updated 5/21/2009 12:56:12 PM ET 2009-05-21T16:56:12

Guests: Howard Fineman; Jack Rice, Elizabeth Edwards

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

Michael Steele threatens to quit as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  If you want a figurehead chairman, you can have a figurehead chairman, but it won‘t be Michael Steele.

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OLBERMANN:  On the eve of the vote to try to rebrand the opposition, the “Socialist Democrat Party,” Steele meets with state GOP chairmen.

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STEELE:  We‘re going to take the president head on.  The honeymoon is over.

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OLBERMANN:  Head on?  Don‘t forget your helmet—this time.

Can‘t tell their briefings from their boxers: New evidence from Congressman David Obey that even non-classified parts of the CIA briefings on torture are factually wrong, about the when, the where—and now, the who.  How can we trust the CIA‘s records on the tough stuff when it keeps getting the easy ones wrong?

“Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life‘s Adversities.”  Our special guest—it‘s author—Elizabeth Edwards.  And whether or not she expected a book about her whole life would be turned largely into a debate over her reaction to her marriage.

Worsts: Obama criticized for being afraid to use the word abortion in his speech at Notre Dame.

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PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  Abortion.  You oppose abortion.  Seeking abortions.  Disagree with abortion.  On abortion.  Abortion.  And abortion.

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OLBERMANN:  Never mind.

And, the Freudian slip by the Republican Senator Ensign of Nevada—just back from Gitmo, 11 words that summarize the nation, this decade, the Republican Party, torture, and health care?  Tonight‘s WTF Moment.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Geez, this could be a problem.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele tried to jumpstart the GOP today, only to be upstaged by an unexpected blast from Michael Steele.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Chairman Steele threatens to quit.  Were it not for that, we might be extolling with greater reverence this quote from his speech later in the same day, quote, “This change, my friends, is being delivered in a tea bag and that‘s a wonderful thing.”  Instead there is this—the chairman‘s if-then ultimatum delivered this morning via FOX News.

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CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS:  There will be no comptroller answering to the budget committee instead of you.

STEELE:  Not right now.  No.  Not if I have anything (ph) to do about it.

CAMERON:  But that is what‘s being contemplated.

STEELE:  Carl, they can contemplate all they want to.  But the reality of it is, if you want a figurehead chairman, you can have a figurehead chairman, but it won‘t be Michael Steele.

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OLBERMANN:  And while the RNC will soon vote on Steele‘s powers of the purse, it will decide tomorrow on a resolution decision to rebrand the Democratic Party the “Democrat Socialist Party.”  Steele says he opposes that stunt but he did not say so during today‘s speech to Republican leaders.

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STEELE:  Today, we are declaring an end to the era of Republicans looking backwards, the era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over.  It is done.

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STEELE:  The time for trying to fix or focus on the past has ended.  The era of Republican naval-gazing—done.  We have turned the corner on regret, recrimination, self-pity and self-doubt.

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OLBERMANN:  You heard it.  Future Republican mistakes will not be followed by apologies.  Also, Mr. Steele is extensively done with utterances like this one.  “Tonight, we tell America, we know the past, we know we did wrong.  My bad.”

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STEELE:  The Republican Party is again going to emerge as the party of new ideas.  It will take some time for sure, there‘s no doubt about that.  But it is beginning now.  It is beginning with us.  It is beginning with you.

Our governors are emerging with fresh answers to old problems.  Some of our brightest stars are in Congress are emerging with new approaches.

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OLBERMANN:  New ideas, fresh answers, new approaches.  Of course, none of those new ideas were actually spelled out during today‘s speech—as former Congressman Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, confessed to our own Andrea Mitchell today.

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FMR. REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS, ® CONNECTICUT:  I didn‘t hear any new ideas.  But that‘s the point.  I mean, we need to be talking about ideas.

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OLBERMANN:  Or having them.  Chairman Steele‘s hefty declarative statements included multiple references to the Republican comeback.

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STEELE:  We‘re going to take the president head on.  The honeymoon is over.

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STEELE:  The two-party system—the two-party system is making a comeback and that comeback begins today.

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OLBERMANN:  President Obama today not getting that memo.  Instead, he announced a new national standard for auto emissions and standing behind him a first time alliance of auto executives, union leaders and environmental activists.

As for taking the president head on, Mr. Steele ran through the GOP‘s greatest hits or gripes like the Employee Free Choice Act though he did not call it thus and an age old Republican bogeyman.

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STEELE:  We are going to give voice to the growing course of Americans who realize that there is a difference between creating wealth and redistributing wealth.

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OLBERMANN:  Exactly, because no one remembers the redistribution of wealth under the Bush administration, tax cuts to the wealthiest and repeated no-bid contracts in Iraq reconstruction, including the $13 billion in suspected combat zone fraud cases and other questionable costs—the vast majority of which linked to KBR, a then subsidiary, later spin-off of Halliburton.

And there‘s the matter of how judiciously Mr. Steele manages money, since according to “The Washington Times,” the conservative newspaper, when he took the job as chairman, he installed his longtime assistant at almost three times what her predecessor made.  Chairman Steele also took on, head on, the president‘s popularity.

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STEELE:  Folks like him.  He‘s got an easy demeanor.  He‘s a great orator.  His campaign style is wonderful.  His campaign was based on change and hope.

He‘s young.  He‘s cool.  He‘s hip.  He‘s got a good-looking family.

What‘s not to like?  He‘s got all the qualities America likes in celebrity.  So, of course, he‘s going to be popular.

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OLBERMANN:  And that celebrity slam worked so well the first time it was rolled out last summer that Obama wound up as president.  But not to worry, says Steele, the Republican comeback is, quote, “underway in states all across America.”

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STEELE:  Those of you who toil in vineyards, spending time in communities, in diners, barbershops and coffee shops, where real everyday hard-working Americans can be found, you know it‘s real.  You can see it and you can feel it.  This change, my friends, is being delivered in a tea bag.  And that‘s a wonderful thing.

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OLBERMANN:  So stirring is the GOP comeback that a brand new Gallup Poll finds that the decline in Republican Party affiliation has occurred now among every major demographic group: young, old, rich, poor, middle class, black, white, Hispanic, college grads, non-grads, only frequent churchgoers have held steady.  Thirty-nine percent of Americans now self-identifying or leaning Republican, compared to 53 percent identifying or leaning Democratic—a combined 13-point net shift since 2001.

Time to call in “Newsweek” magazine senior Washington correspondent and political columnist, and MSNBC political analyst: Howard Fineman.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If Michael Steele is actually threatening to quit—certainly, there was some implication there that he would—he would leave the job if it were significantly changed.  Are there any other key Republicans saying, you know, “You have sat too long, for any good you have been doing lately, depart I say, and let us have done with you.  In the name of God, go”?

FINEMAN:  Well, they are saying it under their breath.  But the problem is, they don‘t think that he would go quietly.  So, what they are trying to do is take away his authority to run the finances of the RNC—which is one of the few things that actually matters here.

Look, they sat there.  They applauded what was really a pretty empty speech, Keith.  I saw it.  I read it carefully.  I studied it for substance.

It was pretty close to substance-free.  The notion this was really a rousing thing and, really, would get the Republican state chairmen up on their chairs applauding, it didn‘t happen.

OLBERMANN:  He seems unique in recent party history in either case—many of them, many chairmen are lightning rods and some of them are lightning bolts.  He seems to be the long rod and lightning bolt.  I mean, he upstaged himself today.

Has anybody gotten that point across to him?  Because it seems to repeat itself and it seems—just nobody said anything?

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t think he upstaged himself.  I think he missed an opportunity here.  He had the attention of the political world.  And really, there was nothing in the speech particularly.

If he had wanted to excoriate this administration, if he‘d wanted to raise the specter of debt off into the limitless future, he could have done it, if he‘d done a little homework.  He said that his heroes are Edmund—this party, he looks to the tradition of Edmund Burke and William F.  Buckley and Ronald Reagan.  Believe me, those guys knew their stuff.  If they wanted to attack somebody, you would remember it.

Part of the problem here is, even the attacks were forgettable because they were so routine.  It was basically a lazy speech.  And that doesn‘t auger well for his organizational ability.

There have been some great Republican chairmen.  The most famous in recent times being Bill Brock, a name nobody has heard of now.  But 30 years ago, he really organized the Republican Party.  This guy isn‘t doing any of that.  He doesn‘t seem to be a much prospect of his doing so.

OLBERMANN:  Is there a mixed message between Steele and the Republican who‘s been most prominent the last three weeks in terms of publicity, Dick Cheney?  Or is this, you know, being Republican means no longer having to say you‘re sorry idea?  Is this a way of Steele trying to tune in to the defiance of Cheney, if not necessarily the stigma of Cheney?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think he might like to try to look forward.  That is Michael Steele.  But he‘s got a problem.

Dick Cheney is much more powerful and resonant at the base of the Republican Party, in some respects, than Michael Steele is or will be.  And Dick Cheney is much more forceful about making his opinions known.  Dick Cheney is out there and nobody—least of all, Michael Steele is going to make him shut up.

And the Obama administration is very cleverly and coolly citing the past when necessary and stepping back from it when they need to—thus keeping Cheney in the headlines.

OLBERMANN:  And what about keeping Steele on the headlines?  Last question on this topic, Howard: What do—what do Democratic leaders think off-the-record about Steele?  Because they don‘t seem to say very much about him on the record.

FINEMAN:  Well, they love having him there, frankly.

Here‘s an example of his impotence.  You got a situation in Kentucky

where Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, is in open

warfare with Jim Bunning, the other Republican senator from Kentucky.  He‘s

up for reelection

McConnell doesn‘t want him to run.  Bunning wants to run.  If Steele had any clout as a Republican chairman, he‘d bring them both and sit them down and say, let‘s settle our differences one way or another.  He‘s not effective enough to do that.  And that‘s why people like David Plouffe, the Democratic chairman, would love to have Michael Steele re-elected next year.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—great thanks as always, Howard.

As Mr. Steele might have noticed during the Republican‘s most recent presidential administration, one of the life‘s hidden but most insightful maxims is, “If we‘re going have to trust you on the big things, you damn well better get the little ones right.”

First, it was a former senator who said the CIA‘s record of how briefed Congress on torture in 2002, included two dates on which he was supposed to have been briefed, two dates on which, in fact, he did not even meet with the CIA.  Now, it is a prominent congressman who says the record of his briefing includes the presence—during the top secret part—of the guy from the committee staff who was only authorized to escort the congressmen to their chairs and then was supposed to get out.

And there‘s this: Evidence that the CIA records of the briefing of Nancy Pelosi in 2002 include a key euphemism for torture that wasn‘t coined until 2006.  Yes, gosh.  Why would anybody eve think the CIA ever got anything wrong?

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OLBERMANN:  The CIA records of its own briefings over the last seven years are so shoddy that they indicate the briefing of a congressman in 2005 who not only was no longer a congressman in 2005 but had already in 2005 become the new head of the CIA.  The credibility gap at the agency is growing daily.

Later: Elizabeth Edwards and her new book.

And it is the most remarkable quote of the year, 11 words that sum up not only Gitmo and torture and priorities and Republicans but also health care.  Tonight‘s WTF Moment—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now in such big political trouble over allegations that she knew about waterboarding in 2002 that today, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a scathing e-mail, including a headline comparing her approval ratings to that of Newt Gingrich.  Oh, snap!

In our fourth story tonight: It turns out that‘s not the only thing Pelosi has in common with Republicans.

While House Republican Leader John Boehner today, in an op-ed, demanded that Pelosi apologize to the CIA, because after all, quote, “Accusing our intelligence professionals of lying to Congress is a very serious charge.  If true, the speaker should produce evidence supporting her claim.”  Mr. Boehner should know—having made a similar charge in 2007 -- he has now said this despite the fact that he knows full well that briefing rules prevent Pelosi and prevented her from leaving the meeting with any proof of what she was told.

Boehner, however, is correct that accusing the CIA of lying to Congress is a serious charge, so serious, in fact, that the CIA is already under investigation by Congress on exactly that claim—a claim made by a Republican.  But not just any Republican, this is Congressman Pete Hoekstra -- in Boehner‘s words, quote, “The House Intelligence Committee‘s top Republican.”

At his request, the intelligence oversight committee is now investigating whether the CIA lied to Congress about its role in mistakenly identifying a civilian aircraft as a drug-runner.  Peruvian jets shot and killed American Veronica Bowers and her baby daughter.  Hoekstra, just six months ago, asked for an investigation on whether the CIA obstructed justice in the case.  “This is about as ugly as it gets,” the Republican said.

The CIA‘s own inspector general concluded, the agency repeatedly misled the White House and Congress.  On torture briefings themselves, Hoekstra, who has joined the chorus of anti-Pelosi outrage, Hoekstra himself says, the CIA memo alleging Pelosi was told about torture is wrong.  “Our records suggest there may have been a few additional briefings,” he wrote to the CIA, in a letter released yesterday.

And that‘s not even the only new question about the memo.  Congressman David Obey revealed that the memo names an appropriations committee aide as present at one briefing, when the aide recalls being told he was not cleared to stay there.  This means he joins Democrats Jay Rockefeller and Bob Graham—who have also questioned the memo‘s accuracy in terms of dates and times.

And there are those self-apparent problems, no record who gave at least seven briefings, not quite sure when John McCain got briefed, late October.  Not sure who the O‘Keefe guy was who got the top secret briefing.  Michael?

And as journalist Marcy Wheeler points out, according to the CIA, Congressman Porter Goss got a briefing on March 8th, 2005, even though he was not only no longer a congressman at the time, he was the director of the CIA.

Joining us now, former CIA special agent, Jack Rice, currently radio host with the Talk Radio News Service.

Jack, thanks for your time tonight.

JACK RICE, FMR. CIA SPECIAL AGENT:  Great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Iran had nukes or has them.  Iraq had WMDs and ties to al Qaeda.  The Soviet Union would last into the 21st century.  Nancy Pelosi was briefed about the term EITs in 2002, even though the term was not use until 2006.  And Porter Goss was the director of the CIA.  Which one of these things is not like the others?

RICE:  Keith, in the end, we‘re talking about facts here.  And don‘t mess up this whole argument with facts.  We don‘t need that.  We didn‘t mention the fact that the CIA missed the whole drop with Iran in ‘79, or the fact that the Berlin Wall fell and they missed that—or heck, even 9/11.  We don‘t need to worry about that.

What‘s extraordinary here is the idea that if you would ever question the CIA now, all of a sudden, it‘s somehow anti-American.  It‘s extraordinary.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Dick Cheney and George Bush questioned the CIA repeatedly in 2002 and 2003, that‘s largely how we got into this mess in the first place.  But as a veteran of the agency, I mean, you know that there are smart and skilled analysts and agents and operatives who work there.

Is it—is it just with the Pelosi case, anyway, or just like with Iraq, the intelligence has gotten twisted and the agency has been—whether intentionally or otherwise—corrupted by an administration that was willing to cherry-pick and fabricate what it needed to get by?

RICE:  Anybody who believes that an administration can‘t push the agency to do something is really missing the point, because they can.  The fact that they can push the agency and say, “This is what I‘m looking for,” and we found more and more evidence that has proven that—that to find that connection between al Qaeda and Iraq.  We‘ve heard about it found and back at again and again and again.

It will drive the agency to react.  It will drive them to do certain things that may or may not be true.  And that‘s a big part of the problem that we are facing right now.

But, you know, the biggest irony here—and this is the biggest irony, is that with all of this fight, the transparency that the Democrats have been talking about since 2002, only now—I mean, shockingly, now, the Republicans are saying, “We want transparency so we can go after Pelosi.”  Fascinating.

OLBERMANN:  And, forget that the Republican claims that are being investigated that the CIA lied and Republicans always have this—we should not trust certainly big aspects of big government.  What is the real point of pushing this outrage about the speaker when there are no legal or official implications even if she were, in fact, wrong?

RICE:  Let‘s make this very clear.  This is about one thing—politics.

What‘s extraordinary to me is that I‘ve seen the Republicans do this over and over.  They will wrap something in the flag, around something, and they will put a lapel pin on it that says national security.  And if you ask a question about it, somehow you‘re anti-American.

That‘s what they have been trying to do to Nancy Pelosi now for about six years.  And now, they‘re pushing to say, oh, because she‘s doing this now, all of a sudden, we better take a closer look at her.

Now, if we are going to be transparent here and we‘re going to talk about what the Republicans say they stand for, then what they stand for right now is a good look at what‘s going on.  The idea that they use her as the tool, I think, in some ways, she should be laughing, because in a way, this is what she wanted.  She wants the government to look at what the agency did and didn‘t do.

It‘s never been about her.  It‘s about us.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Somewhere, it was phrased as the Briarpatch problem, which, I think, is a good description.

Last point, are you worried that the records show the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” being used in 2002 briefings when the term was not used until 2006?

RICE:  Keith, we are back to that whole facts thing.  We don‘t need that.

(LAUGHTER)

RICE:  We know where we‘re going here.

OLBERMANN:  Sorry.

RICE:  We don‘t—listen to me, young man, how dare you do such a thing?

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  No.  I‘m sorry.  I‘m about to throw my calendar away.

RICE:  Fair enough.

OLBERMANN:  Jack Rice, radio host, former prosecutor, former CIA officer—many thanks as always, Jack.

RICE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The CIA is also denying that enhanced interrogation techniques included sticking snails on anybody‘s face.  Explain that.

Speaking of enhanced interrogation, Sean Hannity is back with another whopper, in Worst Persons—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment.  And how to defend yourself against a man armed with a banana.  First of all, you force him to drop the banana.  Then second, you eat the banana—thus disarming him.  You‘ve now rendered him helpless!

Of note, this is May 19th, thus 27 days since Sean Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded for a military families charity, thus 26 days since I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he lasted, thus 25 days during which Sean Hannity has reneged on his promise.  Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Sandy, Utah, and the family driveway of Fin Keleher, where this 11th-year-old is making his attempt at record breaking glory.  The challenge: having the most snails attached to one‘s face.  Onlookers have one minute and only one minute to put on as many slithering crustaceans on Fin‘s face as they can.  Only the snails, when they are firmly in place, Mr. Keleher sits up, the snails have to hang on for 10 seconds.  No need for a slow-mo on this one.

After Fin‘s fourth attempt, he managed to get 43 snails to stay put, beating the previous record of 37.  And ass the Keleher family eagerly awaits confirmation from the folks at Guinness cake is enjoyed by all—escargot cake.

To Spokane, Washington, where a nest of ducklings hatched right outside a bank, in Joel Armstrong‘s second floor office window.  Seeing those cute at all, but Armstrong noticed there was a problem.  The ducks had no access to water.  The mother duck was able to fly to the sidewalk, but her newborn ducklings could not join her.

So, Mr. Armstrong decided to take matters into his own hands in a “duck and recover” operation.  First, mother duck gives the OK quack.  That‘s not the duck, that‘s Mr. Armstrong.  Then the ducklings hear the quack and then they jump.

And caught another one.  Armstrong is catching here.  And after 12 ducklings jumped off the ledge, Armstrong and a group of bystanders helped guide the brood along a parade route.  Multiple camera coverage here.  They got safely to the Spokane River.  When the rescue team later inquired about payment, the mother duck told them, put it on my bill.

And finally, in Belgium, in the glimpse of the Antwerp Zoo‘s newest arrival, the baby elephant, Kai-Mook, took her first steps today and then fell right over.  OK.  That‘s enough of that crap.

Elizabeth Edwards and her new book.  To judge most interviews, it is only about her husband‘s failures.  Our interview will show otherwise.

And the latest argument that carbon dioxide cannot be dangerous and there can‘t be climate change because carbon dioxide is natural.  “It‘s in Coca-cola,” says Congressman Joe Barton in Worst Persons.  Joe‘s the brainiac of the House.  These stories ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s Top Three Best Persons in the World.

Number three: Best bad assumption.  Columnist George Will of “Newsweek” is lamenting Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood‘s observation that we can change entrenched behavior.  “People are getting out of their cars,” he said.  “They‘re biking to work.”

Mr. Will wrote, “Where to start?  Does LaHood really think 0.01 percent of Americans will ever regularly bike to work?”

He‘s got you there, LaHood.  The Census Bureau‘s statistics on commuter state that, right now, 0.4 percent of Americans regularly bike to work.  That would be 40 times more cycling commuters today than the number Will laughs at as LaHood‘s impossible dream.

Number two: Best dumb criminal, adult division.  William Richard Bullock of Cary, North Carolina, charged with armed robbery of a bank in Durham got 20 grand.  Do you get the feeling a psychological need to be caught is increasingly in play here?  He dropped a notebook during the robbery.  He broke back into the bank to get the notebook but he did not get the papers that are from the book on which were written his name and home address.

And number one: Best dumb criminal, youth division.  Seventeen-year-old John Szwalla of Winston Salem, North Carolina, who tried to rob an Internet cafe with a gun he kept under his shirt, gangster-style.  The owner was not worried.  His hunch that the teenager had, under his shirt, not a gun—a gunana.  Well, that perhaps was the idea.

The hunch was that it was not a gun but a banana.  The hunch was confirmed after he jumped the kid and pinned him.  And while they waited for the cops to arrive, the kid pulled out the banana and ate it.

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OLBERMANN:  If we did not already know the author so well, it would be easy, says the “New York Times,” to mistake her latest book for a novel.  It definitely has all the elements, a much beloved political figure.  In this rare instance, that is not an oxymoron.  Whose fight for health care reform had been interrupted by her own diagnosis of incurable cancer.  The daughter of a career Navy pilot who watched and helped her father recover from a near fatal stroke after one of his doctors had already declared him brain dead. 

A mother of four forever changed by the death of her oldest son 13 years ago.  And the wife of a presidential candidate, which made the very private matter of her husband‘s infidelity all too public.

She, of course, is Elizabeth Edwards, having faced more than her fair share of adversity.  She has always done so with grace and courage, and, in her new book, with eloquence.  It is titled “Resilience, Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life‘s Adversities.” 

The author joins us now.  Great to see you here. 

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, AUTHOR” RESILIENCE”:  Great to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s so much in the book.  Yet all the coverage to date has been largely focused on your husband and his indiscretions, and on whether or not you should have written it, and to what purpose you wrote it and exposed your self and discussed this on TV. 

EDWARDS:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Has the narrowing of focus about the book surprised you? 

EDWARDS:  It had—the “New York Post,” is it?  I forgot the names of these papers, “The Daily News.” 

OLBERMANN:  “Daily News.” 

EDWARDS:  Got an early park and picked out the most sensational passages they could find, which should have been a hint that there were only three things they could point to that this wasn‘t a huge topic in the book.  It takes about 20 pages of it.  And I felt if I was going to write a book about the adversities I faced, which I agreed to do long before any of this was known, I would be really a fraud in a sense if I didn‘t include this latest thing.  And people would be yelling, and probably rightfully so, if I hadn‘t included it.

So I included it in as antiseptic a way as I could, telling only my side of the story, and how painful it was and what I was trying to go through in order to come to terms with it. 

OLBERMANN:  The overarching point of the book, “Resilience.”  Obviously, that‘s your title and you chose that.  Is it a function of acceptance?  I want to read a passage from this: “each time I fell into a chasm, my son‘s death or a tumor in my breast or an unwelcome woman in my life, I had to accept that the planet had taken a few turns and I could not turn it back.  My life was and would always be different.  It would be less than I hoped it would be.  We all tumble and fall.  I certainly have.  But, in truth, it is going to happen, in some degree, to all of us.”

Is it acceptance of the plan b, whatever it is in a particular situation, one of the keys to getting up again, you know, after that tumble? 

EDWARDS:  I think that it is.  I mean, either you can go through the motions, and we all do—the day after something terrible happens, we do get up and do whatever it is we need to do.  If you have cancer and you need to work, you get up and go to work.  But that doesn‘t mean you have really come to accept this new—this new reality. 

When you start to be more productive, and you don‘t live with eternal discontent, the day you say now my life is different, and these are the new parameters of my life.  And I have—every time I‘ve resisted, and every time I‘ve come to the same place. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s one irony in here—at least I thought it was ironic.  You wrote about how after your son‘s death, online support groups were—lived up to their billing and then some, and were an extraordinary help to you. 

EDWARDS:  They did. 

OLBERMANN:  There is something bizarre about the fact that the Internet is one of the engines that will sort of guarantee that you can‘t shield your children from stories about the family.  There is something—

EDWARDS:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a metaphor for life in there or is it just annoying? 

EDWARDS:  It is annoying, but not just annoying.  You know, the truth is if I were—my children have already seen spoofs of themselves.  In 2004, some spoof site had a picture of them and put fangs and horns on them.  My daughter, at the time, I guess in 2004, was ten years or eight years old.  And, you know, she said, you know, can you make this stop?  You know?  And this isn‘t me and it just said facts em b them that weren‘t so, how terribly they had behaved.

But it‘s sort of an opportunity to say, you know, we live in a world where this kind of thing is sometimes considered funny.  And there‘s a roughness with the anonymity of the Internet.  I certainly have gotten, you know some, pretty abrasive rubs from people I‘ll never see. 

OLBERMANN:  And their excuse for it is, you brought all this up in the book. 

EDWARDS:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask one question about your reasons for doing that, that are independents of what happened.  But after that whole thing happened and the story hit, you and I spoke, and you said it was important to you that some people understood the evolution of your decision making process, what you did in all that.  Why was that true and why, to the degree the book suggests that it‘s still true—why is it still true?  It seemed to me that most people who know you and most people who know of you would say, you don‘t owe anybody any sort of explanation for how you behaved under such a series of crises. 

EDWARDS:  Right.  There are people that I respect, you included, that I wanted—I wanted to speak to personally about what had happened.  And there were was wide speculation that I had put aside everything because I was so driven by ambition.  And, in fact, I knew very little and even—and that was very painful.  And that I had actually modified what I spoke about in the campaign in order to try to be truthful, because I did believe that my husband‘s candidacy in 2008 was enormously important.  I still believe that right this minute, even though, you know, it cost us so much. 

I think we are talking about universal health care because he had a really aggressive plan early, and forced the other candidates, including the Republican candidates, to match him.  He had a very aggressive plan with respect to global warming, and people had to match him on that.  And so now, we‘re talking about things on a playing field that I‘m glad we‘re at.  And I think that we‘re there because of his candidacy. 

You know, if the cost of his candidacy was his fame or notoriety, and that brought on the exposure and the pain, then so be it.  I think that maybe it‘s one of the things we have to accept when you accept that you want to be in public service, that you may pay a private price for that. 

OLBERMANN:  Where are we on health care?  And have you been sort of slowed as an advocate by the book, in a kind of weird way?  Or has it worked to your advantage? 

EDWARDS:  Well, a little bit although.  You know, I still have opportunities to speak coming up on health care and maybe making a sort of traipse who Washington in the next couple days.  And maybe be able to reintroduce myself there, without talking about the book or gossip, and be able to talk about health care again. 

And I think we‘re in a good place.  We‘ve got some bills being considered.  You know, I want to make certain we really are talking about having a private plan alternative for the American people.  Even the threat of a public plan is causing these private insurers to promise, you know, lower—lower amounts of money to be charged to their insured.  So I hope that stays a part of it.  I‘m a little concerned about that.  But that‘s the big thing that I think we could get done this year. 

OLBERMANN:  And my questions having been asked in inverse importance, how is your health care going?  How are you? 

EDWARDS:  I‘m fine.  I mean, I have a lot of side effects.  I have a lot of aches and pains.  But, you know, what I‘m trying to avoid is dying.  So aches and pains are pretty easy to put up with.  And it hasn‘t been an entirely even road.  I talk about that little bit in the book.  But I‘m stable right now.  And that‘s what we‘re looking for is stability. 

OLBERMANN:  Agreed.  The book is entitled “Resilience, Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life‘s Adversities.”  Elizabeth Edwards, as I always say, it‘s a privilege to know you and a privilege to spend a little time with you. 

EDWARDS:  Back to you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Take care. 

EDWARDS:  Thanks. 

OLBERMANN:  Just back from Gitmo, a Republican senator in just 11 words sums up the last eight years, to say nothing of what is wrong with our health care system.  It is tonight‘s WTF moment. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the Democrats on Capitol Hill going after Obama and fighting to keep Gitmo open.  Did you know that President Bush inherited the negative impact of 9/11?  It‘s true.  Mr. Water Board me says so. 

But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines from lingering from the previous administration‘s 50 scandals, Still Bushed.

Number three, electrocution-gate.  We already know that as many as 18 American service personnel have been electrocuted in Iraq, most due to horrifically bad electrical wiring near water pipes done by the Halliburton spin off KBR.  Now comes the still more awful news that, in addition to tens of billions of dollars in contracts, KBR also received tens of millions of dollars in bonuses.  This will be revealed at a hearing conducted by Senator Dorgan tomorrow.  The bonuses were for the electrical wiring KBR did in Iraq. 

Our men and women have had many mortal enemies there, Saddam‘s army, the insurgency and KBR.  Only we didn‘t have to pay Saddam or the insurgency to kill our troops. 

Number two, Cheney-gate.  The journal of the Army War College “Parameters” has reviewed Jane Mayer‘s new book, “The Dark Side.”  The reviewer, War College professor Jeffrey Record (ph) selects this passage from the book: “what made Cheney‘s influence so perfidious was the combination of his profound panic over the 9/11 attacks and mysterious anthrax attacks in the following month, and his absolutist view of presidential prerogatives.  The attacks apparently unnerved Cheney to the point of his imagining Saddam Hussein to be undeterrable, and al Qaeda collaborator, and brimming with weapons of mass destruction.

“I don‘t know him anymore, said Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to George H.W. Bush.  According to Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell‘s chief of staff, Cheney was traumatized by 9/11.  The poor guy became paranoid.  Having underestimated the al Qaeda threat before 9/11, Cheney over-compensated.  In the weeks following the attacks, he traveled with a doctor, as well as a duffel bag containing a gas mask and bio-chemical survival kit.”

It is easy to psychoanalyze what happens to a man who thinks he notices everything, when that which he dismisses as impossible becomes all too real, and it is largely his fault that it became such.  Sometimes easy is right.

Number one, now you say it-gate.  A second member of the Bush administration has now revealed misgivings about torture, sadly misgivings she did not make public at the time.  Karen Hughes, a member of the White House Iraq Study Group from 2002 to 2004, tells the “Houston Chronicle,” quote, “I was very vocal in the internal debate.  I worried about how that would make us look in the eyes of the world.  But I had left the White House when a lot of that was taking place.”

Nice.  Miss Hughes, indeed, left the White House in 2004.  She left it so she could work on Mr. Bush‘s re-election campaign.  After that, she went back to the White House to run Bush‘s effort to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East.  So, when was it that you were worried?  And when was is it that you weren‘t working for Mr. Bush?  And how long did you ignore your conscience and not say anything?  And what were you thinking when you left the White House and went back to selling this man to the country and you said, “I think after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and realizing that we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life.  And really the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life?”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The single most accurate, most symbolic, most succinct summation of the America of May 2009, uttered in a Freudian slip of Biblical proportions by a Republican senator.  It is tonight‘s WTF moment and it is next.  But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worsts persons in the world. 

The bronze, Sean Hannity, parenthesis, coward, of Fixed News, who in the middle of getting thrown around the ring by Jesse Ventura, uttered this remarkable defense of the previous president‘s legacy: “George Bush inherited a recession.  George Bush inherited the negative—let me finish.  Yes, he did.  Yes, he did.  Oh, yes, he did.  And the negative impact of 9/11.” 

President George W. Bush inherited the negative impact of 9/11?  In addition to my previous commitments to underwrite Mr. Hannity‘s offer to be water boarded for charity, I‘d also like to offer to throw something in for Mr. Hannity himself.  A historical calendar to remind him that 9/11 occurred while Mr. Bush was president, not before. 

Runner-up, Tucker Carlson of Fixed News, appearing in an online chat for the “Washington Post” yesterday, he criticized President Obama‘s stance on addressing abortion head on in his speech, protested by the anti-choice crowd, at Notre Dame Sunday. 

He wrote, “you can‘t have a real conversation about abortion if you‘re afraid to use the world.  Pro-choice, pro-life, those are slogans designed to obscure rather than illuminate.  Let‘s call it what it is.  That would be a good first step.  Obama, who is deeply interested in language, knows this, but not surprisingly failed to mention it, because, despite Sunday‘s rhetoric, he is as hardened an ideologue on this issue as anyone who heckled him.”

Carlson‘s implication here is that somehow Obama was afraid to use the world, failed to mention it, wouldn‘t call it what it.  Ah-heh. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Of course nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion. 

You oppose abortion. 

Seeking abortions. 

Disagree with abortion. 

Abortion—abortion—and abortion. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You know what else helps a real conversation?  Knowing or being honest about whether the president in the conversation was afraid to use the word or whether he used the word seven times. 

But our winner, Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, who is back in the battle with Michele Bachmann and Steve King for world‘s craziest Congressman, saying there is no global warming or climate change because, quote, “CO2, carbon dioxide, is not a pollutant in any normal definition of the term.  I am creating it as I talk to you.  It is in your Coca-Cola, your Dr. Pepper, your Perrier water.  It is necessary for human life.  It is odorless, colorless, tasteless, does not cause cancer, does not cause asthma.  And something that the Democrats sponsors do not point out, a lot of the CO2 created in the United States is naturally created.  You can‘t regulate God.  Not even the Democratic majority in the U.S.

Congress can regulate God.” 

It is naturally created.  So you can‘t regulate it.  Like Cocaine or Anthrax or stupid Congressmen.  Congressman Joe, you know what else is naturally created, BS, Barton, today‘s worst person in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally tonight, a United States senator from Nevada has return from a visit from our gulag at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, insisted all of those entered there should abandon hope, and be kept there forever, compared them to Charles Manson, even though they have been convicted of, and often charged with nothing, and repeated all the half Republican/half totalitarian talking points, rationalizing the repudiation of due process and the Constitution. 

Then Senator Jon Ensign, having been hit by some sort of an interstellar asteroid of honesty, added, in one of the truest things ever said by man, that the detainees, quote, “get better health care than the average American citizen does.”  Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, what the? 

The men we have locked up without charge or trial, some of whom have been tortured, psychologically or physically, all of whom have been, at minimum, traumatized, and at least some of whom, just by the laws of statistical probability—even the most rabid of right-wingers will admit this—at least some of whom must be innocent, and they have better health care than the average American citizen. 

Torture at Gitmo, punishments at the drug store.  You certainly nailed that one, senator.  The last eight years, the Republican party has been far more concerned with breaking the health of the average Gitmo prisoner than it has been with improving the health of the average resident in this country.  And no one, nowhere, at no time has boiled it down with the economy of words, the startling presages of John Ensign.  “The detainees get better health care than the average American citizen.” 

The Bush administration and those Republicans now following it, like the guy guys with the broom have to follow the parade of elephants, have turned this nation‘s priorities on their collective head.  Throw out the rights we were born with, which we have assiduously granted even the worst of our enemies for 233 years, and prevent the extension of the obvious, necessary, urgent right of every American to even just the bare minimum of health care. 

But no, if you argue for closing Gitmo, John Ensign and his pals will call you a Nazi appeaser.  Then if you argue against torturing people, they will call you a fascist.  If you demand prosecution of those who tortured, they will call you un-American.  They will claim that the same level of insight and memorization available from a parrot, that we only water boarded people that planned the attacks on September 11 that killed 3,000 Americans.

And then if you argue for better health care, they will call you a socialist. 

Congratulations, you‘re a liberal, Nazi appeasing, un-American, fascist, socialist. 

Meanwhile, they will wrap themselves in the flag and insist they kept us safe.  Senator Ensign, I‘ve never heard this question asked, let alone answered before.  Who exactly is the us in that sentence?  The average American who, as you suddenly blurted out, is not getting health care as good as the guys at Gitmo?  Is that the us you protected?  Or is it the various health care industries, the drug manufacturers and HMO chains, and the insurance industry, and the rest?

Is that it, senator?  You made the world safe for pharmacy? 

Besides his Freudian slip, Senator Ensign said much else of note.  The detainees, quote, “are like having Charles Manson times whatever factor.  These people are so dangerous.” 

How do you know that, senator?  Your visit there lasted less than a day.  Did you look into their souls while you were there?  Were you briefed?  By the way, did anybody mention we tried Charles Manson and he is still in prison.  The evil, crazy, without any sense of the sanctity of life, trying to kill as many people as he could, and our quiet little quaint old justice system worked like a charm on him? 

“It is permissible to hold people until the military conflict is over. 

Does anybody think this global war on terror is over?  It‘s Not even close. 

If these people get out, they are coming back to kill Americans.” 

Sounds like you just defined these people as prisoners of war, senator.  Indefinite detention is legal, provided there is a formal declaration of war.  Do you recall the Senate ever legally declaring war on anybody?  I mean, were you there, you should have noticed—oh, who am I kidding? 

Anyway, there it is, in the proverbial nutshell, nearly a decades worth of twisting this country‘s heritage inside out, of doing half of what any terrorist could ever dream of doing to this country for them—let‘s put this up on huge stone tablets like the Ten Commandments outside that courthouse in Alabama, only these would go outside the U.S. Senate, and outside every CVS, Right-Aid, emergency room and medical office building in the land, a statue of Senator Jon Ensign of Nevada, a contribution check from big pharma in one hand and a water board in the other, and his words beneath him, because they certainly should have been beneath him. 

“The detainees at Gitmo, they get better health care than the average American citizen does.” 

What the—

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,210th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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