updated 6/13/2008 1:53:00 PM ET 2008-06-13T17:53:00

Guests: Howard Fineman, Rachel Maddow, Jonathan Turley

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Still “not too important.”  We‘ll know what John McCain meant, say the senator‘s surrogates, when he answered the question of when the troops would come home.  Finally, the candidate himself tries to answer.

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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  My position on the war in Iraq has been very, very clear.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama in surprise agreement, sort of, saying in effect—yes, we all did know what you meant and that‘s the problem.

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SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  He‘s not thinking about the extraordinary burden that families are under, on two or three or four tours of duty, but he‘s also not thinking about taxpayers who are spending $10 billion to $12 billion a month in Iraq.

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OLBERMANN:  Spending means loans, loans mean mortgages, loans from mortgage companies led one of Obama‘s V.P. searchers to quit.  What about McCain‘s V.P. searcher who‘s lobbying for a mortgage company?

Swing and a miss. The Supreme Court guts the premise of foreign combatants, of detainees of Gitmo, the justices rule—detainees at Guantanamo Bay can challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.

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PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  First of all, it‘s a Supreme Court decision.  We‘ll abide by the court‘s decision.  That doesn‘t mean I have to agree with it.

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OLBERMANN:  You do not have to agree with insults: A FOX segment on how Michelle Obama is fair game as long as you stick to the issues.  But the onscreen graphic includes the insult “Obama‘s baby mama” which in urban slang means an unwed mother, often a minority unwed mother.  How does the Obama campaign answer crap like this?  A “fight the smears” Web site.

Worst: Lou Dobbs to run for office?  How about he just runs and keeps running?

And tonight: A special comment of Senator McCain and his answer “not too important.”

The senator demands context, so context is what we shall give him.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Thursday, June 12th, 145 days until the 2008 presidential election.

In the slums of Baghdad, in Basra in the south, in the Sunni-dominated city of Mosul in the north, American troops have made recent gains which American commanders will not call victories.  Reporters in those cities conclude that the areas have been secured, not by the dent of American will, but because the various insurgent groups seem to prefer, currently, not to fight but to talk and in doing so, move their fighters out of town.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator John McCain has looked at Baghdad and at Basra, and at Mosul, and he has declared triumph where the generals in the field would not.  The senator announcing as if it were all over and not tenuous enough for the generals to fear it could all go back backwards tomorrow: “That was the whole idea behind the surge: go in, hold, clear, establish order and then have the Iraqi military and government take over and then we can withdraw and then we can come home in victory with honor not in defeat.”

Senator McCain then is expressing disappointment with Senator Kerry, having called him “confused” for his pattern of confusing the statements about the war in Iraq, like the one yesterday about how it‘s not that important when American troops can come home.  The Arizona Republican contending that his stance on the conflict is, in fact, crystal clear.  Somebody, in fact, must have told him, the three key words you‘re going to need to stress in this news conference, senator, are—clear, success, and withdraw.  Clear, success and withdraw.

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MCCAIN:  My position on the war on Iraq has been very, very clear—very clear.  I oppose the failed strategy that was failing.  I argued for the strategy that‘s succeeding and it‘s winning.  And it‘s winning.

And the key is—not to do what Senator Obama said we had to do and that was set artificial dates for withdrawal, and also, to this day, refuses to acknowledge that the surge is succeeding.  We are winning.  So, the key to it is: success and withdrawal—success and withdrawal.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama is responding today from the campaign trail from Wisconsin saying, in effect that even if one knows what Senator McCain meant to say yesterday and agrees with his premise, the conclusion reached by the presumptive Republican nominee is still ultimately unacceptable.

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OBAMA:  I agree that, obviously, the most important thing is making sure that our young men and women aren‘t killed.  But, the notion that if they are not getting killed, that we can leave them there in perpetuity—

100 years—John McCain says.  First of all, that means he‘s not thinking about the extraordinary burdens that families are under, on two or three or four tours of duty, but he‘s also not thinking about taxpayers who are spending $10 billion to $12 billion a month in Iraq.

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OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Has Senator Obama hit some sort of talking point, workable talking point there in this, that even if we all did know what you meant, Senator McCain, how are you going to pay for this, if it‘s an endless o occupation of Iraq?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  So, I think he has, Keith, because it crystallizes the deeper argument here.  What Obama is doing is very shrewd.  He‘s accepting the basic premise of McCain‘s contention.

McCain is really comparing the situation in Iraq to South Korea, to Western Europe after World War II, to Japan and so forth—a kind of permanent watch tower of freedom holding back tyranny and if that‘s what McCain is really talking about and that is, that‘s going to cost—already has cost trillions, may cost trillions more.

And the parts of the country that Obama is going to have to win to win this election, in places like western Pennsylvania, and southern Ohio and so forth—the economic argument about the war is pretty strong.  They care about their guns and their faith.  But they also care about the economy.  So, I think it‘s smart.

OLBERMANN:  Is there also some sort of disconnect that Senator McCain is setting himself up for, because he, like President Bush has said repeatedly—it‘s all about what the commanders on the ground are telling me, it‘s all about what the commanders on the ground are telling me—but these recent military gains that have been made, the commanders in the field are reluctant to call it victory because it could be fleeting, but Senator McCain is apparently not reluctant to do that at all?

FINEMAN:  Well, McCain‘s got a problem here as you pointed out.  He wants to keep mentioning the word withdrawal.  But, yet, his basic philosophy here is that we need a long-term commitment of troops kept out of harm‘s way he says.  And the problem with that could be, that not only there‘s a financial cost, but if he‘s going to make the analogy to Europe and Japan and the South Korea, those were safe places, are safe places to keep our troops.

It‘s not at all clear that even with the success that‘s been made, that Iraq is a safe place to garrison our troops for 20 or 30 years, let alone 100.

OLBERMANN:  The “not that important” flap, we‘re going to go into greater detail with this with Rachel Maddow in a moment.  But why has this become about what Senator McCain meant to say instead of what he did say?  Even Senator Obama gave him the benefit of the doubt on that.  I don‘t remember Obama being afforded that kind of courtesy even just yesterday on his comments about small town bitterness or almost anything else?

FINEMAN:  Well, Keith, the Democrats and the Obama campaign beat up McCain for about 48 hours before they‘ve decided to be nice.  I don‘t think it‘s about what McCain meant to say.  I think if you listen to the whole sentence of what McCain said, the whole paragraph, it was clear.

But the irony is, it‘s more—what he really said is more controversial, Keith, in the sense that he is talking about a long-term commitment of many, many years of lots of American troops—he hasn‘t put a number on it—lots of American troops in that part of the world, the analogy being to the Cold War, to post-war Europe and so forth.  That‘s a very big philosophical and material and human commitment that McCain has got to be prepared to defend.

Now, Obama is saying—I want to take an entirely different approach, it doesn‘t include looking at Iraq as the ramparts of freedom that have $1 trillion every year or two.  So, that‘s a big disagreement.  So, even if Obama accepts the argument, there‘s a big debate to be had on that.

OLBERMANN:  And one thing about the campaign, an interview in Boston, and Senator McCain said he can‘t stop every independent group that wants to attack Barack Obama from attacking Barack Obama.   Basically, is that a green flag to those groups?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s a slightly different tone from what McCain has said in the past.  I mean, he‘s been tougher, he said, “I don‘t want to have anything to do with it, I despise it, I denounce it” and et cetera.  So, the tone is different and interesting.

Look—this campaign from the very beginning, and I‘d say the beginning, meaning in Iowa and even before, has been about Obama.  And that‘s what McCain wants it and he‘s going to let everybody say anything they want to about the guy who is his opponent.  It‘s going to be about fear versus safety.

OLBERMANN:  It sounds all too familiar.  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—a always, sir, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The other day two story impacting the run for the White House: The resignation of Jim Johnson, the man who had been running Senator Obama‘s vice presidential search team, stepping down yesterday because of the preferential treatment for personal loans Mr. Johnson had evidently gotten from Countrywide Financial—a company which Senator Obama and others have blamed for helping to create the subprime mortgage crisis.

In his news conference today, Senator McCain using that as an opening to attack Eric Holder, the former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, who is still vetting vice presidential candidates for Senator Obama.

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MCCAIN:  I think that it is a matter of record that Mr. Holder recommended the pardoning of Mr. Rich, and all of those things will be taken in consideration by the media and the American people, especially when you‘re entrusting individuals with one of the most important decisions that a presidential candidate can make before that individual is elected and that is who the running mate is.

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OLBERMANN:  As you may know, Senator McCain having entrusted that most important decision to a man named Arthur Culvahouse, the Arizona Republican exhibiting no irony today over the fact that Mr. Culvahouse is—say it with me now—a former lobbyist, even better or perhaps that should read, even worst, he used to lobby for Fannie Mae, the mortgage company where Mr.  Jim Johnson once served as chairman and CEO.

Let‘s turn now, as promised, our own Rachel Maddow, also host of her own show on weeknights on Air America Radio.

Rachel, good evening.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Yesterday, Senator Lieberman said in effect—a free pass for Mr. McCain on anything he says about Iraq because he‘s a Vietnam vet.  Today, Senator McCain was outraged at conduct in the Obama campaign that really would be only about average corruption in the McCain campaign.

In pushing for what looks like from the outside a double standards, do the Republicans put themselves at some sort of risk?

MADDOW:  If they get called out on it.  I mean, this is a classic glass houses problem.  But the glass houses phenomenon only works if people are willing to actually throw the metaphorical rocks at the guy who was standing in his glass house, flinging them at others.

We have seen John McCain denounced Barack Obama as the candidate of special interests, even while he‘s in the midst of a half-hearted lobbyist purge from his campaign.  We‘ve, in fact, seen John McCain denounced Barack Obama as the party of old government, the old—in terms of thinking about the guy who‘s been in Washington too long.  We‘ve seen John McCain denounced Barack Obama for a position that McCain himself held on Social Security taxes.  We‘ve seen McCain supporters denounced Barack Obama for wanting to meet with Hamas, even though between the two candidates, only John McCain has ever proposed something remotely like that.

So, we‘ve seen this time and time and time again, in terms of McCain essentially being able to get away with making accusations about things he himself is guilty of—more guilty of than Barack Obama and he just doesn‘t seem to get called on it; at least, not yet.

OLBERMANN:  And I‘ve got 11.5 minutes worth of rocks a little later on the show if you want to stick around.  One thing it would seem the McCain campaign is doing terrifically at is working the refs early in the game.  There was question to him today about John Kerry‘s reaction to the “that‘s not too important” line, no follow-up, COUNTDOWN had the story, “Newsweek” had the story—Phil Gramm, the uber-lobbyist, one question to McCain now to the rest of press corps—has the McCain campaign successfully intimidated the media at this point?

MADDOW:  The McCain campaign has two things going on with the media.  One is that they are behind the scenes being very aggressive in terms of lobbying media, lobbying media left, right and center, in terms of the way they want McCain to be spoken about.  They‘re lobbying the media, for example, on taxes, saying that we should be describing—members of the media should be describing what Barack Obama wants to do with rolling back Bush‘s tax cuts as a tax increase, not as a roll back of Bush‘s tax cuts.

And some members of the media go along with that sort of thing, I think, some others, more rightfully, see that as a subject of a news story about how John McCain is trying to manipulate the media.

But the other thing that he‘s got going for him is, essentially, his 26 years in Washington having been a darling of the media on purpose, having cultivated a relationship with the media that involves them giving him the benefit of the doubt.  Like you were talking about with Howard Fineman earlier, this sort of leeway that he‘s given so that we talk about what he really meant, rather than what he said.

The only way you get to that sort of relationship with the media is if you have a relationship with reporters that you think you can call on that supersedes your actual record and what you‘re actually on tape saying.

OLBERMANN:  So, are these two things connected in some way?  He‘s been there 26 years.  And for about the same length of time, we‘ve been hearing about the damned liberal media and this was the one guy who didn‘t say that that often—and now he‘s calling in his chits because he didn‘t whine about it the way everybody else did on the right?

MADDOW:  I wonder.  I mean, I don‘t know, I‘m not a campaign trail reporter.  And I don‘t know what goes through people‘s minds when they decide what they are going to report.

But I do know that the false sense of balance, the false sense of—if I‘m going to report one side of this, I better report the other—more frequently goes towards not giving us actual balance but giving us two sides of the story but sometimes really only have one real side.

That has been true for too much of the Bush administration and it seems to be true of the campaign trail so far.  I have been disappointed that now we‘re in a general election, we‘re not seeing more scrutiny to Senator McCain.

OLBERMANN:  What is that phrase balance, it means putting—having the truth and equating it with a liar.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America—as always, thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Tonight, a special comment on Senator McCain and Iraq—how he feels it‘s not too important when we save our soldiers from that country and the key part of that answer.  One word overlooked and the frightful ignorance of the rest of it.

The Supreme Court sweeps away most of the president‘s argument for detainees and for Gitmo itself.

And in Worst Persons: Rudy Giuliani talks about John McCain‘s surrogates and Sean Hannity cheerfully interrupts people like me.  Yes, Sean, people like you.

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OLBERMANN:  Habeas corpus is restored, even to detainees, by the Supreme Court, the right to appeal to a court, freed of the shackles imposed upon it by George W. Bush.  A big day at the high court, Jonathan Turley joins us.

Later: “Obama‘s baby mama,” the insulting and even racist description of Michelle Obama by FOX News and the steps Obama is taking to counter the work of the swine.

And in Worsts: Sean Hannity admits he‘s a surrogate for John McCain.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  The Supreme Court has twice before ruled against the Bush administration on this seminal issue but never as panoramically as in its decision today.

And our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Detainees at Guantanamo Bay, non-U.S. citizens, do have the right under the U.S. Constitution to challenge their detentions in civilian U.S. courts.  This, according to the nation‘s highest court.

In a moment, Jonathan Turley assesses just how critical this ruling really is.

The Supreme Court by five to four today, is saying that the Bush administration is violating the rights of 270 prisoner at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, who are being held indefinitely and without charges.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, rejected the notion that the threat of terrorism trumps the rule of law.  Quoting: “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”

Further more, the court deemed unconstitutional, a 2006 law passed by the then Republican Congress, which had stripped Gitmo prisoners of the right to habeas corpus.  The majority also rejected the government position that a limited judicial review set up by Congress was adequate to protect detainee rights.

President Bush speaking from Italy today, said that he would abide by the court‘s decision but he did not stop there.

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BUSH:  That doesn‘t mean I have to agree with it.  It‘s a deeply divided court and I strongly agree with those who dissent it, that and their dissent was based upon their serious concerns about U.S. national security.  And we‘ll study this opinion and we‘ll do so with this in mind to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate.

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OLBERMANN:  The Justice Department is now responded in a statement that reads in part, quote, “While we disagree with the ruling, it is important to note that that case did not concern military commission trial.  Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”

As promised, let‘s call in George Washington University law professor and constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  How far-reaching is this decision and does it, in fact, fully restore habeas corpus?

TURLEY:  Well, when we say far-reaching, this is sort of like beating a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  You don‘t gain much but you didn‘t lose what you had.  And what we almost lost here, by a hair‘s breath of one vote, was the great writ of habeas corpus—at least for these detainees.

And I think what we really gained here is credibility.  That is, we show the world that having an idiot-proof system doesn‘t mean you don‘t have idiots.  It means you can transcend them.  It means that you have a legal system that can be better than its leaders.  But, we came awfully close.

Now, by restoring this right, it means these people will be able to go into a real court and face real judges and have real law applied.  But the details have to be worked out and this is going to take years.  And obviously, this is a president who is not going to go quietly into this night.

OLBERMANN:  To read the dissent, however, you would have thought that all 270 of the detainees in Guantanamo were freed by this verdict.  But this was - I don‘t know, (INAUDIBLE) or something, what actually is—what actually is their status, where are military commissions which justice says is going to continue?

TURLEY:  Well, I have to tell you, I‘m surprised by Scalia‘s dissent and Roberts wrote it.  But Scalia‘s dissent when contrasted with the eloquence of Justice Kennedy—he wrote 70 pages, it was tour de force, a great read—and when compared to that, Scalia‘s opinion comes off as sort of a snarling, you know, tirade.  It‘s pretty obnoxious.  He suggests that, you know, it‘s almost as if the World Trade Centers would still be standing if it wasn‘t for habeas corpus.

Well, of course, habeas corpus existed then and the president tried to roll back now.  But that‘s not the reason those attacks occurred.  But the suggestion that people will die because we‘re giving legal process to those who‘ve accused is a really bizarre and obnoxious thought.  But, I think, ultimately, history will judge poorly that opinion of Justice Scalia.  He has some very good opinions, that‘s just doesn‘t have to be one of them.

OLBERMANN:  The president says that he may once again have Congress address this, I imagine with less success than he did in 2006.  But, did Congress not sort of get slapped down today for not adhering to a previous decision?

TURLEY:  Yes, that‘s what‘s often missed in news coverage.  This is not just a condemnation of the president, it‘s a condemnation of Congress.  I was absolutely shocked when Congress stepped in and tried to assist the president after the last round by wiping out habeas corpus—Democrats and Republicans.

And what we really need at this point is Hippocratic oath in Congress not to do any harm to the Constitution.  They should just leave it alone.

If we really are fighting for something, if they believe in our system of government, why not allow the courts to do what courts do?  To judge guilt and do it in a way that we show who we are, not who these detainees are, but to show that even when we hate people or fear people, it doesn‘t change who we are or how we try them.

And to that point, that which terrified all of us, you and me particularly, sitting here in late 2006, the government is going around, under, over, through the Constitution.  After today, how much of it is still in play?

TURLEY:  Well, I‘m afraid that there‘s a great deal of circumvention still going on.  We have the unlawful surveillance program, the torture program, the abuse of state secrets, and also Congress has radically cut back the ability of courts to do what courts do—to look at the constitutionality of what this administration has done and continues to do.

So, there‘s a great amount of work but what we have today is that we had an example that, you know, we have a beautiful, brilliant system that has fail-safe mechanisms.  In this case, we came down to the very last one.  We had a failure in the executive branch, a failure in the legislative branch, and with the failure of the judicial branch, it was only saved in the end by five justices.

Now, that‘s a real Burma Shave when it comes to a constitutional crisis but it worked.  But we need to look at these other areas and try to regain what we have lost.

OLBERMANN:  As Wellington said it was “a near run thing.”

Jonathan Turley of George Washington University—thank you, Jon.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You know, when I was a kid, I drove my parents temporarily insane by playing this one record, “Puss in Boots” (ph) over and over again.  Well, look at here, can‘t wait for that “pig in boots” album.

And then, Justice Antonin Scalia, just Jon mentioned him, his hair-on-fire response to the court ruling we‘d just discussed makes him sound like, I don‘t know, Newt Gingrich or maybe tonight‘s Worst Person in the World.

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OLBERMANN:  Best Persons in a moment and before holding up the gas station, always give the clerk your driver‘s license.

First, on this date in 1952, we are told anyway, a 17-year-old house cat in Brandon, Texas gave birth to a record 420th kitten.  No, not on the same day, mind you.

Let‘s play Oddball.

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OLBERMANN:  Tennis ball machine or something.  We begin in Fierst, England, and a hog that is happier than a pig in shoes.  This is Cinders, the six week-old-piglet born with a nose for neatness and fear of dirt.  Misophobia is the technical term for what ales little Cinders.  To combat the problem, her keepers have rigged up some mini pig galoshes.  Sure, Cinders will take a ton of crap from barnyard pals, but she will not be stepping in any, at least.

Cinders is one of 200 pigs on the sausage farm.  Her owners say, due to her celebrity, she will not be going to market any time soon, which leads expert to project an outbreak of Misophobia at pig farms everywhere. 

To Prado Nature Park in Italy, where we get a real-live look at a real live unicorn.  Unlike the Ringling Brothers goat with the horn glued on its head from back in the ‘80s, this is legit, a real live deer with a single horn in its ears.  We all know a unicorn is a mythological beast with magical powers, appearing in legends and stories throughout history.  However, this unicorn‘s powers appear less than magical.  They include eating and looking funny. 

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OLBERMANN:  Obama‘s baby momma, you say?  How does Fox New get away with using a term for unwed, uninvolved mother?  And the Obama‘s camp, the action plan to combat such slime. 

And Iraq, Senator McCain, it is not about valor and flags and never surrendering, it‘s about getting the troops home.  And you are betraying them.  My special comment ahead.  But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best disguised political campaign ad, Fixed News tonight canceling its only newscast to instead broadcast a town hall for Senator McCain.  Says the Fox exec, they are bringing in the audience.  We are bringing in the cameras and the lights to make it TV.  Let me guess, they are also bringing in the questions? 

Number two, best effort, Steven Shoemaker of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, ordered to show up at 9:30 to be sentenced for DUI.  Shoemaker couldn‘t drive, couldn‘t find a ride, so he walked to court, 25 miles.  After a quick pit stop at the hospital for dehydration treatment, he finally got there at 3:30, and that‘s when the judge told him his hearing date would be delayed until July.  A public defender gave him a ride home. 

Number one, best dumb criminal, Kenneth Lane Holiday is on the run, wanted for knocking over the corner quick stop in Grand Bay, Alabama.  Pretty good idea that it was Kenneth Lane Holiday, because before the robbery, he gave the attendant his driver‘s license and then left it at the station after he held it up.  That sounds moronic, but it turns out that was not his key mistake.  The clerk he held up says Mr. Holiday comes in all the time, and they‘re on a first-name basis. 

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OLBERMANN:  It was vintage Fox, a microcosm preview of the Republican low road strategy for going after Barack Obama, pretending to take the high ride, while raising questions about his Americaness, defining him as the other, different from, you know, real Americans.  Shh, white Americans, like you and me.  In our third story tonight, Fox tries to have it both ways in one of those arguably petty things, which collectively reinforce the big things, and Obama strikes back on all of the crap getting thrown at him. 

Before the dust had even settled on E.D. Hill‘s career, following her

reference last week to Obama and his wife Michelle‘s fist bump as a

possible terrorist fist jab, this photo came to our attention of two more possible terrorist fist bumpers.  The one who is not Anna Kournikova is indeed the first President Bush. 

Meantime, the crack journalists at Fox aired a segment yesterday about how and whether the right can go after Michelle, a two cute by half way of going after her behind the fig leaf of just about going after her.  Whoever wrote the on-screen graphics apparently didn‘t get the fig leaf memo.  And while Michelle Malkin blabbed that the attacks had to substantive, Fox put up a graphic that was, A, not substantive, B, not true, C, derogatory, and D, quite possibly racist. 

The graphic referred to Michelle as Senator Obama‘s, quote, baby mama. 

Casually untrue, in that liberals did not refer to her that way.  Profoundly untrue in that the phrase baby mama actually refers in slang to unmarried mothers, mothers not even currently involved with the father of their child.  A Fox statement today says, quote, “a producer on the program exercised poor judgment.”  Not addressing, how could management tell?  And not addressing if Fox would ever exercise such poor judgment and refer to either of the two women who were born John McCain‘s children as his baby mama.

Malkin today on the defensive, claiming Michelle Obama herself has referred to Barack as her baby daddy, accurately as it proves, but citing as her source a reader comment left on somebody else‘s blog.  As if self-deprecating humor justifies slurs for others. 

Obama now has launched a website, FightTheSmears.com, to make available all the truth, rebutting all the baseless slur circulating on the Internet.  All of them, like Fox‘s, with its use of urban slang, invoking the values issues ascribed to single motherhood, intended literally to ghettoize the Obamas, sometimes with outright racism, but always with the impressionistic use of smears, big and small, that paint a larger portrait of the Obamas as fundamentally different, too un-America, basically, too black ever to reside in the White House. 

Senator McCain, meanwhile, insists his words on Iraq are clear and his not that important comment requires context.  We will present both in a special comment. 

Sean Hannity said something true on his show.  Perhaps that‘s worthy of a special comment by itself? 

But for now the amazing admission gets him nominated for worst persons next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  John McCain insists his position on Iraq is well known, and his not too important comment about when the troops will come home requires greater context.  We‘ll examine his position on Iraq in his own words, and supply the full context, and I do not think he will like it.  My special comment is next.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Lou Dobbs.  The newspaper “The Star Ledger of Newark” reports, according to several well connected Republicans, say they have heard the buzz that Dobbs has inquired about the steps necessary to start a campaign for governor of New Jersey.  Dobbs says, no comment.  It appears he‘s unaware that New Jersey doesn‘t even have a border with Mexico. 

The runner-up, Sean Hannity of Fixed News, interviewing Rudy Giuliani.  Hannity suffering an honesty attack live on air.  Mr. Giuliani said, I think you will find in both cases, Senator Obama and Senator McCain, a lot of the attacking will be done by surrogates and they are going to—well, I mean—Hannity he interrupted and said, people like me.  So you‘re a McCain surrogate Sean?  With this irrefutable piece of logic, Hannity said, no, no.  This may have been a denial, or perhaps a recognition that he is here after known as McCain surrogate Sean Hannity, or maybe both. 

But our winner, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  His dissenting opinion to today‘s high court ruling that in a landmark decision today that habeas corpus protections do apply to detainees at Guantanamo Bay.  The Justice wrote, quote, “the game of bait and switch that today‘s opinion plays upon the nation‘s commander in chief will make the war harder on us.  It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” 

Where, pal?  In Iraq because Mr. Bush will use this as an excuse to escalate?  In Iran because he can use this as an excuse to attack?  The constitution provides the government all the weapons it needs against terrorism and then some.  Kindly stick to reading it, sir.  Leave the terror-mongering to the official Republicans. 

Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, today‘s worst person in the world!

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OLBERMANN:  Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on Senator John McCain‘s conclusion that it‘s “not too important” when American forces come home from Iraq.  Thoughts, offered more in sorrow, than in anger.

For two full days now, the Senator and his supporters have been outraged at what they see as the subtraction of context from this extraordinary remark.  This is, sadly, the excuse of our time, for everything.

Still.  If the Senator claims truncation, we will correct that, first.

“A lot of people,” Matt Lauer began, “now say the surge is working.”

“Anybody who knows the facts on the ground say that,” the Senator interjected.

“If it‘s now working, Senator,” Matt continued, “do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?”

“No,” answered McCain.  “But that‘s not too important.  What‘s important is the casualties in Iraq.  Americans are in South Korea.  Americans are in Japan.  American troops are in Germany.

“That‘s all fine.  American casualties and the ability to withdraw. 

We will be able to withdraw.

“General Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are.  But the key to it is we don‘t want any more Americans in harm‘s way.  And that way they will be safe, and serve our country, and come home with honor and victory - not in defeat, which is what Senator Obama‘s proposal would have done.  And I‘m proud of them, and they‘re doing a great job.  And we are succeeding.  And it‘s fascinating that Senator Obama still doesn‘t realize it.”

And there is the context of what Senator McCain said.  Well --  not quite, Senator.

The full context is that the Iraq you see is a figment of your imagination.  This is not a war about “honor and victory,” Sir.

This is a war you, and the President you support and seek to succeed, conned this nation into.

Yes, sir, you.

Of the prospect of war in Iraq, you said, quote, “I believe that success will be fairly easy.”  John McCain, September 24th, 2002.

“I believe that we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.”  John McCain, September 29th, 2002.

Of the ouster of Saddam and the Baathists: “There‘s no doubt in my mind that once these people are gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators.”  John McCain, March 24th, 2003.

Asked, about a long-term commitment in Iraq, quote, “are you talking about something in terms of South Korea, for instance, where you would expect U.S.  troops to be in Iraq for decades?”

“No,” you answered.  “I don‘t think decades, but I think years.  A little straight talk, I think years.  And I hope that we can gradually reduce that presence.”  John McCain, March 18th, 2004.

You were asked about the troops, and the future.

“I would hope that we could bring them all home.  I would hope that we would probably leave some military advisers, as we have in other countries, to help them with their training and equipment and that kind of stuff.”  I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence.

And I don‘t pretend to know exactly Iraqi public opinion.  But as soon

as we can reduce our visibility as much as possible, the better I think it

is going to be.”  John McCain, January 31st, 2005

When a speaker at your town hall, five months ago, referenced the President‘s forecast that we might stay in Iraq for 50 years, you cut him off.

“Make it a hundred!  We‘ve been in Japan for 60 years.  We‘ve been in South Korea 50 years or so.  That would be fine with me.  As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.  That‘s fine by me”  John McCain, January 3rd, 2008.

And your forecast of your hypothetical first term.

“By January, 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom.  The Iraq war has been won.”  John McCain, May 15th, 2008.

That, Senator McCain, is context.

You have attested to: a fairly easy success; an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time; in which we would be welcomed as liberators; which you assured us would not require our troops stay for decades but merely for years; from which we could bring them all home, since you noted many Iraqis resent American military presence; in which all those troops coming home will also stay there, not being injured, for a hundred years; but most will be back by 2013; and the timing of their return is not that important.

That, Senator McCain, is context.

And that, Senator McCain, is madness.

The Government Accountability Office just released a study Tuesday that concludes that one out of every ten soldiers sent to Iraq takes with them medical problems “severe enough to significantly limit their ability to fight.”

In five years, we have now sent 43,000 of them to war even though they were already wounded.  And when they come home, is not that important.

Jalal al Din al Sagir is a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  Ali al Adeeb is member of the rival Dawa Political Party.  They gave a series of interviews last week about the particulars of this country‘s demand for a “Status of Forces” agreement with Iraq—a treaty  -- which Mr. Bush does not intend to show Congress before he signs it.

The Iraqi politicians say the treaty demands Iraq‘s consent to the establishment of nearly double the number of US military bases in Iraq—from about 30, to 58, and from temporary to permanent.

Those will be American men and women who must, of necessity, staff these bases, staff them, in Mr. McCain‘s M-C Escher dream world in which our people can all come home while they stay there for a hundred years, but they‘ll be back by 2013.

And when they come home, is not that important.

Last year, a 20-year old soldier from the Bronx, on the day of his re-deployment to a second tour in Iraq, said he just couldn‘t face the smell of burning flesh again.  So, Jonathan Aponte paid a hit man $500 to shoot him in the leg.

Mount Sinai Hospital in New York reported treating a patient identifying himself as another Iraq-bound soldier, who claimed he had accidentally swallowed a pen at the bus station.  Nobody doubted his story until examinations proved there was a second pen in his stomach bearing the logo of Greyhound Bus Lines.

In 2006, says his sister, a 24-year old Army Specialist from Washington State, on the eve of his second deployment, strapped a pack full of tools to his back, and then jumped off the roof of his house, injuring his spine.

And when they come home—or more correctly all those like them who did not risk death or disability to avoid going back—when they come home, is not that important.

You‘ve sold them all out, Senator.

You.

You, whose sacrifice for this country was as all-encompassing and as horrible as the rest of us can only imagine in our darkest moments.

You, who survived, so that you could make America a better place, where young men did not have to go and die in pointless wars or be maimed or be held prisoner or have to hire hit-men to shoot them in the knee because that couldn‘t be worse.

You who should know better.

Where, Senator, is the man who once said “veterans hate war more than anyone else, because veterans know, because veterans know these brave Americans, and others, know, that there is nothing more painful than the loss of a comrade.”

Where is he, Sir?

Where is the man who described that ineffable truth?

Oh, so long ago you touched the essence of the reality of Iraq.  Your comments about your lost comrades—yesterday.

The men and women in Iraq, today, Senator—they are your comrades, too.  And you are condemning them to die.  To die, for your misdirection, for Mr. Bush‘s lies, for whoever makes the money off building 58 permanent American bases and all the weapons and all the bullets and all the wiring so costly and so slip-shod that it electrocutes our comrades as they step, not out to fight freedom‘s enemies, but into the shower at the base.

That, Senator, that is context.

It is an easy thing to dismiss Senator McCain as a sad and befuddled figure, already challenging for some kind of campaign record for malapropos.  Just yesterday in Philadelphia he answered Senator Obama, not by defending or explaining his own “not that important” remark, but by seizing upon Obama‘s “bitter” remark - or trying to.

Obama had foolishly said that some, in despair, in small towns, cling to their religion and their guns.  Senator McCain vowed he‘d go to those towns and tell them, “I don‘t agree with Senator Obama that they cling to their religion and the Constitution because they‘re bitter.”

It was hard not to dismiss with a laugh, Senator McCain, or any Republican, for even accidentally implying that he‘s clung to the Constitution—not after these last seven years.

It was hard, the day before, not to become almost bemused when the Senator tried to say he would veto every single bill with earmarks, but wound up, instead, vowing “I will veto every single beer.”

It was hard, this week, not to laugh at how Senator McCain could offer any serious defense against the accusation that he is running for President Bush‘s third term, when a 2006 interview suddenly surfaced in which McCain said he would consider Dick Cheney for a position in a McCain administration.  “I don‘t know if I would want him as Vice President.  He and I have the same strengths.  But to serve in other capacities?  Hell, yeah.”

These are all very funny, in a macabre yet unthreatening way.

And then one remembers Senator McCain‘s inability to separate Sunni and Shia, or his insistence that Iran is training Al-Qaeda for service in Iraq, and then being corrected about it, and then saying the same thing again anyway the next day.

And then one is, inevitably, drawn back again to the overlooked substance of yesterday‘s remark—

“If (the surge) is now working, Senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?”

“No.”

No?

The surge is working and even that still tells Senator McCain nothing about when we can ransom our friends and our family, our soldiers?

Wasn‘t that the ultimate purpose of the surge?  To get them out?

If we cannot tell—if McCain cannot even guess—doesn‘t that, by definition, the surge isn‘t working?

And ultimately we are drawn back to the “not too important” remark, in its full context, the context of the kaleidoscope of confused rhetoric, and endless non sequitur, and mutually exclusive conclusions—and what they add up to: a veritable tragedy, a microcosm of the American tragedy that is Iraq, a tragedy of a man who himself will never understand “the context.”

Your tragedy, Senator McCain?

No.  I‘m sorry.  This tragedy is of Justin Mixon of Bogalusa, Louisiana.  And it‘s of Christopher McCarthy of Virginia Beach.  It‘s of Quincy Green of El Paso, and Joshua Waltenbaugh of Ford City, P.A.  The tragedy is of Shane Duffy of Taunton Mass, and Jonathan Emard of Mesquite, Texas.

It‘s of Cody Legg of Escondido in California, and David Hurst of Fort Sill in Oklahoma.  The tragedy is of Thomas Duncan the 3rd of Rowlett, Texas, and Tyler Pickett of Saratoga, Wyoming.

And who are they, Senator?

They are ten Americans who have died in Iraq since the first of this month.  There are four more.  The Defense Department has not yet identified the others.

And while you, Senator, may ask for all the context you can get, those ten men will never know any of it.  Because the true context here is that if you could ask those American war heroes, or the family and the friends that loved them, if they have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq, they could rightly say, “No.  But that‘s not too important.”

Good night, and good luck.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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