'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Read the transcript to the Wednesday show
Guests: Howard Fineman, Howard Dean, David Cay Johnston, Cecile Richards, Baratunde Thurston
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: A little perspective on last night, Mitt
Romney got 775,014 votes in Florida last night. President Obama got
4,282,074 votes the last time he ran in Florida. And with only 279 days
left to catch up to President Obama, Mitt Romney cannot afford to waste one
of those days -- like he did today.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Last night, we saw Mitt Romney bask in a
warm, warm glow of the Florida sunshine.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I stand ready to lead this
party, and to lead our nation.
I`m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC ANCHOR: Kicking off his victory lap with a kick
to the poor.
ROMNEY: I`m in this race because I care about Americans. I`m not
concerned about the very poor.
BASHIR: Soledad O`Brien was a little taken aback by the comment.
SOLEDAD O`BRIEN, CNN: I think there are lots of very poor Americans
who are struggling, who would say that sounds odd.
WAGNER: Did Mitt Romney walk right into the stereotype his campaign
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: When he goes off-script, he
does not do well.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH: It was obviously poorly worded.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Joe Biden is a gaffe machine, then what, if
you will, does that make Mitt Romney?
SMERCONISH: I doubt that`s what he really believes and what he meant
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he was talking about was the emphasis that
he`s placing on helping the middle class.
SMERCONISH: It does further this narrative of him being a detached
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: That is a made for TV ad that will haunt
him if he makes it to the general election.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, "HARDBALL" HOST: Just today, President Obama
responded indirectly to those comments by Romney.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is wrong for anybody
to suggest that the only option for struggling responsible homeowners is to
sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom.
CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS: He`s trying to draw this distinction, as the
president is trying to draw the distinction between who will fight harder
for the middle class.
WAGNER: No campaign is a campaign without money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While money and infrastructure is important, it`s
OBAMA (singing): I`m so in love with you --
ROMNEY (singing): Oh, beautiful for spacious skies --
FINNEY: Take the microphone away. Get this guy out of there.
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: It was then that everyone in the crowd at the
Villages press their life alert button at the same time.
ANN COULTER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if you don`t run, Chris
Christie, Mitt Romney will be the nominee and we`ll lose.
O`DONNELL: The last time President Obama ran in Florida, 51 percent
of Florida`s maybe 8.5 million voters voted for him.
Last night in Florida, about 8 percent of Florida voters voted for
Mitt Romney. Democrats were not allowed to vote in the Republican primary,
independents were not allowed to vote in the Republican primary, only 36
percent of Florida voters are registered Republicans, and less than half of
them bothered to vote yesterday. And less than half of those who did vote
voted for Mitt Romney.
That was all Romney was able to buy by spending 50 percent more than
all of the Republican candidates combined, including himself, spent in the
last Republican presidential primary four years ago in Florida.
If Mitt Romney returns to Florida in the general election, he will be
met by an Obama campaign able to match him dollar for dollar in television
advertising and, perhaps, even outspend him, something Romney has no idea
how to handle.
Even Rush Limbaugh said today that Mitt Romney is not ready to go
against Barack Obama in a general election. Rush is worried because the
first thing Romney did this morning was give this gift to the Obama
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I`m in this race because I care about Americans. I`m not
concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there, if it needs
repair, I`ll fix it. I`m not concerned about the very rich, they`re doing
just fine. I`m concerned about the very heart of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: It is not every day that you hear an American politician
say he is not concerned about the very poor. You can Google search all you
want starting right now, and you will not find another presidential
candidate ever saying that in any form, until today.
Today, Mitt Romney clearly had no idea that he was making history.
Presidential campaign history with this comment, but Soledad O`Brien sure
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`BRIEN: Very poor, because they have a safety net. I think there
are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, that
sounds odd. Can you explain that?
ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said, I`m
not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has
holes in it, I will repair them.
O`BRIEN: Got it.
ROMNEY: We will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: If there was anyone in America who you might expect to
cheer you on for saying I`m not concerned about the very poor, it would be
Rush Limbaugh. But even Rush, as much as he might share that feeling with
Romney, knew it was a very, very stupid thing to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I`m not worried about the poor,
we have a safety net? The safety net is one of the biggest cultural
problems we`ve got. Everybody knows what he`s trying to say, but he didn`t
say it. And he makes himself a target with this stuff. He comes across as
the prototypical rich Republican.
And it`s going to make it harder and harder and harder to go after
Obama, because this turns around and -- you know, only the wizards of smart
in the Republican -- we can`t have Newt out there, why, Newt`s going to be
the topic. We need Obama to be the topic. We need Obama to be the guy
that campaigns about -- Newt`s out there, it`s all going to be about Newt.
Well, what evidence is it or is there that it`s not going to be about
Romney with these kinds of statements?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Rush Limbaugh worried about the prototypical Republican,
Rush who makes at least $50 million a year and flies in his own Gulfstream
everywhere he goes, worried about the prototypical rich Republican?
The Obama campaign will, of course, be using that Romney statement
against Romney, but they have so many other Romney gems in their file that
it might take them a while to catch up.
And today in Virginia, President Obama didn`t use that. He pushed a
plan for the government to help middle income homeowners refinance their
homes and he in effect reminded people of that Romney gem, the Romney
strategy for the housing market -- the Romney idea to let the housing
market simply hit bottom.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It is wrong for anybody to suggest that the only option for
struggling responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market
to hit bottom.
OBAMA: I refuse to accept that, and so do the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In Ft. Worth, Texas, last night, Vice President Joe Biden
raised two points in President Obama`s favor in his re-election, that will
be impossible for Mitt Romney to counter, especially since Mitt Romney
opposed the action President Obama took to save General Motors. The vice
president quoted a line he had heard elsewhere. Osama bin Laden is dead
and General Motors is alive.
Joining me now is former Vermont governor and former chairman of the
Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, and AOL/Huffington Post
editorial director and MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman.
Thank you both Howards for joining me tonight.
Governor Dean, I have to say, I don`t think every one of the 279
campaign days left is going to be fun for the Obama campaign. But I don`t
see what they couldn`t -- what they didn`t take pleasure in today in the
Republican campaign. Everything seems to be going the Obama campaign`s
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: Well, we got a long way to go, but
the problem is, that most people in America believe that Republicans don`t
care about -- not only poor people, but middle class people. This is --
you know, people complain about Occupy Wall Street, but they`ve completely
changed the discussion. It`s the 99 and the one. And most people believe
the Republican Party is for the one and Obama`s for the 99.
There`s some incredible polling about this, 70 percent of the entire
electorate believe that Mitt Romney cares mostly about rich people. That`s
a very steep hill to overcome. And since they`re trying to convince people
the stereotype is wrong, that`s an even steeper hill.
O`DONNELL: Howard Fineman, I don`t believe we`ve had a Republican
president in our past who would be caught -- who would be flat-footed
enough to be caught saying, I don`t care about poor people? And certainly,
I don`t believe that in their hearts the President Bush thought that. I
mean, what their policies were, were not necessarily in alignment with
this, but the first President Bush talked about 1,000 points of like. The
second President Bush was talking about compassion, conservatism. He
actually did expand the social safety net with prescription benefits for
I mean, you can make a case. And certainly Ronald Reagan would never
Romney doesn`t seem to understand even what the Republican talking
points are when faced with questions like this.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, a couple of
points, Lawrence. I spoke to a couple top people in the Romney campaign
just a little while ago. They expressed their frustration, they said, he
said this before, end of story. That`s the first thing.
The second thing they said was rather bitterly, I think, but with some
factual truth to it, that more people have fallen into poverty in the last
few years during the Obama administration than has been true in many
decades. But that doesn`t mean the answer is for Romney to do what he did.
First of all, Mitt Romney is ham-fisted on this stuff. He tries to
show what a tough guy he is. He tries to show what an ideologue he is,
because he`s accused of being a Massachusetts moderate. So, he makes an
extreme statement, like let the bottom fall out of the housing market, like
corporations are people, my friend. And like this statement today in which
he left out some crucial conjunctions.
And what the Republicans have tried to do over the last generation,
with people like the late Jack Kemp and others, is to argue that they,
meaning the Republicans, and the conservatives and the free market have a
better answer for the problems of the poor than the Democrats do.
This is what Rush Limbaugh was partly upset about. He was defending
Newt, but he was also upset about the idea that Mitt Romney is accepting
the safety net. He`s sort of saying, yes, well, for the poor people, we
have the Democratic policies and let them have their thing.
So, it couldn`t have been worse in any conceivable direction for
Romney, and the Romney people are quite defensive about it, justifiably
O`DONNELL: Governor Dean, I want to you listen to another clip from
Rush Limbaugh, which is sounds we`ve never heard before from him, listen to
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: Our team -- our team, not all that good. You know it, and
I know it. They`re just not.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Howard Dean, honesty, breaking out on the Rush Limbaugh
show today, that`s how bad it`s gotten for Republicans.
DEAN: Yes. That`s not something you hear very often.
Look, these guys have a problem, because the idea was to run against
Obama and make Obama the issue.
The Obama campaign is incredible. They`ve been on a role since the
jobs speech before Labor Day. And you`re just not going to grind them
The issue of this campaign is: can you trust the Republicans? That is
a terrible issue for the Republican Party, but that`s the issue. The issue
is: can you trust the Republicans, who got us into this in the first place
to get us out? And I think the answer for most Americans, a vast majority
of Americans is no.
The other thing we haven`t talked about is, in Florida, the Republican
brand has been destroyed by the governor, who`s at 30 percent in the polls.
In Iowa, the governor is barely above that, and in Wisconsin. These are
If Republicans can`t win Ohio and Florida, they can`t win. I think
Romney is going to win both Florida and Ohio because of what the Republican
governors in their very extreme kind of legislation have done in the last
The Republican brand is in trouble. The primary has hurt them. And
what they`ve done in since 2010 in the states has hurt them.
O`DONNELL: Howard Fineman, Newt Gingrich continued to attack
frontrunner Mitt Romney today, doing the Obama campaign`s work for it.
You`ve raised a very interesting possibility on "The Huffington Post." I
want to read your words, Howard, from "Huffington Post."
"If you listened carefully to Newt Gingrich`s concession speech
tonight," meaning last night, "you heard the first strains of what could be
an independent third party run for the White House if he doesn`t get the
Republican nomination. Gingrich vowed that he would not henceforth run,
quote, `a Republican campaign, but a people`s campaign.`"
O`DONNELL: Howard, people`s campaign.
Now, this is the only thing I can think of, structurally in the
campaign, that could make things even better for the Obama re-election
FINEMAN: Well, first of all, somebody pointed out to me this morning
that the people`s campaign of Newt Gingrich would start at the Tiffany`s
outlet here in Chevy Chase, Maryland. And march from there out into the
But I -- look, I think Newt Gingrich -- first of all, there`s personal
animosity, deep personal animosity between him and Mitt Romney, that`s
number one. Newt Gingrich views himself as a guy who destroys in order to
create. He thinks that the Republican Party as it exists now, especially
as exemplified perhaps by Mitt Romney is not an institution worth saving.
And Newt has a grand -- if not grandiose view of himself, that he
would knock over anything in his path to make his point. The drama here is
going to be diplomacy with Newt Gingrich. It`s going to be at the
convention, and if Newt Gingrich doesn`t get what he wants, which I think
he won`t, I think he will at least discuss the possibility.
Look for him to be talking in pretty favorable terms with Ron Paul and
others, and the Americans Elect -- America Elect and who knows what he
O`DONNELL: Quickly, Governor Dean, before we go, can the Democrats
quickly get together a super PAC to help Newt Gingrich run as a third
DEAN: He`s already got one, they just have to get Shelly to write --
O`DONNELL: That`s right.
O`DONNELL: Governor Howard Dean, and, Howard Fineman, thank you both
very much for joining me tonight.
FINEMAN: Thanks, Lawrence.
DEAN: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, we`re going to go where the money is, and see
what lengths Mitt Romney will go to, to not pay his fair share of taxes in
this country. David Cay Johnston has been studying the Romney tax returns.
He`s going to join me in an exclusive interview.
And later, an exclusive interview with the president of Planned
Parenthood, Cecile Richards, is here to respond to the heated reactions
across the country from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
announced Planned Parenthood would no longer be getting its support for
breast cancer screenings.
And with 279 days to go before the presidential election, I will give
you reason number 279 to vote in November`s presidential election.
And later, for those of you who don`t already know how, we`ll tell you
how to be black.
O`DONNELL: Mitt Romney says he doesn`t care about the poor. Well,
Mitt Romney doesn`t know any people who are poor. If you`re a Romney, you
are set for life. Mitt and his wife have a couple hundred million dollars,
and his five sons have $100 million. They don`t have to work a day in
Mitt Romney has done all this, without paying almost any taxes moving
all that money around. Mitt Romney, the tax avoider. Next, we`re going to
study those returns.
And later, while the politics of stopping Planned Parenthood has now
put more women at risk of dying from breast cancer. I`ll have an exclusive
interview with the president of Planned Parenthood on the new break with
the Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
O`DONNELL: This is the Romney family`s last Christmas card, the 2011
Christmas card. It`s Willard and Ann Romney, their five sons, their five
daughters in law, and their 16 grandchildren.
If you are one of the people in that Christmas card, you don`t have to
worry about your personal economic future, because all of you are set for
life. The grandchildren, all of you.
The five Romney sons, as their dad explained the last time he was
running for president, never served a day in the military, even though
their father was in favor of the wars we were fighting, because like their
father, they found better things to do.
Mitt Romney said, my sons are showing support for our nation by
helping me get elected. Which, of course, they failed to do.
But it`s not as if the Romney sons were ever going to need veterans
benefits, because before any one of them had gone off into the work world,
dad had dropped $100 million on them, which left Mitt and Ann with only a
couple hundred million to get through their golden years.
Joining me now, a man who has been heroically digging through the
Romney tax returns, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Cay Johnston, a
columnist for "Reuters" and professor at Syracuse Law School.
David, I know you`ve been digging. I know very few other people have.
These returns are gigantic and they are complicated and it`s very difficult
to get through them.
What is the biggest sort of mystery you found? Because I think
normally when you look at tax returns like this, what you come out of it
with is more questions than answers.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, REUTERS: And I got lots of questions, Lawrence,
lots and lots of them. For Romney and for Gingrich, too.
But in this case, you know, anybody who reads a personal finance
magazine, "Money", "Smart Money", "Kiplinger," they would think you could
only give $13,000 a year, $26,000 for a married couple to each of your
children, and a lifetime maximum as recently as 2009 was $2 million.
But the Romney campaign acknowledged to "Reuters" that no gift taxes
were paid. Now, they didn`t do anything illegal, they didn`t do anything
improper. This is the scandal of the law, and how Romney`s positioned to
take advantage of it, in the way that most people would not be. And he was
able to pass this $100 million.
And, by the way, his sons who are getting about a million dollars a
year in income, they don`t pay any taxes on that, because mom and dad pay
the taxes for them.
O`DONNELL: Whoa, let me slow this down, I am already more than
stunned by this. I mean, I want to dwell for a second on what we all think
we`re limited by. We all believe as you said, that we have this index --
the number changes a little bit over time, but it`s now $13,000 that you
can give -- a parent, say, can give to one of their children without any
taxation involved, that`s how much you can give in one year.
And the reason you can`t give them $100 million in a year or a million
dollars in a year, is that we`re trying to make things work within an
inheritance tax structure, we don`t want to you avoid inheritance tax by
giving it to kids while you`re alive. So, we have these tax rules there.
I have never heard of anyway -- I have listened to tax planners and
estate planners -- they will always say to you -- well, there`s that limit,
and there`s the lifetime limit of what you can do when those annual
donations add up. I`ve never heard anyway around it, which is why all
sorts of lawyers and tax planners are making a lot of money trying to
explain to people how to comply with all of these rules.
And now you`re telling me there`s five kids who somehow got 1$100
million with nobody paying any tax on that transfer?
JOHNSTON: And that`s just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, Lawrence,
lots of people do these transactions. And that`s one of the things I`ve
been trying to get people to understand is, the rules as they appear on the
surface are not the real rules in the tax system. Basically in this case,
he was able, I believe, to give carried interest -- that is this right to
profits that`s taxed as if it was capital gains to his children, transfer
it to them.
But can you transfer stock options, you can transfer property where
you take it back, and if the value of the property is going like this and
the government official interest rate like it is now way down here, why you
can pass forward a lot of money to your children.
And -- that`s why these very wealthy families, despite the estate tax
law that`s designed to create a meritocracy.
Remember, years ago, Warren Buffett said to me, if we don`t have an
estate tax, it`s like we want the Olympic team 20 years from now to be the
sons of the winners of this year`s gold medals. It makes no sense
whatsoever. But that`s what we do economically.
And Romney has really worked this system for his benefit and his
O`DONNELL: David Cay Johnston, we`re going to put a link on our Web
site to your article, because everyone has to read it. I have written
about tax law in the Senate. I have worked my own tax returns every year.
I`ve never been able to do my tax returns alone. I`ve always need help
I do not understand what`s going on here. I listen to the words you
say, I understand the words. I do not understand how they`re getting away
with this. This is a massive scandal --
JOHNSTON: Well, I`ll try to do a better job.
O`DONNELL: No, no. This is my failure of comprehension. It`s a
massive scandal. I didn`t believe it`s possible. And I keep staring at
your work in stunned amazement at this. We`re going to keep coming back to
Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
JOHNSTON: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, reason number 279 why you need to vote in the
presidential election this year.
And later, an exclusive interview with Planned Parenthood president
Cecile Richards, why is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation making
it harder for women to get breast exams. Why would they do that?
O`DONNELL: In the Spotlight tonight, another crisis for Planned
Parenthood, as a former partner in women`s health issues turns against the
organization. Joining me now for an exclusive interview is Planned
Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards.
Cecile, we had a big long script in there telling this whole story of
what happened yesterday. But I just want to get to you. We were all
drowning in Florida primary coverage.
CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD FEDERATION OF AMERICA:
O`DONNELL: And yesterday, from what -- out of the blue -- the Komen
Foundation suddenly says, we don`t want to partner with you any more?
RICHARDS: Well, they told us really right before the holidays that
they were going to end all funding for Planned Parenthood health centers
that provide breast cancer screenings. This is a relationship we`ve had
for many years. It came as a total shock and a real disappointment.
We provide more than 700,000 breast exams every single year. And
we`ve been very proud of our relationship with the Komen Foundation.
O`DONNELL: Now it turns out the people in that foundation, Karen
Handle (ph), the senior VP, the president, they`re big Republican who have
been on the Republican side of the world for a long time. And there seems
to be a lot of political intrigue behind this?
RICHARDS: Well, I hope not. I mean, that`s what`s so surprising, I
think, and upsetting about it, is that we share a mission, which is to make
sure every woman in this country has breast cancer screening and early
detection. I think that the sad thing about this is when politics gets in
the way of women`s health care access.
We`re really hoping that the Komen Foundation will rethink this
decision and partner again with us in providing care to women across the
O`DONNELL: I`ve contributed to the Komen Foundation. A friend of
mine`s mother died of breast cancer. He asked us all if you want to do
anything, make a contribution. I did, a significant contribution. I am
stunned to learn what I`m learning now about this senior vice president,
Karen Handle. She ran for governor of Georgia in 2010. She was endorsed
by both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney.
One of her campaign promises was to defund Planned Parenthood. I
didn`t know that when I was contributing to them.
RICHARDS: Well, and I think historically the Komen Foundation has
been very focused on women`s breast cancer. They do fantastic work.
Unfortunately, they have been the target of a real right wing campaign to
try to end their relationship with Planned Parenthood.
Again, I hope they really rethink this and change their mind. We`ve
been trying to sit down with them and talk about this. And the work we
need to do together, frankly, to end breast cancer, and to certainly make
sure every woman in this country has access to screening.
O`DONNELL: You remember my friend last year who I told you about, who
sent me an e-mail about how she`s gotten virtually all of her health care
from Planned Parenthood over the years.
O`DONNELL: She just told me recently, before this happened, that she
had been waiting a year for a breast screening. She found something about
her own self-examination, very troubling. Took a -- it`s taken a year.
She`s very happy, thrilled that last week, she got her notice from Planned
Parenthood that she`s going to get her breast exam finally, a mammogram
This is what`s involved in -- she has no other way to get this done.
No other way.
RICHARDS: And that`s why part of this is so surprising, is that very
recently the Komen Foundation was praising the work that they do with us
and the care that we provide to many women who have no other source of
health care. They don`t have insurance. And many women, we`re the only
doctor they`ll see.
That`s actually why once this story broke, we have been flooded.
Thousand of women who have written to us, like your friend from around the
country, who count on Planned Parenthood as their doctor and were really
shocked and very saddened that the Komen Foundation would make this
O`DONNELL: What can people do who are interested in this to change
RICHARDS: Well, again, our Facebook page has exploded. There are
folks coming and liking us on Facebook, writing in their concerns. And
we`ve actually created a whole Breast Health Fund now, to try to replace
the money that we lost from the Komen Foundation. Because our commitment,
again, is to the women who have come to see us.
O`DONNELL: So now there`s a place at Planned Parenthood where you can
contribute specifically earmarking to fill this gap.
RICHARDS: That`s exactly right. And in fact, in the last 24 hours,
we`ve had 6,000 people, mainly small donors.
O`DONNELL: Tell the audience where they go.
RICHARDS: They can go to PlannedParenthood.org and say that you want
to contribute to the Breast Health Fund. Yes, and again, we`d love to have
the support -- and again, we`re really hoping that this is something that
the Komen Foundation will rethink, and we can re-establish what has been a
great partnership for many years.
O`DONNELL: I have to say to them, I can`t imagine anyone I know who`s
contributed to them the way I have, who would contribute under these
circumstances. The people I know won`t.
RICHARDS: Well -- and breast cancer, it`s just -- it`s not anything
that we need to be playing politics with. This is a serious issue.
There`s not a woman in this country who hasn`t been touched -- a family
member, a friend who hasn`t been touched by breast cancer.
O`DONNELL: I`m glad there`s another place to go for people who want
to make contributions, PlannedParenthood.org.
O`DONNELL: Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood, thank you very much
for joining me tonight.
RICHARDS: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, how the bankruptcy of American Airlines shows
us why voting for president is even just a little bit more important than
you think. In fact, it`s reason number 279 why you should vote for
president. That`s in tonight`s Rewrite.
And later, the author of the book "How To Be Black" is here.
Apparently I have a lot to learn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": It`s time for an installment of
Cool/Not Cool. Cool/Not Cool.
Take a look. Here we go.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m so in love with
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- above the fruited plains.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In tonight`s Rewrite, I`m hoping to Rewrite your list of
reasons why you vote for president, by adding at least one little item to
that list. You know, and you need a list of reasons for voting in a
country where half of our voters don`t even bother to vote. When the non-
voters ask you why you vote, you can`t just tell them it`s your civic duty.
You have to give them something real, and something realer than hope and
change, which, by the way, has never been on my list of reasons to vote for
My list is a little more nuts and bolts than hope and change. Number
one on my list has been and always will be, you are voting for the person
who will choose the next Supreme Court justices, the most important
appointed jobs that exist in government, and arguably, at many points in
our history, the most important jobs in our government.
Since we are now 279 days from the election, let`s look at number 279
on my list of reasons why I vote for president. Number 279 on my list is,
of course, the PBGC. Now I`m sure most of you are nodding and saying,
yeah, yeah, the PBGC. It may be number 300 for some of you. It may be
If you work at American Airlines, it may very well be your number one
reason this time. And I guess there are some of you, very few of you, who
are saying, what the heck is the PBGC? Which is what everyone in the
offices of THE LAST WORD said today when I brought up the PBGC.
It`s also what I said back in the 1990s, when I had to organize a
Senate hearing that would include testimony from the head of the PBGC. I
didn`t know what it was.
I promise you, I wasn`t the only chief of staff of a Senate committee
who couldn`t name you every government agency. But I was probably the only
one who couldn`t name every government agency that was under my
jurisdiction. With jurisdiction over the Treasury Department, the Health
and Human Services Department, the Social Security Administration, the
United States Trade Representative and a few other cats and dogs, I never
quite got around to noticing the PBGC until they had to come to testify.
If you`ve got a pension plan run by your employer, as many people on
the staff of THE LAST WORD do, you should really care about the PBGC, the
Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the federal government agency that
guarantees that you will collect a pension even if your company goes
bankrupt and cannot make good or doesn`t want to make good on its pension
promises to you.
And you should care about who the director of the Pension Benefit
Guarantee Corporation is, which means you absolutely must care about who
appoints the director of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. And
that is, of course, the president of the United States, subject to
confirmation by the United States Senate.
There may have been a lot of people working at American Airlines last
year who didn`t know about the PBGC, but now they all do. And most of them
now know about this man, Joshua Gotbaum, President Obama`s director of the
PBGC, because he is now doing everything he possibly can to save the
pensions that are being threatened by the American Airlines bankruptcy
American Airlines announced today that it hopes to cut 13,000 jobs.
That`s 16 percent of its workforce. And to terminate its workers` pension
plan, just end it, throw it out, and replace it eventually, when they get
around to it, with a much lower cost plan, with much lower benefits.
Now, pilots retiring in the next couple years would probably lose
something like 50 percent of the pension benefits that they`ve been
counting on. Last month, American Airlines would have had to contribute 97
million dollars to its workers` pension funds if it were not being
protected by bankruptcy proceedings.
Instead of fulfilling their 97 million dollar obligation to the
pension fund, American Airlines contributed only 6.5 million dollars to the
pension plans, less than what the Adelson`s contributed to Newt Gingrich`s
campaign. Ninety one million less than the company owed those pension
plans, 91 million.
Now, the president of the United States did not notice that American
Airlines short changed its worker pension plans by 91 million dollars last
month. He was too busy ordering the rescue of another American hostage and
killing some Somali pirates in the process.
But the president`s man at the PBGC, Joshua Gotbaum, saw what American
Airlines did to its workers` pensions. And he immediately put liens on 91
million dollars of American Airlines` assets. Most of the assets he put
liens on are in Latin America. And none -- none of the assets are part of
the bankruptcy proceedings.
The first line of the "New York Times" report on this said the federal
government signaled that it was, quote, "ready to fight to prevent American
Airlines from using bankruptcy to shed its pension plans." "Ready to
In a news conference, Joshua Gotbaum said, "companies in bankruptcy
often try to do things that they don`t need to do."
And you know who helps them do those things that they don`t need to
do? Bain and Company, Mitt Romney`s old company. Bain is one of a group
of high priced consultants and financial advisers who have been hired by
American Airlines to help get through the bankruptcy process, by, of
course, making the financial condition of the company much worse.
That`s what they do. Bain and the other consultants and lawyers
working on the American Airlines bankruptcy are being paid 14 million
dollars a month. That`s more than double what American Airlines put in its
pension fund last month. Bain`s job is to advice American Airlines how to
cut labor costs, something any company ought to be able to figure out on
its own, if it has to do that.
All the Bain blood suckers have done so far at American Airlines is
increase the company`s costs. But the president`s man at the PBGC, Joshua
Gotbaum, is watching every move they make with only one objective in his
mind every day, to preserve the pensions of those pilots who ever day bear
a more awesome responsibility than any other workers in our society.
They have, in their hands, every hour that they`re in the air, the
lives of hundreds of people sitting behind them, and other people on the
ground, if they somehow cannot bring that plane in for a safe landing.
Joshua Gotbaum is fighting is to preserve the pensions of those
mechanics, the unseen heroes with the awesome responsibility of making
those glorious and infinitely complex machines fly, and fly safely.
He`s fighting to preserve the pensions of those flight attendants,
every one of whom knows how to save your life with the defibrillator on
board every airplane. If you or someone you love has a heart attack in the
air, it is that flight attendant, who annoyed you by ordering you to turn
off your phone, who will be rushing to your seat to try to save your life.
The Bain guy in his First Class seat is not going to run back and save
you when you have a heart attack. The Bain guy doesn`t know how to do
that. The Bain guy doesn`t know how to fly the plane. The Bain guy
doesn`t know how to land the plane. The Bain guy is absolutely useless to
The Bain guy is only on the plane because he`s bleeding money from
American Airlines to try make himself as rich as Mitt Romney. Or he`s on
his way to some other city, where he can bleed some other company and try
to get even richer than Mitt Romney.
In November, you will have a chance to vote for the person who
appoints the director of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. And
the choice you will be offered will be President Barack Obama or a Bain
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Did you know the president could sing?
D.L. HUGHLEY, COMEDIAN: I did.
O`DONNELL: Oh you did? You`ve heard him sing?
HUGHLEY: Yes. No, I didn`t. But he just walked like could.
O`DONNELL: Yes, he walked like he could sing.
HUGHLEY: Because he can`t dance. He can`t dance. So one -- he had
to fit on one of the slides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was D.L. Hughley in THE VERY LAST WORD, an additional
portion of my interview with him that we posted on our website, after doing
a way too short segment with him on the show.
Joining me now is Baratunde Thurston, digital director of "the Onion,"
whose front page headlines today include "Romney Celebrates Florida Win
With All Night Miami Beach Rave."
Thank you very much for joining me tonight.
BARATUNDE THURSTON, "THE ONION": Thanks for having me.
O`DONNELL: I have to say, our audience, not all of them get the joke.
"The Onion" is actually not a serious newspaper.
THURSTON: No, it is the most trusted, I would say, the finest news
source, though not necessarily the most serious. Often truthful.
O`DONNELL: But it`s a joke.
O`DONNELL: Your book, sir, which I am working my way through -- I got
a lot of notes, "How to be Black," which I feel has a great deal to teach
THURSTON: I actually have another version of the book. This is the
black version of the book.
THURSTON: Yes, there are race appropriate versions.
O`DONNELL: I have the white version -- well -- so what`s different in
THURSTON: They`re the same on the inside.
O`DONNELL: Same words?
THURSTON: Just like people, Lawrence. It`s a metaphor.
O`DONNELL: Oh, I get it.
THURSTON: Poetry in book cover.
O`DONNELL: You say in this book, "I will attempt to recomplicate
blackness, exposing the challenges, the fun and the future of being black
in the United States. It`s also a convenient way to make you care about my
Why would you want to recomplicate blackness? Come on.
THURSTON: Because for too long it`s been piped down into a few simple
archetypes of black personalities you can. You can -- in the
entertainment, you can be the thug. You can be the rapper. You can be the
sassy black woman. There`s so much more to black people. And we more --
so much more to people.
The book is ultimately about identity. We have now the power to share
that identity a little bit more.
O`DONNELL: You used a think tank of sorts, a panel?
THURSTON: Yeah, a black panel.
O`DONNELL: A black panel to ask important questions --
THURSTON: Very important.
O`DONNELL: That became chapter titles of the book. For example,
"when did you first realize you were black?"
THURSTON: That was a very powerful question. Yes, we --
O`DONNELL: It is. It`s the kind of question, the first -- when you
first hear it, you laugh. Then you go, wait a minute. When does a baby --
when does an infant, when does a toddler, when does it hit?
THURSTON: Yes. No, and I talked to Derek Ashawn (ph). He`s featured
in the book, head of a band called Soul Fedge (ph). He said, I was born in
Africa. Everybody was black. I didn`t realize I was black until I came to
the Middle East and to American. And then it was very much reinforced in
him that he was black.
So for some people, it comes much later. In general, the stories were
a little funny and also a little sad. There`s some little pain associated
with it, some exclusions, some reminder that you`re different from the
people around you. And that`s one of the earliest notifications people
have that they`re black.
O`DONNELL: You have another chapter title in discussion, can you
O`DONNELL: There`s a cliche that black people can`t swim. Just want
to submit for the record, the best swimmer I have ever known is black.
And you also have black at Harvard and life in Boston. Careful there.
THURSTON: I know you`re from Dorchester with a big D. I know.
O`DONNELL: You have indicted Boston as being one of the most
segregated cities. It is insane, isn`t it?
There`s nothing like it.
THURSTON: I lived in Boston for 12 years. I spent four years there
as a student, eight years as a full taxpayer, contributing to the economy.
It took me years to see black people. I realized, they`re there. They`re
just in a whole other part. For a city that`s been around so long with
such a great history, it is a little odd --
O`DONNELL: You can go to Harvard, as you did, and never see that part
THURSTON: Yes, and I got on my bike and I did go around. I wasn`t
just stuck on campus.
O`DONNELL: No, it is a -- it used to be, in certain places,
shockingly segregated. Literally, this side of Dorchester Avenue was this
color and that side was that color. It`s been the slowest changing place
in that respect.
THURSTON: I`ve said this before, I`ve never seen a city so
effectively hide its black population.
O`DONNELL: We could go on and on. And we actually are. We`ll do one
of those D.L. Hughley things for the website.
The book is "How to Be Black." Baratunde Thurston, thank you very
much joining me tonight.
THURSTON: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: You can THE LAST WORD online at our blog,
TheLastWord.MSNBC.com. And you can see THE VERY LAST WORD online tonight
on our website.
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