updated 1/3/2011 5:21:19 PM ET 2011-01-03T22:21:19

Guest Host: Sam Seder

Guests: James Pethokoukis, David Dayen, Sen. Tom Udall

           

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SAM SEDER, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

If you thought the GOP was finished making the rich richer, think again.  From busting unions to bankrupting states, how the right‘s fight on entitlements is putting more money at the top.

Fighting the filibuster.  Fed up with repeated GOP obstruction—the returning Democrats in the Senate sign a letter asking Harry Reid to enact reform filibuster reform at the start of the New Year.  Our guest:

Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.

Post-holiday headache—

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All our plans, thrown out the window.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to go home.

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SEDER:  The latest details, as over a foot of snow, from the Carolinas to Maine, virtually paralyzes travel and has most of the East Coast in a big day.

Birther buster: Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie tries to put to rest the ridiculous theories questioning the president‘s place of birth.

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GOV. NEIL ABERCROMBIE (D), HAWAII:  I‘m going to do what is legally possible to put those who want to disrespect the president and his parents in the proper light, which is to say they have a political agenda, not worthy of any good American.

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SEDER:  And nationality aside, questions of his religious affiliation linger.  COUNTDOWN‘s special investigation: Is the president a secret Muslim?  Here‘s a hint: no.

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KEITH OLBERMANN, COUTNDOWN HOST:  Only faces Mecca from way downtown.

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SEDER:  All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Assalamu Alaikum.

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SEDER:  Good evening, from New York.  I‘m Sam Seder, in for Keith Olbermann.  This is Monday, December 27th, 680 days until the 2012 presidential election.  And nine days until the new Congress convenes, including the new speaker of the House, the man who will set the congressional agenda for the next two years, Republican John Boehner.

In our fifth story tonight, with the lame duck Congress gone, we have an emerging picture of GOP plan for the economy—force states into bankruptcy, literally.

Nine days after midterm elections, former Speaker Newt Gingrich said a speech he hopes the new Republican House will pass legislations allowing states to file for bankruptcy, which they now cannot do.  According to “Slate,” Gingrich said he would write the law to prohibit bankruptcy judges from ordering states to fix their money problems by raising taxes.

Before the month was out, the right-wing magazine, “The Weekly Standard,” had promoted Gingrich‘s call to let states file for bankruptcy.  Why would Republicans want states to go bankrupt?

On December 7th, our next guest, “Reuters‘” columnist, James Pethokoukis, wrote that congressional Republicans, quote, “appear to be quietly but methodically executing a plan that would cripple public employee unions by pushing cash-strapped states such as California and Illinois to declare bankruptcy.  This may be the biggest political battle in Washington, of 2011.”

Any evidence of that?  Last week‘s “Slate‘s” report quoted Tea Party, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz promising, quote, “I‘m going to introduce a new resolution when the new Congress begins stating that the House will not bail out state budgets.”

And it‘s not just states facing the budget ax.  Republican Senator Tom Coburn said yesterday he could easily cut $100 billion to $200 billion from the federal budget, and warned that without even more cuts, the apocalypse will happen.  What?  Don‘t believe me?

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SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  I told you the other evening that if we didn‘t take some pain now, we‘re going to experience apocalyptic pain.  And it‘s going to be—and the idea should be that we control it.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Well, I was going to say, let‘s talk about that.  You say you don‘t want to scare people.  Go ahead and scare people, Senator.  You scared me the other night when we happened to be at a dinner together.

How bleak do you think our financial and economic picture in this country will be over the next decade, if we don‘t get serious about cutting spending?

COBURN:  I think you‘ll see a 15 percent to 18 percent unemployment rate.  I think you‘ll see an 8 percent to 9 percent decline in GDP.  I think you‘ll see the middle class just destroyed if we don‘t do this.  And the people that it will harm the most will be the poorest of the poor because we‘ll print money to try to debase our currency and get out of it.  And what you‘ll see is hyperinflation.

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SEDER:  In fact, our debt is so bad, that last week, the new leaders of the House, announced new rules for all budget items, making it easier—you heard me—easier for the U.S. to go further into debt.  Unlike the current rules, the new Republican rule will allow the House to pass only one kind of budget measure, without paying for it.  Tax cuts.

So, Boehner will be able to raise the debt for cutting taxes, but not for spending more on services.  And if he does want to spend more on services, that does have to be paid for somehow, except by raising taxes.  This, as “Think Progress” reports that the new House liaison with regulators, trying to rein in the shadow market and derivatives, comes from her former job as a lobbyist for the multitrillion dollar shadow market in derivatives.

As promised, let‘s bring in James Pethokoukis, money and politics columnist for “Reuters” and a contributor at CNBC.

Thanks for joining us tonight, James.

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS, REUTERS:  Thanks for having me on.  Appreciate it.

SEDER:  Now, did I get the contours of your story right?  This is a purposeful plan to start letting states and cities file for bankruptcy and force some of them into doing so by cutting off funding.

PETHOKOUKIS:  Yes, listen, it‘s a three-step plan.

First, right now, the government is subsidizing hundreds of billions of dollars in state debt.  States are trying to borrow money.  It‘s hard because their finances are in bad shape.  So, the government is helping subsidize it.  Republicans want to stop it.

Two, Republicans want to introduce a bill which states have to be more upfront about their long-term public employee pension costs.

And then the third part of it is, as you said, letting states declare bankruptcy.  If they‘re able to do that, Republicans hope that that they can then rewrite a lot of existing union contracts.  So, they‘d have to pay a lot less money in future health care pension benefits, not only to future employees, but existing retirees.

SEDER:  So, this is a plan the Republicans have had for some time because you mention that the federal government, for the stimulus, was essentially subsidizing some loans on the state level.  That‘s the Build America Bonds Program.

PETHOKOUKIS:  Build American Bonds Program.

SEDER:  Tell us a little bit about that.

PETHOKOUKIS:  Build America Bonds Program, basically, it‘s a government subsidy so states don‘t have to pay as much of interest on these bonds.  Republicans have killed that in this continuing budget resolution.  Democrats put it in, Republicans take it out.  Democrats put it in, Republicans take it out.

In 2011, Democrats are going to slip it in again.  The Republicans don‘t want it.  They want to make it harder for states to borrow.

So, what do states have to do?  Well, maybe they have to, you know, raise taxes or cut spending or perhaps declare bankruptcy.  Wait, they can‘t declare bankruptcy.  Republicans are going to change the rules.  They will make it easier for them to declare bankruptcies, especially in states that already perhaps have Republican governors who would like to use that tool to Chris Christie of New Jersey.

SEDER:  So, I mean, is this—this essentially is a plan to—like a frontal assault on unions.

PETHOKOUKIS:  Listen, there‘s economic basis for this which they don‘t want to bail out the states and force them to make tough decisions.

But listen, is there a political part to this?  Yes.  Unions.  Unions give to Democrats.  They give $85 million to Democrats in the midterms.

Republicans want to defund these unions, shrink them and reduce their political influence.  Absolutely.

SEDER:  But, James, now you say that there‘s an economic argument for this.  Isn‘t it really more political?  Because, I mean, in fact, the CBO said that the stimulus, basically, the Build America Bonds Program, any money that went to states not for infrastructure, were some of the most stimulative of the entire stimulus package.

PETHOKOUKIS:  Well, what I was really referring to is this overall, states have huge fiscal problems they have to make decisions about.  They owe maybe $3 trillion in these pension benefits.  I don‘t think they‘re going to be able to come up with the $3 trillion.  Something is going to have to be done.

And what Republicans do not want to spend the money.  They don‘t want to bail out the states and let the states off the hook from making tough decisions, whether it‘s raising taxes, whether it‘s cutting the spending.  And this is part of the plan.

SEDER:  Well, so what happens?  I mean, let‘s say the states actually do go into bankruptcy and they start making all sorts of these cuts.  What happens to the quality of life?  What happens to services?  In fact, isn‘t that un-stimulative of the economies?

PETHOKOUKIS:  Well, they have to make some decisions.  States have not been declaring bankruptcy because they can‘t.  Local governments have.  And what they‘ve done is I think as you‘ve just said, they‘ve cut services.

One thing they have not done so much is try to rewrite these union contracts.  They‘ve been reluctant to do it.  I think if you have—if you let states do it, let‘s say if you have states with Republican governors, if they were able to rewrite these contracts, you‘d see a more likely happen at the local level.  And the public employees would take the hit.

So, listen, someone has to take the hit here.  Do you cut services?  You raise taxes?  Or you cut the services to these unions?  You know, choose.

SEDER:  Right.  And I guess, I mean, one is basically attacking old people used to work for the states and the cities.

But—all right.  Well, CNBC‘s James Pethokoukis, thank you so much for joining us.

PETHOKOUKIS:  You bet.

SEDER:  Let‘s turn to David Dayen.  He‘s a writer for the blog, FireDogLake.com.

David, good evening.  So—

DAVID DAYEN, FIREDOGLAKE.COM:  Thank you for having me.

SEDER:  Thanks for joining us.

So, crippling some of the strongest unions in the country, you‘re slashing social services, and you‘re essentially immunizing tax levels against increases.  It sounds like a perfect GOP plan, doesn‘t it?

DAYEN:  Absolutely.  I mean, you know, I don‘t think that certain Republican governors really have to be pushed very hard by the Congress to want to rewrite the union contracts, you know?  You have a series of Republican governors who were swept in 2010, in states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, elsewhere across the country.  And they certainly are going to have a shortfall.

I think the national conference of state legislators predicted about $118 billion shortfall in 2011.  Certainly, we‘re not going to see any fiscal aid coming from the federal government, to help out the states.  So, they‘re going to look at union contracts.  It‘s the culmination of a very long demonization campaign against public employees and particularly public employee unions, over the last several years.

And, you know, the politics, I think Republicans feel are with them, if they want to try to restructure these contracts.

SEDER:  And so, when we look at all these state and municipal shortfalls in their budgets, how responsible are unions for this type of budget problems?

DAYEN:  Well, I mean, you know, it‘s hard to say.  The biggest driver of state budget shortfalls, without question, is the Great Recession, and the declining tax revenues that come from massive unemployment.

So, if you want to blame state workers who are doing their job for the fact that there‘s 12 percent, 13 percent unemployment in some states, I don‘t know how far that gets you.  I mean, it‘s the same thing with, you know, pension funds, which have been, you know, seen their portfolios go down, because of the stock market crash in 2008.

You can maybe blame pension funds for being bad investors.  But I don‘t know what the good investors, where they were, in the last several years, you know?  Certainly in 2008.

SEDER:  So, what happens if states were forced into bankruptcy?  I mean, assuming that their state constitutions allowed it to happen.  What happens then?

DAYEN:  Well, I‘m not sure.  As your last guest said, you know, you‘d have to pass a law in the Congress.  There‘s a 1930s era law that bans states from going into bankruptcy.  So, first, you have to get through that hurdle.  Then, certain states have certain conditions on what gets service first, in terms of what services they have to fund first constitutionally.

If it happens, I mean, I think that this is certainly designed to go after public employee union contracts.  The sanctity of contracts apparently doesn‘t apply to unions.  It applies to, you know, maybe other contracts out there, maybe the ones on Wall Street.  But certainly, not unions.

So, I think, with or without a change in the law, you‘re going to see a lot of states, particularly with Republican governors, go after this.

SEDER:  And so, you know, we‘ve just had the president sign an $800 billion tax cut package, and including the Republican tax cuts for the rich, which were supposedly to stimulate the economy.  Now, Republicans want to cut spending, which will undermine whatever stimulative effect that the tax cuts had.  It‘s almost as if the tax cuts are an end rather than a means.

DAYEN:  Absolutely.  I mean, you can‘t look at any of this in a vacuum.  We only have a continuing resolution to fund the government until March 4th.  And after that time, the Republican House is going to be able to try to get concessions.  They want to cut spending by up to 20 percent.  And, you know, whatever stimulative properties were in the tax cut deal, are going to be canceled, one, by the state budget shortfall.  And two, by whatever spending concessions that you‘re going to end up getting when the Republican House and the president come into confrontation.

So, you know, you had to weigh that in analyzing whether you thought the law, the tax cut deal, was a good deal or not.

SEDER:  Right.  I guess we‘re going to have to wait and see just how strongly President Obama will stand up to these cuts.

DAYEN:  Absolutely.  I mean, he could say right now that he‘s not going to sign anything that undermines the economy.  It‘s really up to him.

And certainly, major spending cuts at a time when investment is on the sidelines, and exports were in a trade imbalance, you know, government spending is where this economy has to be driven through.  And certainly, those spending cuts would undermine a very fragile recovery.  And so, it‘s really up to him at this point how he‘s going to fight on this.

SEDER:  David Dayen of FireDogLake.com, many thanks.

DAYEN:  Thank you.

SEDER:  Every Democratic senator is onboard, time for filibuster reform.  What it means and what it will take, next.

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SEDER:  The idea that if you make a filibuster harder to start and maintain, fewer senators will try it.  One of the guys with this idea, Senator Tom Udall, joins us next.

And it shut down the East Coast and left thousands stuck in airports and train stations across the country.  The best and the worst we saw of blizzard 2010.

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SEDER:  It ended up being the most active Congress since the days of President Lyndon Johnson.  But it proved once and for all that the Senate, as it now operates, is almost hopelessly broken.  Whether or not both those statements are true, there‘s now growing support among Democrats to make the Senate a little less dysfunctional.

In our fourth story: filibuster reform.  One of its leading proponents, Senator Tom Udall joins me in a moment.

The next best chance for Democrats to affect any kind of reform will come in January, at the beginning of the 112th Congress.  And in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, all Democratic senators returning next year have made it clear they support reform.

Reid is in active discussions with his caucus about reform, this according to a senior Democratic aide speaking to Greg Sargent.  A leading proposal would make it harder to filibuster a bill, even before it goes up for debate.  And it would stop secret holds in which one senator can anonymously block action on a bill.

Spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told “The National Journal” that Democrats might regret changing the rules if they wind up in the minority in two years.  What that spokesman failed to note, however, was that McConnell and his party have filibusters more bills in the past two years than in any other two-year period in the Senate‘s recent history.

Republicans even filibustered bills that eventually passed with near unanimity, just for the sake of slowing things down and wasting time, part of the object of filibuster reform is transparency.

As Senator Claire McCaskill put it, quote, “There needs to be changes to the rules, to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation, instead of people being able to quietly object and say, ‘I object,‘ and go home.”

Joining me now, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, also a member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

Good evening, Senator.

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO:  Good evening, Sam.  Good to be with you.

SEDER:  Thank you.  Now, can you explain what kind of filibuster perform you and your colleagues are looking for here?

UDALL:  Well, we‘ve been building real consensus in the Senate.  And I think we‘re looking at a couple of things.  First of all would be what I would call a talking filibuster so that if you‘re going to be in opposition, you actually have to stand up and talk.  Now, we just have delay and obstruction, senators hiding out in the shadows, and not even letting people know what they‘re blocking.

The second thing—we have a hard time getting on to a bill because we have a process where you object, before we‘re on the bill, with a motion to proceed.  And you filibuster the motion to proceed.  I think there should be limited debate on that.  And we get directly on to the bill because many of these bills, the American people want to see something done on these issues.

And the final issue is the one that you mentioned in the preview there, is the issue of secret holds.  Here, you have one senator holding up the entire United States Senate, as a result of a secret hold given to the leader.  And the leader protects that hold and says to the majority leader, if you bring this bill up, if you bring this nomination up, if you bring a judge nomination up, we are going to filibuster and make you go through every hurdle and take two weeks of time.

And so, that‘s the situation we‘re in.  And it‘s true.  The Senate and the Congress, and the president, have accomplished a lot.  But in the course of doing that, and these filibusters, we‘ve about broken the Senate.  And we‘re determined to bring it back and have it be functional and be responsive to the American people.  That‘s really what we‘re trying to do here.

SEDER:  So, the measures you‘re talking about, essentially have to do with transparency.  Have you considered something that may go even further?  Like lowering the number of senators needed to overcome a filibuster?

UDALL:  Well, we are taking the filibuster off of the motion to proceed.  So, that‘s one step of filibuster that we eliminate.  But most of the rest of it, at this point, you‘re right, is transparency.  It‘s about accountability.

So, we‘re saying to who‘s ever coming in, the next time around, in two years, we‘re going to change the rules now, and try to be a better Senate and a more functional Senate.  But in two years, if the rules don‘t work, then we can take another look at them.

And that‘s really the key to this, is on the first day, we are able, through the Constitution, to take a good, hard look at the rules and make the changes that need to be made.  And that‘s the thing that I‘ve really championed over the last couple of years, is letting people know that the Senate has the authority to look at its rules.  We call it the constitutional option.  And amend those rules as appropriate.

SEDER:  So, without getting bogged down, you know, too much in the procedural minutia, is it realistic that you‘re going to get some of that filibuster reform at the beginning of the next session?

UDALL:  Well, as you said, when you talked about the letter of all Democratic senators to Senator Reid, our majority leader, this is—it‘s a big move for all Democratic senators to tell Senator Reid, number one, the rules are broken.  Number two, we want you to do something about it.  We want you to negotiate with the Republicans and see if we can‘t find a way in this new Congress to do things differently.

We would hope it would be bipartisan.  If it‘s not going—if it‘s not going to be, and they don‘t want to negotiate at all or make any rules changes, then there‘s a good group of us that are determined to go to the floor and address some of the real problems that are there.  And I feel—

I feel very strong about the group that is behind this effort, where—we stand for reform.  We stand for change.  And we stand for really shaking the Senate up a little bit and getting it to respond to what the American people want.

SEDER:  You know, considering that it‘s inevitable that both parties end up in the minority at one time or another, have you considered how these reforms might affect Democrats‘ ability to stop Republican legislation or conservative judicial appointments in the future?  I mean, are you shooting yourself in the foot politically here?

UDALL:  I don‘t think so.  I served in the minority eight years in the House of Representatives.  I very much believe in protecting minority rights.  The Senate has a fine tradition of protecting the ability of the minority to speak out.

But we don‘t want to protect obstruction, delay, and just slowing down of the process to no useful purpose.  And that‘s why we‘re trying to say, if you‘re going to obstruct, if you‘re going to oppose something, you have to come out of the shadows.  You have to go to the floor of the Senate and tell the American people why you‘re slowing everything down.

And it‘s just like, Sam, you know, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  I think most Americans saw that movie.  And, really, what that was all about, is he was really uncomfortable with something that was going on, with the direction that the Senate was moving.  And he stood up for a long period of time, tried to rouse the American people to his cause.

And that‘s what we want to see.

SEDER:  Well, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, thanks for your time tonight.

UDALL:  Thank you.  Real pleasure.

SEDER:  Coming up, why the new governor of Hawaii wants to make shutting down birthers a priority in the New Year.

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SEDER:  Find out which day of the week you can expect to see a loved one coming from or getting back to the East Coast, next.

First, time for a little sanity break.  It was on this day in 1831 that British naturalist Charles Darwin embarked on a journey to the Pacific.  Darwin‘s voyage on the HMS Beagle led to several discoveries that ended up forming the basis of his theory of evolution.  He also carved some time out to come up with the design for this bumper sticker. 

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Chimba Balika (ph), Peru, with the annual fighting festival the locals call Takanuki (ph).  Loosely translated, the fighting method.  Yes, instead of third-party arbitration or simply settling grievances on a case by case basis peacefully throughout the year, the people Chimba Balika hold it all inside until Christmas day, when they can beat the heck out of each other in front of a roaring crowd. 

It‘s the Carl Paladino method of dispute resolution.  The boxing is bare-knuckled.  Kicking below the belt is above the board.  And the Takanuki festival is open to men, women and children alike.  Combatants hug before and after the fight, to ensure no hard feelings.  And when all the fights are finished, everybody dances. 

Is that so bad? 

Over to a cave in Israel, where scientists claim to have found the holy grille.  Actually nothing holy about it.  It‘s just really old.  Researchers from Tel Aviv University claim to have found the oldest remains of a homo sapiens ever, in an Israeli cave.  At an estimated 400,000 years old, this would double the old record for human remains found in Ethiopia.  Still, this could be a Neanderthal tooth.  Scientists say further research is needed to solidify the claim, even though four out of five dentists agree, this molar is super old. 

Finally, a little classic Oddball, and a reminder to those of you still digging your cars out of the snow.  Please note, before you hitch your car up and yank it out of the driveway, some bumpers are all-plastic.  And some friends will put anything on the Internets. 

Ooh.  It‘s winter.  It snows.  Usually not like this, and usually not on one of the busiest travel days of the year.  Estimated time of snow removal, next. 

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SEDER:  A belated Christmas gift for holiday travelers around the country, courtesy of climate change.  Our third story tonight, the northeast covered in snow, about two feet of it in the New York City area, making this winter‘s first blizzard the largest since last February‘s infamous Snowmageddon. 

While perhaps counterintuitive to the phrase global warming, climate researchers say that melting ice caps in the Arctic are to blame for the severe trend in severe snowstorms.  With thousands of flights canceled, this impact of this storm reaches far beyond the eastern seaboard.  NBC‘s Jeff Rossen has more. 

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JEFF ROSSEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The day started like this: exhausted travelers sleeping at Laguardia.  The airport closed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I could shave and get a nice park bench, I‘ll be happy. 

ROSSEN:  This evening, they‘re still sleeping in the terminal.  But there‘s still hope. 

(on camera):  Laguardia says they‘ll have one runway open tonight. 

What do you think? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think having a runway open is pretty meaningless unless you have planes to be using that runway.  And if you have ten runways and no planes, it‘s meaningless. 

ROSSEN (voice-over):  She‘s right.  Planes were flown out of town ahead of the storm to avoid getting stuck.  At Laguardia, the gates are empty. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You hear the weatherman say that the blizzard is over.  But for us, it isn‘t. 

ROSSEN:  Just because the airports are open doesn‘t mean the airlines can or will fly.  Today, Delta canceled 875 flights.  U.S. Airways canceled 690 flights.  American, 509 flights, pre-canceling another 40 for tomorrow.  That‘s on top of the 2,000 cancellations in the northeast Sunday.  The backup is rippling from Atlanta. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All I want to do is go home. 

ROSSEN:  To Washington, D.C. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m hoping my flight gets out today. 

ROSSEN:  All the way to Los Angeles. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All of our plans thrown out the window.  We‘re going to do everything we can to make our vacation happen, but Mother Nature, she‘s in charge. 

ROSSEN:  Airport crews are working around the clock, clearing runways and deicing aircraft, hoping to resume normal operations some time tomorrow. 

(on camera):  Any idea when you‘re getting home? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re confirmed to go out on Wednesday. 

ROSSEN:  Today‘s Monday. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah. 

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SEDER:  That was NBC‘s Jeff Rossen.  Let‘s check out what‘s happening now with our friends from the Weather Channel.  Joining us now from Laguardia Airport, New York City, is Eric Fisher, and near Independence Mall in Philadelphia is Jim Cantore. 

Eric, let‘s start with you.  Now, let me say for the record that I love my family.  But I understand that there‘s some other people visiting their relatives who may not feel the same way.  When do they get to go home? 

ERIC FISHER, THE WEATHER CHANNEL:  That‘s a great question that thousands of people are asking tonight.  This has been the scene, Sam, since we got here, about 5:00 on Sunday afternoon.  No one going in and out of Laguardia. 

You can see what it looks like at the moment.  We have the snow on the ground.  They just plowed a single lane.  They‘re really not prepared for the heavy traffic yet, either, because they have to go through with the plows tonight and get things cleared up. 

We did find one plane taking off about 15 minutes ago from JFK.  It was headed over to Germany, as a matter of fact.  Here, it has been a quiet night.  The skies are very peaceful. 

The travelers are not peaceful.  They‘re sleeping on cots.  They‘re at area hotels.  And they might be trapped here until Wednesday or Thursday.  I even talked to one fellow today who said he was just going to drive to Chicago.  He thought that would be quicker than actually taking a flight out of here and waiting to see when he could actually get on target. 

The gusty winds today blowing the snow all over the runways.  The crews trying to keep up after it.  But with 50-mile-per-hour gusts, you‘re talking about an impossible situation.  It will be much better tomorrow.  But it won‘t be much better for the travelers.  I would still expect big delays. 

We‘ve had nearly 5,000 canceled flights since this whole episode began on Saturday.  That‘s a big backlog that they need to work through. 

So the morning scene I think will look much different than what we‘re looking at tonight, as people try to get to their destinations.  Also think of the fact that if you‘re trapped here for three or four days, a hotel room in New York City, 200 to 300 dollars a night.  So it‘s a financial burden, as well, that we‘re going to be talking about. 

So expect the delays tomorrow.  Wednesday, we hope that things will be looking a little better.  And then by Thursday, hopefully, life will be back to normal in the Big Apple. 

Down to our south and Philadelphia.  Jim Cantore has been standing by. 

He‘s been keeping tabs on what is happening in the City of Brotherly Love.  Tonight, still some headaches.  And we have some football to play tomorrow night, Jim. 

JIM CANTORE, THE WEATHER CHANNEL:  Yeah.  They‘re definitely ready for that.  Obviously, a much-improved forecast, as temperatures even warm up a little bit from where we were last night.  That‘s for sure.

But the deal is we can almost take the ripple effects of what‘s going on with the aircraft over the past couple of days right down here to Philadelphia, where over 1,000 flights over the last couple of days have been canceled. 

But the good news is Mayor Nutter pretty much put it on the line.  He said, look, we‘re going to be on this thing before it starts, during it and afterward.  That‘s exactly what they did.

We‘ve been here since 3:00 this morning.  And they have everybody shoveling sidewalks through the subway steps, everything.  For the most part, when the sun came out about noontime, it was just amazing to watch all of the snow, especially in some of these areas, begin to melt. 

Again, the big caution to most people tonight is as the temperatures go down, which they are doing, a lot of these areas that have melted will now refreeze.  That‘s the caution for everybody, whether you‘re here in Philadelphia or anywhere across the Northeast, or even the South, Sam, which is still dealing with the snow. 

So after this big cold blast, we look ahead to the future.  A warm up next week, where, believe it or not, some parts of the Gulf Coast could actually see 80 degrees.  Back to you. 

SEDER:  Sounds good.  Jim Cantore and Eric Fisher with the Weather Channel, thank you both for your time tonight. 

Coming up, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie wants the birther meme shut down for good.  His idea on how to do it and why it may not matter to Birthers is ahead. 

And when COUNTDOWN wondered how people could believe the president was a socialist, Marxist, Muslim, Communist Kenyan, we went looking for the answers.  The COUNTDOWN investigation uncovers all.  And by all, we mean all the stuff we made up. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she‘ll take you through a look back at 2010.  Her most memorable stories of the year, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SEDER:  As the governor of Hawaii reveals his proposal on how to deal with Birthers, the movement‘s self-anointed queen offers hers.  Orly Tates says she‘s willing to debate the governor on President Obama‘s birth certificate on national TV.  And, quote, “let the American people decide.” 

And in our number two story, entertainment factor aside, could this latest effort to discredit Birthers backfire.  Hawaii‘s Democratic governor, former Congressman Neil Abercrombie, wants to take care of Birthers, those that believe President Obama was not born in the U.S., by getting additional documentation released. 

The governor telling “the New York Times,” “it‘s an emotional insult. 

It‘s disrespectful to the president.  It‘s disrespectful to the office.” 

Abercrombie met Mr. Obama‘s parents while working as a teaching assistant at the University of Hawaii.  Telling “the Times” “they would bring their infant son to social events.” 

The White House won‘t comment on the effort.  And Abercrombie says he will move forward regardless of the administration‘s wishes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. NEIL ABERCROMBIE (D), HAWAII:  This is a matter of principle with me.  I knew his mom and dad.  I was here when he was born.  Anybody who wants to ask the question honestly could have had their answer already. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEDER:  The governor says he‘s in talks with the state‘s attorney general and Department of Health to see what can be done to further prove that Mr. Obama was born in a Honolulu hospital in 1961.  Birth records are protected by state law—state privacy law.  And the “Honolulu Star Advertiser” reports that requests for Mr. Obama‘s birth certificate are up this month, diverting state personnel and resources to handle the inquiries. 

Which brings us back to Orly Tates DDS, esquire.  Mr. Tates tells the “Guardian Newspaper” even if all documents were released, she needs further convincing.  “To me, this sounds like a very coordinated effort.  As soon as friends of the Obama family gets into the governor‘s office, he has access to all of the documents.  I would put nothing past this establishment.” 

Ms. Tates says she might stop full time birthering if she and a private detective are given access to the original paperwork and allowed to conduct tests. 

Joining me now is MSNBC contributor and “Slate” political reporter Dave Weigel.  Thanks for your time tonight, Dave.

DAVE WEIGEL, “SLATE”:  Thank you, Sam. 

SEDER:  Now, when the rationale for the Birther movement isn‘t based on evidence, will releasing additional documentation satisfy any Birthers?  Or will they just listen to Orly Tates?

WEIGEL:  No, they actually have not yet to be satisfied by anything.  If you remember—and I don‘t know why you would remember, because you have a lot of free time on your hands—Birtherism began because the Obama campaign put out the short version of the birth certificate that you can get if you lose yours and you don‘t want to go through a lot more fuss.  The one that‘s public, the one that says born here, Island County Hospital, all of the information is basic.  But it doesn‘t have a baby‘s footprint on it. 

And they really thought that was the end of it.  They put this on their website.  That is what started the Birther movement.  So feeding this frenzy—well, I just completed my own sentence.  That feeds the frenzy.  Acknowledging that you need to prove something else just lets them prove—argue that they need even more. 

This is not how conspiracies usually end.  The Warren Commission did not convince people that—who want to believe another theory of JFK‘s assassination that there was a—that their theory was incorrect. 

SEDER:  Right.  I guess the strangest thing to me is how is it that Birthers assume that the Obama administration, or whoever it is, has the ability to forge a certificate of live birth?  But for some reason, they don‘t have the ability to forge a birth certificate? 

WEIGEL:  You‘re previewing what they would say if all of the information came out.  If somebody—this is a request that‘s been going for a long time, since 2008, and the into 2009, when these guys were making the request.  Just let us in there with a detective and let us check out the original document in a vault.  That‘s what Abercrombie is hinting towards. 

I don‘t think that would solve anything.  The way that FactCheck.org debunked all this was going and getting permission to view the long form birth certificate in its—sorry, the short term in its paper form.  These guys weren‘t convinced by that. 

You mentioned Orly Tates and this one fringe of Birthers who don‘t actually think this stuff matters.  If this is disproven, they‘re going to argue that Obama is not a citizen because his father, who Neil Abercrombie knew in college, was a Kenyan national.  And there‘s just a million theories.  You‘re never going to convince these people that it didn‘t happen.

It‘s a fool‘s errand.  It‘s a very nice thing to do.  And it‘s frustrating, if you‘re a Democrat, especially if you‘re a Democrat who knows Hawaiian history, to keep arguing this.  But there‘s no end to it.  You‘re going to have these people, and you‘re going to have state legislators asking for more information, starting all over again, in 2011.  That‘s what I think the governor‘s worried about. 

SEDER:  Sounds like fun.  Well, MSNBC contributor Dave Weigel, thanks

for your time tonight.  >

WEIGEL:  Thank you. 

SEDER:  The deep background on how a secret non-American Muslim got all the way to the White House.  The COUNTDOWN investigation, one of our favorites in 2010, next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SEDER:  As we reported in the previous segment, there are some people in this country, like the governor of Hawaii, who are forced to take seriously what are clearly crazy Barack Obama conspiracy theories.  We, on this broadcast, are under no such obligation. 

In our number one story, this year, the Obama is a secret Muslim rumors reached a favor pitch.  Here on COUNTDOWN, we decided to launch an investigation, to determine why the president would take such a bold stance on the issue.  The result was one of our favorite things of 2010. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  The Muslim seeded toddler engineered the divorce of his own parents to prevent people from learning that his father was Muslim.  In his book, Obama claims that by then his father was no longer Muslim, instead portraying him as something much more popular with Americans, an atheist.

Obama still claims not to know whether his grandfather was Sunni or Shiite.  But he sure looks Sunni.

To keep up appearances, Obama cleverly violated his Islamic faith whenever he could, fooling everyone by never going to Mecca, breaking the fast of Ramadan, eating pork, drinking alcohol, having a Christian wedding, baptizing his children, worshiping at Christian churches for decades.

He only faces Mecca from way downtown.  Bang goes the dynamite.

He even sent his daughters to a school, a fancy Washington school that was really a madrasa, a fancy Washington madrasa.  He never had a beard except for the Jewish people he cleverly picked out to carry out his secret Muslim agenda as White House chief of staff and Supreme Court justice.

The plan was working perfectly.  But there were clues for those willing to do the incredibly hard work of seeing them.  As a radical Muslim youth, he ran an Islamic journal whose Arabic name translates as “Harvard Law Review.”

Islam permits men to take a number of wives, and that‘s exactly what Barack Obama did.  The number he picked was one.  And a woman with an Arabic name: Michelle Robinson, who insists on wearing a burqa.

His favorite team: the Chicago Bulls, who just happen to play in the same division as the Milwaukee Bucks, whose arena just happened to be known as “The Mecca.”  Coincidence?

Then what about his legislative agenda?  He openly practices Chicago-style politics, just like the Taliban does, extending benefits for the unemployed, including Muslims; expanding health care for all, including every single Muslim in the country, unless already covered by employer health care plan.

To this day, President Obama continues to refuse to bomb not just one but many Muslim countries.  He even refuses to close his secret tropical paradise safe haven for Muslims, just 90 miles from America‘s shores.

Obama nearly let the cat out of the bag on several occasions, openly attacking a long-time Christian leader, thanking his co-conspirators for keeping his secret secret.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘re absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith.

OLBERMANN:  Outlining his dream of an Islamic America.

OBAMA:  You know, we‘d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.

OLBERMANN:  And bragging about how much he‘s done already.

OBAMA:  We are no longer a Christian nation.  There is a mosque in every state in our Union.

OLBERMANN:  If few seem to care that Obama is America‘s first secret Muslim president, it might be due to the popularity of America‘s first openly Muslim president who won America‘s heart by turning the White House into a virtual mosque.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the fifth year in a row that it‘s been my honor to host an Iftar in the state dining room.

OLBERMANN:  Revealing how he came to embrace Allah.

BUSH:  The revelation of God‘s word to the Prophet Mohammed in the form of the Koran.

OLBERMANN:  Using the English word for Allah, God, he talked about the Bush family holidays.

BUSH:  Ramadan is a time of heartfelt prayer and togetherness.

OLBERMANN:  Explained how Islam helps America through tough times.

BUSH:  It‘s a national and Islamic obligation to assist one‘s neighbors when they are in need.

OLBERMANN:  And outlined his master plan to make America more Islamic.

BUSH:  And I‘ve encouraged American families to host exchange students from the Muslim world.  I‘ve asked young Americans to study the language and customs of the broader Middle East.

OLBERMANN:  After getting rid of all the White House Bibles, he proudly announced their replacement.

BUSH:  For the first time in our nation‘s history, we‘ve added a Koran to the White House library.

OLBERMANN:  So, the big mystery is not President Obama‘s secret Islamic faith, but why he won‘t simply admit to being the second Muslim commander-in-chief of the United States of Mecca.

OBAMA:  Assalamu Alaikum.

BUSH:  Islam is peace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SEDER:  See COUNTDOWN‘s favorites of 2010 Thursday at 8:00 pm Easter. 

I‘m Sam Seder, in for Keith Olbermann.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is next. 

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