Guests: Eugene Robinson, Melissa Harris-Perry, Robert Kuttner, Leo Gerard, Lee Fang
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Selling America to the corporations. After the record year for big business profits, Darrell Issa‘s letter to 150 businesses and groups: Tell us how much more of the store you want us Republicans to give you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA: We also have $1.75 trillion estimated -- $1.75 trillion worth of excess regulation costs to our businesses. Imagine if we could take even a third or a half of that, $1 trillion off of the cost of doing business in America. How many jobs would come to America?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: One businessman rebels: “We continue to listen to the same people whose errors in judgment were central to the problem. The former co-CEO of Citigroup rips the placid regulation of the banks.
Busting the unions one state at a time. The group sending instructions to local leaders on state legislation that can cripple unions, a group including the Koch brothers.
And the Republicans so nuts on the issue they are taking the word “labor” out of the name of the House Committee on Labor.
Filibustering filibuster reform. The Democrats still hint at delaying. The Republicans are spinning it as an attack on free speech.
What did GEICO do to its latest pitchman after this?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should all rise up and we should stop this administration from what they‘re doing because they‘re destroying this country. They‘re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What is your major malfunction?
And, taking the N-word out of Huckleberry Finn. Censorship or a sincere attempt to try to put a classic back into high school classrooms?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Huckleberry Finn? Huckleberry Finn? Has anyone seen Huckleberry Finn?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Good man, Jim.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Tuesday, January 4th, 672 days until the 2012 presidential election.
If the former CEO of Citigroup has just said of Wall Street regulation
that we continue to listen to the same people whose errors in judgment were
central to the problem, it might be a bad day for the president to hire as
his new chief of staff an executive with JPMorgan Chase who opposed the new
consumer protection agency. Unless that is—as it is in our fifth story
the president might be trying to counter the Wall Street/GOP false narrative that his administration has been estranged from business.
First, further confirmation that President Obama is seriously considering William Daley as his new chief of staff. Unnamed Democratic sources are telling “The Washington Post” that the president has met with Daley at least once in person. Mr. Daley was commerce secretary under President Clinton, and he is currently the Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase.
Daley was notably against creating a new consumer protection agency when then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called him for his support—that according to “The Wall Street Journal.” And Daley was recently critical of the administration‘s health care reform law, suggesting it was left, instead of center-left. Center-left, which Mr. Daley thought the country would have supported.
Yes, progressives are crowing about how they put one over on the center left. And if progressives might have been willing to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt on some of its Wall Street-friendly staffing two years ago, not anymore—particularly when the door is still revolving. Vice President Joe Biden‘s chief of staff, Ron Klain, is resigning to become the president of Case Holdings. Case Holdings has a philanthropic arm and an investment firm body.
Wall Street‘s ties to the Obama administration are precisely what helped to dilute real reform, that‘s according to a devastating piece from “Bloomberg News.” In it, former chief—co-chief executive officer of Citigroup John Reed saying, quote, “We continue to listen to the same people whose errors in judgment were central to the problem.” Adding, “I‘m astounded because we essentially dropped the world‘s biggest economy because of an error in bank management.” And he estimated that only 25 percent of the necessary financial reforms have been enacted.
Meantime, Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley had their best two years ever these last two years, according to data compiled by “Bloomberg News.” Time after time, Wall Street‘s lobbyists‘ insider influence resulted in the delusion of the most sweeping and necessary reforms, which at various points were actually part of financial regulatory reform packages.
From a former chief economist with the International Monetary Fund, quote, “It was very clear by February 2009 that the banks were going to get a free pass.”
Let‘s turn to the co-editor of “American Prospect” magazine, senior fellow at Demos, Robert Kuttner. Also the author of “A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama‘s Promise, Wall Street‘s Power and the Struggle to Control Our Economic Future.”
Thanks for your time tonight.
ROBERT KUTTNER, AMERICAN PROSPECT: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The president may be looking for a CEO type as his next chief of staff. But, especially under these circumstances, could he—could he not find a CEO of a company that actually makes stuff instead of getting somebody else another one from finance?
KUTTNER: Well, you know, the funny thing is that you‘ve got the guy Daley who was directly involved with Wall Street. Then you got the other candidate, Gene Sperling, who got almost $900,000 for a part-time job. Not a bad gig with Goldman. So, the entire field is limited to Wall Street cronies.
OLBERMANN: If American business made record profits last year, why is this mean that Obama is anti-business sticking? And more importantly, why is the White House seemed to be believing it and playing to it, as the candidacies of these two men would suggest?
KUTTNER: Well, these guys want zero regulation. And any regulation is too much. I think the more puzzling question is: why Obama doesn‘t stand up and behave more like a leader?
You know, Roosevelt famously, in 1936, said, “They hate me, and I welcome their hatred.” The single worst statistic out of the 2010 midterm elections was the fact that voters who tended to blame Wall Street for the collapse, and Wall Street richly deserved that blame, were more likely to vote for Republicans. That‘s how closely this administration has gotten itself allied with Wall Street.
So, this would be a very good time for Obama to stand up and put some distance between himself and Wall Street and say, if they think I‘m anti-business, if they think I‘m regulating to much, I‘ve only begun to fight because we need to protect the rest of the American economy from the predations of Wall Street. But we‘ve yet to see him do that.
OLBERMANN: And certainly there is license provided by that kind of incorrect criticism, isn‘t there? If you‘re thought to be anti-business, certainly you can actually get a few things in there that might actually be, if not anti-business, at least pro regulation of business.
KUTTNER: Well, you might as well be hanged as a sheep. And there‘s a difference between business and Wall Street. It‘s Wall Street that took down small business. It‘s Wall Street that took down the rest of the economy.
You be pro-business in the sense of being pro the rest of the economy by using regulation to protect the rest of the economy from Wall Street. And I think that‘s a distinction that the average voter would get.
The other thing that Wall Street is peddling is the idea we need to cut Social Security in order to balance the budget. My sources say that Obama is very, very close to anticipating, preempting the Republicans cutting Social Security before they do, which is just crazy. The Republicans have handed him a wonderful issue on a platter where you got guys like Lindsey Graham and Ryan of Wisconsin saying, I want to cut your Social Security.
This is an invitation for Democrats to stand up and say: they‘re going to cut your Social Security, I‘m not. We‘re going to defend it.
But we haven‘t seen him do that either.
OLBERMANN: Is what is at the heart of all this? Either tank the economy or presuming, you know, that the conspiracy theory doesn‘t roll back that far, take advantage of the tanking of the economy, and then create a situation in which you do not add it all to the job force, you keep the economy in doldrums, and then come back with this claim that it‘s all the union‘s fault? These issues we‘re going to explore throughout the first half hour of the show set this up so that the outcome is: gut Social Security and other social services?
KUTTNER: Well, that seems to be where it‘s heading. And, obviously,
politically somebody is going to take the fall for the fact that we‘re in a
protracted, severe recession. It‘s up to this Democratic administration to
make sure that the people who brought us the recession take the fall for it
otherwise, the Democrats end up taking the fall for it, as they did in 2010 midterms, and as they will do in 2012 if they don‘t drastically turn around their story line and their policy.
OLBERMANN: Robert Kuttner at Demos and the “American Prospect”—great thanks for your time.
KUTTNER: Thanks so much.
OLBERMANN: And to Republicans who are more brazen in their efforts to
cobble business, incoming House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa -
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
VOICE: Protected by Viper. Stand back.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: -- putting this question to business and industry. In essence, tell me how I can get rid of those pesky regulations for you.
Specifically, Congressman Issa sent letters to 150 trade associations, businesses, and think tanks, including the oil industry and drug manufacturers. The leading question claims that 43 major new regulations from the Obama administration will cost businesses $28 billion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISSA: We also have $1.75 trillion estimated -- $1.75 trillion worth of excess regulation costs to our businesses. Imagine if we could take even a third or a half of that, $1 trillion off of the cost of doing business in America. How many jobs would come to America?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: None, just like none came with last year‘s record profits. The letter asks, quote, “for your assistance in identifying existing and proposed regulations that have negatively impacted job growth in your member‘s industry. Please submit your response as soon as possible, preferably before January 10.”
Those merciless impediments on our economy, a reminder that in the third quarter of last year, American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of more than $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, the highest figure recorded in 60 years of the government keeping track of that.
Let‘s turn now to the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of “The Washington Post,” MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson—himself the author of “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America.”
Gene, good evening.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Did chairman to-be Issa—
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
VOICE: Protected by Viper. Stand back.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: -- just bring in a comfy chair for big business?
ROBINSON: Well, if we‘re going to use the furniture metaphor, I think it was more like a divan actually.
ROBINSON: And maybe—maybe their attendance with fans and perhaps a
bunch of grapes kind of feeding them one by one. I mean, it‘s—this is -
this is extraordinary, too.
But then again, I guess from his point of view, if you‘ve got a hen house, who better to guard it than the fox? I mean, come on. So, let‘s ask the people who have to—who are being regulated if, gee, if they would like all these pesky regulators to go away. I wonder what they‘re going to say.
OLBERMANN: One of the trade groups that got that letter from him was the National Association of Manufacturers, which obviously has the unfortunate acronym of NAM. Also oil industry trade groups.
How much is Issa‘s regulation meme designed to attack—is designed to attack the EPA‘s efforts to curb the greenhouse gases?
ROBINSON: Well, let‘s see. In addition to NAM, you‘ve got Duke Energy, you‘ve got the American Petroleum Institute. You‘ve got kind of a roster of big oil or big oil interests.
So, I‘d say a lot of it. And, you know, this is actually a very significant thing potentially that the EPA has begun to do in this atmosphere a courageous thing, although in Europe and elsewhere, they would say, well, you know, it‘s too little and perhaps too late. But, nonetheless, it is—it is something that we are doing on an issue that most of the rest of the planet believes is the big issue of our time.
And so, of course, the new Republican majority is going to try to thwart anything we might do on greenhouse gases or climate change or I guess the environment.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and squeeze everything out of the news hole by as this other source that told “Politico,” Issa has already sent 75 letters to officials at the administration relative to, you know, investigation of all sundry and sorted natures. Was that never a question of if but when, and is—are we now seeing this as kind of the Dec play to the left to keep attention off all this money being shoveled towards corporations?
ROBINSON: Well, the only—the only if was if Issa ever got a chance to run the committee. And—so, now he does have that chance. And, you know, these 75 letters, these are letters—some of them he‘s resending. He‘s been sending letters all along. And so, clearly he‘s had this series of—I don‘t know if we want to call them investigations, fishing expeditions, witch-hunts, whatever phrase you want to choose, he‘s had this teed up for a while, and he‘s going, I guess, go down his list.
OLBERMANN: There‘s a P.S. on that letter, by the way. It says, “Do you want it in fives, 10s, 20s or thousands.
Gene Robinson, columnist to “The Washington Post”—of course, always a pleasure, Gene. Thank you.
ROBINSON: Great to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Of course, if you‘re going to turn the government over to the corporations, you‘re going to have to find a scapegoat for all the resulting economic disasters. Plus, you‘re going to have to find more victims to throw into the bottomless pit of corporate greed later on.
Conveniently, there is a twofer here for the Republicans: union-busting courtesy of the GOP and the Koch brothers. The president of the Steel Workers Union—next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: So if the Republicans are right and the economy is all the fault of the unions, how come his nonunion state is $20 billion in the hole? Amping up union-busting.
Filibuster forum to end the endless delay—he may be delaying it.
Dropped. His radio show off the air in the biggest city in the country because of bad ratings.
And he was a frequent victim of censorship while he was alive, even though reports of his demise are no longer greatly exaggerated, is he the victim of censorship again today?
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: At the height of the auto industry crisis, this program obtained and reported on an internal Senate Republican memo which opposed the auto bailout.
The GOP hope? That the entire auto industry would die because, quote, “Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor.”
Fast forward two years—and in our fourth story tonight—while Mr. Issa and other Republicans in Washington tell America‘s richest they can order off the menu, it turns out the richest are orchestrating a full-on assault on working class Americans at the state level.
“New York Times” reporting that in multiple states across the country, especially states where Republican governors and legislators are now in charge—there is a growing movement to cripple and even destroy existing unions and the rights of working Americans to unionize. It is base on state-level budget crises. But as “The Times” reports, the movement extends far beyond just the unions for government workers. “The Times” does not explain who is behind this. We will.
And “The Times” does not mention that one of the states in the worst fiscal shape, Texas, is union-free. Republican Governor Rick Perry and his Texas Republicans dominated state legislator will find out some time next week just how far in the hole they are. It may be in the $20 billion range. Without unions to blame, they are planning on cutting health and education for Texas kids and Texas old people.
Nevertheless, even some Democrats have at least suggested that union workers are to blame for their budget problems. President Obama freezing pay for federal workers, incoming Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York expected to do the same for state workers. Recurring Democratic Governor Jerry Brown of California, in his latest inauguration speech, saying he will reexamine the pension system for state workers there.
And AFL-CIO memo obtained by “The New York Times” warns that Republicans in 16 states will go far further than that, that they will try to starve public sector unions by funding—of funding by requiring the members to opt-in before their dues could be used to political purposes.
But the Republican assault goes even further than that. New Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio wants to strip teachers of the right to go on strike and end the right of child care and home care workers paid by the state to even join a union.
The new Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin also wants to strip government workers of the right to form unions or even to bargain as a group. “We can no longer live,” Walker says, “in a society where the public employees are the haves and the taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots.”
But then why are the Republicans in at least 10 states also trying to prevent private sector unions from using dues for political purposes? Quoting “The Times,” “The American Legislative Exchange Council” is quietly spreading these proposals from state to state.” That group, ALEC is the acronym, it‘s funded by big business, of course. It‘s big pharma, big tobacco, big energy, big insurance, big banks, big automakers. That according to another website, ALEC Watch.
The ALEC Web site says it is down for maintenance. But a Google cache reveals that its early leadership included Kasich, among others. And a listing of board members includes executives from Wal-Mart, PhRMA and Koch Industries, which helped to bankroll the Tea Party.
And if you want to know how national Republicans view not just organized labor, but anybody‘s labor, the House is changing the name of the Committee on Education and Labor to the Committee on Education and Workforce. No longer is it your labor. Now, it‘s big business‘s workforce.
On that note, let‘s bring in Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steel Workers, who chairs the AFL-CIO‘s public policy committee.
Welcome back to the program, sir.
LEO GERARD, UNITED STEEL WORKERS: Thank you. Good to be on, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Who‘s behind this newest wave, number 13,000 in a series of union-busting efforts?
GERARD: This has been the Republican dream since the days of Reagan. And they embarked in those days a low-wage strategy, a low regulatory strategy, and an anti-union strategy. And this is them trying to exercise that strategy.
If we want to look at why the states are going broke, they‘re going broke because we‘ve lost tens of thousands, millions of jobs, 40,000 factories, Keith -- 40,000 factories closed during the Bush administration, left the country, went to China, went somewhere else. They don‘t pay taxes. They gave huge tax breaks to the ultra rich, and they again reestablished those tax breaks.
It‘s not the people who protect the quality of your food. It‘s not the people who teach your kids. They‘re not the people that have caused this economic mess. It‘s been Wall Street and right-wing public policy that has destroyed the guts of America. We no longer make anything.
OLBERMANN: But if even Democrats are looking at public sector union wages and pensions—does that not suggest the unions are part of the budget problems that are facing the states?
GERARD: No, absolutely not. We‘ve got two Democratic governors that are said they‘re going to look at this. And if we look at it in a rational way, we‘ll find out that public sector workers aren‘t the problem. There‘s no public sector worker getting rich on their salary making $30,000 or $35,000 or $40,000 a year. Forty thousand dollars a year doesn‘t make you rich if you‘ve got three kids and you‘re trying to put them through school.
If you got a decent pension—let‘s look at what happened to pensions since the deregulation of the financial community. How many billions were lost in the savings and loan scandal? How many billions were lost in Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco? And how many trillions of dollars of pension value were lost in this recent Wall Street economic meltdown?
Let‘s look at who really caused the problem, not at the people who are the victims of that problem. This is scapegoating at its worst.
OLBERMANN: This Governor Walker in Wisconsin, and that remarkable quote—what about that push to kind of portray union workers as the new welfare queens living large while real Americans are facing tough times out there?
GERARD: I guess what he‘s saying is that everybody ought to live in the poverty level. Because what he‘s saying is if there are people living above the poverty level because they‘ve got a union, shame on them. They ought to come down to the level of whatever he calls the have-nots.
Again, we‘ve got members in Wisconsin. None of our members have gotten rich working at Harley-Davidson, or none of them have gotten rich working in a factory. And I‘m sure those public sector workers that teach our kids, clean our streets, pick up our garbage—none of them are going to make their investments in Wall Street the way this governor has and probably will do.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Gerard, the argument that states have to bust even the private unions in order to bring investors into their states. Is there anything to that or is that just another smokescreen?
GERARD: Look, it certainly is another smokescreen. But what I think they‘re trying to do is cripple unions from actually participating. How many people know that if you bring in right to work in a state, that that gives the worker a right to not pay dues, but it doesn‘t preclude the union from having to represent that worker and bargain collectively for that worker? That would have been like giving me the opportunity during the Bush years to say, I didn‘t vote for Bush so I shouldn‘t pay taxes. You know?
This is another smokescreen designed to weaken unions. They see us as the last bulkhead against the complete control by the oligarchy and the corporate elite. And we‘re going the fight like hell to make sure that doesn‘t happen. We‘re not going to fight alone.
OLBERMANN: Please do.
Leo Gerard, the international president of the United Steel Workers—once again, great thanks for your time, sir.
GERARD: Thank you. Glad to be with you.
OLBERMANN: A measure designed to thwart the will of the majority currently used to suppress and support people in corporations is defended as free speech. The fight over reforming the filibuster—ahead.
OLBERMANN: The Senate majority leader is delaying filibuster reform?
The Senate minority leader is opposing it on free speech grounds? Next.
First, the sanity break and the tweet of the day from Ricky Standard. “Request: Let‘s start calling Republicans the corporate Republicans in Frank Luntz fashion.” LUNTZ.
Corporate Republicans? I like how that sounds. Corporate Republicans
it works for me.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin on the Internet. This is not your standard cute penguin story. Still, oohh!
This is a camouflage gone wrong story. The penguin thinks that‘s a rock. In fact, it‘s a sea lion. Hello! The penguin wakes the beast, but is somehow able to scamper away before getting attacked. After a quick rest, he seems to calm down and even strikes a pose for the camera. But I‘m sure all the other penguins saw that narrow escape, and will just avoid the error - oh, boy. Here we go.
An amazing story from James Thurber‘s newspaper “Alma Mater”, the Columbus Dispatch. A reporter from that paper found a homeless man at the intersection of I-71 and Hudson Street in Columbus asking for money, asking in the best voice you‘ve ever heard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say something with that great radio voice.
TED WILLIAMS, THE HOMELESS MAN WITH THE GOLDEN RADIO VOICE: When you‘re listening to nothing but the best of oldies, you‘re listening to Magic 98.9.
OLBERMANN: His name is Ted Williams. Not that one. He says he worked in radio for years before he fell victim to drugs and alcohol. He says he‘s been clean for two years now, and he wants to get started again.
And here are the pipes of Columbus, Ohio one more time.
WILLIAMS: I‘m hoping one day to watch “Family Guy”, weeknights at 7:30 on Fox 28.
OLBERMANN: I-71 and Hudson Street. Get him a job.
Finally, we travel back in time to a simpler era full of hopes and dreams. Last week - oh, the two feet of snow, too. But some people in New York still had to get to work and there was only one way to travel. Not that. Skis! This man turns Park Avenue into Pocono Mountain with the help of a jeep and some rope.
Of course, with any commute in the city, you need to be aware of the pedestrians. And our Bode Miller want to be nearly cliffs off a few that have ventured out into the storm. Even with that, skiing in New York still it‘s a lot safer than riding in a taxi.
Time marches on.
OLBERMANN (on camera): Filibustering filibuster reform. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman has his major political malfunction, please. And censoring Mark Twain so more people will read him? Ahead.
OLBERMANN: Good news tonight for returning Republican senators on the eve of their first day back at work. It appears they can keep their collective feet on their metaphoric desks, because tomorrow it appears that Democrats will obstruct their own filibuster reform perhaps for as long as two weeks.
Still in our third story, with the threat that filibuster reform is looming, Republicans and the lobbyists who make money off of their obstruction are freaking out. Sponsors of filibuster reform including Senators Merkley of Oregon and Udall of New Mexico are expected to officially introduce their plans tomorrow.
Among the fixes, senators preventing bills from coming to the Senate Floor would actually have to show up on the Senate Floor in order to filibuster the bill. Right now, to quote Ron Popiel, “senators can set it and forget it.” Democrats don‘t need Republican votes to make changes as long as they make them tomorrow. The Constitution allows rules changes to pass with a simple majority on the first day of a legislative session.
Still, Senator Merkley yesterday told Politico there were mixed views about filibuster reform inside the Democratic caucus. Multiple outlets today reporting Majority Leader Reed could recess, not adjourn tomorrow‘s session as keeping the Senate‘s first legislative day officially open for two weeks until after the break for Martin Luther King Day.
Today, holed up in their Conservative Heritage Foundation ice fortress, Republicans and the lobbyists who love them spoke out against reform, leading the charge Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander who bent logic over on top of itself by claiming that any reform forcing lawmakers to have their voices heard on the Floor of the U.S. Senate meant those voices would be silenced.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE: Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing that some Democrats want to do is to cut off the right of people they elected in November to make their voices heard on the Floor of the United States Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Alexander went on to offer helpful advice to Democrats considering filibuster reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER: Those who want to create a freight train running through the Senate today, as it does in the House, might think about whether they will want that freight train running through the Senate in two years when the freight train might be the Tea Party Express.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And then it was the lobbyists‘ turn to speak. I think Congress point out today that among The Heritage Foundation‘s experts hyperventilating about filibuster reform was Steven Duffield, the former aid to Senator Jon Kyl, but now policy director for Crossroads GPS and President of Endgame Strategies, LLC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVEN DUFFIELD, PRESIDENT, ENDGAME STRATEGIES: Has anybody seen a text, seen text of an actual rules change? Is that out there? Has it been discussed? Have rules experts sat down and figured out how that would work? No one has done that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Among the services listed on lobbyist Duffield‘s endgame strategies website, managing holds and filibusters. The firm says it can connect clients with legislators, quote, “often backbench Senate Republicans, who may exercise their prerogatives to delay or obstruct.” A business out of nothing.
Joining me now, Lee Fang, the investigative reporter for Think Progress. Good evening, sir.
LEE FANG, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THINKPROGRESS.COM: Good evening.
Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: You wrote today that Mr. Duffield was not the only lobbyist protesting at The Heritage Foundation. Apparently a lot of people have found a way to get paid because of Republican obstructionism.
FANG: Yes. You know, we‘ve heard about this unprecedented era of Republican obstruction on the last two years. But what we - we reported is that Duffield is, you know, very unique here because he basically just sells Republican filibusters to corporations. But he is not the only one.
One of the other lobbyists hosted by Heritage is a guy named Bill Wickerman. He‘s a long-time Republican operative that now works at Covington and Burling. It‘s a lobbying firm that has advertised itself as being able to win legislative debates, not by making the most compelling argument, but by exploiting rules like the secret hold and filibusters. And, you know, exploiting the broken Senate to help their corporate benefactors.
And I should say that Bill Wickerman represents pharmaceutical companies, copper companies and also Blackwater.
OLBERMANN: Does Senator Alexander spoke today warning Democrats not to do this? Mitch McConnell did the same thing and then have that in the “Washington Post”. If you‘re a Democrat, is that not all you need to know about this? Republicans don‘t want this, even though if they take the Senate back in two years or whenever, this would be their magic wand. Obviously, this must be a great idea for Democrats. Why is that not, you know, easily tattooed on their own foreheads so they can read it backwards in the mirror every day?
FANG: Well, you know, obviously Alexander and McConnell aren‘t honest brokers here. They both benefit tremendously from the broken Senate.
Just to give you an example, last year in 2009, I should say, Alexander placed a hold on an appropriations bill at the behest of FedEx lobbyists to basically extract a ransom that would have benefited FedEx‘s bottom line. And, of course, McConnell, he‘s a walking, talking example of why there‘s a broken Senate. You know, he‘s basically made a career out of exploiting the broken rules. He‘s not known for passing any substantive policy or finding any innovative solutions to problems in society. He‘s known for basically just obstruction.
You know, the number of filibusters doubled the second he became the minority leader. And, you know, he made his intentions clear shortly after the midterm elections. He said that instead of helping, you know, the American people, his number one priority is making Obama a one-term president.
OLBERMANN: And you always and any time reform is mentioned, any time somebody proposing it who voted against it at some point in the past is immediately held up as a reason to never have reform ever again. Alexander and McConnell both did this, the unanimous opposition to filibuster reform that was advanced by Senator Harkin in 1995. Explain how that vote was different and how that - that reform proposed in 1995 was different.
FANG: Well, for one thing, 1995 is very different from the current era. Just to give you an example of how bad it‘s gotten, the number of filibusters that have been launched in the last two years is greater than the number of filibusters launched in the 1950s and ‘60s combined. So we‘re living in a completely new unprecedented era.
But what Harkin proposed in 1995 is distinct from some of the rules that are going to be proposed initially tomorrow. The main thrust of the rules changes is just to add transparency and accountability to the system. For one thing, they want to end the secret holds that, you know, lobbyists like Steven Duffield exploit and sell to corporations to block legislation anonymously.
The other thing is, you know, we want - the Senate Democrats want to propose a change so Mr. Smith goes to Washington actually exists again. So that if you want to filibuster a bill, you actually have to show up in the Chamber and explain yourself. Right now, under the status quo, Republican senator sitting in Arizona can basically sit in his sauna smoking a cigar and just give Mitch McConnell a phone call and say, you know, I want to filibuster something. He never actually has to show up in Washington, D.C. The rules will change that.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Let them get up there and read the phone book.
Lee Fang of Think Progress, great - thanks for your time, Lee.
FANG: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: One less mutant on the radio, fired by the station that carries him in the largest market.
Taking the N-word out of “Huckleberry Finn”? Censorship or just adjusting the reality to protect Mark Twain and expand the audience for his work.
At the top of the hour in the “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” with the Republicans hiring lobbyists to lead the House to wrack and ruin. The calendar may say 2011, but tonight they‘re going to party like it‘s 1994.
OLBERMANN: Voiceover guy in Geico commercials criticizes Tea Party, gets fired. Crazy sergeant/psychiatrist guy in Geico commercial criticizes President Obama and gets - what do you think?
And his books were regularly thrown out of the libraries and the classrooms when he was alive, and they were new. Would censorship of one word in “Huckleberry Finn” suddenly put him and it back into libraries and classrooms?
OLBERMANN: OK. Do you cut the N-word out of “Huckleberry Finn” so that the book stops being banned in high schools, or is it censorship? This is a tough one, next.
First, get out your pitchforks and torches. Time for today‘s nominees of the worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Geico Insurance. The voice-over announcer for their commercials, Lance Baxter, left a nasty voice mail about the Tea Party at the Dick Armey‘s FreedomWorks Astroturf Company. Mr. Armey‘s goons put the recording and the message online. Geico then fired Mr. Baxter as its voiceover man.
So what do you suppose Geico did when the guy from “Full Metal Jacket,” who now appears in one of their commercials, said this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
R. LEE ERMEY, ACTOR AND RETIRED U.S. MARINE CORPS: The economy really sucks. Now, I hate to point fingers at anybody, but the present administration probably had a lot to do with that. And the way I see it, they‘re not going to quit doing it until they bring this country to its knees.
So I think we should all rise up, and we should stop this administration from what they‘re doing, because they‘re destroying this country. They‘re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us. And that‘s exactly what they‘re doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That was at a fundraiser for Toys for Tots. The actor‘s name is R. Lee Ermey. And after - he apologized nearly a month later. Did Geico fire him? Is it fire the guy who criticized the Tea Party? No, they did not. So you know what to do with your Geico Insurance. Cancel it.
The runner-up, Glenn the mutant. Two events today, he announced on the radio they will be terrified when they really see what is fully in my two-year plan. Of course they will. Glenn the Mutant‘s two-year plan consisted of two more years of Glenn the Mutant.
By the way, what‘s will all these multi-year plans? Who‘s this guy think he is? Stalin? Mao?
Second event today, the “Glenn Beck Show” has been canceled in the nation‘s largest radio market. WOOR here in New York says it is dropping Glenn the Mutant in two weeks due to lousy ratings. He‘s also scheduled to go off the air in Philadelphia. Presumably he will wind up where many of his ilk do, staking out a corner of Penn Station screaming at passersby.
But our winner, Congressman-elect Allen West, who will represent the Florida nut job region, a doubleheader here as well. Criticizing the president‘s recent trip to Afghanistan. He said, I think that going in the middle of the night doesn‘t show leadership. If I‘m asking my young men and women to go out there and put their lives on the line, I should be willing and able to do the exact same thing.
Apart from the inherent insanity of leaving your Commander in Chief as exposed as any soldier in Afghanistan, President Obama did not go in in the middle of the night. He arrived at 8:30 P.M. local time, so that wasn‘t even the middle of the night here. It was 11:00 A.M., Al.
Also, last march, Mr. West said that people who show they‘d believed in religious diversity by putting one of these coexist multi-religious bumper stickers on their cars were guilty of giving away our freedoms. And now, Mr. West you had to leave our military after threatening to kill a detainee in Iraq has gone a step further. This country needs to identify as its greatest threat he says Sharia Law. He appeared on the Paranoid Radio Hour with Frank Gaffney.
(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)
FRANK GAFFNEY, SECURE FREEDOM RADIO HOST: What is your sense of the willingness of this new Congress to take on Sharia as the enemy threat doctrine?
REP.-ELECT ALLEN WEST ®, FLORIDA: I think that one of the critical things that we must come together and understand that there is an infiltration of the Sharia practice into all of our operating systems here in this country, as well as we see across western civilization.
(END AUDIO TAPE)
OLBERMANN: He‘s opposed to Sharia and “My Sharona” as well. Mr. West also warned of invasions from Martians, warlocks and the Islamic Republic of Lilliput.
Congressman-elect Allen West, still fighting mental health, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”
OLBERMANN: Mark Twain could have told you all about censorship, including censorship of Mark Twain. “When a library expels a book of mine,” he wrote to Mrs. F.G. Whitmore in February, 1907, “and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn‘t anger me.”
In our number one story, what would Twain make of the scenario in which the attitude towards racial epithets of all denominations have so changed that is used of one of them had pretty much taken one of his greatest works out of the hands of kids. And would he encourage or discourage an ardent admirer of his work, a scholar from revising the text to eliminate the word and restore the rest of the book to its proper place in the pantheon of the classics?
The Twain scholar Alan Gribben shown here lecturing on “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” at the Birmingham, Alabama Public Library. In an interview, Gribben says the lecture audiences remain up to teacher‘s ear to teach “Tom Sawyer”, but not “Huckleberry Finn”. On almost every occasion he says, teachers told them the 219 appearances of the N-word in “Huck Finn” made it off limits for their students.
To rectify that, Gribben team with publisher NewSouth Books to create a version of the book that replaces the N-word with the word “slave” and also removes a pejorative version of Native American. Gribben, who‘s the head of the English Department at Auburn tells “Publishers Weekly”, quote, “This is not an effort to render “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” colorblind. Race matters in these books. It‘s a matter of how you express that in the 21st Century. For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs.”
As you would expect, reaction to the new version is passionate. Fellow Twain scholar Thomas Wortham of UCLA calls Gribben a modern day Thomas Bodler, the 18th Century doctor whose family friendly versions of the decline of all the Roman Empire and Shakespeare works gave us the term “bowdlerize” and the sloppier “bodlerize” (ph).
Says Wortham, a book like Professor Gribven has imagined doesn‘t challenge children and their teachers to ask why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language.
NewSouth plans to have 7,500 copies of that book on shelves next month.
Joining me now, Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, Associate Professor, Politics and African-American Studies at Princeton, MSNBC contributor and columnist of “The Nation” Magazine. Good evening, professor.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, “THE NATION” MAGAZINE: Hi. Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: I have two minds on this. I mean, I hesitate to touch any author‘s work and I despise censorship. And on the other hand, it‘s madness that “Huckleberry Finn” is essentially off limits to anybody until college or later. What do you think?
HARRIS-PERRY: It is madness certainly that “Huck Finn” has been off limits. But the solution to that is to stop the madness, not - not to give into it. The idea that the N-word being purged from this text, and particularly purged and replaced with the word “slave” is somehow how going to fix the censorship problem, I think is both inaccurate.
But also I think it‘s more troubling because it suggests, first of all, that we think young people don‘t hear the N-word as part of their pop culture milieu. I mean, I just hate to break it to the - to the good professor, but in fact the N-word is pretty widely available. And so, I‘d rather than students and young people only hearing it in their kind of cultural world and, you know, in their music to actually have to encounter it in a classroom with the teacher and with thoughtful peers to think and talk about what the word means, where it comes from, and why it‘s used in the context that it is in Twain‘s work.
OLBERMANN: One assumes that it‘s not - that, I mean, that he‘s made that same leap that you have here, that what he‘s dealing with is or what these teachers are dealing with is complaints from parents or complaints from do-gooders or complaints from overly sensitive people or just, you know, we live in the era of the complaint and the umbrage. How do you - how do you attack that? How do you even begin to unravel that?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, part of it is, you know, understanding the relative autonomy of art. The way in which cultural products, arts and music contribute something to our life that is not just sort of a pretty package with a bow on it. Part of art‘s job is to sometimes be grotesque, to be difficult, to challenge us.
I mean, the language that you use from Twain at the introduction here where, you know, he finds it absurd and almost enjoyable to have his text banned while the Bible, with all of the horrors that occur as part of just the biblical stories, not even the, you know, the kind of interpretations, but just the horrible things that happen in the stories.
So the idea that we can somehow make any of these cultural products, you know, clean and nice is foolish. The whole point of culture and of literature is to challenge us.
OLBERMANN: “Huckleberry Finn” at the time he wrote it was banned in many places because it presented Jim as a human being, and not as a stereotype. And now it‘s banned because Twain used a word that we‘ve largely managed to - not purge is too strong a word - but control in some senses in society. Apart from the irony of that, isn‘t the issue here that Twain‘s purpose is triumph in that book is getting largely lost because of this?
HARRIS-PERRY: Certainly. And let me again say that to replace the N-word with the word “slave” is also problematic. I like your point about Jim as a human being. When we use a word “slave,” it imagines that human beings who were enslaved were slaves. In other words, their whole identity, everything we need to understand about them is their condition of enslavement. It‘s one of the reasons that many historians have gone away from using the word “slave” and instead using the words enslaved persons, or enslaved Africans to really distinguish that difference.
The whole point here, or at least one of the many nuance points for Twain is that “Huck Finn” can be both helpful and derogatory that there can be a camaraderie without equality. That there are these challenging relationships. That‘s just what the book is asking us to do the work of thinking about.
OLBERMANN: Well, we know one thing for sure, purely from art we can‘t call him enslaved person Jim. It sounds like - it sounds like an application on a form.
HARRIS-PERRY: It sounds bad, yes.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC contributor Melissa Harris-Perry, great thanks for your time tonight, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: It‘s January 4th, 29 days since the Republicans got their deal for taxes for the rich. Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs?
I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
And now, 1994 called. It wants its lobbyist-controlled Republican House back. Into “RACHEL” tonight, it‘s Chris Hayes. Good evening, Chris.
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