updated 9/9/2010 2:08:37 PM ET 2010-09-09T18:08:37

Guests: Steve Stone, Bashar Shala, Arianna Huffington, Eugene Robinson,

David Corn

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

It‘s not that difficult a question, Sarah Palin.  Koran burning—for, against, thoughts?

One-forty-six p.m. EDT, “no comment”; 5:13 p.m. EDT, “Koran burning is insensitive, unnecessary; Pastor Jones, please stand down.”

The governor of Mississippi:

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GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI:  I don‘t think there is any excuse for it.

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OLBERMANN:  Defense Secretary Gates endorses the Petraeus warning about the risk to U.S. forces—as does General Ray Odierno.

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GEN. RAY ODIERNO, U.S. JOINT FORCES COMMAND:  I‘m worried it will turn into violence against our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places as well.

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OLBERMANN:  And the man at the center of the hateful exercise—

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PASTOR TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER:  We have no intention of canceling.

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OLBERMANN:  The counterbalance—the Memphis congregation which has loaned its church to worshipers building an Islamic center, literally, next door.  Our special guests in their first joint interview: Pastor Steve Stone and center chairman, Dr. Bashar Shala.

Presidential punch.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If we‘re going to give tax breaks to companies, they should go to jobs that create jobs here in America—not that create jobs overseas.  That‘s one difference between the Republican vision and the Democratic vision.  That‘s what this election is all about.

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OLBERMANN:  All politics is local.  Also, a lot of stupidity is local.  A would-be Republican congressman from Ohio insists: hands off states‘ civil rights?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need to get our federal government out of the way.  We need to allow our local governments to become more involved in many of the issues you‘re talking about.

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OLBERMANN:  Scooter Libby is back.

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SCOOTER LIBBY, V.P. DICK CHENEY‘S FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF:  I learned two things from this.  One is: the world is not just.  And the second is: it doesn‘t do a lot of good to whine.

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OLBERMANN:  And, yet, whine he did.

And the quote of the year perhaps from Senator Ensign of Nevada: “If you don‘t hold us accountable, we‘ll do some real bad things in Washington, D.C.”  Uhhh—“do”?

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA:  I will not be taking any questions.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

We are two days and just under 22 hours until a Florida church consisting of 50 members plans to hold a book-burning to destroy one book, the Koran.  Their right to do so is not in question.  The wisdom, purpose, and impact of this act, however, has been not just questioned but challenged—not for reasons of political correctness, as much as those apply as well.  But for the fact that it will hand the Taliban and al Qaeda a massive propaganda tool to recruit and inspire those who would kill U.S.  troops, U.S. civilians, and U.S. partners in the fight against extremist Islamic terrorism.

Those sounding the alarm against this book-burning, especially in the last 48 hours, include leaders of all major faiths, the U.S. government, the U.S. military, and NATO.

But in our fifth story tonight, with a handful of new exceptions, the leadership of the Republican Party today has no position on a religious-based book-burning that will endanger the lives of U.S. troops, but some of those who do have an opinion say, burning a Koran is just as bad as building an Islamic center.

Today, General Petraeus told “Stars and Stripes” he found it inexplicable that fellow citizens would put the troops in great danger.  He told Brian Williams that images of burning Korans would dog the U.S.  forever.

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GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR. U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN:  Our concern, Brian, is that such an act would jeopardize the safety of our soldiers and our civilians, even of our Afghan partners, because it‘s the police and soldiers of the Afghan forces who would have to confront the kind of demonstrations that we‘re afraid would erupt in the wake of such an action.  We are concerned that the images from the burning of the Koran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib, that they would in a sense be indelible.  They would be on cyberspace forever.  They‘d be non-biodegradable.  And they would be used by those who wish us ill, to incite violence, and to inflame public opinion against us and against our mission here in Afghanistan, as well as our missions undoubtedly around the world.

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OLBERMANN:  The former U.S. commander in Iraq echoed Petraeus‘ concerns today.

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ODIERNO:  Most Muslims are very moderate and what you have is you have extremists.  What this does is this feeds right into what they want.  What they feed off of hate and fear, and they will use this to generate more hate.  And what that will turn into is potentially more violence against U.S. troops.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS:  It‘s a tiny church.  There are 50 members of this church and I hate to say it, if we weren‘t paying them any attention right now, this might occur in a vacuum.  But in this day and age of the Internet, will those images immediately make their way to the streets in the Muslim world?

ODIERNO:  They will.

LAUER:  And what will the result be?

ODIERNO:  Well, again, I think there will be some backlash and I think you started to see some already.  And I worry it will turn into violence against our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places as well.

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OLBERMANN:  Also condemning the Koran-burning, the secretary general of NATO, the U.S. general heading NATO training in Afghanistan, the head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Clinton, Attorney General Holder, presidential adviser Axelrod, New York Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Lieberman, and the group My Good Deed, created by family members of those who died on 9/11, calling the Koran burning, quote, “an insult to the victims of 9/11 and the many brave individuals who have risen in defense of our nation.”

Today, a handful of Republicans have now come out against the Koran-burning.  Former and likely Republican future presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said it best in a statement to “Politico.”  “Burning the Koran is wrong.  It puts troops in danger and it violates a founding principle of our republic.”

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour came close when he was asked about it.

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BARBOUR:  I do not think well of the idea of burning anybody‘s Koran, Bible, or Book of Mormon or anything else.  I don‘t think there is any excuse for it.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Lindsay Graham replied to COUNTDOWN‘s request for a statement this afternoon, quoting him, “I very much share General Petraeus‘ concern about how such actions could further jeopardize the safety of our soldiers.  We should not make our soldiers‘ job even harder and their service more dangerous.”

House Republican Leader John Boehner merely called the Koran-burning not wise but could not resist equating the burning of one religion‘s scripture with building of a religious center.

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GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS:  General Petraeus has spoken out against it.  Secretary of State Clinton has spoken out against it.  What is your message for Pastor Jones?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  Well, to Pastor Jones and those who want to build the mosque, just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do.  We‘re a nation of religious freedom.  We‘re also a nation of tolerance.  And I think, in the name of tolerance, people ought to really think about the kind of actions they‘re taking.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  So, you‘re telling him not to do it?  Sir, are you telling him not to do it?

BOEHNER:  Well, listen, I just think that it‘s not wise to do this in the face of what our country really represents in over some, you know, 234 years.

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OLBERMANN:  At 1:46 Eastern today, Sarah Palin‘s people gave us a “no comment” in reply to our second request in two days.  But at some point in the following 3 ½ hours, apparently, someone reconsidered, because at 5:13, her Facebook page said that burning the Koran, quote, “is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation much like—wait for it—building a mosque at Ground Zero.”

Former President George W. “Listen to Petraeus” Bush whose legacy includes largely positive leadership on this subject declined our request for comment yesterday.

Newt Gingrich‘s people told us today, quote, “We‘ll pass, thanks.”

Yet to even do that, the Republican chairman, House whip, Senate leader, Senate Armed Service members, Sessions and Collins, Keep America Safe founder Liz Cheney, whose home page at her site does not even mention the danger Petraeus has identified—and Senator John McCain, whose campaign compatriots are now on record against the Koran-burning, who demanded we listen to General Petraeus, who once had the integrity to tell his own supporters, “No, ma‘am, Barack Obama is not an Arab,” John McCain is still silent tonight.

There is a parallel story and it‘s gotten very little tension.  The Heartsong Church in Cordoba, Tennessee, has opened its doors to the faithful of the Memphis Islamic center which is still building its own complex right next door.  It is a sense of community that offers quite a different version and vision of America.

Thanks to Pastor Steve Stone and Dr. Bashar Shala, chairman of the Memphis Islamic center.  They join us tonight in their first joint interview.

And, gentlemen, thank you for doing so.

PASTOR STEVE STONE, HEARTSONG CHURCH:  My pleasure.

DR. BASHAR SHALA:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  I want to get to the threatened Koran building and New York Islamic center and all that—but your experience seemed potentially instructive.  So, let‘s start with this.  As I understand, Pastor Stone, you started this up when you put this sign up in your church—is that correct?

STONE:  Yes.  It was about a year and a half ago, we read in the newspaper that Memphis Islamic center had bought the land adjacent to us, and as fast as we could get up a sign, we put up a big red sign that said, “Welcome to the neighborhood, Memphis Islamic center.”

OLBERMANN:  Dr. Shala, how did you hear about that sign other than perhaps just seeing it there?  I mean, what was your reaction when you heard about it?

SHALA:  Absolutely.  I mean, it was overwhelming.  You couldn‘t miss the sign.  And it was a—really a sign that gave us a lot of joy, a lot of comfort, and told us that we have neighbors that are welcome—that are welcoming us and what followed the sign was even larger and more gracious, those are the actions of the Heartsong Church towards our community.

OLBERMANN:  And that was to let you basically use the—use the hall, correct?

SHALA:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  So, what has your experience been like, Dr. Shala, in Memphis, especially since this controversy has been whipped up over an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan, a couple blocks away from Ground Zero?

SHALA:  I‘ve been in Memphis for over 20 years, and Memphis has been a community of faith.  We really have a very good interfaith relationships.  Just recently and during this month in Ramadan, we had an interfaith dinner event that there was over 450 people from different faiths that shared that dinner together.

There‘s been a lot of support.  The positives overwhelm the negatives. 

And we have a lot of help, especially from our neighbors in our community.

OLBERMANN:  Pastor Stone, this Pastor Jones in Florida says he feels he needs to take a stand against radical Islam and, obviously, whatever he believes in, the god he believes in does not have a problem at least so far with burning the Koran.  If you—if you simply disagree on Christian teaching about this, how do you—how do you reach this man?

SHALA:  I‘m not really sure how you reach him.  The way we try to reach everyone is to have a loving witness to them.  I heard him on a station the other day saying about radical Islamists, that these are people you just cannot reason with.  And I thought that was the pot calling the kettle black.

OLBERMANN:  Beautifully summarized.

Dr. Shala, I know that you have not followed that story in Florida, but the “Associated Press” has reported that in Afghanistan, some Muslims are upset about this and because they seem to believe that—one, the president would have the power to stop it and, two, because he‘s not going to stop it, the Koran burning reflects some sort of official American sentiment.  Apart from the issue of Florida, how do we or how would you convey to Muslims in the Mideast or Afghanistan that our government does permit things to happen even when it disagrees with those things?

SHALA:  Well, Keith, if you don‘t live freedom, it sometimes is hard to fathom what freedom really means.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

SHALA:  And that‘s part of the problem, of communicating with us who do not enjoy what we have.  And what—to me, what it really means for us here in the United States is for us to really understand what this freedom means, how much of a privilege this is, but the responsibility that comes with that privilege and how we are responsible for those who defend our rights to have these freedoms.

OLBERMANN:  Well, given—given your assessment of that, how would, in a broader sense, how would you think America should sell itself essentially to Muslims in the Mideast as a society in which Muslims are free to exercise their rights, not because they‘re Muslims or not Muslims, but because everybody is free to express those rights?

SHALA:  I think I would share positive stories like what we‘re doing here tonight, to show that people have the choice and the freedom to do good and the freedom not to choose not to do good if they want to.

OLBERMANN:  Pastor Stone, how—can you assess for us this equivalence that people like John Boehner and Sarah Palin have drawn between burning a Koran and building an Islamic center?

STONE:  You know, to me it‘s just that the people across the street from us are Muslims and Jesus has taught us to love our neighbor, and they‘re our neighbors, and we‘re loving them and they‘re loving us back.  I don‘t see any—I don‘t see any comparison.

OLBERMANN:  Dr. Shala, since you mentioned that this—that the story like this is a good message to people about what this is really about, is there anything you want to add to our understanding of what‘s going on in Memphis, or in this larger picture that‘s suddenly come upon us in this country?

STONE:  I would just love to see more of the Heartsong Memphis Islamic center stories all over the nation.  And I believe these stories do exist and I would just like to express my gratitude to Pastor Stone and his flock for the loving and welcoming that they have shown us.

And I thank you for having me on your show, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.

And, Pastor Stone, your final thoughts to add to this?

STONE:  It‘s just been our honor to host our neighbors.  And we‘re really enjoying getting to know them.

OLBERMANN:  Dr. Bashar Shala of the Memphis Islamic center, Pastor Steve Stone of the Heartsong Church—many thanks and not just for the interview.

STONE:  Thank you very much.

SHALA:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.

Domestic politics can, as you know, turn on a dime.  Get out your roll of dimes.  The Republicans‘ historic polling lead among registered voters contemplating the congressional vote completely erased in one week.

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OLBERMANN:  His side‘s supposed 10-point poll lead among registered voters vanished in one week, and today, the president beat the orange out of him.

This is would-be junior most member of Ohio‘s Republican congressional delegation.  He thinks civil rights should be left to the states.

Supposedly, this senator met all elected officials, not just himself and his libido when he said, quote, “If you don‘t hold us accountable, we‘ll do some real bad things in Washington, D.C.”

And Scooter Libby is back, now with 75 percent more self-martyrdom—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Just 55 days until the 2010 midterm elections, but nearly 300 since John Boehner started whining about President Obama.  The president fully responded for the first time today and evidently, Boehner has a glass jaw and a proclivity for as he goes down hitting himself in the nose.

In our fourth story: the president not only refused to compromise on extending tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  He basically dared “John of Orange” and his fellow Republicans to insist on those tax breaks.  And indeed, that is part of Mr. Boehner‘s two-step plan to create jobs, unveiled today.

Meantime, the Gallup poll that gave Republicans an unprecedented 10-point edge in the midterm elections has reverted back to zero.  The party is dead even in one week.

To the minority leader‘s home state where the president gave another major speech, depicting the stark political and policy choice for November.  In Cleveland, the president called for tax breaks for businesses, but he offered no compromise on allowing Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans.

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OBAMA:  With all the Republicans‘ talk about wanting to shrink the deficit, they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 each to folks who are already millionaires.

So, let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everybody else: we should not hold middle class tax cuts hostage any longer.  We are ready this week if they want to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less.  That‘s 98 percent, 97 percent of Americans.

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OLBERMANN:  The president correctly noted the Republicans are even blocking ideas they would normally support, including a small business package that is stalled in the Senate.

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OBAMA:  They‘re making the same calculation they made just before my inauguration.  If I fail, they win.  Well, they might think that this will get them to where they want to go in November, but it won‘t get our country going where it needs to go in the long run.  It won‘t get us there.

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OBAMA:  It won‘t get us there.

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OLBERMANN:  Mr. Boehner, meantime, fired the day‘s opening salvo with the release of House Republicans‘ two-step plan on jobs and spending and two-step it is.  Number one: cut non-security related spending to 2008 levels, with some exceptions for programs affecting seniors and veterans.  Number two: freeze all current tax rates for two years.  That would obviously include, yes, the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

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BOEHNER:  Why wouldn‘t we work together to make it clear that all current tax rates will be extended for the next two years?

STEPHANOPOULOS:  So, you‘re open—

BOEHNER:  And what that will do—what that will do is help small businesses who have no clue what the coming tax rates are going to be, gives them some certainty.

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OLBERMANN:  And the very latest now on polls that are predicting doom for the Democrats, except when they don‘t predict that.  The Gallup survey of registered voters on party preference for the midterm elections—last week, it measured the largest Republican advantage in 68 years of Gallup asking that question.  But now, after five weeks of the Republicans in the lead, it‘s back to even.  As we noted then and repeat now, the lead has switched between the two parties more than half a dozen times since just May.

Let‘s turn to the cofounder and editor-in-chief of “The Huffington Post,” Arianna Huffington, also author of the newly -released “Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream.”

Good to see you.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Good to see you.

OLBERMANN:  Did the president draw a line on tax breaks for the wealthy?  Is that it today?  And was there something else going on with him?  Because he looked, to use his phrase, fired up.

HUFFINGTON:  Yes.  He did.  I wish he had been as fired up for the last 20 months as he was today.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

HUFFINGTON:  This was definitely the best speech we‘ve gotten from him since he‘s been in the White House.

There is no question that he drew a clear line in the sand.  It was really like a moat that you fill with water and man-eating crocodiles.  There was absolutely no doubt about it.  And not only that, but he made it very clear that there‘s a lot of hypocrisy going on among those Republican deficit hawks who are willing to extend our deficit to $700 billion over the next 10 years and they keep using these canard about how it‘s going to be good for jobs when, in fact, all that he‘s asking is to put the tax rates back to where they were during the Clinton years when, after all, it didn‘t stop us from creating 22 million jobs.

OLBERMANN:  Right, right.

HUFFINGTON:  So, that is a—that is a really good day.  But as you know, one speech does not change the narrative.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, if he‘s going to change the narrative and it is this contrast and it is as stark and as fired up as that one was, what are the other rich areas to mine?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, he needs to actually keep making it clear that he is for the middle class and the Republicans are not.  And that being for the middle class is not a left wing issue, left wing issue, that this is really the foundation of America.

You know, I‘ve spent a whole year writing this book on the assault on the middle class and making it very clear that nobody, not even the super rich, that John Boehner supports would want to live in a country that is really a third world country when the middle class crumbles and have the super rich and everyone else—super rich living behind gates with their kids protected by security guards against kidnapping.  I mean, that‘s not America.  That‘s not the America of upward mobility, the American Dream.

And, remember, during the campaign, Obama said that the middle class was his North Star.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

HUFFINGTON:  That was really the essence of the campaign.

OLBERMANN:  Then how did the populist premise get purloined by the Tea Party and what does—what do the Democrats to do to get it back before the midterms?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, there is something legitimate about it being purloined because there is legitimate anger, you know?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

HUFFINGTON:  There were things that happened in terms of the very loud, Wall Street being bailed out and Main Street suffering, that Democrats and Republicans were all responsible for allowing that to happen.  It was easier for those who are not in charge, who are not in control of the White House, the House, and the Senate, to be the beneficiaries of that legitimate anger.  Then, of course, the demagogues came in and turned to the illegitimate parts of what they were offering, you know, the anti-immigration sentiment, and basically opposing everything except those who want tax cuts.

But there is still time to change things.  I don‘t know if there is time to change the outcome for November because those cards were dealt a long time ago.  But there is time to change what the country really believes.

OLBERMANN:  But if since May, as we pointed out, that generic House party identification number has changed six times, including going from a record 10-point margin last week for the Republicans, to a tie this week, this may be much more in flux than people are being led to believe.

HUFFINGTON:  Yes.  The key here is we are talking about registered voters.  As we know, the midterm elections are going to be about likely voters.  So, who is going to turn out?  Is it going to be the hyper-enthusiastic Republicans or the more disappointed and frustrated Democrats?  And that‘s really the dynamic that the president has an opportunity to change.

OLBERMANN:  And if he doesn‘t, and we see what—

HUFFINGTON:  And if he doesn‘t, we‘re going to have Speaker Boehner, not a good prospect.

OLBERMANN:  Yes and a third world America.

Arianna Huffington, the author of the book by the same name—again, a pleasure to see you as always.

HUFFINGTON:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And just when you thought it couldn‘t get any dumber, a Republican congressional candidate is suggesting that states should trump federal law on civil rights.  Sure, because that works so well during Jim Crow.

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OLBERMANN:  Civil rights are states‘ rights, says a would-be Republican congressman.  No, no, now—not in 1957, now.

First, the sanity break.  Promo of the day, I‘m on “Late Night with David Letterman” tonight, not bad actually.  Two segments.  Julianna Margulies is the star guest.  Black angels appear.  Paul Shaffer conducts the orchestra.

And the tweet of the day from our friend Andy Borowitz of “Borowitz Report”: “Bad news for that Koran-burning dude in Florida, it‘s available on Kindle.”

And somewhere Pastor Jones just looked up and said, somebody say kindling?  Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in England with the Lutsford (ph) Great Penny Farthing Race.  Every ten years, people from around the globe gather to ride old time bikes.  The race features original dandy horse machines, bone shakers and, of course, penny farthing cycles, also known as bikes with big wheels on them, and something from that Patrick McGewen (ph) series. 

The riders attempt to stay on the bikes and complete as many laps as they can in three hours.  There was some controversy this year after this year‘s winner tested positive for stilts. 

To Taiwan, and look, it‘s Benjamin Disraeli day, honoring the British prime minister who said ambition in politics is like climbing a greasy pole.  No?  Would you believe it‘s the last day of the Chinese Ghost month?  Organizers coated 12 poles with 250 gallons of oil and grease.  After making it rain on the pole the starting drum is hit and they‘re off.  There was much rejoicing. 

Most formed human ladders, though there was the occasional solo artist.  Eventually, Lu Jon Hong (ph) was able to make it to the top and claimed the 939 dollar prize, which unfortunately will not cover either his dry cleaning bill nor get him elected prime minister. 

Finally, to the Internet and a dancing Ken doll.  Researchers from Northumbria University have finally developed scientifically proven dance moves for men.  Everybody take notes.  This is the example of poor dancing.  I‘m looking for my keys.  That doesn‘t look so bad. 

Let‘s see the example of good dancing.  Good dancing, right?  They studied dancers from a ‘70s disco.  No funky chicken?  But if that‘s what researchers say works, who am I to question?  After all, who better to show people how to dance than scientists?  The next time you see someone on the dance floor doing the running man, he is not dancing harder.  He‘s dancing smarter. 

Governor Orville Faubus of Little Rock infamy is smiling somewhere just now.  A Republican candidate for Congress in Ohio insists civil rights and diversity should be left for the states to figure out, next.

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OLBERMANN:  It was the federal government which enforced desegregation in our schools, which passed sweeping civil rights legislation, which has helped chip away at what Martin Luther King called “this air tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”  In our third story, the Republicans seeking to represent Ohio‘s 16th congressional district tells an African-American voter that implementing civil rights and diversity is not the federal government‘s job, but a local issue. 

It happened last night in North Canton, Ohio, at a public event hosted by the Republican candidate for Congress, Jim Renacci.  So public it turned out that even Mr. Renacci‘s opponent, Democratic Congressman John Boccieri, showed up.  And while the local paper highlighted the impromptu debate between the two candidates, the night‘s most important exchange came not from Mr. Renacci and Mr. Boccieri, but from Mr. Renacci and a man named Robert Thompson.

Mr. Thompson says he lives in Canton‘s inner city and is deeply concerned about the issues plaguing his African-American community.  Telling Mr. Renacci, quote, “we‘re suffering out here.”  ThinkProgress.org capturing what followed.

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ROBERT THOMPSON, OHIO VOTER:  Again, I‘m concerned about the civil rights and the diversity of your campaign, in terms of why anybody of color should be in support of you as a congressman. 

JIM RENACCI ®, CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS IN OHIO:  A lot of the problems you‘re talking about are local issues.  And I‘m also a firm believer that the federal government and our Constitution was based on freedom and was based on the freedoms, that our number one goal of our military is freedom. 

We need to get our federal government out of the way.  And we need to allow our local governments to become more involved in many of the issues you‘re talking about.  I don‘t believe that these are federal issues to come down on.  I mean, I believe the federal government needs—its number one goal—it‘s number one goal is to protect our freedoms.

So the answer to your question is I believe a lot of the things need to come back to the local level.  And I believe things like you‘re talking about do need to go back to the local level.  And they need to be looked at in the cities.  I was a mayor of my community.  I think those are important ways of looking at all of that.  And it‘s not the federal government‘s job. 

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OLBERMANN:  Not satisfied with Mr. Renacci‘s response, Mr. Thompson challenged him.  “If it wasn‘t for the federal government, we wouldn‘t have civil rights,” he said. 

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THOMPSON:  It took the federal government to come in and say you can‘t discriminate for housing.  You can‘t discriminate for jobs.  You can‘t discriminate with education.  It took the federal government to step in and do that.  Where does the local government fit in that fight? 

RENACCI:  What you‘re doing is you‘re talking about the past, and I agree with you.  I‘m talking about today. 

THOMPSON:  Oh, these are going away?  Are you saying in 2010 we live in a society that doesn‘t have these ills—woes out there? 

RENACCI:  No, I‘m saying in 2010 we have issues that we need to bring back to the local—

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OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in MSNBC political analyst, “Washington Post” associate editor, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Eugene Robinson.  Gene, good evening. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Here we are.  The Republicans are running a parrot in the Ohio 16th.  He has clearly been told campaign against the federal government, no matter when you can or how often or how asinine it might sound when you apply that argument to something like civil rights.  He is still going to do it.  That‘s as stupid as saying, fighting war should be left to the states.  Get the federal government out of the way of Ohio versus Iraq. 

ROBINSON:  Right.  By the way, figure a way to get Ohio to the war since you don‘t have any interstate highways.  You can‘t drive there.  You don‘t have any air traffic controllers.  You can‘t fly there.  So I guess you can just kind of hurl insults across the border. 

You know, this is a ridiculous position taken by a guy—a candidate who clearly didn‘t read past the first line of the memo.  The second line said but don‘t say anything that stupid. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  Mr. Renacci‘s argument that Mr. Thompson was talking about the past, that his concerns do not apply in 2010; is there a way to then try to figure out how he would explain any number of issues within the African-American community, that range from poverty to the still way too high school drop out rate? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I think, as we just heard, he would not, in fact, try to explain those issues.  He didn‘t want to engage with that at all.  Look, I can—you know, I can spend all evening telling you how well states‘ rights worked in the past, in the ‘50s and ‘60s and before.  So I have some experience on the subject. 

But right now in Virginia, there is an attorney general whose first act was to try to order all the state universities of Virginia to rescind or not enforce their policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation.  That was his first act.  So are there threats to civil rights today?  Obviously there are. 

OLBERMANN:  And what—to what degree is something like what Mr.  Renacci said—how much of this is the rhetoric of everything needs to be local and how much is it that other thing that we‘ve heard from Ken Buck in Colorado, Rand Paul in Kentucky, this notion that, OK, look, there is no more racism here because what kind of country could have racism and an African-American president? 

ROBINSON:  Well, there is a lot of that out there.  Again, I‘m not sure Renacci got past the first sentence of the memo.  But others who did read the whole thing, there seems to be—I get an awful lot of this in my e-mail, essentially saying what more do you people want?  And this idea that we have passed that whole issue—the whole issue of race, not just passed an era, but passed the whole the whole question, that there is nothing else to talk about, is out there and I think being pushed in a way with the feeling that the first African-American president is, ironically, in a weak position to retort. 

OLBERMANN:  But the what more do you people want statement is a tradition as old as this country, itself.  I mean, that was—some version of that was said in some version of e-mail in 1863.  And it was said in 1963 and it got a bucket full of Republicans elected in 1966.  That tradition, which seems even new crazy, is itself old crazy.  Isn‘t it? 

ROBINSON:  It is old crazy.  And, you know, we‘ve managed to get past it time and again.  But it is remarkable I think that in the year 2010 we‘re still facing this sort of question and this sort of, frankly, ignorance about the nation‘s past and about the nation‘s present. 

OLBERMANN:  But, fortunately, the ignorance fostered by a bad educational system is all a local problem. 

ROBINSON:  Oh, yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Gene Robinson of “the Washington Post”, thank you kindly there in the United States of Washington, D.C., which will be all that isn‘t a local problem.  Just your community right there. 

ROBINSON:  Good to talk you to, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks, Gene. 

Scooter Libby, victim of an unjust world.  You know who said that? 

Scooter Libby. 

Two hundred twenty five bucks to hear them talk about patriotism on 9/11.  And they reportedly keep the money?  Worst persons indeed. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she‘ll talk to Meghan McCain about why she called her father‘s running mate, Sarah Palin, the, quote, time bomb, unquote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Days ago, the president addressed the nation, declaring the end of combat operations in Iraq.  The remaining U.S. forces, he said, would assist Iraqi security forces, support the Iraqi troops and protect U.S. civilians. 

Yesterday, two American soldiers were killed and nine others wounded when a gunman opened fire at an Iraqi military base 100 miles north of Baghdad.  The American soldiers were providing security for a company commander who was meeting with Iraqi security forces, according to a statement from the U.S. military.  The attacker was shot and killed by an American soldier. 

There is also news tonight of a federal appeals court dismissing a lawsuit that had sought to deny the CIA the right, in essence, to continue the rendition of alleged terrorism suspects and imprisoning and interrogating them in other countries.  For now, the Obama administration can still do that.  We‘ll examine that at length tomorrow on COUNTDOWN.

Worsts and John Ensign next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The man who blew Valerie Plame‘s cover, Scooter Libby, finally speaks out on the greatest injustice thus far in 21st century America, namely what happened to Scooter Libby.  That‘s next, but first get out your pitchforks and torches; time for tonight‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Tang Lee Ron (ph) of Jonking (ph), in China.  She has sued 200 other residents of that city after a street accident.  “I was walking on the foot path under the building,” she says, “and suddenly a heavy object hit my head she says.  I remember nothing afterwards.”  The heavy object was, in fact, a falling cat.  Tang needed hospitalization and then sued everybody in the apartment building.  By the way, the cat was killed in the fall, thus validating the old cliche‘ about not being able to swing one without hitting someone.  One would hope all 200 people in the apartment sued Tang Lee Ron for killing their cat with her head. 

The runners up, Sister Bendy Straws and Father Flana-Glenn.  While Fox News is blistering the president for not attending the 9/11 commemoration in New York, just as President Bush usually did not attend, what are its two wackiest snake oil salesmen doing?  Performing together in public in Anchorage to, in Palin‘s words, commemorate 9/11.  By getting you to spend 225 dollars for a prime location in their hall and a meet and greet, It‘s 73.75 dollars for the cheap seats. 

But at least it goes to a good cause.  No?  According to the Washington paper “The Hill,” “there was no indication to whom or what the proceeds will go.”  Palin said the event was being held so one could “gather with patriots who will never forget.”  At 225 bucks, what they may never forget is the price.  Mr.  And Mrs. Scam, nice. 

But our winner, Senator John Ensign of Nevada, under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee for sleeping with a campaign worker who was the wife of his chief of staff, and then trying to get them other jobs and cash to silence them, internally investigated by the Republican party for this mess that eventually inspired other senators to force him to write a letter breaking off the affair and drive him to the Fed Ex to make sure he sent it to her.

Senator Ensign told business leaders in Reno that they had to keep a watchful eye on elected officials.  To quote him, “if you don‘t hold us accountable, we‘ll do some real bad things in Washington, D.C.” 

Senator, you think maybe that particular boat has sailed already?  Senator John, “uh-oh, I may be naughty again” Ensign, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It takes a profound set of stones to help draw up plans to invade a country that has not attacked us, then help deceive our own country into believing the war was necessary, and then blow the cover of a CIA agent whose husband dared to point out one of those lies.  But in our number one story Irving Lewis “Scooter” Libby has a larger set of stones than anyone could imagine.  He is now complaining, without any shred of irony, that the world is not just. 

Fox News somehow nabbed an exclusive interview.  Richard Nixon‘s last publicist, Monica Crowley, played the role of sympathetic host.  At one point, Crowley suggesting to Libby, in the premise of a question, that the Justice Department‘s investigation of the Bush White House leak led to increased American fatalities in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONICA CROWLEY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  I know that you had been working on the Iraq surge before this ridiculous politically motivated case against you derailed your effort, and actually set back the Iraq surge program for years, and probably cost us a lot of lives and time in Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Even Scooter Libby couldn‘t let that go.  He admitted the surge took place a year after he resigned from the White House.  On to the subject of the danger posed by a nuclear Iran. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY:  Do you think, Scooter, that the Bush administration made a mistake by not dealing more aggressively with Iran when it had the chance. 

SCOOTER LIBBY, FMR. BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I would say that back in 2003 or so, there was more that might have been done with the Iranian opposition for example.  At that point, they were seven years away from a nuclear weapon.  And as we know, there is a lot going on inside Iran. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If only our government had had a covert operative working on nuclear nonproliferation in Iran back then. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE PLAME, FMR. CIA AGENT:  Our mission was to make sure that the bad guys basically did not get nuclear weapons. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That, of course, was Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose cover was blown by four Bush White House officials, including Scooter Libby in 2003.  The website Raw Story and CBS News confirming in 2007 that one of Plame‘s missions was to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. 

Back to the Libby, quote, interview, unquote.  Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff actually passed on opportunities to bash the current president‘s foreign policy.  So Crowley turned to the absurd witch hunt Libby endured for lying about the outing of a CIA agent. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY:  That absurd political witch hunt that you were subjected to during the Valerie Plame case—your sentence was commuted, but you never did in fact get a pardon.  Are you still hopeful that eventually you might get a pardon? 

LIBBY:  Well, Monica, I worked 13 years, maybe 12, something like that, for the federal government on national security.  In that time, I met Czechs who had their lives stunted under communism.  I met Kurds who had suffered under the atrocities of Saddam Hussein.  I met American families who had lost kids overseas. 

I learned two things from this.  One is the world is not just.  And the second is it doesn‘t do a lot of good to whine. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Fine.  We‘ll concede the point.  If it were a just world, you would have actually gone to jail for the felonies you committed. 

Joining me now, David Corn, Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” Magazine and columnist for “Politics Daily,” who is here with us for a change.  Good to see you. 

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s continue to concede the Libby point.  As far as holding the Bush administration accountable for the Iraq War, in a just world, fill in the bank. 

CORN:  I think George W. Bush would be volunteering in a hospital in Baghdad.  And I think Dick Cheney would be sponsoring 3,000 or so Iraqis at his vacation home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  That maybe would happen in a little more just world than the one we have. 

OLBERMANN:  We have seen other Iraq war architects doing victory laps, despite the fact that there was no victory.  Is this—was that—last night, was that the Libby victory lap or the beginning of the Libby victory lap? 

CORN:  Scooter Libby is not a good poster child for the Iraq war.  I mean, despite what Monica Crowley tried to do last night—

OLBERMANN:  Monica Crowley, PHD. 

CORN:  He was found guilty in a courtroom in Washington, D.C.  I was there every single day covering the trial—of lying to FBI investigators.  You know, this wasn‘t a political thing.  The FBI guys were damned ticked off because he had lied to them when they were given the job of dealing with a very sensitive security leak. 

And who started that leak—investigation?  It wasn‘t the Democrats. 

It was the Bush Justice Department.  And it was requested by the Bush CIA. 

So this whole political thing is really not true. 

OLBERMANN:  There was a great gag done by a British comedy troupe called “The Young Ones,” totally, utterly politically incorrect, that involved self-crucifixion.  And one of the characters telling the other one, as he was there, saying, you know, I‘ve tried this.  You can never get the last nail in yourself.  It is disgusting and grotesque and offensive.  But when you think about people like G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North, who committed crimes under Republican administrations and become folk heroes, is that what we‘re—is Scooter Libby now another one of these martyred Republican heroes? 

CORN:  The difference is I think Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy were men of action.  I think of illegal action, but they were out in the field.  And G. Gordon Liddy talked about killing journalists.  I mean, they were—

Scooter Libby was an arm chair warrior, like—neo-conservatives tend not to make good folk heroes.  So I don‘t think he‘s going to have thousands of people, millions of people buying his book or listening to a Scooter Libby talk show. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, yeah.  And the Liddy point, obviously, he has had to keep his hand over a flame. 

CORN:  There‘s some entertainment value to that. 

OLBERMANN:  The first part of it I was having a little trouble with when you point out that‘s a good card act.  Do we have predictions?  As you said, you were there for every moment of the trial.  Is there something next for Libby?  Was this a TV audition?  Is he going to write more novels about bears and cages?  What has he got next?

CORN:  If he is going to write more novels, it won‘t be a political thriller about a president who lies his way to war.  Believe it or not, I‘ve never been in rehab.  But from what I understand, they advise you to take small steps.  Going on Fox News with Monica Crowley was really quite a small step for Scooter Libby.  And so how far it goes from here—he‘s been sitting in think tanks getting paid by conservative funders for the last few years.  I don‘t see a big role for him ahead. 

OLBERMANN:  But the small step, he was practically begged by Monica Crowley, PHD, to go after the current president and he didn‘t.  Was that a small step? 

CORN:  That was kind of interesting, because he didn‘t come out like a Dick Cheney or a Liz Cheney and talk about that.  So maybe that‘s part of his rehab.  You know, small steps, Scooter, small steps.  You can go after the president maybe by the time you get to Hannity. 

OLBERMANN:  David Corn of “Mother Jones,” a pleasure to see you in the flesh, sir. 

CORN:  Good to be here, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That is September 8th.  It is the 2,687th day since President Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq, the 2,276th day since he declared victory in Afghanistan, and the 142nd day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

And now congratulations in order.  Two years and counting.  Ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.  And you don‘t look a day older than zero. 

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

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