'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 27
Guest: Matthew Parry, Colin Stark, William Hung
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The nightmare now has images. Tsunami, the worst in the Indian Ocean since 1883 after the worst earthquake on Earth since 1964. At least 24,000 people are dead. Now fear of disease and fear that perhaps it could happen here.
Bin Laden again, urging a boycott of the Iraqi elections and deputizing al-Zarqawi.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, what did he mean by this?
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon.
OLBERMANN: The Ohio recount. Did the Kerry-Edwards campaign say the
re-election of President Bush does not, quote, "warrant the public trust,"
And in William Hung, we trust. New movie? New C.D.? He'll join us as year two of the William Hung experience looms.
All that and more now on Countdown.
WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
If Americans know anything about Sri Lanka it is that Arthur C. Clarke lives this. He co-created the movie "2001" and invented satellite technology.
Tonight there are at least 10,000 dead on his island home. He is safe, largely because he lived on the west coast at Colombo, and most of the fatalities are on the east coast.
But there is also bitter irony. Arthur C. Clarke's latest project was to be tested next year. It was an improved computerized system to warn nations on the ocean, like Sri Lanka, about tsunamis.
Our fifth story in the Countdown, the death toll after a swarm of tidal waves erased parts of Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Maldives, Somalia, India, Thailand, stands now at nearly 24,000.
And as more bodies are found in Indonesia, the number could go to 38,000 by daybreak, reports "the Washington post."
In a moment, what the rescue efforts are like and if America's coasts are immune to such unspeakable devastation. First, what happened?
The most forceful earthquake on the planet since 1964, a 9.0 the size of California, hit on Saturday night our time just off the coast of Indonesia. It was forceful enough to move the island nation of Sumatra an estimated 100 feet.
It generated tidal waves, tsunami, walls of water up to 40 feet high moving at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour. About an hour after the quake, the wall of water hit coastal Thailand.
A tourist on the popular island of Phuket caught that impact on camera from a hotel balcony. So far 918 people, including the grandson of Thailand's king, are confirmed dead there.
To the west, Sri Lanka, the former Ceylon, has lost at least 12,000 with more than a million more there now homeless. A first-person account from Sri Lanka in a moment.
Another popular tourist destination, the Maldives Islands, hit by - more than three hours after the quake. At least 43 people killed there and 50 more missing.
In India between 4,000 and 6,000 drowned when the huge waves hit the southern coast. Many of the victims, children from poor fishing villages in Tamil Nadu state.
In Malaysia, at least 52, including a number of tourists, are dead. Officials expect the death toll to rise as they recover bodies that have been swept out to sea.
And in Indonesia, the land nearest the epicenter, the official count is 5,000 dead, but the nation's vice president says the number may be 20,000 in one Indonesian province alone.
The tsunami even reached as far as Africa, hitting Kenya and Somalia. The Somalian government says hundreds were killed and entire villages were wiped out. But those numbers there are not confirmed.
By midday the Red Cross reported that 23,700 people were dead, that outbreaks of water-born diseases like malaria and cholera were possible. The emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations added that hundreds of thousands of livelihoods have been wiped out and that the total costs in damages would be many billions of dollars.
This will require extraordinary relief efforts. The initial U.S. aid package will be at least $15 million.
For a better picture of what will happen, I am joined now by Matthew Parry, an Asian regional director with the American Red Cross.
Mr. Parry, good evening. Thank you for your time.
MATTHEW PARRY, ASIAN REGIONAL DIRECTOR, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Good evening. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: First, what is first here? I mean, are those sanitation questions and the disease threat, is that the first issue to deal with or what - or what would be?
PARRY: Well, I think doing an overall assessment of - of all the sectors, not just water and sanitation, but also food, shelter, definitely health care provision.
But within those sectors, water will be primary because they have to have water to survive. They can deal longer without the shelter than they can without the water, for example. So yes, providing potable water will be paramount.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, then, all the seawater has contaminated the fresh water supplies, as well, something that you wouldn't immediately think of in this circumstance?
PARRY: Correct. And it's not just seawater. It could also be sewage systems. If these low-lying areas did not have sewage systems, if they had pilot (ph) drains, for example, then those may be overflowing into the water sources. And there may be cross-contamination there, as well.
OLBERMANN: When you hear 24,000 dead, and possibly 38,000 is this new figure depending on the numbers from Indonesia, you tend not to listen to the statistics about the injured. But what do we know of them? Do we have any idea how many people are hurt or in need of medical attention and are not able to get it at this point?
PARRY: Those numbers are far less reliable than the number of dead, unfortunately. Though we do know that the number of injured will probably tend to grow as they seek attention in the hospitals which are now currently overflowing in many places.
So people that may need attention aren't getting it because they can't get into the hospital, so they aren't being registered. So there's a very good chance the number of injuries will be much higher than they are right now.
OLBERMANN: You have so many different countries affected. So much of the communications and transportation infrastructure destroyed. How you do handle something of this magnitude? Where do you begin?
PARRY: Well, we have two teams right now in the field: an assessment team in Indonesia and also one in Sri Lanka. And there's a bit of triage involved. We have to assess where the needs are the greatest and determine which resources are needed where first. And it's not an easy decision to make sometimes.
We also have to look at local capacities. What are the local coping
mechanisms that exist right now, and who is best prepared to respond with -
· with less assistance?
So there are no right or wrong answers. And it's not an easy process. It requires lots of coordination. And unfortunately, a lot of patience, sometimes, which is not easy to do in these conditions.
OLBERMANN: And if the viewer wants to help, what's the easiest path?
PARRY: Financial contributions, cash contributions allow the most flexibility for any - any organization doing work overseas. American Red Cross receives donations on its web site or also on our toll-free number, 1-800-HELP-NOW.
OLBERMANN: And there it is on the screen. Matthew Parry of the American Red Cross, its Asian regional director, great thanks, sir and very good luck.
PARRY: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: I mentioned as we began our coverage, the efforts to institute warning systems for tsunami in that region by the science fiction writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke.
But even Sir Arthur was even looking into tsunamis originating in the Pacific Ocean, not the Indian. The risk of tidal waves in the Indian Ocean was, according to a professor at USC, underestimated by a factor of 10.
That one of several key scientific issues beginning to be examined tonight. To help walk us through them, I am joined by Dr. Colin Stark, a geophysicist with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Dr. Stark, good evening.
_DR. COLIN STARK, GEOPHYSICIST, LAMONT-DOHERTY EARTH OBSERVATORY: _
OLBERMANN: Should there have been a tsunami warning system in place for the Indian Ocean? And if so, is there any idea of how many lives that might have saved?
STARK: I think undoubtedly there should be - should have been a tsunami warning system set up. And it probably could have saved, we don't know the numbers who have been killed, but obviously thousands.
I think the problem is that the frequency of such events in the Indian Ocean is so rare, that to actually set up a convincing infrastructure to get people to move in short order like this might be a huge challenge. It's a lot easier in the Pacific because it's so much more common. People are much more aware of the risk, and they can act on the warnings. I think that might actually have been the ultimate problem in the end.
OLBERMANN: Given that they've never seen anything like this since literally 1883, but then that begs the same question about the applicability of that to North America.
Are there risks to this continent? Is the American Pacific Coast too far away from the earthquake hot spots of the Pacific Rim? Is the American East Coast too far away from the mid-Atlantic ridge?
STARK: Well, there are a lot of issues there. And we saw in this event that Somalia, which is thousands of miles away, was hit from this tsunami across the entire Indian Ocean.
Events on the - the western Pacific side could hit the eastern Pacific. And events on the other side of the Atlantic could hit the eastern seaboard. The big issue there is the size and the kind of earthquake.
This earthquake was about 1,000 times, maybe 30,000 times larger than typical events you get on the mid-Atlantic ridge. So the kinds of tsunamis you get corresponding much, much more on the East Coast.
On the West Coast, for example, in the earthquake you mentioned in '64, there was a tsunami which hit all the way down to San Francisco and L.A. And there were several meters, 10 feet, I think, maximum tsunami that reached down there. So there is recent experience of that.
OLBERMANN: A hypothetical, though. If the proverbial earthquake in Southern California that they've been waiting for for 30 years, the big one, the 8.0, 7.5, 9.0, hit not on the San Andreas Fault but in the Pacific Ocean 100 miles to 200 miles offshore, would it create the kind of devastation we're seeing in the Indian Ocean area?
STARK: That's very hard to say because there are earthquakes like this, fairly large earthquakes like this quite frequently that don't trigger any tsunamis. So there are a combination of factors.
But if it did trigger a tsunami and it, you know, it hit just offshore of San Francisco, the devastation would be - would be very large, yes.
OLBERMANN: Geophysicist Dr. Colin Stark of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Great thanks for your insights, sir.
STARK: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: The movement of vast subterranean tectonic plates and the idea that 24,000 people or more were killed an hour, or two or three after those plates moved are abstract concepts to us. What "Washington Post" political reporter Michael Dobbs experienced while on vacation in Gao (ph), Sri Lanka, was anything but abstract.
His witness account tonight in his own words.
MICHAEL DOBBS, "WASHINGTON POST": I was swimming around this little island at about 9:15 yesterday morning when I heard my brother shouting at me to get back to the shore, because something very strange was happening to the sea.
It was a beautifully clear sky, and the sea was almost perfectly calm. But then I noticed that the water level was rising incredibly quickly, far above any possible tides.
And I found it very difficult to explain that to myself. In the space of a couple of minutes it rose about 300 feet. And I was gradually pushed by a strong current toward the shore.
Although I thought it probably was an earthquake, it seemed like something out of the Bible. I half expected to sea Noah's ark appearing because the land was disappearing.
At the time I wasn't really aware of the great danger that I was in. But today I've traveled up and down the coast and have seen these little fishing boats that I held onto. I've seen some of them deposited as far as half a mile inland.
There's certainly a lot of - a lot of miracles and there are a lot of tragedies. You become very aware of the role of chance. It's going to take a lot of getting back to normal.
I will certainly never forget it. It's an experience that I've never had anything like that before.
OLBERMANN: If that does not give you a visceral feel for the magnitude and horror of the thing, perhaps this will. Oceanographers reported today that as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, the sea level had risen 10 inches in San Diego, California.
Also tonight, Osama bin Laden with an ominous warning to Iraqis, vote in the election and you're an infidel.
And think of it this way: if your flight never takes off and your bag never leaves the airport, that tedious trip through airport security is no longer relevant, is it?
This is Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Osama bin Laden expanding his reach into Iraq and issuing a warning to all those planning on voting in the elections there next month.
What about the elections back here? More questions from Ohio and Washington. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: They're coming out more frequently now than re-releases from the Beatles. Our fourth story on the Countdown, the third message from Osama bin Laden in as many months.
In an audiotape delivered to the Arabic network Al Jazeera, bin Laden now aligns himself with Iraq's top terrorists and against the January elections there.
Quoting: "The constitution imposed by the American occupier Bremer is blasphemous and anyone who takes part in this election consciously and willingly is an infidel."
He went on to name his own suggestion for Iraq's next leader. Quote, "I consider the prince of the Mujahideen, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a true soldier of God. He is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and everybody should follow him and obey him."
Talk about voter suppression.
We turn once again to MSNBC analyst and terrorism expert Roger Cressey.
Roger, good evening.
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let's start with the timing of the tape. Large Sunni group, Iraqi Islamic Party, pulled out of the elections today. Does that give us an idea how recent, how fresh this tape is?
CRESSEY: Well, it's a tremendous coincidence, if nothing else. I mean, we've known for some time that the Sunnis had serious problems with the run-up to the election. And for bin Laden to come out now and basically say, look, if you - if you contribute to this election, if you participate, you're an infidel.
Well, if you want to talk about the straw that broke the camel's back, that's certainly it.
And I think any Sunni in his right mind right now is going to think, "Look, if I do participate in this election, I have the threat of an attack against me. I have the threat of attack against my family."
This is the ultimate form of terrorism, really instilling fear and panic into a broad swath of Iraqi society.
OLBERMANN: He's stepped into the Sunni-Shia thing. Explain the context and the relevance of bin Laden's position in that.
CRESSEY: Well, Bin Laden for some time has always talked about the split between the Sunni and the Shia as being one of the key concepts in his - in his view of Islam and his view of where al Qaeda should be going.
Now, Al Qaeda in the past has operated with the Shia. You only have to look at al Qaeda cooperation with Iran as a good example of that. But in a strategic sense, certainly the split between the Sunni and Shia is a key tenet, a key component of al Qaeda's philosophy.
And for them to say now, look, anything you do now that will contribute to a Shia government coming into power in Iraq certainly supports the overall philosophy of where al Qaeda has been.
OLBERMANN: What does the deputizing of al-Zarqawi mean, other than confirming the administration assumption of a connection between those men?
CRESSEY: Well, except that connection is about two years too late for a lot of the administration's arguments.
What we're seeing now, of course, is al-Zarqawi and his group, and his group is very loosely - it's a loose affiliation, has been very adept at killing not just Americans, but Iraqis, a lot of Shia, by the way, as well as coalition forces.
And what al-Zarqawi's people are doing in Iraq is what bin Laden would like to see done: killing of Americans, destabilizing the country, further discrediting the United States in the eyes of the Iraqi people and in the Islamic world at large.
So this is a marriage of convenience on one level, but certainly demonstrates how successful Zarqawi has been and why bin Laden thinks this is a horse I want to back right now.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, Roger, three messages in just three months from bin Laden. Is there any significance of that frequency?
CRESSEY: Well, the intelligence community hasn't seen any threat information in it, per se, but the tempo of his messages is - it's noteworthy in an of itself.
He's trying to play a broader role in, not just Iraqi politics, but speaking just to a broader Islamic audience, as well as the fundamental Sunni audience, which is "any Sunni I can now convert to an activist on behalf of al Qaeda, I want to try and do that."
And these messages contribute toward that end.
OLBERMANN: Roger Cressey, former counter-terrorism director on the National Security Council staff. As always, sir, thanks for joining us.
CRESSEY: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: On the ground in Iraq, a top Shiite politician narrowly escaped an assassination attempt today. Bystanders not so lucky, though.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is running in next month's election and enjoys the support of Iraq's top cleric, was inside his home when a suicide bomber showed up outside his gate.
When security guards blocked the bomber's way, he blew up his car - presumably he - blew up his car on the street outside. Fifteen people killed, at least 50 others wounded.
And then there was Secretary Rumsfeld's surprise Christmas Eve trip to Iraq. Surprising in more than one sense of the world.
While speaking with soldiers at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Mr. Rumsfeld compared the terrorists in Iraq to al Qaeda, and then made a comment that sent conspiracy theorists on the Internet into a frenzy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul or the people who did the bombing in Spain or the people who attacked the United States and New York, shot down the plane over in Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Asked for comment on Mr. Rumsfeld's terminology the plane over Pennsylvania had been, quote, "shot down," unquote, a spokesman told us that after 15 hours air travel and numerous trips around Iraq, it is possible that the secretary simply misspoke.
The official added he clearly meant to say that terrorists brought down the plane in Pennsylvania.
From the serious news of the day to the headlines of the holiday variety, a Christmas tradition that belongs only in "Oddball." And it ain't that.
And Countdown's man of the year for the year that was Hung. William Hung joins us live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUNG (singing): She bangs, she bangs...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: We're back, and we take a break from the Countdown now for our nightly segment where there is no bad news, only weird news. Let's play "Oddball."
And we begin in Jordanel (ph), Utah, where the Zufelt (ph) family has started its own Christmas weekend tradition, water skiing when it's 20 degrees out.
Sure it's cold out there. But consider this: the water is 32 degrees. That would be warmer. Plus there are no annoying swimmers or other skiers to get in your way, or fish or life of any kind in the water.
Of course, being in the water - in water that temperature for any length of time is probably unhealthy. Consider the shrinkage factor alone.
But they Zufelts (ph) are a fun loving bunch and say they'll be back again next year. They kind of have to be. Their knuckles are frozen solid to the water-ski handles.
In Taipei, site of the world's tallest building, Taipei 101, which is 1,679 feet tall, a skyscraper also home to the world's fastest elevators, which travel at 38 miles per hour, but this guy is not taking the lift.
Alain Robert, the 42-year-old French Spider-Man scaled the outside of the building in rainy weather - in English, rainy weather, this weekend. Took him just under four hours to do it.
He's usually arrested for this sort of thing, but the Taipei climb was planned with the building's owners, who figured having a guy clinging to the side of the building a quarter mile high would be a nice promotion for the grand opening.
Robert told a British newspaper, quote, "It's the best feeling there is. In many ways, maybe it is similar to sex."
Similar in that you stay up all night dying your underwear funny colors?
Finally, in our new segment, "Oddball America," we travel to the Sandy Barry Flea Market in Portland, Oregon. Just like any other flea market in the country, unless you come back on Tuesday nights after closing time, because that's when a dozen or so of the locals clear out the space in all the crap for sale and set up the old square circle for the good clean fun that is flea market wrestle mania.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hit him again. Hit him again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keep him down there. No, no, no. Come on.
Come on. Get up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boo!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Get up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get him up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ripped off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, bigger crowds than the National Hockey League used to get anyway.
Tune in next time when "Oddball America" travels to Winterston (ph), Iowa, for some after hours cock fighting at a local chicken restaurant.
The rerun in the run-off election in Ukraine is over. The opposition leader declares victory. The electoral drama is not over just yet, however.
There's always electoral drama whenever you get conflicting statements from John Kerry's people. They question the integrity of the entire election process, and then they unquestioned it.
Those stories ahead. Now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers.
At No. 3, Liza Minnelli. She was hospitalized briefly in New York this morning after she rolled out of her bed and hit her noggin on the floor. It's rainy, it's pouring, the old chanteuse is snoring. She fell out of bed and bumped her head and couldn't get up in the morning.
No. 2, Michael Moore. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals has reportedly become the sixth drug company to send out warnings to its employees if the filmmaker may be trying to get comments for them for a new flick.
If you see a scruffy guy in a baseball cap, you'll know who is, says a Pfizer spokesman. No Michael Moore allowed, but keep on selling that Celebrex.
And No. 1, Larry Taylor of Fort Valley, Georgia, shot in the head during a robbery. He decided that he wanted to die at home with his mother, so he walked to her house. With a bullet in his head he walked two miles to her house.
The good news is Mr. Taylor survived. The bad news is when he got to his mother's house, he found out she had moved.
OLBERMANN: The Ukrainian presidential election will not go quietly into that good night, and, apparently, neither will John Kerry's lawyers.
Our third story on the Countdown, another set of conflicting remarks about Ohio from the Democrats on the ground there.
And first from Kiev, Viktor Yushchenko claims victory, but Viktor Yanukovych claims he will appeal the latest result to the Supreme Court;
99.8 percent of votes have been counted, the pro-West poisoning survivor, Yushchenko, leading the pro-Russian Yanukovych 52 percent to 54 percent.
But Yanukovych refused to concede defeat today and said he would lodge a challenge with the Ukrainian Supreme Court, saying - quote - "Only a blind man could have failed to see all the irregularities that occurred on Election Day."
But there had been no reports of fraud or violence at the polls. Now, however, violence away from them. The transport minister in the outgoing Ukrainian government was tonight found shot to death in his home outside Kiev. Police are not sure if it was murder or suicide.
Here, what's left of the Kerry-Edwards campaign today formally joined with the Green and Libertarian parties in their bid to get a federal court in Ohio to preserve evidence, including voting machines and data confirming how election laws were evaded during the recount there.
But it's two statements by Kerry's lead attorney there that are still echoing oddly. Late Thursday evening, in announcing his group's intent to participate in that suit, lawyer Daniel Hoffheimer made the latest in a series of tantalizing statements, saying that Senators Kerry and Edwards - quote - "want to be sure that all circumstances in the Ohio election, including the recount, should be put before the court and disclosed to the American people. Only then can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust."
According to a Gallup poll last week, 19 percent of that American public does not think the election merited its trust, but this is the first time connected to the Kerry campaign appeared to be part of that 19 percent. This afternoon, though, Mr. Hoffheimer issued a new statement: "I would caution the media not to read more into what the Kerry-Edwards campaign has said than what you hear in the plain meaning of our comments. There are many conspiracy theorists opining these days. There are many allegations of fraud, but this presidential election is over. The Bush-Cheney ticket has won. The Kerry-Edwards campaign has found no conspiracy and no fraud in Ohio."
We'll parse those statements with "Newsweek"'s Howard Fineman in a moment.
First, Green Party observers claim that the way that 86 of Ohio's 88 counties are conducting their recounts does not appear to be in line with the state law there. Under Ohio statue, 3 percent of every county's votes are to be selected at random for a full recount by hand. The premise is, if the random 3 percent recount does not match the original vote total, the whole county has to be recounted by hand. And the counties don't want to do that.
So they are selecting specific precincts that are more likely to match the original vote. Meantime, in Washington, eight business days until the Electoral College votes are opened in front of a joint session of Congress and the president certified as having been reelected, and there has been - quote - "very serious contact" between the staffs of leading Democratic congressmen and senators about formally challenging Ohio's electoral votes on January 6, that according to a congressional figure privy to that contact.
One senator and one congressman are necessary for such a written challenge. While Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles has already said she would provide the House signature required and John Conyers of Michigan says he is still considering it, congressional sources say that the odds of any senator actually signing has, in the last week, risen from almost nothing to better than one chance in three.
To read the latest set of tea leaves out of Ohio and the Capitol, I am joined again by Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of "Newsweek" magazine and of course an NBC News political analyst.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I wrote on the Web this morning that I spent the weekend holding Daniel Hoffheimer's first statement up to the light to see if I could read the secret treasure map written on it on the back in invisible ink. And today, he admonishes the media not to read into his comments.
But if he says only then can the integrity of the entire electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney warrant the public trust, wasn't he saying that right now or at least last week the integrity of the electoral process and the election of Bush-Cheney did not warrant the public trust?
FINEMAN: Yes, that's exactly what he was saying.
And I looked at it closely, maybe not with a light shining behind it, but that is exactly what he seemed to have said, which makes the second statement of today all that much more interesting, because, there, he was saying, while, there is no fraud, no conspiracy. And the way I read the two of them together, Keith, is what the Kerry campaign people are saying through this guy in Ohio is, look, there was no crime here. There was no criminal intent.
There were a lot of mistakes made. To use another maybe year grim analogy. This wasn't murder. This was involuntary manslaughter here. There were mistakes. The polling places weren't kept open long enough when they should have been in certain urban districts. There were maybe some overinterpretations of rules or underinterpretation of them.
The recount was perhaps not handled properly in all cases, none of which adds up to a conspiracy or fraud, let alone a change in the results of the outcome.
OLBERMANN: You heard what one of my Democratic friends on the Hill is saying about the chances of a formal challenge to the Ohio electors, that they went from zero to better than 33 percent in the last week. Do think there is going to be a challenge?
FINEMAN: Well, you never say never in politics, especially in the United States Senate. If you already have a House member stepping up and saying that she will sign that letter, who knows?
And I can say this, having done a fair amount of reporting now about this new Senate that is about to come into existence. The Democrats and Republicans are already at each other's throats. The Democrats were furious at George Bush for having declared last week that he would try to get all those judges confirmed once again. The Democrats are promising a kind of scorched-earth procedural policy on their end.
And if they want to truly make life miserable for the president, maybe somebody on the Democratic side will step up and sign. I don't think it will happen, but I wouldn't say never.
OLBERMANN: Let me take it to its furthest and utter, most utter cynical extreme. Barring the biggest political story in American history breaking out of nowhere between now and January 6, even if there is a challenge, it's barely going to get any broad Democratic support.
It could get one vote in the House and maybe - or one vote in the Senate, maybe half-a-dozen in the House. It could be that bad a result, obviously not actually impacting who could becomes the president on January 20. If you combine that fact with what Mr. Hoffheimer said last week about the public trust, is it possible that what some Democrats want out of this is simply essentially what you just suggested, neutralizing some of the political capital that Mr. Bush spoke of, both in regards to him and the Republican Party?
FINEMAN: You don't think they would want to do that, would you, Keith?
OLBERMANN: That's why I'm asking you.
FINEMAN: Yes. No, of course, they would. They would want to make it credible, though.
So, if you want to do something like that, it has got to have some credibility behind it. I'm not sure this, in the end, would. But I'll tell you, things already are nasty on the Hill, even before they get back, and I think they are going to continue in that way. I think also the Democrats, including the Kerry people, through their Ohio representatives, want to tell minority voters and others who feel disenfranchised, that they heard the message and they want to make things better next time.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and NBC, as always, sir, great thanks.
FINEMAN: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: One way to address that opening of the Electoral College votes a week from Thursday is of course to eliminate the Electoral College. It looks like Congress is going to be offered that chance for the fourth time in the last 55 years.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California calling the college an anachronism, promising to introduce legislation to provide for direct election of the president and vice president of the United States. Whoever guest the most popular votes, no matter in which state they were cast, would be the winner. The Senate passed such a measure in 1950, but the House killed it then. The House passed it in 1969. The Senate killed it then. The Senate took it up in 1969 and promptly killed it itself.
Defenders say the Electoral College keeps the smallest states alive in terms of federal grants and political influences and prevents the nightmare scenario that a recount of a close race would have to be a national recount.
Speaking of, two weeks from tomorrow, the state of Washington inaugurates its new governor. It may be wind up being like the last episode of "American Idol" or the end of the Miss America contest, where the victor bursts into tears in happy surprise.
Now the Republicans are considering contesting the election of the Democrat Christine Gregoire. She only got in on the third count, winning by just 130 of the 2.7 million votes cast. Republican Dino Rossi had won the original election on election night by 241 votes. Then, in the mandatory recount, he won by 42 of them.
Today, his supporters filed a public records request to the elections director of heavily Democrat King County, seeking a list of all voters in that county and of all ballots. The Republicans say they need that information to help them decide whether or not to challenge Gregoire's victory.
From the list of voters to endless lists of lost luggage. Was this the weekend the U.S. passenger airline system melted down - and became William Hung? Those stories ahead.
Now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming together as planned. The decorations are up, the ring bearers in place. The nervous bride is at the altar. But despite appearances, this will not be a typical wedding for Brenda Van Luvin (ph) and J.D. Clay (ph). You see, the groom doesn't know it's happening. There comes the groom.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALES (singing): Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to Lossie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how old are you?
LOSSIE WILSON, 100 YEARS OLD: I feel like I'm 100.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what you are.
LEROY CHIAO, NASA ASTRONAUT: From the International Space Station orbiting high, we wish you a merry, merry Christmas and a prosperous new year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A Christmas sick-out at U.S. Air highlighting just how sick the entire air industry is. Will some of our major airlines be history by this time next year?
OLBERMANN: So, you're just getting home from your flight last Thursday, right? Or are you just getting the keys to head to the airport to pick up your bag now that it's back from San Diego and Philadelphia by way of Gallipoli.
Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, it may very well prove that we will look back on Christmas 2004 as the end of the American airline industry as we know it. Delta's regional carrier Comair canceled all of its 1,100 flights on Christmas Eve after its computer system crashed. And when baggage handlers and flight attendants called in sick to U.S. Air, it canceled flights by the dozens and had thousands of pieces of luggage stuck in its hub in Philly. The secretary of transportation has today called for an investigation of how the industry messed up.
But, as our correspondent Tom Costello reports, by the time that investigation is complete, there may not be much of an industry left.
TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just when he should be reaping the rewards of a lifetime of commitment, Captain Jim Trapp (ph) is downsizing his life, selling his home and considering a new job. After 20 years as a U.S. Airways pilot, the writing, he says, is on the wall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The consensus amongst my peer group is that we won't be around much more than two or three more months.
COSTELLO: The nation's seventh largest airline is strapped for cash and leaning hard on employees to climb out of its second bankruptcy in as many years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, in the last couple of years, since 9/11, primarily, I have lost about 40 to 50 percent of my income.
COSTELLO: Analysts are concerned the U.S. Airways, ATA and Independence Air may not survive in 2005.
TERRY TRIPPLER, AIRLINE ANALYST: I said, we are probably going to lose a couple of airlines. We're going to have to.
COSTELLO: This despite a $15 billion taxpayer bailout. Analysts say the entire airline industry is in danger of collapse. The problem? Too many airlines offering too many cheap seats and often selling those seats at a loss. United is also in bankruptcy protection. Delta just won $1 billion in wage and salary cuts from its employees, pilots surrendering 32 percent of their pay.
While Continental Airlines is stable, outgoing CEO Gordon Bethune says competing airlines are cutting their own throats.
GORDON BETHUNE, CEO, CONTINENTAL AIRLINES: I've got a suggestion that a free frontal lobotomy would be helpful to a few of them. It doesn't help to be critical. I would like to see a rational thought process as we price and produce our product.
COSTELLO (on camera): With airline employees making 30, even 50 percent less than they did just a few years ago, many are now taking second jobs just to make ends meet. And some crews report flight attendants packing their own food, so they can avoid buying food in the airports.
(voice-over): In Washington recently, a flight attendant rally to protest a dramatic drop in quality of life.
But for Captain Jim Trapp:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just - I am tired of this. I'm tired of this wear and tear. I'm tired of the emotional strain.
COSTELLO: Resignation that the airlines may never fly as high as they once did.
Tom Costello, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of you can't get there from here, the odds of a television or movie personality going directly to the White House are pretty small.
But, as our opening story in the nightly entertainment and celebrity roundup, "Keeping Tabs,' shows us, if it's going to be done by anybody, that anybody is going to be Oprah Winfrey. Harris Polling asking 3,077 adults on behalf of "Parade" magazine, and 21 percent of them said they would vote for the talk show host.
In second place, at 8 percent, just ahead of Will Smith, Jon Stewart, Donald Trump and Richard Gere - Richard Gere? - was Bill O'Reilly. This was one of those phone polls, right?
OLBERMANN: Well, hell, anything to get him off TV.
Early this month, he lashed out at anybody who goes to Las Vegas for vacations, not an indefensible position, but an odd one for a man who is in February booked again to appear in Las Vegas. We may now have an explanation.
George Carlin entered rehab. "I'm going to into rehab," he says, "because I use too much wine and Vicodin" - or Vicodin - excuse me. Carlin says that in a prepared statement. "No one told me I needed this," he says. "I recognized the problem and took the step myself." George Carlin is 67 years old. He has previously battled cocaine addiction.
And then there is America's addiction. William Hung joins us live to remember the year that was. And, if we are lucky, he will sing for us, too. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: A while back it was when we noted the groundswell of support on the Internet for a contestant dropped early from the vapid cultural touchstone of a game show called "American Idol." We wanted to meet him. We thought you wanted to meet him, too. It wasn't supposed to be a long visit. How wrong we were.
Our No. 1 story on the Countdown, his was supposed to be another 15 minutes in the spotlight. In 49 days, it will instead have been a year. The one and only William Hung joins us to talk about what is new, a movie, another C.D. But, first, the story so far.
WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Joining us now, the real live William Hung.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN IDOL")
HUNG: You know, I have no professional training of singing.
SIMON COWELL, JUDGE: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What else has this opened up? Have you been invited to perform anywhere?
HUNG: Yes, mostly at the smaller places.
HUNG: I certainly was very surprised to see the 90 seconds of audition turning into this colossal thing.
OLBERMANN: So, that was it, I guess?
HUNG: Yes, the chorus so.
OLBERMANN: I'm Keith Olbermann.
We're going to take a break between songs here.
HUNG: Oh, everybody heard it. All right.
OLBERMANN: William Hung.
OLBERMANN: All right, fade it down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": How long do you plan to ride this train?
HUNG: No, I haven't planned it.
OLBERMANN: For a look back at the year that was Hung, joining us once again on Countdown, the man, the myth, the legend, William Hung.
Good evening, William.
HUNG: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: What of everything you that happened to you last year do you think was the biggest thing? What do you enjoy the most?
HUNG: Well, I enjoy the new movie. That's very special. And, of course, my new album, my new Christmas album, "Hung For the Holidays."
OLBERMANN: Got those plugs right in there.
All right, the movie, you're going to have to leave for Hong Kong to promote it. And we have a clip here. Let's show this clip. And then I have a question for you.
HUNG: All right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MY CRAZY MOTHER")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All right, so William, it's called "My Crazy Mother." But I don't speak Cantonese. So I'm going to need you to fill in the blanks on this. What is this movie about?
HUNG: The movie is about an actress playing the mother. She's finding her lost son throughout her journey. And I played a stepson to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the mother.
OLBERMANN: And how did you like acting? Had you done any acting before?
HUNG: No. This was the very first time in my life, but I'm really happy and very excited that it's coming out on January 6 in Hong Kong and Singapore.
OLBERMANN: So, I mentioned at the beginning of this that idea from the old Andy Warhol idea that everybody would be famous for 15 minutes. When this all sort of happened and after you got - you were eliminated from "American Idol" and then people took an interest in you, did you think it was going to be, you know, 15 minutes, 15 days, something like that? Are you surprised that it's been as long as it's been?
HUNG: I don't know, because I never - entertainment business is always a bit unstable. You never know when it's going to end.
HUNG: And nobody is sure when it's going to end.
OLBERMANN: You're talking to the right guy on that. You're preaching to the choir. I know all about that.
We understand that you have prepared some musical stylings for us again tonight from the new C.D., from "Hung For the Holidays?" You want to give us a little of "Winter Wonderland," please?
HUNG: Sure, of course.
(HUNG SINGS "WINTER WONDERLAND")
OLBERMANN: OK, excellent. We've got - well, we've got about a minute here left. So give me just a hit off "Deck the Halls." "Deck the Halls" is on this, too?
HUNG: Yes. OK. No problem.
OLBERMANN: All right. Yes.
(HUNG SINGS "DECK THE HALLS")
(OLBERMANN & HUNG SING "DECK THE HALLS")
OLBERMANN: Yes, I'm...
(HUNG SINGS "DECK THE HALLS")
OLBERMANN: Excellent. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make that into a duet. I just got overcome by holiday spirit.
HUNG: Oh, it's OK. It was a lot - it was fun.
OLBERMANN: William Hung. The latest album is "Hung For the Holidays." And you sought the clip of the movie, "My Crazy Mother," which he's going to go and promote in Hong Kong.
So, safe travels and best of luck. I hope the luck continues, my friend.
HUNG: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Surprisingly enough, William Hung's selection is one of Countdown's favorite things.
For a retrospective on him and rest of the list, join us, please, this Friday at 8:00, 11:00 and midnight New Year's Eve for Countdown's "Favorite Things 2004." Be there. Aloha.
OLBERMANN: OK, we've heard him sing enough tonight.
That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.
I did a duet with William Hung.
OLBERMANN: Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END