Wednesday, December 22, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 22

Guest: Geeta Sharma, Harvey Levin, John Harwood, Christine Gregoire

CHRIS JANSING, GUEST HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?Not a rocket, not a mortar.

GEN RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: It looks like it was improvised explosive device worn by an attacker.

JANSING: The Pentagon reacts. Injured troops land in Germany and the question is raised, how did a suicide bomber get onto that base?

The president's domestic agenda. He's got a long wish list. Could his ambitions be wiped out, squelched by a renewed focus on his Iraq policy?

The miracle baby, one born after a horrible crime, the two others the size of cell phones at birth. Young survivor stories almost beyond belief.

And I'm dreaming of a white collar Christmas. Martha Stewart's plea to mankind from the cooler.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


JANSING: Good evening. I'm Chris Jansing. Keith Olbermann is on vacation. In the end it is the worst of the three possible scenarios military officials laid out for what caused the massive carnage at the military base in Mosul yesterday. A mortar, a rocket would have been a lucky strike. Instead it was enemy infiltration into what was supposed to be one of the most secure real estate in Iraq.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the final analysis. It was just one man strapping on a homemade bomb. Investigators sifting through the wreckage inside the mess hall at Base Marez found a vest or backpack with body parts still attached to it. That discovery, coupled with the tell-tale small ball bearings common to such explosions, points to a single suicide bomber.

The effect? Devastating. 22 people dead, including 14 U.S. troops, four U.S. contractors and three Iraqi National Guard members. One victim remains unidentified, leading to speculation the U.S. military won't confirm, that it's the bomber, described as - on an Islamic web site as 24 years old, married just one month ago.

35 of the most seriously wounded U.S. military troops were taken to Rammstein Air Base in Germany this morning and medical personnel from Landstuhl Medical Center were called back from Christmas leave to take care of them. Now, at the Pentagon today Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers discussed the growing insurgency threat and the need for Iraqis to take over security.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Someone who is attacking can attack at any place at any time using any technique and it is an enormous challenge to provide force protection, something that our forces worry about and work on constantly.

MYERS: We have no front lines. The front line can be the dining hall, it can be the road outside, it can be the police station or governor's office or the mayor's office down in Mosul. That's their territory. They operate all over that. They wear, and they do, wear clothes like every other Iraqi. And as this insurgency has changed its nature and character and it's become more intense our resolve just has to be all that tougher.

RUMSFELD: The our task is not to get in there with the persistent presence of Americans over a sustained period of time because that has the counterproductive aspect of it of creating additional targets and a sense of occupation.

Ultimately only the Iraqis can provide security for the Iraqi people.

It's their country.


JANSING: For more on the suicide attack and how the U.S. military should respond to the growing threat to insurgents, I'm joined by MSNBC military analyst Colonel Jack Jacobs. Thanks for being with us. Now, these Iraqi nationals who can get on base supposedly legitimately are searched on the way in, monitored while they're there. So how does this happen?

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, he could have bribed somebody at the gate. He could have spirited in the plastic explosives which actually isn't all that big over a period of time and assembled it in the middle of the night some place. There is a number of - it could have come in with provisions in a truck. There are a lot of ways it could get in. It's not that difficult to do.

JANSING: You called this yesterday and one of the things you said if it turns out to be what it apparently has turned out to be, this is trouble. What's the problem here and how do we fix it?

JACOBS: Well, the problem is we have a lot of camps like this where we have a lot of Iraqis on base, we're training national guardsmen there in a lot of different places and we insist on having some creature comforts. For that we have Iraqis who are local nationals who come on base to perform all manner of tasks, slinging hash, painting, pouring concrete and so on. As long as we insist on having local nationals work on our camps to make our lives easier the threat will obtain(PH).

JANSING: Well, what are you saying? Are you saying we need to have the American troops doing this? And if we do, what does that mean in terms of troop strength?

JACOBS: Well, we need to have more troop strength no matter what, whether we have creature comforts or not. There has to be a better way of vetting all these people. Unfortunately the way we have it now doesn't work. It's probably better to abandon the whole idea of co-locating American troops and Iraqi workers and troops if we cannot secure these bases. Or move them someplace else.

JANSING: But you heard Donald Rumsfeld. He said more troops are not the solution here. So what do you think is the disconnect?

JACOBS: Well, he said more troops are not the solution because it makes more targets. That's just complete rubbish. By that logic, you should have one soldier in Iraq. We would win the war and only have one casualty. Anyone who has been in combat knows you need overwhelming combat power. 300,000 troops, 250,000 to 300,000 troops would do it.

JANSING: All right. Yesterday's attack was in broad daylight. Clearly they knew exactly where to hit and when to hit for maximum casualties. There was some real intelligence going on here.

JACOBS: Although it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a mess tent at high noon is going to be packed with troops and that's the place to blow it up. Not only that, security is probably very sieve-like considering the fact that we have so many Iraqis on post. A lot of information is getting from the camp outside.

JANSING: And we didn't get a lot of specifics today and the press was pressing both Donald Rumsfeld and General Myers, saying, look, what are you going to do about this? Was that mistake? Is there no plan with specifics? Yesterday both were saying what are you going to do about this? Is that a mistake? Is there no plan with specifics?

JACOBS: I like to think there is a plan but i think there is probably not much of a plan. I think the entire security apparatus and the focus on security is fragmented, it's locally focused and it's not particularly aggressive. And if you're not going to bring lots more troops in there to get very, very aggressive in the areas around camps and in the areas like in the Sunni Triangle where there are lots of bad guys to kill them and capture them which is what you need to do in order to separate them from their support, we're going to continue to have this problem.

JANSING: Right now in Mosul, and I'm talking what's going on this very minute, there's a curfew, helicopters overhead, five bridges have been closed, schools were immediately evacuated, the kids were told to stay home and the governor has apparently said anybody who is found out on the street who isn't supposed to be there is going to be shot. Is this the right approach?

JACOBS: Well, it raises the question why didn't we do that last Monday? If we knew the places to go, the neighborhoods to go to, the houses - the doors to kick in, the people to arrest and so on...

JANSING: There is three neighborhoods that we know of.

JACOBS: Well, you're supposed to do that all the time. If you're operating in an urban environment you've got to clear the area. You can't leave the urban area and let it fester like in Fallujah and then had to go back in, and then have to go back in again and again. You have to go in there, you have to stay in there, separate the insurgent from his base of support and you have to kill him and if you're not willing to expend the resources to do that you're going to take more casualties and you'll lose the war.

JANSING: For the people looking forward to January 30th and the president has said time and again, these elections are going to take place, an obvious question becomes: How do you protect 9,000 polling places if you can't protect one U.S. Army base?

JACOBS: Well, actually that's a heck of a lot easier. There are ways to do that. For example, you could stagger the polling so that in different areas of the country, you're polling at different times.

JANSING: So you're in favor of that plan?

JACOBS: Yeah, I think it's probably not a bad plan because it would be able to definitely spread your limited resources out over a very wide area. Don't forget, there are 30 million people or thereabouts in Iraq.

Another thing to do is to recognize up in the north more or less it's OK. Down in the south the Shi'a area the security's not bad, too. So there's a very definitive area where security is rotten and you could focus your attention on that, save those guys for last where it's going to be polled and put all your forces to bear in the Sunni Triangle at a time when all the other areas have voted and the violence has already been down to a minimum. No, that's thankfully one thing that might work, staggering and spreading your forces out in order to secure the areas in a staggered way.

JANSING: Maybe the tougher thing is to get to January 30.

JACOBS: Ah, that's much more difficult

JANSING: Colonel Jack Jacobs, as always, thank you for your time.

JACOBS: You're very welcome.

JANSING: As if the coalition doesn't already face enough challenges, there's this - on an obscure Islamic Internet chat room a how-to guide for would-be suicide bombers. The video shows terrorists how to make a vest and even offers help to insurgents in Iraq. Now there's no evidence that it was connected in any way to the attack in Mosul, but experts say that military commanders in Iraq should take notice. NBC's Lisa Myers with an exclusive report.


LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Posted in a militant Islamic chat room three days ago a stunningly detailed 26 minute video on how to make a sophisticated suicide bomb vest along with a demonstration of its kill range using a mannequin.

Title "The Explosive Belt for Martyrdom Operations," the video, obtained by NBC News demonstrates how to make an explosive vest that would be tough to detect, mostly from common, off the shelf materials.

RICK FRANCONA, NBC ANALYST: The most disturbing thing about this video is that it exists.

LISA MYERS: Rick Francona, a former military intelligence officer and now an NBC analyst, says this would be extremely valuable to any terrorist.

FRANCONA: Every military command ever in Iraq and Afghanistan should be aware of this film. This video shows someone how to more effectively attack American troops.

LISA MYERS: Experts believe the video was made by a Palestinian group.

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORIST ANALYST: The video was accompanied by a note saying it was there for the purposes of aiding the brothers, the fighting brothers in cities in central Iraq.

LISA MYERS (on camera): Specifically the note mentions wanting to help fighters in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul, though there is nothing to tie it to yesterday's attack. The person who posted the note and video on the Internet called himself "Terrorist 007." NBC News will not reveal all details but the video demonstrates each step of bombmaking.

(voice-over): Select a fabric and sew the vest. Mix explosives. Arrange shrapnel to kill victims in a large radius, attach a detonator. In one demonstration, a would-be bomber is told where to stand in a bus for maximum carnage.

TRANSLATOR: Notice the shrapnel has greatly penetrated all the seats.

LISA MYERS: Another demo shows that this vest causes lethal wounds 30 yards away.

KOHLMANN: I was startled by the amount of damage that such a small amount of explosive with the ball bearings could do.

LISA MYERS: A chilling reminder of the sophistication and cold-blooded determination of terrorists. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


JANSING: As President Bush looks ahead to his second term, new concerns that the violence in Iraq could derail any chance the White House has of passing its domestic agenda. And the miracle baby born our of the horrific crime in Northwest Missouri. We'll talk to a doctor about just how amazing it is that little Victoria Jo Stinnett is already home safe and sound.


JANSING: Social Security, the tax code, tort reform, all big items on the president's second term agenda, but will everything here on the home front take a backseat to Iraq? Stand by.


JANSING: Nothing puts the merry in Christmas like making a killing in the stock market. It's actually pretty common this time of year and there's even a name for it. A Santa rally. Our fourth story on the Countdown, a happy holiday on Wall Street. The market's undeniably jolly mood matched by news about the nation's economic health, the economy growing at a rate of 4 percent this summer, that's faster than expected. And there are those blue chips riding a wave for yet another day. The Dow was up more than 56 to close well above 10,800, it's the strongest finish in 3 ½ years.

Now, if you're George Bush that's the good news and it's undeniably good news at that. News that should make it easier to pass his aggressive domestic agenda planned for the second term. But the bad news is what about Iraq? Could the wave of attacks by insurgents get in the way of what the president hopes to accomplish here at home?

As we often do when questions like this arise, we now turn to John Harwood for guidance, national political editor of the "Wall Street Journal." Good evening, John.


JANSING: Let's go over the president's Christmas list, pretty good one. Social Security reform, rewriting the tax code, changing immigration laws. Could the mandate he got in November evaporate if the Iraqi elections don't go well in January?

HARWOOD: It could, Chris. In the best of circumstances, George W. Bush has a very, very ambitious agenda and these are not the best of circumstances. He's got this continuing violence in Iraq as illustrated by the attack in Mosul the other day, elections in late January and right after those elections the White House is going to be sending Congress a supplemental appropriations bill seeking another $80 billion to $100 billion for Iraq and that's something that I asked a senior White House aide the other day whether they expected a lot of controversy over that spending, trouble in Congress, and the answer was "let's see how those elections go. If they go smoothly, we'll do just fine. But if the elections show that Iraq remains a mess, that's going to potentially drain a lot of energy and money away from our priorities."

JANSING: You know, defenders of the president will say look, saying we can't push a foreign and domestic agenda simultaneously is a little like saying the administration can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Is that the question or is it about the potential for squandered political muscle here?

HARWOOD: Well, the administration may be able to walk and chew gum at the same time but it's pretty well-demonstrated that Congress has difficulty doing that and there's only so many initiatives - or so many debates that Congress can handle at one time. If the White House finds itself locked into a debate over whether troops need to come back, over whether we can afford an open-ended commitment to Iraq, that's simply a zero-sum tradeoff with the debates the White House wants to take place on how to reform the Social Security system and the tax code and tort reform and the other priorities you mentioned.

JANSING: Well, let's do a reality check, then. If it comes down to keeping Congress and the American people happy to keep the president's political capital in play, does the he have to look again at the growing discontent with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld?

HARWOOD: I don't think he's going to change on Don Rumsfeld. And in defense of the White House we have to acknowledge that the administration has not lost the support of the American people on this. If we ask, as we do from time to time in our "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll: Do you support the decision to take out Saddam Hussein? The majority still say yes. The American public is getting pessimistic about the ultimate outcome in Iraq but they are not demanding yet the troops be pulled out. We'll see what the circumstance is when we get to early February.

JANSING: They may not be demanding that the troops get pulled out, but 70 percent of them now say that they don't think that what we've achieved in Iraq was worth the cost. Are we getting awfully close to that point?

HARWOOD: Well, you never know when the American public is going to, in effect, have its support fall off the table and the administration is going to be facing renewed demands in Congress. But I do think there is a reservoir of support of the American people not to cut and run on Iraq. That doesn't mean all other action stops in Washington but the potential siphoning away of energy, the public's attention and money is a problem for the administration if things don't get better.

JANSING: And you can't deny this White House has defied expectations before. They've been in many tough jams and gotten out of them. John Harwood, "Wall Street Journal," always good talking to you, John.

HARWOOD: My pleasure.

JANSING: One more item on Countdown's political docket tonight. Seven weeks after the Election Day there's a new leader in the race for Washington governor and a very good chance now that that lead could keep growing wider. The state supreme court in that state has ruled that more than 700 recently discovered absentee ballots should be counted. They're all from King County, that's Seattle, which is heavily Democratic. Those votes will be counted tomorrow.

The ruling is a blow to Republican candidate Dino Rossi but in the end those extra ballots may not even matter. King County officials say that Democratic candidate Christine Gregoire is now head by 10 votes after the hand recount. Ten votes out of 2.9 million cast and the first time that Gregoire has led the race. With her change in status tonight, Ms. Gregoire held a news conference just minutes ago, but even though her status has changed, her stance that it is too soon to declare a winner in this race has not.

CHRISTINE GREGOIRE, GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, WASHINGTON: I leave the decision about conceding to Mr. Rossi. I've been called on many times to concede.

JANSING: The daily dance between the good guys and bad guys. There's no holiday break from the chase. "Oddball" headlines straight ahead. And the countess of the clink, Martha Stewart setting her sights on making lives better for her fellow inmates after she leaves prison. This is Countdown on MSNBC.


JANSING: We're back with the Countdown. Time once again to suspend the real news and suspend reality. Let's play "Oddball."

And we begin in Hollywood with CHiPs. That stands for California highway pursuit. Checking the oddball scoreboard for the years, it's cops 58, guys who think they can outrun the cops, zip. Even when weaving through traffic on a spiffy motor bike police trailed this suspected bike thief from the San Fernando Valley along the freeway, up a winding hill road into a Hollywood apartment block. They kicked down fences, they ran around the perimeter, the surrounded the building before finally bagging their man in the basement parking lot. We all know where he's heading now. The big house.

In Jacksonville, Florida, a different kind of crime caught on tape. A Christmas Grinch seen on a surveillance camera struggling to steal holiday lights. Ha, ha, little did he know the owner twist-ties every single light down.

Maybe he'd have better luck if he borrowed a squirrel in. Zoo workers in Cincinnati say the critters have been systematically unscrewing the Christmas lights and making off with the bulbs. The zoo, replacing about 75,000 bulbs a year.

And finally, this may or may not be a crime depending on your point of view, but since we discovered that at least two members of the Countdown staff, horrors, have never seen the Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life," we thought we'd shared a new Internet synopsis performed by bunny rabbits.


UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: Clarence, help George Bailey and you'll get your wings.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: I'm going exploring some day.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: I want to do something important. I'm leaving this crummy little town.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: But, George, if you don't stay they'll vote for Potter.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: Potter, you're nothing but a scurvy little spider.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: The money's gone, George.



UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: Is daddy in trouble?

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: I'm your guardian angel.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: I wish I was never born.


UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: Mother. Mary, it's me. I want to live again.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: Zuzu's (ph) petals.


UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: To my brother George, the richest man in town.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: Well a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.

UNIDENTIFIED RABBIT: That a boy, Clarence.


JANSING: Cliff Notes by rabbits. From "It's a Wonderful Life" to the miracle of life. Miracle babies making headlines this week. How the smallest baby ever survived and new details in the killer Caesarean case.

Bernard Kerik lost his job at homeland security, now he has resigned his current day job. In stepping down he also issued another very public apology. Those stories ahead.

Now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Hesmawi Hassan (ph), identified as the cad who sent a text message to his bride jilting her at the altar, turns out he plays for the state team in Malaysia. Not for long, buddy. His boss says Hassan's cold-blooded behavior when he got cold feet definitely warranted a red card. He's fired. Where's the Donald when you need him?

Number two, the folks over at Web site, they mailed a unique present to dozens of people in New York City this week. An O'Reilly loofah neatly packet in a plastic bag with the slogan, "Perfect for your Caribbean shower fantasy. You'll have to find your own falafel.

And number one. Six sexy robbers in Brazil. They held up a drug store in Rio de Janeiro, taking $7,000 cash and more than 100 boxes of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, enough anti impotence drugs for each robber to enjoy a two-month sex marathon each. But a warning for would-be Lotharios, it's - Dad, you listening? Put it on mute right now. If the stickup lasts more than four hours call your doctor immediately.


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

Maybe miracles are hard to believe in until they happen to you. Our No. 3 story on the Countdown tonight, the people who fight to save lives every day, our nation's doctors, believe in miracles. And the amazing stories of babies arriving before their time have made believers of their families.

Now, first, 74 percent of doctors said they believe in miracles. They believe they've happened in the past. This is a poll conducted this week:

73 percent of those polled believe miracles still happen today. Many have seen recoveries that their medical training cannot explain, according to interviews conducted with the polled; 67 percent even encourage their patients to pray.

The doctors' religious beliefs also contribute to the poll's findings, since 72 percent believe religion is important and 58 percent attend some kind of service at least once a month.

Well, a miracle is what Zeb Stinnett called his baby girl just five days ago. Victoria Jo Stinnett was cut from the womb after her mother was strangled to death last Thursday. Authorities tracked down the suspect, Lisa Montgomery, the following day and found the baby in remarkably good condition. After a weekend stay at a Topeka hospital, Victoria Jo Stinnett was released to her father.

Authorities say Ms. Montgomery confessed to the crime. And details emerged yesterday that she may have spent months preparing, having met the victim at a dog show. But maybe the most striking aspect of this case is the baby's survival.

Joining us now to explain how this could have happened is Dr. Geeta Sharma, who specializes in high-risk obstetrics at Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. Sharma, good evening.


JANSING: Now, this is a disturbing and delicate issue, so we want to be careful here.

But I would you to start, if you can, by telling us how it could possibly be that the suspect in this case, who apparently has no medical training, managed to not just get this baby out, but to keep it alive.

SHARMA: Well, the pregnant uterus takes up most of the space in the abdomen. And I imagine that, as - she entered the uterus upon entering into the abdomen almost immediately, and luckily the baby was not cut or injured in any way. Also, the fact that the pregnancy had - was far along really increased her chances of survival.

JANSING: Let's focus a bit on the hours, then, immediately after. What complications could this child have faced in the first hour after it was cut away from the mom?

SHARMA: Well, babies that do not go through the birth canal can have a temporary episode where they have difficulty with their breathing. They usually do perk up, though. And also, depending on if this baby was in any stress while her mother was being attacked, it could have had implications with affecting her heart rate as well.

JANSING: I, again, don't want to make light of this, but there were reports suggesting that the suspect's training with breeding dogs may have given her some help with handling a human baby in such an early condition. Do you think there's anything to that?

SHARMA: Well, people aren't dogs. But I have heard stories of pet owners administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to their pets in time of need. And the basic CPR aspects probably could have helped in a situation like this if it was needed.

JANSING: Well, Dr. Sharma, many thanks. We'd like you to stand by, because we're going to be coming back to you shortly.

Before we leave the Lisa Montgomery case, we have some updates for you. The suspect's former husband, Carl Bowman, had filed for custody of two of their four children just six days before Lisa Montgomery allegedly strangled Bobbie Jo Stinnett for her baby.

And "The New York Post" reports that Ms. Montgomery had undergone a tubaligation after the last child she had with Mr. Bowman more than a decade ago. And, finally, a Bedford, Iowa, woman may have been approached by Lisa Montgomery just hours before Bobbie Jo Stinnett's murder. Now, according to "The Maryville Forum," the local newspaper, Deann Hensley (ph) says she was holding her 6-month-old daughter at a Maryville Wal-Mart when a woman approached and asked if she could hold her baby for a while.

Surveillance footage reportedly shows Lisa Montgomery at that store during the time in question.

For a Chicago woman, September 19 was the time for miracles. That's when her twins were born more than four months prematurely. One of them became the world's smallest surviving baby, weighing less than a can of soda, 8.6 ounces.

With more on those little angels, correspondent Kevin Tibbles.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the season known for joy, a tiny bundle of it, Rumaisa Rahman, makes her debut. Born last September at just 8.6 ounces, about the size of a cell phone, Rumaisa proudly holds the title of the world's smallest baby. She and her twin sister, Hiba, were delivered by C-section at Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago after their mother developed preeclampsia, a dangerous form of high blood pressure, during her 25th week of pregnancy.

MAHAJABEEN SHAIK, MOTHER: I was so amazed holding like this tiny baby. It's like, oh, my God, I couldn't imagine.

MOHAMMED ABDUL RAHMAN, FATHER: I was very nervous when I saw the babies first, because they were too tiny.

TIBBLES: Rumaisa now weighs two pounds, 12 ounces. Her sister weighs 5 pounds, 3 ounces. Dr. Jonathan Muraskas has been caring for both babies since their birth.

DR. JONATHAN MURASKAS, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: They're maintaining their temperatures. They don't need an incubator.

TIBBLES: Rumaisa's parents recently immigrated to the United States from India. Her name means white as milk in their native tough. Sister Hiba name means gift from God.

RAHMAN: I'm thankful to Allah that everything went fine.

TIBBLES: Doctors say Hiba may be home by Christmas. Rumaisa will remain hospitalized until after New Year's. The prognosis for both girls is excellent. For the Rahman family, an amazing world record and a holiday homecoming of big blessings in very tiny packages.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


JANSING: Rejoining us now, Dr. Geeta Sharma.

Dr. Sharma, one of these babies, as we know, set a record for its size. Both babies, of course, were 14 weeks premature. Now, when you have a normal gestation of 40 weeks, what would you say is usually the danger line where premature babies are really at great risk?

SHARMA: Well, our high-risk group at Columbia does work very closely with our excellent pediatric colleagues. And it's important that we work together, since we have to individualize the risks in certain situations.

But, generally speaking, the further along the pregnancy, the better the chances are for the baby. And...

JANSING: Well, what are the complications that might face a baby 14 weeks premature? Because, I'm telling you, you look at these pictures - and, granted it's three months into this - but they look pretty healthy.

SHARMA: Right.

Well, babies that are born between 24 to 28 weeks are really at the greatest risks. And babies that are born prematurely do have risks, such as cerebral palsy. They may also have problems with their vision, with their hearing. They may also have developmental delays and mental and/or physical difficulties.

JANSING: So there are very specific things that their doctors will tell them to watch out for and that the doctors will look for.

SHARMA: Right. Exactly.

JANSING: We've come so far with medical advances, but what do you think the status is now of science vs. Mother Nature? Because everyone looks at these babies and says, yes, they're beautiful, but I think they're just astonished at the possibility that an 8.6-ounce child could survive.

SHARMA: Absolutely.

Though this has a nice ending and hopefully these babies will continue to thrive and do well, we have to approach this case with a lot of caution, since it does seem to give a lot of hope to women. And that's important, but we also don't want to give false hope. Unfortunately, the rate of prematurity hasn't changed in the U.S. for the past 10 years.

There are some things that we can do. We do try and give medications to stop preterm labor. We do try and give mediations to help premature babies be more mature at birth.

JANSING: Dr. Geeta Sharma with Columbia University Medical Center, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

SHARMA: Thank you.

JANSING: Martha Stewart may not have her show right now to use as a platform, but that's not stopping her from sending a holiday message to all Americans from the big house. Remember the ladies of Camp Cupcake.

And it may be TV's hottest new show, but one of the stars of "Desperate Housewives" is crying poverty. She claims to be the poorest actress in television.


JANSING: Even those of us who have outgrown a visit from Santa have a holiday wish list, some of us asking for iPods, other dreaming of poker sets. But what do you ask for if you're a woman who used to have it all? Our second story on the Countdown, what about Martha?

Well, despite her current predicament, Martha Stewart is still thinking of others this Christmas, asking the rest of us not to forget her about less fortunate cell mates.

More on that.


JANSING: Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, Martha Stewart.

The most famous prisoner in the history of Alderson federal prison has been keeping busy, posting an open letter on her Web site thanking her many fans for their support and encouragement and asking them to spread the Camp Cupcake Christmas love - quote - "I beseech you all to think about these women, to encourage the American people to ask for reforms. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison, where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life out there, where each person will ultimately find herself, many with no skills and no preparation for living."

Well, if anybody's an expert on skills and preparation for living, it is Martha. She's also the most overqualified prisoner at Camp Cupcake ever to complain about the food.

Here to weigh in on America's favorite federal convict, tonight, also uniquely qualified, our friend Harvey Levin, the host and executive producer of "Celebrity Justice."

Welcome back, Harvey.


JANSING: OK, I want to bring attention to another phrase in Martha's letter. And I have to say, we love her here on the Countdown.

But she says that prison is not the best place - quote - "for nonviolent first-time offenders." Is that just another way of saying, what about me? I don't belong here?

LEVIN: Oh, you know what? I think just the opposite.

I think what she's - you know what? Martha Stewart, the one thing she lacked in terms of her persona was compassion. And she's building compassion while she's in prison. That's really what's going on there. This woman is going to have a huge television show next fall. Mark Burnett is guiding this and creating this new persona. She will be bigger than ever. And this is a building block along the way to create compassion.

JANSING: Now, the argument could be made that maybe she should try to put as much distance between herself and the word prison as possible. You don't buy that?

LEVIN: I think this is going to become her calling card, Chris.

Look, Martha Stewart...

JANSING: Ex-con Martha Stewart? CEO to ex-con?


LEVIN: Let me tell you why.

There are so many people who watch television who have to overcome adversity. And nobody ever thought of Martha Stewart as somebody who had to do that. She was always given things. Now Martha Stewart has to overcome adversity and she will. And she will get a new show. And she will be more relatable.

I think Martha Stewart has given the ultimate you-know-what to the prosecutors who nailed here her, because she's telling them, look, thanks a lot. I'm going to come back bigger than ever now. I really believe that.

JANSING: An underdog for the 21st century.

LEVIN: Absolutely.

JANSING: All right, let's not forget about the food, because Martha's all about the food. And she's complaining about the food on her Web site.

Do you think that's the other half of her crusade after life in the big house?

LEVIN: Well, I'm guessing we're going to find a microwave cookbook within the next year.


JANSING: Say it isn't so. If Martha goes microwave, I don't know.

LEVIN: No, she's already said that...


JANSING: California is going to fall into the ocean if that happens.


LEVIN: I'm telling you, no, they really - they're talking about this. They're talking about that she's somehow sneaking food in and using the microwave. And she's going to talk about all of these tips. All of her prison experiences will seep into this new television show.


JANSING: Not the sneaking food into prison part. Just using the microwave.

LEVIN: Well, not the sneaking food part, just the microwaving part.


JANSING: All right. All right.

Since you're with "Celebrity Justice," let's take a moment or two to talk about the justice part of today's story. At the bottom of her open letter, Martha attached a link to an appeal brief that her lawyers actually filed in court today. Besides potentially I guess getting her out of the remaining months of her sentence, although it's hard to believe it would move that quickly, what would a victory on her appeal buy her? Even more sympathy?


LEVIN: No. I mean, a victory on appeal would mean that she had to serve time for a crime she didn't commit. Then she would become the ultimate victim. I don't think that is going to happen. I don't think this appeal will work. But if it does work, Martha Stewart becomes a martyr. Martyr Stewart.


JANSING: Look at who has got the alliteration going tonight.


JANSING: You think, though, bottom line, whether she wins the appeal or not, she's going to be bigger than she was ever before? I mean, she was everywhere.


LEVIN: Chris, I have covered scores and scores and scores of celebrity cases. I have never seen anybody turn such a negative into a positive. I really think this woman will reshape her image. And her TV show was not a huge hit before. I think it will be next time.

JANSING: Harvey Levin of "Celebrity Justice," come back. We're going to replay this. We're going to see if your predictions come true.

LEVIN: OK. You got it.

JANSING: Thanks.

Now, if we were making a list and checking it twice, just like Santa does, Martha Stewart would of course score high tonight, if only for her spirit of generosity. But in the nightly roundup of celebrity news that we keep calling "Keeping Tabs," Nicolette Sheridan, maybe not so much.

We can certainly check off naughty. The infamous "Monday Night Football" towel drop guarantees her that. But on nice, the verdict is still out. The "Desperate Housewives" co-star is complaining to "Access Hollywood" that ABC executives haven't shown their appreciation by giving her a Porsche.

To quote Nicolette: "I heard the cast of 'Friends' got cars when they had such amazing ratings, but I got flowers. I'm still waiting for the Porsche." Is it Porsche or Porsch-a? I can never remember. You know whether car is. Aren't we all, Nicolette? Aren't we all? Heck, I'd take a Hyundai.

Tom Brokaw scoring high on a completely different list, the recently departed anchor of "NBC Nightly News" still coming out on top with viewers as the anchor with the best personality. Say that about a blind date, you're in for a long date night, but, man, we love Tom. The market research firm that conducted the survey says the honor is a flattering one, that viewers prefer his personality to all others. ABC's Peter Jennings comes in second.

Now, Brokaw should enjoy his crown. We here at the Countdown find enjoyment in anther anchorman's achievement, our own very Keith Olbermann entering the record books, you'll remember this year, as America's sexiest news anchor. The ad campaign that helped get him there, one of Countdown's favorite things of 2004.


OLBERMANN: Hello. I'm Keith Olbermann and I did not approve this message.

NARRATOR: This year, America finds itself at a crossroads. A decision must be made and every vote could mean the difference. We're not talking about some meaningless presidential election. It's "Playgirl" magazine's hunkiest anchorman contest. And Keith Olbermann needs your help. Without your votes, "Playgirl" magazine may, by default, name this guy or even this guy the sexiest anchorman.

But you know who is sexy and counts down from five every night? This guy, Keith Olbermann. It's a thinking person's thinking person, a Clark Kent with attitude. Sean Hannity has a face only Ed Gillespie could love.

Anderson who? America has a choice. Choose sexy. Choose Olbermann,

Keith Olbermann. His middle name is sexy. Won't you please vote now? Go

to Countdown. MSNBC. com.

Keith's middle name is not really sexy. Hannity's middle name is Francis (ph) and that's not sexy either.

Paid for by the Committee to Beat Andy Rooney.


JANSING: Now, that was a positive ad. Wait until you see the negative campaign ad. You can see that and a lot more of America's sexiest anchorman when Keith brings us Countdown's favor things of 2004. Once at 8:00 p.m. Eastern is never enough, so we show it again at midnight this Christmas Eve on MSNBC.

Bernard Kerik goes before the press yet again today and steps down from another position and issues another apology. We all know what that means. It's time for an induction ceremony into the Countdown Apology Hall of Fame.


JANSING: Sorry seems to be the hardest word, especially when you're apologizing to so many people.

Our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, Bernard Kerik apologizes again, but not before resigning from Giuliani Partners, the former mayor's consulting firm. Kerik's days as President Bush's nominee for homeland security chief were dwarfed by the days following his withdrawal. Nanny trouble gave way to allegations of doing business with mob associate, which cascaded into almost astonishing reports of simultaneous extramarital affairs, even a love nest overlooking ground zero.

Now Kerik has managed to exit stage left twice. In a statement this afternoon, Kerik said he left Giuliani Partners effective immediately because events surrounding him had become too much of a distraction. He said he looked forward to working on his second book and going back to the gym. And, yes, there was the apology coming after a denial of any wrongdoing.


BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: The events surrounding my withdrawal have become an unfair and unnecessary distraction to the firm and most importantly to the work they do at the firm. I am confident that I will be vindicated from any allegation of wrongdoing.

Before I conclude, I want to apologize to my family and friends, to the president, President Bush, Mayor Giuliani.


JANSING: Today was not Kerik's first mea culpa. He apologized to President Bush after withdrawing the nomination 11 days ago. What all this means in Countdown parlance, of course, is that Kerik is now destined to join our Apology Hall of Fame, class of 2004.



ASHLEE SIMPSON, MUSICIAN: I feel so bad. My band started playing the wrong song. I didn't know what to do, so I thought I would do a hoedown. I'm sorry.


TERRELL OWENS, NFL PLAYER: Personally, I didn't think it would have offended anyone.


OWENS: Oh, hell.


OWENS: If it did, you know, we'll apologize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, so, so sorry that...

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.

KERIK: I apologize to anybody that's been brought into this unnecessarily.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it.

Also, I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.

JANET JACKSON, MUSICIAN: Unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled, including even my wife.

KOBE BRYANT, NBA PLAYER: I'm so sorry. I love my wife so much.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: In order to be a racist, you have to feel superior. I don't feel superior to you at all. I don't believe any man or any woman is superior to any other...

ED GORDON, HOST: Did you always hold that view?

LOTT: I think I did.


TONYA HARDING, OLYMPIC SKATER: I feel really bad for Nancy, and I feel really lucky that it wasn't me.


JAY LENO, HOST: What the hell were you thinking?


HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: I think you know in life pretty much what's a good to do and what is a bad thing. And I did a bad thing. And there you have it.



STEVE IRWIN, CROCODILE HUNTER: Sweetheart, who do you want to be when you grow up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just like my daddy.


IRWIN: Poor little thing.

LAUER: Let me jump in here.

LAUER: You know what? I'm sorry, Matt.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes, that I have behaved badly sometimes. For those people that I have offended, I want to say to them, I'm deeply sorry about that. And I apologize.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No words in my heart can possibly express the terrible pain and suffering.

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong. They were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interests of the nation.

JIMMY SWAGGART, TELEVANGELIST: Please forgive me. I have sinned against you, my lord. And I would ask that your precious blood...


JANSING: Apology Hall of Fame. You guessed it. It's in Countdown's favorite things 2004 as well.

Well, that's going to do it. I know you're sorry. That's it for tonight. But I'll be back here tomorrow. Keith Olbermann remains on vacation.

I'll see you then.