updated 1/5/2010 11:20:57 AM ET 2010-01-05T16:20:57

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Evan Kohlmann, Ezra Klein, Dan Savage, Arianna Huffington

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Exploiting terror: After the briefest of calm and rational pauses, we rejoin the Republican message, “Democrats will kill you,” already in progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I don‘t think we should focus on the blame right now.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator DeMint then blames the president for not using the word “terror” often enough.

The madness of Dick Cheney: “President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war and when President Obama pretends we aren‘t, it makes us less safe.”

The counterterrorism adviser responds.

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JOHN BRENNAN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president‘s position both in terms of the language or the action taken, or he is ignorant to the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And tonight, the debut of a new feature, the “Quick Comment.”  As a former vice president, in what he calls a time of war, where is Dick Cheney‘s loyalty to the president of the United States—no matter that president‘s party, no matter that president‘s name?

And the other unasked question about Flight 253.  Why did the bomber leave the bathroom where no one could have stopped him, to return to his seat where everyone did stop him?

“Orly Taitz” Limbaugh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Based on what happened to me here, I don‘t think there‘s one thing wrong with the American health care system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Even though, again, they evidently failed to pull his head out of his back side.

And FOX News drops the pretense Tiger Woods can be forgiven but only if he renounces his religion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS:  My message to Tiger would be: Tiger, turn to your faith, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery, and be a great example to the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  An organization proselytizing, trying to force others to convert to its faith alone—you know, just like Islamic extremists.

All the news and tonight‘s first two “Quick Comments”—now on

COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HUME:  He might have had kind of a senior moment there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

After an all too brief pause in their ceaseless efforts to turn a 23-year-old loser‘s failed attempt to detonate his underwear into something just this side of the burning of the White House in 1812, Republicans have now resumed warnings that the end is nigh and the U.S. government has ordered new security measures at airports around the globe, and both efforts have hit slight snags.

We‘ll get to Republican insecurity—first, airport security.  “Associated Press” reporting tonight that numerous countries are not yet observing new airport security measures ordered by the U.S., specifically passport holders from 14 countries such as Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, and passengers flying through those countries to the U.S. are now supposed to get a pat-down and a search of their carry-on bags.  The “A.P.” is reporting, though, no changes at airports in Syria, Algeria, Libya, and Lebanon.  Britain, France, Germany, and Switzerland all said they are still assessing the new guidelines.

The Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked today by NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams about that lack of compliance.

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JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  We are working now to make sure that it is 100 percent complied with.  But I will tell you, our own people who work internationally in the airports and with the carriers are very confident that these are the rules that are being applied.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Returning from the vacation today, the president met with security officials, including his top counterterrorism adviser, Sunday talk show star John Brennan.  The president calling a meeting tomorrow afternoon in the Situation Room with the CIA, Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, and more to review what is known so far.  The president will deliver brief remarks to the public via the media at about 4:00 p.m.  Eastern tomorrow.

Lacking such requisite information, some Republicans remain bent on undermining Mr. Obama by stoking fear.

Senator Jim DeMint criticizing the president for not saying the word “terror” enough—this from a senator whose own fear of American workers organizing into one of these scary union things is the reason that the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, does not have a leader.  DeMint is still defending his one-man delay of the confirmation of former FBI agent Errol Southers as head of the TSA, arguing that letting TSA workers organize would endanger the nation.

It was, however, former Vice President Cheney‘s contention that Mr.  Obama is pretending we are not at war that continued to draw rebuke, including even from veterans of the Bush-Cheney administration.

Mr. Brennan, who served in the Bush administration, too, leading the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center, responded to Mr. Cheney‘s remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRENNAN:  I‘m very disappointed in the vice president‘s comments.  I‘m neither Republican nor Democrat.  I‘ve worked for the past five administrations, and either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president‘s position both in terms of language he uses and the actions he‘s taken or he is ignorant of the facts.  And either case, it doesn‘t speak well of what the vice president is doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In a “New York Times” piece detailing several ways in which Mr. Obama has been tougher on al Qaeda than Bush and Cheney were, Mr.  Brennan goes further regarding Cheney, quoting, “What they‘re doing is just playing into al Qaeda‘s strategic effort, which is to get to us to battle among ourselves instead of focusing on them.”

Well, “The Times” reports some half dozen Bush/Cheney veterans are too afraid or too political to admit their support of Obama‘s counter-terror efforts.  Mr. Bush‘s final CIA director, Michael Hayden, told “The Times” there is a continuum from the second Bush term to today.  Yesterday, he went further, putting blame on himself and his administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR:  True to be said that we did release some folks from Guantanamo—despite our best efforts making this threat assessment—that actually returned to the battlefield to return to terrorism.  And certainly, we bear responsibility for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn first to MSNBC‘s political analyst, Richard Wolffe, also author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”

Richard, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  And what is the focus here right now?  Is it the pushback borders at other airports?  Is it the indication that intelligence such as what the NSA knew about al Qaeda in Yemen, using a Nigerian man for an attack was not—maybe is not being utilized?  Where is the focus right now?

WOLFFE:  Well, I was speaking to White House folks earlier today and it‘s clear the president is still deeply concerned and troubled, even angry at the intelligence lapses.  But they see this more as an intelligence lapse more than a situation of airport security faults.

So, the question here is: why didn‘t the centralized system of intelligence that was set up after 9/11, why didn‘t it work?  Is this conspiracy or cork up?  Is it a case of the agencies having so much rivalry between them that they were more determined to stymie each other or the centralized system rather than dealing with the terrorist threat?  Or was it just there were so many dots no one could connect them because it just was all too random to figure out?

It seems that the president is leaning very much towards thinking this was a systemic failure by individuals who maybe had an alternative agenda.

OLBERMANN:  If airport security is the fail safe, though, in that equation, what was behind the Bush administration‘s failure to establish the secondary checks overseas?  Why are we suddenly rushing to this idea now?  When did Mr. Bush—and I presume Mr. Chertoff—drop that ball?

WOLFFE:  Well, there are more smart, more efficient ways to protect the country than to defend every airport because we know from our own airport system here in this country that there are no fail safe methods.  Even with all the extra methods that you have out there—people take off their shoes because of the shoe bomber and then a terrorists try and put the same explosives on another part of their body or another part of their clothing.

The question here is: why wasn‘t the intelligence directed at countries where al Qaeda was reconstituting or establishing itself anew?  That gets you to a strategic question which, unfortunately, the last administration failed to see, because it was diverted most classically into Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  To your second point there—we can, you know, sort of

skip the Woody Allen joke about underwear will now be worn on the outside

at airports so we can check—your second point that you suggested in

there that the administration is looking into mixed, perhaps mixed motives

mixed or misplaced priorities?  I‘m not sure exactly how you phrased that, in terms of what?  Getting messages from A to B where people—are people thought to have been deliberately withholding information so that the dots could not be connected?

           

WOLFFE:  Right.  Was—the question is—was this information that was shared—remember, there was some sharing of information, but it involves the father of this, in the end, a terrorist who walks in to and see the CIA officials in a foreign embassy.  This is an American embassy in a foreign country.  And you know, that information, was it shared fully?  Why wasn‘t it shared fully?

The question there is, again: cork up or conspiracy?  Was there a reason these agencies were at war with each other that prevented that intelligence from being shared?

OLBERMANN:  Is the implication there that there is at least a possibility that somebody understood how serious this could be and yet withheld information to make some other part of the counterterrorism system look bad?

WOLFFE:  That has got to be an area that the White House is looking into and, you know, motives can be hard to assess because it‘s not clear that this person was easily identified as a terrorist—even with the father coming forward saying they had concerns.  Was that more of a family concern or were there enough fingerprints here about the radicalization of this individual to suggest that it should have been taken to a different level?  At the very least, a security level beyond more than a nominal sharing of information.  That‘s where this inquiry is—this internal inquiry for the moment—has to go.

OLBERMANN:  Well, certainly, not to get too far ahead of what the information the White House doesn‘t have and, presumably, thus, you don‘t have, and certainly, I don‘t have.  But that seems to be what you‘re describing, at least in theory, is a far greater threat than a guy with explosives on an airplane whether or not he succeeds in blowing them up.

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s the most important line of defense.  I don‘t know that it‘s a threat in itself, but you can defend every airport as much as you like.  In the end, the most efficient, safest borderline for security has got to be human intelligence.  There seems to have been plenty of human intelligence in this case.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, the author of “Renegade: The Making of a President”—great thanks as always for your time and especially that last point, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  We‘re joined now by Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of “Huffington Post.”

Arianna, good evening.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Richard‘s last point there, forgive me if I‘m a little flustered, but that seems rather startling to contemplate that in a day and age when presumably we‘re all—whatever we think of the threat of terror in this—in this world, presumably, we‘re all on the same side if we—if we have something to do with this country that somebody might be deliberately, in the counterterrorism system that we employ around the world, withholding information no matter what the consequences might be?  What do you think of that?

HUFFINGTON:  I know.  It was an astounding statement, especially since Richard said that he had talked to people in the White House who are leaning towards that conclusion in terms of a systemic failure, in terms of how our intelligence system is operating.

But, you know, this, Keith, this takes us to that fundamental point of

are we really putting our attention where we need to put our attention? 

Or have we been distracted by all of this macho talk about this being a war on terror—in doing the same mistakes that Bush/Cheney did, fighting the wrong war at the wrong time, and as we are doing right now in Afghanistan.

When you look at the amount of money we‘re spending in Afghanistan, when you look at the amount of attention that this administration spent on reaching a decision about Afghanistan, compared to where the threats are coming from, and what is happening in Yemen and Somalia and including our own homegrown terrorists here, you just realize that we are fighting the wrong targets here in the wrong way.

OLBERMANN:  But what kind of—I really—I can‘t even think—I can‘t think of anybody as despised as some of the Republicans—as despicably as some of the Republicans have behaved on this subject on the exploitation of terror and counterterrorism since—let‘s give them the benefit of the doubt—October 1st, 2001.  Exploitation of that, even taking that into context, it seems to me incredible that somewhere in our defense system, our front lines there, the information gathering problem, that somebody said, “No, no.  Let‘s not tell anybody else about that and then we‘ll see what those Democrats actually do with this security situation.”

Is that plausible to you?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, I don‘t want to believe it, but if it is the truth, we need to address it and we need to address it by focusing on what Richard called the first line of defense, which is our intelligence system—and that remains the truth.  No matter how much money we spend in sending troops to far away places, the first line of defense is our intelligence system, and we have not put the kind of attention we need to on that—including, of course, the second line of defense, which is our airport security.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  To the—to the domestic politics and politicizing of this, Arianna, some Bush administration veterans inside and outside the current administration have said publicly or if they lack integrity, they said it privately, that Mr. Obama is both, A, largely maintaining Bush era security measures, improving upon them even, and, B, doing a good job at that.

If they say that, what is the point of Dick Cheney saying the contrary?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, you could say what is the point of Dick Cheney?  You know, Dick Cheney is absolutely shameless.  He didn‘t even give an interview, Keith.  He just sent a press release to “Politico” which was reprinted.  And what is amazing here is, given that it was Cheney‘s decision to release the Saudi Arabian detainees from Guantanamo, two of whom we now know went to Yemen, having just gone through a halfway house in Saudi Arabia for a little while and there in Yemen, they helped train the underwear bomber.

We see that here, Cheney has a direct responsibility to bear.  And that‘s what the media need to be doing, to actually asking him questions and ask him to share some of the responsibility for what happened, instead of continuing to criticize the Obama administration.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we can ask I‘m sure he‘ll get right back to us.

Arianna Huffington of “Huffington Post”—as always, great thanks, Arianna.

HUFFINGTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll ask Evan Kohlmann, the counterterrorism expert from NBC News about what Richard Wolffe just mentioned and the prospect the ball was not just dropped but perhaps deliberately dropped on the intel level in a moment.

But COUNTDOWN is changing of tonight.  We‘re introducing nightly comments, “Quick Comments,” two of them most nights.  The first?  Well, Dick Cheney‘s ears will be burning.  A minute hence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  And now as promised, the premiere of a new nightly segment, the “Quick Comment”—one now, one later in the hour.

We are at war, Dick Cheney came down last week from “mount megalomania” to announce and, “When President Obama pretends we aren‘t, it makes us less safe.”

If Mr. Cheney believes we are at war, then he, as the most recent former occupant of the vice presidency, is under the strictest obligation to put aside his case of terminal partisanship and rally to the support of his president at a time of war.  Instead, his remarks not only give encouragement to the enemies of this country, they give them an exact measure as to how successful they have been in damaging our freedoms.

In a previous time, Mr. Cheney‘s pathetic exploitation of human fears, his undermining of our courage and resolve and clear-headed calm thinking, would have resulted in his being chased off the national stage by a public sick to death of the personal industry he has made of undermining American freedom and of undermining the authority of this elected government.

And in a previous, more resolute time, among journalists in this country, nobody would be pretending that this obvious fact was not true.  It would have been in every newspaper, and on every broadcast—after his disgraceful performance since Christmas when terrorist attempt attacks in this country, Dick Cheney is the beneficiary.  And if he cannot summon exactly the same kind of absolute apolitical patriotism he demanded of everyone else while he was in office, he is, by his own terms, nothing more or less, morally if not legally, than a traitor to the United States of America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With all the panic over the Christmas Day attempt to blow up Flight 253 by the so-called “underwear bomber,” one element has been widely overlooked.  Why did the culprit essentially repeat the final flawed step of the failed terror attempt from eight years ago?  Why leave the only secured location to which a passenger has access and utter privacy, a bathroom, and in which a terrorist could complete his destruction and his self-destruction to instead go sit among passengers who could and did stop him?

Richard Reid was, of course, the British passenger now convicted terrorist, who on December 22nd, 2001 tried to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 by lighting a fuse protruding from his shoe, the sole of which packed enough high explosive to blow a hole in the fuselage of the aircraft, according to the FBI.  We have been reminded this past week that Reid tried to detonate that explosive while at his seat where he was comparatively easily stopped.  Reid did that instead of going into the bathroom where he could not have been disturbed.

On Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab evidently took a course that was different than Reid for time anyway.  He reportedly spent 20 minutes in the lavatory of Northwest Flight 253, presumably to ready the explosive device, at least part of which was concealed in his underwear.  But instead of finishing the job in that bathroom, he returned to his seat, reportedly pulling a blanket over himself after complaining of an upset stomach.  What ensued was a loud pop and flames which led to passengers and flight attendants noticing and stopping what might have happened next.

One flight attendant reportedly asked Abdulmutallab what he had.  His answer: explosive device.

According to the FBI complaint, one passenger saw a partially melted syringe and shook it to stop it from smoking.

So, it is fair to wonder why Abdulmutallab returned to his seat at all when he might have continued unnoticed, un-interfered with in the bathroom.  And also, it‘s fair to ask what a first-year psychology student would make of his singular choice.

Let‘s instead call in an international terrorism expert and MSNBC terrorism analyst, Evan Kohlmann.

Good evening, Evan.

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  So, if you‘re talking about blowing yourself up and dozens of others, psychology is clearly part of that issue.  So, from your viewpoint, your expertise, how much validity do you give the theory that perhaps, unconsciously, he made sure not only that he did not blow himself up, but that he could say, “I didn‘t chicken out, they stopped me”?

KOHLMANN:  Well, there is a technical reason for what he did, for putting himself next to the fuselage.  And that he was trying to create enough of an explosion to knock a hole out of the side of the plane and then cause a rapid decompression—the idea being cause catastrophic damage, a series of interlinked events that would bring the plane down.

But there are bits of this that you do kind of wonder.  Twenty minutes inside the bathroom—was he really spending all of this time monkeying with the explosive device or was he having second thoughts?

What we know about some of these folks is that they‘re—they do have problems.  I mean, they have some issues.  I think this came up fairly visibly in the case of Major Malik Hasan down in the Fort Hood massacre.

But if you look at the Internet postings that were made by Umar Abdulmutallab, you see someone who obviously has serious personal issues and is searching for something out there on the Internet—friends, an ideology, a cause—and he happened upon this.  But you do have to kind of wonder what was running through his head in the last few minutes before he did this.  He did act in a fairly strange manner.

OLBERMANN:  Another strange part about this, if he didn‘t force himself to be caught, one is left questioning perhaps his intelligence in figuring out that he might be interfered with when he got back to the seat and you could also question the intelligence of the people who prepared him and enabled him, sent him, for not, perhaps, underscoring the most essential part of the operation?  Or does it not matter to them now if the bomb ever goes off?

KOHLMANN:  Well, first of all, I‘ll pose for you a scenario.  Imagine he expects this bomb to go off with a sudden detonation.  It‘s all over in a big flash.  And instead of what he expects, this magnificent explosion, the only thing that happens is that his crotch lights on fire.  I mean, that‘s a great disappointment.  I don‘t think that would make anyone—that would make anyone‘s day.

But, yes—I mean, if you look at this for—as far as al Qaeda is concerned, it really doesn‘t matter that much whether or not the attack succeeds in bringing down the airliner or not, as long as they achieve the publicity, as long as they show that they‘re capable of doing something, they have in essence proven their essential point, which is that they can pose a threat to U.S. national security.

Let‘s also keep in mind here what the long-term strategy is of al Qaeda with this kind of attacks.  They‘re not simply looking to kill Americans.  What they‘re looking to do is overwhelm our security, to overload our responsibilities, to cause us to spend billions of dollars on measures to try to stop people with explosives inside their underpants.  And hopefully, at least in the mind of al Qaeda, by doing so, they will completely overwhelm us and make us believe that it‘s easier to withdraw from the Middle East entirely.

So, that is part of their calculation here.  So, even if the bomb doesn‘t go off successfully, if it gets to this point, and they demonstrate that they are capable of reaching Americans, they have achieved the success in their mind.  I mean, that‘s why they claim responsibility for plots even when they fail.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  And that‘s why our unwitting complicity in this is necessary for the process.

I wanted to go into further detail on the psychology of this—result to psychology in this country, but I must ask you about what Richard Wolffe reported at the start of this—of this newscast, that the White House, part of the investigation, part of the big meeting at the White House tomorrow about the failure—the systemic failure of getting the intel about this man, especially since his father walked into an embassy and said, “I think my son is dangerously involved with these people,” that it may not have been simple incompetence, that in some way it might have been intentional.  And the two major options that Richard said were being investigated was: could it be a turf war between the intel agencies or could somebody have done this deliberately to make someone look bad?

Do either of these components—does the whole idea seem plausible to you?

KOHLMANN:  I find it hard to believe that someone would do this deliberately, that someone would put American lives in jeopardy deliberately.

But look—there were some very serious mistakes that were made here and some very obvious connections that were missed.  I mean, it‘s easy to say, well, it‘s the CIA and they get a lot of information and they have to go through a lot of threats, but this was an obvious one.  There wasn‘t one warning sign.  There were multiple signs—all of which should have been caught by a multitude of different U.S. government agencies and they were missed.

And even if it wasn‘t deliberate—which I don‘t believe it was—somebody needs to pay a price for those failures because otherwise they‘re going to happen again, just like they happened again two weeks ago.  The fundamental reforms that need to take place that were supposed to take place after 9/11 have not taken place and we need to change that.

OLBERMANN:  Evan, strategically, speaking from our point of view from our self-defense, what would you do if you were told that the White House had conclusive evidence that that was—that loss of intel was no accident?  Would you tell people or what would you do?

KOHLMANN:  I think the first step I would do is fire people.  Fire the people who were responsible.  And I don‘t think it matters whether it was deliberate or that it was happenstance.

If someone refused to share information with another U.S. government agency that could have stopped this—this information doesn‘t belong to the government agencies.  It belongs to the people of the United States.  And it‘s fundamentally the responsibility of those government agencies to make sure that that information ends up in the hands of people who need it to stop people like Umar Abdulmutallab long before they ever get to an airliner, an airport, or the United States border.

OLBERMANN:  Wow, the picture gets darker and darker.

NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann—great thanks for your perspective on both of these issues.

KOHLMANN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  As we saw on 2002 and 2003 and to lesser degrees every year since the nation‘s response to this, tension often with no purpose—not just last night‘s repeat of the old favorite guy walks the wrong way through security so they shut down a terminal at Newark airport for five hours, but also tension in the national discourse.  Brit Hume announces Tiger Woods can be forgiven, but only if he renounces his religion and signs up with Brit‘s version of Christianity which denies forgiveness if you‘re not a Christian.

And as the last push for real health care reform resumes, Rush Limbaugh explains he now has first-hand knowledge that the current health system works.  Of course, it does, if like him, you make $33 million a year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  No conference committee to resolve the differences between the Senate and House health care reform bills, so as to reduce Republican friction.  Wow.  Why didn‘t anybody think about that sooner?  Gosh. 

First, on this date in 1854, 2,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australian sea Captain William MacDonald discovered the MacDonald Islands.  Now that was a coincidence.  Let‘s play oddball. 

We begin with the oddball police chase of the week.  McMin (ph) County, Tennessee, this is dash cam footage from inside a police cruiser trailing a suspect towing a Coca-Cola vending machine.  The crook hitched his wagon to the pop machine at a Dollar General store and made off, figuring no one would spot him dragging a sparking soda machine on public highways. 

Police gave chase.  The criminal was eventually arrested.  Luckily, all was forgiven when the thirsty arresting officer cracked open a shaken soda can only to have it fizz all over his uniform.  All right.  That last part didn‘t happen. 

Keeping the sparks flying, to the cash strapped city state of Dubai in the Persian Gulf.  I say hello and you say Dubai, where they have opened up the world‘s tallest skyscraper and lit it up with fireworks today.  The building is named the Burj Khalifa after the United Arab Emirates President Burj Khalifa.  And boy is it Burj.  The 160 story edifice stands over 2,700 feet tall.  For reference, that‘s 50 stories taller than the Willis Tower in Chicago. 

Developers say Burj Khalifa is 90 percent sold to a mix of residential and commercial clients who will be interested to learn that those fireworks never stop.  What you talking about, Willis? 

You already heard Rush Limbaugh‘s description of his own experience with the Hawaiian health care system.  Dandy, best in the world.  You may not have realized he was fully endorsing one that is totally unionized and far more reformed than anything Congress passed or the White House proposed.  You got it, Limbaugh endorses socialized medicine next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t worry, Orly Taitz Limbaugh‘s heart is just fine.  To borrow the phrase about the old baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean, X-Rays of Mr.  Limbaugh‘s head showed nothing.  According to Limbaugh, the current health care system is just dandy, and he did not receive any special treatment from the Queen‘s Medical Center staff in Honolulu, because they offer the best health care in the world. 

The latest on the bid to offer that to the people who do not make 33

million dollars a year each in a moment, but one inevitable conclusion;

what Mr. Limbaugh did not know is that he had just endorsed—wait for it

socialized medicine. 

TPM-DC reporting that Democrats will skip the conference committee process in order to get health care reform passed.  Congressional aides confirming that the House is likely to amend the Senate health care bill and send it back to the Senate for final passage.  Democrats are bypassing formal negotiations in order to cut out procedural moves by Republicans attempting to delay the bill, a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you are the de facto GOP leader. 

Mr. Limbaugh was released from Queens Medical Center in Honolulu after an angiogram proved there is absolutely nothing wrong with his heart, medically speaking that is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I‘ve been treated to the best health care the world has to offer.  And that is right here in the United States of America. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Limbaugh riding a tasty wave of irony on his vacation.  Hawaii has the most progressive health care system in the country.  As the “New York Times” writes, Hawaii requires all employers to provide generous health care benefits to any employee who works 20 hours a week or more.  The state‘s so progressive that some measures in the current Congressional reform bills would not affect Hawaii because the state‘s current employer mandates go further than the federal legislation would. 

It turns out the nurses at the Queens Medical Center are represented by the Hawaii Nurses Association, which also known as a labor union, kids.  In fact, the SEIU says Hawaii has the highest percentage of organized nurses in the country.  So those keeping score at home, or even if you‘re alone, he has railed against the kind of health care Hawaii has for the rest of the country, and he‘s called union members thugs.  But since it‘s the holidays and all, Mr. Limbaugh has a message about those thug nurses and their socialized medicine for the rest of us. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  Based on what happened to me here, I don‘t think there‘s one thing wrong with the American health care system.  It is working just fine, just dandy.  And I got nothing special.  I got no special treatment other than what anybody else that would have called 911 and been brought in with the same kinds of symptoms. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in Ezra Klein, staff reporter for “The Washington Post” and resident expert on this subject.  Ezra, good evening. 

EZRA KLEIN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  To what degree did Mr. Limbaugh just prove every philosophical point made by proponents of health care reform? 

KLEIN:  A pretty high degree.  I mean, I follow this stuff closely.  And there is a reason researchers don‘t test out other systems by having a rich, famous guy experience chest pains on the golf course.  It‘s not how we do that. 

Look, the comments were both sort of selfish and wrong.  We get worse outcomes on average than many other countries, and pay twice as much.  Meanwhile, the—what he is sort of right about is that if you‘re very wealthy, you get pretty good care in this country.  What we‘re trying to do in health care reform is give more people a taste of that. 

So it‘s sort of a two-fer for Limbaugh there. 

OLBERMANN:  Before leaving his subject all together, he is still missing that central point, which is not that people like him get special treatment.  It‘s that people not like him can‘t even afford not so special treatment. 

KLEIN:  Right.  I mean, this stuff isn‘t in doubt.  Right?  The Urban Institute, for one, had a study saying about 134,000 people died who didn‘t need to die between 2000 and 2006 because they were uninsured.  And in other countries that doesn‘t happen.  That wouldn‘t happen to Rush Limbaugh. 

So, I mean, there is a truly sort of—we‘re a bit past the holidays, but a real sort of Scroogish element to what he said there. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s not required to be the holidays for him to present one of those elements.  The state of reform and what we are hearing about now, the implications of this report that there will be no conference committee; what are they to you? 

KLEIN:  The implications are two things.  One is that you‘re going to have less time for people to make technical fixes back and forth, to discuss things.  Conference committee is actually a good process.  It‘s good for people to be able to sit down and think through the bill out of the sort of lights of the actual passage process.  So that‘s a shame. 

Does it change what will get changed, the things people are talking about?  Probably not.  The sort of big ticket items that you‘re going to need to get people to sign on in the House dealing with some of the public option stuff, employer mandate stuff, subsidies, those will still get moved around and those negotiations, though informal, will probably end up pretty much the same way they would have otherwise. 

OLBERMANN:  We saw Senator Sanders slip in 10 billion for community health care centers in the final Senate version essentially as this thing was being typed up and slipped under people‘s doors.  Is anybody expecting, especially with that time crunch that you just referenced—anybody expecting for anything to be slipped into the final, final version of all this? 

KLEIN:  I would not put it past anyone.  Look, they‘re still going to need liberals in the House to pass this bill.  By not going to conference committee, they‘ve unsettled a lot of them.  To make sure you don‘t have a last-minute surprise here, where you go through the amendments package and suddenly you can‘t pass your bill, huge problem for everybody, they‘re going to need to essentially have an amendments package that brings liberals on-board. 

So whether or not it‘ll be a more liberal bill than it would have been with conference committee I think is yet to be seen.  But I would expect there to be substantial or at least significant concessions to liberals in the House to make this pass smoothly. 

OLBERMANN:  Have you heard anything specifically?  Or is it just still in terms of philosophical ideas? 

KLEIN:  Very philosophical.  We‘re real early in this yet.  I mean, I think the conversation has been very informal thus far.  And I don‘t think that—you know, folks in the—liberals in the House actually didn‘t know about this until today, that we were bypassing conference.  So a lot of them have said they‘re unhappy.  So my hunch is there are going to be a lot of long meetings on Capitol Hill in the next day or two to figure out exactly what that amendment package looks like. 

OLBERMANN:  Our tax dollars in action again.  Ezra Klein of the “Washington Post,” great thanks as always.

KLEIN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  So Brit Hume tells Tiger Woods he can be forgiven, but only if he converts to Christianity?  Fox has given up all pretense, hasn‘t it? 

And you already felt it, now you‘ll be able to prove it.  As this latest news breaks about the prospect that the White House is looking into whether or not that intel failure was no accident. 

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she‘ll connect the dots about how Congressman Hoekstra and Boehner and other Republicans are trying to raise money off terrorism, specifically off that failed underwear bomber.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We were going to give you the second of our two new quick comments tonight.  But instead we wanted to recap breaking news at this hour.  As the president convenes his summit tomorrow at the White House to investigate the intelligence failures that led to the failed attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas day, our Richard Wolffe is quoting, as you may have heard earlier in this news hour, sources at the White House who say that the administration is investigating whether those intel failures that led Abdulmutallab onto that flight might have been intentional and not accidental. 

Wolffe‘s sources are offering two possibilities here, two hypotheticals—and they are only hypotheticals at this point—one, that this might have been a turf war between intel agencies assigned this nation‘s counter-terrorism responsibility; or two, and obviously much more ominously, that the information was in some way deliberately withheld from some higher or broader authority to make someone look bad.

As implausible and as disturbing as either of those prospects are, that‘s what Richard Wolffe‘s sources are telling him the White House is investigating tonight.  The summit is tomorrow.  The president‘s statement on all of this will be made about 4:00 PM Eastern tomorrow afternoon.  Full details throughout the evening here on MSNBC. 

We‘ll be back with worst persons right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Brit Hume of Fox tells his audience Tiger Woods can be forgiven, but only if he renounces his Buddhist faith to instead join Christianity.  I think Brit Hume can be forgiven if he renounces whatever it is he is doing now to instead join journalism. 

That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Scott Rasmussen, the biography of the pollster who keeps his Republican thumb on his scales repeated on challenge at Politico.com reads that he is, quote, “an independent pollster who has never been a campaign pollster or consultant.”  But the Center for Public Integrity, the nonpartisan group, reports that Rasmussen was a paid consultant to the Bush campaign in 2004, to the tune of 45,000 dollars, and to the Republican National Committee for surveys and voter data for 95 Grand.  

He also co-founded ESPN and sold it for about 85 cents.  But we‘ll skip those crimes for the moment. 

Our runner-up, Gretchen Carlson, who stops by this universe each morning from wherever it is she actually lives to unveil gems like this:

“Acorn‘s chief, Bertha Lewis, got an inside look at the White House just days before those explosive undercover tapes about Acorn were released.  Could her relationship with the first family affect the way the administration ended up viewing those tapes?” 

First, there were no explosive undercover tapes about Acorn.  There were a couple of dim bulb kids with theatrical abilities of fourth grade classmates who didn‘t get the speaking roles in your annual Christmas play, who got owned by an Acorn volunteer.  But secondly, hours and days before Carlson‘s breathless announcement that Acorn‘s Bertha Lewis had visited the White House last year, White House spokesman—spokesperson rather—Jen Saki (ph) confirmed that the visitor in the White House log was a woman named Bertha E. Lewis, who apparently went through on a public tour.  The president of Acorn is named Bertha Mae Lewis.  The right wing explosion over this, designed to frighten small children and the less intelligent kinds of farm animals, is about as dumb as confusing the Fox host Gretchen Carlson for an actual reporter somewhere named Gretchen Carlson. 

But our winner, Brent Bozell, the founder of the Media Research Council.  He has given out one of his annual, prized by the left, foot in his own mouth awards to our own Ed Schultz, because Ed said “the Republicans lie.  They want to see you dead.  They‘d rather make money off your dead corpse.” 

Said Bozell, “Ed Schultz, Mr. MSNBC, making the most hideous of character assassination attacks, saying we want to kill people and literally saying it.  We want to see them dead.  Just think what would happen if Rush Limbaugh went on the air and said that about a liberal.  It would be then end of his career.”

Except Limbaugh says things like that constantly.  Last August 13th, the president, quote, “wants the White House, he wants the executive branch to be making determinations of who lives and who dies.” 

Last September 30th, “it‘s the American left that wants you to die, the party of abortion and euthanasia.” 

Last October 13th, “the Obama administration wants to also get to decide when to dig the grave.” 

Last October 15th, “Democrats would make the elderly face the guillotine.” 

Last December 8th, “this administration, the Democrat party, is totally on board with the elderly passing away.” 

Two conclusions about Brent Bozell: A, the word research in his group Media Research Council, that‘s a brand name.  No actual research is actually done.  And, B, apparently he thinks what Rush Limbaugh has said about liberals wanting to kill people, that that should be the end of Limbaugh‘s career. 

Brent Bozell, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was the answer from Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes whenever anybody pointed to Fox News and called it, well, what it is.  Why belabor the point?  Yeah, but we got Brit Hume at 6:00.  He‘s not partisan.  He‘s not selling anything.  He‘s not proselytizing.  Oops. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer.  Whether he can recover as a person, I think, is a very open question.  And it‘s a tragic situation with him.  I think he‘s lost his family.  It‘s not clear to me whether he‘ll be able to have a relationship with his children. 

But the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal, the extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith.  He is said to be a Buddhist.  I don‘t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.  So my message to Tiger would be, Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  Hume‘s attempt to inject religion into a discussion of the Woods mess, and then setting one religion as superior and more forgiving to another, even got a mention from Don Imus on the Fox out of Business Channel, quoting, “well, we checked this morning, and unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately if you‘re a Buddhist—there is a path to recovery and redemption.  Right?  Well, yes there is the idea of redemption.  Nirvana under Buddhism is achieving the state of being freed from greed, hate, and delusion.” 

Let‘s bring in activist Dan Savage, author of “The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family.”  Dan, good evening. 

DAN SAVAGE, AUTHOR, “THE COMMITMENT”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  When the brakes of political correctness are applied on you by Don Imus, you‘re in trouble.  Let me start with the premise.  Being Christian is the best religion for adulterers because you can be forgiven and we have lots of—many fine examples of that I suppose. 

SAVAGE:  We do.  Mark Sanford, John Ensign, David Vitter.  What‘s hilarious about it is there is Brit Hume on Fox News suggesting that people should be Christians—or straight men should be Christians not because Jesus is the way and the light, not because Jesus is the son of God, not because it is the one true religion, but because it offers the best deal.  It gives you the get out of adultery free card that other religions just can‘t.  That seems like an insult to Christianity, as my mother would point out. 

OLBERMANN:  Isn‘t this the classic thing that your mother probably also pointed out to you about never discussing religion in public?  You can discuss religion in public.  It‘s like this you‘re not supposed to do it.  This crosses that principle.  Keep religious advocacy out of public life, since the worst examples of that are jihadists, not to mention, you know, guys who don‘t know their own religions or somebody else‘s religion like Brit Hume. 

SAVAGE:  What‘s really telling, though, is just as—you know, I‘m not comparing the American religious right to jihadists.  They throw rhetorical bombs.  The other guys throw real bombs.  There‘s a big difference.  Whenever we have a discussion in our country about jihadism and radical Muslims, you always hear where are the moderate voices?  Where are the moderate Muslims?  Why don‘t they speak up? 

Where are the moderate liberal, progressive Christians when something like this happens?  Why don‘t they speak up in defense of their own faith?  American Christianity has been hijacked by the lunatics, by the Pat Robertsons, by the Phelps family, by the Gary Bauers, and by people like Brit Hume.  And it is an insult to Christianity and it‘s an insult to Christians. 

I‘m not a Christian.  I was in seminary once upon a time.  But I‘d like to hear from moderate Christians, not just radical (INAUDIBLE) about this.  I‘d like to hear them speak up. 

OLBERMANN:  WWJDIHS, which is “what would Jesus do if he is straight.”  Beyond the mere advocacy of religion in public life, this notion that we can counter religious fundamentalists who, as you know aptly, are different from religious fundamentalists here—they want to blow us up.  But somehow we can defend ourselves with our own vigorous religion.  Is this sort of a Peter Pan quality here?  If we all just think hard enough, our god can beat up their god? 

SAVAGE:  That has been going on and that needs to be checked.  General Boykin, who was one of the generals in charge of the invasion of Iraq, gave a speech where he said our god is bigger than their god.  We‘ve got to stop.  We‘ve got to de-escalate this rhetoric, and the rhetorical war pitting one religion against another religion, particularly as inoffensive a religion as Buddhism. 

OLBERMANN:  We haven‘t heard any threats from radical Buddhists lately in this country. 

SAVAGE:  There are no Buddhists with bombs in their underpants on airplanes I don‘t think. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m going to avoid a bomb in the underwear joke about Tiger Woods, for god‘s sakes.  But is it not in the interest of people of faith to avoid this kind of public proselytizing?  The smart ones get that it just makes them look bad, no matter what the thought might be? 

SAVAGE:  Smart people of faith set an example through their lives.  They don‘t go on Fox News and bloviate and lecture other people and hector people.  Brit Hume is on his second marriage.  Tiger Woods is on his first.  Brit Hume really isn‘t in a position to be lecturing Tiger Woods about marriage or about the one true path or about the deal that Christianity offers adulterous men. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, you know, I‘m going to assume this is true.  I haven‘t done any research on it.  But I don‘t think Brit Hume used to be a Buddhist who then converted to the Christian faith and found this path already.  But if he did, and he is actually speaking from experience, I guess we owe him an apology.  But I tend to doubt it. 

SAVAGE:  I doubt it, too, very highly. 

OLBERMANN:  Dan Savage, author of “The Commitment,” great thanks for your time tonight, Dan. 

SAVAGE:  Thanks for having me, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,440th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

Now, connecting the financial dots between Congressional Republicans and their best friends in fund-raising, would be terrorists, ladies and gentlemen, a very happy New Year to Rachael Maddow. 

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

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