Thursday, February 9, 2012

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, February 9th, 2012
video 'podcast'

Guest host: Sam Seder


#5 'Banking On A Deal', Matt Taibbi (excerpt)

#5 'Banking On A Deal', Steve Kornacki

#4 'Conservacon', Ken Vogel

# Time Marches On!

#3 'Capitalizing on Contraception', Tara McGuinness

#2 'Concerned Consumers', Mark Shields (excerpt)

#1 'Mr. Right Wing', Maysoon Zayid (excerpt)

printable PDF transcript

On the show: , , , , , ,

SAM SEDER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: We have reached a landmark settlement with the nation's largest banks that will speed relief to the hardest-hit homeowners.

SEDER: The banks agree to pay $26 billion for fraudulent foreclosure practices. Matt Taibbi on the deal and what it actually means for those fraudulently foreclosed upon.

CPAC attacks!

(Excerpt from video clip) MICHELE BACHMANN: Before Obama was elected, no one had ever heard of a United States president saying to the world that the United States is not Judeo-Christian nation. I'm here to say, "We are."

SEDER: We'll have all the highlights from day one of the conservative Bonnaroo.

The contraception controversy rages on. And only God knows where it will lead. Well, and Rick Santorum.

(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: What's left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you'll do and when you'll do it. What's left, in France, became the guillotine.

SEDER: And, ain't no party like a conservative party. We'll go back to CPAC to examine the most-anticipated seminar, conservative dating. What's lesson number one? No contraception allowed.

All that and more, now on "Countdown."

(Excerpt from video clip) BACHMANN: One series of humiliations after another.


SEDER: Good evening, this is Thursday, February 9th, 272 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm Sam Seder, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.

Millions of Americans remain angry that U.S. banks, that helped crash the economy and then foreclosed on millions of homes, seem to have gotten away with it. Now, the White House says relief is on the way.

The fifth story on the "Countdown" - President Obama announcing a $26 billion settlement between 49 states, the federal government and five banks that should help, perhaps, a million beleaguered home owners and hundreds of thousands whose homes were swept up in the crash. Though critics are already asking, "Is it enough?"

More than four million Americans lost their homes to foreclosure after the housing market collapsed five years ago. An investigation by all 50 states' attorneys general that followed in 2010 found that major mortgage lenders had, in many cases, committed foreclosure and mortgage fraud, pushing overwhelmed homeowners into foreclosure, often by using falsified, fraudulent or flawed documents.

After 16 months of negotiations, there is a deal. President Obama, saying the banks most responsible - all of them rescued by taxpayer dollars - will now have to right those wrongs:

(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: These banks will put billions of dollars towards relief for families across the nation. They'll provide refinancing for borrowers that are stuck in high-interest-rate mortgages; they'll reduce loans for families who owe more on their homes than they're worth and they will deliver some measure of justice for families that have already been victims of abusive practices.

SEDER: Breaking that down, five big-time mortgage providers are taking part in the settlement - Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial. Bank of America's on the hook for the most, some six - some $8.6 billion in principle reduction, followed by Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, with more than four billion each. Of the total, $17 billion goes to homeowner relief, chiefly in the form of principle relief and mortgage modification. Another five billion in cash is earmarked for states and authorities impacted by the housing crisis, including $1.5 billion in direct payouts to homeowners unfairly foreclosed upon. And there's three billion for refinancing and one billion for the Federal Housing Authority.

To Attorney General Eric Holder, the settlement is a triumph:

(Excerpt from video clip) ERIC HOLDER: This agreement reflects our commitment, at both the federal and state levels, to insure justice and to recover losses for victims of reckless and abusive mortgage practices. In fact, it is the largest joint federal/state civil settlement in the history of this nation.

SEDER: Largest settlement, but not much for as many as three-quarters of a million people who lost their homes. Their share - if and when they collect it - would top out around $2,000 each.

But however this settlement works out for them, it's coming at a good time for President Obama.

The latest Gallup poll shows just 38 percent of Americans adults approve the way he's handling the economy. That number was down to 26 percent last August. And, with key states like California, Michigan, Florida and Illinois still in the top 10 for foreclosures, mortgage relief for as many as a million homeowners could give his re-election chances a boost, come this November.

For more on this settlement, I'm joined by Rolling Stone contributing editor and "Countdown" contributor Matt Taibbi. Matt, great to have you with us.

MATT TAIBBI: Good to see you, Sam.

SEDER: Now, a few weeks ago you wrote on your blog that you were optimistic about this settlement. Today, you are not so sure. What's changed?

TAIBBI: Well, really, nothing has changed, I just thought about it more. I think, initially, what I was thinking - and a lot of other people who follow this issue were thinking - is that this could have been a lot worse. There were rumors, before they struck this deal, that it was going to contain a broad liability waiver for everything from criminal activity, to securitization and origination, to the MERS violations - the electronic mortgage registry stuff - and it really, I mean, in the end, it just turned out to be a settlement that covered robo-signing.

But, when you think about it, the robo-signing was so extensive and so pervasive throughout the entire economy, that the actual liability that these banks would have faced was a lot more than $25 billion. In fact, there are some people who would argue this turned out to be a bailout that was really as big as TARP, because the negative equity produced by these practices could have been as much as $700 or $800 billion. So, the banks got out of maybe that much in liability, ultimately, and maybe that's not such a good deal for people.

SEDER: Do you think that was part of the urgency to make this settlement, was basically that you had some attorneys general across the country who were starting to look into robo-signing? Which is essentially - it's forgery and fraud, all sort of -

TAIBBI: And perjury.

SEDER: And perjury all rolled into one. Do you think the administration was - had an urgency about this because the banks were basically saying, "If this gets uncovered, we're in big trouble."

TAIBBI: Oh, absolutely. If enough of these cases started to go forward - if you look at that and take that in tandem with the other mortgage-backed securities-related suits; the banks like Bank of America that would have been facing billions of dollars in buybacks for their securitization practices; add that to the foreclosure suits - a lot of these banks would have gone out of business if they would have had to face, you know, actual litigation for all of this. So, they needed this settlement in order to survive, that's absolutely true. Especially Bank of America.

SEDER: So, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan called this - this settlement "a big victory for those who have been harmed the most." Does that include people who lost their homes in foreclosure and will now collect, essentially, no more than $2,000, if they -

TAIBBI: If they even get it.

SEDER: If even get it and if they are aware that they can actually apply for it. I mean, because it doesn't actually give it to them, it actually just says you're allowed to apply for it.

TAIBBI: Yeah, you have to remember that one part of this deal is - they folded it in on a consent decree that it already taken place with Countrywide, where Bank of America was supposed to pay out something like $8 billion in claims and they only paid out $213 million at the time of the deal. So, they've already ignored one decree, and now we have another, bigger decree, where we have to take their word for it that they're going to follow through and pay this money. We have no guarantee that they're actually going to do that.

And, even if they do do it, you know - it's essentially a Kewpie doll that they're giving these people who have lost their homes, or who are underwater in their houses. It's not enough to really stem the tide or turn the tables for these people.

SEDER: Now, as of last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden had refused to sign on it. They joined the settlement, basically saying the concessions had come. Do you think he is right? I mean, do you think - what is his strategy here? Has he basically been bought out, or is he going to go forward?

TAIBBI: Well, the gamble here is that people like Schneiderman are going to open what they call a "second table" and that they're going to go after the banks on other offenses like securitization - the so-called "pre-bubble" offenses, creating the loans - as opposed to what happened after they created the loans, which is the foreclosure offenses.

And Schneiderman is talking like he's really go after the banks for that. And that, to me, is actually a much bigger and more extensive fraud than even the foreclosure stuff, which is huge enough in itself. So, if he's serious about that, you add that plus the MERS thing - which is the Mortgage Electronic Registry System - which is a huge scheme to evade taxes and not do paperwork. The banks are still vulnerable there and in securitization and origination. And, if he's real about it, if he's really going to go after it, he could still do a lot of damage.

SEDER: Well, Matt Taibbi, we will continue to follow what you were writing as this progresses and I guess we'll know in about - according to Eric Schneiderman, six to eight months - if we see more activity.

TAIBBI: Exactly.

SEDER: I think he's on record saying that. I appreciate you talking to us about this. Many thanks for your time tonight.

TAIBBI: Good to see you, Sam.

SEDER: For more on the political fallout from the settlement, I'm joined by Steve Kornacki, news editor with Salon. Steve, thanks for joining us.


SEDER: So, President Obama was swept into the White House, in part, by a wave of anger over the bank bailouts and the housing crisis. Do you think this settlement will help him answer critics who say, "You let the banks get away with it," or are people not paying attention?

KORNACKI: Yeah, I mean, it gives him sort of a big-sounding accomplishment, something that he can tout, you know, on the campaign trail for the rest of the year whenever the subject comes up.

It reminds me a lot, actually, of Dodd-Frank of, you know, Wall Street reform - where it's a big-sounding accomplishment, and there is a lot in there, but there's also a lot that's not in there. And, you know, Dodd-Frank left him open - and left Democrats in Congress open - to the charge that, you know, they had done reform, but they had also done a big favor to Wall Street at the same time.

I get the sense that same, you know, basic charge with the banks can sort of spring up - can spring up here. But I think the flip side is, you know, you're looking at a general election - potentially, who knows now - but potentially between Obama and Mitt Romney.

And if you are - excuse me, if you're the Obama side, you're looking at that and saying, you know, "We can point to the settlement, and then we can point to Mitt Romney saying that famous line about, 'We should just sort of let this thing bottom out, let housing crisis just bottom out,'" and hope that contrast goes over well.

SEDER: So, he has essentially taken this off of the table - and he is more or less challenging the Republicans - I mean, how are the Republicans responding to this? Because they seem particularly quiet on this thing, and I don't know if it's just because, you know, they are so tied up in other social issues or - how are they responding to this?

KORNACKI: Well no, I think what happened last week - remember where the Republican race was last week, it was out in Nevada, one of the states that is, you know, hardest hit by the housing crisis - and Mitt Romney, you know, was bringing the issue up, he was raising the issue and pointing to it as an Obama failure. But then, when Romney was asked - and when he was pressed for details about, "Okay. Well, if you're president, what would you do for homeowners who are underwater? What would you do for people who are foreclosed upon? What would you do for the victims of the housing crisis - the consumers who are victims of it?"

He really had no answer, other than to say, "Well, I would turn the economy around. It's not really government's business to be trying to broker deals between banks and consumers. I would turn the economy around. I'd put money in people's pockets." That was basically the extent of his answer.

So again, I think the Republicans' strategy on this has been really to offer nothing substantive in terms of a solution, instead to try to pin it - to sort of say, "It's a symptom of Obama's mismanagement of the economy. If the economy was managed better, if the economy was performing better," we wouldn't have the housing crisis, or we wouldn't have "insert-name-of-problem-here." That's basically been the Republican strategy for three years now.

SEDER: You have got four major battleground states - Michigan, Florida, California and Nevada - that, like you say, are in the top ten with the highest foreclosure rates. Do you anticipate that the president is going to actually head to these states or he is going to get some type of bounce in these battleground states, from at least being perceived as addressing the foreclosures there?

KORNACKI: Obviously, they hope so, and again, it's that contrast I'm talking about. I mean, I think it might work with any Republican opponent, but particularly with Mitt Romney, you know, because Mitt Romney is going on the record with basically saying, you know, "We should have just let the - let this crisis bottom out," and then Obama can point to, you know, can point to the settlement and can say, "Hey, look, here's what I fought for. Here's what I was able to deliver."

And then, you know, there are some other factors, individual factors in some of these states, that I think he hopes would balance out any damage that is caused by this to him. You look at Michigan, you think of the auto bailout. You look at Nevada, you look at how far to the right Romney has been pulled on immigration, an issue - an issue that matters out there.

So, you know, I think he likes the idea of that contrast and he hopes there are some other issues in these states, too, that would balance any damage that's been done to him because of it.

SEDER: All right. Well, Steve Kornacki, news editor at Salon, thanks so much for your time tonight.


SEDER: Republicans come together for their annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Finally, a place for Republicans to trash the president and say how he has ruined the country. Well, other than Fox News. Next, on "Countdown."


SEDER: Today was the first day of CPAC and talk about starting with a bang. Three former presidential candidates talk about why they dropped out of the race for the good of the party.

Catholic bishops come out with a perfect compromise to avoid making their businesses have to pay for contraception - make it so that no businesses have to pay for it.

Protesters swarm a dozen Apple stores across the country to draw attention to substandard working conditions in Apple's supplier factories.

And where do you go if you're looking - if you're a Republican and you're looking for love? The Conservative Dating Seminar at CPAC. Maysoon Zayid joins me, ahead on "Countdown."


SEDER: The one thing Republicans do well, even better than fearmongering, is throw extravagant events.

In our fourth story - today began the 39th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. A chance for Conservatives to come together to trash President Obama. Apparently, 24 hours on Fox News was not sufficient.

(Excerpt from video clip) JIM DeMINT: There is nothing this president has done that makes this economy better. If you look at his stimulus - it failed, it made things worse, unemployment went up. If you look at Obamacare, it's one of the biggest job killers in our country today. Dodd-Frank did not make it easier to borrow money and grow businesses, it made things worse.

(Excerpt from video clip) MITCH McCONNELL: The president seems to have forgotten that he was elected to lead all Americans, that he was elected to be president of the United States, not the Occupy Wall Street fan club.

(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN BOEHNER: And our responsibility is to keep faith, to give our countrymen a cause to believe in.

SEDER: Claiming that this is solely an event to trash the president is only half true. It also serves as the official 2012 meeting of the Reagan fan club, with each speaker seeing how many times they can mention the late president. Outside of the standard GOP talking points, this year's conference proved an opportunity for former presidential candidates give their campaigns' post mortem.

(Excerpt from video clip) BACHMANN: Running for president of the United States is really one series of humiliations after another. And I learned three things when I was running for president. First of all, I learned where John Wayne was born. That's very important. And then second, I learned the day that Elvis Presley was born. These are vital issues to our republic. And third, I learned, "Never forget the three things you learned."

(Excerpt from video clip) RICK PERRY: You can say that my presidential campaign just ran out of time, but I haven't run out on the ideas. A candidate I am no more, but a committed, 10th Amendment conservative I will be until the last breath I draw in my body.

(Excerpt from video clip) HERMAN CAIN: There were two reasons I dropped out of the race. Gutter politics and - number two - I choose to put family first.

SEDER: Could have sworn he was going to say "Nine reasons."

Let's bring in Politico's chief investigative reporter Ken Vogul, who attended CPAC today. Thanks for your time tonight, Ken.

KEN VOGEL: Hey, great to be with you, Sam.

SEDER: All right, in light of the recent economic news - which appears, at least, to be more positive - did the speakers have to adjust to this, or did they stick to their talking points that they've basically been repeating over the past couple of years?

VOGEL: Well, they definitely went after President Obama on the economy. You heard a couple speakers there in the package that you played doing just that. However, I did detect a shift, both from the speakers and from the crowd, where fiscal issues - which had really dominated the last couple CPACs as the tea party was ascended - took a little bit of a back seat and social issues were ascended.

And this is both a function of timing - you have the Obama administration decision, the mandate over contraceptives being required by - Catholic institutions being required to provide them in employee-health plans. You also have the gay-marriage decisions in California, as well as Washington state - where the legislature just passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage - and you have the ascendance, as well, of Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum, of course, being a social conservative primarily. And you saw a lot of love for Rick Santorum at CPAC.

And so those things, I think, kind of overshadowed the fiscal message that you had heard the last couple of years and that's a challenge to Mitt Romney.

SEDER: Yeah, I mean, I was - I'm wondering about that. Because, I mean, do you think that if the Republicans could essentially have dictated what the topic would be at this CPAC that they would have chosen social issues?

VOGEL: Maybe. I mean, certainly, that's where the excitement is in the base. And you saw a ton of people handing out pro-life bumper stickers, and really hitting the Obama administration over this contraception decision.

However, you have to think that, in a general election, it's still going to be pocketbook issues that decide those swing voters in the middle who decide presidential elections. So - though it may play well for the Republican base and it may play well, particularly, for Rick Santorum - it may ultimately end up pulling the focus away from a message that could really help Republicans headed into November.

SEDER: And, speaking of excitement, I mean, did you sense from the crowd that Republicans, in general, are excited about the upcoming election? You know, I understand this is basically where the base is, but based upon the voting numbers we've seen over the course of the primaries, it doesn't appear, anyways, that there's as much enthusiasm as we've been led to believe there would be.

VOGEL: Well, this is not necessarily a representative crowd. These are real activists who are really driven by the state of politics now. So, you did see a ton of support for Rick Santorum, quite a bit of support - a heavy presence for Ron Paul and for Newt Gingrich. Less so for Mitt Romney.

And again, this just speaks to the larger problem that Republicans are going to have if Mitt Romney - as seems likely, though clearly not certain - is their nominee. They're are going to have a tough time motivating their base to get on board, before they can even go after the swing voters in the middle.

SEDER: So, Santorum was essentially the crowd favorite? Is that what you're saying?

VOGEL: I mean, it seemed to be. I definitely saw the greatest presence of overt Santorum activism and activists there, folks handing out Santorum stickers and T-shirts and a heavy presence there. He and Romney are speaking tomorrow. It will be interesting to see the reaction. Mitt Romney got a great reaction from CPAC four years ago, but that was when he was dropping out of the race.

So, CPAC always seems, to me, to be a little bit of hope and desire for what you can't have. There's always a bit of rebellion against the establishment there. Mitt Romney is now the establishment, and it will be interesting to see where he can offer enough - whether it's social-conservative tones in his speech and/or the really pointed attacks on President Obama - to get an enthusiastic reception.

SEDER: Yeah, that will be interesting. It definitely seems likes he has been talking - he's been talking more religion this week, and a lot more social values, but that, like you say, might be a function of what's in the news.

I mean, tell me - Ron Paul, over the past two years, has won the straw poll at CPAC - is there any chance he is going to do this again? Is there any chance that any of the other candidates win it this year? What is it looking like?

VOGEL: Well, Ron Paul has a unique ability to mobilize the type of activists who come out to these types of events. That being young activists, college students, folks who can take off in the middle of the week and come to something like this. And, it's also a way in which this is not at all indicative of voting. And these nominating contests in these states. You would think that if you can mobilize like this to win a straw poll here or in Iowa, then you should be able to win a caucus. Ron Paul has not been able to do so, and he's done - had rather disappointing finishes in some of these caucus-nominating contests. So, he could win here and it really wouldn't make much difference.

SEDER: Interesting. Ken Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico, many thanks for joining us tonight.

VOGEL: Thank you.

SEDER: Coming up, Republicans are seizing on the birth-control issue to paint Obama as anti-religion. But is this exactly what the Obama administration wants?


SEDER: Coming up, with the economy on the upswing, and the president's foreign-policy numbers rising, the GOP polishes off its old standby - social issues.

But first, the "Sanity Break," and it was on this day in 1945, actress and humanitarian Mia Farrow was born in Los Angeles, California. Farrow would go on to have an impressive acting career, including several Golden Globe nominations.

From 1980 through 1992, she was involved in a relationship with Woody Allen, which ended when Allen started a romance with Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi. Let's just say it didn't end well.

"Time Marches On!"

VIDEO: Will Ferrell adds some spice while announcing a Hornets-Bulls game in New Orleans.

We begin with our continuing coverage of Will Ferrell traveling the country publicly having fun. When we last checked in, Will was appearing in a beer commercial airing only in Nebraska.

Ferrell's adventures now find him announcing the Hornets' starting line-up in last night's Hornet-Bulls game in New Orleans.

(Excerpt from video clip) WILL FERRELL: At forward, 6'8" from UCLA - he still loves to listen to Bell Biv DeVoe - Trevor Ariza.

At center, 6'10" from Connecticut, where he majored in Econ, but he minored in love - Emeka Okafor.

SEDER: Following that classic career progression: "Saturday Night Live," movies, NBA announcer.

VIDEO: German man wins the 35th annual Empire State Building Run-up in record time.

In sports, The New York Roadrunners held their 35th annual Empire State Building Run-Up yesterday. And for the 35th year in a row, it was held at the Empire State Building here in New York.

The runners went up - on foot - up 86 flights of stairs, or 1,576 steps. And I'm now being told the elevators actually were working yesterday, making their feat even more admirable.

This year's winner was Thomas Dold of Germany, who finished in 10 minutes, 28 seconds. He then went home to his apartment which, sadly, is a sixth-floor walk-up.

VIDEO: New robotic mule, developed by DARPA, can carry 400 pounds of gear on battlefield.

Finally, we end - as we always do - with a robotic mule.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has introduced the LS3, a robot designed to help troops on the battlefield.

Here, in its first outdoor exercise, the robot showed its strength by carrying four hundred pounds of gear, operating for 20 hours without being refueled, and even using sensors to follow human directions.

Although we're told the robot mule can be somewhat - stubborn.

"Time Marches On!"

Up next, polls indicate voters - even Catholic ones - agree health plans should cover contraceptives, so why are Republicans of all stripes stoking the issue as an election-year fight?


SEDER: We bring you "Countdown" live each night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Primary replays at 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. Eastern.

What the GOP sees as a presidential vulnerability might just be a mirage.

In our third story on the "Countdown" - the mandate requiring health-insurance plans offered by all faith-based schools, hospitals and charities to pay for contraceptive services doesn't go into effect until August of next year, but that hasn't stopped Democrats and Republicans from accusing the president of waging war on religion in this election year.

At a town hall in Texas, Rick Santorum echoed that claim:

(Excerpt from video clip) SANTORUM: When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what's left is the French Revolution. What's left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we're a long way from that, but if we do and follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.

SEDER: The White House signaled this week that the president is willing to compromise in order to quell religious institutions' moral objections to the mandate. But the bishops aren't prepared to settle.

Anthony Picarello, General Counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, telling USA Today, "There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular." Picarello suggested removing the provision from the health-care law altogether, not "simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers."

Religious leaders, however, don't speak for American Catholics, of whom a majority - 52 percent - support the administration's plan. This, according to new study by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Some on the left have joined labor and health-advocacy groups in urging the president not to cave into the bishops and Republican demands. Representative Jan Schakowsky, in a conference call with Democratic lawmakers, said, "It's absolutely amazing, in the year 2012, there is controversy over women's access to birth control. One's health benefit should not depend on who the boss is."

Joining me now is Tara McGuinness, senior vice president of communications with the Center For American Progress. Thanks for your time, Tara.

TARA McGUINNESS: Hey, thanks for having me, Sam. And you know, I'm laughing there at Representative Schakowsky's remarks because they couldn't be more true. I'm one of those 52 percent of Catholic women who think that this is really, like, a whole lot of nothing. You know, in the year 2012 - people like me should be able to make choices about their families, and it's really a small group of people leading the Republican party that seem to think otherwise.

SEDER: Well, so let me ask you - it does seem sort of ridiculous we're having this conversation in 2012 about birth control, but is this culture-war issue - is it a gift to Republicans or is it more like a double-edged sword?

McGUINNESS: I think it's a real double-edged sword for the Republicans. I think, you know, this is a long war they have been waging on women. When you see Mitch McConnell and Representative Boehner go to the floor to say, "We're doing everything in our possible power to stop this war on religion from happening," and don't mention that - in their own health-care plans - they already have access to these contraceptive services. There's, like, high hypocrisy coefficient that's going to catch up with the GOP.

SEDER: Let me ask you this - I mean, do you think the president anticipated this backlash from the right? I mean, and now has simply incorporated the issue into his campaign strategy? I mean, this is - this is forcing, particularly, Mitt Romney - who at this point, probably, in the campaign wanted to look somewhat moderate to independents, looking towards the general - now he is forced to basically carry this banner of a social issue that it seems like most people don't really even care about?

McGUINNESS: Yeah, I think he - I think you make a good point. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich seem to be happy to talk about this on the campaign trail this week, but I think they are making a major mistake in terms of gauging where the American public is on this issue. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women use contraception over the course of their lives. These guys are out on a limb, and I think it's not without political risk to them.

SEDER: All right. So, conservative activists are hoping to score some political points -


SEDER: But, more importantly, to cash in on the issue. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already launched a petition and donation drive, saying on its website, and there's a quote here, "The Democrats are using Obamacare to force religious groups to defy their deeply-held beliefs. Where has our freedom gone?"

And the Freedom and - the Faith and Freedom Coalition has asked supporters, "Have you had enough of Obama's war on religion? Send a powerful message to President Obama by signing the petition and making a contribution to the Faith and Freedom Coalition today."

Are these ploys effective? I mean, are these organizations making a ton of cash on this?

McGUINNESS: You know, they are super transparent in where they are going for. It's not surprising this is happening in an election year. But Sam, I have to tell you - this, for me, is extremely personal. And, you know, I'm a daughter, I'm a wife, I come from a big Catholic family, and there is no resonance to this idea that there is a war on religion.

In fact, I think these Republicans could stand to listen to the folks who are in the pews a little more, and the millions of women who know better on how to take care of their families than Newt Gingrich and these guys.

SEDER: All right, so - even in the unlikely case that repeal measures move through the House and the Senate, Republicans will be talking about that - they'd face President Obama's veto. So, why do you think Republicans are even bothering? I mean, they must see some benefit to this.

McGUINNESS: I think, you know, in the context of the primary, there's a real difference. If you look at Mitt Romney, he oversaw a Massachusetts plan that looks a lot like what Obama has put forth there. I think there may be some, you know, gamesmanship inside the Republican primary. You have Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich attacking Romney for being just like Obama in this place.

I think they see some short-term gains among their base, but this seems like something that is going to damage them in the long term, in the general-election strategy. And, in the process, they are doing a lot of damage to the facts of what's really happening. And it would be funny, Sam, if there weren't 11 million women's lives at stake.

SEDER: Exactly. Tara McGuinness, senior vice president of communications with the Center for American Progress, many thanks.

McGUINNESS: Thanks for having me.

SEDER: Coming up, how many times a day do you use your iPod or iPhone, or any other Apple product for that matter? Now, how many times do you stop to consider who's actually making those products?


SEDER: Apple designs some of the most innovative products on the market today, but what are the working conditions of the laborers who put those products together? Ahead, the downright unacceptable factories where many of Apple's products are assembled.

And some conservatives go to CPAC for the politics, but some just go to find that special someone. Looking for a love connection at CPAC, next.


SEDER: Millions of Americans, myself included, own an iPhone or an iPad. When we pull it out to make a call, tweet or text, how much do we think about who makes them and under what conditions? Probably not much. But it's probably time we started.

Starting as early as 2010 - and, particularly, over the past several weeks, reports have come to light which tell of cramped, unsafe working conditions and child-labor abuses at factories in China which produce Apple's iPhone, as well as products for such brands as Dell, HP and Microsoft. As users of these products, what are our responsibilities to those who make them? What can we do, and what do we do, when devices that we have come to see as necessities are manufactured in conditions we wouldn't tolerate and are, in fact, illegal in this country?

Today, protesters visited half a dozen Apple stores around the world, including ones in New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C., calling on Apple to deal with these worker conditions in its suppliers' factories.

Joining me now is Mark Shields, an iPhone user who, upon hearing these reports, decided to do something, which led to today's protests. Welcome, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Hey, Sam, thanks for having me.

SEDER: So, Mark, you delivered a petition today to an Apple store in Washington D.C. First tell me, how did that petition come about?

SHIELDS: Sure, I'm an Apple and iPhone user. I was at home one night, puttering around my kitchen making hummus and listening to "This American Life" streaming through my MacBook, through my Apple AirPort, and there was this whole episode about how these devices are made and the terrible stories out of these factories in China where people are losing the use of their hands because of repetitive-motion injuries that are terrifying and suicide rates are so high at these factories that they hang netting around the sides of the building so that the factory workers can't jump off the roofs and take their lives anymore.

And it felt terrible. You know, it went from being this nice night at home in the kitchen to being this knot in my stomach. And I was asking a friend about it and asking how to write a letter, and she said, "Well, why don't you start a petition on and make it more useful than that?" And it took off.

SEDER: Yeah, it really took off. I mean, tell us how many signatures actually ended up signing this petition.

SHIELDS: Just over 200,000 so far and climbing. And it's from people all over America, and actually, all over the world. There were petition drop-offs today not just in the U.S., but in London, in India and in Australia.

SEDER: That's got to be a pretty amazing feeling, to see something you started sort of take effect so much. Let me ask you this, I mean, do you think it's because it has more resonance, in light of their enormous profits? Do you think Apple has an even greater responsibility than, maybe, other companies to ensure quality conditions for their workers? You know -

SHIELDS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, this is the company that has revolutionized how we listen to music, how we see movies, how we use computers and phones. They absolutely have the creative and the capital ability to change how these factory workers are living their lives. And I don't think it's - I don't think anyone's expecting an overnight miracle, but there are some very basic things they can do to improve the lives of their factory workers and still be a good, successful, thriving business.

SEDER: Yeah, well - back in January - Apple commissioned an audit of its supply chain. They found that a majority of their facilities are not in compliance with their own standards. And they since have joined the Fair Labor Association, which is supposedly going to publish independent audits of their supply lines in the future. I mean, is that enough, or do they need to actually go further?

SHIELDS: You know, I'm not a labor expert. I'm a regular person. I'm an Apple consumer. I think that's a good first step. And we talk about that in the petition, that making the results of those audits public - so we all know what we're buying and how they're made - is a great first step.

But, you know, there's other things, too. Like, in this "This American Life" story, they talk about these repetitive-motion injuries that could be prevented if workers were rotated through different jobs in their factories. It seems like there is a very basic kind of human rights things that could be done about how long their days are and their job rotations that could make their lives better.

SEDER: All right. So, Mark - so this is the dilemma, I think, that as an iPhone user I share with you - what if things don't improve? What are you going to do then, essentially? Are we going to get to the point where we - are you going to give up your iPhone? I mean, I'm just curious, because this is something, I think, that a lot of people struggle with.

SHIELDS: It's a tough question. I don't have a good answer yet. I was talking about this with a friend today. You know, I bought my last iPhone over the summer and I really hope that by the time it's time for me to upgrade - or go to the next one when this one dies - that they fix this, because I don't know what the simple answer is.

I don't want to stop using Apple products. I love these products and what this company has done for the world. I want them to do it better. You know, they've said, "We're the ones that think different," and I want them to think differently about this. And I think that I'm not alone. Consumers around the world have said, "Hey, get on this." So, I hope that Apple does.

SEDER: Well, Mark Shields, thank you for your time and appreciate your efforts.

SHIELDS: Thanks for having me, Sam.

SEDER: Coming up, the most exciting on this year's CPAC schedule - the most exciting thing, I should say, on this years CPAC schedule - the conservative dating seminar. Everything you didn't want to know about landing your very own conservative.


SEDER: We've all heard a lot about the speeches taking place this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but it turns out not everyone at CPAC is there for the politics. Some are there for love.

In our number-one story - it's common knowledge among college Republicans that CPAC is rife with elephant tail. And one of the highlights of this year's CPAC schedule is a conservative dating seminar, where young conservatives can get expert advice on how to bag their very own Barry Goldwater or Condoleezza Rice. While some attend CPAC to hear their own conservative views shouted back at them, or to take part in some good, old-fashioned Obama-bashing, others are apparently there searching for Mister Right. Or Mister Right Wing.

According to the CPAC schedule, today at one, convention-goers had the opportunity to attend a conservative dating seminar, and learn everything from how to avoid scaring away your own personal Dagny Taggart to whether a tea partier has a shot at compatibility with an Occupier. The event was open to all conservative singles. That's singles. Sorry, Newt.

The seminar is being run by professional dating coach Wayne Elise. Elise, seen here holding both an iPhone and a pair of scissors, is a pick-up artist, performer, and author of a chapter in The New York Times best-selling book "The Game," about the secret society of pick-up artists. And who better to take relationship advice from than the guy who once wrote on his blog, a couple months ago, "It's my belief that humans are not intended, by nature, to be with the same person for any length of time."

Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin was at the event, tweeting his highlights, including, "Young participant at CPAC dating panel describes perfect girl as 5' 7", good hair, nice skin, works for Fox News."

Joining me now, "Countdown" contributor and comedienne, Maysoon Zayid. Welcome, Maysoon.

MAYSOON ZAYID: I have to be honest, I'm happy to be here, but I kind of feel like I'm cheating on Keith.

SEDER: Oh, well, then it's appropriate it's a dating segment. Not as all. He has given us permission now. And we have chaperons here.

ZAYID: Oh, that's how it works with conservatives.

SEDER: They're playing chaperons here.

ZAYID: You just need permission and you can have as many as you want? Kind of like Saudi -

SEDER: First off - okay, so are Washington bars going to be full of young conservatives tonight trying out their new tricks? What do you think?

ZAYID: I think the conservatives are known for liking tricks, and people who turn tricks, and I think that they probably do have some good advice. This man is known as The Juggler. Wayne Elise's nickname is The Juggler, so he can teach them things like how to juggle wives, or, like, if they want to be inspired by Mitt Romney - how to juggle positions.

SEDER: There you go. Now, to be fair, there are some attractive conservatives. Now, do you think young conservatives have posters on the wall of, like, Megan Fox or John Boehner instead of, like, Johnny Depp?

ZAYID: Well, I know they don't have posters of Michele Bachmann staring down at them, 'cause that's not going to do anything for their love lives. But, I'm thinking, maybe Ann Coulter? But instead of actually having Ann Coulter's picture up they use a picture of Madame, the puppet, so that they are less inspired to sin and we don't need Santorum getting involved at any point.

SEDER: Oh, gosh. Oh, there it is. Okay. All right, let me ask you this - you've got conservatives who are trying to pair off with other conservatives. Is this, essentially, trying to keep a dying breed alive?

ZAYID: They really have no choice, it's almost end game. They need to pair off, they need to get married. They need to get married now, because - if they don't - President Obama will force them into same-sex marriages with lemurs. So, this is like - this is not a joke. If he's re-elected and they're not married by then, it's same-sex marriage.

SEDER: Yeah, I think that actually happened during the French Revolution. I'm not sure. I've got to double-check that with Rick Santorum.

All right. Well - so, I would think a good tip for dating a conservative is basically to speak slowly, only use small words, make sure you mention Reagan on the first date, of course. What are some good ones that you've heard?

ZAYID: A couple of the pick-up lines I heard were, "Do you have MS or cancer," "I'm one of Mitt Romney's sons, he just doesn't know it," "Want to see me rock my Santorum sweater vest without a shirt underneath?"

SEDER: Ew, that's a little bit disturbing. All right. So, now, one of the tips from the seminar was to that, in order to make your date comfortable, you should talk about your weaknesses. So, I guess, you know, conservatives will be talking about their tax plans.

ZAYID: They could talk about their tax plans, they could talk about their foreign policy, how they're going to fix the economy. You know, if they want to talk about a weakness, they could talk about their position on Medicare - no, wait, that's murder, not weakness.

SEDER: All right. This one, really, I find stunning. Another tip was, "Don't ask questions on a date. Make statements only." Now, this seems sort typical of conservatives, not to ask any questions like, "Are you worried about global warming?" Shh, don't mention it. "Do you think there's weapons of mass destruction?" Shh, don't say anything. How is it that they don't ask questions on a date?

ZAYID: Even in situations where questions are supposed to be asked, like a debate, Newt Gingrich immediately goes angry muffin and starts yelling at people that he doesn't take questions. So, he sets the standard.

And I want to see a conversation where people don't ask any questions. How do you have that conversation? How do you just say a bunch of statements? It's like, "Fozzy is my favorite Muppet. Nancy J. Brinker ate your baby." Like, what? How do you have a conversation with no questions?

SEDER: All right. So, I have got to ask you - we don't have much time - but another tip was to bring up sex early, but not necessarily on the first date, because otherwise you're stuck in the "friend zone." Does Wayne Elise know what he's really talking about here?

ZAYID: Yeah, he does because he's been watching "Bachelor" Ben, and "Bachelor" Ben only goes for the skanks. You know you're not getting married if you don't put out. But he did tell them, "Don't talk about birth control," and I think that's more important.

SEDER: Yes, so I guess you just hold off on the birth control.

ZAYID: You hold off. The pick-up line is definitely "Forget about the pills, leave it to God."

SEDER: Well, thank you, Maysoon Zayid.

And that's our show for tonight. I'm Sam Seder, on behalf of all of us at "Countdown," thanks for watching and have a great night.