Tuesday, December 21, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 21

Guest: David Graham


CHRIS JANSING, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Over 20 killed, more than 60 wounded.

JEREMY REDMON, "THE RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH"rMD-BO_: It was really just sort of a sea of wounded and dead. It really was unreal.

JANSING: One of the deadliest assaults ever on an American base in Iraq. Tonight, inside the attack in Mosul.

Stolen from her slain mother's womb, tonight, a first look at newborn Victoria Jo Stinnett, and new details on the victim's relationship with her suspected killer.

The rising stress over the increasing number of painkillers that may cause heart disease. How did these drugs get past the FDA? And what drugs are safe to take?

And profiles in parking. With categories ranging from search and destroy to outright stalkers, find out which category you fit into with Countdown's guide to holiday parking.

All that and more now on Countdown.


JANSING: Good evening. I'm Chris Jansing. Keith Olbermann is still on vacation.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, it is the most deadly single attack on U.S. troops since the war in Iraq began; 15 of the 24 killed were American soldiers, dozens more wounded by an insurgent attack on their mess hall. It happened at the base Marez just outside of Mosul in northern Iraq.

As hundreds of U.S. troops, American contractors, foreign workers and Iraqi soldiers were sitting down for a meal, a massive explosion ripped through tent. Jeremy Redmon, a reporter with "The Richmond Times Dispatch," is embedded with a battalion in Mosul and happened to be in the mess hall when the attack happened.


REDMON: I had actually left the line where most of the food is, because I didn't like what I saw. So I went out to another part of the (INAUDIBLE) inside for the spaghetti bar and was eating my spaghetti when this huge explosion rocked the whole building.

I looked up. And it was about 50 yards from me, there was a gigantic fireball in the ceiling of this tent. It's really just a cavernous tent.

There were hundreds of soldiers in there having lunch at the time.

And then there was a bright blue sky, very few clouds. People were cheery. They were having lunch, enjoying themselves when it happened. And, as soon as the explosion and the fireball occurred, scores of soldiers ran out of the tent and crammed into these concrete blast barriers.

And then I ran out. And it was during all this going on. And I started seeing the wounded come out one at a time. Soldiers were very quick thinking and turned their dining room tables upside down and placed the wounded on top of them.

I counted one and then two, then four, then six, then eight wounded coming out. There were folks that were in shock. There was blood all over the floor, food, trays. It tore a pretty large hole in the roof of the tent. Outside, they had set up - several medics had showed up and set up an area where they are working on the soldiers in the parking lot. It was really just sort of a sea of wounded and dead.

There were people crying. There were folks that were numb that collapsed in grief. It really was unreal.


JANSING: With elections only 40 days away and an insurgency growing bolder and more deadly by the hour, how can the U.S. military even begin to hand over responsibility to Iraqi forces?

Joining me now, retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs.

Thanks very much your time.


JANSING: Let's start first with what the possibilities are for how this happened. By one report, it could be a .122-millimeter rocket. Are they usually this accurate?

JACOBS: No. They're very inaccurate. And it has got to be the luckiest shot in the world. It is a high angle of fire, indirect-fire weapon. They usually fire in volleys, lots of them at one time because they are so inaccurate. This has got to be a very, very lucky shot if it's a rocket..

JANSING: But it was the kind of mortar that could cause this kind of damage, kind of rocket?

JACOBS: Well, there are two kinds of - two size mortars that the enemy have, .82-millimeter mortars, relatively small, wouldn't do this kind of damage. I was wounded by one - .120-millimeter mortar, very heavy. The payload is only about 10 or 15 pounds.

A .122-millimeter rocket, on the other hand, though inaccurate, has got a payload of about 45 pounds.

JANSING: A group called Ansar Al-Sunna claimed responsibility for this attack and they called it - quote - "a martyrdom operation." If this had been a suicide bomber, this would have had greater implications.

JACOBS: Yes, really bad news.

There are lots of Iraqis in the compound. We're training police. We're training soldiers. There are probably Iraqis as contract workers there, handing out food, cleaning the place up and so on. One has to assume that they're very closely monitored. They're checked every day. If in fact, it was a suicide bomber and somebody spirited the explosives in and then detonated it either on himself or underneath one of the tables, that's a big security problem.

JANSING: Here's the thing, Jack. Right after Saddam Hussein was toppled, there was Mosul sort of held up as the poster child for stability.

But we just heard from Jeremy Redmon from "The Richmond Times-Dispatch," he says that facility had been mortared at least 30 times before today's attack. What happened? What changed?

JACOBS: Well, there are lots of mortar attacks that take place all around American installations, including this one. They are probably .82-millimeter mortar attacks. They happen with some frequency.

Here is a very interesting situation. In an area that was relatively safe before, but an area where we had 20,000 troops commanded by a major general, in February, we decided we were going to cut the size of the force down, now about 8,500 American troops commanded by a brigadier general, greatly reduced the American forces, less capability to conduct security operations around the compound.

JANSING: So, less than half. And here we go back to the heart of what much of the discussion and debate has been, and that is troop strength in Iraq. What are the implications of this for the upcoming elections?

JACOBS: Well, in areas in the far north and far south, among the Kurds and the Shia, probably, no problem. But you know that in the Sunni Triangle or any place there are Sunnis, there are going to be big-time problems. And the security implications are very extreme.

There is going to be plenty of violence leading up to the election, during the election, and probably after the election is...


JANSING: Is there anything that can be done to prevent what we saw today from happening again?

JACOBS: Lots more patrols, which means lots more troops getting farther out to prevent people from getting close enough to lob mortar shells and rocket shells into compounds like this. This requires 100,000 troops, at least. And that's the only way that we're going to be able to make sure that we have some security over the area.

JANSING: A lot of the security was expected to be put on the backs of Iraqis by now. Where do you see that in the progression? We heard the president saying just yesterday, look, we have a situation where we're training these troops. And yet, when the going gets tough, when the heat is on, we're watching them cut and run in many cases.

JACOBS: Well, had we not disbanded the Iraqi army a year and four or five months ago, when the major fighting ended, and instead peeled off the top layer of Baathists, reeducated them or threw them in jail, and then retrained the Iraqi army, we would be probably much farther ahead than we are now.

As it is now, we have to reconstruct the entire Iraqi army. We've lost about a year. So, we're about a year behind. Had we done what we suggested earlier, we would be in much better shape today.

JANSING: So that's long term. Short term - and we're looking again at 40 days until the scheduled Iraqi election. One of the suggestions has been, you don't do it all on one day. You don't do it all on January 30. Maybe you do one city one day, another another day, a third a third day.

Then, would you take those forces and move them around, essentially?

JACOBS: Yes, particularly in the Sunni Triangle.

Like I said, in certain areas, like the Shia areas and Kurdish areas, there are probably going to be very, very few problems. There may be some scattered violence, but it's not going to be a big problem. But in the Sunni areas, that's probably, given what troop strength we have in the country, that's probably the only way we're going to have a high degree of confidence we're going to be able to secure the polling places.

MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, as always, thanks for joining us, sir.

JACOBS: You're very welcome.

JANSING: The attack came just hours after the surprise arrival of British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Iraq, a trip so secret, the media was in total blackout until he and the Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, stepped out for a joint news conference.

There, Tony Blair again pledged his country's solidarity with Iraq and specifically praised the bravery of those trying to get the January elections under way.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I've just visited members of the electoral commission and met some of their staff. And I said to them that I thought that they were the heroes of the new Iraq that's being created, because here are people who are risking their lives every day in order to make sure that the people of Iraq get a chance to decide their own destiny democratically.


JANSING: President Bush today visited wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is his seventh such trip since the war in Iraq began. Afterwards, he took a moment to remember the victims of today's deadly attack in Mosul.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we had a rocket attack that took a lot of lives. Any time of the year is a time of sorrow of sadness when we lose a loss of life. This time of year is particularly sorrowful for the families as we head into the Christmas season. We pray for them. We send our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones who suffer today.


JANSING: If you'd like to make a contribution to the care of those soldiers, you can do so by contacting the folks at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center at this phone number, 202-782-2071. Or log on to the Fisher House Web site at to FisherHouse - that's one word - to FisherHouse.org.

At home, it appears that the president is beginning to feel some fallout from the ongoing insurgency in Iraq. The president's approval rating slipped below 50 percent for the first time since the election. And 51 percent of those polled now say they disapprove of the decision to go to war with Iraq. Those views reflected in another poll by "The Washington Post." It puts the president's approval rating at 48 percent and finds that 56 percent of respondents now believe the war in Iraq is not worth fighting.

In the fight to secure the homeland, the White House still hasn't nominated a new homeland security secretary. And New Yorker investigators are still looking into corruption claims against the first choice, Bernard Kerik. One of the people raising those serious allegations, the best man at his wedding. This week, Kerik's former friend is expected to tell his story to New York City public corruption watchdogs.

First, he spoke exclusively with NBC's Lisa Myers.



Nineteen ninety-nine, then New York City Corrections Commissioner Bernie Kerik offers a birthday toast to his friend, Larry Ray.

BERNARD KERIK, YORK CITY CORRECTIONS COMMISSIONER: He's someone with integrity, with honor, with courage, and most importantly, a friend of all friends.

MYERS: But that friendship is long over.

LARRY RAY, FORMER FRIEND OF BERNARD KERIK: I believe him to be dishonest.

MYERS: Now, in an exclusive interview with NBC News, Ray says the White House should have talked to him before nominating Kerik as secretary of homeland security.

KERIK: Thank you, Mr. President.

MYERS: In this 1999 e-mail, Ray says Kerik offers to provide inside details about a city investigation to a firm suspected of ties to organized crime, Interstate Industrial.

RAY: They really wanted help with their problem getting licenses.

MYERS (on camera): And Bernie Kerik helped them?

RAY: He tried. And I believe he had some help with it, yes.

MYERS (voice-over): DiTommaso and the firm deny any ties to the mob. Kerik denies providing inside information. What he also claims Kerik repeatedly asked him for money. For his we having. Expensive decorations. Even a down payment for an apartment.

Ray also claims Kerik repeatedly asked him for money for his wedding, expensive decorations and even the down payment for an apartment.

RAY: He would say, I'm desperate. I need this help.

MYERS (on camera): How many thousand of dollars do you think you gave him over the years?

RAY: I would say easily, easily, beyond $50,000.

MYERS: And he never paid any of it back?

RAY: No.

MYERS (voice-over): These e-mails, which Ray says are from Kerik, say: "I'm broke. Can we spare $2,500 to get me by?"

But Ray has a checkered history himself. Former federal officials say, for years, Ray served as a valuable undercover operative. But last year, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud in a stock scheme involving mob associates.

MYERS (on camera): You're a felon. You pleaded guilty to fraud. Why should anyone believe you?

RAY: Anything I say, I have documents to support.

MYERS (voice-over): Kerik's lawyer says any gifts from Ray were small and that Ray is angry because Kerik refused to help when Ray was in legal trouble.

JOE TACOPINA, ATTORNEY FOR BERNARD KERIK: I don't think it changes the fact that Bernie Kerik remains and still is a hero. Larry Ray is someone whose credibility seriously has to be called into question.

MYERS: Ray insists he is speaking out now out of patriotic duty.

(on camera): Kerik now faces a city investigation for allegedly failing to report the gifts. Ray says there's no evidence that former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who pushed Kerik's nomination, knew about any of this.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


JANSING: From botched nominations to faulty FDA procedures, big questions about painkillers. What is safe to take?

And televised poker has millions caught in its spell, including large number of teenagers. Will today's top phenom lead to some big gambling problems down the road?

This is Countdown on MSNBC.


JANSING: If you need any sort of pain relief, what is safe to take? A flood of warnings from the FDA has left consumers confused and doctors frustrated. We'll talk to the man who helped blow the whistle on problems at the FDA.


JANSING: Until yesterday, few would think twice before swallowing painkillers like Aleve. Until yesterday, no one knew the popular over-the-counter drug may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, every headache now comes with a headache of its own. Many are finding it hard to believe that something you can buy in a drugstore may in fact do more harm than good. In a moment, we'll talk with an FDA whistle-blower about whether the government is doing a good job protecting your health.

But, first, an Aleve reality check from chief science correspondent Robert Bazell.


ROBERT BAZELL, NBC CHIEF SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Linda Aldrich (ph) has been taking pain reliever naproxen, sold under the brand name Aleve for eight years. She was shocked last night to hear news of warnings about increased risk for heart disease and strokes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It kind of makes me wonder why, all of a sudden, they come out with this government study that - it's been on the market for 30 years.

BAZELL: A lot of people are wondering the same thing, especially because there has been no sign that the drug might increase heart attack risk.

DR. GARRET FITZGERALD, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: In fact, in the case of naproxen, what information we do have suggests that in some people it might actually be protective of the heart, rather than harmful of the heart.

BAZELL: The warning came after a preliminary analysis of a trial of naproxen to try to stop Alzheimer's disease found excess heart trouble.

(on camera): It is not just the patients who are confused. It is the doctors who are treating them. But most experts in the field are saying today that the evidence that naproxen increases risk for heart disease is not scientifically sound and certainly not cause for alarm.

(voice-over): Not necessarily, says Dr. Elias Zerhouni, head of the NIH, the agency that ran the trial. He said the public had to be warned of a possible danger.

DR. ELIAS ZERHOUNI, DIRECTOR, NIH: It was clear that we had a difference between the response of patients who received naproxen vs. those who didn't receive any drug.

BAZELL: But Dr. Zerhouni emphasizes, the scientists do not yet have the numbers to know the extent of the danger.

ZERHOUNI: We need time to come down and look at all of these data.

BAZELL: Meanwhile, the FDA is advising that people do not take more naproxen than the label advises and do not take it for longer than 10 days without consulting their doctor.

Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.


JANSING: So that makes four top-selling pain medications that have come under fire in recent months. Do I hear five? "The New York Times" reporting that federal drug officials say ibuprofen, more commonly known by the brand name Advil, might also increase heart risks, all of which raises the question, can you trust the FDA to protect you from unsafe drugs?

Earlier tonight, I spoke with Dr. David Graham, who works in the FDA's Office of Drug Safety and who stepped forward recently as a whistle-blower.


JANSING: Dr. Graham, good evening. Thank you for joining us.

DR. DAVID GRAHAM, FDA DRUG SAFETY OFFICE: Well, thank you for having me.

JANSING: What does the warning about naproxen say to you about the FDA's drug approval process?

GRAHAM: I think it is just further evidence that when FDA approves a drug, it knows very little about the actual safety of the drug it has approved. And, in a situation with Vioxx, Celebrex, Bextra and now naproxen, this could be a very serious adverse reaction as a heart attack.

JANSING: Last month, you testified before the Senate, and you said that the FDA - and I'm quoting here - "is incapable of ensuring the safety of any drug."

If the agency isn't testing the safety of a drug, what is it testing?

GRAHAM: Well, it is primarily testing how well the drug works. And that's called its efficacy. And when it does - when it gets ready to approve a drug, it does these clinical trials.

The clinical trials are designed to show the effect of the drug. Does it lower your blood pressure? Does it lower your blood sugar? That is an effect.

JANSING: So, essentially, it is looking at the upside, not the potential downside.

GRAHAM: Exactly.

Now, FDA officials will tell you that they also look at safety. But they only look at safety for something that would be extremely common. Most clinical trials are relatively small. The patients that are entered into them are very selected and the studies don't last for a very long period of time. As a result, their ability to detect serious adverse reactions or serious effects are very limited.

In the case of Vioxx, for example, these studies that were done in clinical trials eliminated patients who were at high risk of heart disease. And that reduced the possibility of actually discovering that heart attack was a side effect of the drugs.

JANSING: Let me go back to Aleve, or naproxen, because I understand you did your own study on it. Why haven't we seen it and what did it find?

GRAHAM: Right.

Well, we did do a very large study, an epidemiologic study, in Kaiser Permanente in California, studying over six million patients. And in that study, we found that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attack, but also so did prescription-strength naproxen. Now, our study was scheduled to be published in "The Lancet," a prestigious medical journal.

And the Food and Drug Administration threatened to fire me if the article was published. And so, I was forced to withdraw the article. And so currently, the manuscript, the paper is with FDA and they will not allow it to be published.

JANSING: Well, Senator Ted Kennedy said today that it is the responsibility of Congress and this administration to move urgently, as he put it, to enhance the effectiveness of the FDA's oversight of approved drugs. He said - quote - "Too many American lives have been unnecessarily put at risk."

Are lives at risk? And, if so, what should be done? For example, could there be an independent commission along the lines of the 9/11 Commission?

GRAHAM: Right.

Well, it clear that lives have been placed at risk and that many lives have been lost. As I testified before Congress in November, about 100,000 people probably had heart attacks because of Vioxx. And 30,000 to 40,000 of those patients died. So, that's a very high toll to pay. I think that, when you compare that, say, to the 9/11 tragedy, 3,000 people were killed in that event. And here we're talking about many, many more lives. I think that the idea of an independent commission to investigate and to report what would be the best ways to reform the drug safety process in the United States might be a very good move.

JANSING: Dr. David Graham, thank you for being with us.

GRAHAM: And thank you very much, Chris.


JANSING: A break from the hard news of the day for a quick look at holiday hijinks, Santa hitting the slopes before his big global trek. "Oddball" is next.

And big news for "Harry Potter" fans. You won't have to wait until next Christmas to get your hands on the next book in the Hogwarts series.


JANSING: It's that time of the show when we pause the Countdown for our nightly look at the weird, the wacky, the overwhelming evidence that Santa needs to work on more than just one day a year. Let's play "Oddball."

To the folks of Snowshoe, West Virginia, where we find Santa strapping on a snowboard, shredding some fresh powder, even catching a little air. The North Pole Olympic Committee very excited about his prospects in 2006 if he can pass the steroid test.

Extreme Santa and his elves seeking new thrills in Kosovo, dropping from the sky and on to unsuspecting schoolchildren. Incoming. Haven't the kids of that recently war-torn nation been through enough? It is not even the real American supersized Santa. It is that skinny French Pere Noel fellow. Get that man some freedom fries.

Of course, the real Saint Nick doesn't land in foreign fields. He goes up in gusty winds went and lands in mall parking lots. Now, that's the way it's done. Ow.

Not Christmasy enough for you? Try going to down to Mexico, where they celebrate by dressing up, climbing in a ring, and, yes, wrestling each other. Think of it like professional wrestling in drag. Some dress like angel, some devils. All wear masks and spandex. This actually started centuries ago as a way for Spanish missionaries to communicate with Mexico's indigenous population. Let's get ready to humble.

Finally, an update on one of our leading "Oddballs" of the month, Florida Sheriff's Deputy Carl Brown, caught in the act of urinating in a courthouse elevator. The first four times Deputy Brown did this, no camera, just a horrible smell. The fifth time didn't smell any better and his dirty deed was caught on tape. You think he would know in his line of work that tampering with the evidence is not a good idea.

Deputy Brown was reassigned to a desk job while he appealed his dismissal. Now he has given up, handing in his resignation because he didn't like the media attention his case was attracting. Well, excuse me.

I don't know about you, but I'm taking the stairs.

New information about the murder and stolen baby case out of Missouri. Details about the relationship between the accused and the victim. And another pregnant woman talks about the strange behavior of the suspect.

The popularity of poker having a big impact on America's youth, some parents even throwing poker parties for their teens. Critics say there could be big repercussions for kids as they grow up.

Those stories ahead. Now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of the day.

No. 3, 2-year-old Rico Gaiter of Saint Louis, Missouri. His mom bought him a phone gun called Burp Blaster, meant to make a belch every time you fire it, but not Rico's gun. It says the S-word instead. So now, even though his mom has persuaded the local Kmart to drop the toy, Rico can't stop saying his favorite new word, especially very loudly in church.

No. 2, a 47-year-old woman in Texas City, she found a burglar snooping around her bedroom in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Not content with merely calling police, she dragged a fireplace poker, started to beat him, and then, when he tried to run, she ripped his clothes off. He finally escaped with little more than his freedom.

And No. 1, Michael Ventura of Honolulu escaped from the Oahu Community Correctional Center Monday morning, last seen running naked the across the parking lot with a paper bag wrapped around his waist. Police later found his boxer shorts and pants stuck on the fence that he had escaped over, the razor wire fence. Pants, boxers, we all know what comes underneath.


JANSING: Hi. I'm Chris Jansing, in for Keith Olbermann.

The woman accused of killing an expectant mother so she could take her baby may have met the victim at a dog show.

Our third story on the Countdown tonight, new details emerging in the case of a killer caesarean. NBC News has obtained this exclusive photograph of five-day-old Victoria Jo Stinnett. Authorities say she was cut from the womb after her mother was strangled to death. And just one day after little Victoria Jo she was released from the hospital to her father, her mother, 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett, was laid to rest at a private ceremony this afternoon.

We'll speak with the grandmother of Bobbie Jo Stinnett in just a moment.

But, first, let's go to our correspondent Kevin Corke who is standing

by live in Maryville, Missouri.

Good evening, Kevin. Thank you for joining us.

Catch us up on the investigation.

KEVIN CORKE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Chris.

A crime like this could shake the foundation of a town of any size, but it has a particularly strong impact on small places like Melvern, Kansas, a town of just 425 people. That is, by the way, the home town of the alleged perpetrator of this crime, Lisa Montgomery. And at least one woman there believes that Montgomery may have been planning a crime like this for quite some time.

Her name is Becky Ruth. She worked with Montgomery at KayCee's General Store and she told me, on many occasions, Montgomery would ask her to come by her home when she was pregnant with her second child. Ruth always said no and tonight she wonders if that decision saved her life.


BECKY RUTH, APPROACHED BY MURDER SUSPECT: She just kept asking and asking for me to come out. And it really scares us.


CORKE: Also new tonight, details from law enforcement officials that the victim and the alleged perpetrator may have come into contact with each other perhaps as long as a year. They were both dog breeders and there is evidence to suggest that the two women attended several dog show competitions, including one in Abilene, Kansas, in April of 2004.

Also tonight, we learned via FBI affidavit that in contact via e-mail between the alleged perpetrator and the victim, Montgomery used the alias Darlene Fischer to both befriend and ultimately meet up with the victim in this case, Bobbie Jo Stinnett.

That's the story from Maryville, Missouri, a town which mourns the loss of a woman from a neighboring town, a young woman who was looking forward to becoming a mother for the very first time.

JANSING: Kevin Corke, many thanks.

A hallmark of this case has been the miracle of the baby's survival side by side with the heartbreak of her mother's death. The deep sorrow of that loss marked today when Bobbie Jo Stinnett was laid to rest at a private ceremony.

Joining us now, Bobbie Jo Stinnett's grandmother, Joan Ray.

Ms. Ray, thank you for joining us. And our condolences to you and your family.


JANSING: Yesterday, your great granddaughter was released from the hospital. Today, your granddaughter's funeral. For so many people, she is looked at as the victim of this horrible crime. But give us a little idea of what Bobbie Jo was like.

RAY: Bobbie was a very sweet, outgoing and caring person.

JANSING: Could you ever, in your wildest dreams, have imagined even a story like this, let alone something happening to your own family?

RAY: No. and I can't imagine anybody else even thinking that this could happen to them. It has been heartbreaking for not only the family, but many families across the United States.

JANSING: Let me ask you about the family and in particular, Zeb, the husband of Bobbie and of course Victoria Jo's father. How is he holding up?

RAY: He's doing very well. Of course, he has the responsibility of his daughter, and thankful for that.

JANSING: Have you had a chance to see your great granddaughter, Victoria Jo, yet?

RAY: No, I haven't. I'm looking forward to that. I've seen a picture, finally. And she's a precious, beautiful little girl.

JANSING: She really is a gorgeous child. And it is in many people's minds such a miracle that she has come through this so well. What have you heard? What has the family told you about how she is doing physically? How is her health?

RAY: She's doing fine. Of course, we're protective and we don't feel she needs to be out in the cold because of her premature existence.

JANSING: Can you even describe what it was like for you in those hours when the baby was missing? It is really unusual for an Amber Alert to go out for a fetus, because, of course, there's no physical description that was available for Victoria JO. Was it difficult to convince authorities to do this?

RAY: We did not have much to do with it.

Our sheriff did most of that. And thank God he did. It is so important that the Amber Alert is changed.


JANSING: You say thank God for the Amber Alert and for the sheriff. And, as I understand it, there have been people literally from all around the country who have reached out to your family. Tell us about that.

RAY: We've had calls from all over the United States and from foreign countries as well. And everyone needs to remember that this could happen to them if they don't canvass their computers and see what is on it and the personal information they have can lead them back.

The information on my granddaughter's computer is what led her back and caused her death. And if we can save anyone by going through the information that's on the computers, Bobbie's death is not going to be in vain.

JANSING: Well, your loss is clearly very great.

Joan Ray, thank you very much for helping to us remember your granddaughter and sharing some of your time during this difficult period. Our best wishes, of course, to you and the entire family, and especially to that beautiful little baby. Thank you so much.

RAY: I want to thank everyone clear around for suffering with us all this time. And I know that their joy is as good as ours and was elated when Victoria was found.

These came from Savannah Middle School, the class, sixth grade, to our family and was given to us today. It breaks your heart at what those little children was thinking when they were making these.

JANSING: Do you find some comfort when you look at those?

RAY: We find a lot of comfort in a lot of things. We've had new friends and friendships that have developed. We've had the support of the whole United States. Who could complain after that?

JANSING: Joan Ray...

RAY: We want to...


JANSING: Go ahead. If there's something else you would like to say, please do.

RAY: I want to thank the law enforcement for the marvelous job they did. If they had not went ahead and got Amber Alert ahead, we would have never seen our little Victoria. So, please call all your political friends in your states. We need this law changed across the United States to keep this from happening again and again.

JANSING: Joan Ray, Bobbie Jo Stinnett's grandmother, thank you so much.

RAY: Thank you.

JANSING: And we'll be right back.


JANSING: Straight ahead on Countdown, poker faces, they're looking younger and younger these days, the craze all the rage with teens. But will they grow to be hard-core gamblers?

Stand by.


JANSING: The flop, fourth street, the river, all terms commonly associated with smoke-filled backroom poker games and the gruff men puffing on cigars who play them.

But, these days, you're just as likely to hear those terms coming from mouths of babes, kids as young as 10. Our second story on the Countdown, Texas hold 'em and a preteen near you. Many parents are thrilled, saying it keeps their kids out of trouble. But the experts warn, do young gamblers know when to fold them?

Kerry Sanders deals us in.


KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across the nation, it is a full house, in dining rooms, in basements, and just about anywhere teens hang out. The game, poker, Texas hold 'em style.

JORDAN SCHNEIDER, 16 YEARS OLD: Every week, someone seems to be hosting a new game. It is the place to be.

SANDERS: The ante for most, emulating what they see on cable, wildly popular professional games, where winners can take home up to $5 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here comes the turn. It is an ace.

SANDERS: Teens say they're hooked on watching the professionals.

BILLY BLUMBERG, 15 YEARS OLD: Once you're at the professional level, it is pretty much more skill than it is luck. Right now, it is whoever gets the cards.

SANDERS: For some parents...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody want any pizza?

SANDERS: Allowing 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds to gamble is an easy tradeoff.

ROSEMARY BLUMBERG, MOTHER: I like the social aspect of the game. I think that's wonderful the camaraderie with the kids and how they just have such a good time. And they're laughing. And it's just - and I love the noise.


R. BLUMBERG: And I know that they're safe and I think that's important to me.

SANDERS: But gambling experts warn that home-grown poker playing is not without its risk for teenagers who might have trouble knowing when to fold 'em before becoming addicted.

(voice-over): Experts estimate up to 8 percent of teens who gamble are at risk of developing gambling problems.

JENNIFER MCCAUSLAND, ANTI-GAMBLING ACTIVIST: Teenage gambling is exactly the same as a teenager playing with a gun. It is a dangerous thing to do. And sometimes the gun will go off.

SANDERS: With poker sets selling faster than a shuffle this holiday season, psychologists and toy guru Stevanne Auerbach says the game can raise the stakes in a good way for many teens.

STEVANNE AUERBACH, PSYCHOLOGIST: They're going to learn probability. They're going to learn how to develop some strategy. It's going to help them in math and maybe also in their social life.

SANDERS: And these teens know, as in grown-up poker, the limits are set by the house.

Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.


JANSING: An easy segue tonight from kids and poker to kids and Harry

· Potter, that is - in the nightly roundup of entertainment news that we call "Keeping Tabs."

The sixth installment of the wildly popular "Harry Potter" series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," goes on sale 12:01 a.m. July 16 in the United States, Britain and four other countries. Its author, J.K. Rowling, noted on her Web site that she had time to tinker with the manuscript while pregnant with her third child. Ah, but the glow of motherhood has not spared the life of every character, Rowling confessing that someone will perish in the new novel. She refuses to say who that might be, although she has promised to keep Harry kicking until the seventh and final book.

And the return of Ms. Elecia Battle. You may remember this Battle from earlier this year when she claimed to have lost her winning lottery ticket worth $162 million, had to drop the claim when the real winner showed up. Now she is beginning a brand new job. This January, she'll make her debut as Mega Battle, the boxer. The 41-year-old has been training up for the past seven months, says she now feels ready to get into a boxing ring as a professional.

From the first moment Countdown met Ms. Battle, she quickly became a favorite guest. And her ever changing lottery ticket story became one of Countdown's favorite things.


KEITH OLBERMANN, NBC ANCHOR: Exhibit A, the store, the epicenter.

This is where she bought the ticket. This is where she lost the ticket.

Exhibit B, the winning numbers, 12, 18, 21, 32, 46, and mega ball 49. Ms.

Battle explains that all those numbers are significant to her.

For instance, her husband's age, 48. But wait a minute. After careful investigation, we've determined that none of those numbers are 48;

46 is close; 49 is closer. But neither is 48. We asked math guys.

Exhibit C, Ms. Battle on Countdown. She took her fight nationwide authoritatively announcing to the world exactly what happened.

ELICIA BATTLE, CLAIMED SHE WON LOTTERY: After I purchased the ticket, I guess I lost it.

OLBERMANN: Exhibit B, the revelation. We asked Ms. Battle about her suspicious past.

(on camera): Your client has previously been convicted on credit fraud, credit fraud - credit card fraud charges and also for assault.

(voice-over): Watch the eyes, back and to the left. Again, back and to the left.

And, finally, exhibit Z, the photograph, a photograph of Elicia Battle, a photograph that shows a complete absence of winning ticketude.


JANSING: What is that?

You can see much more of Ms. Battle and a whole host of other stories when Keith counts down Countdown's favorite things of 2004 once at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, again at midnight this Christmas Eve on MSNBC. And an added bonus next week. Elicia Battle will join Keith live on Countdown to talk about her new career.

OK, so the big sale on 50-inch plasma screens hits and you lose out, buddy, because you spend all your time trying to get a good parking space at the mall. Countdown's holiday parking survival guide is next.


JANSING: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, Yuletide carol being sung by a choir?

With just four shopping days left until Christmas, you may be having none of that. Our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, finding a parking space in the asphalt jungle. The National Retail Federation estimates that 20 percent of holiday sales occur in this week before Christmas. And there's nothing like scarce parking to unleash the unbridled id of mall parkers everywhere.

Countdown's Monica Novotny conducted her own in-depth investigation into four types, not one, not two, not three, four types of mall parkers.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. Good evening. We have got it all covered.

JANSING: And you survived.

NOVOTNY: Just barely.

JANSING: A trip to the mall.


NOVOTNY: A Connecticut-based insurance company is dividing drivers into groups based upon how they find parking in crowded lots. And they say some strategies are better than others. So we put the key in the ignition and conducted our own Countdown investigation.


NOVOTNY (voice-over): The only thing harder than holiday shopping is holiday parking. Looks like this. Feels like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see road rage out there. And there could be parking lot rage too.

NOVOTNY: That's right. And the best way to beat competition, strategy. It turns out drivers use four typical parking tactics, and you know who you are.

NOVOTNY: There's the stalker.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like to watch people leave and look for their cars and kind of drive behind them.

NOVOTNY: Or, if you prefer, the search and destroyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drive around up and down the lanes waiting for people to pull out. And then I get in the spot.

NOVOTNY: For passive-aggressive drivers, the lie-in-waiter. They lie in wait. Or:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I get too exasperated, I just leave.

NOVOTNY: Finally, for those who hate a challenge, see it and take it, also known as whatever you can get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I normally just go as far away as I can and take that spot. I'm willing to walk.

NOVOTNY: It's hard to know which gets you out of the car and into the store fastest.

(on camera): So we decided to put it to the test and see which strategy is the fastest. Let's go.

Let's try see it and take it. OK, I see none. There are two people lined up for every spot right now. Oh, here's one.

(voice-over): See it and take it, five minutes.

(on camera): Let's try search and destroy. This does not look promising. Oh no. Oh, right here.

(voice-over): Search and destroy, six minutes.

(on camera): Let the stalking begin. I actually hate this one. It's so embarrassing. Oh. Bingo. Here's our woman. She, of course, knows she's just been stalked and she's going to take her sweet time.

(voice-over): The stalker, 7 ½ minutes.

And, finally, the lie in wait.

(on camera): We're at the end of an aisle hoping that something will open up, but there's already someone ahead of us. Hazard lights are the key here.

(voice-over): Just 2 ½ minutes later, this one beats them all, except one.

(on camera): This one's my favorite.



NOVOTNY: We should point out that AAA says the best strategy is the see it and take it. That's the one where you park much farther away, but ideally find a spot quickly. Less stressful, they say. And, if you can bear any bad weather, usually less time consuming than the others.

Of course, there's very little luck involved in that one. So, if you are feeling lucky, you may want to gamble on one of the other tactics.

JANSING: The brave Monica Novotny, thank you.

NOVOTNY: I do what I can.


JANSING: That does it for this Tuesday edition.

I'm Chris Jansing, in for Keith Olbermann. I'll see you here tomorrow. Have a good night.