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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, November 29th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Ezra Klein, Heather McGhee, Lawrence Wilkerson, Lawrence Korb




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

Feed the rich, starve the poor.  The Republican mantra today courtesy of its newest mouthpiece, Senator Kirk of Illinois.


SEN. MARK KIRK ®, ILLINOIS:  We should extend the Bush tax cuts and make sure that we don‘t have a double dip recession.


OLBERMANN:  However—


KIRK:  These proposals to extend unemployment insurance by just adding it to the deficit are misguided.


OLBERMANN:  While adding to the deficit is just dandy for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Amid all this, Chuck Schumer is pushing to compromise tax cuts for the wealthy, but only for millionaires not multimillionaires.

The cat food commission—Alan Simpson‘s deficit reduction plan to postpone retirement and gut Social Security.  Heather McGhee of Demos has a better idea.

A whole lot of nothing, WikiLeaks headline?  Most countries in the Middle East want us to bomb Iran for them.  And the rest of it is—Wiki gossip, like how Muammar Khadafy won‘t travel without his, quote, “voluptuous Ukrainian nurse.”


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I can tell you that in my conservations, at least one of my counterparts said to me, well, don‘t worry about it.  You should see what we say about you.


OLBERMANN:  Still stopping START.  “I won‘t listen to this president,” says Senator Collins, “but if two presidents named Bush tell me to vote for, I‘ll vote for it.”  And she‘s a moderate.

“Worsts”:  A public service announcement for abstinence—starring Bristol Palin.

And in memory of Leslie Nielsen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When you leave this vale of tears, as they say—


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- NBC News and they say Leslie Nielsen has moved into the great beyond and they run a clip from “Naked Gun”—is that going to be OK with you?

LESLIE NIELSEN, ACTOR:  A clip from “Naked Gun”?  I think that the epithet should be: let him rip.



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


NIELSEN:  I am serious, and don‘t call me Shirley.




OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.  This is Monday, November 29th, 708 days until the 2012 presidential election.

Tomorrow, the president will negotiate with Republican leaders Boehner and McConnell at the White House, Republican leaders who will not extend unemployment benefits unless they are paid for, but who want to tax cuts for the rich, without paying for them, and who want to neuter what‘s left to neuter at the White House.

In our fifth story: As unemployment benefits for 2.5 million out-of-work Americans will begin expiring within 48 hours, President Obama today proposed a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers.  That freeze would not apply to the armed services.  As for the patriots that President Obama said the freeze would affect—


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.  And today, I‘m proposing a two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers.


OLBERMANN:  A Republican call in June for a similar pay freeze had been met by derision by many Democrats, with even Senator Max Baucus of Montana, calling the prior Republican proposal arbitrary and restrictive.

Democrats‘ frustration now extending to the continued lack of cohesion on the Bush tax cuts.  Some Senate Democrats hoping to recapture the message, by adopting the proposal of Senator Schumer of New York.  Quoting Senator Schumer, “There‘s a strong view in the caucus that if we make the dividing line $1 million, it becomes a very simple argument: we are forgiving the middle class of tax break, they‘re for tax cuts for millionaires.”

But the assistant majority leader, Senator Dick Durbin, has suggested that a compromise with Republicans should be broadened to include the extension of jobless benefits.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  We do have unemployment running out by Christmas.  Two million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits because they expire.  We should not be worried about the discomfort of the wealthy, but the fact that there are many people struggling to survive every day now because they have no job.


OLBERMANN:  A man who just got a job has become the newest spokesman for the Republican policy on this, the “I‘m in the life boat permit me to hit you over the head with the oar” policy, Senator Kirk of Illinois.


KIRK:  We should extend the Bush tax cuts and make sure that we don‘t have a double dip recession.  And I have the honor to be the first of 95 new Republicans coming to the Congress, fiscal conservatives, to help right our ship of state.


OLBERMANN:  But by Senator Kirk‘s reasoning, the multitrillion dollar Bush tax cut should be extended while unemployment benefits should not be extended unless the unemployment benefits are paid for.


KIRK:  You could extend it if you found a way to pay for it.  And I voted for that in the past.  But these proposals to extend unemployment insurance by just adding it to the deficit are misguided.


OLBERMANN:  And as a progressive group places a TV ad against the Bush tax cuts, it must still mystify Democrats that they can‘t come up with a unified message on this, when only 1/3 of Americans favor a tax cut extension for the wealthy.  That according to a latest CNN poll.

And when budget gurus like President Ronald Reagan‘s former budget director, David Stockman, are now calling for a return to sanity on this issue of tax cuts.


DAVID STOCKMAN, FORMER REAGAN BUDGET DIRECTOR:  To get the economy back to health, we‘re going to have to reset some basic parameters of our economy, and one of them in this environment would be a higher tax burden on the upper income than a conservative like myself who would ordinarily advocate.


OLBERMANN:  Only took him 28 years to figure that out.

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

Ezra, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  Why are they bothering to have McConnell and Boehner come in and negotiate with the president tomorrow?  Because it would seem if left alone by themselves, Democrats would happily negotiate away all their own positions anyway.  I mean, it would seem Republicans are absolutely superfluous to the equation now.

KLEIN:  At times, it does seem that way.  You do have a lot of—I remember a couple months ago, John Boehner came out and said, look, I would love to get the tax cuts for the rich extended, but if I can‘t, of course, I‘ll do the middle class.  And a lot of observers of this debate look at it and said, well, that‘s over.  It‘s done.

And then within a couple weeks, Democrats were arguing among themselves about what position they would bring into the tax cut debate.  There‘s a fascinating thing that happens with Democrats where they do not appear to understand when they have the leverage.  In the tax cut debate, they have the leverage.  They have the more popular position and they are the only ones really with the power to pass a cut extension.  But they don‘t use it.

OLBERMANN:  Can‘t accept win for an answer.

The unemployment for people who have been out of work for at least six months begin to expire tomorrow.  As “Think Progress” notes, Congress never in the last 40 years allowed the extended unemployment benefits to expire when the rate—when the unemployment rate was above 7.2.  And the latest poll shows the public in favor of extending these benefits.

So, why are the Democrats tying it into the Republican tax cuts for the wealthy in order to get it done?  Couldn‘t it get done on its own?

KLEIN:  Because the unemployed aren‘t politically powerful.  It is the sad answer of that.

But the other piece of this, and man, it‘s one of those days when I wish I brought a graph.


KLEIN:  It‘s really important people understand the tax cuts for the rich, when you put everything together, that‘s about $4 trillion over 10 years.  The unemployment benefits are a couple tens of billions.  The difference on what we‘re putting on the deficit is enormous.  When you run a graph of these two things, you can‘t see the unemployment benefits on it, the line is so small.

The idea that there are people walking around this town saying I‘m a fiscal conservative and I can do one of these, the tax cuts for everyone, but not the other, is unbelievable.  And it‘s even more unbelievable given that if anybody who really needs some help right now, it‘s people who are unemployed and with 10 percent unemployment.  Not people who are making $500,000 and it‘s one of the deeper downturns we have of the nation‘s history.

OLBERMANN:  What about people who work for the federal government and the president‘s proposal for a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers which he threw out before tomorrow‘s meeting?  Did he gain something that nobody else can see in that, in terms of the negotiations with Boehner and McConnell?

KLEIN:  The White House intends to do unilateral bipartisanship.


KLEIN:  They compromise with themselves and they say they made a compromise.  But Republicans who didn‘t buy into it don‘t give them any credit.

You can make the argument that maybe preventing something worse—a two-year pay freeze is better than a three-year pay freeze and better than a pay cut.  On the other hand, though, you legitimize an argument that federal workers should be paid less than they currently are.  And while the Obama administration has big regulatory policies coming out, health care reform, financial regulation, and they need good regulatory talent—they are making a very high-profile claim that is not a great time to become a federal worker.  So, that should worry people who worry about the success of these initiatives that are passed—that have been passed in the last two years.

OLBERMANN:  I mean, we‘re going to start paying less for the government and the people in it, we‘re going to wind up with—well, I guess more of the people we elected in November.  But is there anything positive out of the Schumer idea, on the tax cut threshold to make it $1 dollars?  As we mentioned before, he has mentioned before, is it a nonstarter or do they think that‘s a great idea?  Or where does that stand?

KLEIN:  It‘s better than nothing and still bad.  What I say about Schumer is simply this, that in the campaign, Barack Obama tied his hands behind his back by saying we will never raise taxes on people making less than $250,000.  That‘s very low—that was very high given the size of our deficit.

To then raise that up to $1 million, you‘re creating such a small class of people in this country that can be taxed when we need to begin changing the way the tax code works to get the deficit under control, that you‘re really constraining your options.  It is not a great idea to say only people making seven figures can have tax increases.

We have historically low taxes right now, a historically high deficit.  We may need to make hard choices in the coming years.  These are not good principles to enshrine into our rhetoric.

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, freeze the salaries of people who have jobs and would conceivably—now can‘t spend the raises they don‘t get.

“The Washington Post‘s” Ezra Klein—always a pleasure, Ezra.  Thank you.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Wholly connected to the tax cut insanity is the deficit commission inanity.  The president‘s deficit commission is due to finish its work this week, but not before its co-chair whines about his critics.

Former Senator Alan Simpson noting the nasty e-mails he has received and complaining about the media.  Quoting, “You don‘t want to listen to the right and the left—the extremes.  You don‘t want to listen to Keith Olbermann and Rush Babe and Rachel Minnow or whatever that is, and Glenn Beck.  They‘re entertainers.  They couldn‘t govern their way out of a paper sack from the right or left.”

Aside from the false equivalency contained therein, there is the fact that some of Simpson‘s harshest critics are not media people, but rather other policymakers who simply and strongly disagree with how best to achieve deficit reduction.  Also the fact is that he is one of those gentlemen who while in office put us in the paper sack.

Also, to that end, two progressive groups are releasing alternative plans that would achieve reduction without draconian cuts to Social Security and with higher taxes on the healthy, that are well-within the range that existed prior to the Bush era.  One of those groups, Demos, unveiled its blue print today.

And joining me now, the director of the Washington official, a nonpartisan public policy research and advocacy organization, Heather McGhee.

Thanks again for your time tonight.

HEATHER MCGHEE, DEMOS:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Before we get to your plan, we have a pretty good idea now of what Simpson-Erskine Bowles is going to look like.  What part of that do you like the least?

MCGHEE:  Well, honestly, I think the whole approach that basically says that this entire exercise is about sort of a math problem, and not about what we at Demos and the Century Foundation, the Economic Policy Institute together did when we sat down to make our fiscal blueprint which we released today.  We asked, when we looked at all the different ways that we could bring down the deficit, make the debt more sustainable over the long term—we asked one question which is: what is this going to do for the most urgent problem facing our economy, which is the decline of the middle class, and broad economic security facing working and middle class Americans?

It doesn‘t seem like the chair‘s proposal even thought about that question.  On the issue of retirement security, for example, it says that young workers today who are middle class should actually get a third less in Social Security benefits.  Out here in the real world, we know that 401(k)s are actually going to be entirely inadequate compared to the pensions that our grandparents had, and we‘re going to need more actually, not less from Social Security in the future.

OLBERMANN:  Why is it that tax increases for the wealthy get so little traction?  I think I know the answer to that one.  But what is—in your plan, how would that be addressed in terms this broad sacrifice that seems to be sacrificed by the largest number of people, not the people with the most amount of money?

MCGHEE:  Our plan really starts from, again, a real world analysis, saying that we are actually trying to run the government right now on a steam engine and we‘re trying to sort of create a high-speed rail economy.  We have the lowest share of federal revenues being collected as a share of our economy that we‘ve had since 1950.  That was before Medicare and Medicaid and federal expending on education.

So, what we say is that it has to be looking at modernizing and expanding our revenue base.  So, you know, obviously, we start—it‘s a no-brainer to do the millionaires tax cuts and those under the Bush tax cuts.  But we also look at equalizing the taxes on wealth and work, making sure that, you know, secretaries are paying a lower rate than their CEO bosses are on their stock dividends.

We also looked at a financial speculation tax, because there‘s a way to actually achieve a more stable financial sector by taxing really economically unproductive speculation that actually brought our economy to its knees.

OLBERMANN:  So, Heather, when the president proposes something like he did today, this civilian federal worker pay freeze over the next two years, is any savings in that so small as to be meaningless certainly when juxtaposed against what it would mean for taking money out of the spending economy?  Or is it in some way acceptable?  Is it a—is it a necessary sacrifice if it is to be coupled in some way with something equivalent from the upper class?

MCGHEE:  This is just another example of people not paying attention to what we really believe is the core question, which is how are working and middle class families fairing?  Government workers are for the vast majority of them, middle class workers.

You know, the Republican and sort of conservative ideology around demonizing federal workers is really cynical.  It‘s trying to split one section of working in middle class families against another.  I mean, we‘re talking about nurses for veterans who make $28,000 a year or border patrol agent who makes $35,000 a year.  These are not the people who caused the great recession, they‘re not the people who caused the deficit problems and they‘re not the people who should be asked to sacrifice before millionaires and billionaires and hedge fund managers.

OLBERMANN:  Government fat cats—that‘s the phrase.  And it gets applied to the wrong people.  I mean, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois on day one is a bigger fat cat than the most slough-like career civil servant could ever be.

Heather McGhee, the director the D.C. office of Demos, great thanks and good luck with the plan.

MCGHEE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The Chinese are about to bail out on North Korea?  Much of the Middle East would love us to go blow up Iran for them?  And Muammar Khadafy has a hot Ukrainian nurse?  The secrets of WikiLeaks also known as “Wiki-TMZ.”  Next.


OLBERMANN:  The headline in one British paper, “WikiLeaks cable revealed China ready to abandon North Korea.”  And they didn‘t even mention Muammar Khadafy‘s voluptuous Ukrainian nurse.

Supposedly, one of the few remaining sane Republicans, yet she won‘t vote for the START Treaty with the Russians until two presidents named Bush tell her it‘s OK.  At least two presidents named Bush.

And he had already played at least six serious doctors, including two different ones on the unbearably serious series “Ben Casey.”  But it was when Dr. Rumack came along that our world turned.  We will remember Leslie Nielsen—ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  You may have noticed that the big headline about WikiLeaks big dump of one quarter million State Department from early cables from embassies abroad is that it happened.

But in our fourth story tonight: what these cables reveal is that most of what you think about America‘s foremost bogeymen, North Korea and Iran, is wrong.

For years, we have assumed, with some reason, that North Korea did not stand alone as a rogue state, and now, a nuclear rogue state, that China had Kim Jong-il‘s back.  It turns China seems to have had it up to here with North Korea‘s bellicose ways, calling it a spoiled child after North Korea‘s missile testing in April of last year.

Far more stunning, word from a South Korean officials of the U.S. that two Chinese officials, quote, “were ready to face the new reality that North Korea now had little value to China as a buffer state,” a view that have reportedly gained traction among senior Chinese officials.

According to the cable, China, quote, “would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchor to the U.S. in a benign alliance, as long as Korea was not hostile towards China.”

Here‘s the kicker, the reason a U.S. ally taking over one of its border neighbors would be OK with communist China.  Quote, “Tremendous trade and labor export opportunities for Chinese companies,” the South Korean official said, “would also help solve Chinese concerns about a reunified Korea.”

The cables also revealed the U.S. believed that South Korea supplied Iran with 19 BM25 missiles—missiles with 2,000 miles, meaning Moscow, Berlin and much of Western Europe.

But China‘s seeming alliance with the U.S. toward North Korea is at least rivaled by confirmation that the biggest cheerleaders for war with Iran are other Arab leaders.  Hosni Mubarak of Egypt calling the Iranians, quote, “big fat liars.”  King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia telling the U.S. to attack Iran, to end its nuclear program, calling for the U.S. to, quote, “cut off the head of the snake.”  These despite the cables lacking any evidence that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program to build military nuclear missiles.

Bahrain‘s King Hamad telling General Petraeus last November the U.S.  should terminate Iran‘s nuclear program by any means necessary.

Israel, not surprisingly, in full agreement.  Defense Minister Ehud Barak putting it (ph) last summer that the world only had six to 18 months, quote, “in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable.”  After that, he said, any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.

But the cables also reveal a reason other than the obvious for Israel‘s opposition to Iranian nukes.  A 2007 cable to then-Secretary of State Rice to a U.S. ambassador revealing, quote, “Thoughtful Israeli analysts point out that even if a nuclear-armed Iran did not immediately launch a strike on the Israeli heartland, the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons would completely transform the Middle East strategic environment, in ways that would make Israel‘s long term survival as a democratic Jewish state increasingly problem.  That concern is most intensively reflected in the open talk by those who say they do not want their children and grandchildren growing up in an Israel threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Meaning, because surveys find one third of Israelis would leave if Iran gets the bomb, and Palestinian Israelis already make up 20 percent of the population, if Iran did get the bomb and Palestinian citizens became a majority, Israel would have to figure out how it could remain both Jewish and democratic at the same time.

Let‘s bring in Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff of State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, now at the College of William & Mary.

Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN:  How does this change or should it, in fact, change our approach to the Iranian nuclear issue, knowing that part of Israel‘s anxiety is demographic?

WILKERSON:  I think anyone who studied the situation and I will admit that that‘s probably you, unfortunately, knew that already.  And Israel‘s problem is much more profound, I think, than you just stated it, though that‘s an aspect of it.  The profoundness of it is that Israel is going to be—find it increasingly difficult to be democratic and Jewish, even with the current demographic situation, no outside forces even impacting.

Israel will be an apartheid state, probably within a couple decades, if it tries to maintain the current policies, vis-a-vis the Palestinian‘s growing population, and that‘s not very good for the future.  South Africa proved that.

So, Israel has got a problem in that regard, and I think those who are concerned with the situation understand.  That‘s why we need a two-state solution, that‘s why the United States advocates such a solution.  And it needs to be two states that are viable, economically, politically, security-wise and so forth.

OLBERMANN:  The leaders among Iran‘s neighbors—and I sort of described them as other Arab countries.  That‘s how—we‘re talking about other Middle Eastern countries would like to see the U.S. go to war against Iran on behalf of the neighbors, but obviously, they‘re not saying that publicly.  Explain the dynamic there, though.

WILKERSON:  Well, remember—I used to read these cables all the time.  And I think this is quite lamentable that we‘ve gotten to the point where we‘re trying to share information so widely, the sipper-net for example.  These cables should have never been on the sipper-net, most of them.  So, it‘s lamentable that these things leaked.

But I don‘t think there‘s been any major damage done partly because of the circumspection of “The New York Times,” “Der Spiegel,” (INAUDIBLE) and other entities, like “The Guardian,” to which the information was turned over.  They‘ve been rather circumspect and rather lies (ph) in the way they redacted and treated the information, so far at least.

But I think we have to look at, what are these things intended for?  Remember, the information that‘s being reported back to Washington and these cables is not necessarily the truth.


WILKERSON:  In fact, often times, it is designed to go through our diplomatic corps to get to Washington if at all possible to the highest leadership and to obfuscate and to lie and to twist and to turn and make people believe things that aren‘t necessarily the case.  So, when you‘re interpreting these cables, you have to remember that they are anything in most cases but the complete truth.  And even if they are, the truth as seen by the observer, the observer is often fooled.

OLBERMANN:  Well, to the point of not necessarily the truth, what about this North Korea/China disconnect?  Do you believe it?

WILKERSON:  I don‘t believe it in the way that it seems to come across.  I haven‘t seen all the traffic.

I think there is a problem right now, and that problem is between the power centers in Beijing, to include the PLA, the PLN, the military in general, the people in the Politburo, the ministry of foreign affairs and others who see North Korea as an increasing liability and don‘t know quite what to do about it.  Because, as you pointed out in your excellent commentary before we started this question and answer period, there is something to be said for 70 million Koreans unified with the capital Seoul working right next to China and still embedded in a signatory treaty with the United States.

I‘d be a little uncomfortable in Beijing probably with that prospect and business possibilities notwithstanding, I‘d still be uncomfortable.  So, I think there‘s a lot of angst in Beijing, but I do think there‘s growing frustration with what appears to be an increasingly nuttier and nuttier leadership in Pyongyang.

OLBERMANN:  Is anything in there a reason to breathe more easily about North Korea?  Or is there a flip side to this, that if the Chinese stuff is true, now suddenly, the Chinese are saying, well, the North Koreans have no clones either, and North Korea could get even more unreliable?

WILKERSON:  You put your finger on it.  With the George Washington battle group, what, 160 miles of Yeonpyeong Island right now, the island where the casualties occurred earlier, and the proximity of forces there, and the North Koreans doing things that are clearly not on the agenda, and no one anticipates—this is a dangerous situation.  I think we‘re probably as close as we were in 1994 to an outbreak of hostilities that might have some surprises for people, escalation, for example.  And this is not a place to have that happen.


WILKERSON:  So, I do think cooler heads need to prevail here.

OBLERMANN:  Well, first, we have to check and see if they‘re still attached to their shoulders in one part of that equation.

WILKERSON:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff at the State Department under General Powell—great thanks for your time tonight.  Extraordinarily helpful.

WILKERSON:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Incidentally, in an interview just released by “Forbes” but conducted earlier this month, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks says his next dissemination will be secret documents that pertain to a major bank.  With this he says, only one similar example, it‘s like the Enron e-mails.

Senator Collins of Maine holding out her support on the START missile treaty until the last two Republican presidents say it‘s OK.  Two Bushes in the hand before she‘ll stop giving nuclear security the bird?


OLBERMANN:  The word of the State Department and the administration is not enough for a supposedly moderate senator.  But if the Presidents Bush tell her to vote for it, she‘s voting for it.  First, the sanity break and the Tweet of the day from Will Landstrom.  “Fox alert, Fox News has been nominated for fake news comedy of the year, along with “The Daily Show” and the “Colbert Report.”  Now, you‘re really insulting Jon and Stephen there, but I get the point. 

Let‘s play Oddball. 

We begin in Gurgayon (ph), India.  And if you thought your commute was rough, say hello to a government-sanctioned subway beat down.  New Delhi‘s rail service reserves one car on each train for ladies only.  But men have been riding in female only rail cars and the women have had enough.  So accompanied by police, they took back their railcars with slaps of fury.  Unleash the beast. 

This is for ladies only.  So is this, ma‘am.  But every once in a while, I have to run al little traffic through it.  So we learned two things from this video: there is a woman‘s subway car in India, and in contrast to it, my subway ride is quick dance in the spring rain. 

And then to Edmonton.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back to a hockey game, the Edmonton Oilers preparing to face off against the San Jose Sharks.  Announcer Scott Oaks and Kevin Weeks are handicapping the game for the fans at home when suddenly, look out behind you, the red thing.  Without missing a beat, Weeks just barely avoids the incoming rabid zamboni attack.  No one was hurt, this time.  If the zamboni acts like that when they play the Sharks, I wonder what happens when the Oilers play the Hurricanes. 

Time—marches on. 

The Republicans have trotted out some lame rationalizations for playing politics with nuclear safety and the Start Treaty.  But Senator Collins of Maine has just trotted out the lamest, next.


OLBERMANN:  Senator Jon Kyl continues to stall on the Start Treaty, even as the list of Republican statesmen urging its passage grows, Scowcroft, Kissinger, Powell, Duberstein, Schultz, Howard Baker, James Baker.  But in our third story, as the White House looks to GOP moderates to ratify a treaty that would keep loose nukes out of the hands of terrorists, Senator Susan Collins still needs convincing, needs convincing from a guy who can‘t pronounce nuclear. 

The new Start—Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty—would reduce both reduce both American and Russian nuclear arsenals, signed by both President Obama and Russian President Medvedev back in April.  It has yet to go into effect due to the efforts of Senate Minority Whip Kyl, who has delayed ratification for months.  Mr. Kyl placing blame on Majority Leader Reid. 


SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  My issue is that you can‘t do everything.  I was stating it as a matter of reality, not a matter of policy.  How can Harry Reid do all of the things we talked about, deal with the expiring tax provisions and, in addition to that, deal with the Start treaty, which by itself could probably take at least two weeks? 


OLBERMANN:  The last Start Treaty was passed through Congress in five days.  Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri speaking about what‘s really going on. 


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  There‘s some game playing going

on with the Start Treaty.  It‘s all about politics and it‘s all about

trying to damage the president of the United States.  We have now gone

months without any verification of loose nukes.  Look at Dick Lugar, who I

think instead of playing politics and hiding behind the skirts of Jon Kyl -

I hope the Republicans look at Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has said, unequivocally, we need to do the Start Treaty. 


OLBERMANN:  To that point, Senator Lugar has asked his Republican colleagues to do your duty for your country, and vote for ratification.  And that comment and his perceived moderate voting record catches the eye of Tea Party groups.  They have vowed to primary Mr. Lugar in 2012. 

Former Republican Senator Danforth of Missouri telling the “New York Times,” “if Dick Lugar, having served five terms in the U.S. Senate, being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.” 

Pretty good assessment.  That brings us back to Senator Collins.  Unconvinced by Lugar‘s appeal to patriotism, Ms. Collins instead telling the “Washington Post” that she could be persuaded to vote for the treaty if the former Presidents Bush would tell her what they think of it.  “It would be wonderful if President George H.W. Bush would come out for the treaty.  That would be so powerful and definitely help.” 

Once again, for help on this topic, we turn to former assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan, now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Lawrence Korb.  And again, our thanks for some of your time tonight, sir. 


OLBERMANN:  It‘s not just Senator Collins or Senator Lugar about Senator Collins, and all these other Republicans kind of blowing back.  In the “Washington Post,” Robert Kagan, not exactly a liberal, wrote that if Start is defeated that will, as he put it, simply strengthen Vladimir Putin.  Is he right?  If he‘s right, why are Republicans willing to risk that. 

KORB:  Yeah, Bob is certainly right, and Bob‘s an expert on Russia.  He‘s lived in Russia.  He understands that in Russian now you have a struggle for the future of the country and its foreign policy between Putin and Medvedev.  If this treaty is turned down, Putin can say, see, I told you; you can‘t trust these guys, they‘re trying to encircle us.

So there is a real danger.  And I tell you what Obama needs to do is get out there and make sure that people know if we upset our relations with Russia, it‘s going to hurt those men and women in Afghanistan, because they‘re allowing all the supplies to go across Russia to that theater. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this something that he can deal, the president, that is, directly with Mr. Kyl about?  Because the administration already made a concession set to Senator Kyl on the nuclear program.  Is there something he wants?  So how does he justify obstructing something that is obviously something that this country wants and needs, and the Russians agreed to, and if it falls apart, going to make us look bad and the Russians look good? 

KORB:  Well, the problem right now is the American people are not focused on it.  With the end of the Cold War, they have sort of put this aside.  You can‘t—basically, they bribed Kyl already.  They put 20 percent more into modernizing the nuclear complex than President Bush had done.  And even that has not done it. 

And in that interview with David Gregory, he did not come across with a single substantive argument against it.  He basically was talking procedure, because he knows any substantive argument will be shot down by the eldest of the Republican party, people like Baker and Kissinger and Schlesinger and Scowcroft.  So he‘s just delaying because if it goes to the next Congress, you have to start all over.  We need hearings.  We have to get it out of committee.  By that time, he can say, well, we‘re getting into a presidential election, so let‘s wait some more, and he accomplishes his objective without ever having to, you know, take on the arguments. 

OLBERMANN:  What is his objective?  Why does he not want this thing passed? 

KORB:  Well, I think he wants to be the rising star among the neo-conservatives or the Tea Party people, whatever you want to call them, to take that away from Lugar.  And by doing this, he can get that accolade.  The other is they want to defeat Obama.  If this happens, this will be a victory for Obama.  They don‘t want to let him get any victories.  So he accomplishes two things, his own star rises and he undermines Obama. 

OLBERMANN:  Senator Collins and her comment about Presidents Bush; is there the germ of a good idea in there?  Should both former Presidents Bush come out in favor of this and right now? 

KORB:  Well, I think former presidents don‘t usually get involved in politics.  The reason she‘s doing that—don‘t forget, the Bushes have the home up in Kennebunkport.  She knows because her voting record in most cases is moderate, she could be challenged from the right.  They could provide her political cover, particularly if she can get the second President Bush. 

I would urge them, you know, right now, given where this is, maybe to go against what normally happens when presidents stay out of issues after they lead office, because both of them had arms reduction treaties with the Soviets and then the Russians.  And they know the problems this is going to cause if it doesn‘t go through. 

OLBERMANN:  Lawrence Korb, the former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, again great thanks. 

KORB:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, this is the worst acting in a public service announcement ever.  And since it‘s about abstinence, it would also be the worst casting. 

And what he did will always be funny, but it will be funnier still if

you take a few minutes and review with me what he did with me in the first

half of his career.  >

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, why Smoky Joe Barton thinks he‘s General Patton in the right‘s fight against the Obama administration.  General Patton?  He‘s not Patton Oswald.


OLBERMANN:  In memory of Leslie Nielsen next. 

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

The bronze to an unnamed 64 year old do-it-yourselfer in the town of Gimfurda (ph), in Eastern Germany.  On Friday, he decided to finish up the big project, sealing up the entrance to his cellar.  Police found him three days later trying to drill through the wall into his neighbor‘s cellar.  He had managed to successfully wall over the entrance to his cellar with bricks and mortar, all right, him inside it. 

He sealed himself in.  No word as to whether when they rescued him, police asked him he had ever read the C”The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe.  “For the love of God, Motresaur (ph).”

The runner up, Roger Ailes again.  The headline on the Fox Nation part of his crack Fox News website, “Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000 Word E-Mail.”  “Having admittedly reached the end of his rope, President Barack Obama sent a rambling 75,000 word e-mail to the entire nation Wednesday, revealing deep frustrations with America‘s political culture, his presidency, U.S. citizens and himself.  The e-mail, which was titled a couple things, addressed countless topics in a dense stream of consciousness, ranted off and went on for hundreds of words without any punctuation or paragraph breaks.” 

The story was from “The Onion,” a satirical website.  Fox News did not note that the piece was a spoof until much later.  It accepted comments from its readers, one of whom wrote “this should be enough to have him removed from office immediately.  He‘s now the highest security risk to this nation.”

Another named Betty Bonny said she didn‘t receive the e-mail, but a friend of hers did.  “She forwarded it to me.  It was pitiful.  My friend thinks he is losing it.  I told he I knew this a long time ago.”

Proving once again people who believe Fox will believe anything.  For its part, Fox says the editor responsible for posting the story without acknowledging it was satire will be promoted—sorry, punished, punished, not promoted. 

But our winner, Bristol Palin.  She has done a public service announcement with this The Situation guy from TV‘s “Jersey Shore.”  It‘s about abstinence and safe sex.  Sadly, it is not a spoof done by “The Onion.” 


MIKE SORRENTINO, “JERSEY SHORE”:  B-Palin, are you seriously—you‘re not going to hook up like before you‘re married, for real? 


SORRENTINO:  For real for real? 

PALIN:  For real for real for real? 


OLBERMANN:  She‘s the candy‘s spokesperson for abstinence?  She and her son?  Because it‘s got to work this time?  This is like saying George Bush kept us safe, except for that 9/11 thing which doesn‘t count.  Bristol Palin, abstinence role model, this time, today‘s Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN:  If tomorrow Gary Sinise or an actor like Gary Sinise suddenly showed up in the most hilarious, most corn ball, most cliche skewering comedy movie of the decade, and was so successful in it that he basically never did a serious role again in his life, and moreover so successful that nobody would even remember all his serious roles for the rest of his life, he would be Leslie Nielsen. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the late Leslie Nielsen.  He died last night of complications from pneumonia after a staff infection in Florida, at the age of 84.  And his success in the 30 years since the movie can be fully appreciated only if you appreciate what he did and the dead earnest seriousness with which he did it for the 30 years that preceded him, up until July 2nd, 1980, when the movie “Airplane” premiered.

Before that date, Leslie Nielsen was everything he later detonated with perfect pitch satire that he would later explain he had kept hidden for the first half of his career. 


LESLIE NIELSEN, ACTOR:  Nothing human would ever enter your mind.  It so happens that I‘m in command of 18 competitively selected super perfect physical specimens, with an average age of 24.6, who have been locked up in hyper space for 378 days. 

Well, this is no Garden of Eden, Tammy.  When they found this case, they didn‘t know about soil conservation and crop location.  The land‘s all washed out. 

You see in all this trouble, I did never did take Mr. Purdy off the case.  I just forgot to. 

Martha and Walter Tate, thou hast been found guilty of being servants of Satan.  I sentence you to be burned at the stake at the rise of the sun.


OLBERMANN:  The man starred in a dead serious TV series about a movie mogul called “Bracken‘s World.”  He was Bracken.  He was in “Forbidden Planet,” as you saw.  He was Commander J.J. Adams, for heaven‘s sake.  Even when it was revealed his leading man persona was to be associated with this bizarre “Airplane” movie 30 years ago, the film cognizanti (ph) thought the real story would be watching such greater actors as Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves tackle comedy. 

Surely, they couldn‘t have been more wrong. 


NIELSEN:  You better tell the captain we‘ve got to land as soon as we can.  This woman has got to be gotten to a hospital. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A hospital, what is it? 

NIELSEN:  It‘s a big building with patients, but that‘s not important right now. 

Captain, how soon can you land? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can‘t tell. 

NIELSEN:  You can tell me, I‘m a doctor. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, I mean, I‘m just not sure. 

NIELSEN:  Can‘t you take a guess? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, not for another two hours. 

NIELSEN:  You can‘t take a guess for another two hours? 


NIELSEN:  Can you fly this plane and land it? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Surely you can‘t be serious? 

NIELSEN:  I am serious, and don‘t call me Shirley. 


OLBERMANN:  Leslie Nielsen stole that film from his first scene to the last time somebody finished playing the movie ten minutes ago.  But his genius as a dead pan fall guy was in his ability to do it more than once.  That was shown in the “Police Squad” TV series two years later. 


NIELSEN:  There‘d been a recent wave of gorgeous fashion models found naked and unconscious in Laundromats on the West Side.  Unfortunately, I was assigned to investigate holdups at neighborhood credit unions. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re right on time, Lamikans (ph).  Make yourself a drink, baby. 

NIELSEN:  No thanks, Hitch. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who are you, and how did you get here? 

NIELSEN:  I‘m a locksmith and I‘m a locksmith. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Poor Ralph, do you know what it‘s like to be married to a wonderful man for 14 years? 

NIELSEN:  No, I can‘t say that I do.  I did live with a guy once. 

That was just for a couple years. 

Usual slurs, rumors, innuendoes.  People didn‘t understand.  Ran him out of town like a common pigmy. 


OLBERMANN:  And even when TV chickened out on a cornucopia of satire because it didn‘t have a laugh track, even the movie studios recognized the golden goose when it pooped on them.  And they gave us “The Naked Gun.”


NIELSEN:  The feeling is mutual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nice to meet you, too. 


NIELSEN:  No, Dutch Irish.  My father was from Wales. 

Where‘s Nordberg?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s right here.

NIELSEN:  Right.  Nordberg, it‘s me, Frank, your buddy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Drebin, I don‘t want any more trouble like you had last year on the south side, understand?  That‘s my policy. 

NIELSEN:  Yes, well, when I see five weirdoes dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of a park in full view of 100 people, I shoot the bastards.  That‘s my policy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That was a Shakespeare in the park production of “Julius Caesar,” you moron. 

NIELSEN:  For the ramparts we watched—da-da-da-da-da-da.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can‘t believe we just met yesterday. 

NIELSEN:  You really mean that, Jane?  You‘re not just saying it because we exchanged bodily fluids? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, I really mean it.  You‘re very special.  Can I interest you in a nightcap? 

NIELSEN:  No, thank you, I don‘t wear them? 


OLBERMANN:  How funny was Leslie Nielsen?  Funny enough that in his films, O.J. Simpson still seems funny.  The movies are often dismissed as low-brow.  The word play, the insight, the performances suggest anything but.  On the other hand, the whoopi cushion, that was low brow and he was never without it. 

My friend, his “Airplane” co-star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar blogged about it today.  “He would often engage the casualty acquaintance in what seemed to be a serious conversation, while he manipulated a Whoopi cushion, causing that person to look around and try to figure what exactly was going on.” 

How casual an acquaintance?  That takes us back to Nielsen‘s reputation before “Airplane.”  The serious, handsome leading man with no comedy credits broke out the Whoopi cushion on the greatest star in basketball the day they met at the start of films of “Airplane.”


NIELSEN:  I don‘t want to grow up, I‘m going to grow down. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re not going to do that business any more, are you? 

NIELSEN:  Which business?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You know, that you would—

OLBERMANN:  No, I won‘t do it any more. 

That‘s the other thing about the humans, you have to pay attention to it. 

There are so many young people growing up, 10, 11, 12 -- they‘re getting this picture for the first time.  So I have to—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When you leave this veil of tears as they say, and maybe—

NIELSEN:  Oh, my god. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- and they say, Leslie Nielsen has moved into the great beyond and they run a clip from “Naked Gun,” is that going to be OK with you? 

NIELSEN:  A clip from “Naked Gun”?  I think the epithet should be, let him rip.  Thank you. 


OLBERMANN:  That‘s November 29th, 27 days since Republicans took control of the House.  Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs?  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

And now to discuss why the right in the House is comparing itself to Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton in its version of the Second World Obama, ladies and gentlemen, here‘s Rachel Maddow.  Good to see you, Rachel.



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