'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, January 27th, 2012
Guest host: Bill Press
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#5 'Dueling Duo', David Catanese
#5 'Dueling Duo', Tim Dickinson
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#4 'Vote Aqui!', Victoria DeFrancesco Soto
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Going Pop-ulist', Matt Taibbi
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#2 'Worth A Thousand Words'
#1 'Changing The Topic', Derek McGee
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
printable PDF transcript
On the show: Bill Press, Matt Taibbi, Derek McGee, Tim Dickinson, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, David Catanese
BILL PRESS: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Beaten at his own game.
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: Have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
PRESS: Romney smacks down Gingrich in the latest debate so Newt blames the crowd again.
How the Hispanic vote could shape the 2012 election.
(Excerpt from video clip) JEB BUSH: I don't think a party can conspire to be the party if it's the Old White Guy party.
PRESS: Has the GOP already cost itself the Latino vote?
Obama takes his populism on the road.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: I don't want to be in a country where we only are looking at success for a small group of people. We want a country where everybody has a chance.
PRESS: Matt Taibbi, on whether the president's new rhetoric is for real.
And from Iraq to Wall Street - one vet's journey from soldier to banker to Occupier. Derek McGee, on why he joined Occupy.
All that and more, now on "Countdown."
(Excerpt from video clip) RON PAUL: The 99 and the one.
PRESS: Good evening, this is Friay - Friday, January 27, just 285 days now until the 2012 presidential election. I'm Bill Press, sitting in again tonight for Keith Olbermann. Thanks for joining us.
Newt Gingrich is shocked - shocked, I tell you - that Mitt Romney might have stretched the truth a little bit in last night's GOP debate, while new polls show that what worked for Mitt in Florida may not be helping him elsewhere.
The fifth story in the "Countdown" - if Mitt Romney were a matador and last night's debate a bull fight, the crowd would have awarded Mitt Newt's ears and tail as trophies. And Mitt seemed to think so too.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I thought it was a delightful debate. I loved it.
PRESS: Also last night's debate was the last before Tuesday's GOP primary, thank God. And perhaps Newt's last chance to score off Mitt and reverse his own slide in those statewide polls in Florida. Newt tried hitting Romney on his investments in federal mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and he got slapped right back.
(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: We discovered, to our shock, Governor Romney owns shares in both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I don't own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There are bonds that the investor has held through mutual funds, and, Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments with mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
PRESS: Yeah, right. Nice come back, Newt. Loser.
Both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum did a lot better than that when they were pressed on the same issue.
(Excerpt from video clip) RON PAUL: That subject really doesn't interest me a whole lot.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies? And that's not the worst thing in the world. And that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard.
PRESS: Well, apparently, we can't set that aside. No more than Santorum can set aside comparing Romney's Massachusetts health plan with President Obama's.
(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: In Massachusetts, everybody is mandated - as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts - to be able - to buy health insurance.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: First of all, it's not worth getting angry about. Look, I know you don't like the plan we had. I don't like the Obama plan. His plan cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn't, of course, touch anything like that.
PRESS: Yeah, maybe because Medicare is a federal program, not a state program, Mitt.
Romney shaded the truth at bit more. When pressed on one of his Spanish-language radio ads running in Florida that accuses Gingrich of calling Spanish "the language of the ghetto," Romney denied knowing anything about the ad, but then he went back on the attack after Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, informed Romney that he had personally endorsed the ad.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: Let me ask the Speaker a question - did you say what the ad says or not? I don't know.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: It's taken totally out of context, I did not know -
PRESS: Gingrich today claimed that he was appalled by Romney's replies last night, telling The Washington Post, "I think it's the most blatantly dishonest performance by a presidential candidate I've ever seen."
Newt's campaign also followed up today with this ad:
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: Romney denied seeing a false ad his campaign used to attack Newt Gingrich, but Romney's own campaign paid for the ad and Romney's own voice is on the ad, approving its false content. If we can't trust what Mitt Romney says about his own record, how can we trust him on anything?
PRESS: But if you trust the latest numbers from the Quinnipiac poll, Romney's leading Gingrich by nine points in Florida with Ron Paul and Rick Santorum far behind, while the latest Gallup poll, nationwide, shows Gingrich is leading Romney by eight points with the other candidates - again - not much of a factor.
And meanwhile, what does the other party think about all these GOP debates? Vice President Joe Biden seems to love what he's seen so far.
(Excerpt from video clip) JOE BIDEN: The only thing we've got to make clear to the American people - what's the meat and what's the poison? And guess what, they're helping us a great deal.
PRESS: All right, now for more on last night's Republican presidential debate and the struggle for the ballot supremacy between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, I'm joined by David Catanese, the national political reporter with Politico.com. Hi, David, good to have you with us this evening.
DAVID CATANESE: Hey, Bill, good evening.
PRESS: So, Newt last night needed a good night after not doing so well in the debate last Monday. This was his chance to get his momentum back, and he didn't do it. He had kind of a flat night. What happened, do you think?
CATANESE: Well, I think you have enough of these debates - we're on number 19 - Newt was bound to lose one and that's what he did last night. Sort of like the baseball playoffs. You know, even the Yankees are going to lose one or two games.
But this was clearly a critical moment for his campaign. This was the last debate before Florida, Romney was already showing some momentum coming out of the debate earlier this week. And when does Newt surge? He uses the debates. That's what his whole campaign has been based on. Even back in the fall, he used these debates to stay in the conversation.
I just was very surprised. It didn't seem like he had the fight in him. It didn't seem like he knew how to respond to a lot of Mitt Romney's charges. Even when he seemed to have an upper hand in the attacks, like on that ad where Romney was the clearly called out on, Newt didn't capitalize - capitalize on it and do what he has done so often before.
PRESS: You know, I don't like to engage in psychobabble, usually criticize people who do, but is it possible - I've been thinking about this today - that Newt realizes - I mean, he doesn't just have the feeling, he knows - that he's not going to make it now, that the South Carolina bounce is not going to carry him all the way? And maybe that was reflected in his performance? Do you think?
CATANESE: You know, I don't know. Newt Gingrich is a very confident guy. I don't think anybody, you know, takes that away from him. But, look, I do think there is a sense that - he is such a tactician in his head, almost a strategist - he talks about process in these debates more than he does policy. I think that's one of the other problems.
Romney is getting sharper and seems to always come back to a message. He's been doing it less so, but he always comes back, and brings the campaign back, to Obama. Newt never did that last night. And I think that's what's you're seeing - some of the consultants in the Republican Party saying, "This is why he can't be the nominee. He is floundering. He's erratic. He's not consistent."
And who knows? Maybe Newt Gingrich has a great debate against President Obama one week, but then - three weeks later at that next big debate - he doesn't show up ready for primetime. Even his spokesman last night was asked what happened, and his spokesman said, "I don't know." They were not even trying to spin it.
PRESS: Meanwhile, as you point out, Mitt Romney was much more aggressive last night. He really showed they've done a lot of opposition research. He went on the attack, kept pressing Newt Gingrich. And he has got a new debate coach, the guy who used to work for Michele Bachmann. Is that the secret with the new Mitt?
CATANESE: I don't know. I mean, this guy has got to be getting tons of high fives in the Romney campaign office now, after this debate performance, but I think it's more about Romney knowing he is on the ropes after losing South Carolina.
I mean, remember - Mitt Romney went to being almost 3-0 to 1-2 in these first three primary states. And I think they probably sat him down in a room - maybe not this debate coach, but his team - and said, "Look, this is real, Newt's good at debating, you have to come out gloves off. Here's all, you know, the arsenal that you need to hit on."
And I think Mitt was fighting for his life there and frankly he did very, very well, showed a lot of Republicans who are - who are, you know, wary about him after South Carolina that, "Hey, Mitt Romney can throw a punch after all. He can get aggressive." And I think that helped him greatly and you're seeing it in the polls.
PRESS: Yeah. And finally, Newt was complaining this morning that Mitt Romney stacked the room last night, filled the room with his supporters. Shocking. Did Romney do that? And so what, right?
CATANESE: Well, you know, I don't - exactly. I mean, this is - this is like the - "No crying in baseball, Newt."
He wanted the audience back. He complained earlier this week when NBC did not have an audience. Now CNN opened it up with an audience, now the audience was all for Romney.
So, I mean, again, this is process. People don't want to hear it. And I think he needs to figure out how to drive a message over this weekend to get back in the game. Otherwise, it's off to the races for Mitt Romney.
PRESS: It reminds you of that little Newt "crybaby" cover of the National - of the New York Daily News, a few years ago. Right?
David Catanese, national political reporter for Politico. David, always good to have you on the program. Thank you.
And for more, now, on the state of the GOP field heading into next Tuesday's Florida primary, I'm joined by Tim Dickinson, contributing editor with Rolling Stone. Hi, Tim, good evening. Good to see you.
TIM DICKINSON: Good to see you.
PRESS: Let's remember, there are a couple of other people on the stage last night, right? Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.
Now then, let's start with Santorum. So, he goes home today to do his taxes. Tim, I don't know about Pennsylvania, but in the rest of the country, taxes are due in April, not in January. What's really going on?
DICKINSON: I'm sure he's trying to re-evaluate, but the thing is no one's been able to deliver a knockout punch to Santorum. His debate performance was arguably as good as anybody's last night. And Newt as the anti-Mitt seems to be sinking. So maybe there's a Santorum surge yet to be seen. I don't know. His whole philosophy this whole time is to be the last non-Mitt standing. He's still in the running for that, marginally. I think we'll see him get out - either when the poll numbers force him out or when he sees a strategic opening to get whatever it is he's actually running for. If it's not president, if it's Health and Human Services Secretary or something else.
PRESS: Yeah, no. You know, he's a puzzle to me. Because, clearly, he's the most, I think, authentically conservative candidate in the race - somebody's going to put that in an ad somewhere for Santorum, I guess, that statement - and he was endorsed by the evangelicals right down the line on all the issues. And he does very well in the debates, and yet hasn't seemed to really catch fire. Yeah, he won Iowa, but what's the problem?
DICKINSON: You would have thought that evangelical endorsement would have been a really big boost to him. I don't - I think his national profile isn't high enough, I think his repeated statements in vain against women - you know, I just don't think he plays well -
PRESS: And gays.
DICKINSON: Well, he doesn't - even GOP women, I think he makes them cringe a little bit. I don't think he's got that, you know, "It" factor - that presidential factor that people are looking for in a candidate.
PRESS: Now - Ron Paul, the forth candidate, he sort of lives in a universe of his own. He got some great laugh lines off last night and while Santorum, I think, might drop out, would you agree Ron Paul just goes all the way to have whatever impact he can on the convention?
DICKINSON: I think that's right. Ron Paul has his sort of own little universe of voters. The polls show that he can be quite a dangerous third-party candidate, too. He has his sort of own Ron Paul party and his adherents are very loyal to him.
PRESS: Do you think his Ron Paul party could become a third party?
DICKINSON: He didn't rule it out. He said he didn't intend to do it, but he certainly didn't dispel that notion entirely in the penultimate debate.
PRESS: I want to come back to what Vice President Biden said. It is fun for Democrats to watch Republicans kind of act like Democrats, right? Form a circular firing squad and everything. But are they weakening each other as Democrats seem to think, or are they, perhaps, becoming stronger through this primary process and emerge as a stronger nominee? How do you read it?
DICKINSON: You know, you look at their negatives and they are rising sky high. Romney's negatives, Gingrich's negatives. These are not popular men. And when you have people like Rick Perry calling Mitt Romney a "vulture capitalist," that's some gold you can use, that David Axelrod can make use of in the general election.
Obama himself has boasted about running some of these GOP debates verbatim and without editing, especially some of the comments about immigrants.
And, I think this debate, these series of debates - have given Democrats an awful lot of ammunition. If you look at the new Mitt - I mean, Gingrich - super PAC attack documentary about Mitt Romney's Medicare record, that's the kind of thing that could be re-aired, almost unedited, in October.
PRESS: So, you think some of those phrases like "vulture capitalist" and "corporate predator" we might hear again?
DICKINSON: There's no way to inoculate yourself against a Swiss bank account. I just don't think that's ever going to get old for people.
PRESS: Indeed. Finally, I just wanted to ask you, Newt - in the latest poll out today, Newt Gingrich is down eight points in Florida, right? But he's up eight points in the Gallup poll nationwide. Why the discrepancy?
DICKINSON: We've seen, repeatedly, that the nationwide polls are sort of a lagging indicator. And people in Minnesota aren't getting subjected to the attack ads that Mitt Romney has been airing nonstop for the last three weeks in Florida. I think - I think it underscores just how little oomph there is behind that Newt bubble.
PRESS: Tim Dickinson, out in San Francisco for Rolling Stone. Thanks, Tim, very much.
DICKINSON: Thank you so much.
PRESS: The Latino vote, key to winning the upcoming Sunshine state primary on next Tuesday. A look at what Gingrich and Romney are doing to court this key voting block.
Plus, the populist president. It's become the dominant theme in President Obama's speeches, but will he make good on his promise? That's next.
PRESS: Nearly 1.5 million Latinos are registered to vote in the key swing state of Florida, what matters to them and how it will impact the 2012 race for the White House.
The populist president on display again today in Michigan. Is it all just talk? Matt Taibbi joins me.
The dust up in the desert. Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer scores some cheap political points by wagging her finger at President Obama, but will he be the big winner in the long run? My special commentary.
And their tents may be gone but the Occupy movement's message is still being heard loud and clear. An Iraq war vet tells us what the Occupy movement means to him.
All ahead on "Countdown."
PRESS: Think about this - more than half the electoral votes a candidate needs to win the White House can be found in just four states California, New York, Texas and Florida. And they also happen to be the states with this country's largest Hispanic population.
In our fourth story in the "Countdown" - we see why this week's GOP primary fight in the Sunshine state for the Latino vote has become so critical in the quest for the presidential nomination and the big win in November. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made clear why thing voting block is so important to the future of his Republican Party.
(Excerpt from video clip) JEB BUSH: The growing populations in all of the swing states are Hispanic voters. I don't think a party can aspire to be the majority party if it's the Old White Guy party.
PRESS: Statistics from the Census Bureau back him up. The Hispanic population in Florida alone grew by 57 percent in the last ten years. And across the country, nearly a quarter of all children aged 17 or younger are Latino.
The big worry for the GOP? During the 2008 presidential election, nominee John McCain won just 31 percent of the Hispanic vote.
In the speech today to the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference, Newt Gingrich attempted to court those voters with a promise to allow Puerto Rico to decide on the question on statehood. He also made a special appeal to Cuban Americans in Florida.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: I would like a Cuban Spring in 2013 to help the people of Cuba liberate themselves.
PRESS: Then about an hour later, Mitt Romney took the stage and focused on that same theme - liberating Cuba.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: There is a time coming soon where Cuba will be free. That's going to happen, but we're going to have to get organized for it, we're going to have to recognize that the people there want freedom, as people do all over the world, and America can't sit back.
PRESS: The battle for the Hispanic vote was also evident during last night's debate. Gingrich was asked about a Spanish-language ad his campaign had aired and then pulled, calling Romney the most anti-immigrant candidate.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOLF BLITZER: Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: I think of the four of us, yes.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I am anti-immigrant is repulsive.
PRESS: Hot issues. So joining me now Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, director of communications for Latino Decisions, and a fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. Dr. Soto, thanks for your time, thanks for coming in this morning.
I've, in California, taken part in a lot of voter-registration drives in the Latino community, ran a few of them. How are Latinos voting today, in terms of voter turnout? Is it high in the Latino community and do they slant mostly Democratic or mostly Republican?
VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Well, right now we see that the Latino population is approximately at 16 percent. However, given the age of the population - it's a very young population - and the fact that about half of the population is undocumented, that takes that number and squeezes it down to about eight percent. However, many Latinos are concentrated in key swing states, so even though nationally they are only about eight percent, but then you see in states like California, Texas, Nevada, and our swing states like New Mexico and Colorado, they have a substantive part of the electorate.
PRESS: And do they vote? Do they come out to vote? Do they get engaged in politics?
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: It depends. It depends on the mobilization. Socio-economically speaking, many of these Latino voters don't have the resources, aren't mobilized to vote. So that's where the campaigns come in. And the Obama campaign did a fabulous job in 2008. The question is, is he going to be able to do the same in this election?
PRESS: Are there certain issues that prompt them, or propel them, to vote in some elections rather than others?
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: The conventional wisdom is that it's immigration. That the top concern for Latinos is immigration, but what we've been seeing over the course of the last couple months and surveys is that in fact it's the economy. So, Latinos care just as much about the economy and unemployment as non-Latinos. Sure they care about immigration, but it's not as over-looming as, I think, the media and sometimes the candidates make it seem. It's a short, informational shortcut - Latinos, immigration. But it's far more complex.
PRESS: If, in some of these key states, and the ones we talked about - Texas, California, Florida, particularly New York - is the Latino vote - that eight percent, or however many of them turn out - is it enough to swing an election?
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Not in the super-blue states like California or super-red states like Texas, but in Nevada it is, in New Mexico and Colorado.
We saw that in 2010 with Senator Reid. He survived because of the Latino vote. That percentage that put him over the top was because of Latinos, and he knew they were going to be his life raft and he aggressively courted them.
So, we're also going to see the Latino vote very important in Congressional elections. So, thinking beyond the presidential election, but your Senate elections, your Congressional elections and even some of your state elections.
PRESS: As we said in the intro, this has become a particularly important focus for the Republican candidates in Florida, and we know why. But, as a party, the Republican party has opposed comprehensive immigration reform, they are the ones who blocked in the Senate. They blocked the Dream Act, which President Obama wanted. So, can they really appeal to the Latino vote when they're acting and voting against them?
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: They can't. They can't on the issue of immigration. But then again, President Obama can't really appeal to Latinos on the issue of immigration because he made a promise of comprehensive immigration reform and he failed.
PRESS: So, he gets blamed for Republicans blocking the vote in the Senate?
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: I think he's forgiven. He's given a pass, but he can't come back to that issue and woo them like he did in 2008.
Republicans, for right now, they are going forward, their rhetoric is too harsh.
PRESS: I have to ask you this - for years and years, under Democratic presidents and Republican presidents, Cuban - the Miami Cuban American community in Miami has controlled American foreign policy, certainly toward Cuba. Are they still as strong and is Cuba still - or was it ever really - a threat to the United States?
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: It's still as strong, because those folks who came over in 1959 and the early 1960's, many of them are still there and they tend to be older folks who vote all the time. They voted before and they still keep on voting. And - Fidel is still there. So, the fact that it's not just a Cuban issue, it is a personal issue. This man ran us out -
PRESS: How about the younger members of the community? Do they feel as strongly as their grandfathers?
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: That's an excellent point. We see that we don't see that - that Cuba-centered vote with the younger populations. We saw in 2008 where they crossed over, we saw a lot of young Cuban Republicans cross over and vote for the president. So, we do see a loosening of those ties. But those initial immigrants? Still as strong as ever.
PRESS: Dr. DeFrancesco Soto and great to see you today. Thank you so much for coming to the studio with us.
DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Thank you.
PRESS: President Obama appears to have embraced a populist message, but will his words be matched by action? That's ahead, on "Countdown."
PRESS: Coming up - since the State of the Union, President Obama's taken on a populist tone, but is it just talk or is he ready to walk the walk? Our discussion with Matt Taibbi.
But first, the "Sanity Break."
It was on this day in 1832 that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born in Cheshire, England. A mathematician by trade, Dodgson also dabbled in writing, first publishing a poem in 1856, at which time he took the pen name Lewis Carroll. So now you know the rest of the story.
Carroll would go on to write the children's classics "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass."
So, in honor of Mr. Carroll, tonight we will begin and the beginning and go on until we come to the end, then stop, because that's what you do when you get to the end.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Dog watches the movie "Maramduke."
We begin with the TMO Adorable Clip of the Day. Don't you hate it when somebody leaves the TV on in the living room but nobody's watching? Or is somebody watching?
That's right. Smitty here is completely engaged in the movie "Marmaduke."
And here's an interesting fact - before him, nobody ever made it all the way through that movie.
VIDEO: Colorado girl breaks record for longest continuous brushing of one's teeth.
We move to the world of record breaking, and - as we always say on this show - if you want to break a world record, make sure it's one that nobody else is trying to break.
Which is why Fern Garber of Telluride, Colorado - there she is - is attempting the record for the longest continuous brushing of one's teeth. The trick to breaking this record is just to keep brushing your teeth until the record is broken.
Ultimately, she brushes for over 18 minutes and the best news is - no cavities.
VIDEO: YouTube sensation butchers classic Beach Boys' tune.
And, finally, tonight: Internet plus karaoke plus too much time on your hands, and here's what you get - introducing the latest YouTube sensation.
No, something tells me he doesn't get around too often. Of course, our apologies to Brian Wilson.
"Time Marches On!"
On the road this week, President Obama's populist message has garnered a lot of positive attention. But will he now deliver a real populist legislative agenda? Matt Taibbi, next.
PRESS: We bring you "Countdown" live each night at 8:00 Eastern, primary replays at 11:00PM and 2:00AM Eastern.
In 2008, then-candidate Obama introduced himself as an outsider who would bring change we could believe in. Remember? But obviously, after being president for the last three years, change is not really something he can run on this time.
In our third story - it seems President Obama has found his new identity, the populist president. Throughout the president's 65-minute State of the Union Tuesday night, he hammered home a need for economic fairness and a sharing of the financial burden.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules. If you make more than a million dollars a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. If you make under $250,000 a year - like 98 percent of American families - your taxes shouldn't go up.
Now, you can call this class warfare all you want, but - asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.
PRESS: Warren Buffet's secretary there in the gallery. Today in Michigan, the president continued his populist tone and - responding to an enthusiastic audience - he took his message even further.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: I don't want to be in a country where we only are looking at success for a small group of people. We want a country where everybody has a chance. I want this to be a big, bold generous country where everybody gets a fair shot, everybody's doing their fair share, everybody's playing by the same set of rules, that's the America I know, that's the America I want to keep, that's the future within our reach.
PRESS: All right, so what's going on? Let's bring in Rolling Stone contributing editor and "Countdown" contributor Matt Taibbi. Matt, nice to see you this evening. Thank you for coming in.
So, you've a latest article for Rolling Stone, "Is Obama's Economic Populism For Real?" That's the question. Is President Obama really a populist or does he just play one on television?
MATT TAIBBI: Well, when it comes to the Wall Street stuff that I cover, there's a lot of enthusiasm. Even in the last 10 minutes, actually, before the show happened - there's news coming out about this long-anticipated foreclosure settlement that - it looks like it's a much, much better deal than anybody ever anticipated.
PRESS: For consumers?
TAIBBI: For consumers, for people and not for banks. You know, the expectation from people like me for a long time was that this would actually be the equivalent of a giant TARP-sized bailout, in other words they were going to allow these banks to escape perhaps a trillion dollars in liabilities, but they've narrowed the focus of this deal so it only covers a small amount of liability and still leaves these banks incredibly exposed to all kinds of criminal investigations. And that's an enormous victory, if that ends up being true.
PRESS: Yeah, in this article, your skepticism is dripping about what Obama might do, so he sort of surprised you on that.
TAIBBI: Everybody, yeah.
PRESS: He also just recently created this task force on mortgage originalization.
TAIBBI: Origination, yes.
PRESS: It's a very complicated title, headed by the New York attorney general. Is he the right guy to lead it?
TAIBBI: Absolutely. And Schneiderman and the California attorney general Kamala Harris are probably the people who are responsible for getting that good foreclosure deal.
PRESS: She's terrific. She's really great.
TAIBBI: She is. What they did is they held out, they refused to sign on to a bad deal and that's probably why we got a good deal on the foreclosure thing.
Now, what Schneiderman is going after - you know, the foreclosure deal covered a small amount of the portion of the fraud that went on during the mortgage years. There is a much bigger galaxy of misdeeds that went on in the creation and pooling of bad subprime mortgages and all these banks are guilty of these offenses. And Schneiderman is looking right at that fraud. And he's definitely the right guy to look at it.
PRESS: So, might we see some of these guys go to jail?
TAIBBI: Absolutely. I mean, if they went - if they do this for real - if they do this like a real Enron-style investigation - you could have half the luminaries on Wall Street doing prison time and I'm not even kidding. Really, every single one of the major banks was involved in this sort of activity. They all made enormous profits from selling mismarked and over-evaluated mortgages to unsuspecting investors.
PRESS: Sure, oh yeah, knowingly.
TAIBBI: Knowingly. And knowingly overriding their own due-diligence people who said, "These mortgages are fraudulent, they're going to default." They covered up that information, they dressed it up in phony math and sold them as triple-A-rated securities and made hundreds of billions of dollars on this and they need to pay people back.
PRESS: Back to the gist of your question. You know, there is always a sort of duality with President Obama. He promised that - he campaigned on the public-plan option, right, and then he dropped it. He said, "We're never going to renew and continue those tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," and then he did for another two years. So, has he turned a corner here, and do you believe - genuinely turned a corner - and said, "Now, I'm going to fight for the 99?"
TAIBBI: Well, I believe he just said it. I believe that they have gotten the political message that that is what people want. The question is - will they really follow through? Will it be a cosmetic investigation or will it be a real cleaning up of the markets? And - but I think that they might - there's a slight possibility that they might have gotten the message. Because they clearly haven't done it yet. I mean, they haven't put anybody, done any real investigations yet
TAIBBI: And that's a glaring oversight.
PRESS: But I'm also speaking about the legislative agenda. For example -
PRESS: The fight over the payroll-tax-cut deduction.
TAIBBI: Right, right.
PRESS: I mean, he held tight, he held tough on that. And he brought Boehner to his knees. Now, they only got two months, but certainly the Republicans ended up having to cave in on that issue.
TAIBBI: Sure, and why wouldn't he hold fast again? It looks like the Republican Party's in chaos right now, with everything that's going on in the presidential elections right now. The Republicans are weak right now and Barack Obama - I think - I think the situation with the Republicans influenced his State of the Union address, I think it influenced this business with the foreclosure settlement, and I think he should feel confident in the payroll debate that's going to happen in a month or so - or the next three weeks or whenever it is. He should - he should stand tall right now.
PRESS: Yeah, and who would have thought that income inequality would be an issue in this campaign? But it's going to be. Matt Taibbi, always good to see you.
TAIBBI: Good to see you.
PRESS: Contributing editor for Rolling Stone and a "Countdown" contributor. Thanks for coming in very much.
The governor of Arizona welcomes the president of the United States to the Grand Canyon state by wagging her finger in his face. Why'd she do it and why she shouldn't have done it. That's my commentary, next.
PRESS: A Democratic President is greeted by a finger-wagging Republican Governor out in Arizona. Big mistake. My commentary, coming up.
Plus, the message of Occupy is still strong, even if its camps are not. One Iraq war vet shares his thoughts on the movement's lasting impact.
Next, on "Countdown."
PRESS: And now, my commentary for this Friday night.
Just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it's not true. Sometimes haste does makes waste. A rolling stone does, in fact, gather no moss and a picture is worth a thousand words. Especially this one. (DISPLAYS STILL PHOTOGRAPH OF ARIZONA GOVERNOR JAN BREWER WAVING HER FINGER IN PRESIDENT OBAMA'S FACE ON THE TARMAC OF AN AIRPORT.) The picture that flashed around the world this week quickly dubbed "The Dust up in the Desert."
And there she is on the tarmac - that crazy governor of Arizona Jan Brewer, welcoming President Obama to Phoenix by wagging her finger in his face. Look at her, she looks like an angry mother scolding her kids for not eating all the peas on his plate. She certainly doesn't look like the governor of a great state greeting the President of the United States and treating him, regardless of party, with all the respect that he deserves. You think she'd dare greet George Bush the same way?
And notice President Obama, ever the gentlemen, keeps his hands at his side. And besides, as he told Diane Sawyer, he knew what she was up to - just trying to score a political point with Arizona Republicans.
(Excerpt from video clip) DIANE SAWYER: There's a picture out there of you with Governor Jan Brewer. What was going on there? She said you were tense, thin-skinned. She's all over the airwaves right now.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: Yeah, well, you know, what I've discovered is that I think it's always good publicity for a Republican if they're in an argument with me, but this was really not a big deal.
PRESS: And how about Governor Brewer? Has she apologized? No way. She not only refuses to apologize, she blames President Obama for overreacting to what she wrote in her book, "Scorpions for Breakfast."
"By accusing us of being bigots, he could look like as if he were doing something about immigration when he was actually doing nothing at all." There's only one reason he could disagree with that, that's what she told Greta Van Susteren.
(Excerpt from video clip) JAN BREWER: The bottom line is that the book is factual, the book is true. I want our borders secured. I want our nation protected. He wants amnesty, and we're never going to agree on that, and we agree to disagree on that subject. So, I don't know why he was surprised by my book but he evidently is and he's very thin-skinned in regards to it.
PRESS: Thin-skinned? That's what she said? Well, we all know that's not necessarily what she meant. To many Americans, seeing a white woman wagging her finger in a black man's face, Brewer was making a different point about Obama's skin - not how thick or thin it is, but what color it is.
Now, as President Obama noted - in the short term - yeah, that may gain Jan Brewer some cheap, race-tinged political points. But in the long term, President Obama could end up the big winner.
Here's why. Because, among Latino voters, nobody in Arizona's more unpopular than Jan Brewer, who championed legislation - remember - forcing them to carry papers or get deported. Anybody she's against, they are automatically for. Anybody she insults, they support.
And in Arizona, as go Latino voters, so goes the state. So, what do you know? The end of the "dust up in the desert" could very well be that President Obama, unlike 2008, carries Arizona in November, 2012.
And all because Jan Brewer gave Barack Obama the finger.
PRESS: Though the drum circles have been quieted and the tents taken down, for Occupy Wall Street, it's impossible to evict an idea.
In our number-one story on the "Countdown" tonight - from the State of the Union to the latest Republican debate in Jacksonville, Florida last night, politicians across the board are talking about those 99 percent.
(Excerpt from video clip) PAUL: I do want to address the subject about taxing the rich. That is not a solution, but I understand and really empathize with the people who talk about "the 99 and the one," because there is a characteristic about what happens when you destroy a currency. There is a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. And this has been going on for 40 years.
PRESS: Months ago, all the talk inside the Beltway focused on debt and deficits, but Occupy changed that. Now, instead, people are talking about income inequality and corporate responsibility.
That's one of the reasons why - three years after the financial crisis that plunged this country into the deepest recession since the Great Depression - Time Magazine named the protester its Person of the Year and Occupy as the "One percent versus the 99 percent" chant has become part of the national lexicon.
But the Occupy effect reaches far beyond questions of inequality, as Iraq veteran, author and Occupier Derek McGee writes in The Nation this week:
"Everyone in the Occupy movement has a different set of grievances. If Occupy has taught me anything, it is that we must live up to our own values. There is nothing you could write on a sign that could offend me more than seeing police take away someone's right to free speech."
And he joins us tonight. Derek McGee - Iraq veteran, Occupier and author of "An Iraq Vet's Journey from Wall Street to OWS." Hi, Derek, nice to see you tonight.
DEREK MCGEE: Hi, thanks for having me.
PRESS: I spent some time with the Occupy movement down in Washington, DC and I must say - you are the most unlikely Occupier, if I can put it that way. I mean, you've been a Marine, you've served in Iraq, you've been a banker on Wall Street with Merrill Lynch. What attracted you, of all people, to the Occupy movement?
MCGEE: Well, I think what got me to go down there the first time was simply because of having an understanding of what went wrong in the financial crisis, and knowing that there was the steps that had been promised, that the regulation that was going to come in so it never happened again didn't take place. And the accountability that I thought should have been there wasn't there.
And I went down for the purpose of arguing, you know, just that one point. I didn't believe in a lot of the other things that I saw on signs and was being said and I didn't have a lot in common with a lot of the people down there. But when I went down there, I started hearing and seeing other things and researching, and finding that there was a lot wrong and that these people had a real serious point.
PRESS: When you were working at Merrill Lynch or - I don't want to single them out - or working on Wall Street, or - why not? - but when you were working on Wall Street, did you see some of the abuses that Occupy is talking about?
MCGEE: I mean, I didn't see I wouldn't say I saw anything illegal. I saw what I would consider very unethical behavior as everything was crumbling around us - our own corporate was telling us everything is fine, buy the stock, everything was great. We knew that was lies. I became sort of disillusioned with the whole corporate structure and sort of this system that allows an entity to act without ethics and no one has to be held accountable and no one has to feel guilty.
PRESS: I was struck by, you said, your first visit to lower Manhattan Battery Park was back in September, 2001 when you were a Marine helping protect the National Guard encampment there, correct?
MCGEE: That's right. We were living in tents in Battery Park.
PRESS: And then you come back as a protester, part of the Occupy where the New York police are there, basically corralling you. What did it feel to be on the other side of the law-enforcement, right? - or the authority line?
MCGEE: Well, it was absolutely polar opposite, as you can imagine. In the one case we were being applauded for being there and everyone thought we were upholding freedoms and that sort of thing and then the second time - which I thought we were almost doing the same thing down there, trying to defend freedoms and uphold what we thought was right - we were then being absolutely castigated for it, and I would say oppressed by the police.
PRESS: Were you troubled at all that, sometimes, the Occupy movement was not able to get a real fix, like, there was criticism - "They didn't have a real agenda. They didn't have a list of 10 demands." You seem to be a very organized, focused person. Was that hard to get your hands around?
MCGEE: Well, I mean, one of the great parts about that was you had everyone in the country asking -asking us what we wanted, which doesn't happen very often. But I think that that - you know, like, it's missing the point. I think what it was - was not so much about any particular issue. It was that people feel - that everyone is starting to feel that there is a disconnect between their vote and then sort of an equivalent amount of political involvement. And that is what brought everyone together. So, it doesn't really matter what their issues were, they felt like no one's listening to us.
PRESS: I just saw it in Washington, DC today - which is one of the last cities to get rid of the tents, the tents are gone from McPherson Square, and in most cities they are - if the tents are gone and the drum circles quiet, is the Occupy movement over?
MCGEE: Absolutely not. I think the Occupy movement did a brilliant job of what it was out to accomplish, which is to get publicity. At Thanksgiving time, almost every table in the country was talking about the 99 versus the one percent, which - in terms of getting publicity for a movement - it's just unbelievable. It was brilliant and it was absolutely effective.
PRESS: What do you think the lasting impact is going to be?
MCGEE: The lasting impact? I think that everyone feels that they're not alone. It used to be, I think, before the Occupy movement, everyone felt that we were resolved to be angry about issues and there was nothing we could do about it, really, and that's just the way it was.
And I think, now, people realize everyone is feeling sort of left out of the democratic process and that we're not going to go back to just sort of accepting it. I'm not sure what, exactly, form it will take, but when it does, people are ready to get involved.
PRESS: And I think one of - certainly, one of the building words, one of the most powerful kind of concepts at all that's been implanted in the American people is "99 percent versus the one percent," and that's going to be a theme through this campaign. And I think President Obama keeps trying to make the point that he is fighting for the 99 percent and pointing out that Mitt Romney looks a lot like the one percent, doesn't he?
MCGEE: Yes, he does.
PRESS: And that income inequality, going to be a big issue.
MCGEE: Well, yeah, that issue is -
PRESS: Got to go? Derek, thank you so much for what you're doing and for coming in tonight. Derek McGee, veteran and Occupier and author of "An Iraq Vet's Journey from Wall Street to Occupy."
All right, tonight that's - that's "Countdown" for tonight. I'm Bill Press. From all of us here at "Countdown," thanks for watching. Have a great weekend. See you back here on Monday.