updated 2/19/2009 12:31:36 PM ET 2009-02-19T17:31:36

Guest: Shaun Donovan, Al Sharpton, Chris Hayes, Nate Silver

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

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

The bid to keep 9 million mortgage meltdown folks in their homes—

$75 billion for the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan—makes homeowners more affordable?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  All of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis.  And all of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to continue to deepen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The steeper price and the steep enough price with our special guest—the Secretary of Housing Shaun Donovan.

Thirty days: Rupert Murdoch‘s newspaper waited only 30 days before printing a violent, racist cartoon about the president portraying the writer of the stimulus as the chimpanzee shot by police on Monday in suburban New York.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST:  There‘s no way you can‘t draw a racial reference here.  What does a chimpanzee have to do with a stimuli bill and the president?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Reverend Al Sharpton joins us on the racism and violence in that cartoon.

The congresswoman from the eighth dimension is back.  Michele Bachmann, who before the election suggested Obama may be anti-American, now goes nuts on the stim.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHELE BACHMANN, ® MINNESOTA:  ACORN, this is a group that‘s under federal indictment for voter fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Unbelievable.

BACHMANN:  ACORN—do you know how much they‘re getting under this bill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Like $4 billion, I‘ve heard.

BACHMANN:  $5 billion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  $5 billion?

BACHMANN:  For ACORN.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  ACORN isn‘t getting a penny in the stim, Congresswoman.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  We‘re running out of rich people in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

BACHMANN:  Unfortunately, Republicans tend to just be nice guys and they don‘t always fight back.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Possibly, the wildest, least rational interview in the history of American politics.

Steroids update: “It could have been worse,” says a teammate of Alex Rodriguez, “he could have murdered somebody.”  Wow, great point, I hadn‘t thought of that.

And first, he mastered seeing the future in baseball, then it was presidential elections.  Tonight, Nate Silver of 538.com forecasts the Oscars.  Let‘s just hope he doesn‘t somehow get control of the weather.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would let the divine (ph) to answer the question.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening from New York.

Only days ago when opposing President Obama stimulus plan, Republicans in Congress complained that the stim did not focus sufficient resources on housing.  Tonight, now that President Obama has unveiled his plan to fix the housing crisis—in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Congressional Republicans are saying the president has focused to many resources on housing.

President Obama is tackling the mortgage mess this morning in Phoenix, one of the home foreclosure capitals of the U.S.  The plan is totaling $275 billion, aiming to help homeowners in two distinct groups.  First, about 3 million to 4 million Americans in immediate danger of losing their homes, whether they‘re struggling with high debt or under the weight of those high-interest subprime mortgages.  This program would seek to have them refinance and stay in their homes.

The second group, 4 million to 5 million more Americans who took out home loans under Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and who now find themselves under water—that is the value of their mortgages greatly exceeds the values of their homes.  Their loans would also be refinanced.

Beyond that, the administration‘s plan to find more by what it does not do and by whom it does not help than by what and who it does.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by

throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans.  It will not help speculators

--

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  It will not help speculator who is took risky bets on a rising market and bought homes not to live in, but to sell.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  It will not help dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibly, distorting the facts.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  So, I just want to make this clear—this plan will not save every home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  More than 24 hours before the Obama housing plan had even been released, Republican House whip, Eric Cantor, whose wife is an executive in a banking firm that got $267 million in that intervention, he had already decided he was against this one.

In the Senate, Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the banking, housing, and urban affairs committee, whose lack of oversight helped to create the mess, today complaining that more than half of the mortgage rescue plan is rescuing the wrong mortgages, those of homeowners not at immediate risk of default, quote, “The biggest outrage is that the president‘s plan actually will use taxpayer money to pay people to do what they‘re already supposed to do—pay their mortgage.”

Time now to call in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Republicans were all about fixing the housing crisis until it actually came to fixing the housing crisis.  I mean, since funding for the vast majority of this plan is going to come out of TARP Part II, why even voice this opposition?  Why not save obstruction for the actual, you know, obstruction part?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think there‘s some wishful thinking going on—most particularly, Eric Cantor seems to wish that he was Tom DeLay, and he maybe needs to study what happened to Tom DeLay to figure out how that doesn‘t end out too well.

The situation here is that there is sort of a knee-jerk reaction, which is not a strategy-based on anything real.  If the Republicans studied what‘s happened to their poll numbers since they started opposing every economic policy coming out of the White House, they may have paused for thought here, and Shelby‘s position about the moral hazard of this is stuck in the 1990s.  I mean, this is not any more about what‘s right or what‘s wrong, it‘s about stabilizing the key part of the American economy.  So, neither on the policy nor the politics of it, the Republican position really stack up.

OLBERMANN:  You know, it‘s sort of like saying, “We can‘t help any bank that isn‘t about to close its doors and throw the money out the back.”

The part of the plan that needs congressional approval on this is this provision that would allow a bankruptcy judge to modify, to, as they say, cram down the mortgage payments for homeowners who now owe more than the homes are now worth.  How big a fight is that going to be in Congress?  Is that stimulus junior?

WOLFFE:  I don‘t think there should be that much of a fight given where Republicans started.  Now, as we pointed out already, things have changed for Republicans as this debate has gone along, but bankruptcy judges, everyone has recognized from the first time the Bush administration then was talking about this.

They have some expertise; they have a lot of expertise in dealing with the individual economic crises facing families around the country.  Of course, they will be swamped by the number of cases this throws up, but they are well-placed to do this kind of thing.  It doesn‘t strike me that there‘s any political mileage or policy rationale for opposing this one.

OLBERMANN:  As we said, the majority of funding out of TARP Part II.  In doing that, was the administration hoping to avoid the ugliness that was its reach-out—its attempt of bipartisanship with the Republicans in Congress?

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s hard getting extra money for anything related to TARP, and not just because it‘s a ridiculous name, but it‘s maxed (ph) of helping big banks.  This piece of TARP money doesn‘t help big banks really in any direct way.  There are some indirect benefits.

But it‘s about keeping people in their homes, obviously not the people just about to foreclose, but they‘re trying to catch people just before that point.  Politically, it isn‘t going to be for the fat cats.  And I think, again, the politics of them should be with the administration.  But again, we‘re living in this strange world where the Republicans think there‘s mileage in saying not to it all.

OLBERMANN:  The change in the Obama strategy in terms of detail on this.  The administration gave out so much detail here, it‘s almost hard to comprehend it, much more than Secretary Geithner did when he announced Part II of TARP.  Should this also be filed under, you know, things we have learned so far in the first 30 days of an administration?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  Well, they should have had way more detail or not put Secretary Geithner out there.  But look, the details of this plan are really specific when it comes down to the kinds of debt-to-income ratio that people will qualify with.

I mean, they have—they‘ve analyzed this a lot.  There could be debate about whether the numbers should change slightly or not.  But there is a lot of detail here.  And, you know, full credit for them for putting together a plan this quickly.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s Richard Wolffe—as always, Richard, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the specifics of this plan, let‘s turn now to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who was with President Obama in Phoenix today.  He joins us tonight from the Capitol.

Secretary Donovan, thank you for your time tonight.

SHAUN DONOVAN, HUD SECRETARY:  It‘s great to be here.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Shelby‘s criticism probably, at least the guess would be that‘s going to be the Republican talking point.  So, why does the administration feel that it would be beneficial to help the so-called “underwater homeowners” before their mortgages are actually in default or on the verge?

DONOVAN:  Well, one of the things that we‘ve clearly seen in the plan and with servicers that are currently modifying mortgages, is that if somebody‘s already 90 days late or more, the chances of a modification of being successful are very low.  So, what we‘ve done, in fact, is to provide, for the first time, incentives for servicers to modify before people get so deep in that it‘s going to be hard to be successful.

And we also think those are the homeowners that are playing by the rules.  Even if it‘s a struggle, they‘ve lost a job, they‘re paying their mortgage.  And we ought to be helping them before they get into so serious trouble that we‘re not going to be able to get them out.

OLBERMANN:  Why only the so-called “underwater mortgages” that are covered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

DONOVAN:  Well, just to be clear—there are two parts to the plan.  The refinancing for underwater mortgages, 4 million to 5 million homeowners that will be helped—that is focused on underwater mortgages—and only people who are current.  So, it‘s rewarding the folks that have done the right thing, but have just been hurt by declining home value.

On the modification plan, which will help 3 million to 4 million families, that is available to any type of mortgage, not just Fannie and Freddie, but these subprime loans and others.  So, it‘s trying to help a broad group in total -- 7 million to 9 million families.  We think it‘s the right plan and it‘s the right scale to really make a dent in this problem.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Secretary, the president said this of the plan today, “It will not help dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibly.”  If the people who are impacted by the predatory lenders, though, are to be helped by this plan, how would the plan not sort of—in a de facto way—also help those lenders?

DONOVAN:  Because every one of those lenders has to put skin in the game.  They have to bring the payments down to at least 30 percent debt to income -- 38 percent debt-to-income ratio.  And then, we‘ll meet them 50/50 to reduce the interest rate further to the 31 percent debt-to-income ratio that most experts agree is the right affordability level.

So, to be clear, every lender‘s got to put some money in, some skin in the game to be able to participate in this plan.  We‘re asking for everyone to participate—the homeowner, the lenders—and we‘re going to help make sure those homeowners are successful.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, are there, in fact, homeowners who are in legitimate trouble, who didn‘t try to flip a house, who didn‘t go in hopes of some sort of huge cash benefit, who still don‘t fit into any parameters of the plan as announced?  And if so, is there anything you can do for them?

DONOVAN:  Look, the president made clear today we‘re not going to be able to save every single homeowner, but one of the things that we‘re doing is make sure that if somebody‘s got to move to a job and their house is under water, or if they‘ve just got too much debt to make it work, we‘re going to give incentives for things like deed in lieu of foreclosure and short sales that allow that homeowner to escape the foreclosure process and the detrimental impact it has on their credit while at the same time speeding the process so that we don‘t have homes sitting empty for three or four months.

Let‘s be clear.  One of the major things the president said today is -

every American has an interest in stopping this foreclosure crisis because if you‘re next door to a home that‘s in foreclosure, even if you‘re doing everything right and paying your mortgage, you‘re likely to see as much as a 9 percent drop in the value of your home if your next door to a foreclosure.  That‘s about $20,000 drop in values on average.

So, helping those folks in distress helps everybody.  It‘s going to lift up communities and help all Americans.

OLBERMANN:  Real estate guilt by association.

Shaun Donovan, the new head of Housing and Urban Development—Mr.

Secretary, thanks again for your time tonight.

DONOVAN:  It‘s great to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  But, of course, the president‘s efforts in the housing plan and in the stimulus package are really designed so that he can eliminate capitalism, declare anybody making over $65,000 rich, and big evil, personally redraw congressional district lines and siphon $5 billion to ACORN—those were actually said by a U.S. congresswoman from Minnesota.  You must hear them.  Even then you probably will not believe them.

Just as you will not believe the cartoon in Rupert Murdoch‘s newspaper depicting the so-called “writer of the stimulus package” as the dead chimpanzee shot by Connecticut police this week.  “It‘s not racism,” says the editor of the newspaper.  “And that wouldn‘t be the president on the ground,” says the cartoonist.  “If it was anybody, oh, it would just be the speaker of the House.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Rupert Murdoch‘s editor says there‘s nothing racist about it.  The cartoonist says there‘s nothing violent about it, and anyway, if it‘s about anybody, it‘s not about President Obama, only Speaker Pelosi.  A “New York Post” cartoon disturbing on at least two levels.  Reverend Al Sharpton joins us.

Then another Michele Bachmann overdrive—perhaps the craziest interview in American political history.

And why wait for Sunday to find out who will win the Oscars?  Nate Silver of 538.com fame knows now.  He will join us later on COUNTDOWN.  Bring your pencils.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There is a long nauseating history, and a particularly revolting strain of racism which has compared black people to apes.  It reappeared last summer and fall during the campaign and repeatedly so.  There is a danger in normalizing violence against politicians or people to whom one is politically opposed.  It reappeared when a domestic terrorist attacked a Tennessee church and then revealed he did so because he could not attack the liberals who‘d been denounced by a conservative agitator.

Yet in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: When Rupert Murdoch‘s “New York Post” prints a cartoon touching on the worse parts of both these traditions and the best defense the cartoonist can make is that he wasn‘t referring to the president of the United States, just maybe the speaker of the House.  Some actually postulate the cartoon is neither racist nor hateful.

From cartoonist Sean Delonas and the “New York Post”—cops shooting and killing a chimpanzee.  The caption there, quote, “They‘ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”  The obvious reference is to Monday‘s story of the crazed pet chimpanzee who was shot by police in Stanford, Connecticut after it attacked a woman there.  The inferences might be best illustrated by the t-shirt from the last presidential campaign - then-Senator Obama as “Curious George.”

The Reverend Al Sharpton, who joins us presently, noted today, “The cartoon in today‘s ‘New York Post‘ is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys.  The stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama—the first African-American president—and has become synonymous with him.”

Murdoch‘s newspaper is, as usual, accepting no criticism, not even offering apology on the premise of mere inadvertence.  The statement from the “New York Post” editor-in-chief Col Allan, “The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event to with the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut, it broadly mocks Washington‘s attempt to fix the economy.  Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.”

Mr. Allan, however, was to some degree contradicted by his own cartoonist.  Sean Delonas‘ only comment so far, apparently, “Do you really think I‘m saying Obama should be shot?  I didn‘t see that in the cartoon, it‘s about the economic stimulus bill.  If you‘re going to make that about anybody, it would be about Pelosi, which it‘s not.”

Joining me now, as promised, civil rights leader, president of the National Action Network and former presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Thanks for your time this evening.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Let me hold off on the racial implications just for a second.  I think there might even be a bigger point here.

The cartoonist has connected political debate to the shooting dead of something, someone, some leaving creature by the police.  That touches violence as a part of politics, maybe assassination.  Isn‘t that really the over arching problem with this thing?

SHARPTON:  Well, it was.  When I first dealt with this issue early this morning, and put it on National Action Network‘s Web site and put our statement out, I was dealing with as, you stated, the racial insult with monkeys.  His response, which it was quite stunning .

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

SHARPTON:  . brought in this even broader area.  It‘s almost like saying, well, not only am I going to offend you racially, I‘m going to sanitize the possibility of making violence part of the body politic in this country and in an acceptable way of engaging in discourse.  And I think that‘s even more troubling and more arrogant.

OLBERMANN:  The specific image, the dead chimpanzee, given the number

and we were just talking about this, of monkey and chimp images that were used to represent Obama during the campaign last year.  What kind of person could honestly look at this and claim, “No, there‘s no racism in this, there‘s not even inadvertent racism in this”?

SHARPTON:  Well, I think they‘re not been honest.  I mean, when you see the overwhelming National Association of Black Journalist, it‘s not just National Action Network, and the many civil rights groups that have come out now, legislative councilmen here, Charles Brown and others that are marching with us tomorrow.  Obviously, if you had any sensitivity at all, you would say even if I didn‘t intend it or I don‘t see that .

OLBERMANN:  Right.

SHARPTON:  . if I offended people, let me say that wasn‘t my intent, let‘s talk about it.

But to counterattack and defend and act like there‘s something wrong with people saying this is highly offensive, speaks to us of a real deep-seated disregard for people‘s feelings.  I think they‘ve made it even worse and that‘s why we‘re proceeding with these daily marches starting tomorrow.

OLBERMANN:  Give me your reaction to the first part of that response from the editor-in-chief.  The cartoon, the implication of what he said, I think, I don‘t think I‘m putting a thought in his head here—that the cartoon simply connected two recent news stories, what happened to this poor woman in Connecticut and the stimulus package, that it‘s no different in one sense from tying the stimulus package news to, say, the plane crash in Buffalo or anything else that was in the news.  What do you think of that?

SHARPTON:  Well, first of all, given the history of this cartoon page

.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

SHARPTON:  . there‘s been other racism (ph) kind of stuff.

But the other part of that is, how do you connect what is not connectible?  They connected something that just doesn‘t fit.  The shooting of the chimpanzee had absolutely nothing to do with the stimulus bill.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

SHARPTON:  To put them both in a cartoon and then to use a character or characterization of the chimpanzee as someone who offered the economic stimulus bill because you say he won‘t be around to do the next one, can only connect to someone who was involved in that bill.  And that—who authored the bill, who went around the country selling the bill?  It was not the speaker of the House; it was the president who is the first African-American president.  Who was the personification of this bill?  It was Obama‘s bill.

So, now, they‘re trying to insult the public.  And I might say, many whites as well as blacks have been outraged.  We‘ve been overwhelmed with calls from many white citizens that say, “I agree with you, this is outrageous.”  They‘ve been inundated with calls all day.

I don‘t think they‘re going to be just blacks upset about this.  I think people want to get past this kind of behavior.  And for someone to be a newspaper that gets advertising from major corporations, some of whom are giving bailout money, they‘re going to have to answer this.

OLBERMANN:  The post editor bringing you into this personally.  Obviously, you did publicize it and you brought it up in many respects, you brought it into a lot of the national discourse today, but why—what does it mean when you get dragged into the official response?

SHARPTON:  I mean—you know, that‘s fine.  To say that I‘m for publicity, opportunist—first of all, I‘m an activist.  That‘s my job to bring public attention.

(LAUGHTER)

SHARPTON:  So, I‘m glad that they finally acknowledge that I do my job well.

(LAUGHTER)

SHARPTON:  What does an activist do?  Raise public awareness.  So, if I didn‘t do that, then why would I be the head of a civil rights group?

But what is interesting is, these same forces commended me when I attacked hip hop artists for using the N-word, H-word and B-word, all three weeks ago when I was in Washington and John McCain and Newt Gingrich, then (ph) O‘Reilly agreed with me on education.  So, I guess, I‘m only an opportunist if I get publicity in areas that challenge them.  If I‘m challenging other things, then I‘m being responsible.  I think that‘s ludicrous on its face.

OLBERMANN:  You bet it is.

All right.  Last point, do you think there—is there a bigger lesson in all of this about the need for civility in politics?  I mean, criticize all you want the other guy‘s position, but keep it to the ideas and not to the insulting images.  When, I guess, I‘m sort of back discussing the last eight years when all of those references to George Bush as a chimp were made, and I‘m happy to say I don‘t think I made any of them.

But the problem with them being, apart just from being insulting, this gives kind of a rationalization for anybody who says, “Well, you know, all right, maybe t they did call Barack Obama a chimp, but they called George Bush a chimp for eight years.”  This is why we shouldn‘t do this, isn‘t it?

SHARPTON:  I think it is and I think that all of us need to do an evaluation on that.  You know, I remember once many years ago I was stabbed leading a march.  And I went to forgive the guy.  I went to court for the guy and said he should be given a lenient sentence, because I had to deal with me.

At some point you have to say, whatever you do, reflects you.  None of us should engage in this.  And I think the best thing that could come out of this is not only to see “The Post” have to deal with this kind of journalism, but if all kinds of people not only show up tomorrow, but throughout this campaign, showing from all races and all background, we will not have this lack of civility and this kind of behavior in the public discourse.  Then, America proves that we are moving forward as all of us hope we are during this new age with President Obama.

OLBERMANN:  Good luck with the event tomorrow.

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Reverend Al Sharpton—and thank you for joining us.

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  From the incendiary to the just plain bizarre.  “Yummy, yummy, I‘ve got a president and a Pope painted on my tummy,” it says here.

And when you are touring your home state boasting about the jobs you created in the stimulus package, should you not mention that you voted against the stimulus package?  Not if you‘re one of tonight‘s challengers for Worst Person honors ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Best in the moment, and the best reason not to punish Alex Rodriguez.

First, on this date in 1895 was born George Gipp indelibly played by actor Ronald Reagan and forever replayed and re-replayed by President Ronald Reagan as a tragic figure, a martyred innocent, a Notre Dame football player dying all too young, “The Gipper.”  The real George Gipp was expelled at least once from Notre Dame and complained to his coach at halftime that he had a $500 bet on the game they were currently playing.  Just as the story of Gipp as angel is not true, nor is the one of Gipp as rogue who became terminally ill because he fell asleep drunk outside his locked dorm.  He had let strep throat go untreated and he succumbed to pneumonia at age 25. 

Let‘s play oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We begin again in Phoenix, where last night the president was welcomed by the requisite rope line and a really big shoe.  The sneaker belonged to NBA star Shaquille O‘Neal.  The Phoenix Suns‘ center was not able to greet the president in person, so instead he sent along reinforcements, size 23 shoe.  Which would‘ve altered the last presidential shoe presentation.  Had that guy been showing Shaq‘s shoes, there would have been the proverbial hoop, some arm. 

To Athens, Greece, and more sports.  Performance art has reached its literal and figurative summit atop the Acropolis.  It‘s 10 semi-nude artists combining the joy of body paint with the wonder of slow motion choreography.  Each artist‘s body painted with a piece of a final portrait.  Watch as they merge to create an image of Pope Benedict XVI.  It‘s the holy father.  And apparently these artists think he‘s an Umpa Lumpa.  The slow mo begins once again as they now transform themselves into Barack Obama.  The leader of the free world now painted across several stomachs. 

Tune in next time, as the artists portray the Dalai Lama and Senator Lindsey Graham. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has now topped even her orbiting interview last year with Chris Matthews.  The stim is about giving money to Acorn, letting the president redesign all the Congressional districts, and underscores that America is, quote, running out of rich people.  You have got to hear this. 

And why wait for the actual Oscars if Nate Silver can apply his statistical magic to predicting the winners tonight?  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best dumb criminal, Robert Pitman  Of Pensacola, Florida, caught alighting from a convenience store, which he had reportedly broken into, his hands filled with packs of cigarettes, so many that he could no longer use a hand to hold up his baggy jeans, which promptly fell down, causing him to fall over himself.  Caught by police literally with his pants down. 

Number two, best collective municipal nightmare.  At mid day yesterday, the city of Strasbourg, in France, there was a slight disturbance.  Official city sirens suddenly went off and continued to wail for 90 minutes, the ones that are only supposed to go off to warn citizens of a national catastrophe or a nuclear attack.  France Telecom runs the system.  It says there was a malfunction.  It literally issued the standard inconvenience answer, offering Strasbourg residents its apologies for the inconvenience they may have suffered, end quote.  Inconvenience of thinking for an hour and a half that the freaking world was coming to an end. 

And number one, best mitigating Alex Rodriguez fact.  His Yankees teammate Johnny Damon telling reporters that there were worse things Rodriguez could have done besides taking steroids.  Like what, he was asked.  Murdering someone, he answered.  Well played sir.  You have me there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We already knew some Republicans were taking credit in their home districts for the stimulus money coming their way, even though they voted against that stimulus money.  But in our third story tonight, that‘s almost laudable compared to what other Congressional Republicans are saying about the stim.  Basically, it‘s the American version of the Russian revolution. 

Let me warn you, you‘re going to hear excerpts from what may be the craziest interview in American political history.  If I use the terms craziest, Republican, and Congress, who else could I be talking about other than Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann? 

In the parallel universe in which she lives, this bill was not only a 787 billion dollar payoff for Obama supporters, but also a total overhaul of the U.S. health care system into something no Democrat is even proposing, and a hijacking of the census, and national gerrymandering to turn America into a one party stay.  Why would Democrats bother to do that, when Republicans seem hell bent on doing it for them?

Anyway, stand back.  We have Bachmann. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  This is the community organizer in chief and he‘s paying off his best friend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Exactly who is Mr. Obama paying off?  No, not Halliburton or Blackwater.  That would be fine.  No, it‘s Acorn, the community group that works on issues like poverty and housing. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  Acorn, this is a group that is under federal indictment. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Unbelievable. 

BACHMANN:  Acorn, you know how much they‘re getting under this bill? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Like four billion, I‘ve heard. 

BACHMANN:  Five billion for Acorn.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  First, Acorn is not under indictment.  Some of its individual temporary workers were charged with voter fraud, fraud in which the victim was Acorn.    And second, Acorn is not even named in the stimulus package.  I mean, even House Republican Leader John Boehner, also known as Dan Aykroyd stunt double, only accused Acorn of being eligible for grants in things like, gee, poverty and housing. 

Who else gets paid off by Obama?  Entire Congressional districts. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  The have nots will be the Republican districts that are left pouring money into Washington, D.C., to be redistributed out to the Democrat districts, which will suck up all of the money.  I don‘t know where they‘re going to go to get all of this money, because we‘re running out of rich people in this country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are running out of rich people. 

BACHMANN:  Under Obama, big evil is now anyone with a joint income of 100,000 or more.  I truly believe that‘s probably going to lower to anyone with a joint income of 65,000 or more. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But Obama makes more than 100,000.  And the district in Minnesota getting the most jobs from the stimulus?  Michele Bachmann‘s, at least until Obama redraws the districts. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  The Census Bureau will report directly to the White House.  Hey, for a community organizer in chief, that is the mother load of all data, so that he can redraw all of the redistricting lines so that Democrats can control, by a wide majority, every Congressional seat across the country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A, it was House Leader Tom Delay, Republican of Texas, who redrew Texas.  B, states do the redistricting.  C, the Census data is public.  D, Democrats already control the House.  Bachmann‘s ignorance perhaps explaining why she also fell for Betsy McCoy‘s canard about health care. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  So now we‘ll have that national rationing board?  And your doctor will no longer be able to make your health care decisions with you.  Now, a rationing board will be making those decisions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I have no clue.  And if by now you‘re wondering whether she‘s utterly Orwellian or just unwell, well—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  Unfortunately, Republicans tend to just be nice guys and they don‘t always fight back.  And that‘s one quarrel that I have with Republicans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Name three.  As she neared the end, however, the Congresswoman did manage to utter one thing both factually true and soundly interpreted.  It is quick, so don‘t miss it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  We are literally losing our country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yes, Congresswoman, you are.  But don‘t blame Obama‘s governance for that, blame your own. 

We‘re joined now by the Washington editor of “The Nation Magazine,” Chris Hayes.  Chris, good evening. 

CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to have you try to rebut her line by line.  Anyone with Google and a brain can do that.  But I do want your opinion on this mystery that I‘ve raised.  Is she, A, dumb, B, crazy, or C, perhaps the perpetrator of the most brilliantly disguised brilliant political strategy in world history? 

HAYES:  I have no idea about her mental state or her intellectual acuity.  I think this sounds like someone who just gets the entirety of their politics from listening to Rush Limbaugh and like reading TownHall.com.  And I really think that there is a significant portion of the Republican House caucus of whom that could be fairly said.  These are people that exist in this very intense, fervent ideologically extreme, sheltered, withdrawn, inbred, subculture of right—real, real hard right wingery. 

And Michele Bachmann is clearly example number one. 

OLBERMANN:  I saw big foot in Georgetown.  Right?  What we didn‘t have time to play was much of the reaction from the straight man in the bit, who was a local Minnesota radio host.  Mostly, he was supplying the requisite, why didn‘t somebody stop these people lines?  But when she advanced her theory in there that Obama had taken over the census so that he could redraw the Congressional districts, even this dope said, wait, the states are in charge of Congressional districts.  My question is, how did she fool enough people to get re-elected last year? 

HAYES:  Well, the first answer to that is that she‘s in a very, very Republican district.  The second thing to say is that she came pretty close screwing it up last election, amazingly, after her train wreck interview on Chris Matthews‘ show.  She had a very tight race.  I forget what the final numbers were, but I think she won by only three or four points, a race that she had no business having any trouble facing down a Democratic challenger. 

So I do think that there is some kind of breaking point after which she will not be able to say things like this, and expect the voters to keep sending her to Washington, even if it‘s a very conservative district. 

OLBERMANN:  So what does the Republican party do know?  How do you change a party when leaders like Congresswoman Bachmann and Governor Palin, to some degree, represent what people have now rejected about that party? 

HAYES:  Yes, you know, it‘s almost like I was thinking—it‘s sort of like—it‘s like, you know, when you reduce a stew or something.  This is like—it‘s like each subsequent election like more and more Republicans are boiled off until this is like—Michele Bachmann is like the demagogue of wingnutia. 

That is really what the House Republican caucus is coming to resemble.  It‘s this very, very right wing group of extremists.  And I think they capture right now—they have the kind of control of the party apparatus largely.  And I think that spells continued electoral irrelevance, thankfully, for the Republicans.  They have to break out of it. 

OLBERMANN:  I think the phrase is more power to them.  I‘ll send my donation to Congresswoman Bachmann any day of the week.  Chris Hayes of the “Nation,” as always, Chris, thanks for your time tonight. 

HAYES:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The technical term for the math magic that Nate Silver does is logistical regression.  He reduced baseball, he reduced elections, tonight he reduces the Oscars. 

When Rachel Maddow joins you at the top of the hour, her special guest Frank Rich on Republican not reduction, but obstructionism.  Speaking of, a fifth Republican now issues a press release boasting of things he put in the stim, the stim that he then voted against.  Senator Bond of Missouri has actually begun a stim-boasting tour.  Tonight‘s stop is worst persons on COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If he gets any better at the mathematics of logistical regression, he‘ll be able to predict how hard your next sneeze will be.  Nate Silver, having conquered baseball and the presidential elections, next predicts the Oscars. 

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.  Maybe he can predict these.

The bronze to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, proposing in a radio interview what he called his new, bold idea to stimulate the economy: reduce the capital gains tax to zero.  Here‘s a clipping from a newspaper article, “Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested today that all capital gains taxes be eliminated.”  “New York Times,” April 10th, 1997.  His new bold idea is approaching its 12th birthday. 

Our runners up, Trace Gallagher and Charles Krauthammer, the latest Fixed News meat puppets to declare something was in the stim bill that just wasn‘t.  “Many are outraged,” Gallagher screeched, “over the eight billion in it for a high-speed train linking Disneyland to Vegas.”  There‘s no Vegas train in the bill.  “Eight billion,” he continued, “and who might be interested in getting gamblers from southern California to say, I don‘t know, Vegas?  Maybe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada?”  There‘s no Vegas train in the bill. 

“Well, that‘s exactly right,” Krauthammer droned, “and that‘s the old politics that Obama campaigned against.  Remember, this train is really an atrocity.  It goes from Disneyland, as you said, to Vegas.  It should be called the Fantasyland Express.”  There‘s no Vegas train in the bill.  And you, Mr. Krauthammer, you should be called the Fantasy Land Express. 

But our winner, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, putting out a news release and going on a tour of his state, boasting that the Senate had unanimously accepted his provision to spend money on 700 housing units and create 3,000 new jobs in Missouri.  “This is the type of emergency stimulus spending we should be supporting,” Bond‘s press release reads, “programs that will create jobs now and help families.” 

Senator Bond voted against those 700 housing units, those 3,000 jobs and those families.  He voted no.  Not only did he vote no, but last week he put out another press release insisting that the bill, the stimulus, would only stimulate the debt.  “It stimulates the growth of government, but it doesn‘t stimulate jobs.”  Mr. Bond becomes at least the fifth Republican to have voted against the stim and then taken credit for part of the stim. 

Senator, are you lighter on your feet, do you find, because you‘re not weighed down by any principles?  Bond, Senator Kit Bond, today‘s worst person in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The technical term is logistical regression.  It argues that a series of statistics from all the past baseball series will, in fact, tell you what‘s likeliest to happen this baseball season.  It also argues that a series of poll numbers and voting results from all of the past elections will tell you what‘s likely to happen this election.  Now, in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it turns it also argues that a series of facts about all the past Oscar winners will tell you who is likeliest to be the next Oscar winners. 

Yes, it‘s Nate Silver again.  He and his colleagues at “Baseball Prospectus” picked the Tampa Bay Rays to go from being really awful to really good last year.  He then took the guessing out of Decision 2008 by accurately calling every Senate race, even Minnesota, and nailed the winner in 49 out of the 50 of the states in the presidential election.  Sorry about that, Indiana. 

Now, in a feature for “New York Magazine,” he turns his high powered statistical perception on Hollywood‘s biggest night and Oscar‘s biggest categories.  He has culled trends and stats from the results of the past 30 Academy Awards, fed them into a magical stat crunching computer, and arrived at a set of odds predicting the winners of best lead and supporting actor and actress, best director, and best film. 

Joining me now is the man who will give you your Sunday night back or perhaps help, so to speak, with your Oscar pool, Nate Silver.  Good evening, Nate. 

NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Looks like Ken Griffey‘s going back to the Mariners.  We‘ll talk about that some other time.  Before we get to your actual picks, what numbers are you crunching here to arrive at these odds?  Because to my knowledge, Meryl Streep has never encountered the famous .085 at-bat batting average plateau.   

SILVER:  Well, the one advantage we have in looking at the Oscars is that you have four or five other major awards that happened first, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Golden Globes.  Most of the time you don‘t see wild splits between one vote and the other.  So that‘s a big help. 

OLBERMANN:  And let‘s get right into them, then.  The first thing, supporting actor, a lot of people like Heath Ledger.  Do you think he‘s going to run away with it?  Why? 

SILVER:  You know, I think this is a pretty safe bet.  Sometimes in the supporting actor category you have a bit of quirkiness occurring.  But, you know, the guy is no longer with us.  I think that tragic circumstance, plus the fact that he swept the other major awards, it was a terrific performance, I think this is kind of a slam dunk. 

OLBERMANN:  You can say it because, Harry Shearer said it the other night when he lost the Grammy to George Carlin, that the award voters like death.  There‘s no other way around that.  Move on to supporting actress.  In your numbers, this is not a landslide.  Why do you like Mr. Henson from “Benjamin Button” at 51 percent—or Ms. Henson, rather.  That would have been a real upset if a Mr. Henson won best supporting actor.  Why do you like her over Penelope Cruz? 

SILVER:  Well, this might be my undoing, I think, potentially.  One problem is that most of the other awards had Kate Winslet winning for best supporting actress for “The Reader.”  Now, the academy considered that a lead and not a supporting role, so we don‘t have a lot of data.  Now, our model does like Ms. Henson, because “Benjamin Button” was nominated for best picture.  Those films tend to have an advantage in all the other categories.  It‘s not going to win any other award. 

There are little quirks it looks at, like, for example, Penelope Cruz, romantic comedies haven‘t done as well in this category.  This might be my mistake, I think. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m not saying this is a disqualification, in terms of predicting these things, but have you seen any of these movies? 

SILVER:  You know, I‘ve seen some non-zero number of them, much less than 100 percent.  It‘s been a busy year with baseball and the election and everything else.  I‘m kind of a movie buff, but more of a kind of Netflix kind of guy. 

OLBERMANN:  When they send you, we‘ll know our Ms. Hensons from Mr.

Hensons when they start sending “Benjamin Button” in the mail to us.  Between Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn for the best actor, and the Oscar goes to? 

SILVER:  Well, you know, here‘s one thing, the Academy Likes to spread the wealth.  This part is true, where once someone‘s won an award before, they become much less likely to win a second time.  Sean Penn won for “Mystic River,” I think, in 2003.  So for that reason, Mickey Rourke, who has done just as well in the other awards, anyway, is more likely to win.  If you think about it from a business kind of view, if he wins the award, he elevates himself to a different kind of stratosphere, whereas Sean Penn is already a known commodity.  So I think Rourke is the strong favorite. 

OLBERMANN:  To best actress.  The board looks a little lonely.  You‘ve got Kate Winslet over Meryl Streep, and everybody else at 0.0.  That‘s kind of embarrassing.  Why is it—should they stay home?  They have no chance of winning? 

SILVER:  Well, here‘s the flip side of kind of spreading the wealth, is that if someone‘s been nominated a lot, but hasn‘t won, you literally have kind of sympathy points.  You can actually see this where—and I think Kate Winslet‘s been nominated now four times without winning.  And that really boosts her odds.  Meryl Streep has won, but she hasn‘t won since 1982 for “Sophie‘s Choice.”  She‘s been nominated seven or eight times since then. 

So these two are due, literally.  It doesn‘t work in baseball, as I‘ve learned with the Cubs, but for the Oscars, it does. 

OLBERMANN:  Once you put the human element into deciding the final outcome.  You say that “Slumdog Millionaire” is the lock for best director and best picture, but that “Milk” has a one percent chance of winning best picture.  In sports terms, what would it be like if “Milk,” in fact, knocked off “Slumdog Millionaire?”

SILVER:  You know, it would be the biggest upset since—I mean, it would be like the Rays actually reaching the World Series last year.  Maybe like Hillary Clinton winning New Hampshire or “Driving Miss Daisy” winning best picture in 1989.  It would be a shock. 

The one reason why I think “Milk” might have a shot is because Hollywood does kind of play makeup sometimes, and because “Brokeback Mountain” lost when it was supposed to win a couple of years ago, because Proposition 8 passed in California, there‘s a lot of guilt there.  You might see a make-up pick with “Milk.”

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll leave that possibility there, as you suggested, one percent.  Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, who next moves on to predicting TV ratings.  Great thanks, Nate. 

SILVER:  Yes, good night, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,111th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

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