every night is a "Best of 'Countdown.'"
Pentagon Papers liberator Daniel Ellsberg has praised his courage. Dan Choi - ousted from the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - has said he is a patriot who has done true service to his country.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - both of them have now been kicked out of the preliminary hearings in the military's case against PFC Bradley Manning. Lieutenant Choi will join us presently.
Over the weekend, the defense began its arguments by pointing the finger at the Army's chain of command, claiming officers knew that Manning was "gender confused and emotionally unstable due to the impact of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and that higher-ups should have known not to give him access to state secrets."
Today, the hearing focused on computer forensics, with investigator David Shaver testifying that he found ten thousand State Department cables on Manning's computer. The courtroom briefly cleared for half an hour, so that Shaver could testify about the classified material that was found, even though the point was that the material Manning supposedly had wound up being decidedly unclassified by being posted by WikiLeaks.
My guest on Friday - fellow government whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg - was expelled from the hearing after introducing himself to Manning. Activist Lieutenant Daniel Choi, after first being delayed from entering because he was in uniform, was forcibly ejected, tweeting, "Was handcuffed and pinned to ground. Now escorted off base. They ripped off my rank," later tweeting a photo showing the damage done to his uniform and two of his wrists.
And joining me now, as promised, retired Army Lieutenant Dan Choi. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
DAN CHOI: It's an honor to be with you in the uniform of my country.
OLBERMANN: How are you feeling, first off, there? Is the wrist in bad shape?
CHOI: It's really numb right now. It's not like many other times that I've been arrested. It's actually a lot worse than the time when I was taken in custody in Moscow, Russia. I'm going to have to go to the hospital, actually, after this to get it checked out.
OLBERMANN: Did you get an answer as to why you were not just ejected, but handcuffed?
CHOI: Not a full answer, and it's not surprising that the public affairs officers there have not been fully forthcoming with the truth of what's happened. I can speculate that the reason why is, basically, they were angry about my wearing the uniform and needed to find another way to punish me and kick me out.
OLBERMANN: Two or three days of this, and the read for those of us who are laymen, is that this is a very strange hearing even for the military. Is that your sense, too, or is this much more par for the course than the rest of us would know?
CHOI: No, you don't have to be in the military to understand this is a show trial. This is a farce of justice, and being in that courtroom this weekend, I don't think that America has had lower moments. This is - for the reputation of America, probably the worst thing that can happen.
And I've come to the conclusion now that Bradley Manning is not on trial. The United States of America, habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial, innocent until proven guilty - that's all on the stage for the world to see. It's embarrassing.
OLBERMANN: You get removed. Daniel Ellsberg gets removed, a great hero of this country's freedoms. They clear the court to hear evidence that is available online and because it's online that's why, supposedly, everybody's in court. What's going on here? You said "show trial" and you said how important this was. But why make it not just a show - it sounds like a comedy act, almost. It's in some respects, it seems ridiculous even by military standards.
CHOI: Yes. You have to consider a couple of things are glaring. Number one, the judge - or the investigating officer - works for President Obama in the D.O.J., Obama's D.O.J.
Well, President Obama has already called the - Private Manning guilty. He is already called the entire game. So, nobody in the military is going to go against their commander in chief.
I think when we take a look at what's going on overall, though, we have to realize that - with the Geneva Conventions, the Hague, and the laws of the land warfare, ethics in war - it was only Bradley Manning who did his job, who fulfilled his duty when he saw a war crime. And that needs to come out.
The defense hasn't laid out its case yet. But I'm sure that they will. I think that's the strongest case, because Bradley Manning in that room stood for truth, and I think - in that room - he is the freest among all of us, even though he's chained and shackled, because he stood for truth.
OLBERMANN: The defense strategy that they introduced - painting him as, the phrase used was "gender confused," unstable because of suppression from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - as an activist for gays in the military, do you feel that this is an appropriate thing to introduce? Is it - is it relevant? Is it, in fact, accurate?
CHOI: Well, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was oppressive at its core. I think the most that can come out of the defense on that is a mitigating factor. I think we need to focus on why Bradley Manning did - was compelled to tell the truth, and I think, at this point, we can't say that he did any of this or didn't do any of this because he's gay or transgender.
He did this because he's a good soldier. And he saw war crimes and he knows, "Look, troops are coming back from Iraq. Our country needs to heal. There are a lot of bad things that have happened." And honestly, what happens from here on out, as we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice. You can't have justice without the whole truth.
And so, what Bradley Manning did as a gay American - I'm proud of him, as a gay soldier, because he stood for integrity.
And Keith, one thing about the gay community is that our community - among all of the communities in the world - we're the only one that bases its membership - its membership - on integrity and telling the truth about ourselves, declassifying that information for the betterment of our entire lives and societies and families. And when we do that, we realize that the gay movement is more important than just for gay people alone.
OLBERMANN: Well put, sir. Retired Army Lieutenant Daniel Choi. Take care of that -
CHOI: Oh, Keith, I have to say one thing. I'm sorry - the disrepair of my uniform when they threw me to the ground, they ripped off my rank, but one thing to all of those people who were there - the American people don't back down. And I want you all to know that we are filing charges against you. You are on notice. Consider yourself served.
OLBERMANN: Excellent. Take care of that wrist, sir. Take care.
It's the liar's club in "Worst Persons" - Governor Paul LePage of Maine versus Michele Bachmann. Bachmann is lying about whether or not an independent fact checker said that she had been lying previously, which might be an advantage in a liars competition. Next.
OLBERMANN: Dear Leader Kim Jong Il is still dead. Frank Conniff joins me to say hasta.
Back home, our equivalent in spaciness lies about whether or not an independent fact checking organization said she had lied or not. "Worst Persons," next on "Countdown."
OLBERMANN: A fond farewell to Kim Jong Il. Okay, a farewell to Kim Jong Il. All right, not so much a farewell as a "Don't let the screen door hit you in your dead fanny on the way out." Next.
First, because actually I liked all these folks better than I did Kim Jong Il, here are "Countdown's" top three nominees for today's "Worst Persons" in the world.
The bronze? To Paul LePage, the resident, embarrassing governor in Maine. Forbes magazine ranked Maine as the least business-friendly state in the union for 2011.
And last week, LePage promptly told a group of Mainers that his office asked the magazine's rankings editor, "Why?" They said, 'You made some efforts and you've done some good things in some areas. But, you absolutely ignored the structural problems, which are our welfare and our energy.' And they said, 'Unless you get your fiscal house in order and you address energy, you address work-based forced employment, a development rather. And you get yourself so that you spend with your means, you're in the cellar.' We're starting out with welfare because we're going broke."
The Forbes editor responded with a polite version of saying Governor LePage had lied between - had lied through his teeth.
They talked to a LePage adviser, but at no point did they discuss welfare or energy costs.
"Sorry, Governor, but I didn't say any of those things," senior editor Kurt Badenhausen writes, "Welfare? Not even a part of the rankings."
He explained there are six parts to the rankings - business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life. Next year, I suppose, they can add a seventh - how often the governor responds to his administration being ranked last in the country in something by lying about what it means and trying to use it as an excuse to cut welfare.
The runner-up? Michele Bachmann, who can actually top that. In last Thursday's debate, the Congresswoman from the 17th dimension referred to the previous debate, invoked the apolitical claim-sourcing site PolitiFact and said "After the debates that we had last week, PolitiFact came out and said that everything that I said was true." Nuh-huh.
On December 10th, she claimed Newt Gingrich had advocated for a health-care individual mandate in 1993 and as recently as May of this year, which PolitiFact came out and said was mostly true.
And she also said Mitt Romney had put socialized medicine in place in Massachusetts, which PolitiFact came out and said was ridiculously false and thus earned its ranking of "pants on fire."
Now, she has flat out lied in a debate about what PolitiFact had said about what she had said in the preceding debate.
The mind reels. Unfortunately, she didn't have one to worry about.
But our winner? Has-been rocker Ted Nugent. In his Washington Times column - yeah, seriously, Ted Nugent's political column - he writes of the Occupy movement, "While I don't condone violence, watching the cops pounce on and pepper spray a few Occupy stooges and then drag the dirtballs off to jail in shackles is good for my conservative soul and gold for my sense of humor. Everyone needs at least one hearty laugh every day. You have to admit that watching a stinky, dirty hippie being dragged off to jail is as funny as watching Moe hit Larry and Curly with a pipe wrench. This is funny stuff, funny stuff. Lighten up."
One visual reminder here is necessary - this is Nugent on the cover of "Cat Scratch Fever," his last mediocre record in 1977. He really wrote "stinking, dirty hippie" about somebody else after making a reputation as one? Asshole.
Ted Nugent - today's "Worst Person in the World."
OLBERMANN: We close with this medical update - Kim Jong Il has been downgraded to Kim Jong dead.
Our number one story on the "Countdown" - there's much mourning in North Korea tonight - you pretty much have to - but there is almost none anywhere else, as the world's most deadly, yet still farcical, figure is himself dead after 17 years as that nation's dictator. Good.
He inherited power after his father, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. During his reign, North Korea's military expanded into full nuclear capability. He lived in lavish surroundings: luxury sedans, 20,000 DVDs - is that a lot? - and a reported $800,000 worth of Hennessy Cognac - well, that's a lot. All while his people were barred from interacting with the outside world and they struggled with starvation.
While despised as a despot, his goofy appearance and inane claims made him an ideal figure for lampooning. A pudgy 5' 3", he maintained a comical look with his standard outfit of platform shoes, jumpsuit, sunglasses and permed hair.
The most absurd stories about Kim Jong Il came in form of self-aggrandizing fantasies that he forced the North Korean people to swallow - in lieu of food - such as his 38-under-par round of golf, including 11 holes of one - holes in one - his first time out. Or the titles bestowed on him by the Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee including: Superior Person, Guiding Sun Ray, Guarantee of the Fatherland's Unification, Ever Vicious, Iron-Willed Commander, World Leader of the 21st Century.
And perhaps the most ridiculous thing ever written about any human being - a government website once stated that Kim Jong Il never needed to urinate or defecate. Surprisingly, that is not listed as cause of death. The Korean Central News Agency claims he passed away "from great mental and physical strain."
Joining me now - comedian Frank Conniff, one of the veterans of "Mystery Science Theater" and its new incarnation, "Cinematic Titanic." He also has a masters in Korean Pudgy-Dictator Studies from the University of I Don't Remember. Good evening, Frank.
FRANK CONNIFF: Thank you, Keith, for having me here on this somber day of remembrance.
OLBERMANN: Yes, it is -
CONNIFF: I appreciate you having me come in. And I feel very inadequate that I do sometimes have to defecate.
OLBERMANN: Jong likened to Peter.
CONNIFF: I never realized that, for a 48-hour period after I eat at Taco Bell, I could be a North Korean dictator. It's amazing.
OLBERMANN: They say he just died. Is there a way we can tell the difference?
CONNIFF: I don't know. He, you know, he's a very - he's very fascinating in many ways. I mean, it's weird that I'm a film buff, and he's a film buff, too. I'm not quite comfortable with that.
He had 3,000 DVDs, as you said, and I understand one of his great regrets is that he died before "Jack and Jill" came out on Blu-ray. His, actually, his first choice for his line of succession to succeed him was actually Leonard Maltin, but he turned it down.
OLBERMANN: Wow. That's - so, you do - you earned that degree in Korean Pudgy-Dictator Studies.
CONNIFF: I do. I do.
OLBERMANN: He has this extraordinary legacy - golfer, American movie buff, Hennessy -
CONNIFF: Miniature golfer.
OLBERMANN: Well, okay, yeah. And the guy who was, sort of, stockpiling Hennessy in the event of a nuclear holocaust. What will you remember him for?
CONNIFF: Right. I will remember him as being that odd little man that showed up on TV every now and then, and was a horrible dictator, but did it with such a goofy look that you couldn't help but feel a little bit of affection for this genocidal maniac.
OLBERMANN: If you had to pick one genocidal maniac ...
CONNIFF: Yes, yes, and his son is gonna succeed him, I understand. And - but if that doesn't work out, he's gonna have a show on The Learning Channel called "Il Jun Ung's Alaska." So, I'm looking forward to that.
OLBERMANN: Now, his son is Little Kim? Have I got that right?
CONNIFF: Oh, I don't know. I haven't - I don't listen to the music that the young people are into these days, so I'm not familiar with that.
OLBERMANN: Well, what about the style element here? Why did that "jumpsuit, sunglasses and perm" look never catch on in the U.S.?
CONNIFF: It never caught on in the U.S., but it did catch on in North Korea, because he ordered that it catch on. It's a very easy way to become a fashion icon.
And actually, he was very lucky - in a way - because, when you look the way he did, the only possible way to get a date is if you're dictator of the country, you know? He had, like, a fool-proof pick-up line: "Have coffee with me or my guards will kill you."
You know, it worked every time. The ladies always went for it.
OLBERMANN: As we're talking about Kim Jong Il, the - I was concerned the author and poet Erica Jong, she's okay? Nothing happened to her, right?
CONNIFF: No, as far as I know. Despite her fear of flying.
OLBERMANN: Just checking all the Jongs. All the Jongs and Jungs that I can think of. I know we lost the psychological ...
CONNIFF: And people are still playing mahjong as far as I know.
OLBERMANN: Softball, Frank.
CONNIFF: Folks, we can go all night with this stuff.
OLBERMANN: Hopefully not. Is he - does he win, now that he's passed, has he won the - through his lifetime, the "Funniest-looking World Leader of All Time" trophy?
CONNIFF: I think he has, unless we elect Ron Paul. Then, I think, there'll be some competition. And Ron Paul actually shares his vision for a society with no basic services, so maybe that will happen.
OLBERMANN: Oh, Frank - I'm gonna get forty thousand emails because of that. The Ron Paul people are gonna come after me because they don't have a sense of humor, which this guy probably didn't either, although he had a lot of Hennessy.
Frank Conniff of "Cinematic Titanic." Thank you, Frank. Stay well.
CONNIFF: Thank you, Keith. Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: That's "Countdown" for this, the 345th day since John Boehner and Republicans took the House, thus 345 days in which 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.