Guests: Ezra Klein, Arianna Huffington, David Cay Johnston
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Not dead yet. While Senate Democrats will run on a platform of “We assume you know we only want tax cuts for the middle class and there‘s nothing wrong with us not voting on them until after the midterms,” the speaker of the House is still pushing for actual votes on the cuts before the recess.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We will retain the right to proceed as we choose. America‘s middle class will have a tax cut. It will be done in this Congress.
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OLBERMANN: Ezra Klein on the machinations, Arianna Huffington on the cowardice in the Senate.
The first Bush tax cuts postmortem. David Cay Johnston with the first quantitative analysis of the real economic impact. In short, this from May 2001 -- this was nonsense.
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THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This tax relief helps all taxpayers—especially helps those at the low end of the economic ladder.
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OLBERMANN: The Colbert (INAUDIBLE). The comedian testifies to Congress about immigration and migrant workers. First, the funny—
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STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: My great grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants.
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OLBERMANN: Then, the deadly serious.
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COLBERT: The least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work but don‘t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still invite them to come here and at same time ask them to leave.
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OLBERMANN: Then, the incredibly stupid.
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MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: What the hell was he doing before the U.S. Congress?
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OLBERMANN: He was telling the truth. You wouldn‘t know about that.
“Fridays with Thurber”—the conclusion of “The Day the Dam Broke.”
“Worsts”: Liz Cheney‘s insult to the president turns out to be dumber than we knew—and what‘s wrong with this picture? Your eyes do not deceive you.
All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you spell that?
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OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
The idea and the spectacle of forcing Republicans to vote against tax cuts for the middle class is still on the map, but it has not been counted out.
Our fifth story amid background level White House dismay that the Senate Democrats bailed out on such a fight, some encouragement there because of the evidence that Speaker Pelosi will schedule the vote and the fight in the House before it adjourns next week.
To the speaker first, who today said “the House retained the right to proceed as we choose on middle class tax cuts.”
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PELOSI: America‘s middle class will have a tax cut. It will be done in this Congress. There is no question about that. A guarantee that we will have a tax cut for the middle class. Members overwhelmingly support that. There isn‘t a person in our caucus that isn‘t for tax cuts for the middle class.
And it‘s not about the election. It‘s is about the policy and we‘re all very strong on that, and members with a vote or without a vote can go home and talk about their commitment to that—especially with the leadership of President Obama being out there on it.
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OLBERMANN: As (INAUDIBLE) reports, Speaker Pelosi could schedule two separate tax votes and do so under a suspension of the rules which would then require a two-thirds supermajority for passage. The middle class tax vote would put all members on record. The vote on tax cuts for the wealthy would fail under this theory because even if conservative Democrats sided with Republicans, two-thirds would not be reached.
And there is evidence that House Democrats are still trying to reach consensus on some kind of vote, a proposal from Congressman Michael Capuano of Massachusetts and Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey would include a one-year extension of tax cuts on income under $500,000, as well as a five-year extension of current middle class tax rates.
According to “The Huffington Post‘s” Sam Stein, Blue Dog Democrats are still pushing for a temporary extension of additional tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans offset by spending cuts.
Meantime, what almost happened in the Senate, key Democrats pushed for a vote according to Greg Sargent of “The Plum Line” blog. Among them, Senator Chuck Schumer, the former chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Senator Robert Menendez, the current chair of that committee. According to an unnamed source, Schumer believed that Republicans were wary of such a vote.
Quoting Sargent‘s source, “It became clear that McConnell didn‘t want to have a vote. If McConnell sensed that it was a tell for Democrats, that there I was political advantage in having it, that‘s why Chuck was privately pushing for it.”
But, of course, yesterday, we learned through a spokesperson that Senate Leader Harry Reid will wait until after Election Day.
And an unnamed aide telling Sargent, quote, “People felt like why rock the boat on a good situation? People weren‘t sure how having a vote would affect that dynamic. We would have lost Democrats on certain aspects of the vote. Who knows if the media would cover that as Democrats being splintered? In a way, the good polling gave people faith that we don‘t need to do anything on the issue because we‘re already winning.”
On that note, let‘s bring in “Washington Post” staff reporter, “Newsweek,” columnist and MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein.
Ezra, it‘s good to see you in person.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: My understanding is that the White House is still holding out some hope about Speaker Pelosi. Is she determined to have the vote? Is she testing the waters? Where is it?
KLEIN: She‘s definitely testing the waters. I mean, here, this is an interesting rule she‘s thinking of breaking it up under. What she‘s worried about if she brings it up normally is that she brings up the middle class tax cuts they pass, but Republicans use a procedural move to bring up the rich tax cuts too and they passed, and she doesn‘t want that. The policy, as she said, is the point for her.
So, if she uses a suspension rule, then you need two-thirds on both and you‘re not going to get that on one, but may get it on the other. That is a pretty rare move. I mean, it‘s part of the 111th Congress‘ ongoing effort to show us every congressional rule that could conceivably ever be used, but it would be quite a way to end it.
OLBERMANN: My parliamentary procedure professor at Cornell would be delighted by this entire process. But to what point—does it increase the theatrics while reducing the chance of the tax cut actually going through? I mean, it doesn‘t change anything in the Senate. They‘re still going to ride this out and pretend, right?
KLEIN: Well, she‘s used to that. There are currently 372 bills that the House has passed, the Senate is sitting on. So, she—so, they will try to pass it and they will see what they can get done. And then, the Senate, they sort of have operated all year under the understanding that they can control the Senate, they can only control the House.
And Pelosi just tries to move when she can move. She‘s always said she‘ll move when she got the votes. So, if she goes next week, it‘s because she thinks she‘s got the votes.
OLBERMANN: My further understanding is that the White House was, surprising enough, disappointed in the decisions by Senate Democrats to sort of mail this in—as I phrased it before -- that they just want to campaign on the “you know how we‘re going to vote on it, it doesn‘t matter that we didn‘t vote yet.”
It‘s dandy that the White House is being disappointed. But is there not some knocking of heads to be done in this situation? Are they really that impotent when it comes to the Senate moving at something slower than a snail‘s pace?
KLEIN: Generally, they are. I mean, Reid is concerned again that the worst thing for that top and to all of them, right, is they campaign against the extension of the rich tax cuts, hold the vote and lose it, and they lose it because the Democrats move over, Ben Nelson moves over, a couple others move over.
Now, maybe that would happen, maybe it wouldn‘t. But if Reid thinks there‘s a chance, the White‘s leverage on him is quite weak.
KLEIN: In some ways, the best thing for them to do is say, we‘re very, very disappointed, but it‘s Reid who‘s got to sort of bare the brunt of losing or winning this one.
So, the scary thing here is: the Democrats may think they‘re winning on the politics, but they are not sure they have the votes. They just are not sure they can repel the Republicans plus a couple of splintering Democrats to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
OLBERMANN: Are they whistling past the actual campaign graveyard, though, to assume they can get this point across to the electorate in every quarter? Not we‘re going to do this, you know where we stand, the polling is so good that we don‘t have to take the vote because you trust us without the vote and you don‘t trust the Republicans on this. Is that—does that make sense anywhere outside of the Washington zip codes?
KLEIN: No. It really looks awful and it looks right before the election, that even with the majority, they can‘t currently govern. Even with a popular issue, even with something where most of the caucus is united, they can‘t govern and they‘re not courageous enough.
So, you do have a situation where you have this big enthusiasm gap in the election. The Republicans got to say, you know, we want these cuts, our people are promising it to us, and the Democratic base is sort of begin hearing, yes, we‘re with you—we‘re with you in theory but we just, you know, the rules of the Senate. It‘s a tough game up here.
OLBERMANN: Fortunately, Speaker Pelosi has brought in those plate spinners that we used to see on “The Ed Sullivan Show” who will do a demonstration for us and show us new rules we didn‘t know about before.
Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post” and “Newsweek” and MSNBC—as I said, pleasure to see you in person, sir.
KLEIN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn now to the co-founder and editor-in-chief of “The Huffington Post,” also the author of “Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream,” Arianna Huffington.
Arianna, good evening.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTON POST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Several days running now, trying to figure out what Democrats are doing on what should be a fairly easy win has proved to hurt my head. Have you figured this out?
HUFFINGTON: I sort of have. But you have to stay with me because it‘s complicated.
Here you have an issue where the Democrats are winning on all fronts. They‘re winning on supreme support. That‘s after all what a Democratic principle is about. They‘re winning in terms of what‘s good for the economy because you have major economies arguing that expanding the tax cuts beyond $250,000 isn‘t actually going to help the economy, but instead, it‘s going to decrease the deficit to the tune of $700 billion. They‘re winning on polling, especially when it comes to that particular desirable voting bloc, independents.
So, they have a trifecta. And yet they decide to kind of dodge a vote on the grounds that they‘re already winning and therefore, why have a vote? Especially since any aspect of that would be taken as mischaracterized in a 30-second commercial or on FOX News, or any of this kind of boogie man that they go to bed worrying about every night. So, this is truly a very alternate through-the-looking-glass universe.
OLBERMANN: Well, and more practically speaking, even if you accept that universe, they have gone from convinced that the subject of tax cuts would kill them to the subject that tax cuts will now make them survive. So, you have now a complete switch just on the—within the through-the-looking-glass world.
But, again, occasionally, there are a few things that come through there. What about Pelosi‘s idea that we just heard enumerated, the prospect of doing the suspension of the rules and have a two-thirds vote so that there‘s no way you couldn‘t pass the high end cuts but you probably could pass the middle class cuts at least in the House so that the congressional Democrats have something to run on?
HUFFINGTON: The only concern about that, as I‘ve talked to some people on the Hill, is that already they have 31 Democrats on the record and in favor of extending all tax cuts, including the ones for the—for the rich. And they think they may have another 30 or 40 Democrats who will go along with them. So, they‘re also worried about whether they will be able to hold their caucus in the House because everybody is so jittery and so concerned about how any move is going to be interpreted by the other side, that there‘s kind of real paralysis.
And as Ezra Klein said, even with a majority, Democrats are now demonstrating a complete inability to govern.
OLBERMANN: But if they‘re standing pat in terms of the election, is that because they think the losses in the midterms aren‘t going to be as bad as everyone else thinks they are?
HUFFINGTON: No, I think, right now, honestly, Keith, I don‘t think they‘re thinking beyond the election. I think that they‘re so terrified of what may happen on Election Day that they‘re worried about any step they take, which may increase the chances that they will lose a particular seat or lose the House or maybe even lose the Senate.
OLBERMANN: All right. Having exhausted our minds on this—let me change subjects on you. Today, there was yet another ruling against “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” A federal judge in Tacoma said that the Air Force had violated the constitutional rights of the former Major Margaret Witt, when she was discharged for being a lesbian. The judge ordered that she should be reinstated as soon as possible.
Is there any chance that this lights the fire under the White House to do something on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” before the election, rather than just let Congress kick this can down the road as well?
HUFFINGTON: Well, Robert Gibbs said that any defense of the current policy by the White House is pro forma, these were his words.
And, you know, that, to me, Keith, kind of summed up what has been wrong, that Obama came to Washington to change pro forma things to change the way Washington works. That‘s why he was elected. That‘s why there was so much passion and enthusiasm behind his election.
And now, when they come out with statements like that, it explains perfectly the enthusiasm gap that everybody is concerned about. And when you have actually a Log Cabin Republicans now and challenging the administration‘s policy, you see why this is—this is getting really disturbing.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I‘m going back to Russ Martin (ph), parliamentary procedure class, that‘s what this seems to be. The entirety of the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate seems to be a parliamentary procedure class, an experiment of some sort.
In any event, by the way, I should that Rachel Maddow‘s guest at 9:00 is Major Margaret Witt.
Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of “The Huffington Post”—as always, a pleasure. Have a good weekend.
HUFFINGTON: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: To get back to the tax cuts, we have tonight exclusive practical mathematical analysis of the impact of the Bush tax cuts for the rich on the economy from 2001 to 2008. David Cay Johnson has crunched the numbers and they are pretty sad numbers—next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: The economic report card is now in on his tax cuts for the rich, straight Fs.
Comedy gold, and then the truth, not the truthiness, about immigrants and immigration, as he testifies to Congress and the radical right does not like either.
A power of public panic illustrated for us again as we conclude his epic “The Day the Dam Broke.”
And speaking of public, that‘s what it says—yes, it‘s a sign about education. Details in “Worsts.”
OLBERMANN: Republicans who want to extend all the Bush tax cuts and even the Democrats who just want to extend them for income under a quarter million a year say the economy needs to lower tax rates to recover and, in fact, when the first Bush tax cuts were passed in 2001, that‘s exactly what President Bush said, the economy would benefit from having the lower tax rates.
But on our fourth story tonight: For the first time, America and the history of Mr. Bush so often refers to as his ultimate judge can see for themselves the full extent of the Bush economy.
In a COUNTDOWN exclusive, we‘ve been given access to a story appearing online tonight at Tax.com authored by a friend of the show, Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston, who joins us presently.
His story, a first look at a full economic data set from 2008, the portrait of the Bush economy is now complete.
In 2001, when President Bush passed the first of his package of tax cuts, tax cuts valued then at more than $1 trillion, he talked about how they would help to grow an economy that was then in recession.
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BUSH: My plan is good for the long-term health of our economy. It is good for the businesses that create jobs.
This tax relief helps all taxpayers. It especially helps those at the low end of the economic ladder. It helps American workers by letting them keep more money and it helps small businesses so that family-owned restaurants and startup software companies can hire more workers and provide more jobs for Americans.
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OLBERMANN: Helps American workers, helps small businesses, provide more jobs.
Nine hard years later, the verdict is in: the average American taxpayer made less adjusted for inflation in 2008 than in 2000. The average income in 2000 was more than $61,000. In 2008, after the Bush tax cuts had several years to help American workers, $58,000.
In only two years during the Bush administration, at the height of the housing boom, 2006 and 2007, did Americans make more than they did in the last year of the Clinton administration. How much more? Five hundred bucks more in 2006, 1,500 bucks more in 2007. Those gains more than wiped out after the housing bubble burst there after.
And who benefited from the short-lived gains? American workers, small businesses, Johnston calculates that 30 percent of the gains made in 2007 went to those making $1 million or more a year.
All told, Americans took home $2.74 trillion less during the Bush years than they would have if salaries had stayed stuck where Clinton left them.
On an individual level, if the average American‘s wages adjusting for inflation stayed where Bill Clinton left them, they would have made almost $50 more a week, $21,000 more over the whole eight years.
And the kicker: Republicans claim the tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting the economy so much that even at lower rates more money gets paid in taxes. Except that Washington took in less money in 2008 than it did in 2000, just over $1 trillion dollars in 2008 from what had been $1.2 trillion in 2000.
Maybe it‘s just because under Mr. Bush‘s the number of people who made more that $200,000 a year and paid not taxes at all increase almost tenfold. Or maybe it‘s just because Mr. Bush‘s original rationale for the tax cuts was that he wanted the American government to have less money, no matter how much it hurt the American people.
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BUSH: I don‘t believe like the vice president does in huge government, I believe in limited government. And by having a limited government and a focused government, we can send some of the money back to the people who pay the bills. I want to have a tax relief for all people who pay the bills in America, because I think you can spend your money more wisely than the federal government can.
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OLBERMANN: On as promised, let‘s bring in Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston, professor at Syracuse University‘s law school, the author of “Free Lunch” and economist for “Tax Notes.”
David, good evening. Thanks again for your time.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, TAX REPORTER: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We‘re being told now that extending these tax cuts will translate to jobs next year. We were told in 2001 that these tax cuts would create jobs and increase wages. What happened?
JOHNSTON: Well, the policy failed if you just look at the data and the numbers. And you—it is unmistakable what happened. During the eight years of the Bush administration, there were only 3.5 million jobs created. The same number created in the eight years of the Eisenhower administration when we had a lot smaller population, population grew faster than jobs.
And people‘s incomes went down. I mean, people are getting 94 cents on the dollar in real terms for what they got in the year 2000. So, clearly, this didn‘t work.
OLBERMANN: But even if the job creation promise failed and income did not go up, that promise failed, were not people at least better off because, as Mr. Bush liked to say, they got to keep more of their own money?
JOHNSTON: Well, there are two groups of people principally who were better off because of this. One of them is parents who pay taxes, they make enough money to pay taxes, who have children under the age of 16, and are not under the alternative minimum tax, which generally means make less than $100,000. They were beneficiaries because the Republicans championed a $1,000 per child tax credit.
But $1 out of every $8 of the tax savings went to the one in 1,000 Americans in the top 1/100th percent. Those are people who make between about $2 million a year and several billion dollars a year. They got one 1/8 of the tax cuts.
So, clearly, the way this was distributed was incredibly focused on helping a narrow group of people at the very top.
OLBERMANN: Let me apply to retroactively to the Bush administration, that which the Obama administration has requested in terms of its handling of the economy. In fairness, lots of things happened during the Bush administration aside from taxes going down.
How do we know the Bush tax cuts did not keep things from getting worse?
JOHNSTON: Keith, that‘s a very good and fair question to ask. Here‘s what I did. President Bush had two rounds of tax cuts -- 2001 for individuals and then 2003, the one he said was really important to stimulating the economy. We reduced taxes on capital gains and most dividends by a quarter.
So what happened? Well, if you just analyzed the five years from 2003 to 2007, the peak year, you throw out the other years in the economy, the results are still awful. Americans made almost $1 trillion less income than if we had stayed at the income levels of 2000.
OLBERMANN: So, the last point leads back to today—why exactly is there any debate over whether the richest people in America should pay 35 percent or 39 percent on their income above a quarter of a million when so many of them don‘t seem to be paying any percent on any taxes at all?
JOHNSTON: Keith, there are a lot of people with large incomes who have a responsible view of the welfare of the country. Unfortunately, there is a group of people who are determined to cut their taxes. And at the top, you could benefit, if you made $100 million a year, you‘re saving somewhere between close to $5 million and close to $25 million a year in taxes under the Bush policy.
Those people who don‘t care about the country but about themselves are willing clearly to spend a lot of money in private meetings held on Capitol Hill with those politicians they give campaign donations to, to get their way. These are what I call the political donor class and they‘re willing to distort the truth and anything else so that they personally can gain and all the rest of us can take the burdens.
OLBERMANN: The column is available at Tax.com. David Cay Johnston, columnist at “Tax Notes”—thank you for sharing what you have, and have a great weekend.
JOHNSTON: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If you thought Sharron Angle had already offended everybody, wait until you see the tape of her attacking autistic kids and maternity leave.
And from funny to the profoundly serious, the congressional testimony of Stephen Colbert on immigration—ahead.
OLBERMANN: Stephen Colbert starts funny and ends heart breaking and the FOX knee-jerks attack him for both.
First, the sanity break and the tweet of the day and it‘s from me. Good old at Keith Olbermann from about 1:45 Eastern this afternoon. “So I‘ve been out of pocket until just now. Anything new in my TV news industry today?” That‘s an inside joke.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
OLBERMANN: We begin in Bangalore, India, for the 15th annual federation of International Robo-Soccer Association World Cup. Really need a governing body for robot soccer?
Well, anyway, it‘s their 15th annual robot World Cup. Teams from all over the world brought their best terminators in the hopes of getting more 1s than 0s. Come on, ref, that was a flap.
After the cyborgs were done not moving it was time for some Rubik‘s cube soccer. Organizers hoped to have a robot ready to compete in the 2050 human world cup to join the mechanized refs who already screwed this year.
To the Internets where Lakeland revival Todd Bentley is channeling “The Flintstones.” He meets a woman in desperate need of a hip replacement and pledges to help heal her. The power of Emeril Lagasse compels you!
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A brand-new hip. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam.
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OLBERMANN: And out in the parking lot, she found herself a brand-new ship. Nice work, dumb dumb.
London England, hello. Oddball‘s continuing coverage of the Spring Fashion Shows, in fall. This time, the Burberry plaid is causing more problems than just hurting your eyes. Down goes fashion. She attempts to get up and regain her pride, but she can‘t keep the shoe on. She does not make it off—or does make it off shoe in hand. But that ankle looks a little sore. Let me see if this works. Bam, bam, bam.
No? Well, time marches on.
Stephen Colbert gives the most hilarious opening statement to Congress since Casey Stengel. The radical right then goes on TV and savages him for being there and being funny. Then Colbert gets profoundly serious. It is almost as if they‘re working from a script over there at the radical right.
OLBERMANN: After the breathless lead up to comedian Stephen Colbert‘s testimony to Congress today, the knee jerks finally got what they wanted. Colbert, as the demented conservative pundit he plays on TV, did a few minutes of shtick at a House committee meeting.
But in our third story, then there is the rest of the story few have bothered to cover, the point of Colbert actually attending that hearing, the truth he spoke, not the truthiness.
Along with being funny, Colbert was also serious, even eloquent, when testifying about the plight of America‘s migrant farm workers. This week on his Comedy Central program, Colbert aired a two-part series about the migrant workers, joining California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.
Colbert spent a day alongside some of them at a farm in upstate New York. In addition to getting a comedy bit out of the experience, the comedian was also asked by Lofgren to testify at today‘s House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee hearing called “Protecting America‘s Harvest,” alluding to the Murrow documentary of 1960.
Colbert agreed to appear in character and then remain as a witness. As I mentioned, leading up to the hearing, the people on Fox News freaked out.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They couldn‘t find anyone else.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An expert witness?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on, guys, this is serious business.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don‘t get it. This takes the cake.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have got to be kidding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot be serious.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You wonder why Congress‘ approval ratings are where they are.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is one of the most ridiculous things I‘ve ever heard of in my life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the most ridiculous things I‘ve ever heard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s the most ridiculous thing I‘ve ever heard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so ridiculous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: -- said the moron from Fox. David Corn of “Mother Jones” pointed out that the humorous and author Mark Twain set the original standard for funny men testifying before Congress at a 1906 hearing on copyrights. And Casey Stangel spoke absolute gibberish at a 1958 hearing on baseball‘s antitrust exemption. The next witness was Mickey Mantle, and he won the day by beginning, “I‘d like to say my views are basically the same as Casey‘s.”
As Colbert himself noted, he‘s not even the first to appear in character to Congress. In April 2002, Elmo from “Sesame Street” testified to the House at the request of then Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Didn‘t hear Fox complaining about that. Mr. Cunningham is now serving time for tax evasion and bribery, and hasn‘t seen Elmo in years. There‘s your mockery in Congress.
This morning, the media swarmed on Colbert as he entered the meeting room. After he was seated, Democratic Congressman John Conyers asked Colbert to submit his opening statement in writing and leave. Colbert deferred to Lofgren, the committee chairwoman, for a call. She said he should stay. Conyers retracted his request, and Colbert delivered his opening remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”: This is America. I don‘t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuelan, in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.
Because my great grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants. He did it because he killed a man back in Ireland. That‘s the rumor. I don‘t know if that‘s true. I‘d like to have that stricken from the record.
I participated in the UFW‘s Take Our Jobs Campaign, one of only 16 people in America to take up the challenger. Though that number may increase in the near future, as I understand many Democrats may be looking for work come November.
This brief experience gave me some small understanding of why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as seasonal migrant field worker.
So what‘s the answer? I‘m a free market guy. Normally, I would leave this to the invisible hand of the market. But the invisible hand of the market has already moved over 84,000 acres of production and over 22,000 farm jobs to Mexico, and shut down over a million acres of U.S. farm land due to lack of available labor, because apparently even the invisible hand doesn‘t want to pick beans.
Now I‘m not a fan of the government doing anything. But I‘ve got it ask, why isn‘t the government doing anything? Maybe this ag jobs bill would help. I don‘t know. Like most members of Congress, I haven‘t read it.
Maybe you could offer more visas to the immigrants who, let‘s face it, will probably be doing these jobs anyway. And this improved legal status might allow immigrants recourse if they‘re abused. And it just stands to reason to me that if your co-worker can‘t be exploited, then you‘re less likely to be exploited yourself. And that itself might improve pay and working conditions on these farms, and eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.
Or maybe that‘s crazy. Maybe the easier answer is just to have scientists develop vegetables that pick themselves. The genetic engineers over at Fruit of the Loom have made great strides in human/fruit hybrids.
The point is, we have to do something because I‘m not going back out there. At this point, I break into a cold sweat at the sight of a salad bar.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Colbert was then seated with a panel of witnesses. Still in character, he had several exchanges, including this one with Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: By the way, I do endorse your policies. I do endorse—you asked me if I endorse Republican policies. All Republican policies without question.
REP. LAMAR SMITH ®, TEXAS: Including the requirement that members have 72 hours to read a bill before we vote on it?
SMITH: Thank you of your endorsement of the Pledge to America. Madam Chair, I yield back. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Happy to have anyone endorse their lemon pledge, albeit facetiously, Congressman Darrell Issa today tweeting “Steven at home just endorsed our Pledge to America.”
Of course he did. Finally, towards the end of the hearing, which no media anywhere would have touched without Colbert‘s presence, California Representative Judy Chu got her chance to question the comedian. She took the opportunity seriously, as did Colbert.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JUDY CHU (D), CALIFORNIA: Considering the conditions, why would any American worker want to work on jobs like this?
COLBERT: I don‘t know if Americans would or would not want to work on jobs like this. I believe that Americans are tough. I agree with the congressman that Americans are tough and they do tough jobs. It is not a job I want to do, and not a lot of people took Mr. Rodriguez up on his offer.
And it seems from the statistics that my researchers found that there is a lack of labor in parts of the United States, and that seems to say that Americans don‘t want to take these jobs. But I don‘t want to say definitively that they won‘t.
CHU: Mr. Colbert, you could work on so many issues. Why are you interested in this issue?
COLBERT: I like talking about people who don‘t have any power. And this seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work, but don‘t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave.
And that‘s an interesting contradiction to me. And, you know, what so ever you do for the least of my brothers—and these seem like the least of our brothers right now. A lot of people are least brothers right now, because the economy is so hard. And I don‘t want to take anyone‘s hardship away from them or diminish anything like that. But migrant workers suffer and have no rights.
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OLBERMANN: Note to the right, he was quoting Christ there, if you didn‘t recognize it. From one comedic genius to another; the warning about assuming and panicking in the conclusion of James Thurber‘s “The Day the Dam Broke.”
Remember when Liz Cheney complained that President Obama said we could absorb another terrorist attack? Guess who else said that?
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, she will have a look at the court ruling that demands that a nurse discharged under Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell get her job back. That nurse will be her guest.
OLBERMANN: Friday‘s with Thurber and the conclusion of “The Day the Dam Broke.” That‘s next, but first get out your pitchforks and torches, time for tonight‘s Worst Persons in the World.
The bronze to Patrick Strickler, president of the Blue Waters Group. They do publicity and promotion work for the Redevelopment Commission of South Bend, Indiana. He has issued the full mea culpa. “I feel terrible. It is a mistake we made, and we‘re guilty of it and responsible for it. We take full responsibility for the error. Four people looked at it, eyeballed it and didn‘t see the mistake. Those people all work for me. We take responsibility for it. We simply blew it. We did not see the missing L.”
What is Mr. Strickler talking about? This, “15 Best things about our”
oh, oh, boy. Oh, boy. The sign went up near the intersection of Ironwood and Indiana Route 23 on Thursday and was still there on Monday. And it implies that one of those 15 best things about South Bend schools is not spelling.
The runner up, Sharron Angle, the Republican Tea Party candidate for the Senate in Nevada. She‘s already offended just about every right thinking American, but she had yet to lose expectant mothers or the families of autistic and r similarly challenged children. A tape of Angle at a Tea Party rally last year has now turned up.
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SHARRON ANGLE ®, CANDIDATE FOR SENATE IN NEVADA: Take off the
mandates for coverage in the state of Nevada and all over the United
States. But here you know when I‘m talking about. You‘re paying for
things that you don‘t even need. They just passed the latest one, is every
everything that they want to throw at us now is covered under autism.
So that‘s a mandate that you have to pay for.
How about maternity leave? I‘m not going to have any more babies, but I sure get to pay for it on my insurance.
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OLBERMANN: Better check your insurance, madam. Health insurance doesn‘t pay for maternity leave. On a macro level, this woman has revealed herself, detail by detail and issue by issue, to be utterly despicable.
Speaking of which, our winner, again, Liz Cheney. You might remember her loud, showy, Cheney-esque arrogant umbrage over a quote attributed to President Obama, which concluded, “President Obama is reported to have said we can absorb a terrorist attack. This comment suggests an alarming fatalism on the part of President Obama and his administration. Once again, the president seems either unwilling or unable to do what it takes to keep this nation safe. The president owes the American people an explanation.”
Given the failure by her father and President Bush to keep this nation safe, we gave Ms. Cheney the Worst Person award for the sheer unqualified audacity she expressed. Turns out I was being easy on her.
Think Progress found an interesting item cached from the White House website during the Bush administration, under the heading “Protect the American People, Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources.” The Bush/Cheney White House posted this 19 paragraph document describing its national strategy for Homeland Security.
The relevant part reads, quote, “we must collectively work to ensure the ability of power, communications and other life sustaining systems to survive an attack by terrorists. We must now focus on the resilience of the system as a whole, an approach that centers on investments that make the system better able to absorb the impact of an event without losing the capacity to function.” .
So Liz Cheney attacked the president, during what she has described as a time of war, for using the term relating to terrorist attacks, absorb, that was also used during the presidential administration in which her own father was at least the second most influential figure. Thus, the explanation to the American people needs to come from her. And it must either be an apology to President Obama for her hypocrisy, or it must be a condemnation of her own father for being part of an administration that believed we could absorb a terrorist attack.
Liz Cheney, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: We close, as we always do on Friday, with the works of the great James Thurber. Tonight, I read as always from the Library of America, “Thurber, Writings and Drawings,” edited by Garrison Keilar. This story was first published in “My Life and Hard Times” in 1933. It is Thurber‘s exaggerated, but only slightly exaggerated story of the March day in 1913 when he and other residents of the dry half of the flooded city of Columbus, Ohio became inexplicably convinced that the dam had broken.
We rejoin pure mindless panic already in progress, in the conclusion of “The Day the Dam Broke” by James Thurber.
“Two thousand people were abruptly in full flight. “Go east” was the cry that arose, east away from the river, east to safety. “Go east, east, go east.”
Black streams of people flowed eastward down all the streets leading in that direction. These streams, whose headwaters were in the dry goods stores, office buildings, harness shops, movie theaters, were fed by trickles of housewives, children, cripples, servants, dogs and cats, slipping out of the houses, past which the main streams flowed, shouting and screaming.
People ran out leaving fires burning and food cooking and doors wide open. I remember, however, that my mother turned out all the fires and that she took with her a dozen eggs and two loaves of bread. It was her plan to make Memorial Hall, just two blocks away, and take refuge somewhere in the top of it, in one of the dusty rooms where war veterans met and where old battle flags and stage scenery were stored.
But the seething throng shouting “go east‘ drew her along and the rest of us with her. When grandfather regained full consciousness, at Parsens Avenue,” he turned upon the retreating mob like a vengeful prophet and exhorted the men to form ranks and stand off the rebel dogs. But at length he too got the idea the dam had broken, and roaring “go east” in his powerful voice, He caught up in one arm a small child and in the other a slight clerkish man of perhaps 42 and we slowly began to gain on those ahead of us.
A scattering of firemen, policemen and Army officers in dress uniforms
there had been a review at Ft. Hayes in the northern part of town—added color to the surging billows of people. “Go east,” cried a little child in a piping voice, as she ran past a porch on which drowsed a lieutenant colonel of infantry.
Used to quick decisions, trained to immediate obedience, the officer bounded off the porch, and running at full tilt, soon passed the child, bawling, “go east.” The two of them emptied rapidly the houses of the little street they were on.
“What is it? What is it,” demanded a fat waddling man who intercepted the colonel. The officer dropped behind and asked the little girl what it was.
“The dam has broke,” gasped the girl. “The dam has broke,” roared the colonel. “Go east, go east, go east.” He was soon leading, with the exhausted child in his arms, a fleeing company of 300 persons who had gathered around him from living rooms, shops, garages, backyards and basements.
Nobody has ever been able to compute with any exactness how many people took part in the great route of 1913, for the panic, which extended from the Winslow Bottling Works in the south end to Clintonville, six miles north, ended as abruptly as it began, and the bobtail and rag tag and velvet gowned groups of refugees melted away and slunk home, leaving the streets peaceful and deserted.
The shouting, weeping, tangled evacuation of the city lasted not more than two hours in all. Some few people got as far east as Reynoldsburg, 12 miles away. Fifty or more reached the country club, eight miles away. Most of the others gave up exhausted or climbed trees in Franklin Park four miles out.
Order was restored and fear dispelled finally by means of militia men riding about in motor lories, brawling through megaphones, “the dam has not broken.”
At first this tended only to add to the confusion and increased the panic, for many stampeders thought that the soldiers were bellowing “the dam has now broken.” Men setting an official seal of authentication on the calamity.
All the time, the sun shone quietly and there was nowhere any sign of the oncoming waters. A visitor in an airplane looking down on the straggling, agitated masses of people below would have been hard put to it to divine a reason for the phenomenon. It must have inspired in such an observer a peculiar kind of terror, like the site of the Marie Celeste abandoned at sea, its galley fires peacefully burning, its tranquil decks bright in the sunlight.
An aunt of mine, Aunt Edith Taylor, was in a movie theater on High Street when, over and above the sound of the piano in the pit—a William S. Hart picture was being shown—there arose the steadily increasing tromp of running feet. Persistent shouts rose above the tromping. An elderly man sitting near my aunt mumbled something, got out of his seat, and went up the aisle at a dog trot.
This started everybody. In an instant, the audience was jamming the aisles. “Fire,” shouted a woman who was always expecting to be burned up in a theater. Now the shouts outside were louder and coherent, “the dam has broke,” cried somebody. “Go east,” screamed a small woman in front of my aunt.
And east they went, pushing and shoving and clawing, knocking women and children down, emerging finally into the street, torn and sprawling. Inside the theater, Bill Hart was calmly calling some desperado‘s bluff and the brave girl at the piano played “Row, Row, Row” loudly and then “In My Harem.”
Outside, men were streaming across the state house yard. Others were climbing trees. A woman managed to get up into These Are My Jewels Statue, whose bronze figures of Sherman, Stanton, Grant and Sheridan watched with cold unconcern the going to pieces of the capital city.
I ran south to State Street, east on State to Third, south on Third to Town, and out east on Town, my aunt has written me. A tall spare woman with grim eyes and determined chin ran past me down the middle of the street. I was still uncertain as to what was the matter, in spite of all of the shouting. I drew up alongside the woman with some effort, for although she was in her late 50s, she had a beautiful easy running form and seemed to be in excellent condition.
“What is it,” I puffed? She gave me a quick glance and then looked ahead again, stepping up her pace a trifle. “Don‘t ask me. Ask God.”
When I reached Grant Avenue, I was so spent that Dr. H.R. Mallory—you remember Dr. Mallory, the man with the white beard who looks like Robert Browning—well, Dr. Mallory, whom I had drawn away from at the corner of Fifth and Town passed me. “It‘s got us,” he shouted, and I felt sure that whatever it was did have us. You know what conviction Dr. Mallory‘s statements always carry.
I didn‘t know at the time what he meant, but I found out later. There was a boy behind him on roller skates and Dr. Mallory mistook the swishing of the skates for the sound of rushing water. He eventually reached the Columbus School for Girls at the corner Parsens Avenue and Town Street, where he collapsed, expecting the cold frothing waters of the Siota (ph) to sweep him into oblivion.
The boy on the skates past him and Dr. Mallory realized for the first time what he had been running from. Looking back up the street, he could see no signs of water. But nevertheless, after resting just a few minutes, he jogged on east again.
He caught up with me at Ohio Avenue, where we rested together. I should say that about 700 people passed us. A funny thing was that all of them were on foot. Nobody seemed to have had the courage to stop and start his car. But as I remember it, all cars had to be cranked in those days, which is probably the reason.
The next day, the city went about its business as if nothing had happened, but there was no joking. It was two years or more before you dared treat the breaking of the dam lightly. And even now, 20 years later, there are few persons like Dr. Mallory who will shut up like a clam if you mention the afternoon of the great run.”
“The Day the Dam Broke” by James Thurber.
That‘s September 24th. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. And now to discuss the ruling that a major discharged under Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell must be reinstated, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. Good evening, Rachel.
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