Wednesday, December 15, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 15

Guests: Angela Calman, Peter Carlson, John Conyers

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

He's leaving Homeland Security and he may take that color-coded threat system with him. Tom Ridge noting it's invited questions and even occasion derision. You think?

Speaking of questions and even occasional derision, the Kerik car wreck gets worse. His New York love nest was originally a break room for rescue workers at ground zero.

The FBI: Congressman John Conyers asks them to investigate elections in Ohio after a manufacturers representative adjusts a voting machine in Hocking County. The same day election officials were told not to touch the machines, nor the ballots. Mr. Conyers joins us.

And the latest investigations by Barney, the White House dog. The annual video is out. You know, Barney, there's an opening at Homeland Security. All that and more now on Countdown.

Good evening.

It never really caught on. Rose-colored glasses, mood indigo, tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree, they worked, but the five-color terror alert system went over about as well as new Coke. And according to the outgoing secretary of Homeland Security, it may follow that ill-fated soft drink off the American stage.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, Tom Ridge is going, maybe the code system, perhaps even the national orientation on counterterrorism in this country, too. Everything seems to be going, except the unending saga of the man who was supposed to succeed Secretary Ridge.

First, it only took 2 years to have terror alerts, public confusion, police frustration, late-night mockery for the Department of Homeland Security finally gather that the color code threat system is not working. After meeting with Homeland Security Advisory Council in San Diego, and listening to leaders likening the alert system to outdated software, Secretary Ridge has now acknowledged the need for some serious tweaking.


TOM RIDGE, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The system is here to say. I just think that we need, clearly, to take a look at what kinds of information do we need to give to the public. And I think they're looking for us to give them more prescriptive information as to the kind of things we would hope they would do, given the nature of the threat to cause us to raise the treat level.


OLBERMANN: Meantime, one of the original candidates originally bandied about to replace Ridge in the cabinet suggested that the idea of thinking about national terror threats, or national counterterror measures, may be all wrong. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who was in charge of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and thus the security operation there, called in to that same conference to recommend that state and local agencies stop relying on the federal government for intelligence on terror attacks. He also warned that trying to protect every potential target is somewhat pointless.

Quoting him, "You could increase our law enforcement personnel 10-fold, but we can't protect every target. There are just too many schools, churches, stadium, bridges, tunnels, roads, subways. We have to be able to find the bad guys before they carry out their acts. And that can only be done through intelligence."

Romney wants each state to use local law enforcement agencies and private businesses as so-called eyes and ears, collecting individual details that, when analyzed together, could point towards a possible terror attack.

Turns out that one particular, potential local target has been doing its own upgrading on the Q.T. for about a year. An obvious strengthening it would seem, considering that the sites official acronym spells the word LAX. Los Angeles International Airport revealing it has increased police patrols, expanded helicopter surveillance, built a new perimeter fence, all measures aimed at thwarting a portable missile attack against a commercial plane.

According to L.A. counterterrorism experts there are about 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles on the black market, each priced at only a couple of thousand dollars. And while there has never been such an attack on U.S. soil, terrorists have successfully shut down other commercial jets around the world.

Nothing to panic over at this point, but lots of smaller headlines on this topic tonight. So who better to run them past than terrorism expert and MSNBC analyst, Steve Emerson.


OLBERMANN: Let's start at L.A.X. adding extra security against this threat of shoulder-fired missiles. But there are some estimates that all it would take is a guy on top of a building and you could have a plane down in 60 seconds. Is there any way to protect against that threat?

EMERSON: You know, Keith, here's really no Hermetic way, but this is pretty inexpensive in terms of expanding perimeter patrols, having some helicopter overflights. And in the end, that's really what it takes to stop a terrorism when he sees a gaping hole in the security system.

Again, it's, you know, plugging holes in the system. The bad guys are always going to figure out another way. But you try to stay a little ahead of him.

OLBERMANN: Governor Romney remarks are we seeing something of a sea change in approach, de-emphasize the national scope? And, I guess, with that, does that not run the risk of returning to the old days when information and intelligence was not centrally collect, and was not centrally disseminated?

EMERSON: This is the quintessential problem with law enforcement and the intelligence community in terms of sharing it, how much should the 800,000 local law enforcement around the country get access, in terms of the classified stuff that the 14,000 FBI agents have access to? And how much do - how much sharing is really going on?

Many cities have joint terrorism task forces. They work well in some cities, they don't work well in others, because of the personalities. It's a quintessential debate and problem in terms of how much intelligence can you use. I think the quote that you cited, however, is really the best thing that i've heard. Which is you can't protect everyone, the question is who's doing the bad things, where are the bad guys and in the end, is there going to be a reaction by the New York Times that there is going to be surveillance done on by private businesses on U.S. citizens, therefore circumscribing their civil liberties, if in fact that information can lead to stopping a terrorist attack?

OLBERMANN: Lastly, the most obvious thing of the day, Tom Ridge proposing to drop the color codes. Clearly, it originally it go people thinking, but then, very quickly, got them thinking there's got to be a better system than this? What kind of system might you recommend?

EMERSON: Well first of all Keith, it's probably going to deprive you of 10 percent of your material if they drop it.

OLBERMANN: 20 percent more likely.

EMERSON: 20 percent, or maybe even 30. Look, it was a joke. I should say a joke. The right idea to mobilize the public, its time has passed, it should die a nice, little quick death and the issue, and I think, really is resting on how do you calibrate particular local responses like they did last year when there was an elevated alert in Washington and New York?

And I think that's really what's going to happen. Certain cities will have elevated alerts, others won't. The only question is what do you do with it? It's really designed to mobilize law enforcement more than the public.

OLBERMANN: Terrorism expert, MSNBC analyst Steve Emerson. As always, sir, thanks for joining us tonight.


OLBERMANN: Now from the task to the job itself. A former Democratic vice presidential nominee is putting to rest rumors that he wants Tom Ridge's job. Senator Joe Lieberman's name was pushed this week by the Republican Senator Susan Collins. Both serve on the committee for Homeland Security. But sources tell MSNBC News that Lieberman does not want a position in the Bush administration and is concentrating, instead, on getting re-elected to the Senate in Connecticut in 2006.

Which may be just about the same time that this Bernard Kerik story dies down. Dante's vision of hell only had 9 levels, Kerik's public evisceration seems to have just seem to have just descended to sub-basement 22.

A new nugget of sleaze, so juicy it even made the New York Times. That paper reporting today that the apartment that Mr. Kerik rented for his purported love trysts was original donated to weary New York City firefighters and rescue workers who needed to rest between shifts at ground zero. One of the bedrooms even looked out over the wreckage.

Once the World Trade Center clean-up teams formed a routine, Mr. Kerik was said to have incident rented the 2 bedroom pad for his own use and that of 2 ladies, neither of which was his misses.

Well, Mr. Kerik has admitted to having a close relationship with those 2 women, his lawyer, he has not yet responded in this latest apartment allegation. His lawyer, himself a familiar MSNBC face, stepped out this afternoon to refute media speculation about Kerik's alleged distant mob connections and money troubles by refusing to comment on them.


JOE TACOPINA, BERNIE KERIK'S LAWYER: His personal life is his personal life. Like with every other thing reported about Bernie, some of what has been reported may be accurate, some of it may not about, some of it may be exonerated. I, quite frankly, don't know.


OLBERMANN: It is suggested that a Secretary Kerik would have provided Washington with a set of scandals and punch lines not seen since the days of Monica Lewinsky or maybe even Earl Butz. The thought of a bottomless bag of peanuts of stories was too much for one Washington Post writer today. He penned an impassioned plea for forgiveness for Kerik on behalf of the Beltway media community, asking Kerik to reconsider his withdraw from the cabinet nomination, and his withdraw from potentially every section of the Post every day, except the classified ads.

The architect of that movement, Peter Carlson of the Washington Post joins us now. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: All right. So you never know, Bernard Kerik could be watching this very news hour right now. Go ahead, Mr. Carlson, make your case to him.

CARLSON: Bernie, come back. Come back, Bernie, please. We love you.

We need you. We want you.


CARLSON: Why? Keith, it's a dull town. We're talking about a town where Alan Greenspan is considered scintillating.

The media loves this man. Yesterday, I was able to type the phrase secret love nest, my fingers were happy. We need this man.

Let me propose a thought experiment for you, Keith. Close your eyes. Think of Tom Ridge. Picture Tom Ridge in your mind. OK. Picture him in a secret love nest.

OLBERMANN: He's measuring it for a carpet. That's all he's doing.

CARLSON: It's very hard. But Bernard Kerik had a secret love nest with 2, not 1, but 2 mistresses.

OLBERMANN: Who did not know of each other's existence until one left a note for him. I understand it's like Warren Harding revisited.

But what makes Kerik so special? Because even in the recent history, this is the town of Wilbur Mills, Wayne Hays, and Bill Clinton, and Congressmen consummating their marriages on the steps of the Capitol, and the same ones stuffing bribe money into their shoes and shoe boxes. There must be somebody there now to sustain the district's great tradition.

CARLSON: I can't think. Who would it be, Keith? Tell me really.

I'm on deadline here, give me the name quickly.

OLBERMANN: Who's the guy who owns the Redskins? Doesn't he count?

You need it to be in the political venue, though, right?

CARLSON: We need - like John Snow? Can you picture John Snow in a love nest? It's tough for us here.

OLBERMANN: No. No. Should we just go through the entire cabinet?

All right. If you have - there are these openings. Certainly, there is an opening in Homeland Security, as we well know. Is there somebody that would film the responsibilities of the center of all future scandals that Bernard Kerik is not able to assume? Is there some backup plan, some dream second choice?

CARLSON: I believe - you know, Tom Ridge was a former governor and a good one. I think a former governor would be a good choice. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is a former governor and has plenty of experience in defeating bad guys. I think Arnold would be great.

OLBERMANN: Yes. But could he supply what Mr. Kerik could have, which is the passionate conservativism?

CARLSON: He's very passionate. I hear he's a little to passionate with some of the ladies in your neck of the woods.

OLBERMANN: Well, that's all in the past now. That's what we're led to believe now that he's a governor.

Peter Carlson of the Washington Post. I don't think you're going to get your wish, but we appreciate your efforts. And who knows, maybe they'll find something else for Mr. Kerik to do in the administration.

CARLSON: It was a thrill for a day anyway.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the efforts of one cardiac clinic to get McDonald's, and its less healthy food options, to move out of the building that contains the clinic.

And speaking of health, we've heard from the players, we've heard from the owners, now we've heard from the politicians and the fans. The fans speaking out about the steroids scandal hitting baseball. They're reactions are surprising. This is Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The word is juxtaposition, the comparative placement of objects or people. And in Cleveland the juxtaposition is as odd as, say, a cryogenics lab next to a frozen custard stand. And yet there they are in the same building, the city's internationally famous heart facility, the Cleveland clinic and a McDonald's.

Our number four story in the Countdown, you want fries with that defibrillation? The clinic is into it's 10 year as the number one ranked coronary care facility in the country. It performs nearly 4,000 open heart surgeries per annum. Some of those patients, no doubt, part of the 64 percent of Americans considered overweight or obese, who may have gotten that way thanks to fast food, like at the McDonald's which has served nearly 12,000 per week in the Cleveland Clinic building for the last ten years. The Clinics new chief wants McDonalds, frankly, to get out, just as Pizza Hut got out. But Mickey D's says it has another decade to go on it's lease. It's offering new healthier menus and it ain't going nowhere.

So, there they are living under the same roof. There are 30 such pairs of hospitals and McDonalds in the country. You'd think that the corporation that just this past April lost one of its CEO's to a heart attack might be more sympathetic, not so much. McDonalds wrote to the new Cleveland Clinic boss, Dr. Tobby Cosgrove (ph) and accused him of demagoguery in his efforts to get them to move.

Angela Calman, is the chief communications officer for the Cleveland Clinic. Mrs. Calman, good evening, thanks for you time.


OLBERMANN: When our office called in this afternoon, the person who answered the phone said "They are taking away one of our perks." Is this about patient's health or are you trying to set an example for everyone, your own employee's included.

CALMAN: Well, you know, we have a motto here, and that's "patients first." And there's no reason to have a hospital unless you're taking care of patients. So, we have to do that first, and that's our priority. We're not trying to be the food police and tell people that they can't eat McDonald's now and then if they want, but there's a McDonald's three blocks from the Cleveland Clinic. We just feel it's sets a wrong example for people coming in here with type two diabetes and coronary artery disease to have this kind of food available to them. It's an endorsement.

OLBERMANN: In turn, McDonalds has turned around and criticized the menu options in the hospital cafeteria. Saying that they're not only not that healthy, but they're more expensive than McDonalds.

How do you respond to that?

CALMAN: They're absolutely right. And what we're doing is not just targeting McDonalds. I mean, they seem to believe that they've been singled out, but they haven't. One of the first places we're also looking, which is also vendor provided. And we're looking at ways to offer affordable options. Healthy food is not always cheaper. And we take that very seriously. We need to make that kind of food accessible to our patients and employees. And like I said, we're doing with every facility on the Cleveland Clinic Campus. So, it's not just McDonalds.

OLBERMANN: Doesn't sound like they're too likely to come in and suddenly say we're not going to serve Big Macs in the Cleveland Clinic, but what if they did that? What if they said, all right, we understand we want to keep the position. We like were we are. We think we have a clientele and we'll work with you and change our menu.

CALMAN: Well, we actually had over a year of discussions with them about that. And we tried to talk to them about healthier options. The problem is that they're not necessarily willing to get rid of the burgers and fries and just adding salads to the menu is not going to be enough. We think it's really important that have a variety of options that taste good, that are affordable for our patients. But, you know, I just don't think that's going to be an option for them.

OLBERMANN: Is it an option for you to actually get rid of them if they've got 10 years go on their lease?

CLAMAN: Well, you know, I can't speak to the legal aspects of the contract, but we are meeting with them tomorrow. It's a meeting that we initiated. Our primary concern is that we take care of the franchisee. He's a very responsible local businessman. We've got a great relationship with him. You know, we're trying to look at other business options for him and protect him financially. So, we're going to make every effort we can to resolve this amicably. You know, we weren't looking for a fight, we were just looking to go war with anyone. We were just looking set a good example, and this is where we ended up.

OLBERMANN: Angela Calman, spokesperson with the Cleveland Clinic.

Great, thanks for you time tonight.

CALMAN: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: And the commute in Las Vegas tonight on I-15 at the ramp to U.S. 95, squeeze left because the bees are pretty much in charge of everything on the right. Bees.

And will the reported voting irregularities in Ohio make their way into the hands of the FBI. They will if one of our guest tonight has his. Representative John Conyers joins me.


OLBERMANN: Generally speaking it is at this time of the show that we shut off the news tap and go directly to the trough of spectacle media and meaningless human activity. Tonight a slight change. Biblical prediction comes true in Las Vegas!

Lets play "Oddball."

Yes, it's true, Sin City has been overcome by a swarm of bees. The locusts are due in next Tuesday. A flatbed truck carrying millions of honey bees rolled over on an exit ramp outside Vegas just hours ago, spilling its tiny passengers onto the highway and over the side of the bridge. They in fact, congregated on a concrete pillar. This will not be stain, it's not rust, those are bees. And perhaps they were assembling to decide which casino to go gamble at.

The road closed and this unfortunate civil servant was sent in with a bulldozer to dump the remaining bee boxes over the side. Honey, I'll be late for dinner, I've got to go bulldoze a million bees. We're hoping that's an air tight compartment, because within minutes, as you see, the swarm was all over the bulldozer as well. That is not rust either. They choose me. A special bee recovery team en route to the scene, no doubt screaming through traffic in the Beemobile as we speak. Bees are on the what now?

To Japan, Walco (ph) City, Japan. And it's Wednesday, so it must be time for the Japanese robot of the week. Asimo (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It is the latest version of the humanoid robot from the Honda Corporation, the first one on earth that can run. He can run. He can shake hands. And he can run. Look at him run! The newly improved Asimo, now making his third appearance on Countdown, can reach top speed of just over three miles an hour.

It's more a jog technically. But a little bit a tweaking and Honda will be closer to it's ultimate goal - well, world robot domination is it's ultimate goal. But in the meantime, these things can run a little faster, they will begin to replace the steroid-addled Olympic sprinters by 2008. Asimo other great technical advantage, his rotating thumb. It was designed for hand shakes, but will help him hitch hike when he gets tired of running everywhere - three miles an hour.

Also from Japan, another company moving us one step closer to life without the need for human companionship. You may remember the boyfriend's arm pillow from earlier this year, well say hello to the girlfriend's lap pillow. It is the must-have gift for single, and lonely and pathetic men in Japan. it is the disembodied lower half of a kneeling women to coddle up with at night. The manufacturer says it has sold more than 3,000 so far. I might suggest that you gents get the package deal. Combine the two pillows into one disturbing eandrogyne Franken-pillow.

And from the uniquely Japanese, to the uniquely American. Louisville, Kentucky, where Christy Creighton (ph) had a promising career as supervisor of a fast food restaurant until she threw it all away to instead pose nude for "Playboy" magazine's the "Girls of McDonald's" None of them are from Cleveland oddly. The company was not thrilled with the pictorial, Creighton resigned, dooming herself to a life of glamour and money as a model. But she says her parents are very supportive of her choice, in fact, her mother took the original photos that were sent to "Playboy." And that's all I care to know about this story, thank you!

The Ohio recount, Representative John Conyers is asking the FBI to step in and investigate a charge of vote tampering issue. But is there an innocent explanation? We will ask it.

And the saga continues for New York City's Fifth Avenue hawks. Everything from new nest to new arrest. That's all ahead on your full service news forecast.

Now, here's Countdown'S top three "Newsmakers of the Day."

No. 3, Steve Tarlton of Colorado state Heath Department, shilling in over at lost and found, lost somewhere in a Arapahoe County outside Denver some construction equipment. $2,500 reward on this, but Mr. Tarlton say don't touch it if you find it, just call in. It is a two-foot-long rod which contains a radioactive pellets. That's for what, drywall?

No. 2, Mr. M.L. Lacy of Gainesville, Florida, trying to train his Jack Russell terrier, he bit the critter. That's right man bites dog. And when police came to arrest him for animal cruelty, he used his other pet, the 200 mastiff to hold them at bay.

And no. 1, Chris and Caroline and Hykiel of London, they're 5-year-old begal cat has turned aggressive and has now killed three other cats in the neighborhood and traumatized two more. The cat named Kofi Annan after the U.N. secretary. The cat is also accused of helping Saddam Hussein's cat skim $20 billions worth out of the United Nations Oil-for-Milk program.


OLBERMANN: For the six weeks since the election, somewhere around 20 percent of the nation's citizens have continued to doubt the election and much of the other 80 percent have dismissed those doubts largely by saying, well, how come the Democrats aren't screaming about it, or, if there's a problem, where's the FBI, or, how come I haven't read about this in "The New York Times"?

Our third story on the Countdown, today, "The New York Times" reported that the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee was asking the FBI to investigate what he called inappropriate and likely illegal election tampering in Ohio. The congressman is John Conyers of Michigan, who was prompted to that action by testimony he heard Monday in Columbus, Ohio, at the second of two voting forums he and other House Democrats have conducted.

As "The Times" notes, Conyers' request rests primarily on a sworn affidavit by the deputy director of elections of director of Hocking County, Ohio. That's about 50 miles southeast of Columbus, that affidavit by Sherole Eaton, a Democrat, who contends that last Friday in advance of the recount in Ohio, an employee of the company that made the vote-counting software used in their county returned there and, according to Conyers' letter to the FBI, he modified the computer tabulator, learned which precinct was planned to be the subject of the initial test recount, and made further alterations based on that information, and advised the election officials how to manipulate the machinery, so that the preliminary hand recount matched the machine count.

Congressman Conyers had told the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the prosecutor in Hocking County that there was also evidence of similar events in other Ohio counties and he asked them to impound the voting machines and determine whether or not crimes have been committed.

Representative Conyers joins us now from Detroit.

Thank you again for your time, sir.

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: It's a pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Let me start with the FBI. Have you heard back from the bureau and why did you go to them?

CONYERS: Well, because they are the appropriate federal agency to conduct these investigations. I have not heard from them.

OLBERMANN: This company that made the voting equipment that was used in that county, Hocking County, Triad Systems...


OLBERMANN:... has a contract to maintain that equipment. And the president of the firm also told "The New York Times" that what the deputy director of elections saw was not tampering, but maintenance.

He also did an interview with a Web site. And he said that the law in Ohio is, if it's a presidential recount, you can only recount - literally only recount the presidential votes. So you have to go and alter the machines so they only recount the presidential votes. How do you know that it's not the case that this was just maintenance?

CONYERS: Well, I don't know that. And, by the way, the president of the company who's doing his job wasn't there either.

What upset and disturbed this election official was what the computer expert from Triad said and did while he was there. And she's given a sworn affidavit. The president of the company hasn't.

OLBERMANN: If it turns out to have been just maintenance and also it turns out that the FBI responds to your request and investigates, but finds out that this was, as bad-looking as it might have been, that it was just maintenance and nobody manipulated anything, could you not find yourself accused of exaggerating the importance of the event and the affidavit for political purposes?

CONYERS: Well, first of all, I'm not trying to do anything but improve the election process for president in the United States.

We've had - let's be honest about it - two very unhappy elections in the last two times we've picked a president. And each time, it's been one state that's made the difference. Now, you can't get tens of thousands of complaints, all kinds of irregularities, running from disparity of placement of machines, to terrorist lockdowns in Warren County, provisional ballot misunderstandings, a secretary of state who's the chairman, state chairman of the president's election committee, and the fact that Kerry did worse than a Supreme Court justice, this goes on and on and on, people waiting for hours in the rain, untold thousands of people who just gave up and left in disgust, people being given the wrong date of an election.

You can't have all of this happening and a person that has been in as many elections as I have and laws to create elections going back to the Voter Rights Act of '65 and say, well, maybe this is just all accidental. Come on.

OLBERMANN: But about your investigations, you've had the two voting forums, but essentially those are ad hoc investigations, as opposed to full-power congressional hearings. There have been protests. There have been lawsuits, including one to overturn the outcome in Ohio.


OLBERMANN: But all this to this point has been outside the mainstream of political interaction, off the rails, if you will. It has been suggested that if there really is as much wrong with the vote in Ohio as you and others have asserted - we keep covering this story every night as well - that there is a constitutional means for you to challenge those electoral votes from Ohio when they're counted three weeks from tomorrow. Should not you and a senator do that, challenge the electoral votes?

CONYERS: Well, we're prepared to do that. And we understand the law as well as you.

But the fact of the matter is, is that thousands and thousands of people want to come forward and tell what happened to them. And we have an obligation to really make the vote as sacred as - and as unmanageable - I mean, as manageable and as helpful as we can to the American people.

This isn't about Democrats vs. Republicans. This is about how we get rid of the thousands and thousands of problems that occurred, including 92,000 uncounted ballots in Ohio. Now, it wasn't just Ohio, but far more complaints came in there. These people brought them to their members of Congress. And the fact that Republicans didn't join us isn't our problem. It's their fault.

OLBERMANN: The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers of Michigan, once again, sir, thanks for coming on the program. We appreciate it.

CONYERS: Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN: Meantime, since election night, nobody has doubted it would come down to this in Washington state, not just a recount, but lawsuits and the political equivalent of the medieval philosophic debate over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin; 573 ballots for governor in King County - that is heavily Democratic Seattle - that went uncounted on election night. Officials said that was a mistake.

Workers failed to look for signatures on the ballots. Tonight, the King County Canvassing Board has decided that those 573 ballots can be examined again to see if they should indeed be counted. Nobody has made a decision yet. After the second of three counts, the Republican Dino Rossi led Democrat Christine Gregoire by 42 votes out of 2.9 million cast.

Back on the national political scene, the annual Barney the dog video is out. More on that breaking story later in this news hour. Also, the second Bush inauguration, a little more than five weeks away, is as of today festooned with a theme. In case you were looking for guidance on January 20, we as a nation will be celebrating freedom and honoring service. Every inaugural event, say organizers, will be focused on calling attention to those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Americans in uniform even getting their own inaugural shindig, the Commander in Chief Ball. The Defense Department distributing about 2,000 tickets to active troops who have returned to the home front. The war is not coming cheap. Neither are the festivities, inaugural costs estimated at between $30 and $40 million, the costliest swearing-in in history, just as one decision by members of the 656 Transportation company was the costliest in their history.

An update now on yesterday's No. 5 story, an Ohio senator now calling for clemency for two of the six members of that unit who wound up court-martialed and sentenced to military brig for six months. Former Chief Warrant Officer Darrell Birt, who joined us on this program last night, and his commanding officer, Cathy Kaus, were among those court-martialed.

Their crime? Because they didn't have sufficient equipment with which to complete their mission to bring fuel from Kuwait to Iraq in April 2003, they used trucks and truck parts abandoned by other units.

Today, Ohio Senator Mike DeWine wrote to the commander in Iraq saying that further banishment and punishment of Birt and Kaus would be simply excessive and asking for clemency for them. If granted, it would restore their military benefits and change their dishonorable discharges.

Not all the news matters in that way, but all of it matters to somebody, a new poll suggesting just how concerned baseball fans are about steroids.

And that annual Barney the dog presidential holiday video is out. There's a new baby at the White House and Bernie Kerik has nothing to do with it.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: A new poll showing how important the steroid scandal actually is to baseball fans and a big-name athlete suing for $25 million, claiming defamation during coverage of that story.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It has been assumed that reporters were far more interested in the baseball steroids scandal than were fans. Not true, not if a public opinion poll is to be believed.

Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, six out of 10 fans are willing to ban steroid users for life. Taken in the wake of the release of the steroid-related grand jury testimony by Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees and Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants a year ago, the Quinnipiac poll suggests anything but public apathy, 865 diamond aficionados surveyed - 93 percent say the use of steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs are a problem, 65 percent saying it's a major problem; 61 percent say players who test positive should be thrown out of the game, 33 percent opposed to that.

And some are willing to go further even than that, to deny them baseball's highest honor, 52 percent saying stars who tested positive should be denied election to Baseball's Hall of Fame, and a sizable minority even thinking excising them from history would be an appropriate punishment, 36 percent supporting the idea that steroid users should see their statistics removed from the record books. That is especially relevant to Barry Bonds, who is just 53 away from breaking baseball's career mark for home runs.

And it would sound especially familiar to outfielder James Edward "Tip" O'Neill. Well, it would if he hadn't died in 1915. In 1887, O'Neill was declared baseball's batting champion after he produced a remarkable .492 average for the Saint Louis Browns. For decades, it was the all-time record for the highest average in any season.

But starting in the 1960s, historians began to clamor to change O'Neill's record because of the way batting averages were calculated in 1887. For that year, walks were counted as base hits. Gradually, the record started to fall out of the late O'Neill's hands. Today, his statistics for 1887 record him as having batted not .492, but .435. And the league he played in has lately been discredited. In fact, historians now tend to dismiss everything that happened in baseball before 1900.

Senator John McCain, who has threatened anti-steroid legislation if baseball can't get its own house in order, seems a little bit more optimistic than that. He tells the Associated Press that he spoke with the head of the Players Union, Don Fehr, last week and thought something could be worked out. "It would have to be credible, frankly, with the media. It would have to be, at a minimum, the same standards they propose for the minor leagues, things like off-season testing, frequent testing, and testing for substances that are not now known."

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware has jumped on the anti-steroid bandwagon. He will write an op-ed piece for tomorrow's editions of "The San Francisco Chronicle" in which he will echo McCain's call for tougher testing and he will call baseball's current steroid policy a - quote - "joke."

Union chief Don Fehr and baseball's top lawyer, Rob Manfred, have now

met for two conservative days in New York. Not only have they met - a

rare enough event, except when a players strike or owner lockout is looming

· but they have also agreed to a media blackout. Both sides left the meeting without comment, though "USA Today" reported that the owners want to be able to review publicly the names of first-time steroid offenders. And they want testing not just for steroids per se, but for all substances banned by the International Olympic Committee.

Speaking of the Olympics, one of their stars has now filed a defamation suit asking $25 million in damages. Marion Jones, who won three gold medals and two bronzes at the 2000 Games in Australia, says she was defamed on ABC's "20/20" broadcast. During it nearly two weeks ago, the founder of the lab from the baseball steroids are said to have come, Victor Conte, said that he personally witnessed Jones injecting herself with steroids that he had provided just before those Olympics.

In the suit, Jones again claims she passed a lie-detector test on this topic and also includes a letter from her doctor saying she never used steroids.

And we continue the sports theme as we open our nightly roundup of the celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs."

And it's a final, red-tailed hawks two, fancy New York City co-op nothing. Also tonight, newscasters who live in fancy New York City co-op one, stalkers nothing. The two red hawks evicted from the nest they built atop 927 Fifth Avenue a decade ago will return a week after the co-op board there decided that the 200-pound nest was a peril to residents. And the occasional dead pigeons the hawks would drop were something of a yucky-yuck.

Great relief also for Paula Zahn, whose husband happens to be chairman of that co-op board and who got stalked, along with her two preteen sons, by a bird fan with absolutely no sense of perspective who screamed at all three of them on the street, bring the birds' nest back. He has been arrested.

From birdies to doggies. Help. Barney has lost Miss Beazley. What does Bernie Kerik know about this? It's a holiday drama, not the usual kind brought to you by the White House, but one nonetheless.


OLBERMANN: Depending on your political point of view, this may be your annual chance to, A, feel as if you're spending part of the holidays with your friends over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, B, watch how your taxpayer dollars are being burned in the fireplace of self-promotion, or, most likely, C, realize that the best actor in the White House since the late Ronald Reagan is a 4-year-old Scottish terrier.

Our No. 1 story on the Countdown, the third consecutive Christmas that the White House has released a holiday video starring Barney the dog. Two observations before we play a version we have edited down from its original seven-minute length. The plot is about his search for the new White House puppy, Miss Beazley. And the day that last year's video was released was the day troops in Iraq began the operation that captured Saddam Hussein.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a rough week for Barney. He was rumored to have been a top contender for secretary of state, attorney general and secretary of education, but Barney has yet to be tapped for any senior-level position.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barney, I know you wanted to be in my Cabinet. But I've already given you an important job. Your job is to take care of Ms. Beasley. Your job is to welcome her into our family. Make sure that Miss Beasley gets along with Willie. And I don't want you chasing Willie around the house anymore? You understand that? I'm counting on you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is she, anyway?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't look at me, Barney. I'm trying to leave no child behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better find her before Mrs. Bush finds out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, Barney, I haven't seen Miss Beasley. But is this your horseshoe?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Barney, I'm trying to have a press briefing up here. What's your question?

Miss Beasley? I don't know where Miss Beasley is. Miss Beasley's your responsibility.

Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A major development today at the White House. Barney has apparently lost Miss Beasley, the new puppy. Barney refuses to confirm this report, saying only that when he has something to announce, he will announce it.

KARL ROVE, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Blue ornaments? Who decorated this tree with blue ornaments?

I haven't seen her, Barney. Why don't you go check Ohio? We went there a lot of times.

Red ornaments, I need red ornaments, red ornaments for the tree!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the really good part of the movie. This is where Greg losses Mr. Jenks, but then he finds a replacement cat that can take Mr. Jenks' place until he can find the real one.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Barney, what are you doing? Barney, you're such a responsible dog, I know you've been practicing on how to take care of Miss Beasley, but don't worry, you've got plenty of time to practice. Miss Beasley won't be here until January.


OLBERMANN: Sorry. Can't let this go without a review. You know what the best part was?


ROVE: I haven't seen her, Barney. Why don't you go check Ohio? We went there a lot of times.

Red ornaments, I need red ornaments, red ornaments for the tree!


OLBERMANN: "Why don't you check, Ohio?" Karl Rove says.

That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.

Good night and good luck.