updated 8/25/2010 10:46:04 AM ET 2010-08-25T14:46:04

Guests: Howard Fineman, Elizabeth Lessner, Lee Fang, Corey Saylor, Alex Wagner

           

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

           

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

Taking the Overton window of political possibility, and jamming your head through it.

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REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  It‘s time to put grown-ups in charge.  President Barack Obama should ask for and accept the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers.

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OLBERMANN:  Also, he wants a pony.  And some pie.

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JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  For eight years before we arrived in the West Wing, Mr. Boehner‘s party ran the economy and the middle class literally into the ground.

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OLBERMANN:  Things go better with Koch—big oil giant Koch Industries that is.  Dad created the Astroturf John Birch Society to harass President Kennedy.  How his sons helped create the Astroturf Tea Party to harass President Obama.  Hey, wait, that makes them sons of purchase.

Republican stoked Islamophobia escalates, again.  Now, a Kentucky town revokes approval of an actual mosque.  But at least the florist next door has a good reason.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want them blocking my parking places, blocking my driveway.

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OLBERMANN:  So, what if it was a church next door to you with Baptists?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The way I see it, they would park where they were supposed to park.  These people don‘t care.

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OLBERMANN:  So, now, this is about parking.

And the Iowa Republican committeewoman who claims the president said he was a Muslim and somebody should call him to ask him.  While others check her for any brain activity, we‘ll call the White House to ask him.

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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OPERATOR:  Thank you for calling the White House.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

The Overton window is the term that describes the ideas you can pitch in public without being considered nuts.  You‘re probably standing outside the window, and you generally get tossed through the window.  For the last however many years, though, the Republicans mastered the art of dragging the Overton window so far to the right it‘s not even on the house anymore.

With complicity from both Democrats and the media, that‘s how America

America actually found itself debating whether America, America, should torture people.

           

And now in our fifth story tonight: the man who wants to be speaking of the House did it again today.  House Republican Leader John Boehner, unveiled what had been billed as a major economic speech, the GOP roadmap for the U.S. economy—meaning, this was supposed to be a serious speech with thoughtful, maybe wonky prescriptions that grapple honestly with the complexity of America‘s economic problems.

Here then, step five out of five of Boehner‘s serious plan.

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BOEHNER:  President Barack Obama should ask for and accept the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council.

Now, this is no substitute for a referendum on the president‘s job-killing agenda.  That question will be put before the American people in due time.  But we do not have the luxury of waiting months for the president to pick scapegoats for his failing stimulus policies.  We tried 19 months of government as community organizer, and it hasn‘t worked.  Our fresh start needs to begin now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  President Bo-bama, Congressman Bo-Boehner?

To be clear, some voices on the left opposed Mr. Geithner‘s nomination and his continued presence in that job.  But it‘s with such outlandish notions that the president should fire the entire economic team that prevented the complete meltdown of the U.S. economy.  But Republicans lure the media into debating—well, should the president fire the economic team or shouldn‘t he?

You will not see that debate on this news hour tonight.  Nor fortunately did Vice President Biden take that bait today—Mr. Biden debating instead the wisdom of trusting in the economic plans of the party that created the economic crisis in the first place and whose remedy for it now is to renew and return to the same exact policies that caused and failed to prevent it.

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BIDEN:  Representative Pete Sessions who heads the re-election committee, he said that if they were to take control of the Congress this fall—which I tell you they will not, they won‘t take control—that they would go, and I quote, “back to the exact same agenda,” end quote, that they were pushing before President Obama took office.  They think that the policies that they had in place during the eight years of the Bush administration, the ones that Mr. Boehner and his party helped craft and sell, were the right ones.

I respect them for their honesty.  I respect them for stating what they think.

Well, let me tell you: there are millions upon millions of Americans who saw their savings, their paychecks shrink, lost their jobs, their homes.  Mr. Boehner is nostalgic for those good old days, but the American people are not.

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OLBERMANN:  The other steps in Mr. Boehner‘s plan: first, Mr. Obama is supposed to stop—quote, “stop all of these job-killing tax hikes.”  So, Mr. Obama is supposed to stop something bad—job-killing tax hikes that already existed.

Where did these bad job-killing tax hikes come from?  Well, Mr.  Boehner created them, voting 10 years ago to raise taxes at the start of 2011 -- voting to do so despite not knowing whether the country could stand such a, quote, “job-killing tax hike.”

The second step of the serious Republican economic plan: tell Mr.

Obama to veto anything Congress passes after Election Day.

Third was paperwork reform many Democrats already agreed with.

And fourth was a spending freeze, which when Mr. Obama proposed it was ridiculed by a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

Because Mr. Boehner‘s target audience was small business owners we‘re joined by one tonight, Elizabeth Lessner, CEO and president of Betty‘s Family of Restaurants in Boehner‘s state of Ohio.

Great thanks for your time tonight.

ELIZABETH LESSNER, BETTY‘S FAMILY OF RESTAURANTS:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Representative Boehner claims that political uncertainty -

meaning business uncertainty about what new laws, what new regulations might be coming—is to blame for small businesses in particular not hiring.  Why would that suddenly be true for you during this administration when laws and regulations change with every president, within every presidency, within every congressional session, throughout our history?

           

LESSNER:  Thus far, it hasn‘t been true, at least for my restaurant group.  We‘ve actually opened two new businesses in the last year and we have two more opening in the next year.  We do pay close attention to state and local politics—those are the types of policies that really affect us on a day-to-day level.  Federal regulation really has very little bearing on my day-to-day business operations.

OLBERMANN:  The Boehner solution an the Republican solution for a business like yours, like Betty‘s Family of Restaurants, in order to expand, to hire more people, is to cut taxes for the top 2 percent of Americans, the richest 2 percent.  You own four restaurants now.

How many people would you be hiring if you get that tax cut Mr.

Boehner wants for the richest 2 percent?

LESSNER:  Well, I don‘t make a $250,000 per year, so the tax cut really wouldn‘t have any bearing on myself.  In central Ohio, I would venture to guess that most small business owners, particularly in restaurants and retail, we don‘t earn $250,000 per year.  So—and neither do any of our staff.  So, the tax cut that Boehner proposes really has absolutely no bearing on my business or most of the small businesses that I‘m aware of in central Ohio.

OLBERMANN:  The other thing in here that was suggested by Mr. Boehner today was that regulations in general should be looser so that you can do what you need to succeed with government not in your hair and just go out and go into the restaurant business.

How many more customers do you think you‘d get if government regulations were looser on—just to pick one topic out of the air—eggs?

LESSNER:  Ah.  I think that foodborne illness outbreaks have been a really major concern to restaurants, especially over the past couple of years.  Right now, it‘s eggs.  In recent past, we‘ve had meat.  We‘ve had spinach.  We‘ve had all kinds of recalls.

The quickest way for me to go out of business would be to give one of my customers E. coli or salmonella.  I think it‘s really important the FDA does tighten regulations, especially in these large-scale processing plants where so much of these outbreaks are actually coming from.

OLBERMANN:  Last point.  What do you think government can to do to create an environment in which you could expand, you could create jobs or may be you can go get another restaurant going?

LESSNER:  The single most important thing that‘s been helpful to me has been increased lending.  Stimulus dollars have allowed me to go after lending and open actually three businesses with new loan options that are available.

The other really big helpful thing to me is the health insurance—health care reform.  It enables me to compete with a larger corporate restaurant chains for the same talent.  In the past, I wasn‘t able to afford those same benefits.  And now, I can offer the same benefits a larger conglomerate can and I‘m able to attract better—better employees, which has been fantastic.

OLBERMANN:  Elizabeth Lessner, CEO and president of Betty‘s Family of Restaurants, joining us from Ohio tonight—great thanks for your time.

LESSNER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn to MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman, also, senior Washington correspondent, political columnist for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I want to go back to where we started tonight, the Overton window.  But let me start with Ms. Lessner there.  What do Republicans about small business owners like her who say, you know, despite the fact I have a small business, surprisingly enough, I‘m not one of the 2 percent richest people in the country, so this tax mean bupkus to me?

FINEMAN:  Well, I went out to Cleveland to listen to Representative Boehner speak this morning, and he mentioned that.  What the Republicans do is use some very controversial statistics about how the top rate—cutting the top rate or keeping it low, because it is cut now—benefits small business owners like Ms. Lessner.  And they have some sweeping numbers about just how many people, like this restaurant owner, benefit from it.

But the fact is they‘re at best very highly controversial statistics. 

And the fact is, talking to people in Cleveland, small business is

struggling, they need help.  If Representative Boehner really wanted to

target them with tax breaks, there are other ways to do it than by letting

keeping the top rate down.  The top rate really is beneficial mostly to the very, very most wealthy people in the country.

           

OLBERMANN:  There‘s something that Mr. Boehner said that I thought sounded like a little bit like he was letting the cat out of the bag.  The way he described Obama as he should stop these, quote, “job-killing tax hikes.”  Is that not admitting that those tax—job-killing tax hikes predated this president and came from, you know, Mr. Boehner?

FINEMAN:  Keith, shame on you for having a memory.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  You know, the fact is that back in the day, these tax cuts were put into place with an expiration date at the end of this year out of concern about long-range fiscal health of the country.  About deficit, about debt, a lot of the things you hear conservatives worried about now.

What happened in the intervening years is there was a spending party led in many ways by the Republicans during the Bush years.  And because of that spending, and because of lack of care of how the money was going to be spent, we‘re now in a terrible fiscal situation where to help balance the budget and cut debt, some of those tax cuts are going to have to expire.

So, it was the combination of what they voted for in the Bush years and a lot of the spending that‘s happened—and some on Obama‘s watch—but a lot of it on Bush‘s as well.

OLBERMANN:  The—back to the Overton window.  Republican success in moving this thing, literally, the graph shows it—it just goes further and further to the right.  Why we hear from party leaders‘ ideas like canning an entire economic team, which would have been laughed at by a previous generation of punditry?  Is that why nobody‘s started the evening tonight anywhere by, you know, simply laughing at this?

FINEMAN:  Well, I guess I‘m an earlier generation of punditry.  I wrote a Web piece for Newsweek.com saying it was a silly ploy, which it is.  And if, you know, Boehner—let‘s take him at his word, let‘s say he cares about these kinds of things and that he wants, if he becomes speaker, to have a new bipartisan spirit, a new factual spirit.  You know, let‘s get rid of ideological labels.

Well, the fact is if he wanted to look at it carefully, Tim Geithner and every—anybody on the left wing of the Democratic Party will tell you this, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers are, in many ways, the two most pro-business people in the Obama administration.  So, if there were—you know, he would have taken note of that if this were anything more than just a way to try to entice the reporters in the White House press room or people on TV to start a debate about Geithner and Summers.

OLBERMANN:  And I should say, one last question about the Overton window, which has nothing to do with Rick Overton, the comedic actor who was in “Groundhog Day.”  Should we, though, fault Boehner for trying this kind of thing given how easily the Democrats and most of the media cooperate with it?

FINEMAN:  Well, you can fault him but you also make a very good point.  Ever since Ronald Reagan, ever since Reagan‘s day, ever since Walter Mondale ran in 1984 for president and said, “I‘d be honest with you, I‘m going to raise your taxes,” and he lost 49 states—that folk memory is in the brain of Democrats to this day.

And whenever Republicans use the phrase “job-killing tax hikes,” that‘s what the Democrats need to counterattack.  That‘s the key thing of Boehner‘s rhetoric out in Cleveland.  Job-killing tax hikes.  And the Democrats have never been able to turn that argument around since Ronald Reagan‘s day.

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

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s no indication Mark Felt, in the guise of Deep Throat, ever really said, “Follow the money,” to Bob Woodward.  But if he didn‘t, it was the wisest thing he never said.  The latest paper trail that ties the marketing of the tea parties to—big oil.

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OLBERMANN:  The Tea Party‘s big money backers.  This is a grassroots citizens‘ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.

When the grassroots are growing out of this woman‘s brain, she says the president admitted to being a Muslim and people should stop calling her and asking her about what she said and they should call him and ask him about it.  So, we will.

As Arizona‘s Republicans vote, he‘s in their corner but he‘s telling Hispanics around the country that Arizona Republicans don‘t represent Republicans around the country.  Alex Wagner joins me to try to explain that neat trick.

And in “Worsts”—advice from Ellie the lab of Santee, California:

Delicious as they may be, do not—repeat, do not eat beehives.

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OLBERMANN:  For anyone still convinced the Tea Party movement is just good old-fashioned populism, just asked oil billionaire David Koch.  “I‘ve never been to a Tea Party event,” he says.  “No one representing the Tea Party has ever even approached me.”  That‘s because he approaches them, by telling them what to say and which causes to take on and also giving them lots of money to do it with.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: This grassroots movement is brought to you by big oil.

As investigations by the “New Yorker and ThinkProgress.org have uncovered, David Koch and his brother, Charles, have been quietly promoting their own business interesting by investing in a right wing ideological network they created.  The Tea Party Movement is just one part of what has been called the Koch-topus.

It‘s reached its design to better serve the family business, which happens to be the second largest privately-owned company in America, the oil and chemical conglomerate, Koch Industries, owner of Brawny paper towels, Dixie Cups, Georgia-Pacific Lumber, Stainmaster Carpet, and Lycra, just to name a few.

“The New Yorker‘s” Jane Mayer reporting that after David‘s failed bid on the bottom half of the libertarian ticket in the 1980 presidential election, the Koch brothers turned their attentions and pocketbooks to developing right-wing causes that got traction, creating conservative think tanks, the Cato Institute and the Mercatus Center.  Later came the Astroturf group Americans for Prosperity.

After the election of President Obama, that group helping organize many of the first Tea Party rallies, outlining ways for so-called activists to disrupt last year‘s health care reform town halls and harass Democratic lawmakers, busing activists to rallies in D.C.

One Democratic strategist telling “The New Yorker,” the Kochs are “the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement.  But it‘s not just about Obama, they would have done the same to Hillary Clinton.  They did the same with Bill Clinton.  They are out to destroy progressivism.”

And also to champion their own pet causes like climate change and climate science denial.  “The New Yorker” reporting, in 2008, the three main Koch family foundations contributing funds to 34 political and political organizations, many of them devoted to undermining environmental policies.  Odd considering that Koch Industries happens to be one of the top 10 air polluters in the U.S.

And as “The New Yorker” piece points out, both David and Charles got their political education from the father, the creator of the family business, Fred Koch, a founding member of the John Birch Society.  Fred Koch found his early success also in the oil industry, helping set up 15 refineries for Joseph Stalin.

Time to call in Lee Fang of “Think Progress.”

Thanks for some of your time tonight.

LEE FANG, THINK PROGRESS:  Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve been investigating these guys for some time.  How widely known and measured is the impact they‘ve had on public policy and politics in general in this country?

FANG:  Well, I‘ve been blogging on the story two years now.  But I‘m very happy about Jane Mayer‘s piece finally giving it the attention it deserves.

David Koch doesn‘t want to be associated with these hateful tea parties.  But the same time, he likes to slap his name on lots of lofty organizations like the Smithsonian or Lincoln Center so he can be toasted as a do-gooder.  But, ironically, he‘ll go to all these parties, but the only party he won‘t go to is a Tea Party.

OLBERMANN:  And there‘s more irony and contradiction in the Jane Mayer piece that you mention and also your investigative work.  The hypocrisy is sort of underscored here.  David Koch was at the same time board member of the National Cancer Institute.  As he did that, the industries, Koch Industries, were lobbying to prevent the EPA from classifying formaldehyde as a carcinogen.  And the Koch-funded Mercatus Center, which is challenging the EPA, insisting that less smog would let more sunlight through, causing more skin cancer.

Is it—can we trace the death or the weakening of many environmental policies in this country back to this company, back to these two men?  Is the line that bright?

FANG:  Yes.  You know, I‘m here in California where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed the landmark clean energy law, A.B. 32, which cuts carbon emissions.  But there‘s a proposition on the ballot this year called Prop 23, which is essentially trying to repeal the clean energy law.  And Koch Industries in a piece I wrote last week is basically sending its operatives to organize tea parties against the clean energy law here in California.

And there‘s a reason he‘s doing this.  Obviously, he‘s a huge polluter, but actually Koch Industries specializes in Canadian crude oil, which is high-carbon oil which obviously contributes to climate change.  So, you know, it‘s in California.  It‘s on the national level.

But, you know, going back 20 years ago, he‘s the one who‘s founded a lot of the front groups that tried to attack the regulation that was set up to address acid rain.

OLBERMANN:  How did the—how did the Kochs feel about the passage of health care reform?  Because, obviously, they were involved in those anti-health care rallies.  Did they—did they view that as a failure, as a challenge?  What was their response?

FANG:  Well, you know, they were pivotal in the health reform debate because they obstructed the process.  They helped fund the summer of rage last summer with all of those town hall disruptions and they actually, literally, bus Tea Party people to D.C. for a lot of the health reform rallies.  So, you know, health reform did pass but they helped water down the bill.  And also, they‘re funding a lot of the attack groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is trying to repeal the bill and, on the state level, declare health reform as unconstitutional.

OLBERMANN:  What was and is the collective ultimate goal here?  Is it to weaken this president or is it bigger than that?

FANG:  Well, Keith, I can‘t look into their soul.

OLBERMANN:  I hope not.

FANG:  But I can tell you what they‘ve said and what they‘ve done.  You know, Glenn Beck compares himself to some kind of messiah that‘s bringing on this right-wing revolution.  But Charles Koch, about 10 years ago, compared himself to the theologian Martin Luther and he said he‘s bringing a right wing radical free-market reformation to this country.

So, you know, like you said, Fred Koch, the father, did this to President Kennedy, funding the John Birch Society.  They did it to Clinton, funding a lot of the attack groups and the rallies on Capitol Hill, smearing Hillary Clinton.  They‘re doing it to Barack Obama.  But they‘re going to keep doing it.

And I‘m actually writing a book on this topic that will be out in stores next spring.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll look forward to it.  Lee Fang of “Think Progress”—thanks for your time.

FANG:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  So, the state committeewoman in Iowa says the president admitted he was a Muslim and we should stop calling her and asking her if she‘s hallucinating, and we should start calling him and asking about his alleged Muslim-ingness.  So, we will.

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OLBERMANN:  Funny, doggone thing.  A minority owner of FOX News is major contributor to the imam who would work at the Park 51 community center.  But that would mean FOX‘s outrage is phony.

First, the sanity break in the tweet of the day.  Well, it‘s not really a break, is it?  From oversplayer or oversplayer.  “How can New York City permit a building whose occupants spout lies and foment violence?  So why is FOX News still there?”  (INAUDIBLE)

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

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OLBERMANN:  We begin at Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima, Japan.  Technically, it‘s Mazda‘s Zoom-Zoom Stadium.  That‘s beside the point.

You regular “Oddball” viewers remember this amazing catch of Masato Akamatsu.  Another player now is taking it upon himself to outdo Mr.  Akamatsu.  Let‘s see how he compares.

This looks exactly the same.  It‘s the Bay Stars at bat against the Carp again.  It‘s deep and out.  This time, it‘s Amaya Soichiro standing on the wall preserving the ERA of Saito Yuki, the pitcher.

Just like Major League Baseball is testing for steroids, it‘s probably time for Nippon Professional baseball to start testing for flubber.

Mexico City, hola!  Our search for the most pointless Guinness record continues today.  The largest number of simultaneously erupting Mentos geysers, 2,433.  That breaks the record set in June in China.  Close to 5,000 liters of soda went two meters into the air then back down.  And then Arizona Governor Jan Brewer claimed that it beheaded well over 200 cute, little kitty cats from Tucson.

Finally, to the Internets and the epidemic that‘s sweeping the animal kingdom, dance fever.  This little guy lives at (INAUDIBLE) panda base in China.  Not exactly sure the beat he‘s grooving to, but there are plenty of versions on the Web that give him a musical background.  Not to be outdone, the puppy here is attempting to serve the panda.  Not much known about his dance background or even his general background.  But he has got serious moves.  Next on the Big Q, right here in our cage, Tofu Gigio (ph).  Good night, Tofu.  Good night, Andy. 

And good night, nurse.  An actual mosque rezoned out of existence in Kentucky.  The quotes from the guy who owns the flower shop next door to where it was going to be and how Baptists would honor his parking spots but those people wouldn‘t.  It sounds like a comedy routine.  Sadly, no.

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OLBERMANN:  Tonight, as developers of the Park51 Islamic Center are planning to dine with New York‘s Mayor Bloomberg at an iftar dinner at Gracie Mansion in New York, there may yet be an Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero, but in our third story, there will certainly be no mosque next door to the Mayfield Florist and Greenhouse, Mayfield, Kentucky, where today that town‘s zoning board voted down a permit request that was initially granted and then nullified after locals complained. 

Somali immigrants renting a building in downtown Mayfield as mosque and community center were asked to submit for a conditional use permit in order to use the building for prayer.  According to Mayfield‘s city planner, the permit request was first approved.  And then people in town began to complain that the hearing had not been open to the public. 

Dick Connor, who owns the flower shop next to the building on East Broadway, telling NPR that his neighbors were good tenants but he wasn‘t comfortable with their worship.  Mr. Connor also told our NBC affiliate there that his Muslim neighbors don‘t know how to park correctly. 

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DICK CONNOR, MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY BUSINESS OWNER:  I don‘t want them blocking up my parking places, blocking my driveway. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But what if a Baptist church was his neighbor? 

CONNOR:  The way I see it, they would park where they were supposed to park.  These people don‘t care. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Uh-huh.  This morning, over 100 residents showed up at Mayfield‘s special zoning meeting.  One person brought a Bible.  The town‘s board voted to deny the permit for the mosque on grounds of lack of parking and occupancy issues.  No Somali immigrants petitioning for the permits spoke at the meeting. 

Back to the hysteria in New York, where at least they haven‘t said it‘s about parking.  Yahoo! News reporting that the imam who was hoping to establish the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan has in the past taken money from the man dubbed the Saudi Warren Buffett, Prince Al Walid bin Talal, a man with diverse holdings, including a stake in Citigroup, Apple and News Corp, the parent company of Fox News.  That‘s Fox News, where former Bush era Pentagon spokesman Dan Senor appeared yesterday morning to say this. 

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DAN SENOR, FMR. BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The Kingdom Foundation, which has been a funder of Imam Rauf in the past—the Kingdom Foundation, so you know, is this Saudi organization headed up by the guy who tried to give Rudy Giuliani 10 million dollars after 9/11 that was sent back.  He funds radical madrasses all over the world. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He funds this imam. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So either Fox News is connected to radical madrasses and the funding for the imam in charge of the Park51 project, or they‘re ginning up this phony outrage.  We report; you decry.

Finally, to Iowa, where one of that state‘s Republican National Committee members continues to assist that President Obama admitted to being a Muslim.  Last week, Kim Layman Tweeted the website Politico in response to its reporting on recent Obama is a Muslim polling.  “At Politico, you‘re funny.  They must pay you a lot to protect Obama.  BTW, he personally told the Muslims that he is a Muslim.  Read his lips.” 

Last week, it turns out, the Republican National Committee‘s new media director, Todd Herman, Tweeted a question asking if Obama was among the 20 percent of the public which claims to believes he is a Muslim.  He included a link to an old Obama interview on the subject.

The Iowa committeewoman now continues to stand by her position, saying, quote, “it isn‘t about me.  Call the president.  Say, are you a Christian or not?  If I‘m wrong, I‘m more than happy to say, oh, I‘m wrong.” 

Joined again by Corey Saylor, national legislative director of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations.  Thanks for your time again tonight. 

COREY SAYLOR, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN ISLAMIC RELATIONS:  Good to be on again, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Since we spoke last, we got this RNC official and this committeewoman in Iowa who are not just saying the president is a Muslim, but the president said he‘s Muslim.  How does this alter or amp up the nature of the disinformation campaign? 

SAYLOR:  I think we‘ve ended up going past Wonderland and Oz and into some strange new realm.  I have to admit, though, there was a voice of sanity in this today.  An RNC spokesman did come out and say that President Obama‘s Christianity is not spoken about by the RNC because it‘s crystal clear and not an issue that‘s on the table. 

I mean, that‘s welcome, but, you know, I mean, where was this lady during the entire debate over Jeremiah Wright?  I thought that there were concerns over his pastor, not over his faith. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  That was just an elaborate ruse to cover up the—can Fox—can Rupert Murdoch really have it both ways?  Fear monger about all things Islamic and really set the potential for a time bomb going off in this country, and at the same time, the largest minority shareholder is a wealthy Saudi businessman who has friendly and financial relationships with the imam in question? 

SAYLOR:  I really do think it would be fair and balanced for them to come out and acknowledge the fact that he is one of their investors, and also to just point out this man is one of the most successful investors in the world.  And you know, to tie him to any kind of extremism is absolutely ludicrous.  Unfortunately, the political environment that we‘re in right now, if you breathe and you‘re Muslim, someone‘s going to try to tie you to terrorism. 

OLBERMANN:  The Kentucky mosque disallowed the zoning permit because of parking.  Are these kind of things happening more often?  Or are we just noticing them more? 

SAYLOR:  Actually that they used the zoning as an issue—you know, I‘m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, because in that instance, there are four parking spaces for about 40 people.  Up to the point where the next permit goes in and the people trying to establish that mosque have addressed that issue. 

Let‘s face it, just a few hours up the road in Florence, Kentucky, they‘re trying to construct a mosque.  People are handing out flyers and fighting against that tooth and nail.  That‘s the reality of what we see in the country right now, which is deeply disturbing, that any time you try to build a mosque, expand a mosque, invite people to the mosque, there are very angry people outside calling out names and engaging in a debate that I think any sane American just should find repulsive. 

OLBERMANN:  Park51 in New York, finally, the mayor readdressed his support of this tonight, and said that if we say a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.  Is it still on track to your knowledge? 

SAYLOR:  Absolutely.  And you know, you really have to thank Mayor Bloomberg for that statement.  It‘s good to see an elected official who‘s willing to stand up strong for constitutional principles rather than trying to sway votes based on polling. 

OLBERMANN:  Absolutely agree.  Corey Saylor, legislative director for the Council on American Islamic Relations, great thanks. 

SAYLOR:  Thank you so much, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Because facts matter, we decided to take up Republican National Committee Member Kim Layman on her challenge that someone call the president and ask is he Christian, and if she‘s wrong, she‘ll say, oh, I‘m wrong.  So all righty, let‘s call him.  Let‘s call the president.  Now, his number‘s a little longer than yours or mine.  Hope he‘s there. 

OBAMA:  Hello, everybody. 

OLBERMANN:  Good evening, Mr. President.  It‘s me, Keith, the guy who used to be on “Sportscenter.”  You‘re on the air right now on COUNTDOWN.

OBAMA:  I hope we don‘t mess up the COUNTDOWN. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘ll be great.  Listen, I don‘t know if you heard about this—this GOP lady in Iowa.  She claims you said you were a Muslim, wants us to call you and ask, you know, are you Christian?  What‘s the info?  How about it? 

OBAMA:  Let‘s make clear what the facts are.  I am a Christian. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.  All right.  That‘s what I thought.  By the way, you know that this is a fake phone call that we put together with old pieces of tape of you, right? 

OBAMA:  Yes.  I think there‘s no doubt. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  All right.  Terrific.  Thanks for your time, Mr. President.  Asalam Aleikum (ph)

OBAMA:  Aleikum Salam (ph)

OLBERMANN:  And they said he didn‘t do phoners.  How about we get Steele on the line to explain how he‘s defending Arizona Republicans passing the Papers Please Law while telling Hispanics that national Republicans don‘t necessarily support it. 

Worst, the Florida Tea Party congressional candidate accuses somebody of Gestapo topics.  You won‘t believe who that somebody turned out to be. 

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, conservatives hate government regulations unless they apply to women‘s bodies.  That‘s not a woman‘s body.  That‘s the attorney general of Virginia.  But if they apply to women‘s bodies, they can‘t get enough of government regulations, can they?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  This ultra right candidate for governor of New York has a great idea for welfare recipients: store them in underused state prisons and reeducate them.  Hello, Governor Mau. 

If you can thread this needle, Michael Steele, you‘re a better man than all of us.  As the GOP votes in Arizona tonight, he tries to reassure Hispanics nationwide about her.  “Let‘s be clear, the actions of one state‘s governor is not a reflection of an entire country, nor is it a reflection of an entire political party.”  But he‘s not criticizing her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Republicans passed Arizona‘s Papers Please law, but the Republican chairman is trying to convince Latinos that the Republicans who passed Arizona‘s Papers Please law don‘t represent all Republicans. 

That‘s next, but first get out your pitchforks and torches.  Time for tonight‘s worst persons in the world, brought to you by Fox News Channel, official propaganda arm of Glenn Beck‘s I Have a Scheme Speech, book tour rollout, and 100 percent guaranteed in advance miracle.  Fabricating and promoting events and then covering them as if they were news since 1996.  I wish there was a joke here.  There isn‘t.  Fox News Channel, making (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up since 1996. 

The bronze to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Company, which has now awarded its ham bone award for the most unusual claim on behalf of an injured pet.  The winner is Ellie, a one-year-old lab who owns Robert and Sandra Coh (ph) of California.  Ellie ate a beehive.  Not just a good, yummy crunchy beehive, but one with thousands of dead bees inside because the hive had been sprayed with insecticide.  Ellie is fine, but the family had to spend the week, per Mr. Coh, thusly: every time she went to the bathroom, she pooped bees. 

Do we need to encourage this kind of behavior on behalf of pets?  Besides, is it really worse than Aubie (ph), the border collie from Birmingham, Alabama.  Aubie heard the mail man coming and decided to get him by leaping through the window without opening it first.  He‘s fine, too. 

The runner up, Carl Paladino, the bizarre guy trying to get the Republican nomination for governor of New York, the one who forwards e-mails to friends depicting bestiality and stuff.  Carl has had an idea.  He wants to convert underused prisons into centers to house welfare recipients.  Are there no prisons?  Are there no work houses?  There they could do, quote, “military service, in some cases park service, in other cases public works service.  Instead of handing out the welfare checks, we‘ll teach people how to earn their check.  We‘ll teach them personal hygiene, the personal things they don‘t get when they come from dysfunctional homes.”

Did you say that, Carl?  What a guy.  You want to take people away from their families, relocate them in internment camps and then politically reeducate them? 

Our winner, Allen West, the disgraced, former prisoner abusing lieutenant colonel from Iraq.  Now he‘s a disgraced would-be congressman from Florida.  Spying a guy with a video camera at one of his rallies, West announces, “I know here today we have a representative from the Florida Democratic Party.  He‘s here to film me.  And his whole purpose of filming me is to take what I say and allow other people to distort it so they can misrepresent me.  You know, if we allow those Gestapo-type intimidation tactics to prevail in the United States of America, what happens to our liberties?  What happens to our freedoms?” 

This is the clown who told supporters at another rally that they

needed to make his Democratic opponent, Congressman Ron Klein, quote,

“scared to come out of his house.”  He‘s not apologizing for the Gestapo

reference, even though it turns out the guy with the camera turned out to

be the grandson of Holocaust survivors.  Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, the proverbial disgrace to the uniform, accusing a man from a Holocaust family of Nazi tactics, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Voters in Florida tonight have chosen, where they had a choice, the nominees who will face off in the Senate race this November.  Congressman Kendrick Meek projected by the Associated Press to win the Democratic primary there.  He will face Marco Rubio, who was unopposed for the Republican slot after Mr. Crist dropped out and ran as an independent.

Arizona Republicans also voting today for the ex-presidential candidate or the ex-sportscaster.  And we join a neat trick there, already in progress.  National Republicans support the Papers Please Law, but national Republicans don‘t want Hispanics nationally to think Arizona Republicans represent all Republicans nationally. 

Our number one story, the primary that plays out around that nonsense.  Among those endorsing the incumbent senator, as he seeks his fifth term, is his 2008 running mate Sarah Palin.  But since the 8th of June, Mama Grizzly‘s endorsement has been the kiss of death.  Thirteen she endorsed, 10 lost. 

Meanwhile, Senator McCain has tried to walk the tightrope that is SB-1070.  An “Arizona Republic” poll says it‘s favored by 55 percent across the state, with greatest support among the rich, whites and older residents of the state.  Also known as the Republicans. 

But Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele says that just because one Republican governor supported the law and then signed the law and then said that the law works to, quote, “solve a crisis that we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix,” that doesn‘t mean all Republicans, including Mr. Steele believe in the law.  “Let‘s be clear, the actions of one state‘s governor not a reflection of an entire country.  Nor is it a reflection of an entire political party.” 

The statements of the National Committee Chair, Republican party, may not necessarily reflect those of the Republican party.  Steele is standing by his statement still tonight. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  I can‘t speak as a national chairman and tell you how to think and feel about a law in Arizona. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So the national chairman doesn‘t have a position on SB -1070? 

STEELE:  I may have my own personal position, but as chairman of the party, I have to look at the entire party. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  As chairman of the party, what‘s your position? 

STEELE:  As chairman of the party, I support my Republican governors wherever they are and whatever they‘re doing. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So if they‘re instituting 1070 in Arizona, then you support them? 

STEELE:  Well, they may institute 1070 in Arizona.  They may institute a different version of it somewhere else.  So that chairman—I mean, that governor, that party leadership, is reflecting the values of that community.  I cannot come in and tell them, oh, well, gee, that‘s not popular or that‘s not what the rest of the party thinks or feels. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s one more predicate to the primary tonight.  New Reuters polling showing the president‘s approval in the red for the first time, if you combine all numbers, including leaning towards disapproval: 52 percent saying they disapprove in some form of the president‘s performance.  On Inauguration Day, his approval was 69 percent.  And broken down—and obviously, this will total well beyond 100 percent -- 92 percent say they are concerned by the jobless rates; 78 percent say Washington no longer works effectively.  The party split, it is still viewed as mostly more the Republicans‘ fault than the Democrats‘ fault. 

Following that set of numbers, joining me now, Alex Wagner, the White House correspondent for “Politics Daily.”  Thanks for coming in. 

ALEX WAGNER, “POLITICS DAILY”:  Thanks for having me, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The last point first; how much of the Obama disapproval is coming from the left?  And if people still blame Republicans for the problems Obama has yet to fix, is that any kind of read towards the midterms? 

WAGNER:  Look, the White House has made no secret its anger that the professional left and the radical Democrats have not been more supportive of the legislative victories that he‘s had this fall.  That said, you know, if you look at Gallup polls from even June, he still has very strong support among Democrats.  I mean, he had 81 percent approval among Democrats. 

So I think that there‘s been a lot of talk about this being a complete bloodbath for Democrats and incumbents.  If you look at what‘s happened tonight, Kendrick Meek was endorsed by not only Bill Clinton, he was having pastrami sandwiches with Obama on Friday.  This is an establishment candidate that has Obama‘s stamp of approval.  I think in terms of November, it‘s going to be—it‘s going to widely vary across the country. 

OLBERMANN:  The Michael Steele thing—and you could see in the sound bite with Soledad O‘Brien, he might as well have been standing there, going, let me just hold my head together so my brains don‘t blow out of my own head trying to keep these eight different completely mutually exclusive things together.  Why wait until after virtually the entire Republican party endorsed this bill or at least put their arms around it and posed for a picture to say it doesn‘t really reflect the entire Republican party? 

WAGNER:  I think the Republican party has sort of been caught in a really unfortunate game of telephone, where someone on one end says immigration and the other person hears repeal the 14th Amendment.  It‘s like things have gotten so wildly out of control in the last few weeks that Michael Steele, someone who is no stranger to controversy—he came in as RNC chair saying look, I want to make the Republican party more diverse.  You look at the last couple weeks and you have a Republican congressman in Texas talking about terror babies.  You have Sarah Palin defending Laura Schlessinger and the use of the “N” word.  It‘s gotten crazy out there. 

So I think Steele‘s comments are as much an effort to dial back that rhetoric as anything else. 

OLBERMANN:  They‘re diverse.  They now hate Hispanics.  They openly hate Muslims.  They hate everybody but the top two percent of earners or two percent money interests in the country.  It‘s very diverse. 

WAGNER:  They make enemies across the board. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, equal opportunity hate. 

WAGNER:  Yeah. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously he‘s trying to say something or trying to get an extra 60 Hispanic and Latino votes around the country.  Is his motivation there a sense of desperation in terms of what‘s going to happen in that part of the vote?  Does it tell us where that vote‘s going? 

WAGNER:  Well, I think there‘s something to be said for being on the right side of history with this stuff, right?  Whether the GOP likes it or not the America of the future is multifaceted, multi-ethnic, multi-religious.  To be dismissing large portions of the American electorate, be they Muslims or Hispanics, does not seem like a very prudent or winning strategy going into the fall and the future. 

OLBERMANN:  Grover Norquist, who is one of these almost Biblical figures of the neocons said something that went largely under the radar, that suggested that between the mosque bashing and the immigrant bashing and the New York Park51 project, that Republicans lost a winner, that the economy—they just needed to sit back and talk about dollar bills and nothing else.  So is this just an irresistible opportunity to enjoy hating people that they have fallen for?  Have they hurt themselves?  Did anybody think this through the way Norquist did?

WAGNER:  It‘s this table full of hate deserts.  They can‘t help themselves.  I think ultimately, look, we know that the economy is the number one issue for voters going into the fall.  John Boehner had his kind of like new and improved GOP platform this morning that didn‘t offer a whole lot that‘s new.  The same day, the Congressional Budget Office is releasing a study that says, hey, look, the Recover Act may not have been the greatest thing in the world, but it may have saved—it may have employed 3.3 million Americans and lowered the unemployment rate by up to 1.8 percent.  That‘s actual progress.  Those are metrics.

OLBERMANN:  Alex Wagner, the White House correspondent for “Politics Daily,” always a pleasure to see you.

WAGNER:  Great to see you too, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for August 24th, 2010.  It is the 2,673nd day since President Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq, the 2,261st day since he declared victory in Afghanistan, and the 127th day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

And now with more from the Kuch (ph) to Virginia‘s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, now going after women‘s rights, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.  Good evening, Rachel.

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

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