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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Rep. Anthony Weiner, Wendell Potter, Rep. Keith Ellison





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

As public support for full health care reform repeal bottoms out at 18 percent, the Republicans vote to do it anyway.


REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  Some in the cynical political class are saying this is a gimmick.  It‘s an empty gesture.  Well, we have another term for it on our side of the aisle.  It‘s a promise kept.


OLBERMANN:  A promise kept to deliver gimmicks and empty gestures. 



REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  You know, I want to just advise people watching at home playing the now popular drinking game of “You take your shot whenever the Republicans say something that‘s not true,” please assign a designated driver.  This is going to be a long afternoon.


OLBERMANN:  Our guests: Congresswoman Anthony Weiner and health care industry whistleblower and hero, Wendell Potter.

Gabby Giffords, joy and fear.  Her move to a brain injury rehab center could come as early as Friday.  Her fear of all of this revealed by her husband.


MARK KELLY, REP. GIFFORDS‘ HUSBAND:  She says, you know, some day, I‘m really worried that somebody‘s going to come up to me at one of these events with a gun.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC:  She said that?

KELLY:  Oh, yes.  I mean, she said it—I mean, we have talked about it probably, you know, 10 times.



OLBERMANN:  The end of the linebacker for Joe Lieberman, self-described “moderate Democrat.”  Don‘t let the delusional liar door hit you in the delusional liar butt on the delusional liar way out.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  Maybe that means that JFK wouldn‘t fit neatly into any of today‘s partisan political boxes either.


OLBERMANN:  Senator, I know of Jack Kennedy, and you‘re no Jack Kennedy.

The economy, cured—the blessed relief of the miracle that is the Republican Congress.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And we can get our economy growing and we‘ve gotten some positive numbers.  I think it‘s in large part because we won our majority and we are pursuing pro-growth policies.


OLBERMANN:  Thank you, self-absorbed California Republican.

And college, the learning years.  Maybe not.  New study has freshman and sophomores, 45 percent of college students make no significant improvement reasoning or writing.  After graduation, it‘s still 36 percent.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Seven years of college down the drain.


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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a zit!  Get it?




OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.  This is Wednesday, January 19th, 657 days until the 2012 presidential election.

The public support for a repeal of health care reform now down to 18 percent.  In a new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll, Republicans did a platform dived today into six inches of water in which their base now slowly dries.

In our fifth story: The GOP-led House passing the elegantly titled “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act by a vote of 245 to 189.  That‘s all the Republican House members plus three Democrats: Mike Ross of Arkansas, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Dan Boren of Oklahoma—all three opponents of the health care bill last year and bowling alley operators by 2013.

Having voted to repeal health care reform even though the Senate will not, the president would veto, Republicans now move on to trying to repeal the 1992 elections, the popularity of Ellen DeGeneres and Monday mornings.

Speaker Boehner and House Republican Leader Cantor calling this the start of replacing the Affordable Care Act with what they call “common sense” reforms.  Both Boehner and Cantor trying to Jedi mind trick Harry Reid to get the Senate to vote on repeal.  Cantor apparently becoming an advocate for filibuster reform.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER:  I‘ve got a problem with the assumption here that somehow the Senate can be a place for legislation to go into a cul-de-sac or a dead-end.  I think the American people deserve to see a vote in the Senate and the Senate ought not be a place that legislation goes into a dead-end.


OLBERMANN:  These are not the droids you‘re looking for.

Mr. Cantor‘s party knows about a dead-end Senate.  The 111th Congress enacted the filibuster 136 times in 2009-2010, blocking most of the Democratic legislative agenda.

But back to the House where Republicans made health care repeal a priority of its new Congress and now that they passed repeal they can—they can—anyone?  Anyone?  Boehner?  Boehner?


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We‘ll have a resolution tomorrow instructing committees to have a replacement.  I don‘t know that we need artificial deadlines set up for the committees to act.


OLBERMANN:  Meaning they‘ve got nothing.

So, with no replacement for the bill they just repealed, House committees will start drafting their new measures for their government takeover of health care tomorrow with instructions from the speaker to hand in homework whenever they damn well feel like it.

Conservative Congresswoman Marcia Blackburn of Tennessee meanwhile plans to introduce replacement legislation tomorrow.  Her office would not release the details of this bill to us.  But Blackburn herself told FOX News it will focus on tort reform and allowing insurance purchases across state lines which will really help the insurance industry.

But as polling continues to show public resistance to full repeal, Democrats are showcasing the immediate benefits of health care reform.  Numbers cited during the last two days of floor debate in the House.  More than 4 million Medicare beneficiaries receiving $250 rebate check this year, more than 4 million small businesses receiving tax credits this year, 2 million uninsured children protected from being denied health care for pre-existing conditions, nearly 2.5 million young adults being covered under their parents plans until age 26.

With the facts and polls on their side, House Democrats were emboldened today.  Anthony Weiner of New York and Congressman George Miller of California among the most vocal defenders of the Affordable Care Act.


REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA:  Many on the other side of the aisle said that is bureaucrat tick system.  Has anybody, any family in America, any single mother, any spouse, any child, any grandparent met a more bureaucratic system than the American health insurance system?  There is no more bureaucratic system.

When you send in your premium, they tell you, you sent it the wrong place.  When you send in the bill, you sent it to the wrong person.  When you send it to the right person, they say that person has left their job.

When you say, “I went to the doctor,” they say, “You should have called us first.”  When you say, “I had emergency surgery,” “You should have called us.  We‘re not covering it.”

You want to talk about bureaucracy, ladies and gentlemen.  And that‘s why this legislation is growing in popularity.

WEINER:  First, they start by making stuff up.  You kind of have to wonder if any of them actually read the bill.  A hundred and thirty thousand new agencies—not true.  New IRS agents—not true.  Death panels—not true.  Members aren‘t covered—not true.  No tort reform in it—not true.

You know, I want to just advise people watching at home playing that now popular drinking game of “You take your shot whenever the Republicans say something that‘s not true,” please assign a designated driver.  This is going to be a long afternoon.


OLBERMANN:  And now, here is Representative Anthony Weiner, the Democrat of the New York 9th.

Congressman, good evening.

WEINER:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  I know you were kidding about that and you also seemed to be standing.  So, I‘m assuming you did not participate in that drinking game.

WEINER:  Right.  I‘m not encouraging anyone to drink.  But if you were keeping track, you heard some real doozies from the Republicans today.

OLBERMANN:  Has anybody told them that the polling on this hated bill is now—on the whole thing, is now roughly 50/50, and that latest number on repealing the whole thing is down to 18 percent who want to see it fully repealed?  Does anybody on the Republican side know those two facts?

WEINER:  Well, it seems to me that a lot of them have not made the transition from the campaign when everything was like a mantra Obamacare government takeover and the like, that they don‘t seem to realize that they are the majority party now and they‘ve got to be governing.

You know, perhaps the most preposterous part is the part that you pointed out in your topper.  They said, well, we‘re going to repeal this and then we‘re going to get to what our ideas are.  But they have no idea what they are.  That‘s the challenge the Republicans face.

And also something else interesting on the floor today—more than a few times they said, oh, yes, we like stopping people from being kicked off for pre-existing conditions.  We like that you‘re covering the donut hole.  We like the idea that young people are getting insurance.  But we are still going to repeal it.

I mean, the fact is I believe the Republicans haven‘t read the bill.  I think we should start chanting at them wherever they go, “read the bill,” because I think then they‘ll realize how much damage they‘re doing.

OLBERMAN:  I‘m wondering if it‘s—if it‘s being posited to them, you mentioned that they are in charge of the House right now and thus acting on health care reform of their own.  Has it been suggested that what they are proposing is their own government takeover of health care?

WEINER:  Well, that‘s right.  I mean, let‘s remember something here.  The Republican Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.  Just about every bit that they read off a piece of paper, every time they show up in the morning, they‘re thinking, how do we help out the insurance industry?  And sooner or later, that‘s going to run them off a cliff.

But they have to understand something else.  At the end of the day, what we‘ve done with the health care plan that they are trying to overturn is provide Americans subsidies so they can buy private insurance plans.  This idea that this is some kind of government takeover of anything, in fact, this is a proposal that Republicans originally come up with—the idea of helping people buy insurance.

I, as you know, was never crazy about that idea.  But the idea that somehow this is some big, socialist coup couldn‘t be further from the truth.

OLBERMANN:  Today, each time a Republican stood up today, a Democrat yourself, included, followed and aggressively contradicted them with facts and hard facts.  So, using aggressive tactics, facts and really standing behind this bill, and what you passed last year—why the change in Democratic strategy?  Where did this backbone from your colleagues come from and why wasn‘t it there a year ago?

WEINER:  Yes.  If only we‘d thought of it last year.

OLBERMANN:  Seriously.

WEINER:  Look, I agree with you.  I think we had an exaggerated sense of confidence that once the bill becomes law, people stop lying about it.  Uh-uh.  They double down.

I heard someone say yesterday on a show that it‘s going to cost $1.2 trillion when, in fact, the CBO said it‘s going to save $1.2 trillion.  It‘s almost as if there‘s more and more of the lie machine going on all at once here.  But what‘s happening is, and the polls are showing it, the American people are starting to see the benefits.

I think if people have a choice between repeal and replace, and implement and improve, they choose the latter every time, because they understand that‘s how policy gets made.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Well, repeal and replace is at 18 percent right now. 

So, I think that fight has already been won and decided.

Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York—as always, a great pleasure. 

Thank you kindly.

WEINER:  Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s bring in, Wendell Potter, former communications director, vice president of Cigna, now senior analyst at the Center for Public Integrity.  His book is called “Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks on How Corporate PR is Killing Healthcare and Deceiving Americans.”

Wendell, thanks for your time again tonight.


OLBERMANN:  There has to be more to what the House Republicans are doing than political self-massage.  From what you know of the health care industry, what is all this today in Washington really about?

POTTER:  Well, this is about a big smokescreen.  They know that there‘s not a chance that this is going to be repealed.


POTTER:  And they have been telling their Republican friends to go through the motions you need to do this to satisfy those who voted for you after being fooled that it was a government takeover.  So, what‘s really going on, why it is a smokescreen, is that the lobbyists for these companies are meeting with their newly-elected members of Congress telling them, what we really need you guys to do is to keep the law intact, except please strip out the consumer protections and the new regulations that we don‘t like.

OLBERMANN:  So, are the Republicans also essentially proxies for what the industry would normally be doing in terms of complaint and protest, and these sort of fake grassroots movements?  I mean, the entire health care industry, particularly insurance, has been really quiet while Republicans have been making noise.

POTTER:  Right.  And it‘s part of the strategy.  It was part of the strategy from—during the debate.  They have a by bifurcated PR strategy of trying to—of saying things that people want to hear and then behind the scenes really doing something entirely different.  And that‘s going on here, except this time, they can‘t speak out at all because they can‘t say they are opposed to repeal because their Republican friends are doing this.  But they are very adamantly opposed to it because the individual mandate is so essential to them to be able to survive.

So, that‘s what‘s going on.  They are staying quiet because of that.  And they are giving talking points to their friends right now and they are equipping them with talking points as they move off the smokescreen into something substantive later.

OLBERMANN:  You would never want to bet on Congresswoman Blackburn in a titanic clash of wits, but there‘s a not too subtle component, but I think it‘s pretty big in her proposal not to go back just to the old status quo, but to go back to the old status quo and add the tort reform and this premise, selling health care across state lines.  Explain the across state lines jazz, please.  Because I think I know which of the scams that one is, but you‘re the expert.

POTTER:  Yes.  Well, first of all, Congresswoman Blackburn is someone who I know from my days in the industry as a go-to person to get things done for the industry.


POTTER:  She‘s always reliable.  And I know that from personal experience.

Selling policies across state lines is something that they really want because it would enable them to circumvent essentially all state regulation.  They would be able to sell essentially junk policies like they are doing today, but they wouldn‘t have any regulation.  But Marcia will be equipped and her colleagues with a new set of talking points that will make us think that this will be good for us, that we will be able to buy policies that are cheaper.

The problem is, they won‘t tell us, is that the stuff that we‘ll be buying will often just be nothing more than junk insurance.

OLBERMANN:  As you have been touring the country, what are the audiences that you‘ve been addressing telling you about the health care system in this country as it was, and as it is becoming now?

POTTER:  You know, what I‘m hearing is bearing out the poll results you cited.  People are coming to—at long last—understand some of the benefits in the law that they don‘t want to have repealed.  There still is resistance to the mandate which is the insurance industry‘s favorite thing.  But they know that a lot of the practices of the industry has to be made illegal and this bill does it.  And they‘re becoming aware of some benefits to them as consumers.

So, it‘s—I‘m seeing growing understanding of the legislation and growing support for it.

OLBERMANN:  Wendell Potter of the Center for Public Integrity—great thanks and particularly for your insight on Congresswoman Blackburn tonight.  Thank you, sir.

POTTER:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The other health story, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords today stood up, but the fear with which she lived related by her husband that every day she was in office, she risked being shot.  That and still more breaking news on this subject.  The man accused of shooting her is tonight indicted.  All of that—next.


OLBERMANN:  Breaking news tonight: Jared Loughner indicted in Tucson in the shootings there.  This as the right wing rationalization that she wasn‘t scared, didn‘t have security is rebutted by her husband who revealed she was very scared.

Lying even on the way out the door.  He was a moderate Democrat and today he says JFK might be a Republican.

Did you know the economy is all better?  That‘s because he and his fellow Republicans in the House fixed it.

And the new analysis of what higher thought skills students learn in college.  The answer is: almost none.


OLBERMANN:  Federal grand jury in Tucson has this evening returned an initial three-count indictment against Jared Lee Loughner.  One count of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the two others are for the attempted murder of two federal employees, Giffords staffers: Ron Barber and Pamela Simon.  Three counts, not five as identified in the original complaint.  Justice Department expected to bring those other two original counts and seek the death penalty.

Meantime, the doctors treating Congresswoman Giffords are just about out of superlatives.  This afternoon in Tucson, admittedly with some assistance, she stood today on her own two feet, looking out the window at the mountains.  As her mother revealed in an e-mail on Monday, as her husband were showing her a photo on his phone, mail she reached up from the bed, touched the device with her finger and began to scroll through the pictures.

By this weekend, she may be transferred out of the hospital to get specialized treatment.

Our fourth story: the congresswoman‘s continuing recovery and what her husband is telling us about her fears of attack.

Health first: according to a press release issued by her staff, quote, “The congresswoman is expected to move Friday, January 21st, to TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston.  But because this is a fluid situation, the exact day of the move will depend on the congresswoman‘s health.”

That rehab facility is where National Football League player Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills was treated after he suffered a life-threatening spinal cord injury during a game in 2007.  Once paralyzed, Mr.  Everett can now walk.

Meantime, it turns out the heart break and terror of Gabby Giffords‘ husband, Mark Kelly, was about as total as you can imagine.  For 15 minutes on the morning she was shot, he believed what he heard and saw reported in the media.  He believed his wife was dead.

Today, footage from multiple surveillance cameras is providing new details of the Tucson shooting.  Richard Kastigar, the chief of investigations from the Pima County Sheriff‘s Department describing the footage which will not be released as “graphic.”  Kastigar says it shows Loughner approaching the congresswoman with, quote, “significant purpose” and shooting her at a distance of two to three feet.  The investigator also says the footage shows that the slain federal judge, John Roll, may have given his own life to save the life of the Gifford staffer Ron Barber.


RICHARD KASTIGAR, PIMA COUNTY SHERIFF DEPT.:  It‘s my estimation that the judge really, I think, offers himself and helps a friend or colleague by pushing him under the table.  In doing so, he exposes his back to the shooter.  The shooter does then shoot him in the back.


OLBERMANN:  Judge Roll was killed.  Barber, shot twice, survived. 

Congresswoman Giffords is now the last hospitalized victim in Tucson.

Last night, her husband told ABC News that Gabby was very often fearful of exactly what happened two Saturdays ago.


KELLY:  You know, she said, some day, I‘m really worried that somebody is going to come up to me at one of these events with a gun.

SAWYER:  She said that?

KELLY:  Oh, yes.  I mean, she said it—I mean, we have talked about it probably, you know, 10 times.


OLBERMANN:  Mark Kelly, who as you surely know, is an astronaut, says he does not believe the current political climate is to blame for his wife‘s shooting.  Instead, he says, quote, “The people who do these things are just sick and disturbed,” but he believes that now, the climate could still be improved.


KELLY:  This is an opportunity—opportunity to make things better.  Get rid of the heated, angry rhetoric.  Maybe it‘s time to just tone it down, try to get back to a better place.


OLBERMANN:  To talk about that, a pleasure to be joined by Representative Keith Ellison, the Democrat of Minnesota.

Congressman, good evening.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Apparently, your colleague, Gabby Giffords was living in regular fear of the threat of violence.  Do you think her situation is unique in Congress?

ELLISON:  You know, I think that all of us understand that there are risks attendant to the job.  Also risks attendant to the jobs that our staffs do.  And we do this because we serve the community and care about our neighbors and want to make our country better.

But there is no doubt about it.  You know, all of us do deal with the fact that there are people out there who would harm us and yet we know our men and women in uniform face way more harm every day.  So, we do it with a degree of understanding that, you know, there are people who make even greater sacrifices.

OLBERMANN:  If you don‘t want to address this in any specificity, I think I‘ll understand or the audience will understand.  If you don‘t want to address it at all, the same thing is true.  But if you want to tell or discuss how regularly or at all do you or your office receive threats of violence.

ELLISON:  Well, I‘m happy to report that direct threats of violence are pretty rare.  We don‘t get—we don‘t get them every day or even every week.  When people say, I‘m going to kill you.  We do get them.  But they‘re not—they‘re fairly rare.

But hostile, threatening stuff comes in through the fax, e-mail or mail every day.  And so, it‘s just—it is surprising that people will spout such amazing levels of hostility to people they don‘t even know.  And it would—you know, the thing is Gabby Giffords is one of the sweetest, most loving people I have had a chance ever to meet.  She‘s a kind person and a good, decent person.  And why anybody, particularly this fellow, Loughner, would want to harm her is beyond my imagination.

But, of course, you know, I think nearly every member of Congress—it gets to be the target of somebody‘s hostility who—you know, and it‘s really not warranted based on anything.

OLBERMANN:  Do you think—we haven‘t had a chance to talk about this

do you think that whether or not the climate had anything to do with what this man‘s motivations were, that the climate you just described and how often you get these threatening tones if not direct threats needs—is being fed by political rhetoric at this point and needs to be toned down?


ELLISON:  In my opinion, the vituperative, toxic language that we throw around on a routine basis, not to mention language but also displays and depictions contribute in a negative way.  Now, I don‘t think there‘s necessarily a causal link to be made.  And nor do I think anyone has said there was a direct causal link.

But I do think—I mean, again, you know, even if there is no causal link, can we stop talking about reloading and armed and dangerous?  And can we stop putting bulls‘ eyes on members of Congress district?  Can we just stop that?

You know, nobody‘s asking folks to shelf their firmly held passion and beliefs.  By all means, let‘s debate health care and taxes and Afghanistan and everything else.  But some of this rhetoric around guns and stuff like that is over the top.  I hope we stop it.  I hope this is an occasion to knock it off.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, you had a Congress on Your Corner event to honor what Representative Giffords was doing in her Congress on Your Corner events.  And we have the footage of the police presence there.

Was that normal for one of your events?  Is it going to be?

ELLISON:  No, it‘s not normal.  And actually, I‘m very proud of our members of law enforcement in Minneapolis.  But it wasn‘t—it wasn‘t how we normally do it.  I do public access events al the time.

I called this one Congress on Your Corner because that‘s what Gabby

called hers.  We wanted to honor her and we do honor her.  But I think that

I was glad they were there because it was a signal to everybody else that was coming—staff, people, citizens who just wanted to talk, that they would be safe.


And so, I was very happy they were there.  On an average basis, they wouldn‘t be there, although, you know, they are Minneapolis‘ finest and we‘re very proud of them.

OLBERMANN:  Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota—great thanks for your forthrightness on this difficult topic and all the best, sir.

ELLISON:  Any time, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And then there are those politicians who sail through their public lives untouched, which is fortunate, which is the way it should be, unless what they are untouched by is reality.  Tonight, goodbye, Joe Lieberman, and good riddance.


OLBERMANN:  Joe Lieberman announces he will not run again, reveals he‘s been living in a dream world of his own in which a senator who endorsed a Republican presidential nominee is, quote, a moderate Democrat. 

First, the Tweet of the day—couldn‘t find one.  But on this date in history, not a damn thing worth mentioning. 

So let‘s look ahead a week and a day.  Birthdays on January 27, Mozart, actors James Cromwell, Alan Cumming, Bridget Fonda and Mimi Rogers, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Lewis Carroll, Chief Justice John Roberts, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and Margo Timmons of Cowboy Junkies, Samuel Gompers and Jerome Kern (ph), Marriot Saffon (ph) from tennis, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, Ross Bagdasarian (ph), who created of “the Chipmunks,” and broadcasters Chris Collinsworth, Chris Rose, Jack Hailey and me, all of whom worked together in the same office a decade ago. 

That was some January 27th.  Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin on the Internets with a new perspective on things.  In case you ever want to know what an arrow sees when it‘s shot, here you go.  Let go, buddy.  Whee!  The arrow travels 475 feet in a little under five seconds, twisting and turning the entire way, finally hitting the target, bringing the dizzying adventure to a striking conclusion. 

The video really gives the idea of being straight as an arrow a new turn. 

Blechley, England, hello, where we find the trend of driving into convenience scores is catching on.  Nobody hurt this time either, but it allows me to make the obligatory that driver must have been in a hurry to get a Slushy joke.  What makes this one stand out is the fact the car is a Mercedes.  Usually, you see a minivan or a sedan going into a store.  Luxury car?  No. 

I mean, luxury cars have all sorts of features to prevent this, like the self-parking—oh, I see now. 

Dateline, Columbia, South Carolina, we find a robbery in progress.  Suspect claims to have a gun, attempts to walk around the corner there to take the money.  That is when the clerk uses the old school approach to a new age problem by taking out his Samurai sword that he keeps under the counter.  Apparently, the suspect reminded him of Buck Henry. 

The clerk used the blade to chase the would-be crook out of the store and club him repeatedly.  Suspect later apprehended by police a few blocks.  After seeing this, many stores in the area have decided to adopt this cutting-edge security. 

Time marches on. 

The departure of Senator Joe Lieberman, following by a couple of years his departure from reality.  Dave Weigel next.


OLBERMANN:  In his news conference today announcing his retirement at the end of his term, independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman looked back on his 40 years in public service, 40 years of American history, and remarked at length upon the tapestry of wondrous things and great achievements accomplished by Joe Lieberman. 

Our third story tonight, the senator‘s self eulogy was not only free of one word of regret, nor any sign of error, nor one footprint of misstep.  He instead blamed for anything and everything that went wrong the rest of the country, but mostly the Democrats. 

His signature failure, as cheerleader of the lies that let Mr. Bush go into Iraq, got just one mention today.  If you blink, you are going to miss this.  But if you don‘t miss it, you will note he characterizes Iraq as part of strong American foreign policy. 


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT:  I‘m also proud of the opportunity I have had to work across party lines in snort of the strong bipartisan American foreign and defense policies carried out by the four presidents under whom I have been privileged to serve: Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, which included policies that ousted the invading Iraqi military from Kuwait, ended the genocide of Muslims in the Balkans, and liberated Iraq, Afghanistan and the world from brutally oppressive anti-American dictatorships. 


OLBERMANN:   He also compared himself—and a quick warning to any viewers who might be eating—to JFK. 


LIEBERMAN:   The politics of President Kennedy, patriot tick service to country, support of civil rights and social justice, pro-growth economic and tax policies, and a strong national defense are still my politics.  So maybe that means that JFK wouldn‘t fit neatly into any of today‘s partisan political boxes either. 


OLBERMANN:   Note the dig at the Democrats there, too.  Mr. Lieberman implying they are either anti-civil rights, anti-growth or weak on national defense.  The latter a charge Senator Lieberman has made previously.

As far as his civil rights record goes, he was rightly praised for helping to repeal Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell in the Senate.  Civil rights for Muslims, on the other hand?  Unlike JFK, Mr. Lieberman supported the American government tossing Muslim suspects into indefinite detention, denying them Miranda rights, seeking to strip even U.S. suspected of terrorism of their basic civil rights. 

On tax policies, unlike JFK, Mr. Lieberman, like Mr. Bush, supported taxing the rich at the lowest rates they could get, about half of the 65 percent rate favored by President Kennedy. 

For more on Mr. Lieberman‘s parting claim that the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in himself but in us, here is MSNBC contributor Dave Weigel, also political reporter for  Good evening, Dave. 

DAVE WEIGEL, SLATE.COM:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:   Mr. Lieberman‘s standard formulation is that he was a Republican foreign policy and Democracy on domestic, except for the estate tax, the Bush tax cuts, school vouchers, gay marriage, homeland security, the public option, the Medicare buy-in, privatizing Social Security, and tort reform.  Did I leave anything off the list? 

WEIGEL:   That was almost complete.  I think you might have left off in 2006, when Lieberman supported—opposed a bill in Connecticut that would have forced all hospitals to treat rape victims even if they were seen to be ovulating.  It was the Catholic hospitals were against it.  He took the side of them.  At the time he famously said, in Connecticut, it‘s only a short ride to the next hospital, in case you are going to one of these hospitals that doesn‘t allow you to get the treatment you need. 

So OK, add that to the list and I think you‘ve have got a pretty comprehensive list of reasons why liberals do not like him. 

OLBERMANN:   The senator‘s narrative seems to be American politics changed around him.  If anything, hasn‘t the Democratic party moved closer to his positions, at least his most recent positions?  Why suggest to the rest of the country except him has changed?  Why suggest we all screwed up while he was Joe terrific? 

WEIGEL:   Well, it‘s hard to think of positions he remained completely consistent on throughout his career, except for the foreign policy positions.  On those, the Democratic party was one place in 1988 and it is one place now.  He didn‘t change that much. 

In 1988, he won with the support of conservatives who, like him, didn‘t want to normalize trade relations with Cuba.  He ran from the right on foreign policy on Cuba.  That‘s something some Democrats support.  But in the Iraq War, the first Gulf War, the Iraq War, in a lot of cases, he was to the right of Democrats. 

On other things, he was malleable.  The problem you saw a lot of Democrats express with Lieberman in the last six years, especially, was that it was hard to predict where he would come on an issue unless you start assuming out of spite he would oppose what Democrats wanted. 

It‘s hard to think of a reason why he opposed the Medicare buy-in, for example, which you mentioned, except that Democrats supported it.  He used to support that and then flipped. 

OLBERMANN:   To that point, by many accounts, his habit of crossing the aisles had less to do with this bridge building that he extolled himself for today, and more about how much he enjoyed being the pivot point on all deals.  So how much of the career tack was this great noble opinion being—or formula being maintained and how much of it was just personal opportunism? 

WEIGEL:   There was a degree of opportunism.  Republicans used to notice this.  In 2000, Republicans criticized Lieberman because they saw a Democrat who was with them on a couple of social issues, who criticized Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, who was with them on school vouchers and then flipped. 

In 2006, from the point he lost the primary onward, there were things liberals thought they could trust him on that he flipped on.  There were unions that supported Lieberman and became disappointed because it looked as though the North Star of his political critique, of his ideology was getting even with liberals who had betrayed him. 

He didn‘t even—he was—I‘m not sure if he did in the end.  He was not that supportive of Richard Blumenthal in his 2010 Senate race.  And the reason was that Blumenthal had opposed him in 2006 because he wasn‘t the Democratic nominee. 

In a lot of cases, he will leave a record of accomplishments.  He took the lead on Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.  But that was a reveal moment today.  He took the lead on getting votes to repeal Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.  John McCain opposed Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.  John McCain today said Obama should appoint Joe Lieberman as defense secretary. 

There was a sort of—there is some commonality there between politicians whose most fervent beliefs are the ones related to their own—ego is the wrong word.  But their own political power and their enemies list.  Lieberman and McCain might be among those politicians. 

            OLBERMANN:   The term is log rolling. 

            WEIGEL:   Log rolling. 

            OLBERMANN:   Thank you, Dave. 

            WEIGEL:   Thank you. 

            OLBERMANN:   If you thought my sign-off about Mr. Boehner, where are

the jobs was stupid and premature, wait until you hear this Republican congressman claiming credit for fixing the economy.  Something about the tanning booth and glasses, sir.

And 36 percent of students get through four years of college without improving their critical reading or complex reasoning skills.  But beer pong, 100 percent improvement. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, challenging the inside the Beltway idea that it is impossible to pass stricter gun laws?


OLBERMANN:  It was inevitable, given the GOP‘s magical thinking.  In our number two story, Republicans are beginning to take credit for the economy improving, even though they claimed the majority in the House only 44 days ago, even though they have passed nothing, except for some new rules that will make it easier to balloon the deficit, as well as today‘s symbolic repeal of health care. 

Congressman David Drier of California, while insisting a couple of days ago that Republicans really did care about a replacement for the health care law, went ahead and advanced this whopper. 


REP. DAVID DRIER ®, CALIFORNIA:  And if we can get our economy growing—and we have gotten positive numbers.  I think it‘s in large part because we won our majority and we are pursuing pro-growth policies. 


OLBERMANN:   We‘ll return to that claim in a moment.  But for shear audacity, the prize goes to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, when he opined about big profits for the year 2010.  Quoting, “some of the results I suspect are coming from the fact that we extended tax rates, that the president did not want to extend but was willing to do so at the end of the year last year.” 

About as end of the year as you can get.  The president signed that bipartisan tax cut package on December 17th, with extensions of existing tax breaks and brand new tax breaks affecting the year 2011 and beyond.  So Senator Kyl is claiming that corporate profits were way up in 2010 in part because of a tax package that had nothing to do with 2010. 

This reminder, Before President Obama agreed to that tax package, Republicans were constantly carping about uncertainty and its effect on business.  Yet, all the way up until December 17th of last year, corporate America managed to endure all the uncertainty and reap massive profits as well. 

Now back to Congressman Drier.  Same issue, only broader.  Yes, there have been additional positive economic indicators the past few months.  The Labor Department announced that private sector job growth had actually been increasing since the Fall more than expected, just as consumer spending rose in the third quarter of last year at its quickest pace since 2006. 

Third quarter means July through September of last year, which is well before the Republicans took over much less passed anything, just as home sales surged in October, again pre-Republican glow, which must have been transmitted backwards in some Republican party time machine. 

Well, at least there is the next generation of college graduates to be smarter and more thoughtful, 36 percent of whom, it turns out, complete their educations without ever learning the difference between a fact and an opinion. 

Watch if you dare.  Or if you were never taught how to change the channel, next.


OLBERMANN:  After having gone to a high school where each week we had to write a three to five-page essay by hand in 55 minutes, I was, frankly, expecting a little more out of college.  So on my first day at Cornell, in a second level Shakespeare class, courtesy of the notoriously tough Arts and Sciences college, I was surprised first to hear the professor berate us, then surprised more to hear him warn us we were in college now, no more of this high school crap.  Then surprised again to hear him assign us three three-page papers to be written over the course of the following four months. 

As I thought, you want them Thursday?  A girl across from me in the room got white as a sheet and began to wobble in her chair.  After class, I asked her what was wrong.  And she said that in high school she had never written anything longer than three paragraphs and she had been a national merit scholar and she was now an English major. 

In our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, this was 1975.  Then, I thought our educational system had hit the basement.  Yet from a new study comes an indication that that was the golden era, and the girl across the room from me in Goldwin Smith Hall would today be considered a genius. 

The study is in a book called “Academically Adrift.”  In it, two sociologists studied over 2,300 undergrads at two dozen universities.  Their conclusion: during the first two years of college, 45 percent of students, quote, “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning and written communications;” 36 percent show that same lack of improvement upon graduation. 

But perhaps students would learn more if professors asked more of them.  Half of the students surveyed said they had not taken a single course that required more than 20 pages of writing during the whole previous semester.  One-third said not one class required more than 40 pages of reading per week. 

The study also found that many students graduated without knowing how to differentiate fact from opinion, which leads us back to the 112th Congress and its recently appointed chair of the Congressional Subcommittee on Higher Education, Life-Long Earning and Competitiveness.  Virginia Fox of North Carolina.  That Virginia Fox.  The Virginia Fox who once said Americans had more to fear from health care reform than from terrorism. 

She is now in charge of a panel charged with improving our nation‘s halls of knowledge. 

Here now to analyze the lack of analysis going on in the halls of academia, Frank Conniff, one of the stars of “Cinematic Titanic.”

Frank, thanks for some of your time tonight. 

            FRANK CONNIFF, “CINEMATIC TITANIC”:   Thank you for having me, Keith. 

            OLBERMANN:   I will ask you this question first posed by one astute

and famous Yale graduate: is our children learning? 

CONNIFF:   That‘s very hard to say.  I‘ll just put a positive spin on it, if I could. 

            OLBERMANN:   That‘s OK. 

            CONNIFF:   I live and work in—yeah, I live and work in Hollywood,

and we depend on the low standards of young people to fuel our economy.  So this isn‘t all bad news completely.  And I think the deepest philosophical question that a lot of the kids today are asking is, what would Snooki do? 

OLBERMANN:   Yes.  Well, she wrote a book, or at least put her name on a book, or at least has handled a book after it was published for her.  There‘s at least something in Snooki. 

CONNIFF:   I wanted to raise the level of this conversation by bringing a novelist into it.  So thank you. 

OLBERMANN:   Excellent.  That, or Mailer, he couldn‘t decide which one.  Seven percent of students‘ time was spent actually studying.  The majority of the week was either partying or sleeping.  And they got GPAs.  And their average GPA was 3.2.  How in the hell does that work?  I feel ripped off somehow. 

CONNIFF:   I know.  I know.  This is kind of a golden age of slacking that we missed out on.  And just to be positive again, I will say that if they‘re socializing and partying 85 percent of the time, that means they‘re only hung over 15 percent of the time.  So that‘s something hopeful. 

OLBERMANN:   If one can graduate without being able to separate fact from fiction, which is an extraordinary thought, is it possible that the sociologists who did this study studied not college students, but in fact were looking at viewers of Fox News? 

CONNIFF:   Well, yeah.  I mean, Fox News is kind of the ultimate Mecca for a lot of these kids I‘m sure.  A fantasy land where you get paid a lot of money and you never have to do homework.  So it‘s pretty great.

Although I did hear that Fox is trying to raise its intelligence level a bit.  They just hired as a new host of “Fox And Friends” a bag of rocks.  So that should raise the level of discourse.  Although Steve Douchey is a little intimidated, because he is dumber than him.

OLBERMANN:   His name is Doocey.  But I can understand.  Just a little something in your teeth there. 

            CONNIFF:   OK. 

            OLBERMANN:   There was a conservative blog American Thinker—the

title is not intentionally ironic—that published this study, or referred to it as proof of academic brainwashing.  They said, noting the lack of critical thinking skills is, quote, “the reason college kids go gaga over Obama.”  How would they explain the Tea Party or, in fact, Lady Gaga? 

CONNIFF:   Well, the Tea Party doesn‘t so much evoke college as it does a really bad shop class, where all the projects are done really poorly.  And I think a lot of these conservative attitudes about colleges in general, I mean, they don‘t just think that Harvard and Yale are elite; they think Devry Training Institute is elite.  So it‘s an uphill battle for any kind of education, I guess. 

OLBERMANN:   To that point, is there some expectation here that former Governor Palin will interpret these stats as some sort of vindication that the fancy book learning doesn‘t pay off, and you might as well go to five different colleges, because you get five different t-shirts that way? 

CONNIFF:   Well, first of all, any kind of book learning is fancy book

learning, as far as she‘s concerned.  But I think we should also point out

that Palin is an example that it‘s not just enough to be dumb to make it in

on the national political stage.  You also have to be a resentful cry baby and a narcissist.  And if any of these kids knew what narcissist meant, that might mean something.  But maybe not. 

OLBERMANN:   I think there was a course on that in one of those colleges.  The comedian Frank Conniff from “Cinematic Titanic,” always a pleasure, Frank.  Thanks for your time. 

CONNIFF:   Thank you.  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s January 19th, 44 days since the Republicans got the deal for taxes for the rich.  Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs? 

I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

And now to discuss why it‘s not necessarily impossible to pass new gun control laws, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.  Good evening, Rachel.



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