Wednesday, August 18, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 18

Guest: Roger Cressey, Barry Crimmins>


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

The Swift Boat attack ad: The White House still won't call for its withdrawal. Kerry calls for the withdrawal of the counter-Swift Boat attack ad. The Bush campaign calls that hypocritical. And the first research about whether or not anybody's really been influenced by ads.

Put them on the list, possibly tools of terror: The ambulance I get, the prescription drugs, not so much.

Something's rotten at the Peterson trial: Amber Frey dismissed until next week. Is it possible that something interesting has happened in this case?

And 36 bottles of beer in the bear, 36 bottles of beer. He takes what he's found and drinks it right down, but he won't touch Busch, only Rainier.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. There is a famous cartoon by Charles Adams, the "Adams' Family" Charles Adams, showing an inventor, hat in hand, at the office of a patent attorney. The lawyer is pointing a space-aged gizmo out the window and down towards an obviously teaming city street. The caption contains the quintessence of amorality and disregard for the public welfare. It quotes the patent attorney as saying, "Death ray? Fiddle sticks, doesn't even slow them down."

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: Politics and the Adams' cartoon come to life. Not whether the commercial featuring "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" contains any truth, not whether or not it's ethical, but whether or not it's working against the presidential candidacy of John Kerry. Conclusion: This one slows down 49 of them. A poll of 1,275 pre-selected voters conducted on-line in a joint effort by a private research firm and the Institute of Public Opinion of Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, focused on independent voters. They got 371 independents and got three notable results. One, overall, six out of 10 of the independent voters reacted to the Swift Boat ads with suspicion and - skepticism. But, 27 percent of independents who said they had planned to or leaning towards voting for Senator Kerry indicating they were no longer sure about that after having watched the video. In hard numbers, that's 49 out of 178 such people. There also seems to be little backlash among independents who indicated they were planning to or leaning towards voting for President Bush - one and a half percent, said they were less likely to vote for him in the wake of the anti-Kerry ad.

Nearly two weeks after the controversial commercial hit the airwaves, the president still has not asked for it to be pulled despite repeated requests from people, like republican Senator John McCain, that he do so. McCain has called the commercial "dishonest and dishonorable."

On the other hand, Kerry today, denounced another new ad that attacks Mr. Bush's military service and the second ad is already off the air. In this spot, the liberal soft money organization,, accuses the president of using family connections to avoid service in Vietnam. While some of his supports repeated variations on that theme in a news conference call yesterday, Kerry himself has denounced the anti-Bush ad calling it "Inappropriate" and adding in a written statement:

"This should be a campaign of issues, not insults."

Not good enough for the republicans. "John Kerry condemns the ad one hand," says Bush/Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt, "and that his campaign surrogates go out and echo the baseless charges that appear in the ad."

The groups responsible for both ads, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and are so-called "527 committees," groups allowed to raise unlimited soft money to call attention to a particular political issue, but who - duh, are using that gaping loophole to champion instead a specific candidate.

Today, Senator McCain co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, whence 527 springs, blasted the Federal Election Commission for not acting to plug that hole during this election cycle.

"I hope they will come to their senses and do their jobs out of embarrassment at their failure to be responsible public officials so far, if for no other reason," he says.

The FEC meets tomorrow to consider a proposal tightening regulation, it would not, however take effect until November 2006.

Joining me now, to try to wade through the attack ads, counterattack ads, ad denunciations, and denunciations of the ad denunciations, is MSNBC political analyst and columnist for "Congressional Quarterly," Craig Crawford.

Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, you got your shovel for this one?

OLBERMANN: Ah, I think I'm - I do, but I've been beaten to it by other people.

People on Mr. Bush's side of this race claim that they disapprove of the attack ad and two weeks later, we still haven't seen it withdrawn, or he hadn't called for its withdrawal. People on Mr. Kerry's side of the race claim they disapprove of the counterattack ad and the same day their supports make basically the same charges, but the ad does disappear. Does one side win the less sleazy competition here, or is it a virtual tie?

CRAWFORD: Well, it is in a sense virtual tie because democrats started this, you have to be fair and point that out. Early in the year the democrats and their independent groups with this spending (PH), landed a lot of hits on President Bush, but on this particular issue, yeah, I think Kerry hits high ground, but the trouble is you get on the high ground and you're a target. That's the trouble with the high ground, and I think he's actually running the risk of letting this Swift Boat veteran ad attack on him work by pulling the ad that tries to counterattack it.

OLBERMANN: This study that suggests that there was some work, the Muhlenberg College study of the anti-Kerry Swift Boat ad which we're seeing there, it sounds pretty impressive. They're saying 27 percent of independents who said they had been leaning towards voting for Kerry, have seen the ad and are now - they're not so sure anymore. But the hard math is that's actually 49 people. Is that - is that statistically valid? Is there any indication as to whether or not showing that this stuff works?

CRAWFORD: Well, this poll statistically, as far as being a representative sample, is a bit problematic, but I think it is showing us an old truth about negative ads, is lies work. A mangle - it's a mangle - - Mark Twain, I think he said, "A lie makes several trips around the globe before the truth has even put its pants on."

OLBERMANN: Is there - there is one relevant piece of the data in there - in that poll that impressed me, that you've a small group of independents, you've got less than 400 people, but as you say, presumably the - the methodology is correct otherwise the whole premise of talking about polls is an utter waste of time, as opposed to being a partial waste of time.


OLBERMANN: But, 60 percent of people in that independent group said when they saw that commercial they responded with suspicion and with skepticism. Would that suggest to either party that the risk is basically that kind of numbers, 60/40 that you are more likely to lose an independent or an undecided than you are to gain one of them?

CRAWFORD: Right. Well, we've seen so much evidence this year that voters are appalled by this negative stuff, there's still plenty evidence that it works. But we're seeing rising backlash against negative ads in this year. But, you know, this particular ad, I think - I disagree with those who say it was pretty effective, I think it goes too far, it's too much - it comes across as very partisan and uses very charged language and I think it does have that possibility of raising suspiciousness, in a fair minded voter, about whether it's really an independent - independent information.

OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of MSNBC and "Congressional Quarterly," stand by with us for a second here, we're going to get back with you in a moment.


OLBERMANN: As we move to change subjects, I'll do a little bit more news and then we'll have some more questions for you.


OLBERMANN: The nightly poll attacks: Gallop back with a run with new set of numbers and they are tighter than the last set. Nationally, John Kerry with a one point lead over the president, overall the margin of error for this poll, two percent. The senator had a six point margin. In the "red" states, those that voted for him in the last election, the president leading Kerry 56 percent to 40, no surprise there, but the most important numbers in what have been designated the "purple" states, battleground, swing, uncertain, up for grabs, Kerry by 48 to 45, Kerry had been leading by eight there in their last poll. "Blue," Kerry remains in the black by 20.

Meantime, what looks like local politics is, in fact, very much a national issue - the continuing saga of self-outed New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. It could, in fact, influence who controls the U.S. Senate after the elections. And back with Craig Crawford in a moment to explain that. First, in what one of the New York tabloids so succinctly described as the "he said, he said" of the story, a decided swing today, back in favor of Governor McGreevey's version of events.

He said his relationship with Golan Cipel was consensual. Cipel, back in his native Israel, incest - insisted it was not and that he was not gay. The "New York Daily News" reports that an unidentified college professor from northern New Jersey, another guy, called the governor's office and explained that he and Cipel had also once been romantically involved.

But this is more than just a tawdry, albeit, novel kind of political sex scandal, though there's always room in politics for one of those. Remarkably the governor's future over just the next 16 days could seriously impact which party runs the Senate next year. That's because New Jersey democratic Senator Jon Corzine tonight announced he would not run for governor if Mr. McGreevey were to set down - step down now, ahead of schedule.

To help explain that and lend this story a veneer or respectability, it might not otherwise sustain, here again, Craig Crawford.

Craig, the premise here is, obviously republicans are calling for McGreevey to step down now so they can have a special election. That would have to be done, if he steps down now, before September 3, they get the election. But, did they want that election because they see it as a viable chance to gain the governorship in New Jersey or because they thought they could force Corzine into leaving the Senate to run for governor.

CRAWFORD: Well, first of all, New Jersey republicans are Keystone Cops, I mean, they have had a very difficult time going up against the democratic machine in New Jersey. It was just a couple of years, we had a similar maneuver with replacement for Robert Torricelli getting in the race at the last minute, Frank Lautenberg's a Democrat, after the deadline for filing, and the democrats were able to do that, republicans couldn't stop it. So, there's a history here of New Jersey republicans as not being able to stop democrats from these kind of shenanigans.

OLBERMANN: Why though, the premise of Corzine getting out of the Senate, which is now not going to happen, he said that today, he is not going to run no matter what the governor says, and the governor is not going to step down early. What is Corzine's role regarding the Democratic Party's aspiration about the entirety of the Senate races this falls.

CRAWFORD: Well this is the problem of Corzine stepping down, he's running the money machine that's funding must have of the democratic Senate races around the country, the Democratic Campaign Committee, and so they need him in that position, and not just the fact that - you know, his seat could come up for grabs, which is difficult. And then you have the potential affect on the presidential election, if the republicans can get a governor's candidate on the race, have a special election, they could work up enthusiasm and perhaps turn New Jersey "purple," it used to be a "blue" state, but if not "red," it could become "purple" or a winning shade of "pink."

OLBERMANN: Yeah, I was afraid you were going there. We'll just let that one pass.

We've all been through one too much interview of the scandalous part of the scandal to delve too deeply into this one, but it seems to me essentially, you've got McGreevey's determination to stay in office for 16 days. He must maintain his - that plausibility for 16 days, into September 3 and then it hinges to, some degree, on the nature of that relationship he had with this man, if it was abusive and harassing or just consensual and stupid. Is that - is that what this next 16 days boils down to and whether or not there's going to be a special election in New Jersey?

CRAWFORD: Yeah, because the longer he stays in power, in that office, the bigger the gay side of this story is, and it's just a tabloid story on that side. I mean, the more - the larger accusations of what was almost a criminal enterprise in his administration is really more important and the abuse of office, but the gay stuff is going stay in the focus because it's just exciting for people to talk about and - you know, I think democrats just wish he would just get - go away, the gay circuit parties or something and just disappear. And that's what a lot of them are starting to want him to do, is step down now.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, but not for 16 days, they don't want to have that election, right?

CRAWFORD: I think they're having a difficult time deciding because if they manipulate this thing so that the republicans or the voters don't have any say in this matter, it just goes to another democrat on November 15 and there's not election for some time, then it really is going to look like such manipulation by the Democratic Party, which is in a lot of trouble on a lot of fronts, including a lot of legal fronts in New Jersey and there could be a voter backlash against democrats as a whole and that's where I see a potential effect on the presentation election.

OLBERMANN: James Gandolfini registered in New Jersey - never mind.

Craig Crawford of "Congressional Quarterly," doing double duty for us, tonight.

Many thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD: Yeah, there's a reason "Soprano's" is set in New Jersey, right?

OLBERMANN: OK, we'll pass on that one, too.


OLBERMANN: But, thanks for the softballs.

Lastly, from the political block, it could be worse, it could be vote stealing. Right now only sign stealing. Texas Congressman Martin Frost and his republican challenger, Pete Sessions, each insists the other had removed his campaign signs. Sessions also accused Frost of papering the elementary school that Sessions' son attends with Frost signs.

Frost accused Sessions of having uprooted a rival's signs in another campaign two years ago. If all this rings a bell perhaps it should. A month ago today in Oklahoma, Sequoia County Commissioner Lewis Warren was caught on tape removing the signs of one of his democratic primary opponents, Steve Carter. But the guy taping this video is Steve Carter. Well, Warren and Carter wound in a runoff which will be held next Tuesday, at least that's what all signs point to.

COUNTDOWN opening up once again tonight with politics throughout the country. Coming up later: Politics of a different kind, the protest kind. In Boston all they got of shoved into a pen. In New York, if they play nice there will it be prizes in the home version of the New York game.

But up next, tonight's No. 4 story: Just as the jury prepares to hear Amber Frey cross-examined in the Peterson case, the judge halts the proceedings. This means something. We're trying to figure out what. That's next.


OLBERMANN: No. 4 story next on COUNTDOWN: The Amber Frey cross-examination, today was supposed to be the big day, but the drama only increased when the judge sent everyone home, citing, "developments." A Developing situation.


OLBERMANN: The last tape had supposedly been played, the last guffaw had been stiffened I the jury box, and this was to be the day Scott Peterson's attorney was to cross-examine Amber Frey. But in our 4th story in the COUNTDOWN: It never happened. How would Mark Geragos handle the cross of the star-crossed lover? Would he go easy on her or go for the throat? It turned out, he went home. The judge in the case dismissing jurors today due to a, quote, "Potential development in the case that we have to check out before we go any further." What that development might be, no one's saying. Proceedings tomorrow also cancelled due to the unavailability of another witness. Court is expected now, to resume next Monday at 9:00 a.m. Pacific. Jason Dearen covering the case for eight months now for the "San Mateo County Times" did a great job last week of taking us inside the courtroom and he joins us again.

Jason, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Clearly, we don't know what's going on. Do we have any direction, any clue?

DEAREN: The only clue that we received today was not in the form of an announcement, but right after the judge dismissed everybody, the attorneys on both sides met with an investigator, Steve Jacobson, who was in charge of the wiretapped phone calls in the investigation between the - over 3,000 calls were recorded by wiretap, by Modesto investigators between January and April of 2003, so - but when the attorneys were asked if this was related in any way to the trial being halted today, they wouldn't comment, so all we can do at this point is speculate that perhaps there are some more wiretapped phone calls that haven't been - haven't been listened to by the defense or something of that nature, but like I said, it's speculation. We really don't know that that - that they're linked at all.

OLBERMANN: All right, and obviously the attorneys are officially under a gag order, which is why they couldn't say anything about that. But there was an earlier case, was there not? Where the prosecution mishandled one of its witnesses and testimony got blown out of the tub. Is there somewhere - you know, extrapolating and then extrapolating again, and extrapolating a third time, is there some possibility that all the we have seen from Amber Frey might go out the window because somebody screwed up on the tapes?

DEAREN: I guess that's possible, but I really have no idea. What we

· what we - what we think is happening, and what legal experts have been speculating around the courthouse today, is that perhaps there are tapes of conversations between Frey and Peterson that she did not record - remember, yesterday at the end of her testimony, of the prosecution's testimony, she admitted that she didn't actually record all of the phone calls that she had with Peterson because of equipment malfunctions or other reasons. But at the time, between mid-January and February 19 when she recorded her last call with him, his phones were also bugged by investigators, so perhaps some of these phone calls were not turned over to the defense and they want to listen to them now. That's something that's possible. But again, you know, we just really don't know.

OLBERMANN: So, long as it was not a wardrobe function. Could this - is there a way that this could work out to the benefit of the prosecution regarding Amber Frey's testimony? I mean, that jury has gotten a lot of Amber Frey and now there's four days off. There are four Amber Frey-free days. Could she - could she wear better now on their memories than - than this sort of onslaught the last week and a half has been and promised to continue to be?

DEAREN: I guess that's - that that could be the case. I mean, she was definitely a very strong witness for the prosecutors. Like I have said before, up until she took the stand, prosecutors were - you know, flagging in this case, they weren't doing well. They'd been sanctioned by the judge - you know, thing's weren't going well. She brought them back, some legal experts say, brought them back even with the defense, which is pretty remarkable given - you know, the problems that they'd earlier. So, if anything, this probably will - the delay will help the defense because they're going to have to remember back to Wednesday, they have - they're going to have a whole weekend to sit and to ruminate on what they heard in the tapes, there's a loft information there, and Geragos is going to get a - you know, his shot at her on Monday, allegedly. I mean, that could be even pushed back more. So, we really don't know when she's going to take the stand. It's supposed to be Monday, it could be Tuesday, it could be Wednesday.

OLBERMANN: Jason Dearen of the "San Mateo County Times," just for your own edification, we don't call it "speculation," we called it "informed insight," and we thank you tonight sir, once again for yours.

DEAREN: OK, thanks.

OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN now, past then No. 4 story. Up next, "Oddball." Does a bear burp in the woods? The guzzling grizzly. That's right, 36 beers, one bear.

And later, power to the people: One postcard at a time. We'll explain what this is all about. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: We're back and we take a quick detour away from the day's real news to explore those strange stories of drunken animals and people who look like drunken animals. Let's play "Oddball."

We begin in Baker Lake, Welshington - Washington, in English, 60 miles east of Seattle where state fish and wildlife agents recently discovered a drunk passed out in the woods. That's right, a black bear not unlike that one. There is a James Thurber fable about a bear who drinks, but I will spare you.

This guy got a head start on hibernation by breaking into the coolers of some campers and then putting down 36 cans of the famous local brew, Rainier, and also one can of Busch. Leaving many other cans of the national brand untouch. Does a bear spit in the woods? Evidently. Rainier's most famous slogan was "It's the water." The company might now try, "Mmmm, Rainier. For the discerning bear drinker."

Suddenly, our favorite story of 2003 makes perfect sense. Our trampoline bear was not hurt, on the other hand he may have been hung over.

This is not a bear - well, that was a bear. This is not a bear, this is Yu Zhenhuan, the hairiest man in all of China. He first made news weeks ago when he underwent surgery to remove the hair from his ears. So much there was inside them, he could not hear. But, now Yu Zhenhuan is trying to parlay his newfound fame into a career in rock 'n' roll. Hair bands may have gone out of style in the '80s, but then again, Twisted Sister never had a guy with fur. Yu's had a few gigs, hoping to get a record contract. So far his career has taken off, although some of his groupies are real dogs. And unfortunately, we mean literally dogs.

To the Berlin Animal Park in German now, and meet Patna the baby rhino with the broken leg. No, it wasn't a skiing accident. And everybody say "aw" once together. Awww. It seems Patna's mom, being a rhinoceros and all, has a bit of a weight problem and accidentally stepped on Patna. The little fellow should be fine, he's been separated until the leg heals - separated from his mother, not from the leg. The cast will come off later and zookeepers have asked Patna's mom to please be more careful in the future. She, in turn, being a new mother has asked for a case of Rainier beer.

We leave the land of "Oddball" to pick up with COUNTDOWN and our No. 3 story in a moment. Your preview: As Illinois hopes to cut prescription drug prices by importing medicines from Canada, a bureaucrat thinks al Qaeda will use those imported drugs as terror weapons. OK.

And also peace in Najaf, maybe: A second truce agreement from al-Sadr.

Those stories ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day.

No. 3: A truck driver in the western German town of Greven. He lost control of his big rig while swatting to a wasp in his cab. He crashed into a barrier, lost his goods all over the highway. His goods? Fifteen tons of jam. It blocked traffic for more than two hours and worse, it attracted a whole bunch more wasps. And worse yet, it created the world's first actual traffic - jam.


OLBERMANN: Thank you.

No. 3: British great grandmother Pauline Aguss, who this week became the first known person ever to be struck by a meteorite. She's fine, it only hit her in arm and by the time it through the atmosphere it was no bigger than the head of a Chihuahua.

And No. 1: The three $175,000 winners of the Virginia Mega Millions lottery. Sandra Howell, Kiry Enn, and Richmond - Raymond Sawyer all played the lucky numbers that came up in their fortune cookies which were obtained in three different Chinese restaurants. Wait a minute. That means that there really is a writer being held hostage inside a Chinese bakery?


OLBERMANN: So here's the list again. Since the spring of '02, Homeland Security and other federal agencies have produced a bewildering variety of stuff that might be used or targeted by al Qaeda. Amusement parks, apartment buildings, banks, beer coolers, boats, cargo planes, cell phones, churches, crop dusters, farmers almanacs, helicopters, hijacked oil trucks, intercity trains, limousines, malls, nightclubs, reservoirs, scuba divers, sports stadiums and subways.

Our number three story tonight, you can add ambulances and imported prescription drugs. In a moment, we'll explore why cheap medicine is supposed to be a threat to national security.

But first, al Qaeda and an ambulance. The Department of Homeland Security warning local officials to be on the alert for people who express an interest in their ambulances after two such incidences were reported in Essex County, New Jersey.

In one, a Pakistani man claiming to be a doctor went to a volunteer fire department and asked the firefighters whether speed limits apply to ambulances. That's where a man who had been apparently looking at an ambulance asked the medical technician how fast the thing could go. The DHS says the advisory is just a reminder for emergency workers to be vigilant around their vehicles.

The prescription drugs thing appears to be something entirely different. A warning came not from the White House, nor even Justice but rather from Food and Drug. As Illinois and Vermont move forward with their own plans to import cheaper prescription drugs, the FDA has come up with an extraordinary rationale behind its opposition to such a move. The acting commissioner telling the Associated Press that his top concern about imported drugs from Canada, his top concern is the possibility terrorists might use them to attack America. The basis for his concern is "we get our cues from chatter that occurs around the world, which is related to us by the intelligence community and also from past incidents and things that happened domestically."

Lester Crawford, who said that, specifically cited the 1982 Tylenol attack. If you're too young if you have forgotten, packages of that drug were taken from shelves from a Chicago store, cyanide placed in them. The packages put back on the shelves. Seven people died.

However sobering, that memory may be in discussing importing prescription drugs today in Wisconsin. President Bush said he was for it, as long as they're safe, but he did not allude to any kind of terror element. Homeland Security says it has no evidence of any al Qaeda plan on imported drugs, saying "While we must assume that such a threat exists generally we have no specific information now about any al Qaeda threats to our food or drug supply."

The governor, one of the states hoping to import prescription drugs, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, said the FDA was using scare tactics and exploiting alleged dangers.

And for a professional's opinion, here again is Roger Cressey, formerly of the counterterrorism branch of the National Security Council, now an MSNBC analyst.

Roger, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Well, prescription drugs from Canada, intercepted and poisoned but not say maple syrup from Canada intercepted and poison. Is the governor of Illinois right? Is this not just farcical but really kind of crying wolf and exploiting terror fears for political purposes?

CRESSEY: Well, the jihadis aren't big fans of pancakes, so there might be something to that. I tell you what, we've gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in the war on terrorism here. I mean, this is beyond stupid, quite frankly.

Sure, is it possible they could poison drugs? Of course. But let's be serious. This is nuts and we shouldn't take it seriously by the FDA.

OLBERMANN: The concern from Homeland, though, about ambulances, I get the idea an ambulance can get right up to almost any building, but I believe with the siren. You might lose an element of surprise. Wouldn't you? Is there a trade-off here?

CRESSEY: Gives away a bit of the tactical surprise, doesn't it? You know, in theory, that if you have a first responder vehicle, you'll get through a couple layers of security. But the reports in New Jersey are some real dopes trying to inquire about either learning how to drive them or how quickly they could buy one. I mean, these are the dropouts from the al Qaeda Jihadist school, if in fact, that's who they are.

So you look at every possibility, but you got to prioritize. You got to look at those threats that are the most realistic. And frankly, I think everybody needs to take a really big deep breath, hold it for a couple seconds, exhale and focus on the real threats.

OLBERMANN: Now that medical advice could be used by al Qaeda, you know, I mean against all of us if we had just held our breaths and did not let them out again.

CRESSEY: Keith, I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV.

OLBERMANN: On the subject, though, on the ambulance thing, is it in fact an example of overthinking? I mean, you want - if somebody really wants to vehicles for car bombs in major U.S. cities, why not cabs? We expect them to be often be driven by people who are not speaking English. We expect them to be driven by people who seem suicidal. There are dedicated waiting areas for them in front of buildings of all kinds. Doesn't it just make sense that it would be easier to find five cab drivers willing to kill themselves than it will be to obtain a fleet of ambulances?

CRESSEY: Well, sure, look, there are lots of vehicles that are very viable options here. And whenever the FBI or the intelligence community comes across information, be it in the exploitation of documents or from interrogations of detainees, you've got to take it seriously.

But again, we've got to look at the big picture here. What are the likely targets? What are the likely attack vehicles? And array our law enforcement, our intelligence assets to deal with that. I think if we look at every possible item on the list, and you actually got through the list, we'll drive ourselves crazy. And we simply can't do that.

OLBERMANN: So the best of your knowledge, Canadian Viagra is safe.

CRESSEY: Well for some people, I guess.

OLBERMANN: Counterterrorism expert and MSNBC analyst Roger Cressey, who also has impeccable timing. Thanks for insight tonight, sir.

CRESSEY: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: An update now on an FBI counterterrorism technique we first told you about last night - preemptive investigation. Agents around the country have reportedly been aggressively quizzing, sometimes even issuing subpoenas to political protesters, all in an effort to prevent disruption of the Republican convention or even the general election, the bureau says.

Three Democratic lawmakers now calling for a Justice Department investigation into that FBI tactic, saying it violates First Amendments rights.

A retiring Republican Congressman, meanwhile, just used that free speech right to retract his support for the war in Iraq. Representative Doug Bereuter telling his constituents that the military action there was not justified. He had voted for the 2001 House resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war, while urging a broader international coalition. Bereuter has now abandoned that position entirely.

"I have reached the conclusion retrospectively now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed that all things being considered it was a mistake to launch that military action."

"Left unresolved for now," he concludes, "is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action."

Well, he may no longer be on George Bush's Christmas list, but Bereuter is now on the part of the majority opinion in this country.

The Associated Press with an opinion poll indicating 50 percent think we made a mistake going into Iraq. 48 percent still say it was the correct decision. Support for the war in this category, in this poll as of last December, was 64/34 in favor.

On the ground in Iraq, a case of here we go again with the radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtata al Sadr. At the 11th hour, he agreed to disarm his militia and leave the sacred Imam Ali shrine. That offer came just hours after the Iraqi interim government issued its ultimatum, threatening to storm the mosque if he did not surrender. Al-Sadr also agreed to a truce in June. He's made it clear this time that his withdrawal is contingent on the U.S. forces leaving the city first.

He's not the only one pressing the U.S. to retreat. The Al Jazeera network tonight aired this video allegedly showing the captured American journalist Micah Garron (ph). His apparent kidnappers threatening to kill him within 48 hours if U.S. forces don't pull out of Najaf.

COUNTDOWN more than half the way home. Up next, the people and the president. We'll introduce you to one lady who has made it her mission to make sure the little person gets heard. And later, New York City putting the test in protester. If they behave, they will get flooded with door prizes. Democracy in action.

First, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bytes of this day.


EARTHA KITT, THE NEW CAT CAFE: Well, I think the Cat Cafe is a very good idea because it's a wonderful way for us to get acquainted as people, because if we have a cat and you have a cat, we can all sit at the same table and nosh.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Doug Richardson is co-owner. He's an entrepreneur. Tell us what you do?

He's the other owner?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other owner's here, too.

BUSH: Well, we got...


BUSH: We got you here because you're better looking. But anyway. God, I hope he's still for me. Anyway, sorry, Doug, I didn't mean to introduce your guy.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now remember, you still have to compete after this. I don't want you to get hurt here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hope her husband's not watching.



OLBERMANN: Of all the things found wanting in this republic, logic would suggest that the least pressing problem is helping Americans write to their president. The government gets about 9,000 pounds of mail per day.

Yet in our number two story tonight, COUNTDOWN's Monica Novotny has found an artist who is focusing her skills on increasing that tonnage.

Monica, good evening.


It is a traveling public art project that began six months ago in California, making its way across the country now to New York. The idea is to give you or anyone a shot at sharing your thoughts with the president the old fashioned way because this artist takes dictation.


SHERYL ORING, DIRECTOR OF "I WISH TO SAY": They're first attracted to the typewriter. A lot of them haven't seen a typewriter. They get it very quickly and have some really wonderful things to say.

NOVOTNY: Modern day democracy is going old school.

ORING: If I were sitting here with a laptop, I think nobody would be that interested to talk to me.

NOVOTNY: So artist Sheryl Oring lures them to her portable public office with a vintage typewriter, bringing grassroots politics to the park, hand typing postcards to the president by asking curious citizens one question.

ORING: If I were the president of the United states, what would you wish to say to me?

NOVOTNY: Her project, I wish to say, part typewriter, part postcard, part people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never wrote to the president before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a lot on my mind and as a youth, I don't know many who speak out.

ORING: There is something very powerful about the act of writing a postcard that the person actually has a very moving experience and makes them think, gets them a little bit politically motivated.

NOVOTNY: The result, commentary for the commander in chief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Mr. President, there are better ways to solve the differences in our world than declaring war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear President Bush, I want to thank you for your strong support of Israel.

NOVOTNY: Signed, stamped, ready to be delivered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so sad that you allow all the rich to pay less taxes than the poor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you're an honest man.

NOVOTNY: Did you feel like you'd have a voice for a moment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, in a way, because it doesn't feel like you have a voice lately...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president should definitely hear about what the citizens of the country believes.

NOVOTNY: So is this art, politics, or something more?

ORING: It ends up almost being like a therapy session for the person involved. One woman telling me about how her son was shot. And so, she really wants there to be gun control. And at the end of the conversation, she really broke down in tears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very intimate and very sweet and probably pretty powerful.

NOVOTNY: Oring came up with the idea while living abroad.

ORING: Dozens and dozens of people told me that they thought that all Americans thought alike. So this was really my way of showing to the world how diverse America really is.

NOVOTNY: So far, Sheryl's taken her typewriter to 12 cities across the country. And she's typed about 550 postcards.

So will you actually mail your postcard then?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm going right to the mailbox.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll send it today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll just drop it off in the mailbox.

NOVOTNY: With the help of an old typewriter, voices carry from city parks to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.



NOVOTNY: So has the president actually read any of these postcards? Well, the White House has no comment today, but as you saw, people do say that they're mailing them.

Now the postcards are typed with carbon paper, so Ms. Oring has copies of every one she's typed so far. And they she's planning on compiling them for a book.

If you'd like to see where she'll be setting up next, you can find out more on our Web site. That's at Keith?

OLBERMANN: She should bring her own mailbox, too to complete the


NOVOTNY: And a mailman?

OLBERMANN: And the president and it's all set. COUNTDOWN's Monica Novotny. Good story. Great. Thanks.

NOVOTNY: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: With that, we make the transaction from art to the area in which art is usually just the name of the actor's agent. We call it keeping tabs. And two worlds are colliding in a Chicago courtroom. Every day Judge James Lynn jokes to his jurors that they will be taking their traditional lunch break for steak and lobster, but suddenly his packed courtroom broke out in gasps and the sounds of furious note taking.

The trial in question, of course, was the one for which Oprah Winfrey is serving as a juror. And the out of town celebrity correspondents from "People" and "Extra" and "Entertainment Tonight," they thought the judge was serious about the food and that he was make some special lobster dispensation for Ms. Winfrey. He was not. The jury was served catfish.

And a report from "U.S. Weekly" magazine says Britney Spears is in talks with the MTV Network to star along in a new addition of the series, "Newlyweds." The current stars, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey have reportedly said they don't want to do it anymore, Ms. Simpson having apparently run out of dumb things to say. Ms. Spears reportedly says she especially likes the idea because it'll help make Kevin famous.

Who's Kevin, oh, the fiance. Sure it will.

Next. Next year, protest within the box, you'll get $5 off in admission to New York's Museum of the Sex. I'm not kidding.


OLBERMANN: The evolution of political protest in this country might be summarized by a story from my alma mater. In 1969, a group of students carrying submachine guns took over a main campus building at Cornell University, protesting racism, fascism, and the war in Vietnam.

In 1979, another group of students took over a main campus building demanding that they be given extensions on their own student loans.

Our number one story in the countdown, the protesters ain't what they used to be, but the city of New York's plans to try to kill them with kindness marks some kind new high and low. Be a nice little protester and we'll give you free Pokemon stuff.

When the Republicans convene 12 days hence, the city of New York will hand out these peaceful political activist buttons which entitle the bearer to discount tickets to the Broadway show "Mama Mia" and also that Pokemon store, and something at Applebee's and the Museum of Sex. As the mayor said, it's no fun to protest on an empty stomach.

And if the protesters get caught up in seeing the sights and they forget to light a few trash cans on fire, well so be it. Bad protesters get their buttons removed.

There is some hope for the protests. As the mayor announced his plan, four women were arrested outside for trying to hang a 40 foot long protest banner out their hotel window. Once they're bailed out, of course, they can go to the Manney's Spoonbread or the Whitney Museum, but preferably not consecutively and not in that order.

Political satirist and Air America radio commentator Barry Crimmins joins us now from New York. His book, "Never Shake Hands with a War Criminal" due out next week.

Barry, good evening.

BARRY CRIMMINS, POLITICAL SATIRIST: Thank you for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Have we come to this? At long last, have we no shame? Are we now simply a country full of political protesters who can be bribed by $5 off admission to the Museum of Sex?

CRIMMINS: Well, it doesn't even make sense who they're bribing. They're bribing a bunch of peace activists to be peaceful. It's like giving somebody a deal on a hot dog at Yankee Stadium to root for Derek Jeter. You know, in the meantime, you'll have the Republicans at Madison Square Garden planning the next war. And nobody's trying to bribe them to be peaceful.

OLBERMANN: It's probable, though, isn't it, that some people will go along with this, perhaps not part of the organized groups, and/or some of the stronger groups, and think that they're actually protesting just because they have the button that says they're protesters?

CRIMMINS: Yes, I guess. I mean, that's just - I don't know. I mean, well first off, who's - you're going to come to New York. You're going to go to a big protest. And what are you going to do? OK, but then let's hurry up and end the protest because we got to get to Applebee's before it closes.

OLBERMANN: To get the New York flavor.

CRIMMINS: Yes, the real New York feel of things. We're going to Applebee's. That's the one place you want to cause a conflict. That's the one place you'll find people from the Republican convention, Applebee's. Come on. People from Kansas. Hey, this isn't the same. Ours is in the middle of a big parking lot.

OLBERMANN: Is there one most ridiculous part of this whole thing? I mean, there's also - I've left off two things here. They can get free office products at Krol's Stationers. And there's also, if you protest within the rules, there's a free mug from the Gotham Comedy Club.

CRIMMINS: Well, you know, that's great. You know, then - and I'm sure that the mug-throwing violent incident will mar. I mean I got to tell you, I haven't been to the Gotham Comedy Club, but I'm guessing if I went there and they gave me a mug it would get hurled.

OLBERMANN: Or perhaps it might get, you know, could get hurled by spectators, who have been known to do that periodically.

CRIMMINS: Absolutely.

OLBERMANN: But suddenly, I like this image. What if everybody just threw these pins?


OLBERMANN: You know?

CRIMMINS: They had given them all sharp objects. Actually, it's not that good of an idea. But yes, the whole thing - the designated protest thing always annoyed me anyway. It's like no, when I'm upset, I tell you where to go. You know, I just don't understand that. And Bloomberg, I guess, is just trying to buy a bunch of protesters the way he bought the mayor's office.

OLBERMANN: Well, we're not, I just want to make clear, we're not advocating the violent overthrow of the government, just its discomfort.

CRIMMINS: That's - you know, protest, protest...


CRIMMINS:... and peaceful protest. But I mean, the vast majority of these people that'll be here are opposed to the war, for instance. And I don't think they're necessarily - you know what? If we want to try to bribe someone to keep the protest down, maybe we could try the - oh, I guess that's been done, though.

OLBERMANN: Uh-oh Barry, I'm out of time. Barry Crimmins, political satirist, Air America, on air American air guy, many thanks.

CRIMMINS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. You all get free discounts to - I don't know something. Good night. Good luck.