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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, April 9th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Lawrence O‘Donnell, Jonathan Turley, Charles Swift, Margaret Carlson




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

Supreme Court Justice Kagan?  Supreme Court Justice Garland?  Supreme Court Justice Patrick?  Supreme Court Justice Granholm?

John Paul Stevens is retiring.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  While we cannot replace Justice Stevens‘ experience or wisdom, I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities.


OLBERMANN:  And here come the dog whistles.  “Americans,” says Mr.  McConnell, “can expect Senate Republicans to make a sustained and vigorous case for judicial restraint.”

The impact on the court with Jonathan Turley; the impact on politics with Lawrence O‘Donnell.

The Wilkerson declaration: Secretary of State Powell‘s chief of staff say Bush and Cheney knew most detainees were innocent.  Of Cheney, Lawrence Wilkerson says, “If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”

A spokesman for Mr. Powell says, “The general does not know the basis upon which Colonel Wilkerson claims to know the views and intentions of the senior officials cited in the story.”

Our guest, attorney from the Hamdan case: Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift.

Republicans gather in New Orleans—


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Yes, we can kowtow to enemies, criticize allies, vacillate, bow, dither—


OLBERMANN:  To repeat, this woman is an idiot.  And research, finally, documenting the above-average racism within the Tea Party movement.

“Worsts”: Brent Bozell accuses Obama of offering Bart Stupak something to retire when Obama was trying to talk Stupak out of retiring.

And Thurber Friday: the rabbits who caused all the trouble, and the unicorn in the garden.

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.



OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

The letter arrived at the White House today at 10:30 in the morning, and by 10:45, they were calling the president on Air Force One to tell him the news.

In our fifth story tonight: Justice John Paul Stevens indeed will leave the Supreme Court at the end of this term, setting the stage for another summertime battle over an Obama nominee.

Stevens is the court‘s only military veteran, a Republican.  He was appointed to the court in 1975 by President Ford.  He will turn 90 years old later this month.

An early swing vote, Stevens found himself increasingly in the lead on the left—as the court has moved further and further to the right.  In recent years, he led the court coalition straddling ideological lines against Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power—most notably the claim the administration could detain and hold people indefinitely, denying them the Constitution‘s guarantee of due process.

Today, the president praised Stevens and spoke about the qualities he will look for as he selects the new nominee, possibly as early as next month.


OBAMA:  While we cannot replace his experience or wisdom, I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities—an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.  It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.


OLBERMANN:  Republicans, too, praised Justice Stevens today and then promptly demanded the president replace Stevens with someone who is nothing like Stevens.  Republicans, of course, support straight “up or down” votes for judicial nominees when Republicans are president, but Republican Senator Lamar Alexander today reserved the right to block an “up or down” vote.

And if you thought the nomination battle over Sonia Sotomayor was ugly, keep in mind the Republicans now have 41 senators plus bitter resentment over health care, a bigger tea party to placate, and midterm elections coming up in November.  Cue the white male hate speech.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST:  If he‘s smart, he will find a gay, handicapped, black woman who‘s an immigrant.  That‘s what—because that way he could just say when—she could be the devil.  She could say, I hate America, I want to destroy America.  And that way they‘ll only be able to say, “Well, why do you hate gay, immigrant, black, handicapped women?”


OLBERMANN:  Yes, because we all saw how effectively being a black woman insulates you from Republican accusations that you hate America.

So, which radicals top President Obama‘s short list?  According to most reports, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, so radical that she only got seven Republican votes in her confirmation vote last year.  Federal Judge Diane Woods‘ name is also being mentioned.  As is fellow federal judge, Merrick Garland.  Along with some names outside the current judiciary, including Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and another close Obama ally, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, like Patrick, a former prosecutor.

Let‘s bring in a scholar of constitutional law, George Washington University Law School professor, Jonathan Turley.

Jon, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  Regardless of who‘s next, what in your opinion is the impact on the court of Justice Stevens leaving?

TURLEY:  Well, for liberals, it‘s a very sad moment.  You know, Stevens was part of what you would call the greatest generation for liberals on the court.  It‘s like watching the passing of World War II veterans.

This was—he came at the heyday of the liberal court.  He replaced Douglas.  He served with Marshall, Brennan.  These were giants in liberal icons.  And he is the last of that generation.  And that has an impact.

But a far greater impact and more immediate one is that there are many very important doctrines that are currently being held in a five-four split.  And those splits were engineered by the genius of John Paul Stevens.  He became a pretty crafty guy when the court moved to the right, in finding ways to pick up one vote to swing the case in his direction.

It‘s a very tentative balance that, if you see someone who is slightly to the right of Stevens, you could see a cascading effect on those doctrines, particularly in the area of civil liberties.

OLBERMANN:  To paraphrase to some degree and quote to some degree the president, he‘s looking for a nominee who understands how law affects our lives, who knows that powerful interest should not be allowed to drown out other voices—can you give an idea of how those notions would frame this confirmation battle that looms ahead?

TURLEY:  Well, there‘s often an attempt to create sort of a narrative for these nominations.  I tend not to like those things.

Look, Clarence Thomas had a very moving life.  He came from very desperate conditions.  And yet, you don‘t necessarily view him as a sort of empathetic figure.  And so, you know, it is important to see—have someone who understands the impact of the law.  But it‘s probably as, if not more important, to have someone who has a vision of the law and to really move the court intellectually.

We don‘t have a system anymore that seems to be able to pick the Louis Brandeis out of the crowd, someone who‘s going to change the law.  And that‘s one of the reasons why people look back at that greatest generation of justices.  It just seems like the court is much smaller now, more partisan than it was.

OLBERMANN:  If Stevens was indeed more than just the sum of his votes and if the president is to pick someone, less, if you will, liberal than Stevens—does that necessarily mean the president‘s going to move a conservative court even further to the right?

TURLEY:  I think it just might.  I mean, you know, Justice Sotomayor, in her confirmation hearings, agreed with some positions like not using international judgments as precedent, that shifted the court slightly.

With Stevens, the impact could be far, far greater—particularly in the area of civil liberties.  Some of these people, like Kagan, are not popular with civil libertarians.  She does agree with the president‘s position, and that position is close to the Bush administration on many of those civil liberties issues.

If he selects someone like that, it could have a massive impact.  You could see a number of doctrines change dramatically.

OLBERMANN:  And the Republican response already, McConnell, and we‘re going to make the case for judicial restraint, others saying he should—the replacement here, he should be a strict constructionalist.  Does either of those descriptions apply to Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas?

TURLEY:  Well, you know, frankly, strict constructionism seems to be in the eye of the beholder.  You know, strict construction didn‘t seem to stop the conservatives in saying that President Bush can simply declare a citizen to be an enemy combatant and strip them of all their rights, including access to the court.  There seemed to be a lot of language in the Constitution that was ignored in favor of an unstated level of presidential authority.

So, I don‘t think that could be an effective litmus test.

OLBERMANN:  Professor Jonathan Turley, George Washington University Law School—as always, great thanks.  Have a great weekend.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks, Jon.

Now, let‘s turn to MSNBC political analyst, “Huffington Post” contributor, Lawrence O‘Donnell, formerly chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee.

Good evening, sir.


OLBERMANN:  All right.  How materially and relevantly has this landscape politically shifted since the Sotomayor confirmation hearing last year?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, we know that the new first question on constitutional law is going to be: what do you think of the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the health care law?

So much has changed in addition to that, Keith.  We‘re in an election season.  Sotomayor was not in an election year.  She was lucky not to be in an election year—because being in an election year and what will be the fall of an election year possibly for the vote on it means it‘s going to be an intensely political choice.

There may be almost no Republican votes available here this time around.  I think we‘ll be looking possibly at just the New England Republicans maybe being on board with this nominee.

Also there isn‘t a very clear front-runner.  As soon as the last opening occurred, my first chance to a microphone at MSNBC, I was saying Sonia Sotomayor.


O‘DONNELL:  It was very clear that she was the wise political choice for Obama to make.  There isn‘t such a clear choice this time.

OLBERMANN:  The early indications today, though, among those names that were thrown out, most of them originate from a short list that the “Associated Press” either compiled or quoted somebody who had compiled it, included Ms. Kagan.  And the early indications about her were that conservatives, they might vote completely against her but would be delighted to see her on the Supreme Court.

Do we know if the president is even considering any true liberals, any progressives?  Or has he, in some degree, as part of this political environment, internalized criticism from the right to the extent that it‘s now OK, in essence, to say, “We‘re going to discriminate against liberals and progressives”?

O‘DONNELL:  The people who have internalized the criticisms of the right are all the people who are growing up to be candidates for the Supreme Court for a Democratic president, Keith.  They‘re almost all Manchurian candidates now.  They‘ve lived the last couple of decades of their professional lives being very careful not to be caught leaning overtly in liberal directions.

And so, President Obama‘s chore is going to be finding the liberal within the people who have had to pose this way for what is now decades.  And so, it‘s a tricky process.  I think the president is probably very good at this.

And let‘s remember, where—this is to replace a justice who was supposed to be a conservative Republican justice and is leaving the court as the leaning liberal on the court.  And so, we don‘t really know what any of these people really think until they start issuing Supreme Court opinions.

OLBERMANN:  Is there any factor more important, ultimately, for the nominee, whoever he or she is, than age?  Or is the first question going to be: how many of your ancestors lived to be 100 or more?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, they really want as long a run they can get out of this nominee.  It‘s very, very important.  There‘s no way of knowing what the Democratic presidencies are going to look like 20 years from now, 30 years from now.  And so, age is very important.

And again, that—that liberal—you know, the liberal who‘s hiding under the cover of whatever this person has lived at—lived as for the last 20 years, 30 years.

OLBERMANN:  The ranking judiciary member, Jeff Sessions, said today that America had rejected President Obama‘s, quote, “empathy standard.”

Regardless of who this nominee is, it seems as if this is a microcosm for a bigger battle about the judiciary itself.  Give it 30, 45 seconds, and tell me what that means.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s about who we are as a people.  It‘s about—it‘s this question of: was it right for Sonia Sotomayor to suggest that there were things about the way she grew up in this world, about how she came to live her life in America, that would affect the way she thinks in her work life.

Now, it is obvious to anyone that the influences in our backgrounds and lives as we grow up affect the way they think.  What Republicans want to pretend and they want to pretend this only now, is that there‘s such a thing as some sort of legal technocrat who was born, I guess, to lawyers and never had any non-judicial thought in their lifetimes.

Now, when Sam Alito was confirmed, he, of course, did say he thought about his Italian ancestors and their chore—the chore they had coming into this country when he was sitting on the bench.  So, this is a new Republican thought that there‘s some sort of technocrat that they can put in there who has no human influences in their thinking.

OLBERMANN:  Somebody whose ancestors are King Solomon and Marcus Welby, M.D.

Lawrence O‘Donnell of MSNBC and “The Huffington Post” joining us from New Orleans—thanks a lot, Lawrence.  Have a good weekend.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Justice Stevens‘ stand against summary detention at Gitmo was taken before one of the most stunning on-the-record accusations made by anyone ever from a previous presidential administration.  The charge today from the chief of staff of the secretary of state under President Bush is that Bush and his vice president and defense secretary knew that a majority of those detainees were guilty of nothing, and they didn‘t care, and they didn‘t do anything about it.  And this statement is made under oath—next.


OLBERMANN:  Wilkerson declaration: the former chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Powell swears that President Bush and Vice President Cheney knew most so-called “terror detainees” were innocent and they did not care.

The fight for the soul of the Republican Party—you will not believe who seems to think it is him versus Sister Sarah.

It is Thurber Friday, time for two fables tonight, including the remarkably relevant, “the rabbits who caused all the trouble.”

And maybe a TV commercial with just Tiger Woods looking blankly at a camera which anybody can reedit with any voice track they can find wasn‘t such a good idea.  Two words, Carl Spackler.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  The allegation of the ultimate cynicism is not original, but its source, a senior member of the Bush administration is extraordinary.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Secretary of State Colin Powell‘s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, says Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld knew the majority of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay were innocent.  But fearing it would derail for push for war in Iraq, fearing it would harm what they called the “war on terror,” they did nothing about it.

Wilkerson, signing a declaration of—in support of a lawsuit filed by a former detainee at Gitmo against the U.S.—that document obtained by the “Times of London.”  That detainee, Adel Hassan Hamad, held until from March 2003 to December 2007, does not know why he was seized, claims he was tortured by U.S. agents while in custody.

Colonel Wilkerson says Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney believed it was, quote, “politically impossible to release the innocent,” in part because “detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operations that they were.”  This was, quote, “not acceptable to the administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DODd.

According to Wilkerson, the secretary of the defense and the vice president also believed that innocent people languishing in Guantanamo for years was justified by broader war on terror and the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11th attacks.

Concerning Mr. Cheney in particular, quote, “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent.  If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it,” end quote.

Wilkerson says he also discussed the detainee issue with Secretary Powell.  “I learned that it was his view that it was not just Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld but also President Bush who was involved in all the Guantanamo decision making.”

Earlier this evening, a spokeswoman for Mr. Powell told COUNTDOWN, “The general does not know the basis upon which Colonel Wilkerson claims to know the views and intentions of the senior officials cited in the story.”

Joining me now, one of the attorneys in the milestone detainee case known for his client Salim Hamdan, current criminal defense attorney, Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift.

It‘s good to talk to you again, sir.

LT. CMDR. CHARLES SWIFT, U.S. NAVY RETIRED:  It‘s good to see you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Does Colonel Wilkerson‘s involvement increase the likelihood of forcing Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, somebody, to testify anywhere, or can this, too, like everything else, be ignored?

SWIFT:  It gets over one of the two major obstacles to bringing such a suit.  And that‘s the state secrets doctrine.  Basically the administration has defended a great many of these, both of Bush and the Obama administration under the state secrets doctrine, saying that if we have to defend ourselves, we‘ll give away state secrets.  Sometimes that‘s just will be embarrassed, but they‘ve used that doctrine.

Colonel Wilkerson‘s declaration makes that much more difficult to apply that doctrine because it gives the plaintiff enough to go forward.  The real difficulty for this plaintiff, though, is something called the Detainee Treatment Act of 2006.  The Detainee Treatment Act stripped all Guantanamo detainees of the right to sue.

Now, you might remember that part of that was overturned (INAUDIBLE) in 2008 by the Supreme Court—Justice Stevens and Justice Kennedy leading the way on that one.  But the real concern is that was only in habeas.  And habeas is a constitutional guaranteed right, and this is a civil suit.  And as a civil suit suing it, it would come under a different—under statutory, Foreign Torts Claims Act.  And I‘m not sure that he will have standing.

Another military declaration may help them a great deal, though—and that was a military officer that revealed that the CSRTs were basically frauds.  And, again, the administration had said the same thing.  We can‘t be embarrassed.  Therefore, you must return the result.  We‘ll send it back to you until we get the results we want.

So, it will be interesting to see if the court says, well, he was found to be a combatant by a CSRT.  Never mind that a federal judge later overturned that, he still doesn‘t have standing or not.  So, it‘s we‘ve got to see.

OLBERMANN:  Coincidentally, today, federal court ordered the release of one Gitmo detainee, Mohamedou Ould Salahi had been accused of participating in the millennium plot, the so-called “millennium plot.”  The judge ruled that the allegations against him were not supported by any credible evidence and the detainee was subjected to brutal, physical, and psychological torture, and almost daily interrogations for most of the nine years he was detained.

Are there implications in that ruling, would it affect future cases like the one that we‘ve been talking about here brought upon which Mr.  Wilkerson made his remarks?

SWIFT:  I think it‘s one of the most intelligent rulings made so far, coincidentally by the judge who ruled initially in Hamdan, Judge Robertson, who if we‘re nominating people for the Supreme Court, I‘d love to nominate.  He‘s a logical successor to Justice Stevens, as also a former military officer.

But, you know, that case, what Justice Robertson rejected, again, was the fact that any evidence could be based on torture.  And it goes back to that simple idea that in Guantanamo, if we don‘t have evidence to prove that you did something, then we will question you with whatever method necessary to get that evidence from you.  In other words, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, I think a lot of that was the political pressure that was placed on people who were down there.  You have to prove that we haven‘t made a mistake.

OLBERMANN:  Does any of this put any additional pressure on this president to close and fulfill his promise to close Gitmo?

SWIFT:  Ultimately, I think, you know, as Guantanamo goes forward, one of the real questions and I think it‘s difficulty is that these habeas, as they keep being decided or being decided at an incredible rate for the detainees, and that puts pressure on the president because more and more people who are currently held in Guantanamo are being found to have had—there being no basis for them to have been detained in the first place.

You can‘t say, well, we‘re really not having any harm done other than to our image.  Actually, we‘re harming people who are innocent.  And that should put pressure on.

OLBERMANN:  Charlie Swift, former JAG attorney, now criminal defense attorney—as I said earlier, a pleasure to talk to you again, sir.

SWIFT:  Thanks.  Good to talk to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Palin versus who for the soul of the Republican Party?  Or is the Tea Party going to subsume the Republican Party anyway?

First in retrospect, it should have been just so obvious this was going to happen.  The Tiger Woods Nike ad, the “Caddy Shack” version, the twisted sister version, the young Frankenstein version.


OLBERMANN:  Racism in the Tea Party, the university research study, and the Tea Party in the GOP or is it going to be the other way around?

First, I started to tweet yesterday.  We‘re going to try to do like a

reply tweet of the day next week, but I was a little overwhelmed by the

response.  I got like 24,000 followers in one day.  Now, from the limited

amount of tweet reading that I have done since last night—between naps -

I‘m told the record for somebody‘s first 24 hours is 56,000, which was set by the Dalai Lama.  You do not want to break a record set by the Dalai Lama.  So I got that going for me.  Thank you.


Let‘s play “Oddball.”


OLBERMANN:  We begin on the non-tweet parts of the world wide interwebs where the simplistic beauty of the Tiger Woods Nike ad continues to mutate into semi-vulgar Internet matchups.  Last night, we brought you the “Shawnshank Redemption” redo, the “My wife found your number” voicemail remake, and the Tiger Woods Nike ad meets an instructional film on V.D.

Tonight, there are more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right, mister.  What do you think you‘re doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you listening to me?  What do you want to do with your life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You guys are so right, you‘re right from the beginning.  I need a genital to genital connection, and that‘s all I need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is great.  I‘m looking at you.  You are green, so you can hide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum, yum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People hate you.  By why do they hate you? 

Because they are jealous!  You are not evil.  You are good!


OLBERMANN:  Back To Taiwan for an update on reality show contestant Lin Yu Chun (ph), the boy who sings like a lady.  When we first brought you Chun‘s vocal stylings Wednesday, we weren‘t sure whether he was a teenager or a full-fledged adult.  Today, the Associated Press reports Chun is 24.  Puberty, hello.

We have also learned that the guy who sings Whitney Houston songs better than Whitney Houston has another talent.  Lin Yu Chun can dance.  If only rerun from what‘s happening were alive to see this.  Voting lines for the Taiwanese reality show “Superstar Avenue” are still open.  To send Mr.  Chun to the next round, text Star 87 -- who the heck cares.  Just watch that kid dance.

So, who‘s going to eat who?  Are the Republicans going to consume the Tea Party, or the other way around?  Next on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  As half Governor Sarah Palin defends don‘t retreat, reload, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich describes the current political climate as the most series since the 1850s, and as a new poll substantiates that those who are racially resentful gravitate toward the Tea Party movement, the Republican party, in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, sounds more determined than ever, or desperate, to define themselves for a volatile base. 

Former Alaska Governor Palin sounded out her Obama bashing greatest hits today at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.  But she received a standing ovation when she described her favorite new slogan. 


SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  Or my favorite, don‘t retreat, reload.  And that is not a call for violence.  That, of course, meaning taking opportunity to engage in debate and to vote.  It‘s not a call for violence.  No one is calling for such a thing.  And the media‘s so desperate to discredit the people‘s movement and the Tea Party movement that they‘ll make that up.  But no, nobody‘s calling for violence. 


OLBERMANN:  Okay.  My turn was last night.  Now, it‘s viewer participation time.  That woman is an—last night, it was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plugging his new book, “To Save America, Stopping Obama‘s Secularist Socialist Machine.”  See if you can spot the difficult to pronounce plugs.


NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER:  This is the most radical administration in American history.  Then they meet with their two colleagues, Pelosi and Reid, and you have a perfect unrepresentative left wing machine, dedicated to a secular, socialist future. 

And what really got me to understand how different this period is—I believe this is the most serious conflict since the 1850s.  And the reason I say that is the American people, by last Summer, began to send a signal.  They went to town hall meetings.  They formed Tea Parties.  The polling numbers got worse and worse.  And the answer of the Democrats was to cancel town hall meetings, lie about the Tea Parties, and tell all their members to ignore the polls. 


OLBERMANN:  Palin does not have a monopoly.  Gingrich also declared that if the GOP wins back control of Congress, it will defeat Obama-ism by simply refusing to fund his radical efforts.  In other words, shut down the government, as he did as Speaker in 1995, which he acknowledged as a failure one year later.  Gingrich has now said he will decide if he‘s running for president by February of 2011. 

As for Tea Party love, the speakers at today‘s conference shared that affinity with a segment of the population that feels racially resentful.  The University of Washington survey finding those who describe themselves so, and who believe the government has done too much to support black people, are 36 percent more likely to support the Tea Party movement than everyone else.  White people in the south are 12 percent more likely to support the Tea Party than whites in other parts of the country. 

Quoting the director of the survey, political science professor Christopher Parker, “the Tea Party is not just about politics and the size of government, the data suggests it may also be about race.” 

Meantime, a prominent Tea Party group, the Tea Party Express, is claiming victory with the announced resignation of a prominent Democratic congressman, retirement, in any event, Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan, the pro-life Democrat who voted for the health care bill after the president agreed to sign an executive order outlining prohibitions against the use of federal funds for abortion.  The Tea Party Express ran ads against Stupak earlier this week, calling him a sellout who betrayed the Constitution. 

The congressman today said he not seek re-election because he has achieved his goal of health care reform. 


REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN:  When I first ran for Congress in 1992, I campaigned on a pledge to make affordable, quality health care a right, not a privilege, for all Americans.  I promised the people of the First Congressional District that I would not accept the insurance that members of Congress receive, the Federal Employees Health Benefit Package, until all Americans could have access to the same quality of care. 

For the last 18 years, I‘ve kept that promise.  Last month, we finally accomplished what I set out to do 18 years ago.  We passed comprehensive national health care reform. 


OLBERMANN:  But anger over the new health care law from some corners has caused an increase in threats against lawmakers.  There has been a nearly three fold increase in the number of serious threats against members of Congress in recent months, according to law enforcement officials speaking to “the Washington Post.”  Nearly all the recent threats appear to have come from opponents of the health care law.  That according to Terrance Gainer, the Senate‘s sergeant at arms, who also served as chief of the Capitol Police for four years. 

Let‘s turn to the political columnist for “Bloomberg News,” Washington editor of “The Week Magazine,” Margaret Carlson, who joins us from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.  Margaret, good evening. 


OLBERMANN:  Did we see a slice of 2012 GOP presidential cage match going on in there between Palin and Gingrich? 

CARLSON:  Well, they were the two heavy weights that are here.  The others, Governor Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, realized life isn‘t fair; there would be no oxygen for them to breathe, and decided not to come.  Sarah Palin is the real fire brand, however.  Newt Gingrich, whatever—he twists history, but he actually knows some in order to twist it, and has a few ideas. 

And Sarah Palin really goes for the jugular and the visceral.  The crowd is beside itself here at her presence.  It‘s a remarkable thing to see. 

OLBERMANN:  So it sounded like you were delicately phrasing an answer to the next question, which was: is Gingrich getting anything resembling his old reception from the ‘90s, when he was the fire brand? 

CARLSON:  You know, he got a lot of applause.  He performed last night.  He was asked whether he was going to run for president, and he said he was going to consult his third wife and God about it, and then he would decide.  And he did lay out, you know, a platform opposed to Obama, not just a bunch of slogans. 

And they were—the crowd was happy to have him here.  He seems old.  I mean, he seems like they were glad—they showed a lot of respect.  It would be like Ronald Reagan showing up.  I think the calendar‘s time has moved on. 

OLBERMANN:  The big picture question, presuming they both realize to split and to remain kind of connected, but often willing to go—each throw a candidate into a given race—that to split that way would give the Democrats basically anything they want.  Does the GOP wind up eating the Tea Party, or does the Tea Party end up eating the GOP? 

CARLSON:  Or drinking, you might say.  You know, the Tea Party is good at not electing someone, but doesn‘t have the apparatus or the attention span to elect someone.  They‘re going to have to unite with the GOP.  The GOP, on the other hand, has—like the South Carolina Republican party, decided not to fight them but to join them, and they are now one.  There may be some of that around the country, because the infrastructure that it takes to actually elect someone, the Tea Party just has no interest in doing.  And it‘s not what they‘re good at. 

They‘re good at carrying signs that say “don‘t tread on me,” and, you know—you know, oozies on their back, and just a whole bunch of slogans and bumper stickers.  So they‘ll need the party.  And the GOP will embrace them.  Sarah, today, said that, you know, she was leading the people‘s movement, the Tea Party.  And she was talking against the media for not accepting, you know, the Tea Party and mischaracterizing the people‘s movement.  So she has no trouble slurping the tea. 

OLBERMANN:  Gotten the greatest free publicity of any outside group in American political history.  Margaret Carlson of “Bloomberg News” and “The Week Magazine,” have a great time in New Orleans. 

CARLSON:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  It‘s Thurber Friday.  Time for two, including the always politically relevant, “The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble.”

Forced to give your boss a list of three employees who are dragging down your office; a TV news director makes the worst lists.

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, more on today‘s big announcement that Justice John Paul Stevens will be stepping down from the Supreme Court.


OLBERMANN:  Not one, but two of the fables for our time, on this James Thurber Friday.  That‘s next, but first tonight‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Steve Hivenen (ph), the news director of the CBS station in Orlando, WKMG, formerly of MSNBC it says here.  Like every other local news boss ever, he has scheduled a news room summit for all his staffers on a Saturday.  First one I went to, 1984.  This one has a twist.  In a memo, Mr. Hivenen is asking news employees to throw one another under the bus.  Quote, “vote for the battery drainers.  That‘s right, who in the news room is often a negative influence on what we do?  Who has a poor work ethic?  Who makes little positive contribution to the news room our news project?  Same drill; write, type three names on a piece of paper and drop it into the battery drainer‘s box in my office.  Everyone must vote.  Your votes are anonymous.” 

Mandatory snitching.  Fill out three names on a piece of paper and abandon those people to their fate.  WKMG staffers, I‘ve got a solution.  Write out three names, Steve Hivenen, Steve Hivenen, and Steve Hivenen. 

That was for the staff here.

Our runner up, Stuart Varney of Fox.  I always think fondly of breaking into TV with Stu at CNN, when he taught me how to use a teleprompter, and he was cordial to the new guy, and he sat there and encouraged me to do an impersonation of him on the air and all that.  Then this happened: “Europe is paralyzed with debt, subject to massive entitlement programs, and riddled with anxiety.  We are going down that road with our taxation policies.  Once we enact a VAT, a hidden sales tax, we go even further down that road.  It is profoundly un-American.  We‘re going to resemble Europeans who, essentially, are a pact of Pagan losers, and I don‘t want to go in that direction.” 

Well, Stu, you‘re still from England.  You still went to the London School of Economics.  You‘ve still got a tryout from a British soccer team when you were a teenager.  You may not like it, but you are European by geography and treaty.  You just called yourself a pagan loser. 

Speaking of which, our winner, Brent Bozell, the humorless peasant from the Media Research Center, who Tweets, “Bart Stupak retiring?   What did Obama offer him?  This reeks to high heaven.” 

First of all, what would you know about heaven?  More importantly, Obama didn‘t want Stupak to quit.  Why would he want an incumbent Democrat to vacate his seat seven months before the midterms?  How do we know that?  Because to quote a news website, “President Obama called Stupak on Wednesday to talk him out of retiring, Fox News learned.” 

I don‘t know what kind of pinko bearded commie you are, Mr. Bozell.  But if you‘re questioning the validity of the reporting of Fox News, I‘ll have to ask you to step outside.  Brent “Fox News Can‘t Be Trusted” Bozell, today‘s worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN:  If you missed last Friday, as I read the timeless short stories of James Thurber to my late father, he insisted I should read them here on COUNTDOWN.  What followed next is almost fiction itself.  I read one, and it turned out Mr. Thurber‘s daughter and granddaughter and the agents of his literary estate are viewers and loved the idea.  So what better way to close out a week than some of the best writing of the 20th Century? 

As we see from tonight first of two selections, writing that is extraordinarily relevant to the politics of the 21st century.  Two selections tonight published in “Fables For Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated” in 1940.  I‘m reading from the jam-packed 1,000 pages of the “Library of America, James Thurber, Writings and Drawings.”  And that is from 1996.

“The Rabbit Who Caused All The Trouble,” by James Thurber. 

“Within the memory of the youngest child, there was a family of rabbits who lived near a pack of wolves.  The wolves announced that they did not like the way the rabbits were living.  The wolves were crazy about the way themselves were living, because it was the only way to live. 

One night, several wolves were killed in an earthquake, and this was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that rabbits pound on the ground with their hind legs and cause earthquakes. 

On another night, one of the wolves was killed by a bolt of lightning and this was also blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that lettuce eaters cause lightning. 

The wolves threatened to civilize the rabbits if they didn‘t behave.  And the rabbits decided to run away to a desert island.  But the other animals who lived at a great distance shamed them, saying you must stay where you are and be brave.  This is no world for escapists.  If the wolves attack you, we will come to your aid, in all probability. 

So the rabbits continued to live near the wolves.  And one day, there was a terrible flood, which drowned a great many wolves.  This was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that carrot nibblers with long ears cause floods. 

The wolves descended on the rabbits, for their own good, and imprisoned them in a dark cave for their own protection.  When nothing was heard about the rabbits for some weeks, the other animals demanded to know what had happened to them.  The wolves replied the rabbits had been eaten.  And since they had been eaten, the affair was a purely internal matter. 

But the other animals warned that they might possibly unite against the wolves, unless some reason was given for the destruction of the rabbits.  So the wolves gave them one.  They were trying to escape, said the wolves.  And as you know, this is no world for escapists. 

Moral?  Run.  Don‘t walk, to the nearest desert island.” 

“The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble,” by James Thurber. 

And now to lighten the mood a little bit, from the same work, “The Unicorn in the Garden,” by James Thurber. 

“Once upon a sunny morning, a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn, quietly cropping the roses in the garden.  The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her.  There‘s a unicorn in the garden, he said, eating roses.  She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him; the unicorn is a mythical beast, she said, and turned her back on him. 

The man walked slowly down stairs and out into the garden.  The unicorn was still there.  He‘s now browsing among the tulips.  Here, unicorn, said the man.  And he pulled up a lily and gave it to him.  The unicorn ate it, gravely. 

With a high heart, because there was a unicorn in his garden, the man went upstairs and roused his wife again.  The unicorn, he said, ate a lily.  His wife sat up in bed and looked at him coldly.  You are a booby, and I‘ll have to put you in the booby hatch.  The man, who had never liked the words booby and booby hatch, and liked them even less on a shining morning when there was a unicorn in the garden, thought for a moment.  We‘ll see about that, he said. 

He walked over to the door.  He has a golden horn in the middle of his forehead, he told her.  Then he went back to the garden to watch the unicorn, but the unicorn had gone away.  The man sat down amongst the roses and went to sleep. 

As soon as the man got out of the house, the wife got up and dressed as fast as she could.  She was very excited and there was a gloat in her eye.  She telephoned the police, and she telephoned a psychiatrist.  She told them to hurry to her house and bring a strait jacket.  When the police and the psychiatrist arrived, they sat down in chairs and looked at her with great interest. 

My husband, she said, saw a unicorn this morning.  The police looked at the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist looked at the police.  He told me it ate a lily, she said.  The psychiatrist looked at the police, and the police looked at the psychiatrist.  He told me it had a golden horn in the middle of its forehead, she said. 

At a solemn signal from the psychiatrist, the police leaped from their chair and seized the wife.  They had a hard time subduing her, for she put up a terrific struggle, but they finally subdued her.  Just as they got her into the strait jacket, the husband came back into the house. 

Did you tell your wife you saw a unicorn, asked the police.  Of course not, said the husband.  The unicorn is a mythical beast.  That‘s all I wanted to know, said the psychiatrist.  Take her away.  I‘m sorry, sir, but your wife is as crazy as a jay bird.  So they took her away, cursing and screaming, and shut her up in an institution.  The husband lived happily ever after. 

The moral?  Don‘t count your boobies until they are hatched.” 

“The Unicorn in the Garden” by James Thurber. 

We‘ll see what we have for you again next week.  I‘ll Tweet about it.  That‘s COUNTDOWN, portions written by James Thurber.  Rachel Maddow and “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next here on MSNBC.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 



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