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Keith Olbermann starts the year off right: We watch, because we’re paid to

Happy New Year! Unless, that is, you’re Keith Olbermann and you don’t know the meaning of happiness. Let’s take a look at Olbermann’s first week in the 2011 anchor chair at “Countdown.”

MONDAY, JANUARY 3: We begin the new year with a warning of a financial apocalypse. “This is Monday, January 3, 673 days until the 2012 presidential election and approximately three months until a showdown in Congress that could tank the world economy in a way that would make 2008 look like a quick dance in the spring rain,” Olbermann intoned. Yikes! Sounds pretty bad. This boy has cried wolf at least a few thousand times before, but maybe this time the threat is real? (Spoiler alert: It’s highly unlikely.)

Flash forward to the end of the show, in which our beloved host, with a totally straight face, presents a full segment in which he reports on a study finding that conservatives’ brains tend to have larger right amygdala, a lobe associated with fear. After bragging that “my anterior cingulates are huge” — don’t ask — he plays a soundbite montage of conservative leaders saying various fearful things. Included: Dick Cheney saying “I worry a lot they’re using the current set of economic difficulties to try to justify a massive expansion in the government.” Not included: A talk-show host opening a show with hysterical concerns that the world economy will “tank” completely in three months.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 4: Tonight, a daring expose on a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by “big pharma, big tobacco, big energy, big insurance, big banks, big automakers.” If you were just hearing of ALEC for the first time on “Countdown,” you might think it was a shadowy organization cloaking a secret agenda to prevent unions for using dues for political purposes. But ALEC’s slogan is “limited government, free markets, federalism,” and it clearly identifies itself as “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers.” Ingenious: They’re disguising their conservative agenda by calling themselves conservatives. I’m outraged!

In tonight’s Worst Persons in the World segment, Olbermann called for a boycott of Geico insurance because they neglected to fire an actor in their advertisements after he made critical comments about President Obama, for which he later apologized. “You know what to do with your Geico Insurance,” Olbermann said after telling us the harrowing tale. “Cancel it.” Just so we’re clear, the new standard for boycotting a company is whether an actor who has appeared in a television commercial for them says anything impolitic in any venue at any time.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 5: Almost buried near the end of tonight’s show: An admission by Olbermann that he may — just may — have overblown something. Remember in August of last year, when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs lashed out at the “professional left” for being too critical of President Obama? Olbermann reacted with an outraged Special Comment slamming the White House as the “amateur left.”

The fact that Olbermann overreacted to something is not news. The slight backtrack is. “I worked a little bit with Robert Gibbs and I liked him a lot,” Olbermann said. We haven’t gotten to the unusual part yet. If Keith Olbermann has met a public figure, rest assured he will brag about it. “I won‘t go into detail about it,” he continued, modestly. “But I know from conversations at the time that the whole ‘professional left’ thing was a combination of not setting some ground rules with some reporters and a lot of misunderstandings and frustrations. I don‘t think that was really as big a deal as we probably all thought it was at the time.”

It may not sound earth-shattering but that’s about as close as I’ve heard Olbermann come to walking back his past outrage. Baby steps! Maybe next time he’ll use the first person singular instead of the blame-diffusing “we.”

THURSDAY, JANUARY 6: One of tonight’s Worst Persons in the World was a small-time bank robber who demanded his cash in “twenties, forties and sixties.” Earlier this week he mocked large crowds in Spain who were desperate enough for new clothes that they participated in a store giveaway requiring them to show up in their underwear. It’s funny because they’re poor! Out of curiosity, how hilarious do you think liberals would find it if, say, Sean Hannity regularly made fun of the impoverished and desperate?

Other targets of umbrage tonight: Bill O’Reilly, John Boehner, and Goldman Sachs. New year be damned: Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that some things will never, ever change.