updated 8/20/2010 11:46:03 AM ET 2010-08-20T15:46:03

Guests: Richard Engel, Howard Dean, Bobby Ghosh, Robert Reich, Ronda Rocha Penrice

           

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

Howard Dean and the Park 51 community center.

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HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN:  We have to understand that it is a real affront to people who‘ve lost their lives, including Muslims.  That site doesn‘t belong to any particular religion.  It belongs to all Americans and all faiths.

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OLBERMANN:  My special guest tonight, the former governor of Vermont, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean.

The madness of conspiracy nation: In one poll, one out of five Americans thinks the president is a Muslim in secret.  In another, one out of four.

G.M., huge profit, about to go fully private, poised for an IPO, adding jobs in Michigan.

Remember this?

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The United States government has no interest in running G.M.  We have no intention of running G.M.

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OLBERMANN:  The GOP doubles down on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.  Their expiration is a, quote, “ticking tax bomb.”  Of course, the GOP built, set and lit the ticking tax bomb.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This ticking tax bomb that can explode on our (INAUDIBLE) families at the end of this year is something Republicans are going to fight against tooth and nail.

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OLBERMANN:  Back from Iraq, Richard Engel follows up on last night‘s coverage of the last U.S. combat brigade to leave.

And Sarah Palin defends Dr. Laura‘s right to shout the N-word.

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DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO HOST:  I don‘t have the right to say what I need to say.  My First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don‘t want to debate.  They want to eliminate.

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OLBERMANN:  That‘s Dr. Laura Schlessinger, with three S‘s and 11 N‘s.

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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SCHLESSINGER:  I didn‘t even know about that.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

He was a candidate for, at one point, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.  As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he bucked the wisdom of so-called centrist party powers to run, finance, and eventually elect Democratic candidates in red states and in districts once thought unwinnable.

But on our fifth story tonight—last night, former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, broke ranks with what he has caught the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, to parallel the Republican position on a divisive issue Republicans have trumped up for their own electoral benefit.

Howard Dean thinks Muslim-Americans can, but not should build a community center with space for worship two blocks away from Ground Zero.  If I have mischaracterized his position, rest assured he will set me straight in his first television on this subject in just a moment.

Governor Dean first weighed in on this issue on the radio, saying there should be compromise without identifying how the center‘s critics should compromise.

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RADIO HOST:  Good afternoon, what‘s your position on the controversy surrounding the mosque near Ground Zero?

DEAN:  I got to believe there has to be a compromise here.  This isn‘t about the right of Muslims to have a worship center or Jews or Christians or anybody else to have a place to worship, or any place near Ground Zero.  This is—this is something that we ought to be able to work out with people of good faith.

And we have to understand that it is a real affront to people who lost their lives, including Muslims.  That site doesn‘t belong to any particular religion.  It belongs to all Americans and all faiths.  So, I think a good, reasonable compromise could be worked out without violating the principle that people ought to be able to worship as they see fit.

RADIO HOST:  You‘re calling for a compromise.  So, are you calling for the mosque to be moved?

DEAN:  Well, I think another site would be a better idea, again.  But I would look to do that with the cooperation of the people who are trying to build the mosque.  There‘s no—I think—I believe that the people who are trying to build the mosque are trying to do something that‘s good.  But there‘s no point in starting off trying to do something that‘s good if it‘s going to meet with enormous resistance from a lot of folks.

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OLBERMANN:  Like President Obama last week, Governor Dean supports the constitutional right to have a place of worship wherever local zoning laws permit.  Governor Dean‘s opposition to the mosque‘s location however has drawn fire from progressive stalwarts, including Glenn Greenwald of “Salon” and Jed Lewison of the “Daily Kos.”  Greenwald calling it, quote, “repellant.”

The governor also said that Islam in Iran and Afghanistan is back in the 12th century.

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DEAN:  This is a very delicate, difficult religious and cultural issue.  I think it‘s great to have mosques in American cities.  There‘s a growing number of American Muslims.  I think most of those Muslims are moderate.  I hope—I hope that they‘ll have an influence on Islam throughout the world because Islam is really back in the 12th century in some of these countries, like Iran and Afghanistan, where they‘re stoning people to death.  And that can be fixed.  And the way it‘s fixed is not by pushing Muslims away.  It‘s by embracing them and having them become just like every other Americans, Americans who happen to be Muslims.

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OLBERMANN:  Governor Dean last night said that—he told “The Huffington Post” that to say he agrees with Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich on this issue is, quote, “silly,” because, quoting again, “I don‘t believe in race-baiting.”

But, tonight, Arshad Hasan, the executive director of Democracy for America, an organization founded by Governor Dean, released a statement saying, quote, “Well-intentioned leaders of the Democratic Party are getting caught up in the fray as well, some of them seeking to find common ground with an implacable opposition.  It‘s not helping,” end quote.

With us now, as promised, Dr. Howard Dean, contributor at CNBC, consultant to both Democracy for America and McKenna, Long & Aldridge.

Thanks for your time tonight, Governor.

DEAN:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I think you‘re gravely mistaken.

DEAN:  Lively times.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Well, I think you‘re gravely mistaken about this.  And so does Mr. Hasan of your own organization.  Would you like to try to convince us otherwise?

DEAN:  Well, look, I find myself in the unusual place of actually being in the middle.  Obviously, I don‘t side with the race baiters on the Republican side.  And I don‘t—but 65 percent to 75 percent of the people have a real problem with this.

Now, I don‘t think they‘re all race baiters.  And I think this—what I‘m calling for here is—you played the tapes, and I appreciate you‘re playing all of them—is some dialogue.  This is intended by the community that wants to build this as a bridge—as a way of reengaging the American-Muslim community with other Americans.

And if it‘s intended to be that way, then there has to be some discussion about the feelings on both sides.  Some of the people you mentioned are, I actually think they‘re kind of buying into the right polarization on this.  This is a very polarized topic.  And I think the right place for this is to really listen to what people are saying.

If people have strong feelings about this—I‘m not talking about bigoted, prejudiced feelings—I‘m talking about strong emotional objections to this, and I think we ought to hear what they are and we ought to listen to them carefully.

OLBERMANN:  But what compromise would you want these proponents to accept?  I mean, the community that just described already has changed the name of the building because Newt Gingrich and some other people found an obscure complaint about the history of Cordoba and Spain and Muslim influence in that country.  More importantly, what gives you the impression, given the politics of the last few years, that opponents of this have any interest in a compromise?  Isn‘t the whole point of this to make it go one way or the other?

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DEAN:  Yes, I don‘t think the Sarah Palins and Newt Gingrichs have any interest.  They‘re clearly exploiting this for whatever political gain they think they can get out of it.  But I think there are some people of good will, perhaps, including some of the families of the victims that we might actually sit down around a table with.  This is a tough issue.

I don‘t think—I honestly don‘t—I think some of my own folks on my end of the spectrum of the party are demonizing some fairly decent people who are opposed to this.  And, again, in no way am I defending, you know, the right wing of the Republican Party.  But there are 65 percent of the people in this country are not right-wing bigots.  Some of them really have deep emotional feelings about this.

And I think we at least ought to respectfully hear them and sit down with Muslim-Americans and with some of the people that object to this, and have a thoughtful, reasonable dialogue and see what comes out of it.  And in order for it to be a fair, thoughtful and reasonable dialogue, you have to be willing to move.

OLBERMANN:  But what makes you think this would stop here?  This particular—that this particular issue is somehow in a vacuum and isolated because—or even that it stops with the subject of Muslim-Americans, because there‘s a “TIME” magazine poll out that says that 34 percent of people in this country oppose an Islamic center or mosque for some sort within two blocks of their own home.  But also, 24 percent would oppose a Mormon center of some sort from their own home.

What if this were a gay rights center near a school today or an equal civil rights access facility in Selma in 1963?

DEAN:  There are—well, first of all, I think to compare the civil rights movement with this, with the location of the building, is not appropriate.  And—but, secondly, look, there are zoning disputes all the time.  Some of them are about crowds and parking.  Some of them are about crowds and parking and, really, those are standing issues for other things that are deeper, and in some cases, bigoted and some of them are like this, which have national implications.

It seems to me that the formula has to be the people of good faith and goodwill, who want to work this out, ought to sit down and try to work it out.  There will be extremes that don‘t want to work things out.  Interestingly enough, there are more extremes on the resistance‘s ends, i.e., the right wing of the Republican Party than there are on the Muslim end in this case.  The Muslims are being accused of being extremists.  But I find their behavior actually to be much better and more helpful.

So, I just think—you know, in an issue of this kind of sensitivity, I think we‘ve got to stop the polarization.  I got an interview this afternoon by this guy who has just push, push, pushing that anybody who opposed this for the wrong reasons shouldn‘t be listened to.

You know, I‘ve been through this war before.  We went through this with civil unions in the state.  We were the first people to do it.

It was really, really ugly.  We got our way through it and it all worked out.  It was hard to do, but we did it.

And I think that‘s—we‘re going to have to start healing this country and stopping this polarization.

OLBERMANN:  But you brought up civil unions.  And that brings me to it another quote from some of the WABC material which we‘ve already played.

But let me read this again.  You said, “There‘s no point in starting off trying to do something that‘s good if it‘s going to meet with an enormous resistance from a lot of folks.”

Does that not describe your effort to get civil unions?  Does that describe the 50-state strategy or the Obama presidential campaign or health care reform?  Or you know, we can go on forever and say—doesn‘t that describe the American Revolution?

DEAN:  Yes.  I don‘t think you intentionally truncated that quote.  But I‘d be surprised of that was whole piece of it.  And if it was, then what I clearly meant to say was I think if you get further—look, these folks have a right to build this and they have a right to this where they‘re about to build it.

I think—I think to focus solely on that and exclude further dialogue is a mistake.  Now, look, will the United States survive whether we build this or not where it‘s supposed to be built?  I think so.  But this might be the time where we‘ve got to start setting this stuff aside and actually listening to each other instead of talking past each other.  And there are always—look at the Middle East peace process—there are always people at the far ends of the spectrum who want to undo the discussions, and undo the progress for their own personal gain.

OLBERMANN:  But if you—

DEAN:  I just think this may be a teachable moment.  I really do.

OLBERMANN:  If you‘re starting out, if you‘re negotiating and the other side is already at the far end and the far extreme saying, we don‘t want an Islamic center with a basketball court, a culinary school and 11 or 12 stories of nonreligious events to take place in it and a two-story prayer center on top, they‘re saying, no, absolutely not.  And you‘re suggesting a compromise.

And my question to you: practically speaking, what does this mean?  I mean, have you been there?  You can‘t see Ground Zero from this site.  You can‘t see the site from Ground Zero.

DEAN:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  When the building is finally built, it will be a dot in the ground.  How far is far enough?

DEAN:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s already a prayer center four blocks from the place.  They‘re already praying in this one.  Do they have to go six blocks?

And what happens when you say—

DEAN:  No, look—

OLBERMANN:  When you—whatever the compromise is, the people with whom you‘re compromising are going to run around with a giant flag saying, we stopped this Islamic center from being built here, no matter if it‘s three inches farther away.

DEAN:  Keith, look, I think those are all very good points.  I do think—and I do take one issue with worrying about whether the Republican right—far right is going to call this a win or not.  So what?  We can‘t let them dictate the agenda anymore.  They‘ve screwed up the country enough as it is with their hate agenda.

Why don‘t we just stand up—there are two ways of standing up to them.  One is to do what most of my friends on the left and Arshad are doing, is to say, we‘ve had enough.  We‘re going to put this thing here.  We have the right to do it, too bad for you.

I have some experience in doing this.  I think it might be worth sitting not down with the Sarah Palins and Newt Gingrichs of the world, but maybe with some of the families and so forth that are raising issues and having a genuine discussion.

This is going to get built.  They have a right to build it and they should have a right to build it.  And I don‘t—I don‘t know any serious person that doesn‘t think they have a constitutional right to build this.

All I‘m saying is maybe we should try discussion this time instead of shouting at each other across the cable shows and the Internet.

OLBERMANN:  But who do you have the discussion with is my question?  I don‘t know who that is.

DEAN:  You don‘t have the discussion with—you don‘t have the discussion with the demagogues and with the people elsewhere who are simply trying to use this issue for their own purposes.  You have the discussion with people in the city who have a genuine interest in this.

OLBERMANN:  The 9/11 families have been invoked several times.  I heard it from Mayor Giuliani on the “Today Show,” as if they had voted already, as if there were a uniform poll that suggested they were opposed to this.

And I want to read one quote pertinent to this.  All of the victims, obviously, of 9/11 matter equally.  But probably the best known of them was Barbara Olson, the conservative commentator who was on my old show here and was a decent person to talk to from the other side, as you describe.

And her husband, her widower it Ted Olson, said, “I think the president was probably right about this.  We don‘t want to turn this into an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith.  And I don‘t think it should be a political issue.”

It would be great if there were some sort of negotiation process with Ted Olson on this.  But I don‘t see the Ted Olsons on this side and I don‘t see the uniformity on the part of 9/11 families.  Many of them are in favor of this and I know you‘ve invoked them—

DEAN:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  -- as being—as being opposed to this.

DEAN:  No.  I didn‘t mean to do that.  There are definitely a significant number of 9/11 families in favor of this as well.  The reason I brought them into it is they have an interest into this.

And if there can be a discussion among that group, maybe it will be heated.  Maybe there will be a lot of shouting.  But maybe there will be some reasonable, thoughtful coming together.  Maybe the two sides could actually understand each other.

Look, these are two populations with significant real grievances. 

This is not so very different than Northern Ireland or the Middle East.  You‘ve got Muslim-Americans who have tolerated, who have been put through a lot of discrimination over the last five years and harassment and anti-Muslim talk, anti-American talk, because these people are Americans.  And on the other hand, you‘ve got people who suffered one of the great tragedies in American history.

So, there is no simple answer to this.

It‘s very simple, frankly, to say, yes, let‘s just give it to the right wing.  They‘re wrong on this.  They‘re usual bigoted stuff.

Let‘s leave the right wing out it of it.  They‘re hateful people. 

They‘re doing stupid things and what they‘re doing is bad for America.

But what about the legitimate people that are really worried about this—that are really concerned about this?  If we put these two populations in the room together, reasonable, thoughtful people, maybe Ted Olson should be there—he seems to have done a pretty damn good job on Proposition 8 -- and started, let them explore their grievances with each other.  Maybe they need to understand why each other looks at the way things—the way things the way they do.

I think that would be pretty novel given the last 15 years of American history and the polarization that‘s taken place.  I think that‘s the right thing to do.  And if the sacrifice is, you may be willing to move the mosque to a different—you know, David Paterson, the governor of New York, says he‘s already got a parcel that maybe we could use.  I don‘t think we ought to take—do that right now.

I think what we ought to do is get people talking to each other that are willing to do it that are on opposite side to this.  There are plenty of grievances on both sides.  And to negate either grievance because it‘s irrational on the one hand or because Islamists may do something on the other hand, let us talk about those things in a way where we can try to understand each other.  That‘s the only way we‘re going to get out of this.  It‘s not going to be through court.

OLBERMANN:  But throughout this country under pressure, when it came to religion in particular, the Senate wouldn‘t seat Reed Smoot in 1907, or whenever it was, for three years because he was a Mormon.

And in ‘28, Al Smith was defeated as a papist.  And they used it again against John Kennedy in 1960.  It‘s only 50 years ago.

DEAN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s on our lifetimes.

Where is the compromise going to come from?  When we find out on a day like this that 18 percent or more of this country has been convinced by these virulent Republican right-wing fearmongers that the president of the United States is a secret agent of another faith?  How do you get compromise with people who are absolutely irrational?  But they‘re going to be part of this.  They‘ve made themselves partner of it.

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DEAN:  No.  That—those people are clearly—I think everybody is standing together saying what those people are.  They are people who mean America harm.  There are people who are saying these things to inflame people.  And there have been people throughout history, both the history of this country and others, who have done this in order—it‘s what I call, what I used to call when I was the DNC chair, the Slobodan Milosevic approach to politics—whatever is good for you, and to hell with the country.

Those people are excluded from the discussion.  They‘ve excluded themselves from the discussion.  I‘m not talking about those kinds of people.

But when you see polls that show that 70 percent of people that have a problem with this, there are probably a fair number of reasonable, thoughtful people who you can engage in a conversation and educate about what it is to be a Muslim in America, how Muslims in America really are, what they‘re really about.  That is, in fact, the intention of this imam—intention of this particular imam and his group that are trying to build this.

And why do I suspect that?  Because the person I spent more time attacking over the last four years than anybody else had him vetted and George W. Bush sent this imam around the world trying to sell America to Muslim—to Muslim—other Muslim countries.  There are—other than the evilness, of the exploiting (ph) from the right wing and the bigotry and the racist language and all that kind of stuff, which I think most people in this country would dismiss, there are a lot of well-meaning people who are divided in the camps here.  And I think we have to have an honest discussion of the answer.

You can‘t have an honest discussion if the conclusion is yes, we‘re going to have the discussion, but we ain‘t changing.  If a little movement of this thing has to be on the table in order to get people to engage, then I think that‘s worth it.

But, you know, it‘s not up to me.  It‘s up to the people who own the site because they have the constitutional right to build this.  But I would sure be tempted, if I were them, to use this as a teachable moment and take some risk.

OLBERMANN:  Well—

DEAN:  It‘s going to take some risk on both sides in order to engage.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  But look at it from their perspective and I‘m going to have to wrap this up and give myself the final word on it.

They—this imam, Rauf, who has been moderate on this and discussed this—and, by the way, bought—the people behind this bought a dilapidated building that no, quote-unquote, “American” wanted to buy for eight years as it sat there deteriorating on Park Place in Manhattan, the place I know very well, he‘s now painted in this equation by many of the people who are—who are supposedly responsible voices against this as a terrorist sympathizers.

What is the lesson—the lesson for him is—

DEAN:  But no one could say and be—no sensible person is saying that.  People who talk like this are not part of this equation.

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OLBERMANN:  But that‘s what he‘s gotten for his compromise already.  And I‘m wondering, what is his motivation to compromise further if that‘s going to be the price of this?

DEAN:  Well, first of all, I wouldn‘t have made, I would haven‘t changed the name because Newt Gingrich was pushing this stuff, because Newt Gingrich has not been responsible about this.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  We‘ll leave it there.  Former DNC chairman, Governor Howard Dean—

DEAN:  All right.  Thanks for the opportunity.

OLBERMANN:  And thanks for doing it.  I appreciate it.

Why this matters so much?  Because before our eyes, in our country, in our time, the word “Muslim” is replacing in many quarters the word “terrorist,” as the annual catch-all for hatred and suspicion and otherness as terrorists replaced communist and communist replaced anarchist and anarchist replaced Fenian.

Don‘t believe me?  Well, there are two new polls.  The numbers of Americans now believing the president is a Muslim is up one in five; one in four in the other poll.  That‘s next.

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OLBERMANN:  New polling suggesting 18 percent of Americans believe this president is a Muslim and hiding it.  No data in on how many of them also believes in Brownies and elves and FOX News.

The day after—in Kuwait, Richard Engel follows up on the last patrol as the combat brigades leave Iraq.

And don‘t worry, Dr. Laura, your career maybe drowning, but Sarah Palin has just thrown you an anvil.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  It‘s hard to imagine how a presidential candidate could have gone through grief—more grief—because of his association with a Christian minister than did candidate Barack Obama.  And yet, a year and a half into his presidency, about one-fifth of Americans believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim.  And that poll was conducted before the recent controversy over the proposed community center near Ground Zero.

In another poll conducted in conjunction with that controversy, the belief that Obama is Muslim is even higher.

In our fourth story, there may be much more behind those numbers.  A new poll from Pew Research Center finds a growing number of Americans believes that the president is Muslim.  When asked the open-ended question, “What‘s the president‘s religion?”  Eighteen percent, nearly one in five, answer Muslim.  That is a sizeable increase from 17 months ago when 11 percent of respondents expressed that belief.

The number of respondents who say Obama is Christian, 34 percent, dropped for the first time in the poll.  Plurality of respondents say they do not know what Obama‘s religion is.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that the view of the president as a Muslim is most widespread among those who do not support his presidency, like Republicans and conservative Republicans, in particular.

However, the percentage of independents who think this now has also risen.  Another poll from “TIME” magazine conducted about the proposed Islamic community center, subsequent to President Obama‘s defense of the right to build it, in that survey -- 24 percent said they believe the president was a Muslim, 47 percent identified him as a Christian, only 24 percent did not know.

The White House has now responded.  Its statement reads in part, “President Obama is a committed Christian.  His faith is an important part of his daily life.  He prays every day, he seeks a small circle of Christian pastors to give him spiritual advice and counseling.  He even receives a daily devotional that he uses each morning.  The president‘s Christian faith is a part of who he is, but not a part of what the public or the media is focused on every day.”

Let‘s bring in the deputy international editor for “TIME” magazine, Bobby Ghosh, who wrote this week‘s cover story, “Is America Islamophobic?”

Bobby, thanks for your time tonight.

BOBBY GHOSH, TIME MAGAZINE:  Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This segment is not really about religion and the country has a proud tradition of faith and of nonbelievers.  But have we reached some kind of low in at least a recent political discourse when the White House needs to put out a statement proving that the president has devotionals and is of Christian faith?

GHOSH:  It is indeed a low point, Keith.  And let‘s not forget the subtext of that statement.  The statement actually reads, if you‘re really looking at it between the lines, “I am not a Muslim.”  That‘s what he‘s trying to say.  I‘m not a Muslim.

In effect, perhaps unwittingly, he‘s pandering to that anti-Muslim, anti-Islam sentiment that has taken—that has taken root and is growing and getting into the mainstream of this country.

OLBERMANN:  In both of these polls, there are less favorable views indicated towards Muslims than towards Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons.  Is there Islamophobia behind this?  As the title of your article implies or at least ask?  Or is that differential, a function of people who don‘t want like this president for whatever the real reason is, and then attach a reason to it that they think is acceptable to the pollster—like, well, he‘s a Muslim.  I‘m not saying that that is acceptable to the pollster or anybody else, but it‘s one that they would think would be an acceptable answer.

GHOSH:  No, I don‘t think so.  I think maybe the reverse is true.  Our questions were mainly about Islam and about this mosque controversial.  The question about the presidential was actually almost supplemental to it.  So, I think the Islamophobia that‘s taking root, is taking root independently.

As we‘ve seen, not just with the controversy here in New York but in other places all over the country, in places that should be much less politically charged, small towns in Wisconsin and California.

So, I think the reverse is true.  There is an Islamophobia that‘s growing.  There is a political agenda behind people who are trying to stoke this and make it a political issue.  And they are pointing this ignorance in the direction of the president.  And that perhaps is fueling the perception that the president is a Muslim.

OLBERMANN:  Why now?  We went through nearly eight—seven, eight years certainly after 9/11 where things might have been tense.  But it certainly wasn‘t as overt as it is now.  Why now?

GHOSH:  Well, Keith, it was pretty overt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.  We weren‘t paying attention because this country had gone through this trauma.  There was war on the horizon, there were lots of other things that were dominating our attention.  But Muslim-Americans knew that it was pretty overt.

What‘s happening now?  Well, you can probably draw a straight line from the sort of rise of homegrown terrorism to the concern that people have and the alarm that it has set off.  But the key thing here is that not enough people in this country know about Islam.  And there is a group of people who are taking advantage of that lack of knowledge and stoking this up into a kind of a new anti-Semitism in this country.

OLBERMANN:  I think you‘re exactly right.  Bobby Ghosh, the article is called “Is America Islamophobic?” in the new “TIME” magazine—thank you, Bobby.

GHOSH:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Crossing the border—the latest from Richard Engel on the last American combat brigade leaving Iraq for Kuwait.

Crossing the finish, the government readies to get completely out of G.M. and it prepares to make a huge profit.  Jobs?

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OLBERMANN:  A little less than 24 hours ago, the last vehicle of the U.S. combat brigade in Iraq drove across the border into Kuwait.  Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was there with his extraordinary coverage.  And tonight, the way forward for the troops which remain and the ones who get to go home, at least for now. 

Richard? 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.  We are still with soldiers from the 4-2 Stryker Brigade.  They are based at Ft. Lewis in Washington.  These are the same combat troops that we watched yesterday cross over from Iraq here into Kuwait.

They‘ve now stripped down those Strykers that we watched crossing the border.  They‘re laying out all the equipment, just waiting for Customs inspectors.  It‘s actually a fairly standard customs inspection.  People will be looking for food, drugs, the normal kinds of things.  This is one of the last stops before they head home and join their families. 

The question remains, what will be the future of Iraq?  If you ask many Iraqis, it is still a very difficult place, a troubled country.  There‘s no stable government five months after elections there.  Some Iraqis say that Iran has been empowered because of this. 

If you ask these troops here, they did what they were asked.  They toppled a dictator.  They stopped a civil war.  And then they left Iraq without a single shot being fired at their convoy. 

Just as a sign of how much has changed in Iraq, Keith, this the last American combat brigade that left Iraq about 24 hours ago, during their entire deployment in Iraq, they didn‘t lose a single soldier during a combat mission.  Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reporting earlier tonight from Camp Virginia in Kuwait.

Robert Reich on the rebirth of the GM and the re-christening of the Bush tax cuts for the rich as the Obama tax hike time bomb, next.

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OLBERMANN:  The gloom and doom prophecy from the Republican party had been this: the Democratic plan to bail out the auto industry would not change a thing; it would merely delay for six months or so Detroit‘s day of reckoning.  Our third story tonight, little more than a year later, General Motors today filing paperwork that lays the groundwork for an initial public offering of stock, the first step towards paying back the 50 billion dollar government bailout that appears to have saved that company from going under. 

The stock offering expected to be one of the largest ever.  No exact numbers revealed in the paperwork that‘s been filed at the SEC, but some analysts believe it could raise as much as 20 billion.  Trading expected sometime this fall. 

At the big three automaker, sales up, profits up 1.3 billion last quarter.  And the industry as a whole adding jobs in July, 18,000 of them in Michigan, at a time when others employers appear to be laying off more workers again.  The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits reaching the half million mark last month, the highest that number has been since November. 

At the White House today, the president urging Republicans in Congress to blocking the bill aimed at helping small businesses to hire more workers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This small business jobs bill is based on ideas both Democrat and Republican.  In fact, many provisions in the bill were actually authored by Republican senators.  It has been praised as being good for small business by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. 

A majority of senators are in favor of the bill.  And yet the obstruction continues.  It‘s obstruction that stands in the way of small business owners getting the loans and the tax cuts that they need to prosper.  It‘s obstruction that defies common sense. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But if there is any one item on the Republican agenda other than obstructing the Democrats‘ from accomplishing theirs, that one item would be cutting taxes for the nation‘s top earners, the richest of the rich.  To that end, the party‘s effort to keep the Bush tax cuts from expiring has now been reframed as not letting the Obama tax hikes be enacted.  Karl Rove‘s new advocacy organization this week listing the seven public policy initiatives most important to Congress next year.  At the top of the list, “stop the Obama tax hike time bomb scheduled to detonate on January 21st, 2011.” 

Republican Congressman Kevin Brady using the term ticking tax time bomb in this new House GOP web video, making it seem as if President Obama had set the metaphorical timer on the ridiculous notion of a bomb, not President Bush, the man who actually signed the tax cut bill that bears his name into law, complete with its expiration. 

I‘m joined once again by former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor at UC Berkeley‘s Goldman School of Public Policy.  Also the author of the upcoming book “Aftershock, the Next Economy and America‘s Future.”  Thanks again for your time tonight, sir. 

ROBERT REICH, FMR LABOR SECRETARY:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Should this stock offering, getting back to GM, be viewed as a victory for the company and for the Obama administration? 

REICH:  Well, it looks like a vindication for GM and the Obama administration.  A year and a half ago, people were saying GM was going to die.  That bailout was criticized.  Remember, it was called Government Motors.  But actually, in the first half of this year, Keith, GM made about 2.2 billion dollars.  And it looks like it‘s on the path to recovery. 

OLBERMANN:  The Republican plan to do nothing for GM and simply have the company reorganize, go Chapter 11, what would the landscape look like now in most likelihood? 

REICH:  Most likely GM would be much smaller.  Many, many more workers would be laid off.  It‘s possible that GM might even have been liquidated and sold off. 

OLBERMANN:  But instead we have the auto industry which added jobs last month in Michigan.  On the other hand, employers elsewhere are still letting people go.  If profits are up in corporate America, eventually are there new jobs?  Or did we just rearrange this system so that the corporations could keep all the money? 

REICH:  It‘s interesting.  Usually in a recovery, you see corporate profits immediately followed by corporations hiring more people.  That‘s the pattern.  But there‘s been kind of a big disconnect, a big decoupling between profits and jobs this time around.  Largely I think because corporations are worried that there are not consumers around who are going to buy all of the stuff that they make. 

After all, consumers are workers.  Workers are consumers.  The more corporations layoff workers in pursuit of profits, well, they‘re paying the piper, because there are not going to be people out there to buy what they have to offer. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of consumers or at least people in this country with money to be consumers not spending, if the very rich get to keep their tax cuts, that top one percent, two percent, are they going to spend any of that money to revive the economy? 

REICH:  They may spend a little bit.  But being rich means you have most of what you want.  That‘s the definition of being rich.  They save most of what they are going to save if they get a tax cut—if they keep their tax cut.  And that‘s not going to get jobs back. 

Ordinarily, Keith, we like savings.  But now we need spending.  The

Joint Tax Committee of Congress last week—the Joint Tax Committee, a

nonpartisan group, said that extending the Bush tax cuts for the super rich

we‘re talking about people making a million dollars or over, households a million dollars or over—actually would cost the Treasury 31 billion dollars, and 31 billion dollars just next year—just next year.  Those households, million dollar households, would get—

           

There‘s no reason for it.  We do have a long-term budget deficit crisis.  The same Republicans who are screaming about the budget deficit say, let‘s extend the Bush tax cuts for people at the top.  It makes no sense.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s your tax bomb.  Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, as always, great thanks for your time tonight. 

REICH:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMNAN:  Worsts ahead.  The Republican party of Minnesota actually put out a video claiming GOP women are better than Democratic women not because of their beliefs or qualifications of experience, but because of their looks.  And they Photoshopped photos. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she‘s live from Baghdad to show you life in Baghdad seven and a half years after we invaded.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Defending Dr. Laura, telling her to lock and reload. 

Reload?  She used the “N” word 11 times.  She‘s fully loaded already. 

That‘s next.  But first get out your pitchforks and torches, time for tonight‘s worst person in the world. 

The bronze to Lonesome Rhodes Beck of the Fox Republican Channel, donators of a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association, in gold.  You may have thought you heard the bottom of the barrel from this guy, but you have not. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Goldline—I‘ve purchased gold since after 9/11 because I thought, uh-oh, this isn‘t good.  I realized on September 11th how fragile our country really is, how fragile things are, how things could change at the drop of a hat. 

So I started buying gold.  I buy gold the crazy way.  I buy it in gold coins. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Not only did he invoke 9/11 to shill for gold.  He invoked it to shill for gold coins, because, obviously, after the Beck apocalypse, the only people left will be the coin dealers and others who trade souvenir gold medallions. 

The runner up, good old Sharron Angle, Republican and Tea Party candidate for Senator from Nevada—Nevada, forgive me; I get confused whenever I see her.  A former newspaper editor and owner name Bill Roberts writes in the “Parump (ph) Valley Times” in Parump Nevada that in 1992, during her first term in any elected office on the school board supervising Chernopa (ph), Nevada, she was part of a group protesting a plan by the local high school football coach to dress his team not in its traditional red uniforms, but in hopes of breaking a losing streak, in black uniforms purchased by the players themselves. 

Angle, he writes, opposed this fervently on religious grounds.  Her group quoted scripture and invoked evil, the devil and the supernatural.  The uniforms, Roberts says, were promptly locked away by the school. 

But our winner, Randy Brown, webmaster of the Minnesota State Republican Party.  He has posted a video, about five minutes in length, which we‘ll show you just a few seconds speeded up. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The official Republican party of the state of Minnesota.  After some Minnesota Republican candidates protested, including women, they took it down.  But just remember it the next time you hear Sarah Palin or anybody else in the GOP complain about sexism or misogyny on the part of the mainstream media or the Democrats. 

Randy Brown of the Minnesota GOP --  plus, I understand the group Baja Men is pissed—today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tuesday, when Dr. Laura Schlessinger announced she was quitting talk radio, she claimed it was because her constitutionally protected first amendment rights were under assault.  In our number one story, not only did Dr. Schlessinger not realize she was interpreting the Constitution incorrectly, she also didn‘t realize that in voicing mer misread live on the TV, she was simultaneously sending out a clarion call for help, kind of Mama Grizzly bat signal, to the half governor of Alaska. 

Last week on her nationally syndicated radio show, Dr. Laura repeated the “N” word 11 times to make a point that a black caller maybe should have gotten tougher before marrying a white husband.  The doctor telling her caller, quote, “I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop.  But it seems to have grown and I don‘t get it.”

Schlessinger apologized the next day, but only for her excessive use of the “N” word, not for suggesting that black people should quit complaining about racism because we gave them a black president. 

Enter Tuesday‘s appearance on “Larry King Live,” during which the doctor told King that she was leaving radio and then explained why.  Fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution, hello. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I want to regain my First Amendment rights.  I want to be able to say what‘s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry. 

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR:  Why is your freedom of speech denied on radio? 

SCHELSSINGER:  Well, because if any special—

KING:  People can criticize what you say. 

SCHLESSINGER:  When I started in radio, if you said something somebody didn‘t agree with or they didn‘t like, they argued with you.  Now they try to silence you.  They try to wipe out your ability to earn a living and to have your job.  They go after affiliates.  They send threats to sponsors. 

KING:  But that‘s their right too. 

SCHLESSINGER:  Yes.  But I don‘t have the right to say what I need to say.  My First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don‘t want to debate.  They want to eliminate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You want to ask Allan Berg about that?  To review the relevant portion of the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridgement the freedom of speech or of the press.”  Nothing about sponsors being forced to fund a radio host who makes racist comments. 

The government is not censoring your speech.  You‘re quitting because listeners and advertisers didn‘t like what you said.  Supposedly, it happened to Uncle Don.  Listeners not named Sarah Palin, anyway, who Tweeted yesterday, “Dr. Laura, don‘t retreat, reload!  Steps aside bc her First Amend rights cease to exist thanks to activists trying to silence.  Isn‘t American, not fair.”  And added, “Dr. Laura equals even more powerful and effective without the shackles.  So watch out Constitutional obstructionists and be thankful for her voice, America.” 

Also remember when Palin called in—I‘m sorry, she might be one of those friends like these issues.  Quoting from an archived Dr. Laura blog post from two years ago: “I‘m extremely disappointed in the choice of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate of the Republican party.  I‘m stunned.  Couldn‘t the Republican party find one competent female with adult children to run for vice president with McCain.  What kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down Syndrome, and then goes back to the job of governor within days of the birth?”

Remember when Palin called in February for the president to fire Rahm Emanuel because he used the word retarded, Palin scolded on Facebook that she was appalled, quote, “just as we would be appalled if any public figure of Rahm‘s stature ever used the “N” word or other such inappropriate language.” 

Except, I guess, this one.

Joining me now, Ronda Rocha Penrice, contributing writer for TheGrio.com, which we should mention is owned by NBC Universal:  Thanks for your time tonight.

RONDA RACHA PENRICE, “THE GRIO”:  Thank you so much, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You wrote a piece today which speaks to several reasons why it‘s surprising that Palin would support Dr. Laura.  Explain some of them in brief, if you would.

PENRICE:  Well, as you just mentioned, when Sarah Palin was very outraged by Rahm Emanuel‘s comment, Dr. Laura has been consistent in not being in support of families raising their special needs children.  That in itself was surprising to me. 

Also, given that Dr. Laura does not think Sarah Palin is the brightest crayon in the crayon box, that was very surprising that Sarah Palin would take time out of her busy schedule to Tweet in support of Dr. Laura. 

OLBERMANN:  Another point that you raised that perhaps was not immediately apparent to people who saw those Tweets; when Sarah Palin used the word shackles, what do you think she was referring to? 

PENRICE:  I found the use of the word shackles appalling, especially because Dr. Laura has come under attack—under fire, I should say, because she used the “N” word multiple times.  For you to reference the word shackles and also use the Constitution—we know in this country that we‘ve had a history of enslavement.  To pair that to an “N” word incident is just unbelievable to me.  I was very shocked by that. 

OLBERMANN:  The woman who made the phone call to that show spoke out for the first time today.  Her name is Nida Jay Hanson (ph).  She said she was not accepting the apology.  She said it was made only because it was a public forum, and this woman got caught.  If Dr. Laura really wants to speak her mind without repercussion, why would she feel it necessary to apologize for something that said, if she thought she was within her First Amendments rights to say? 

PENRICE:  Exactly.  If you watched when she was talking with Larry King the other night, she did not seem remorseful.  She actually seemed that she was issuing an apology because it‘s the thing that she should do and not the thing that she wanted to do.  Also, if she was really horrified by her behavior to the caller, she would have found a way to contact the caller and to apologize to her directly. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess if she‘s left radio to regain her First Amendment rights, she‘s taken the show door-to-door.  Ronda Rocha Penrice, contributing writer at TheGrio.com, thank you kindly for your time. 

PENRICE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this August 19th, 2010.  It‘s the 2,667th day since President Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq, the 2,256the day since he declared victory in Afghanistan, and the 122nd day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. 

I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

Now, live from Baghdad tonight, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.  Good evening and morning, Rachel. 

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

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