'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Guest host: Eliot Spitzer
#5 'Tale Of The Tape', Andy Kroll
#5 'Tale Of The Tape', Paul Butler
#4 'The End Is Near', Ryan Grim
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Crude Fight', Joe Williams
#2 'Wall Street Occupied', Robert Reich
#1 'Space Jammin'', Derrick Pitts
printable PDF transcript
On the show: Derrick Pitts, Eliot Spitzer, Robert Reich, Paul Butler, Andy Kroll, Ryan Grim, Joe Williams
ELIOT SPITZER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
(Excerpt from video clip) BENJAMIN CRUMP: Thank God for surveillance video.
(Excerpt from video clip) SYBRINA FULTON: This video is the icing on the cake.
SPITZER: As the Sanford police video of George Zimmerman is released in full, his father comes to his defense.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROBERT ZIMMERMAN: Trayvon Martin said something to the effect of, "You're going to die now," or "You're going to die tonight," something to that effect. He continued to beat George and, at some point, George pulled his pistol and did what he did.
SPITZER: And then goes on the attack:
(Excerpt from video clip) ZIMMERMAN: I never foresaw so much hate coming from the president, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, every organization imaginable is trying to get notoriety or profit from this in some way.
SPITZER: The latest developments in the Trayvon Martin case.
An assist from Rubio:
(Excerpt from video clip) MARCO RUBIO: I am going to endorse Mitt Romney. There is no way that anyone can convince me that having a floor fight at the convention in Tampa in August is a recipe for victory in November.
SPITZER: With Republicans continuing to fall into line behind Romney, Santorum tries his hand at a new game.(Video clip of SANTORUM bowling.)
Pick a side.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make. They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.
SPITZER: I wonder which one they chose. The answer will not surprise you.
And the galaxy just got a whole lot more crowded. A billion "super Earths" may be capable of sustaining human life.
(Excerpt from video clip) DAVID LETTERMAN: And the number one way that Super Earth is different from Earth - if you think Oprah is great, wait until you meet Super Oprah.
SPITZER: Now, on "Countdown."
(Excerpt from video clip) LETTERMAN: On super Earth, every night is ladies' night.
SPITZER: Good evening. This is Thursday, March 29th, 223 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm Eliot Spitzer, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
Continuing fallout from the release of police surveillance video showing Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman the night he shot Trayvon.
Fifth story in the "Countdown" - the initial report from Sanford, Florida police claims Zimmerman suffered scalp lacerations, allegedly from a life-and-death struggle with Martin. Zimmerman's attorney also insisted his client also suffered a broken nose.
Yet, the video shows Zimmerman handcuffed but walking freely inside the police station without bloodstains on his face or clothes, bandages or other indications he'd even been in a fight.
Zimmerman's father Robert, a retired magistrate judge repeated those claims in an interview, concealing his face for fear of being assaulted:
(Excerpt from video clip) ZIMMERMAN: His nose was broken. His scalp was cut in two different places. I don't know - he wasn't given any medical attention but they may have cleaned him up there at the scene.
SPITZER: But Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, said the video directly contradicted those claims, and vindicated their son.
(Excerpt from video clip) TRACY MARTIN: Once you've had a broken nose, your nose will continue to bleed and bleed and bleed until it gets fixed.
(Excerpt from video clip) FULTON: There were no visible injuries. There were no blood on his shirt. So we have concluded, just by watching this video, that there may not have been any injuries at all.
SPITZER: Meanwhile, George Zimmerman's attorney Craig Sonner wouldn't commit himself either way.
(Excerpt from video clip) CRAIG SONNER: The video is very grainy, and I'm not sure it has - as far as being able to see the injuries that were recently sustained and then later cleaned up.
SPITZER: Robert Zimmerman also laid a new charge against Trayvon Martin, while again defending his son.
(Excerpt from video clip) ZIMMERMAN: Trayvon Martin said something to the effect of, "You're going to die now, or "You're going to die tonight." He continued to beat George and, at some point, George pulled his pistol and did what he did.
SPITZER: But, Martin's girlfriend, who claimed she was on the phone with him before the shooting, insists that never happened.
(Excerpt from audio clip) DEE DEE: The only thing that Trayvon told that man is was, "Why are you following me?"
SPITZER: And funeral director Richard Kurtz cast more doubt on Zimmerman's assault claim after examining Martin.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICHARD KURTZ: As for his hands and knuckles, I didn't see any evidence as he had been fighting anybody.
SPITZER: And while protesters and Trayvon Martin's parents continue to call for George Zimmerman's arrest, Cheryl Brown, whose 13-year-old son was an eyewitness to the shooting, says Sanford homicide detective Chris Serino may also believe that Zimmerman was the real culprit that night.
(Excerpt from video clip) CHERYL BROWN: He told me that he - that he and the other officer with him felt that it was not self-defense, and that they needed to prove it wasn't self-defense. And he said that I needed to read between the lines, because there was some stereotyping going on.
SPITZER: For the latest on the Trayvon Martin story, I'm joined by Andy Kroll, staff reporter with Mother Jones.
Andy, let me ask you this - the video that is now the hottest topic out there in conversation seems to contradict everything about the Zimmerman story. So, what possibly remains to substantiate the claim of a fight and an encounter that would, in any way, have justified a shooting?
ANDY KROLL: Yeah, the video certainly doesn't, you know, give any kind of evidence of a life-or-death fight. There are no bloodstains - he doesn't look like he sustained a broken nose. Really, what George Zimmerman's attorney is going to have to hope for is some sort of evidence unearthed - or more leaks from the Sanford Police Department or from some other authorities - suggesting that this was a more vicious fight. Because, as we see in this video, George Zimmerman looks like any other person pulled off of the street and brought in to the authorities.
It certainly does not give any kind of credence to this story that George Zimmerman's father and his attorney seems to be telling.
SPITZER: Listening to the father, you actually would believe there would have to be some physical evidence of an encounter. I mean, they talk about his head being bashed against the ground, lacerations - is there any physical substantiation yet that anybody has been able to report or seen - that corroborates that story?
KROLL: There are just little bits of evidence here and there that people are pointing to to substantiate this.
The first one is the police report on the night of Trayvon Martin's killing, says that George Zimmerman was treated between the time - you know, before he arrived at the Sanford Police Department, and so he - his face wouldn't be covered in blood and his lacerations wouldn't be open and gaping. He had been treated.
However, it's important to remember that this - these surveillance videos we saw are 30 minutes after he committed this act and was brought in. And so even if he had been treated on the scene of the crime, you would think a broken nose would be plainly evident in those videos, but there's no - it doesn't appear to be like that at all.
And so, George Zimmerman's attorneys are pointing to the police report and saying he was treated. They're also saying the video was grainy, even though Sanford Police Department admits that it recently installed state-of-the-art surveillance cameras - that's why the picture is as clear as it is.
So, there's very little there to back this up. But, the investigation is ongoing, obviously.
SPITZER: Look, obviously this it's ongoing, and nobody should really - as much as you may want to jump to conclusions, we all know you shouldn't do that. But is there any other medical evidence, any other reports of treatment, x-rays, anything tangible to support the sort of vicious fight that the Zimmerman family would have people believe occurred before the shooting?
KROLL: No, there's not. And, if anything, the anecdotal evidence that's coming out - for instance, this funeral director suggests that this wasn't a violent life-or-death sort of battle that George Zimmerman's father and his attorney have suggested. Eyewitnesses have said there was an altercation. However, the funeral director - as you showed - said that Trayvon Martin's body was in pristine shape apart from, obviously, a gun wound to the chest.
KROLL: There were no lacerations on his hands or knuckles from, say, beating someone's head into the ground or breaking their nose - punching them with enough force to break their nose.
It's also worth noting that if George Zimmerman's head had been bashed into the ground enough, it's common practice for EMTs to usually secure the neck, and to put something around that, in case you've sustained some kind of injury to your neck, and that's not the case in the video either, which, again, kind of undermines this argument that George Zimmerman was fighting for his life and acted in self defense.
SPITZER: Now, the autopsy report has not yet been released. Am I correct about that?
KROLL: Right. It's still sealed, and it will not be unsealed until the investigations into Trayvon's death are over or are inactive. And, obviously, that's not happening anytime soon.
SPITZER: But, it has been examined, one presumes, by the police department and prosecutors and those who are trying to determine what happened. Is there any word that is sort of crept out about whether that that autopsy report, and what it reveals about Trayvon, what that says terms of - and you alluded to the fact - no evidence of lacerations on his part. Anything on the autopsy report we should look for or expect to hear?
KROLL: The autopsy report is the one bit of key information that has not been leaked the media yet. It has been kept very close, very guarded. We don't have any information on it at this point. Obviously, the direction of the gun wound, any kind of evidence that was gathered at the scene of the crime, we don't have that from the autopsy.
It's also worth noting that there have been a lot of - there's been a lot of criticism about how the investigation and how the evidence collecting at the scene of the killing was handled. This is both from eyewitnesses and from other authorities who have publicly criticized the detectives and the cops for, really, just a shoddy investigation, and you know, that could come into play here as well.
SPITZER: Andy, real quick, 'cause time is running short - the phone call with the girlfriend, do we yet have the phone records, because you can get down-to-the-second reports that will prove whether they were or were not on the phone during what was supposedly an altercation. That alone will be significant corroboration. Do we yet have those phone records?
KROLL: Authorities say they have the phone records. They are not available to the public yet, because they are a part of the investigation. This is a key discrepancy with George Zimmerman's father's account. He says this phone call did not happen. However, this girlfriend has given a sworn statement to authorities that this phone call happened, and describing what Trayvon's reactions and thoughts were as he was being pursued. So, it is in the legal record, to a degree, and it's part of an investigation that's ongoing.
SPITZER: Well, look. We won't, one presumes, get a tape of that conversation - but if there are records that establish it took place, that alone will be certainly significant, if not - all right.
Andy Kroll, staff writer with Mother Jones, thank you for sharing some of your time with us tonight.
KROLL: Thank you.
SPITZER: The Trayvon Martin case resonates deeply for many, many people around the country.
Among them, our next guest, Paul Butler - he's a law professor at George Washington University, and a former federal prosecutor. He wrote movingly of what Trayvon Martin means to him today in a posting on The Daily Beast. And I want to quote a piece of it. You say, "I became a prosecutor because of Trayvon Martin. I used to be him." And then you continue. What do you mean by that, and what - what does, as a consequence, this case, in particular, mean to you?
PAUL BUTLER: You know, Eliot, I was a baby-faced, skinny, 17-year-old boy, and - like a lot of black boys - I got harassed by the police, security guards, by neighborhood watch types, followed around, stopped, searched, but I also got harassed by other young black men. I got my lunch money stolen, I got followed around and bothered by them.
So, I became a prosecutor because I wanted to deal with both of those problems. I wanted to help victims. I didn't want to be a victim - I didn't want to be a victim of the police, and I didn't want to be a victim of other black men.
SPITZER: Now this is, of course, a fascinating case that brings to bear all the issues about vigilantism - not police behavior, not prosecutors. So far, even though there's always going to be some criticism of the prosecutors or the cops, your critique of the way prosecutors and cops are handling it is - what? You think they're so far, so good? They understand the sensitivities in doing what they should be doing?
BUTLER: Well, you know, we have police reporting to a crime scene. We have a dead boy, a scrawny little kid, we got this big, buff guy standing over him with a gun. The police take him into custody, they ask him questions, he says it was self defense. And apparently, they say, "Oh, okay. Self defense. We're going to let you go." And the prosecutor doesn't prosecute.
So, I have a problem with that, as a former prosecutor. You know, Eliot, the standard for bringing charges is fairly permissive. It's probable cause. Is there probable cause to charge Mr. Zimmerman with some kind of homicide crime? Absolutely yes.
SPITZER: Well, let's move forward, piece by piece, here. Now that you have seen the video - the video that has come out, that was the subject of our conversation for a couple minutes just moments ago - having seen that, seems to be pretty clear, direct refutation of Zimmerman's claims. What do you think, as a prosecutor, you would like to have, in addition, before you felt that it was appropriate to bring a charge against Zimmerman?
BUTLER: Well, you want to talk to any witnesses that there were. At this point, it is a he said/he said case, and one of the "he"s is dead. So, if there's any kind of circumstantial evidence, or anybody who actually didn't see the fight or the shooting, but heard something - you want to talk to most people.
What you want to try do is to establish whether Mr. Zimmerman, again, shot in self defense, or whether he was what lawyers call "the initial aggressor" - whether he started the fight. Because, if he started the fight, he can't claim self defense.
SPITZER: Okay, now you and I both know, and the public knows that the threshold for bringing charges is somewhat low. But, the threshold for getting a conviction - proof beyond a reasonable doubt - is, of course, appropriately higher. Seeing what you've seen, do you believe, given the video, given the - presume for the moment, the phone records come out, that there was a phone call with the girlfriend - do you believe, as a prosecutor, and giving you every benefit of the doubt, you are awfully good at it - could you get a conviction based upon what you've seen for some form of homicide charge?
BUTLER: You know, Eliot, I have to say - I don't want to brag here, but I think absolutely yes. I think any prosecutor worth his or her salt could get a voluntary manslaughter conviction based on what we know.
Again, we haven't heard from Mr. Zimmerman himself, and that's important to keep in mind. You know, in the eyes of the law, he is innocent until proven guilty.
But man, when you look at this evidence, when you look at what the girlfriend is saying, when you look at Mr. Zimmerman's father, who is apparently speaking for him, claiming there was this fight until the end, but Mr. Zimmerman now shows up on this video looking fit and fine. You know, I think the evidence is kind of stacking up against Mr. Zimmerman and in favor of a serious prosecution. We're talking murder here, maybe manslaughter. But, you know, I think there's evidence for murder.
SPITZER: Paul, I want to shift gears. We only have about a minute left. Racial profiling - you've written passionately that it is corrosive in the effort to prosecute, corrosive in the effort to protect communities. Do you believe racial profiling is still pervasive in law enforcement and in the way police and kids on the street interact?
BUTLER: Oh, you know, Eliot, I know it is. The police - when they see a young black man, a lot of them - they think, automatically, that he is involved in some kind of crime, do it's just a question of investigating to what see what it is - not just African-Americans. Arabs, South Asians get it at the airport, Hispanics get it at the border.
The problem is - it doesn't work. It doesn't make us safer, and it really breaks down trust. There are a lot of people who don't trust the police. They don't like the police, because they don't feel that they've got their best interests at heart. They are not there to serve and protect. It's almost like they are there to harass you.
And in a case like this, when they can prove it by giving - equal protection under the law to African Americans saying, "We care about this black victim," again, they don't seem to. They don't make the arrest. They don't make the prosecution. It's like over-enforcement of the law is fine for African-Americans, but under-enforcement, we get that too. And we get it coming, we get it going.
SPITZER: All right. Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, now a George Washington University law professor.
I want to continue that conversation some night down the road, or you'll continue it with Keith. Fascinating issue, racial profiling - what it does, what it doesn't do, and how you stop it.
Thank you for some of your time tonight.
BUTLER: Great to be here.
SPITZER: Thank you.
When a man who has donated over $16 million to your campaign says you don't have a chance of winning, you probably don't have a chance of winning. Next, on "Countdown."
SPITZER: Today, Mitt Romney appeared in Houston with former President George H.W. Bush to formally accept his endorsement.
But in our fourth story - the endorsement by the former president was all but overshadowed by the man many people see as Mitt Romney's future running mate, Marco Rubio. Appearing on Fox News last night, Senator Rubio announced his endorsement of Romney. But he, once again, affirmed his lack of interest in joining the ticket.
(Excerpt from video clip) RUBIO: I don't believe I'm going to be asked to be the vice presidential nominee. That's not what I intend to be, that's not what I want to be and that's not what is going to happen.
SPITZER: As Mitt Romney continues to cement his status as the nominee, Newt Gingrich continues to cement his status as the next Republican to drop out. Gingrich's sole reason for still being in the race, Sheldon Adelson, declaring it the end for Newt Gingrich.
(Excerpt from video clip) SHELDON ADELSON: It appears as though he's at the end of his line. Because I mean, mathematically, he can't get anywhere near the numbers, and there's not - unlikely to be a brokered convention.
SPITZER: A fact Gingrich seems to be aware of. The Washington Times reports that Gingrich and Romney secretly met Saturday before the Louisiana primary, but Gingrich tried to assure his supporters that he will not drop out. And I quote, "There is no agreement of any kind, and I plan to go all the way to Tampa."
Joining me now is Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post. Thank you for your time this evening.
RYAN GRIM: Thanks for having me.
SPITZER: So, let me ask you this question: the two endorsements - Marco Rubio, former President Bush - come from completely different pieces of the Republican party. You've got one who is young, tea party, ethnic, Latino, critical vote. The other who is patrician, the old guard. Which of these two matters more to Mitt Romney?
GRIM: Well, I mean - George H.W. Bush barely mattered at all. I think when most people saw that, they thought, "Huh. I figured that he had actually already endorsed Romney." You know, this is like the, you know, Yale class of '42 endorsing the, you know Harvard class of '65 or whatever.
SPITZER: Yeah, but folks from the Ivy League, that's pretty significant, though - Yale endorsing Harvard. Come on, this is important.
GRIM: That is true. So, you know, in Yale-Harvard circles, it probably raised a few eyebrows, but outside of there, people were - you know, people were less moved.
It's the Marco Rubio - it's that endorsement that kind of signaled to the Republican party that, "Look, this is over." You know, this is representative of the far-right wing of the party saying, "I'm backing this guy. Let's wrap this thing up and let's move forward."
SPITZER: Now, Rubio is significant - not only because, as you say, the far-right wing. He is a pure tea party voice. But also, being Latino - this is critically important. But is the Latino vote in Florida going to be helpful either in Arizona, New Mexico - some of the other swing states where the Latino vote may look a little different? Is there more texture to the Latino vote than most people appreciate?
GRIM: Well, there is, and you wonder how much some of the - some of the leading Republican strategists even are aware of that. But the difference is that the Cuban immigrant experience is a unique one in the Latin community. You know, if you've come up through Mexico or South America, you have a much more similar story than somebody that came from Cuba, because, first of all, there's direct public policy - and that's the dry-foot policy - where if you get here, any way possible, in the last 40 years, you can stay.
GRIM: Secondly, the types of people that came from Cuba in the late '50s, '60's - even '70s - were people who were kind of - who were in the ruling class, and they were fleeing Fidel Castro, so that's the exact opposite of the situation that the rest of the immigrant population faces, where it's the lower class coming, and - rather than being welcomed - they get the reverse attitude.
SPITZER: So, you're making a hugely important point here, which is that the Rubio voice for Latino voters may or may not translate quite as well to other aspects, or other pieces, of the Latino community.
I want to sort of play with the idea of the likelihood of his being asked to be in the ticket. How would a Marco Rubio play in the traditional swing, Midwest states of, let's say, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, some of which - probably two out of three of which - Mitt Romney would have to win for him to get to the magic 270. Does Rubio help Mitt Romney in those states?
GRIM: Well, you know, he's - I don't think he helps him, but I don't think he necessarily hurts him either. You know, people will see him as a kind of an up-from-bootstraps kind of guy, you know, whether or not he actually is, they'll - you know, he'll write his story that way, and enough of the Republican voters will believe that. So, you know, I don't think it will play that much there.
You know, they are going to go for Colorado and New Mexico and Florida. You know, don't forget that Florida is an important state, too. So places like that, he might be able to help them slightly, because - notwithstanding what I said earlier - he is going to get more of the Latino vote than somebody like, say, Vice President Joe Arpaio would. You know, it is at least saying to Latino voters, "We at least care. At least we're trying here. Yes, we might have all of this nativist rhetoric and we might have said all of these horrible things -"
SPITZER: No question about it. You put a Joe Arpaio on, you might as well kiss good-bye to the entire immigrant community.
But my view on Florida is - if Mitt Romney is worried about Florida, he's not going to win. He's got to be in a position to take Florida for granted - in which case, Marco Rubio may or may not be that important - and then fight for Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, for this thing to be competitive from their perspective.
So, if he's still worried about Florida, come the moment where they're making this decision, he is probably out of luck. Anyway, we'll continue this conversation down the road.
Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post, Ryan Grim. Thank you for your time tonight.
GRIM: Thank you.
SPITZER: The White House wades into the big oil fight as gas prices continue to spike. Joe Williams of Politico joins me, just ahead.
SPITZER: Coming up, President Obama calls on Congress to eliminate tax breaks for the "big five" oil companies.
But first, the "Sanity Break." It was on this day in 1929 President Herbert Hoover had a telephone installed in the Oval Office. Phones had been used at the White House since 1878, but Hoover was the first president to use one at his desk.
Every president since Hoover has had a phone at the desk, although it is believed that President George W. Bush is the only one to use it to make crank calls with his friends.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Boston Dynamics' Sand Flea robot can jump 20 feet into the air.
We begin, as we always do, with jumping robots.
Incorporating the same technology to create - they used to create Blake Griffin, Boston Dynamics has designed the Sand Flea, a robot that can jump up to 30 feet in the air. And just like a cat, it always lands on its feet. Or wheels, that is.
Experts say a robot that can jump up to 30 feet in the air, which is perfect for situations when you need a robot that can jump 30 feet in the air.
VIDEO: Grandma at Spring Training Orioles/Phillies game catches stray bat.
We check in with sports. Preseason game between the Orioles and the Phillies - and looks like there's a hot young prospect who has some good hands. Unfortunately, it's one of the fans.
When the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz loses his grip on the bat, it's this spry young lady who makes the grab.
She receives a standing ovation from the crowd, and is being considered for a roster spot by the New York Mets.
VIDEO: Some winning political Peeps dioramas from the annual Washington Post Peeps contest.
Finally, we end - as we always do - with Peep Dioramas, and the sixth annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest. This year's entrants included the "GOPeep Peepidential Debate," created by Jermaine Johnson, Serena Johnson, and John Wallace of Williamsburg, Virginia.
And my personal favorite, the "Romney Family Road Trip", created by Colleen Canning of Jacksonville, Florida, complete with poor Seamus Romney on top of the car.
But this year's winner? "Occu-Peep D.C.," created by Cori Wright of Falls Church, Virginia. Wright established that a Peep is 3.5 percent the size of a person and made her entire Occupy diorama to scale.
Sadly, Mayor Bloomberg is currently assembling a Peep police force to evict them.
"Time Marches On!"
The president rebukes the GOP and takes on big oil, coming up next.
SPITZER: Democrats and Republicans alike think they're in the driver's seat as Congress considers legislation repealing oil subsidies.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - President Obama urged the Senate this morning to pass legislation that would strip billions in tax breaks for the "big five" American oil companies, only to have Republicans - with the help of four Democrats - kill the bill.
Just an hour before the vote, the president had framed the lawmaker's decision as a simple choice between promoting oil giants or investing in the future:
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: They can stand with the big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people. Instead of taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's never been more profitable, we should be using that money to double down on investments in clean-energy technologies that have never been more promising.
SPITZER: But Republicans insist the measure would drive up prices at the pump.
(Excerpt from video clip) MITCH McCONNELL: That was their brilliant plan on how to deal with gas prices - raise taxes on energy companies just to make sure gas prices don't go anywhere but up.
SPITZER: And GOP Senator Rand Paul didn't mince his words on the floor earlier this week.
(Excerpt from video clip) RAND PAUL: I would think you would want to say to the oil companies, "What obstacles are there to you making more money?"
SPITZER: I always continue to marvel at what Rand Paul says.
Joining me now is Joe Williams, the White House reporter for Politico. Joe, thanks for joining us tonight.
JOE WILLIAMS: Hi, good to be here.
SPITZER: Look, it struck me that there are three numbers that are going to determine the outcome of the race in November: the unemployment rate, the price of housing - whether it's going up or down - and three, the price of gas.
So, are we just now entering the blame game, where both parties are pointing the finger back and forth and saying, "You're responsible for the price of gas going up?"
WILLIAMS: Well, I think there's some of that. What the president is attempting to do is rebut against some of the Republican allegations on the campaign trail from Mitt Romney and others that he's solely responsible for these high gas prices, when statistically - imperially, studies, anything you want to point to - shows that this is part of what usually happens during the summer driving season, number one.
And number two, the oil companies are taking very real advantage of the fact that the market is tilted in their favor.
So, what he's trying to do is call attention to that fact, and also link it to the need for alternative energy - that if we get a sound alternative-energy strategy, things will really ease, and our demand for oil will decrease, along with the price.
The Republicans, on the other hand, they've got an easy talking point. Everybody feels pain at the wallet. So, their strategy is to pretty much say that the president is in for it: "He's trying to do things that will wreck the economy, even though he thinks that it will benefit the public. We, the Republican party know better, and that answer is more drilling."
SPITZER: Now, the interesting thing is - if I've seen the polling data properly - about somewhere in the low twenties of the public blames the president, somewhere in the low twenty blames the Republicans, and about over 50 percent blame, you guessed it, the oil companies. And so, that kind of makes sense, given you know, who it's easy to throw mud at.
The interesting thing is that we, in fact, are moving towards energy independence, bit by bit, and have begun moving that way over the past four or five years. Has that fact crept into the public psyche, do you think?
WILLIAMS: It really hasn't, and that is another goal of this meeting that the president had - or this press conference that the president had - with all these people standing behind him, so he can once again make the point that we're drilling now more than we ever have.
Technology has increased, we've got oil leases that oil companies haven't even started using yet, to drill on lands that they're just kind of laying fallow. So, an attempt to draw the line - draw a clear distinction between his energy strategy, the fact that it includes clean energy and a move towards independence - with the Republican strategy, which basically is to put more holes in the ground, pump more oil out, that, in turn, contributes to pollution. That's where he wants to go with this.
The question will be whether or not the Republicans will come around, or if gas prices will reduce enough as the year goes on that this won't be an election-year factor.
SPITZER: Look, the interesting thing is that - even with the disaster in the Gulf, and all the concerns that were raised by that in terms of the environmental impact of drilling - there has been this enormous push towards drilling more, and an enormous amount, in particular, in terms of natural gas. And this White House has been pretty open to expanding, significantly, natural-gas supplies, and that's where most of the progress is being made.
Has that - again, has that issue sort of become part of the public debate, or are we just still talking here about fringe issues that everybody loves to pull out during campaign season?
WILLIAMS: The answer is yes. Both of the above, and I say that because - environmentalists really don't like this current energy policy that allows for fracking, which has been linked to water contamination, also earthquakes in certain parts of the country. They also don't like the strategy of deep-water drilling, where around the world there are more oil derricks that can drill deeper - we're talking two miles down in the bottom of the ocean, which is well past where the Deepwater Horizon was able to drill. That's all an anathema because one accident can cause the whole thing to fall apart, like we saw two years ago when the Deepwater Horizon blew up.
The big issue here, though is to try to keep moving the country towards an energy strategy, and if President Obama doesn't do more drilling, doesn't include fossil fuels as part of the conversation, prices spike, the economy tanks, he is in very real trouble.
SPITZER: And of course, Joe, I think most people who really study this understand the decisions that are made at a policy level will have an impact six months, or else ten years down the road. Probably not in the time frame that is politically significant, given the incipient election. I guess maybe by November, some small impact.
But anyway, we'll continue to see this story playing out.
Joe Williams, White House reporter for Politico. Great thanks for your being here this evening.
WILLIAMS: Thanks to you.
SPITZER: Actual research suggesting how Wall Street has been changed, get this, by Occupy Wall Street. Coming up next.
SPITZER: Coming up, there could be billions of "super Earths" circling stars in our own galaxy. Derrick Pitts is here to explain to me what that means.
SPITZER: There is no doubt Occupy Wall Street has influenced the national dialogue about economic inequality and corporate excess. But statistical evidence the financial services industry really heard its message was not known, until now.
In our number two story on the "Countdown" - more than half of the marketing executives for Wall Street firms surveyed, in the first independent study on Occupy's effects on Wall Street, say the demonstrations have had a real impact on their business.
The study was released a week following the movement's six-month anniversary and coincides with a new wave of demonstrations, and arrests. The new round of activity shows Occupy has not lost its steam, and suggests the movement is leaving its stamp where it matters most.
Seventy-one percent of the corporate executives surveyed think Occupy Wall Street will continue beyond the presidential election in November. The data shows executives may even be taking responsibility for the sector's bad reputation. Ninety-six percent, virtually every marketing executive surveyed, admitted their firms invited negative public perception by their actions, or inactions. Seventy-four percent believe that increased regulation of the financial-services industry will help their firms improve reputations and trust with customers faster.
The study was conducted by Echo Research and Makovsky, a research company that specializes in the financial-services sector. It interviewed 150 marketing and communications executives working at large and mid-sized publicly-traded and private financial institutions, including big banks, brokerage firms, asset-management firms, and insurance companies.
Joining me now - Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary, professor at UC Berkeley and author of the brilliant book "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future." I include it on the syllabus in my class. Professor, thank you. It is a spectacular book.
ROBERT REICH: Thank you.
SPITZER: First question for you - does this survey suggest there's been some sort of epiphany on Wall Street?
REICH: Certainly, among marketing and communications people on Wall Street. They're the ones who understand how angry the public continues to be at Wall Street. But, whether the understanding has permeated beyond the marketing and communications people to the real power on Wall Street - the CEOs and the major traders and the hedge fund managers - is a different story altogether.
SPITZER: Well, that's the question I want to drill down on. You know, is this merely an understanding that, "Gee, we did something that's going to hurt our reputations," or is this an understanding that, "We did something that was fundamentally anathema to the proper functioning of the economy, and therefore we've got to change the way we do business?"
What is your take, having spent a lot of time both studying it and dealing with Wall Street executives?
REICH: I don't mean to be cynical about this, Eliot. I would love it if, in fact, Wall Street showed signs of mending their ways and finding out that they've got to do it. But no, these are the PR and marketing people on Wall Street. They know that there is a huge problem, but you know, the kingpins on Wall Street see this as a public-relations problem. They don't see this as a fundamental problem in terms of changing their ways. They are, at this very moment in federal courts all over this country trying to get the rules and regulations pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Regulatory Reform Bill, and trying to get them stayed and thrown out of court.
SPITZER: Look, we'll get to that in a moment, but you are exactly right. They are trying to eviscerate those few, mild reforms that were put in place.
But you have seen some public statements - and trust me, you know me, I'm not justifying these executives - you have seen some public statements, even from Jamie Dimon, or from Vikram Pandit at CitiBank, where they acknowledged that they understand that the inequality baked into our economy and the excesses at the top are - create a necessary and understandable pushback. So, is that the first step, perhaps, to their changing the sorts of policies that got us here in the first place?
REICH: Eliot, they understand what they need to say. They understand, perhaps, that the country is angry, but they don't get it in terms of fundamental change and fundamental reform.
I mean, the Dallas Federal Reserve board just came out with a report - its annual report - saying Wall Street, the biggest banks on Wall Street, have to be broken up. I mean, can you imagine the Dallas Fed actually saying that? Wall Street doesn't want to be broken up.
Those same executives that maybe understand how angry the public is - you say to them, "Should you be broken up? Should you actually support a strong VOCA rule? Should you resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act?" Are you kidding me? They're going to say no.
SPITZER: Look, you're exactly right, and Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica wrote a spectacular story about that Dallas Fed report, which makes the point "too big to fail" has only gotten worse, not better, since the cataclysm of '08.
And just last week, you alluded to this - a bit earlier last week - something that was called a JOBS bill, but I feel it should have been called the "Bring Back Fraud to Wall Street" bill, was passed by both houses. That permits them to go back to some of the very practices that created this in the first place. So, what's your takeaway from all this?
REICH: My takeaway is that they see this as a public-relations problem. They are, at the same time, lobbying like mad and in court trying to eviscerate Dodd-Frank. They have not got it, they will not get it, and there's no hope of trying to make them get it.
I mean, there's huge amounts of money in it for them - keeping things the way they were, fighting every step of the way, trying to make this into a public-relations problem - when, in fact, it's much more fundamental.
And I don't think we're going to see real change on Wall Street until Wall Street is forced to change its ways.
SPITZER: Look, I could not agree more with you. One last question - time runs real short - why did so many Democrats, and why did the White House, support this so-called JOBS bill last week? Why didn't anybody on that side of the aisle have the gumption to stand up and say, "Enough. This is simply bad policy."
REICH: For two reasons, Eliot - first, they want to show some bipartisanship. I mean, everybody in Washington is looking at the November elections and they're saying, "We don't want to appear as partisan as we really are, and therefore, anything that gets any bipartisan support is probably a good thing if we can hold our nose and sign onto it."
Secondly - let's face it - there is a lot of competition between Democrats and Republicans for money from Wall Street for this election. Wall Street has decided to back Republicans more than Democrats, but still, a lot of Wall Street money is going into Democratic coffers.
All right, Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary, professor at UC Berkeley and author of "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future." Thank you for being here.
Next time, try to be a bit more optimistic. There's got to be a ray of hope out there somewhere.
REICH: There is, but it's in the Occupiers and grassroots movement, it's not on Wall Street.
SPITZER: All right, ditto. Could not agree more.
Coming up, there are potentially billions of "super Earths" orbiting stars in our galaxy. But can these planets sustain life as we know it? Derrick Pitts joins me next.
SPITZER: Astronomers now estimate there could potentially be billions of habitable planets right here in our galaxy, meaning planets that could sustain life.
In our number one story - according to a team of international astronomers, it's now being predicted that there could be billions of what are called "super Earths" circling stars within our galaxy. "Super Earth" is a term used to describe planets outside of our solar system with one to ten times the mass of Earth. But, of course, now I'm just telling you things we all already knew.
The team of astronomers collecting data from La Silla Observatory in Chile have been able to determine that about 40 percent of all red dwarf stars - the most common star in our galaxy - have a super Earth orbiting their habitable zone, where it may be possible for liquid water to exist - liquid water being the essential prerequisite to life.
According to the team's lead astronomer Xavier Bonfils, and I quote, "Because red dwarfs are so common - there are about 160 billion of them in the Milky Way - this leads us to the astonishing result that there are tens of billions of these planets in our galaxy alone."
And about one hundred of these planets could be less than thirty light years away, or about 180 trillion miles, which - in terms of the galaxy - is apparently not terribly far.
As for whether life as we know it can be sustained on these planets, astronomers say they will need to do more research, but it is possible.
Joining me now, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute science museum and "Countdown" contributor, Derrick Pitts. He's going to explain all of this. Okay, for those of us who couldn't even make it through 9th grade Biology, Derrick, what does all this mean?
DERRICK PITTS: What it really means, Eliot, is the chances that we're going to find Earth-like planets and possibly Earth-like planets - maybe with life - has gone up tremendously. The thing we have to remember about this is that about - maybe ten years ago, we were just speculating on the possibility that there planets were orbiting other stars.
Now, not only do we have a large number, several thousand good candidates, for stars that have planets orbiting them, but we have actually been able to confirm quite a number of planets that are orbiting other stars.
Now the question comes in - are we talking about planets that are about the size of Earth or maybe a little bit larger - these so-called "super Earths"? And, by the way, I had thought it was a stable economy that made it possible for life to exist on these other planets. But in any case -
SPITZER: We'll give up on the stable economy if they have got water. Explain to me -
PITTS: Right, we'll take the water.
SPITZER: We'll take the water. Why is water so essential? Is this sort of the biological necessity from which all other things spring?
PITTS: For what we know of as life, Eliot, yes. Water is the key to all of this. And the thing about it is, is that it could be possible that there are other forms of life based on other elements, if you will. But, for our studies, we have to start someplace where we really know what things are. And that's life like what we find here on this planet, and that's all based on water.
So, we're really looking for the water. That's like the holy grail of looking for life elsewhere. You know, it's a key for what we're doing on Mars. It's a key for what we're doing looking at these planets, also.
SPITZER: Now, give me a sense of dimension here. I mean, it sounds like this is still kind of far away. Even Richard Branson isn't yet going up there saying, "I'll sell you a ticket to take you to one of these stars. Thirty light years is kind of far off - are we - we're not going to visit anytime soon to get more data on this. So, what's the next step here?
PITTS: Yeah, that's true. We're not going to go this far to get the data. We're going observe to see what we can find out using various instruments here through telescopes.
But, it is relatively close. Thirty light years is nothing when you look at the size of the galaxy and then the size of the universe. And the other interesting thing about it, Eliot, is that earlier on - 20 years ago - we were looking all over the universe for life. It turns out that we can look for it right here in our own backyard.
Next steps - the next steps are to try to better identify what the chemical constituency is, if you will, of the atmospheres of these planets. It'll require a different kind of study, but we do have the tools in place to be able to do that. So, we'll refine what we know about these planets so far, identify the ones that are really closer to being like Earth and then start to look at their atmospheres, if they have them, to see if we can see a signature of water.
SPITZER: So, what you're telling me, if I hear you right, is we can take the next steps from a scientific perspective without actually having to visit these planets. We don't need to get there. We can do this through the telescopes and all of the other, you know, cool stuff - the toys you have.
PITTS: Absolutely. The engineers who work with the telescopes and build the tools that we use on the telescope are really geniuses at crafting instruments that can actually pick out this very, very subtle information over extremely long distances and can get it very, very close to accurate. So, we can do a lot of this work remotely.
And besides, the gas prices are too high to fuel a craft to get us all the way out that far right now anyway.
SPITZER: Don't be so cynical, fuel mileage is getting better. Pretty soon you'll get there on one gallon.
All right, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute science museum and "Countdown" contributor Derrick Pitts. Thanks so much for your time tonight, making sense out of something that is simply beyond even those of us who read science fiction.
PITTS: Thank you.
SPITZER: That's "Countdown." I'm Eliot Spitzer, in for Keith Olbermann. Have a good night. Thanks for joining us.