updated 1/4/2011 11:42:41 AM ET 2011-01-04T16:42:41

Guests: Ezra Klein, Rep. Anthony Weiner, David Corn, Kate Sheppard, John Dean

           

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

Oh, here we go.

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REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  We are not looking to shut the government down, no one benefits.  But at the same time, we‘re not looking at wanting to continually raise the debt ceiling.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  I don‘t know what you call it, Michele, but that‘s shutting down the government.

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OLBERMANN:  Dancing on the debt ceiling, demanding pay-as-you-go for spending but not for tax breaks for the rich.  And the crowning of Paul Ryan as the Republican House budget czar.

The economy, the GOP versus common sense.  Let the party begin.  With Congressman Anthony Weiner and Ezra Klein.

The Iceman cometh.  The GOP‘s witch hunter-in-chief, Mr. Issa, goes Obama hunting.

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REP. DARRELL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA:  He has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.

This is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there.

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OLBERMANN:  He wants to investigate why the administration blamed Wall Street for the economic meltdown, not poor people.

Climate change change—as the greenhouse gas regulations go into effect, suddenly, all of the would-be GOP presidents have stopped saying anything that even remotely sounds like this.

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SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I believe that man‘s activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change.

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR:  I also support cap and trade of carbon emissions.

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  Our country must take action to address climate change.

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OLBERMANN:  And how Colin Firth led to a study showing there are physical differences in the brains of conservatives and liberals.

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COLIN FIRTH, ACTOR:  I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don‘t agree with me.

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OLBERMANN:  John Dean already examined the behavioral studies.  Now, he will look at the pictures of conservative brains—if any.

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I only had a brain—

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.  Happy New Year.  This is Monday, January 3rd, 673 days until the 2012 presidential election and approximately three months until a showdown in Congress that could tank the world economy in a way that would make 2008 look like a quick dance in the spring rain.

Tonight‘s fifth story: the game of chicken accelerating this week towards the start Wednesday of the 112th Congress.  On one side: the global economy.  On the other side: Social Security for generations of Americans yet to come.

Sometime around the end of winter, February, March, the U.S. debt will hit $14.3 trillion.  When that happens, Congress will have to authorize a higher debt so the U.S. can borrow more to keep paying its bills.  Some of those bills include interest payments on our past borrowing.

Currently, historically, investors have considered American debt the safest investment there is.  So, if Congress fails to authorize a higher debt, the U.S. will default on its payments.  The world‘s safest investment will go ka-boom and that will suck the world economy down a black hole.  That is what the new Republican Congress is threatening to do.

And if you think that description sounds like hyperbole, here is the chairman of the president‘s Council of Economic Advisers saying pretty much the same thing.

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AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, CHAIRMAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: 

If we hit the debt ceiling, that‘s the essentially defaulting on our obligations, which is totally unprecedented in American history, the impact on the economy would be catastrophic.  I mean, that would be a worse financial and economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008.

As I say, that‘s not a game.  I don‘t see why anybody‘s talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling.  If we get to the point where you‘ve damaged the full faith and credit of the United States, that would—that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity.

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OLBERMANN:  Except of course it‘s not insanity to threaten something insane if you know it will get you what you want.  On “Face the Nation” yesterday, Republican Tea Party favorite, Michele Bachmann, simply denied that no longer borrowing money to keep the government running would stop the government from running—let alone blow up the global economy.

But on “Meet the Press,” formerly mainstream Republican Senator Lindsey Graham acknowledged quite openly that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be, quote, “very bad for the position of the United States.”  But he‘s willing to shoot this country unless it hands over—you guessed it—your Social Security.

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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  To not raise the debt ceiling could be a default of the United States on bond and Treasury obligations.  That would be very bad for the position of the United States in the world at large.  But this is an opportunity to make sure the government is changing its spending ways.  I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations starting with Social Security.

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OLBERMANN:  Tonight, House Republicans announced the vote next Wednesday on repeal of health care reform to save money, they say, and they‘re posting their repeal bill online for transparency, which is funny on two counts.  One: saving money?

One of Mr. Boehner‘s new House rules specifically requires every new bill to pay for itself without raising taxes with one exception—repealing health care, which if repeal passed would cost $140 billion.

And, two: transparency?  Another new Boehner rule: no spending can exceed the limit that one guy, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, will get to decide.  No hearing.  No debate.  No vote.

That makes Chairman Ryan a czar—which, by the way, violates yet another of Boehner‘s new rules.

All their new laws have to explain their basis in the Constitution.  The House budget chairman czar is not mentioned in the Constitution.  Of course, that new Republican rule outside in the Constitution is also funny and also bull spit.  Standing House rule 13D-1 adopted at least as far back as 1999 says all committee reports on bills must cite, quote, “the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the law.”

On those notes, with me here tonight, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, who tried valiantly to explain to Congresswoman Bachmann the power she holds in her hands.

Congressman, good evening.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  I hope the swelling is down by now after that experience.

Leadership, you know, Bachmann aside, knows what‘s at stake here.  Their backers simply could not permit or not allowed a default.  Does you party—the members of your party understand that this is a bluff—it has to be a bluff from the Republican side?

WEINER:  Yes, but, you know, part of it is that they have to realize that they wanted to be in charge and they‘re in charge now.  You know, this is exactly what went down in 1995 after the Republicans took over last time.  They said we‘re going to have our way and we‘re going to shut down government.  And they are saying the same thing.

And what‘s interesting about Michele Bachmann—and I know it‘s hard to listen to her without your hair falling out—but she was saying, well, it‘s the Democrats‘ job to raise the debt limit.  We want no part of it.  And she‘s actually circulating a letter urging her Republican colleagues to vote no.

They have to understand that they now have the obligation to put some of their campaign promises, however vapid they might be, put them into play.  And this is a serious thing.

Now, I believe that we as Democrats—we should work with the Republicans to try to do responsible things.  But I refuse to be the only party that‘s going to have fidelity to governance here and let Michele Bachmann and her ilk say, all right, I‘m going to keep voting no on these things and bear no responsibility.

OLBERMANN:  So—but if all the Republicans vote no on raising the debt limit, then the debt limit does not get raised.

WEINER:  That‘s exactly right.

OLBERMANN:  And the consequences are immediate and global.

WEINER:  That‘s exactly right.  They wanted to be in charge.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

WEINER:  They wanted to run the House.  They wanted to get elected. 

Well, now, they have the job that goes with it.

You know, I don‘t know how those algorithms in Google work, but when you put in hypocrisy after these guys, it should come up—you know, the Republican Congress because just about everything that they promise, they‘re going to be undoing in their very first vote.  You know, you pointed out the rules that they‘re going to be setting for the policy.  It‘s going to have a new close rule that only one person sets the budget.  They are also going to say that if we ever bust the budget on health care, we don‘t have to pay for that.  It‘s the only thing we won‘t.

And I hope that these Republican guys that got elected who say, you know what?  This is not about Democrat or Republican, it‘s but about getting the ship back in order, they should all vote no because they are not going to be able to say they care about deficits after voting for these rules.

OLBERMANN:  About health care reform—the Republicans in the House say they will draw enough Democratic support to pressure the Senate to follow suit for a repeal.  Are House Democrats actually going to support any part of repeal?

WEINER:  There might be some, you know, I—you know, there‘s a little division within our caucus about this.  I welcome this fight.  We didn‘t do a great job messaging this thing the last time.

OLBERMANN:  True.

WEINER:  We didn‘t do a good job drawing blood on the Republicans.  They‘re going to—if they want to vote their very first vote to take away prescription drug money from senior citizens, to take away coverage for young Americans 21 through 26, to take away coverage for people who have pre-existing conditions—this is the first thing they want to do.  If they want that fight, bring it on, chicky.  I think that that‘s exactly the kind of debate that we want to have.

But will they get a Democrat?  I mean, perhaps they will.  I mean, there is—there is polling out there that shows this isn‘t very popular.  But all its constituent parts are very popular.

OLBERMANN:  The things that were just signed into law yesterday that the president made a note of seem to be really popular.

WEINER:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  About the whole issue, the budget balancing issue.  There‘s a new poll out of “Vanity Fair” and “60 Minutes,” three very interesting numbers -- 3 percent say that the best way to do this is cut Social Security; 4 percent say that the best way is to cut Medicare; 61 percent say the best way is to raise taxes on the rich to balance the budget.

Under—with those somewhat lopsided numbers, why are the Republicans and to, some degree, the White House moving towards a solution, a remedy that is favored by essentially the margin of error in a poll?

WEINER:  Yes, because the American people understand a couple things. 

One, they understand Social Security contributes zero to the deficit.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

WEINER:  It‘s actually a giant surplus with Social Security right now.  It‘s all about the future and quite frankly modest changes can help deal with that.

They also understand this basic sense of fairness in this country. 

You know, this whole notion out, this being it‘s class warfare, it‘s not.  It‘s just that who should bear the burden here and the middle class and those struggling to make it, have their incomes be flat over the last 10 years, they‘re struggling more and more—and every time I open the newspaper, it seems like we‘re throwing the millionaires and billionaires the little help that they don‘t even want.

And I see something else.  I think most of the very well-to-do in this country, if you have an honest conversation about the state we‘re in, would probably say, you know what, I don‘t need another $100,000 tax cut.  And that‘s where the American people, as always, are way ahead of the Republican Caucus.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, 40 percent of those rich people also said the best way to balance the budget is to do this.  But why does the White House seem to be listening to compromises on particularly Social Security?

WEINER:  You know, I hope that they‘re right when they said, you know, that compromise they did at the end of last year that I opposed was the last time they‘re going to do one like that, that now, they‘re going to start standing up more.

I want to see the next two years—the Republicans have done a very good job of saying what they‘re against.  Now, let‘s see what they‘re for and make this—there are some things I think we should compromise on.  You know, I want to try to reduce the deficit with my Republicans colleagues, but some things we should dig in and say, these are about the values of our country and whether fairness for the middle class is a basic, democratic value—and we should stick to it.

OLBERMANN:  Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat, New York—always a pleasure to see you, sir.

WEINER:  Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Happy New Year.

WEINER:  You got it.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s bring in MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein, staff reporter for “The Washington Post,” columnist for “Newsweek” magazine.

Good evening, Ezra.

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Boehner‘s big priorities to cut spending says, make government smaller.  That‘ll stimulate the economy.  How will that work exactly?

KLEIN:  They won‘t particularly.

You have to be very careful.  There are two things that Boehner is conflating here.  One is cutting spending and the other is cutting the deficit.  There is a very good theory of the economy in the long run in which over the long run, we do very much need to cut the long-term deficit as Representative Weiner pointed out, and that will help the economy.  We can‘t forever have a gigantic government deficit.

But cutting spending alone doesn‘t do it if for every dollar you cut in spending, you cut $2 in taxes.  The new rules the House GOP is passing this week are essentially allow for that.  You can do a $700 billion tax cut and you don‘t have to pay a dollar for it and you can cut some spending and you‘re considered fiscally responsible.  That won‘t work.

If you cut spending and you increase the deficit by much more than you cut spending, that makes the economy worse even under the economic period he‘s implicitly referencing there.

OLBERMANN:  Does Mr. Boehner or Mr. McConnell in the Senate for that matter have a problem on his or their hands explaining to the new kids on the block here, relative to the U.S. default on its obligations, that you really can‘t make that happen?  I mean, and if that‘s the case, does the Tea Party then either have to face reality or face some consequences?

KLEIN:  It won‘t be the easiest thing in the world.  I‘m not sure, though, who blinks at the last minute here because Boehner has something the White House doesn‘t.  He has all these people behind him like Representative Bachmann and he can say, listen, it‘s not me.  I sort of know we got to do this, but these folks behind me—they‘ll do it.  Don‘t try them, they‘ll do it.

And will the White House at that point say, fine, let‘s see if he‘ll do it?  Because if they don‘t, Boehner and Bachmann and this group are going to come back to them with a list of demands a mile-long and say you‘re going to cut spending back to ‘08 levels, which would be terrible for the economy right now.  You‘re going to repeal these different parts of the health care bill.  You‘re going to give us 10 other things we want.

When the president talked about hostage-taking in his press conference over the tax deal, he was talking there, the hostage they could have shot was a small raise in taxes.  When the hostage is the full faith and credit of the American government—is the president and White House going to be any more willing to risk it?  And if they‘re not, then the question is not whether or not Boehner has anything to explain to his party, but whether or not the White House is going to be able to resist the sort of leverage he‘s going to be bringing to bear on them?

OLBERMANN:  Or let everybody wear a barrel with the little suspenders over the shoulders like in the cartoons from the ‘30s.

There is something else that may pertain to this and may just be a coincidence, but the report from NBC and others tonight, that “Bloomberg News” originally reported, that the president is considering making the former Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley the next White House chief of staff.  Does that relate, is it complicated by the fact that he is now an executive at JP Morgan Chase?

KLEIN:  It‘s a bit of an odd leak.  On the one hand, I don‘t know Bill Daley very well.  He has a very good reputation.  I don‘t know him personally.

If the White House believes he‘s the best guy for the job, they really have looked at a number of candidates, and they believe that there‘s something he brings something that is completely irreplaceable.  I, to some degree, respect them deciding that a two-day news cycle isn‘t the way to choose your new chief of staff.  You just go with the person you think is best.

On the other hand, there are news cycles and there are images in this country and the idea that he‘s a bank executive, and other name, the name Daley rightly or wrongly is forever associated with Chicago politics, which is not always the world‘s most popular local politics, it‘s—again, it‘s s a bit of an odd choice if they actually go in that direction.

But I read that report.  As of yet, I have not seen such strong sourcing behind it that I‘m going to put a ton into—a ton of weight behind it.

OLBERMANN:  Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post”—great thanks.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Darrell Issa wants to investigate why it‘s been two years without President Obama being investigated.  Our investigation into his plans for investigations into the investigations—next.  Investigation.

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OLBERMANN:  We never did have those investigations into the phony war in Iraq or torture, but this incoming House oversight chair wants some into the way the government blamed Wall Street and not poor people for the collapse of the economy.

This is the incoming House energy chair, the one who believed in climate change until he became the incoming House energy chair—and his flip flop duplicated by Palin, Huckabee, and Gingrich.

“Worsts”?  More bad news for this former New York Jets quarterback.  Massage therapists.  Three massage therapists.  Two of whom have sued him for alleged—you know.

And the clinical study proves this is your brain.  This is your brain on conservative.  Any questions?

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OLBERMANN:  Even before the people spoke and repudiated the Republicans in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama hinted that he was not in favor of Congress investigating those little irregularities of the Bush administration—you know, lying us into war, malfeasance before 9/11, Katrina rendition, torture, stuff like that.

However, in our fourth story: even before the people spoke and repudiated the Democrats in 2010, then oversight chairman in waiting, Darrell Issa, bellowed that he was in favor of Congress investigating those little irregularities of the Obama administration, you know, how federal regulations destroyed job growth, how the administration blamed the financial meltdown on Wall Street and not on Freddie Mae—Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Barney Frank, and poor people, stuff that.

The “iceman‘s‘ investigatory hit list has been linked to “Politico.”  It features some of the worst crimes and misdemeanors to afflict this nation in nearly two years!

Congressman Issa claims that his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will focus primarily on government waste, but that did not stop him from going after one of the GOP‘s favorite phony targets, the so-called “New Black Panthers,” both of them.  Issa said that the incoming judiciary chairman, Congressman Lamar Smith, would investigate the New Black Panthers, both guys, as a civil rights issue.

Four different House committees will oversee the Justice Department and Congressman Issa‘s committee plans to investigate WikiLeaks and then Wikipedia—I made the last part up—with Issa saying that Attorney General Eric Holder has failed to take sufficient action about WikiLeaks.

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ISSA:  Well, I think he needs to realize that, for example, WikiLeaks, if the president says, I can‘t deal with this guy as a terrorist, then he has to be able to deal with him as a criminal.  Otherwise, the world is laughing at this paper tiger we‘ve become.  So, he‘s hurting this administration.  If you‘re hurting the administration, either stop hurting the administration or leave.

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OLBERMANN:  Does that apply to Mr. Issa?

As for what he wants us to believe will be his committee‘s prime focus, even that amounts to an indictment of the past two years of administration policy—though it is couched in the softening of a remark he made last year that Mr. Obama, quote, “has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.”

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ISSA:  In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect.  When I look at waste, fraud, and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

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OLBERMANN:  Mr. Issa also wants to investigate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to “Politico.”  And why the financial crisis inquiry commission could not agree on the causes of the market meltdown.  And if that sounds like Issa might be trying to re-assign blame for the great recession, there‘s also this—one of his subcommittees will investigate how government regulation hinders job creation.

Let‘s bring in the Washington bureau chief of “Mother Jones,” David Corn.  David, good evening.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As a prime example, explain how under this Chairman Issa, an investigation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their role in the foreclosure crisis, what that really means.

CORN:  I think I have it.  It‘s kind of like Inspector Clouseau coming on to a crime scene, say a big bank robbery, and caring about—only about the guy who drove the getaway car.  Not who did it, not what happened to the money, not how to get the money back.  I mean, this is a bugaboo of the Republicans for years now, that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—you know, because they were committed to making loans or buying mortgages to help poor people get homes, that they ginned up the whole crisis.

Anybody who has looked at the facts and the details knows that the time subprimes were taking off, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were actually prohibited—prohibited—from buying up those subprime mortgages and they did catch up later on, but only after our friends at Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers were had gone to the races.  So, there‘s really no there there.

OLBERMANN:  So, following the rhetorical question: do you have a license for that car minky car?  He wants to make it look like poor people caused the economic crisis not Wall Street or the banks?

CORN:  Exactly.  This is what the Republicans tried to do in the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.  In fact, they put out their own report, minority report, in which they didn‘t use the word “Wall Street,” or “shadow banking,” or “credit default swaps.”  So, this is what the Republicans are going to try to do after the fact to water-down financial regulatory reform.  They‘re going to blame it on poor people.

OLBERMANN:  When he was told that the Obama administration is hiring more lawyers to prepare for this onslaught of oversight hearings, the congressman said, quote, “They‘re going to need more accountants.”  That sounds tame.  Is it tame or does it just sound tame?

CORN:  Well, I don‘t know.  My accountant sometimes charges a lot, though I love her.

But let‘s—you just played that remark he made a couple weeks ago that Barack Obama is the most corrupt president of modern times or one of the most and then he said, no, no.  I just meant to say his administration is one of the most corruption administrations.

And now, he‘s saying, just get a few more accountants.  Well, if you‘re going after Al Capone, you don‘t tell him to get accountants.  So—

I mean, it seems to me like he‘s really backpedaling pretty fast on that front.

OLBERMANN:  So, is he going to shoot lower?  Is he going after Eric Holder as kind of a surrogate because in that larger frame?  He‘s got four committees with jurisdiction to oversee some part of justice.  They‘ve already attacked Holder on Gitmo, on terror trials, on the New Black Panthers, both of them, and now, WikiLeaks for God‘s sake.  We‘re going to investigate the leak of WikiLeaks, not all the truths of WikiLeaks.

Is Holder—is Holder the sort of the—would he be a sufficient target for Issa and his gang?

CORN:  Well, I think this shows that the Republicans are savvy enough to read the polls.  They know that Barack Obama, his approval rating is twice high as anyone in Congress and he is still more popular and is considered honest and likeable by a majority of Americans even if they don‘t like all his policies.  So, Darrell Issa was to shoot at him, it would actually reflect poorly on Darrell Issa and the rest of the Republicans.

So, therefore he will try to pick off surrogates like Eric Holder or other subjects and say this isn‘t really about Barack Obama.  But it will be designed to undermine the Obama administration.

When this happened back in the ‘90s when Bill Clinton was president, and what was his name, Representative Burton, Dan Burton—

OLBERMANN:  Ooh!

CORN:  -- you know, sent—I think over 1,000 subpoena requests to the White House, it really pinned them down in what they could do and even the daily course of business.  So I think the goal here is to do that to the Obama White House and, you know, I‘d like to see Darrell Issa investigate some things honestly.

I mean, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made a lot of mistakes and they deserve an investigation, but not as the cause.  There is a lot of good that he could do if he is serious about this and not just being political.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we already know the answer to that question.

CORN:  I‘m an optimist, Keith.  What can I tell you?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  That‘s right.  Well, we‘ll prove why you‘re an optimist later on in the program.

David Corn, the columnist for “Politics Daily” and, of course, “Mother Jones”—great thanks, David.

CORN:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  How about an investigation into this?  At their debate today, the candidates for chairman of the Republican National Committee were asked what is your favorite book?  Three answered with the names of books.  One answered with a piece of furniture.  Uh-oh!

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OLBERMANN:  Funny how Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee and Sister Sarah all believed in climate change until the temperature started going up for the 2012 Republican nomination.  That‘s next. 

First, the Tweet of the day.  It‘s from OnDeckLou.  “You have to comment on this.  Thoughts please.” 

Oh, boy.  That‘s not good.  Well, two things.  One, I hope that‘s Henna or pencil or something.  Two, it really clashes with those shoes. 

Let‘s play Oddball.  We begin in Spain.  Proof that people will do anything for free stuff.  A clothing store in Madrid dared customers to come to the store dressed only in their skivvies.  The first hundred to come through the door in only their unmentionables would receive a free pair of pants and a shirt. 

Over 200 people braved the winter weather.  Some even camped out overnight to try and get the free garments.  To get free clothing some would see that as a brief—wait, ha ha. 

We travel over to Qatar, where the two best players in the world have really taken their identity as the saviors of tennis to a new level.  They‘re walking on the water.  Rafael Nidal faced off against Roger Federer in an exhibition match while floating on the gulf sea.  Tennis shots, nothing but tennis shots. 

The buoyant battle all part of a promotional tour for the Qatar ATP Open.  The two seemed to get along rather swimmingly, as they lightly rallied back and forth.  Though play needed to be stopped every couple of minutes to retrieve those ball boys who couldn‘t swim. 

Dateline Manassas, Virginia, where we see a stickup in progress.  This Theodore Roosevelt follower comes at the cashier with a trunk of terror and threatens to beat him.  The clerk grabs a hammer and prepares for battle.  We stand in Armageddon and we battle for the lord. 

After the brief stand off, the thief jumps over the counter and presses the shop keeper down.  This sticky bandit, no relation to the Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci gang from “Home Alone II,”  grabs the money from the open register and escapes.  The crook is still on the run.  So any parties with a large pinata need to be on the lookout. 

Time marches on. 

The regulation of greenhouse gases to fight back against climate change has begun, as have the walk backs of all key Republicans who have even ever hinted that there is climate change.  Well, naturally.  The owners of those key Republicans, the oil cartel, can‘t have any of that.  Kate Sheppard of “Mother Jones” next.

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OLBERMANN:  New year, new EPA greenhouse gas regulations, which means, in our third story, a whole new set of talking points for Republicans, including presidential hopefuls trying to erase any trace of their having believed in climate change.  Under new EPA standards, power plants and refineries are now expected to put in technologies to curb those greenhouse gas emissions. 

The soon to be chair of the House Energy Committee, Fred Upton, says blocking these new standards will be one of his priorities.  Writing in a recent “Wall Street Journal” editorial, “this presumes carbon is a problem in need of regulation.  We are not convinced.”  Odd, considering that just two years ago, Mr. Upton seemed to be all for this regulation.  Quote, “climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions.  Everything must be put on the table.” 

Just as solid for fluidity, many of the Republicans‘ 2012 wannabes seem to be taking a page out of the Fred Upton playbook, like Tim Pawlenty.  As governor of Minnesota, Mr. Pawlenty signed his state on board a regional cap and trade plan.  In 2008, he even went so far as to remark “I support a reasonable cap and trade system.  I think it would be good for the federal government to take that up.” 

Here is Tim Pawlenty just last year. 

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GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA:  Cap and trade I think would be a disaster. 

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OLBERMANN:  Then there‘s the consistently inconsistent Mike Huckabee.  Just last week, he denied supporting cap and trade during the 2007 Republican primaries, perhaps blacking out on the fact that he declared that support on camera. 

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MIKE HUCKABEE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Climate change is here.  It‘s real.  I support cap and trade of carbon emissions.  And I was disappointed that the Senate rejected it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And just how will former House Speaker Gingrich explain this statement on this couch, in front of that Capitol, with the only Nancy Pelosi? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  We do agree our country must take action to address climate change. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  Together we can do this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Nod and smile.  Nod and smile.  Then there is Sister Sarah.  As one-half of the Republican presidential ticket in 2008, she offered this: “climate change just might be man mad made, Terry.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  I believe that man‘s activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change. 

I am attributing some of man‘s activities to potentially causing some of the changes in the climate right now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Now, free from the constraints of facts, the half governor has changed her tune. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  We should create a competitive climate for investment in renewables.  None of this snake oil science stuff, that is based on this global warming Gore-gate stuff. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That woman is an idiot.  Time now to call in the environmental reporter for “Mother Jones” magazine, Kate Sheppard.  Kate, thanks for your time tonight. 

KATE SHEPPARD, “MOTHER JONES”:  Thanks for having me, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  You wrote about soon-to-be Chairman Upton‘s plans to block the greenhouse gas emission regulations.  What is he going to try to do?  And is he going to be successful at it? 

SHEPPARD:  What Representative Upton has said he might do is use the Congressional Review Act, which is an obscure legislative maneuver.  It was actually engineered by Newt Gingrich back in 1996.  And it allows Congress to overturn regulations from the executive branch.  It basically says Congress can say, you know, executive branch, we don‘t like that regulation.  Kick it back to the drawing board.  We want a do over. 

It would block it from going into effect.  And so Upton has said that he wants to do this on greenhouse gas regulations, which has started phasing in just this week.  It‘s a pretty dangerous maneuver actually, because unlike a lot of things, especially in the Senate, it doesn‘t require—it only requires a simple majority.  So it‘s actually fairly easy to pass. 

So it could actually go somewhere, if Upton is serious about it.  And he can definitely get it passed in the House, which is now obviously in Republican control. 

OLBERMANN:  There were, last summer, six Senate Democrats who voted to block the EPA finding that greenhouse gases are indeed bad for human health, that essentially a vote against the scientific consensus, because as we know, politicians know much more than scientists possibly could on this. 

Why is there, in your opinion, this sort of sudden effort on both sides of the aisle to suppress the progress on climate change?  Is it—do they in fact know more science than the scientists?

SHEPPARD:  Absolutely, Keith.  I think this is why this is so dangerous.  It is Congress saying, we know more than scientists.  We can tell them that we don‘t think that these regulations are necessary. 

I think what we‘re seeing here is two things.  There is—obviously, I think a lot of legislators have kowtowed to coal, oil, gas interests.  They‘re afraid of upsetting them. 

But I think a lot of them also really have succumbed to this fear mongering that we‘ve seen on this issue over the years.  When the House passed climate legislation back in 2009, we heard all of this rhetoric about cap and tax, and how this is going to destroy the economy.  And frankly a lot of folks, including Democrats, ran scared from the issue, including folks who used to care about it, like Fred Upton. 

OLBERMANN:  And these complete flip-flops by Palin, by Huckabee, by Gingrich, by Pawlenty—I mean, you know enough about the energy companies.  Are these would-be Republican presidents dinosaurs ignoring asteroids?  Are they courting voters?  Or are they just, to use that same term, kowtowing to the oil cartel that owns them all? 

SHEPPARD:  I think it‘s a little bit of both.  I think clearly there are really strong fossil fuel interests who do guide our policy here in the U.S. and who have really kept us to the status quo for a long time.  But I think, in large part, it is really trying to do what they think is politically popular at that point in time. 

As you noted, we saw Gingrich sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi not all that long ago, talking about how climate change is problem that we all should together and address.  And then, just a few months later, it was Gingrich himself who was out there leading the drill here, drill now call, which then became the drill baby, drill call that we heard a few summers ago, back when gas prices were high. 

So I think they‘re really just doing what they think is politically popular, and what they think the public wants to see, which I think, unfortunately, on this is really just kind of a crass political calculation, and really isn‘t in the long-term interest that a lot of people know we need to address. 

OLBERMANN:  Pay no attention to those streaking asteroids going through the sky.  Kate Sheppard of “Mother Jones,” as always thank you, Kate. 

SHEPPARD:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Why are these Republicans laughing at one of the three candidates seeking to unseat RNC Chairman Michael Steele?  Because she said something really stupid. 

And there‘s now clinical evidence suggesting why some conservatives can only say a noun, verb, and 9/11, and why other conservatives can only hear a noun, a verb, and 9/11. 

And at the top of the hour, on “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” why Republicans are bluffing on the debt ceiling threat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So how is your amigdula feeling?  Are your anterior singulets a little stuffy tonight?  They may determine if you are conservative or liberal.  And they have something to do with Colin Firth and John Dean, next.

First, get out your pitchforks and torches, time for today‘s nominees for Worst Persons in the World.

The bronze is a tie.  RNC Chairman Michael Steele and one of the people trying to take that job from him, the former ambassador to Luxembourg, Ann Wagner.  At the debate for candidates for the post today, each was asked his or her favorite book.  One guy said “Reagan Diaries.”  one woman said “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Mr. Steele replied “War and Peace.”  Then recited “it was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.” 

Yeah.  That‘s from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Dickens.  “War and Peace” was by Tolstoy.  Not even the same damn country. 

Worse yet, asked her favorite book, Ms. Wagner replied probably “My Kitchen Table.”  No more calls.  We have a winner. 

The silver, Brett Favre, the apparently retired quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, having been just kind of cleared by the NFL for alleged sexting with a former New York Jets employee.  He‘s in trouble again, sued, according to the “New York Daily News” tonight, by two massage therapists who worked with the New York Jets, who say they got salacious texts from Favre.  “Bret here, you and Chrissy want to get together?  I‘m alone, kind of lonely tonight.  I guess I have bad intentions.” 

Worst still, they say a Jets employee warned them last October to keep their mouth shut or they‘d never work for the team again.  And they are not going to work for the team again.  As the newspaper suggested, for Mr.  Favre, this is not a happy ending. 

The gold, a tie, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, for their pathetic performances during that little thunder blizzard you may have heard about a week ago.  I was off.  I‘m sorry.  I‘m doing it now. 

Mr. Bloomberg spent much of last week insisting the city was back to normal, and he said everybody had done a great job, including himself, even though none of the outer Burroughs were plowed, and one ten block stretch of Midtown Manhattan had ten abandoned city buses on it. 

Mr. Christie reiterated today that he was perfectly justified in going on vacation to Disney World during the inundation, and that his priority was his family and not the citizens of his state.  Clearly, he does not understand the premise of being a governor and should resign.  Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie, political piles of dirty snow if ever there were any, today‘s Worst Persons in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Never mind the king‘s speech.  What about Congressman Peter King‘s brain?  In our number one story, the impeccable British actor Colin Firth, the star of the film “The King‘s Speech,” and we‘re proud to say COUNTDOWN viewer as well, was asked by the BBC to program one of its radio news shows.  So he asked a BBC reporter to determine what physically makes conservatives and liberals think the way they do. 

The results seemed to provide physical evidence for all of the behavioral studies John Dean wrote about in his 2006 book “Conservatives Without Conscience.”  John joins me presently. 

Last week, Mr. Firth, the eminently socially conscious star of “The King‘s Speech,” was given editorial control of BBC Radio Four‘s news show “The Today Program.”  It‘s different than ours.  It has an M and an E at the end.  And he assigned what he originally deemed a frivolous exercise to a BBC reporter. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN FIRTH, ACTOR:  I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don‘t agree with me, and see what scientists had to say about it.  And they actually came up with something. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The BBC, in fact, used the University College London‘s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience to perform brain scans on two British MPs, one from Labor, Steven Pound, and one from the Conservative Party, Alan Duncan. 

Scientists matched the politicians‘ results with the brain scans of conservative and liberal college students, who had previously been subjected to MRIs.  What was discovered has been deemed significant and very surprising. 

According to the study, brains of self-described conservatives generally have larger right amigdula, a primitive lobe in the brain associated with emotions and processing fear.  Brains of liberals have larger anterior singulates, described as, quote, “an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.” 

That‘s right.  My anterior singulates are huge.  Quoting Professor Garrant Rees, “there is something about political attitude that is encoded in our brain structure”—he is Welsh—“through our experience, or that there is something in our brain structure that determines or results political attitude.” 

Then again, this is a British study.  What about American conservatives?  Do they also have bigger fear processing centers?  As you watch the following clip—and I understand this is not completely scientific—see if you can spot any enlarged amigdula. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. VIRGIL GOODE ®, VIRGINIA:  I fear that radical Muslims, who want to control the Middle East and ultimately the world, would love to see “In God We Trust” stricken from our money. 

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I worry a lot that they‘re using the current set of economic difficulties to try to justify massive expansion in the government. 

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  I and my staff I think spend most of our time afraid. 

GINGRICH:  I think people should be afraid. 

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  You actually use the phrase “I fear for our democracy.”

PALIN:  I fear for our democracy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The reason why gold broke all-time highs?  Fear. 

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Rudy Giuliani, there‘s only three things he mentioned in a sentence, a noun, a verb, and 9/11.  I mean, there is nothing else. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now, a man whose amigdula is not showing, John Dean former White House counsel and author of the 2006 book “Conservatives Without Conscience.”  John, good evening. 

JOHN DEAN, AUTHOR, “CONSERVATIVES WITHOUT CONSCIENCE”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  This sounds like a video version, an MRi version, if you will, of “Conservatives Without Conscience.”  Does this little tiny accidental BBC inspired, Colin Firth related study jive with the studies that you wrote about? 

DEAN:  In some ways, it does.  But not knowing an amigdula if it was sitting on my head—and one is sitting on my head—I thought I‘d talk to somebody who actually knew something about this.  So I called the man whose I drew on his work greatly when writing “Conservatives Without Conscience,” Robert Altmeyer, who at the time was up at the University of Manitoba.  And I drew his attention to this study to see for his reaction. 

He said, you know, John, I have some troubles with this.  He said, first the—there are some real basic problems with the way the amigdula works.  He described to me what I thought was important.  It‘s the wiring in it and it doesn‘t really much depend upon the size, but rather the way the wiring, if you will, fires and makes the system operate. 

The other thing is the sample is very small. 

OLBERMANN:  Right. 

DEAN:  And that‘s one of the problems.  But we also know this isn‘t the end of the sample.  And apparently, those who have undertaken this study are going to keep browsing and take this further, because it is kind of interesting. 

OLBERMANN:  The researchers are, to some degree, admitting one of the points you just made.  Certainly, they can‘t tell if the fear center, the right amigdula, is born that way or can be shaped or damaged that way, particularly shaped.  The behavioral studies that you quoted in the book, did they indicate whether people are born with some sort of predilection or are shaped into these sort of political or even cultural or just view of humanity polls liberal and conservative? 

DEAN:  Well, there is some of both.  It‘s both the nature and the nurture situation.  One of the things Altmeyer, for example, told me is he said in his testing of authoritarian children, one of the things they report is that their parents taught them to be frightful.  Those parents, we don‘t know if they were taught the same by their parents.  This is one of the factors. 

In the testing I looked at—and I looked at an awful lot of social studies and behavioral studies of great masses of people.  In fact, one of the studies by an NYU professor, John Jost (ph) and his colleagues, they looked at 40 years of studies of the personalities of conservatives.  It was some 22,000 participants. 

And they found, clearly, that fear is a part of the makeup of the personality of the conservative.  This is part of the psychological makeup.  This isn‘t necessarily a pathological judgment.  It is just an analysis of the type of person we‘re dealing with. 

So I think it‘s a real factor.  And it‘s one that conservatives don‘t necessarily want to hear.  But it is what—the way they certainly test, repeatedly and consistently. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it—I think one of the points of your book was that this is now conservative versus liberal.  But it wasn‘t.  Essentially Republicans and conservatives co-opted a personality trait, that this is really a question of authoritarian personality versus non-authoritarian personality.  Is that about the right synopsis? 

DEAN:  Well, that‘s what I drew out of a lot of the social science.  And that was, of course, the theme of the book, that “The Conservative Without Conscience” is the most extreme of the authoritarian personality types, where they could care less about any sort of human compassion or any kind of concern for their fellow man. 

They‘re fairly selfish.  They‘re fairly self-centered.  They‘re very domineering.  They‘re the people who jump out in front and say, follow me, whether they really know what they‘re doing or not.  But they just want to be out there. 

So there are those personalities that have come to dominate the conservative movement.  And we‘re going to see them in Washington starting this week.  They‘re there. 

OLBERMANN:  Testing our apparent biological predilection towards optimism, which I am not believing at the moment as well.  John Dean, former White House counsel under President Nixon and the author of “Conservatives Without Conscience,” which is really an eye opener, if you still haven‘t read it. 

As always, John, a great pleasure.  Thanks for your time tonight. 

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s January 3rd, 28 days since the Republicans got the tax deal for riches—taxes for the rich.  Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs? 

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

Now to discuss why he believes the Republicans are bluffing on the debt ceiling, in for Rachel tonight, it‘s Chris Hayes.  Good evening, Chris.

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