'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 7
Guest: Jim Bunning, Dave Foley
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The CIA papers. What the intelligence agencies head man in Baghdad thinks about the future of Iraq. It is not pretty. But is it a legitimate assessment, or another shot in the small war between the agency and the administration?
The baseball steroid war. It is not over. The owners and players still fighting over harsher penalties. We'll be joined by the only United States senator ever to pitch a no-hitter in each league, Jim Bunning of Kentucky.
The Chicago Fire Department, roundly criticized after last year's high rise fire there, wildly applauded after last night's high rise fire there.
And in these times, when it could be difficult for Americans traveling abroad, what can you do to make things easier? Pretend you're a Canadian. Tonight, a how-to kit, an advice from a real-life Canadian, actor and comedian Dave Foley.
All that and more now on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. Sixty-three years ago today, what struck America more than just the obvious horror of Pearl Harbor and the American war effort triggered by it, there also came the realization that a new kind of intelligence community needed to be created, to scan what seemed to be an entirely new world. Thus the day of infamy begat the OSS, and the OSS begat the CIA.
Our fifth story on THE Countdown tonight, fitting than that on another December 7th, that America should finally get around to empowering yet another new kind of intelligence community needed to scan what seems to be another entirely new world.
The Intelligence Reform Act, also known as the 9/11 bill, which will create a national intelligence director, a kind of super-concierge of intelligence, was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this evening after endless battles, almost all of them within the Republican Party. The compromise-laden bill got through by 336 votes, to 75 against. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says it will be tomorrow before his group votes on it, but that it also should be a cakewalk there.
It does not necessarily signal the twilight of the CIA, but against the CIA's diminished autonomy and the image of a series of veteran agency intelligence men walking out the door amid accusations of a political purge, comes news of a serious disconnect between the Bush administration and the agency over what's really happening on the ground in Iraq.
A classified cable, written by the chief of the CIA Baghdad station, and obtained by "The New York Times," presents a bleak picture of Iraq's future.
It warns that the security situation will get worse, marred by sectarian and insurgent violence. From the - additionally against the U.S., unless the Iraqi government starts asserting some serious authority. His assessment was echoed by visiting senior adviser to the CIA's new leader, Porter Goss.
The dual appraisals came on the heels of the U.S. assault on Fallujah, which the U.S. military classified as a significant victory against the insurgents. They are a little stronger, a little bleaker, these assessments are, than the official national intelligence estimate, sent to the White House in August, but not by that much.
But a senior administration figure today presented a much rosier view of American involvement in Iraq, one surprisingly similar to that voiced by Senator John Kerry during the presidential campaign, dismissed at that time as overly optimistic.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, like Kerry, saying he's hoping to see the last American troops out of Iraq by the winter of 2008, 2009. When asked whether American troops will be out of that country by the end of his second four-year tenure, Mr. Rumsfeld first said he expected that to happen, then he quickly caught himself and steered the conversation around to the president's plans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I've avoided for four years setting arbitrary deadlines, because in many cases it's not knowable. I would certainly expect that to be the case, hope that to be the case, but the answer to your question is not that. The answer to the question is that the president has said they will stay as long as they're needed and not a day longer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining us now to help draw at least the outline of the real situation in Iraq, MSNBC military analyst, General Wayne Downing. General, thanks for your time tonight.
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Thanks, Keith. Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: Let's start with the personal equation. Mr. Rumsfeld hopes for, General Anthony Zinni said it will take at least five years to get the Iraqi security forces up to speed. Other analysts, like General McCaffrey, have suggested 10 is closer to the figure. How long do you think we will be in Iraq?
DOWNING: Well, Keith, I mean, I certainly don't think that it's going to be any less than five years. I don't know if it'll be as long as 10, but - as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, you know, it's hard to say what that's going to be, because we're going to have to see what the conditions are. I mean, that's what's going to drive us. Can we get the Iraqi security forces up and trained in sufficient numbers that they can take this thing over? When that happens, we'll back them up for a while, and then we'll get out.
OLBERMANN: To the leaked CIA assessment today, is it a correct assessment of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, or could indeed it be a bunch of unhappy spies leaking bad news to strike back at what they may see as political inference in the agency from the administration?
DOWNING: Well, Keith, you know, obviously, I have not seen any of these documents. I've just read the press accounts also. But a lot of this just depends upon the interpretation. You know, what's in this and how do you interpret it? I mean, the things that I've heard is that Mr. Costy, when he came back, the - that senior official, more or less agreed with this assessment. Things are very, very challenging, but there are some bright spots over there.
Certainly this CIA memorandum, this after-action report, end of tour report, again, depending on how you interpret it, may not be quite as bad as say "The New York Times" has actually said.
I think one of the things we've got to remember here, Keith, is that the CIA is very restricted in what they can do over in Iraq, and they really must rely on the people that are really out there and among this insurgency, and that's the U.S. military, that's the contractors who were supporting all of our efforts over there, and that's the business people. I mean, these are the people who know what's going on in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: While he was visiting Washington this week, the interim Iraqi president, Mr. Yawar, said about the insurgency, and let me read you the quote: "There is unfairness by calling them Sunni insurgents. These are not Sunnis." Is that part of the problem right there, we've getting a picture of what's actually going on in Iraq that even the government there will not address certain sensitive questions, like whether or not the insurgency is largely made up of Sunnis?
DOWNING: Well, I'll tell you, Keith, I think the insurgency is made up primarily of Sunnis. Some numbers, 75 to 90 percent are probably Sunnis. You do have a few Shia factions, and then of course, you've got this wild card foreign jihadists coming in from other countries, primarily coming through Syria to get into Iraq, but they probably are no greater than 10 percent of this insurgency. I think certainly the U.S. forces and the intelligence service know who these insurgents are and are trying to go after them.
OLBERMANN: Let's hope someone does. General Wayne Downing. As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate it.
DOWNING: OK. Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Other verbal friendly fire about Iraq for the Bush administration tonight. The presidents of Russia and Pakistan, reminding everybody what's meant by that old adage, "with friends like these..."
In Russia, the man once affectionately nicknamed Pooty-Poot by President Bush once again slammed the U.S. position on Iraq, this time right in front of that country's interim leader.
In a joint news conference with Ayad Allawi earlier today, Vladimir Putin knocked the January 30th election date, saying, quote, "I honestly say that I cannot imagine how elections can be organized under a full occupation of the country by foreign troops."
As to President Musharraf of Pakistan. Fresh off a visit to the White House over the weekend, he was asked in England by the BBC if the world was less safe since the Iraq war. "Absolutely," he said, noting that the conflict had only increased "the breeding grounds of extremism and terrorism," unquote.
In this country, after being asked whether or not it was a mistake to invade Iraq, he had said, quote, "with hindsight, yes. We have landed ourselves in more trouble." Shortly after that interview, a Pakistani government official tried to do some damage control, explaining that Musharraf did not mean to categorically assert that President Bush had made a mistake by invading Iraq and there has not yet been response from the White House.
In Afghanistan, nothing but praise for U.S. tactics in that country, at least publicly, as Hamid Karzai was officially inaugurated overnight our time as the country's new president. Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were both on hand to witness the ceremony. The vice president then granting our White House correspondent David Gregory this exclusive interview.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His day began with breakfast alongside the troops, and culminated with the inauguration ceremony for Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, who is now charged with leading this war-torn country into a future free of ethnic warfare and Islamic radicalism.
NBC News joined the vice president for this whirlwind, 53-hour trip to Afghanistan. And at Baghram, Mr. Cheney sat with us for an exclusive interview.
(on camera): This is the dawn of a new era in Afghanistan, to be sure. But security is still a huge problem in this country.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're committed to doing whatever we have to do in order to make certain that the Afghan people succeed in building a free society.
GREGORY: Is it realistic in the near term, or even the medium term for the United States to relinquish its role as the primary stick in this part of the world, in Afghanistan?
CHENEY: I don't think of it in terms of a calendar. You set an artificial deadline or date. It's more important to about it in terms of when is the mission is complete? And we'll stay as long as it takes for us to complete the mission. Think about where we've come from. You've had thousands of terrorists. One estimate, 20,000 terrorists in the late nineties trained in the training camps in Afghanistan. You've had safe haven for Osama bin Laden and all of his top people.
GREGORY: What role do you think Osama bin Laden plays within al Qaeda right now?
CHENEY: It's difficult to say. This is an ongoing conflict and it's also important to keep in mind, too, if we get Osama bin Laden tomorrow, the war is not over.
GREGORY: I'd like to ask you if I could about Iraq which has its own date in history next month. Critics are saying that one of the reason why there is a lack of stability now is because this administration has consistently underestimated the strength of the insurgency, not true?
CHENEY: Not true. If you look at the provinces in Iraq, you've got three provinces where there are serious problems in terms of the security situation. Most of the rest of the country is in relatively good shape. But holding those elections is crucial. You do not want to reward the insurgents or the terrorists by letting them delay the elections. That's called terrorists win.
GREGORY: They delayed them here the Afghanistan.
CHENEY: Not under those situations. We got the job done in Afghanistan. I think the key in Iraq is for us to go forward. Who would have said three years ago here in Afghanistan with the situation that existed at the time that we're going to be able to achieve all we've achieved. It's never been done in 5,000 years. Right we got it done. And we'll get it done in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: David Gregory with the vice president. From the war on terror to war over steroids in baseball, the owners and players will talk about new rules but should Congress talked loudest? Jim Bunning, a member of two very exclusive clubs, the Baseball Hall of Fame and the U.S. Senate will be my guest.
And high praise for Chicago's firefighters. A downtown office fire ending with just injuries after a new post-9/11 evacuation plan is put to a test. This is Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: As ever in their history baseball owners and players are disagreeing with one another. Not about money, but tougher testing and punishment for steroid use. The head of the players' union is suggesting now a quick agreement with the owners is possible. His second in command has gotten into a spitting contest with management. Our fourth story in the Countdown, baseball and steroids day six.
In a moment the unique perspective of the only man to have won 100 games in the American League, have won 100 in the National League and have won two terms in the Senate. First, under legislation threatened by Arizona Senator John McCain, the owners and players had put out feelers to each other about a new steroid policy. Don Fier (ph) executive director of the player's association says during its first full day of meetings in Phoenix today, the players ' group agreed to discuss tougher steroid rules with owners' representatives as early as next week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD FEHR, THE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION: Public and fans are always among the players' highest concerns but we have to negotiate an appropriate agreement and I think we will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But clearly not everybody believes that. The owners' chief commissioner Bud Selig is still willing the threat of legislative action as a cudgel against the players. Selig issuing a statement reading in part, "if we cannot resolve this issue privately, I gladly will accept whatever help is offered by Senator McCain to achieve our ultimate goal."
Chief operating officer Jean Ozer (ph) of the union responded to that by saying the realities between a press release and conviction can sometimes be a wide one to which the owners labor chief Rob Manfred (ph) responded himself and gave a hint that the players and the owners are hardly bipartisan here. Not yet anyway. Says Manfred, quote, "it is wholly inappropriate for Ozer who recently compared steroid use to cigarette smoking to question the commissioner's commitment to the elimination of performance-enhancing substances."
There's also for the first time, a statement providing the reaction from one of the players implicated in the latest steroid scandal. The agent for Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees whose admissions of steroid and human growth hormone use to a San Francisco grand jury last year were revealed publicly last week has spoken.
"Jason Giambi is an extremely dedicated athlete and a caring and loyal teammate. Jason loves the game of baseball, the Yankees and the extraordinary New York Yankees fans. He is determined, focused and working hard to return to form in 2005 and help the Yankees get back to the World Series."
The Yankees by the way may be thinking that Giambi can best help them achieve that goal by getting lost. The "New York Daily News" reports the team is still exploring means out from under all or part of the $82 million they still contractually owe Giambi based on his admission of steroid use. If John McCain does indeed wind up introducing baseball legislation, the Senate can call one of its own as an expert witness. It's 40 years since Jim Bunning pitched the first perfect game in the National League since 1880. Five weeks since he was re-elected to the U.S. Senate by the people of Kentucky. He joins us from Washington. Should the Senate and the House go in and rewrite the steroid rules for baseball and its players? Is this matter that important?
SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: I think so only if in fact the players and owners can't get together on their own. I would prefer a private settlement but if they cannot do it on their own, I would suggest if in fact it is proven that the players and they have admitted some of them have admitted to using steroids that they can't get an agreement, then I think probably legislation is needed.
OLBERMANN: If you get that alternative thing that we've seen so often that they agree on something and in this case steroid testing and punishment but through that negotiation process the whole thing is watered down, and the penalties are not as severe, is there a chance that there could still be legislation even if the owners and players agree?
BUNNING: That's absolutely possible. But you know the commissioner of baseball has within the constitution of baseball clause, it says Commissioner Selig has the power to use the best interest of the game clause to do what's necessary to protect the integrity of the game. Now I know that's excluded from the collective bargained agreements, but my goodness, what a statement he could make if he came out and said this is unacceptable. The game's credibility is at stake now we have to do X, Y, and Z.
OLBERMANN: Senator, the baseball union is as strong as any in America and there's a certain irony in that. Because when it began to stand on its own two feet in the 1960's, one of the big moments was the 1967 pension deal, which was negotiated by about a dozen player including pitcher with the Phillies named Jim Bunning.
BUNNING: That's correct.
OLBERMANN: You've heard the Unions remarks about the possibility of imposing harsher penalties on steroid users and the prospects of negotiating, but negotiating it from a point of view of serving its members.
Is this union that you essentially helped to create really helping its members now or is it hurting them?
BUNNING: Well, I think it's hurting them. I think they do not realize that the integrity of the game is being threatened. Baseball is America's game and the way the fans look at baseball is over generations. You compare what Babe Ruth did to what Bobby Bonds did or to what Barry Bonds did. Or you compare to what Hank Aaron did to what Barry Bonds. And it's a game of many years. And I sincerely believe when that's threatened, then my gosh, you have to do whatever is necessary.
OLBERMANN: Obviously steroids have been a problem in a lot of problems for decades. The Ben Johnson Olympic incident was 1988, that's 16-years-ago. That this event seemed to have touch a sort of public nerve.
Seems to owe it's connection to one name you just mentioned, Barry Bonds. Speak to me as senator and as a member of the baseball hall of fame.
What happens to Barry Bonds?
What should happen to him now especially as he is closing in on the all-time home run record?
BUNNING: Well, what should happened to him, is he ought to get a chance to prove his innocence or guilt, one or the other. He has to be able to be proven guilty of use of illegal steroids. And if that's a fact, when he started the use of them. And all of those things that he has done then, if he has proven to have used them, all of the things he's done since that time come into question. And that would, you know, he was a great, great player without using steroids. But I've never seen a player get better from age 31 to age 41 in my life, and Barry Bonds has done just that.
OLBERMANN: Indeed he has. Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky and of the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers for a while even, our great thanks for your insight and you time tonight senator.
BUNNING: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Good night to you.
Tis the season for nativity scene. But one such display is causing far more outrage than any other. To say nothing of the involuntary laughter. Do those people look familiar to you. "Oddball" is next.
And got the itch to travel to Paris, but you're not feeling exactly welcomed in today political climate?
One company has an answer, pretend that you're Canadian.
OLBERMANN: We're back and once again, it is that time of the show when we pause the Countdown for a brief segment of weird and cool video - well, the video tonight not that cool, it's actually a little disturbing. And if it's dinner-time where you are, consider yourself warned.
Let's cautiously play "Oddball."
We begin somewhere between level one and level three of the R and R Limited Parking Garage in Orlando, Florida. Security camera has been installed in the elevator there, because passengers have begun to complain about a foul odor. Enter Orange County sheriff deputy, Carl Brown. Oh, boy, we hoped it wouldn't come to this. Deputy Brown could be seen and even heard relieving himself in the elevator. Then realizing the brand-new camera has been installed, he decides he needs to fiddle with it. Hello - the camera, that is. But it's too late, his dirty deed has been recorded. When confronted with the evidence, the deputy admitted to using the elevator on at least five previous occasions and not just going up and down, claiming each time was an emergency that could not have waited 15 seconds. He's been fired by the sheriff's department, in the meantime you should take the stairs maybe.
Well, then. Anybody want to get some chocolate? It's the world's largest chocolate nativity scene in Naples, in Italy. It's a big month for nativity scenes for some reason. More than 30 pastry chefs say they worked around the clock for weeks to build the 20 by 30 foot scene, complete with over 100 detailed chocolate figurines. Officials say they are considering putting it on display in a public square where passers-by would be allowed to eat one hunk at a time. Seriously, the chocolate wisemen, they melt in your mouth, not in your hands. Mmm, sacralisous.
Just in case you didn't find that offensive, we go to another nativity scene at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London. Not sure what all the fuss is about, here it's simply depicts your traditional Christmas starring Posh Spice and David Beckham as Mary and Joseph, right there. President Bush and Tony Blair as wise men, and Hugh Grant and Samuel L. Jackson as the shepherds. Well maybe Mr. nine millimeter is the shepherd. The wax setup will be on display throughout the holiday season, and as in Naples, customers are invited to eat as much as they want.
It's all over but the counting, that is the recounting. It's official, Ohio will do a new vote tally and one third party candidate say it's much bigger than just looking for little glitches.
And the French company that makes the furniture for the Queen Mary says overweight passengers are crushing their chairs - overweight American passengers. Those stories ahead.
Now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
No. 3, Dieter. Dieter is one of those not too bright shock jocks you here on desperate radio stations every morning, this one is in Cleveland. Well, he brightened briefly on the air the other morning, accepting a listeners dare to stick his tongue inside a bug zapper while it was plugged in. The truly shocked jock was rendered unconscious and has severe oral burns and he's on pain killers and antibiotics. And he lives at home with his mom and dad, and his dad is an electrician.
No. 2, Sonya Thomas. She's the 105 37-year-old woman who wins all those eating competitions. Her latest 89 meat-balls in 12 minutes, after which, and you have to be 40 or older to get this joke, she reported said, I can't believe I ate the whole thing.
And No. 1, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, this is a polygamous doomsday sect. Well, if you a doomsday sect, why not polygamy first off. Anyway, convinced that society is about to collapse, the 9,000 members all borrowed as much money as they could at high interest rates over a period of years at one bank in Ephraim, Utah. They were up to 18 million in loans when they stopped paying the interest and the bank collapsed. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was previously known as the shareholders of Pets.com.
OLBERMANN: It's never too soon, began half-a-million cliches. It's never too late, began another half-million.
Our third story on the Countdown, and then there is politics, where today we were reminded that it is both never too soon and never too late. Exactly five weeks after this year's elections, let the 2006 campaign begin and the 2004 recount begin - 2006 first.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer today confirming widespread expectations, announcing he will run for governor of the Empire State two years from now. Spitzer said the incumbent, George Pataki, who is expected to run again, but has not yet declared, is - quote - "somebody who I respect." But he says: "The state is at a point of crisis. We are bleeding jobs."
If the next election cycle is officially under way, yes, that means we already have new polls. Zogby International pegging Spitzer favored by 44 percent of likely voters in New York, marginally ahead of the incumbent. Only about 100 more weekly polls until the 2006 election.
And only about a month to go in the Ohio recount, which is official tonight. The presidential candidates from the Green and Libertarian parties begin to formally notify Ohio's 88 county election boards of their request for a second tally today. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said on this program last week that there will be a recount. A federal judge ruled that an individual Ohio county can't opt out of it just because the state has not raised the fee it charges for a recount since 1956, nor just because it is not obvious that a recount would overturn the elections.
That does not mean those county election officials have to like it. "This is an excuse in futility," says Larry Long, the executive director of Ohio's Association of County Commissioners. He adds it's - quote - "a ridiculous waste of time. Neither candidate has any chance of winning, so what's the point?" - unquote. Green Party candidate David Cobb, speaking today on the steps of the state Capitol, said he knows that. He only got 186 votes in Ohio, but he also says that what Secretary of State Blackwell has reported as glitches in the vote are actually - quote - "widespread and systematic problems with the electoral process."
Cobb also today said something even the Democrats won't - quoting him here - "There is a possibility that George W. Bush did not win Ohio. If that is the case, it would be a crime against democracy for George Bush to be sworn into office" - unquote. That is what Mr. Cobb says.
And we now know what Mr. Mitofsky says. Tomorrow will bring the unofficial official investigation - or the other way around - by Democratic members of Congress. Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, hosting a forum tomorrow morning on Capitol Hill about the various voting irregularities that have popped up since Election Day.
But one invited guest who will not be popping in to join them for that is Warren Mitofsky. He was in charge of the exit polling conducted for major news organizations. Mr. Mitofsky sending Congressman Conyers his regret - quote - "Respectfully, I will not be able to attend the forum." He also will not be sending any of his raw exit poll math, adding: "The data are proprietary information gathered and held for the benefit of those news organizations. And I am not at liberty to release them."
That kind of data changed everything in the presidential election in Ukraine. And though there will be a new vote there two weeks from Sunday, the protests are continuing in the interim because most of the other issues there have not yet been revolved. That country's parliament doing absolutely nothing but arguing today over how to change election laws, taking no steps towards actually preventing fraud in that next vote for president, now scheduled for right after Christmas.
A tentative deal collapsing late tonight. Lawmakers say they will try again tomorrow. And tomorrow, the protesters will still be waiting, three straight weeks and counting since they began their vigil in Kiev's aptly named Independence Square. Today, they enjoyed some arctic entertainment. Ukraine's top-selling singer, Roslana (ph), performing for the crowd and promising to become a mediator herself. Every little bit helps.
Disasters narrowly averted in downtown Chicago last night. Flames shooting out of a high-rise building. And this time, local firefighters are earning high praise for aggressive tactics. And the court fight to save the life of Scott Peterson about to wrap up. Some say his lawyers keep doing more harm than good for his case. Those stories ahead.
Now are here Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fat and happy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have two cats, but one was fat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Meet Katarina (ph) the cat, so big she can barely walk. According to a new study out of Cornell University, 40 percent of American's house cats are obese.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She can't even reach around and clean herself.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK, how we doing? I'll have some noodles and rice. That's it. Funny thing is, I'm not even hungry.
MAJOR DAVID BAKER, TEXAS: We're going to have extra troopers out on the highway. And we're going to be looking for people that are drinking and driving. If we stop you and you've had something to drink, we're going to take a close look at you. If we believe you've had too much to drink to be driving, you're going to be in for the ride of your life.
OLBERMANN: Next, the aftermath of that high-rise fire in Chicago from last night. The news is spectacularly good. And the political aftermath for American tourists abroad. The advice to some of you, just tell them you're Canadian. You'll have a much easier time.
OLBERMANN: It is one of those mysteries most of us do not ponder, largely because we're just happy it's true. With the number of high-rise office and apartment buildings in this country, the number of electrical wires in them and the general carelessness of people, it is simply amazing that there are not more devastating fires in those buildings.
Our No. 2 story on the Countdown tonight, how fires happen and how they turn out is not always accidental. In a moment, a series of house fires described as ecoterrorism.
First to Chicago and correspondent Kevin Tibbles. There, a grateful city is praising its firefighters after they averted disaster last night. Three dozen hurt, most of them with smoke inhalation, but none dead, after fire broke out in a 45-story downtown bank building.
KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fire investigators today searching for the cause of last night's spectacular blaze.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just a whole lot of smoke. I don't know how the fire started, but I was trapped on the 35th floor.
TIBBLES: Five hundred people were still inside when the 29th floor erupted in flames.
SARAH NEDDLEHOFFER, SURVIVOR: We were leaning out of our office window. I was just trying to breathe.
TIBBLES: Every minute critical. This demonstration by the National Institute of Safety and Training shows just how quickly the paper, plastics and fabric in an office can go up in flames. Just one sprinkler, it says, can stop a fire from getting out of control. The problem, it can take years for a costly retrofit of an old building.
While most big cities already mandate sprinklers in older buildings, Chicago is just now getting close to passing a sprinkler law. Last night's fire comes just 14 months after another Chicago high-rise blaze killed six people.
(on camera): The victims of that earlier fire were found overcome by smoke in a stairwell. Their deaths triggered a complete overhaul of Chicago's emergency fire response system.
(voice-over): Now so-called rapid ascent teams, the first in the world, quickly climb above the fire floors hunting for survivors, not waiting for distress calls.
CURTIS MASSEY, HIGH-RISE FIRE SAFETY CONSULTANT: I think, in a lot of other cities, there certainly would have been fatalities in a fire of that degree and intensity.
BOB BAILEY, SURVIVOR: It would be very easy to be asphyxiated if you were there just a little longer.
TIBBLES: In today's high-rise post-9/11 world, many take fire safety more seriously than ever. And firefighters stress that simply knowing the location of the fire exit is still key to surviving an office fire.
Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.
OLBERMANN: And, just as importantly, of knowing the location of a second fire exit in case the second one is blocked.
Meanwhile, in Indian Head Maryland, it was not 45 stories, but 41 separate house, all unoccupied, nobody hurt, but a dozen of those homes destroyed. Investigators not only don't think it was an accident.
But, as our justice correspondent Pete Williams, reports, some think it was a protest by arson or ecoterrorism.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forty-one houses, all new construction, were discovered burning before dawn Monday at a Maryland housing develop south of Washington, D.C.; 12 were gutted. The upscale houses priced at around half a million dollars each were unoccupied.
W. FARON TAYLOR, DEPUTY MARYLAND FIRE MARSHAL: We were very fortunate in this particular case that there were no injuries to either civilians or firefighters.
WILLIAMS: One big question, was it ecoterrorism? The development is near several acres of wetlands, home to threatened plants and insects. And a lawsuit was filed to try to stop construction. But investigators say, so far, they have no suspects.
KEVIN PERKINS, FBI: This is a large crime scene. And I'm not going to speculate on any cause or any potential groups or individuals or anything else at this point. It's much too early to do that.
WILLIAMS: Even so, state officials say they found evidence that several of the fires were set from inside the homes, a clear sign of arson. And the houses touched by fire were not all clustered together. Some stood alone, with others untouched by fire nearby, further suggesting this was not spread by wind. For now, investigators are questioning residents who were in the area when the fires broke out.
COL. TIM HUTCHINS, MARYLAND STATE POLICE: We're interviewing a number of people and trying to obtain what information we can to determine what they saw or what they heard.
WILLIAMS (on camera): If this is the work of environmental extremists, it would a part of what the FBI considers a dangerous new form of domestic terrorism with over $100 million dollars in damage nationwide so far.
(voice-over): Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: Our nightly news of celebrity and entertainment, "Keeping Tabs," begins this time in a courtroom in Redwood City, California.
Scott Peterson's defense still putting on witnesses to try to convince the jury not to give him the death penalty. It still has not gotten around to his mother. She's expected to testify tomorrow. The lawyers better hurry. The other defense witnesses may not be helping Peterson's cause. While his former golf coach said today that Peterson never cheated at the game and a friend spoke of having seen Peterson once break up a dog fight, another family friend and two of Peterson's uncles all committed what jury watchers generally consider a poor tack.
They questioned Peterson's murder conviction - quote - "I think the verdict was a mistake," said his mother's brother Robert Latham. "I wouldn't want that mistake to be on other people." Unfortunately, for the defense, those other people to which Latham refers are the jury who already convicted Peterson and who will now decide whether he lives or dies.
Meanwhile, there be no criminal trial for Kobe Bryant, but there may yet be one in civil court. And it's already a very nasty process. "The New York Post" reporting that Bryant's lawyer are complaining to the presiding Colorado judge. They claim the accuser's attorneys are planning to interview Bryant - that would be a deposition - about his sexual history and about women besides his wife and the accuser, and also to depose Bryant's wife.
And if you think sports, especially the televising of sports, has already hit an all-time low, you ain't seen nothing yet. Fox Sports Net will televise the World Rock Papers Scissors Championship on New Year's Eve. This will be a possible pilot for a series. The producers even think it could lead to a celebrity tournament. Network executives explain that rock, paper, scissors is a natural for Fox Sports, because that's how they make most of their business decisions anyway.
The world championships are in Toronto, segueing us neatly into our No. 1 story, your vacation. No, no, no. Don't visit Canada, just to pretend to be there and be from there. That's the advice given to some Americans headed overseas.
OLBERMANN: It is not apocryphal. Travel agents may say it under their breath, but they do say it. There are lots of places in this world where the American tourist is best advised to not let on that he is American.
Our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, the advice is not all that practical. The only viable alternative is to insist you're Canadian. How do you do that? Go around playing Celine Dion C.D.s loudly? Remind natives of the country you're visiting that Pamela Anderson is actually from British Columbia? Well, most of the Pamela Anderson.
Tonight, news of an actual how-to kit for pretending you're from the great white north. And in a moment, we'll be joined by an actual Canadian, the actor and comedian Dave Foley.
First, one place where you might want to try out your fake northern accent, the luxury liner Queen Mary 2. A London newspaper reports that the French company which supplied all the seats on the ship is constantly repairing and replacing them by the dozens. Passengers keep sitting on them and breaking them, not just any passengers. The report quotes a spokesman for the chair company, Alstom Chantiers, as saying: "Some of our passengers are heavier than we imagined. It's not an English problem. It's probably more American" - unquote.
One former ship staffer is quoted by the paper as saying: "Most of the passengers are American. And we do have 10 restaurants on the ship. So if they are big when they get on, they tend to be bigger when they get off."
Cunard, which owns the Queen Mary, says that ship staffer mentioned is just a disgruntled employee, or former one, and that they didn't say anything about those chairs. Those were them French guys who said all that. And they add, "There are many splendid passages still available aboard the ship for people of all nations." Well.
Excluding the prospect of a national diet, the quickest solution seems to be the one offered by a firm from New Mexico called T-Shirt King. For $24.95, it is offering you its go-Canadian package. You get a shirt with the maple leaf flag on it, a Canadian flag lapel pin, a Canadian patch to stick on your luggage or your backpack and your picture of Pam Anderson, and also a booklet entitled "How To Speak Canadian, Eh?"
Well, we thought we had better run this past a man who needs no instruction about how to be Canadian, from the sorely comedy group "Kids in the Hall" and the sitcom "News Radio," next to be seen in a Disney called "Sky High," actor and comedian Dave Foley.
A pleasure to have you here, sir. I've been a fan for a long time.
DAVE FOLEY, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: Well, thank you, Keith. Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: Firstly, given all the years where Canada seemed to have an inferiority complex about the U.S., this story must just plain old give you a nice round vengeful laugh, right?
FOLEY: Well, Canada - we do have an inferiority complex, but we also have sort of a smug, superior attitude towards the U.S. that Americans don't know about, which is kind of like if you have a big brother that you are afraid of, but when he's not around, you'll tell everyone that he's an idiot. That's kind of the Canadian relationship with the U.S.
OLBERMANN: The idea of Americans abroad pretending to be Canadian, does feed into that big brother element there?
FOLEY: I'm sure it's going to delight people. And for the American tourists, it's obviously going to be a lot easier than trying to pretend you're Australian.
OLBERMANN: It's a tougher accent. Plus, more drinking.
OLBERMANN: There's also more drinking, I think, if you're pretending to be an Australian.
FOLEY: I think - well, not much. That's the other thing.
If you're in Europe trying to pass as Canadian and someone offers you a drink, don't say no. Very rare to meet a Canadian that doesn't drink.
OLBERMANN: Now, you're not an American, but obviously you have played one on American TV successfully.
FOLEY: I have.
OLBERMANN: So you must have been mistaken for one internationally. Is the premise in fact true here? Is it tougher to be an American abroad than a Canadian?
FOLEY: I have found that. I have found that traveling places like Turkey, where they immediately think you're an American, but when I say, oh, I'm Canadian, there's always, oh, Canadian. And they do soften up and go much easier on you. The rug merchants let you out much more quickly.
OLBERMANN: And then say something derisive about your older brother, right, at that point?
FOLEY: Yes. They will give you a deal. Yes.
OLBERMANN: You heard this list of the contents of this go-Canadian package, which is, oddly enough, from New Mexico. What did they leave out? What insider's tip can you give us? What else should the American poser have with him to pretend he's Canadian?
FOLEY: One thing, the word eh - yes, say eh. But, more importantly, you have to learn how to say sorry, and you have to say it that way, with a long O, sorry, to express your sorrow, because that's a Canadian's response to almost every situation, is to apologize.
FOLEY: Like, if you walk up to...
OLBERMANN: Is that the nature of - oh, I'm sorry I interrupted you, but is that the nature of the goodwill towards Canadians, perhaps, that Americans don't say that?
FOLEY: That could be it.
FOLEY: Our immediate - yes, you can try this out. Walk up to a Canadian and punch him in the head. The first thing they'll say is sorry. Sorry.
FOLEY: We just automatically assume it's our fault, whatever happens.
OLBERMANN: And you also have to give the pronunciation, as I know from years of covering hockey, organization.
OLBERMANN: Right. You can't say organization. Organization.
FOLEY: And we get our film processed.
FOLEY: Yes. Yes.
OLBERMANN: No, go ahead. You have another one?
FOLEY: I was trying to think of another good thing to know about Canada.
Oh, yes. The other thing is, if you're going to really pass as a Canadian, you've got to have a really long-winded, boring speech about the virtues of socialized medicine ready.
FOLEY: Because there's no - any Canadian, once you mention socialized medicine, they'll go on for at least 10, 15 minutes about how great it is.
OLBERMANN: Unfortunately, I don't have that left in the program. And I have one more I have to ask you about here.
OLBERMANN: Which is, is there an appreciable downside to being a fake Canadian? Are there risks that we don't know about? Are there places where Canadians are unpopular at the moment?
FOLEY: Well, the only place I know of where Canadians are unpopular would be Quebec.
FOLEY: Other than that, they're popular pretty much everywhere else.
MATTHEWS: What do you do when you go - that's a superb point. What do you do when you go into a Gaelic country, particularly into the Gaelic portion of your own home nation? What do you do in Quebec?
FOLEY: In Quebec, you know, you just hope to get through it. You just hope - you just keep - say something nice about Rene Levesque and hope to get through the day.
OLBERMANN: And support the separatist goal that needs to...
OLBERMANN: They can't have separatism because. Otherwise, there would be no party anymore. So they have to keep going for 30...
FOLEY: That's true. We would be really dull without Quebec.
OLBERMANN: And just apologize a few times more.
OLBERMANN: Dave Foley is the host of "Celebrity Poker Showdown" on our sister network Bravo and coming soon to a theater near you in the film "Sky High." And he's a Canadian.
Thank you kindly, sir.
OLBERMANN: I thought he did real well.
That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night. And I'm from the U.S. I can't do anything about it. Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END