Sunday, January 30, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 30

Guests: Dilshad Qadir, Rod Nordland, Robin Wright


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Millions vote, dozens, only dozens, are killed. Iraq's elections, turnout better than 50 percent, maybe as much as 60 percent. Among expatriate Iraqis, turnout around the world, nine out of 10.

And a comparatively quiet day for U.S. troops in the embattled country. Has the insurgency been wounded or was today just the result of banning private automobiles? Can you perform that trick more than once?

The entire vote, was it hyped? Was it, as the president said, a great and historic achievement? Or do we seem to hear about great and historic achievements in Iraq every few months?

The purple badge of courage. There is one small frightening question about the stamp that showed that you voted, the indelible ink on your index finger. We will ask that question.

All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening.

Their short-term and long-term importance will be impossible to judge for days and decades. But after Iraq's first free elections in half a century, this much is clear. The voting there has drawn a huge turnout of American reporters.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the balloting in Iraq. There are at least two perspectives, that this was a historic day, comparable, in some way, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, or that this is one of many markers, probably not even a halfway marker, on a road at whose end there may or may not be democracy.

The facts first, millions of voters defying violence and calls for a boycott to cast their ballots today. Even in Baghdad, there were long lines of voters, mostly in Shiite neighborhoods, at least one Baghdad polling center running out of ballots, according to U.S. officials. No Ohio jokes, please. Security at all locations tight. Insurgents determined to disrupt the balloting succeeding in many cases, all but one of the suicide attacks reported thus far coming in Baghdad, bombers strapped with explosives entering polling places on foot, since private cars have been banned from the streets of the capital city.

At least 35 people killed in the various attacks, which makes the upbeat mood at many polling places all the more remarkable. One index finger of each voter soaked to the knuckle with purple bluish ink to prevent double voting, voters then waving those ink-stained fingers outside polling place, a badge of courage and pride, but with an obvious terrible side effect, perhaps, which we will discuss later in this news hour.

Here in the U.S., the American president also expressing satisfaction with today's vote.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Across Iraq today, men and women have taken rightful control of their country's destiny. And they have chosen a future of freedom and peace.


OLBERMANN: Also of note today, up to 15 British troops killed when a transport plane crashed near Baghdad. No word yet on the cause of what could be British - Britain's biggest single loss of life in the Iraqi campaign thus far.

Our correspondent in Baghdad is David Shuster, where it's already the early hours of tomorrow morning.

David, I guess the first question about the whole day is an obvious one. Do we have any verifiable data on voter turnout?

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, no, we do not. It's simply anecdotal, the long lines and whatnot that people saw in some particular polling locations.

The problem is that the Iraqi Election Commission, which is part of the interim government, they have every incentive to inflate the numbers. Originally, they said today 72 percent. Then they said 60 percent. Then they said, well, we actually don't really know. One of the reasons they don't know is because many of these international election monitors who were supposed to come in the country, go to some of these polling sites and keep track, they decided not to go because of the threats and the violence over the last couple of days.

So, there is no real independent reporting or analysis about particular neighborhoods, particular cities and whether or not the turnout is as high as some people would like to believe.

OLBERMANN: Something else that I presume would be very hard to gauge, but I'd be interested in your estimations of it anyway, and I haven't heard this addressed nearly all weekend, how informed was this electorate, given the risk that candidates were taking simply by running? Is it believed that voters succeeded in acting knowledgeably without, heavens, a full-fledged political campaign?

SHUSTER: Well, Keith, I suppose they did, but not in the traditional sense.

And that is, most of the voters today, it was very predictable based on where they lived, which tribes they belonged to, which particular parties they were then going to support. A lot of the people were simply showing up at the polls and saying I know that I want this particular logo or this particular number.

And, again, it had nothing to do with policies. Everybody, for the most part, agrees that they want the United States to get out of Iraq. Everyone wants the power and the water, the electricity, to have better services and that sort of thing. So, it's simply a matter of identification.

And, to that extent, there wasn't a lot of surprises, I suppose. If you talked people in particular neighborhoods, you could almost predict almost by the block which particular party they were going to support. So, in that extent, in that sense, I suppose there weren't a lot of surprises and they were informed as far as who they identified with. But as far as distinctions among policies, there were no policy discussions leading up before this campaign.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's David Shuster doing great work from Baghdad these past few days - thanks, David. Get some rest.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: It is well documented that many Americans are less likely to vote when it's raining outside, while in Iraq today, millions went to the polls when it would not be overstating things to metaphorically say that there was a threat of it raining death.

That made for an uneasy day, to say the least, for the citizens of the nascent democracy, as well as for their protectors.

Our correspondent Campbell Brown has more from Baghdad on what the past 24 hours have been like for all of them.


CAMPBELL BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 7:00 a.m. in Baghdad. Curfew has ended, but there are few people on the streets. This is the most worrisome time of day for Captain Neil Mayo (ph) and his battalion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they plan to conduct any large-scale attacks, I think it will be this morning to discourage people from leaving their homes.

BROWN: In the meantime, Mayo and his guys are supposed to show restraint. They are handing off the role of primary protectors to the Iraqi forces. The front line is polling places today. This Iraqi captain is proud of his role, but many of his men are in black ski masks.

(on camera): A lot of these guys are so afraid of the insurgents, they don't want to show their faces. What does that tell you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is a challenge for them and for their families. But we respect the fact that they are willing to be here and participate.

BROWN: We're at a polling station in the Karada district of Baghdad. It's 9:00 a.m. local time. This polling station has been open about two hours. There are some people here, but, overall, it's quiet. Election officials believe a lot of people are waiting to see what happens this morning before they turn out.

(voice-over): Those who do have to go through several security barriers and are thoroughly searched. Inside, there is some confusion. Several people tell us they're not being allowed to vote, being redirected to another location. But many more are casting ballots here and afterwards feeling secure enough to show off their inked finger to prove it.

While there are explosions in other parts of Baghdad, the quiet morning here is a small victory for these Iraqis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No one will stop us.

BROWN: And the American troops patrolling on the perimeter.

Campbell Brown, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Given the dangers associated with casting a ballot in Iraq today, it's unlikely that any voters would have been willing to hang around polling centers to answer a few personal questions. As such, exit polling was all but impossible, making predictions about turnout and the ethnic background of voters just that, mere predictions.

The estimates varied widely today. As David Shuster mentioned, the Iraqi Election Commission originally putting turnout at 72 percent, later, that commission backtracking to 60 percent, David also mentioning that they have a vested interest in the number being as high as possible.

The spokesman for the commission admitting - quote - "The numbers are only guessing." That said, the safer the province, the more people to cast ballots, long lines of voters in the relatively stable southern part of the country in places like Basra and Najaf, with overwhelmingly Shia populations, but turnout in many Sunni areas low, polling stations in the Sunni Triangle largely deserted, few voters lining up outside this polling center in Fallujah.

And, no, the limited exit polling does not show John Kerry leading Iyad Allawi.

Iraqi expatriates here in the U.S. also casting votes in this election, many of them having driven hundreds of miles in the past three days to reach one of just five polling places on American soil, Nashville, Detroit, Chicago, L.A., and a Maryland suburb of Washington.

Our correspondent Ron Blome has more on the turnout today in Detroit, which is home to the nation's largest Iraqi community - Ron.


RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, for three days now, Iraqi Americans have been coming to this polling site in suburban Detroit to vote. The turnout has been low. This site is pretty remote from some of the Iraqi-American neighborhoods. That's one factor.

The other is, there just wasn't a lot of time to register for this.

But for those who did vote, the joy factor has been very high.

(voice-over): Here, at least, democracy is taking hold for these Iraqis, who took refuge in the land of democracy, only this act, this vote, is for those still in Iraq.

SYLVANNA MANZO, IRAQI-AMERICAN: Well, I voted on behalf of my cousins, my aunts, my uncles. And also, most importantly, I voted on behalf of the sacrifices that the American soldiers have made. That is my vote.

BLOME: Sylvanna Manzo was also thinking about her aunt, who lives next to a polling place in Baghdad, but isn't sure it's safe to vote. So Sylvanna and others made sure some voices would be heard as the ballots were cast.

BASHIR SHALLAL, IRAQI-AMERICAN: We give rivers of blood for this day, believe it or not. That's why you see the emotions over here. You saw the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right? And this is a joyful (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BLOME: In this corner of the world, the Iraqi election is already decided, decided to be a day that was a long time coming and worth a celebration.

(on camera): For all the celebrations, some voters acknowledge that this is only symbolic, but it is a first step, a step they could only dream about before - Keith.


OLBERMANN: Ron Blome in Detroit, great thanks.

It can be argued that this Iraqi election may have been more spun in this country than was even our own last November. Critics of the government have claimed it was oversold and far from representative. Supporters have said it was a milestone and a triumph just to pull the thing off.

To give the vote some early grades, I'm joined by Robin Wright, senior diplomatic correspondent of "The Washington Post."

Robin, as always, great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Is there any way yet to assess what happened in Iraq today or is it all still spin?

WRIGHT: Well, it's not still spin. We have a lot of evidence of a strong turnout. Whether it's 50 percent or 60, even lower, it's a major accomplishment, given the violence in that country, given our own voting record.

But it has to be remembered that this is a final year of the Iraqi transition, and the election today was the easiest part of it, that what lies ahead is really extraordinary. And if - it's a very different issue to agree on a constitution than to turn out and vote.

OLBERMANN: Let's say that what we know of this day so far or we think we know turns out to be pretty much the way it actually was, that there are no overwhelming follow-up acts of terrorism during the week ahead, that the process moves on to the assembly meeting and writing a constitution.

In that situation, will this day have meant closer to what those people who say it's a parallel to the fall of the Berlin Wall believe or closer to what those people who say - say this was an intermediate step?

WRIGHT: It's a strong intermediate step, not quite the fall of the Berlin Wall. Remember, Iraq will have an election at the end of the year for a permanent government after the constitution is written. And that really will be the kind of inspiration that may ignite interest, passion, democratic aspirations in other parts of the region.

OLBERMANN: The issue of violence, is this a closed book relative to the election? Or when the extraordinary measures like banning the driving of private automobiles comes off, is the expectation that the level of recriminatory violence from the terrorists might actually increase?

WRIGHT: The pattern has been recently an escalation. And that may continue. The administration acknowledged today that the insurgency is far from over.

But this does send a strong signal that Iraqis are interested in political expression and participation and does send a real jab at the extremists who have been trying to unravel the process.

OLBERMANN: In your own estimation, were you surprised that it was comparatively quiet - as quite a day as it turned out to have been?

WRIGHT: I think a lot of us who were - who have been following Iraq for a long time were afraid that this morning, we would wake up, as Campbell Brown mentioned, and we would see 25 or 40 or whatever suicide bombers try to hit the polling stations and discourage people from voting, and then you would have only a 10 percent or 15 or 20 percent turnout, which would not make this a legitimate or credible election.

That didn't happen. You did have large numbers. And the obvious joy among Iraqis really was tremendously important in judging the Iraqi mood today.

OLBERMANN: Robin Wright, the senior diplomatic correspondent of "The Washington Post," as always, Robin, great thanks for your time.

WRIGHT: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: In a near total lockdown on travel and traffic across the country, the insurgents failing in their bid to - quote - "wash the streets with blood," that's for certain. Now new concerns about what might happen once the lockdown is in history.

And the push for an exit plan. U.S. troops visible today protecting polling stations, but come those next Iraqi elections in December, will they still be on patrol there?

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: A suicide bomber who survived under interrogation giving insight to the insurgency in Iraq and telling police that they had arrested be Abu Musab Zarqawi and then let him go.

Countdown's coverage of the Iraqi elections continues in a moment.


OLBERMANN: It's hard to imagine a terrorist doing an American president a favor or an independent Iraq a favor either. Yet, there was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi saying exactly what the U.S. and the supporters would have scripted for him or written for an impersonator to read.

He not only threatened to wash the streets of Baghdad with the voters' blood. He also said democracy was an evil principle, not American-supported democracy, not George Bush-supported democracy, but democracy-democracy.

In our fourth story on the Countdown, Insurgents killed at least 35 would-be voters. And with due respect to each of those victims, that hardly qualifies as blood washing the streets, security an obvious components in this. Nine of today's attacks coming in the form of suicide bombers, but on foot, their bodies strapped with explosives because private cars had been banned from the streets.

Many blew themselves up while standing in polling lines. One killed five people in a bus that was carrying voters to a site south of Baghdad.

In a moment, I'll be joined by "Newsweek"'s Baghdad bureau chief, Rod Nordland, who is in the capital tonight and wrote the magazine's cover story on the insurgency.

First, this. "Newsweek" has obtained an interrogation video of a suicide bomber who actually lived to tell his tale. al-Shayea's Ahmed Abdullah al-Shayea admits he came to Iraq to become a martyr for Iraq, but said he was tricked when the fuel truck he was driving was detonated by remote control. It killed 10 policemen. He somehow survived, went to the hospital. Presumably, he was an innocent bystander. Police were then tipped off to his identity and sent undercover agents to kidnap him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What were your instructions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They said go from here and go straight ahead, then right and left and then you will find the concrete blast barriers. Our friends will come to take it. And once I stopped, the truck blew up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What was the objective of the terrorists from what they told you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They said we were against Americans. We killed the Americans and the police and Iraqi National Guard and civil defense because they collaborate with the Americans.


OLBERMANN: That went on for nearly five hours, the most startling revelation coming when he was asked about al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Shayea claiming the Iraqi police had actually arrested Zarqawi in Fallujah last October, but let him go, not realizing who he was.

The information al-Shayea gave intelligence officers also led to the roundup of several of Zarqawi's supposed key lieutenants, including one of his leading demolition men, who confessed to 32 car bombings over the last two years.

Joining me now from Baghdad, "Newsweek"'s bureau chief there, Rod Nordland.

And great thanks again for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: And let me start with this.

To the degree that we have any clue about these things yet, if the election was a qualified success for the Americans and the Iraqis, what was the election for the insurgents?

NORDLAND: Well, if anything, the election was their biggest defeat yet.

It really punctured the myth that's very common among Iraqis that they're somehow invincible, that they can get away with attacks, that they can do pretty much what they want to on the streets of Baghdad. Well, they put enough troops and enough Iraqi police on the streets in Baghdad today that they created a secure environment. The day began with voters afraid to out, very few people going to the polls.

And after a few hours, they realized they could do it. And they went out and did it in very big numbers. And they did it despite these very serious death threats that are something they're going to have to worry about for the next several days.

OLBERMANN: Did anything in those comparatively low death tolls, the comparatively ineffective actions of the insurgents today suggest genuine inroads against the insurgency, or was it all because of those extraordinary security measures that you really can't repeat very often?

NORDLAND: Well, yes, I think it was mainly because of those.

I mean, nine suicide bombings in Baghdad is a record number. But they were all wearing vests, so they didn't cause as much damage as a big car bomb with maybe 1,000 pounds of explosives would do. But, nonetheless, the insurgents knew that was going to be the score. They had time to prepare for it. And everybody was expecting them to make a big bang, and they didn't succeed in doing it. And that's got to be a big defeat and a big victory for the Iraqis.

It will give them a lot of confidence. It will give their own forces a lot of confidence.

OLBERMANN: Does that redound to the benefit of the United States, that simple fact of confidence?

NORDLAND: I think it does.

You know, the end game is getting the Iraqi forces to the point where they can defend themselves, so that we can get out. And that's what the United States wants. And it's not going to happen until they can. And this is the first really big step forward in that direction. There's a lot to do yet. And the insurgency is hardly defeated. It's big. It's gotten a lot bigger over recent months. And they've now kind of joined forces between these foreign terrorists and the old Baathist structures that Saddam left in place.

And they're still a potent force and very numerous. But they suffered a very major setback today.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, these anti-democratic sentiments by Zarqawi, is this the gist of the real deciding factor in what's going to happen in Iraq or even the Islamic world, whether Iraqis or Afghans or whoever will say, no, you're wrong; we can have our religion and we can also have democracy?

NORDLAND: Yes. No, I think - I think this is - you know, it hasn't been a very good war for democracy and the values that we've been expounding here.

In fact, you hear Iraqis say all the time, well, if this is democracy, you've brought it. We don't want any of it. We'd just as soon see you leave and take your democracy with you. And I think this is - has the very real potential to turn that around and turn it around for the rest of the region.

OLBERMANN: Rod Nordland, the Baghdad bureau chief for "Newsweek" magazine, great thanks for coming out in the middle of the night for us. Stay safe.

NORDLAND: Pleasure.

OLBERMANN: We all know they were voting, but for what offices? And why is there another vote in December? We'll have the raw facts about today's election.

Plus, these were the joyous images of the Iraqi election shown all over American television. We'll examine what the rest of the world, particularly the Arab media, reported.


OLBERMANN: There is no hard data on this, but intuition tells you it's true. In the interminable months before this election, you probably assumed that Iraqis would today be voting for a new president, a parliament, something permanent.

In fact, as Countdown's Monica Novotny points out in her report on the underreported details of the election, the best analogy today might be to those times in our history when individual states of the union have elected the members of a constitutional convention.


MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are a few things you may not know about Iraq's Election Day. Here are Countdown's top five.

At No. 5, what did Iraqis vote for this weekend? A 275-seat transitional national assembly. They will later vote for their president and two vice presidents. They will later choose a prime minister. Iraqis also voted for 18 provincial councils. And, in the north, the Kurds elected their own independent parliament.

No. 4, who was on the ballot? One-hundred ninety-six parties, 33 coalitions of parties, and 27 individuals, in total, 18,900 candidates, 7,785 of them hoping for one of those national assembly seats.

No. 3, count them in - well, some of them. More than 14 million of approximately 25 million Iraqis registered to vote, but they did they make it to the polls? According to the independent election commission, about 60 percent, eight million Iraqis, did, though commission spokesman Farid Ayar acknowledged, the numbers are only guessing.

No. 2, when will they start counting? Preliminary results expected early this week, with final results announced by mid-February and certified on or about February 20.

And the No. 1 thing you need to know about this Iraqi Election Day, it's not over until it's over.

(on camera): Once elected, the transitional national assembly must draft a constitution by August 15, on which a referendum will be held by mid-October. If the referendum passes, voters will choose a full-term national assembly by December 15. But if it does not pass, a new transitional assembly must be elected to begin again.

For Countdown, Monica Novotny.


OLBERMANN: Here's a shock. The president of the United States was pink with pride today. And the purple finger of pride, the Iraqi equivalent of the "I voted" sticker, could there be a dangerous side effect to it?

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Underpromise, overdeliver, it is one of the credos of guerrilla business strategy. It works well in politics, too.

Our third story on the Countdown, what's next, based on what just happened, a period in which terrorists and American military honchos alike predicted wide-scale violence and a president predicted that any election would be a triumph? If it was not underpromising and overdelivering, it coincidentally produced the same results.

So, what's next for this country, both in Iraq and in the spin game?

We start with White House correspondent David Gregory - David.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Keith, seeking to put his own stamp on Iraq's first step toward democracy, the president today declared the Iraqi election a resounding success, but warned that America's mission there is not over.

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you pleased at how...

GREGORY (voice-over): The president left a Sunday church service just minutes before the polls closed in Iraq. Within hours, he emerged to congratulate the Iraqi people.

BUSH: By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. And they have demonstrated the kind of courage that is always the foundation of self-government.

GREGORY: Mr. Bush thanked the American public for its patience in the face of mounting U.S. casualties, but warned of difficult days ahead.

BUSH: Terrorists and insurgents will continue to wage their war against democracy. And we will support the Iraqi people in their fight against them.

GREGORY: America's chief partner in the war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, addressed Great Britain tonight, saying the election will have broad impact.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is also a blow right to the heart of the global terrorism that threatens destruction not just in Iraq, but in Britain and virtually every major country around the world.

GREGORY: With most Americans increasingly skeptical about the U.S. role in Iraq, the administration kicked its P.R. offensive into high gear today, with Secretary of State Rice, fresh from her confirmation, splashed across the airwaves, arguing, Iraq's majority Shiites will work to head off civil war.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm quite certain that they will try to put together an assembly that brings Iraqis together, rather than splitting them apart.


GREGORY: In response today, former presidential contender John Kerry warned against overhyping the election and speculated that the White House would like Iraqis to ask the U.S. to leave.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: A prolonged American presence in Iraq is neither affordable, nor wise, nor will it ultimately enhance our goals in the region.


GREGORY: Tonight, the president's political goal of an American exit from Iraq is directly tied to the ability of Iraqis to secure their country for themselves - Keith.


OLBERMANN: David Gregory at the White House, great thanks.

Speaking of spin and what will happen next, it was an odd day for John Kerry to resurface on political TV, freshly back from a lengthy Middle East tour. To say nothing of a purely beltway frying of Condoleezza Rice on "Meet the Press" this morning, he resuscitated his campaign four-point plan to resolve the situation in Iraq and was not certain about the degree of legitimacy to the vote.


KERRY: A kind of legitimacy. It's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't vote and doesn't vote. I think this election was important. I was for the election taking place.

The four steps were, No. 1, massive, rapid training. No. 2, you've got to do reconstruction and you've got to get the services to the Iraqis. No. 3, you've got to bring the international community into the effort.

No. 4, you've got to have the elections.

Well, today, we did No. 4. We had the elections. And I will say unequivocally today that what the administration does in these next few days will decide the outcome of Iraq. And this is not maybe. This is the last time, last chance for the president to get it right.


OLBERMANN: For many of us in this country, getting it right comes down to one thing, getting 150,000 American troops home alive quickly. What did the vote today do to the chances of that?

To the Pentagon now and our correspondent Jim Miklaszewski - Jim.


JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Keith, despite some political pressure here in the U.S. to bring American troops home, Pentagon officials warn again tonight it won't happen any time soon.

(voice-over): With elections over, U.S. military officials predict Iraqi insurgents will now step up their attacks even more to put pressure on the new transitional government.

That means all 150,000 American troops now on the ground in Iraq may have to remain at least until summer. Even then, only small numbers of U.S. forces may start to withdraw from Iraq. That's because Iraqi forces are nowhere near ready to provide their own security. The U.S. military will accelerate training for Iraqi forces and put more American advisers in Iraqi units to provide badly needed leadership.

But Pentagon officials say, only when the Iraqis can provide full self-protection and self-governance, will American troops able to come home, and predict that could still take years.

(on camera): And, tonight, Pentagon officials say they're confident that the new leaders of Iraq's transitional government will not ask for an early pullout of American troops because - quote - "They know they'd be committing suicide" - Keith.


OLBERMANN: Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon - Mik, great thanks.

That would suggest no change in the U.S. role in Iraq in the near term, anyway, but is the status quo still viable?

Always an honor to be joined by the retired Army General, now MSNBC military analyst Barry McCaffrey.

General, thanks, as ever, for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Can this picture of an indefinite 150,000-troop presence that Jim Miklaszewski just painted actually be maintained?


First of all, I think what we will see is somewhat of a drawdown by this summer, because we - General John Abizaid wisely retained some people in country and accelerated the arrival of some other units.

But 3rd Infantry Division will close in, in the next 60 days. I think there will be somewhat of a drawdown. There will be an attempt to have the Iraqi security forces take a more visible role, particularly in the urban areas. But we've got at least a year or two before the Iraqi security institutions are capable of conducting offensive operations against what may be, Keith, an 80,000-person insurgency, particularly in the Sunni areas.

OLBERMANN: Predicating withdrawals of U.S. military personnel from a very foreign, hostile area, guerrilla-style war, predicating that on the training of native troops and guards, does that remind you of anything in our not-too-distant past? Is there a parallel at this point to that awful word from the '60s and the '70s, Vietnamization?

MCCAFFREY: Well, actually, probably not.

I was an adviser with the Vietnamese Airborne Division in the early days. It took us seven years before we suddenly recognized that, if we wanted to get out of Vietnam, we had to Vietnamize the war. So, we finally started giving them first-line equipment and training and the capability to step forward. Then Congress turned off the ammunition and the POL money. And that was the day we lost the war.

So, I would argue, General John Abizaid, General George Casey, Ambassador John Negroponte, are accelerating that process. Notwithstanding that, it's still a couple of years, Keith. This won't happen overnight.

OLBERMANN: But there has been a lot of speculation that sooner, probably more sooner than later, to establish credibility with its own people, any Iraqi government would have to ask this country to, at minimum, set up a timetable for withdrawal. Even if it's a pro-American government, it can't be pro-American presence forever.

And just today, Iraq's interior minister was telling a British television network that the coalition could be out in 18 months. Whether or not that's realistic, does the probability that there could be more and more calls for this affect our military planning in the short term?

MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, I view this with tremendous anxiety. I think setting a withdrawal timetable would be a huge mistake, would embolden the insurgency, would tell them the points at which they will start to win.

So, in my own judgment, I hope the Shia leadership, which is going to dominate this new constitutional process, will be smart enough to recognize, if we pull out early, they'll end up in a civil war. And the money would bet they'd lose it and the Sunni will be back in charge. That's who had the leadership of the Baathist party, the intelligence service, the armed forces. So, this is a tricky situation. We should be there until we know this thing has stability and legs on it.

OLBERMANN: General Barry McCaffrey, as always, great thanks for your time tonight.

MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The president wants this to be the blueprint for democracy in the Middle East. But what did the Arab world make of the Iraqi elections today?

Plus, insurgents vowed to kill anyone who voted, why that threat clashes so disturbingly with another color, perhaps the most compelling image of today's election, the voters' inch-drenched finger.


OLBERMANN: You've seen the coverage here. How is the rest of the world, specifically the Arab world, portraying that Iraqi election? And is it being seen as legitimate?

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Wall-to-wall coverage of the Iraqi election on American cable television can be viewed as overkill. Of course, the industry is the American distributor for overkill. So it's hard to use cable news as a barometer for just how important this all was.

But in our No. 2 story on the Countdown, a lot of judgments about that from other lands. One measure came from Jordan, which was as close as most of the international poll watchers were willing to get to Iraq. Another came from the 14 other countries in which Iraqis voted.

Our correspondent Keith Miller is in one of them.


KEITH MILLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The whole world was watching and, in many countries, voting, too. More than a quarter of a million Iraqi expatriate voters were expected to cast ballots in 14 countries. Iraqis in Australia were the first people today to cast a ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so happy to vote for my country.

MILLER: Election officials cheered as people deposited their ballots.

In Berlin, they were dancing. And everywhere, there was security.

(on camera): And here in London, security was also strict. Polling officials said, however, that there were no problems in casting a ballot. And, in fact, most of the people registered to vote did so.

(voice-over): Arabic TV stations gave the vote wide coverage. In Cairo, there was surprise at the high voter turnout reported from Iraq.

MONA MAKRAM OBEID, THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO: The Egyptians are watching with quite a lot of interest what is happening in Iraq, first of all, to see if really it will turn out as a viable process.

MILLER: And Egyptian TV suggested today's vote could be the turning point.

A different tone on Al-Jazeera TV. The former Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. under Saddam Hussein calling the election illegitimate. In the Middle East, there was also concern about what happens next.

ABDUL BARI ATWAN, "AL-QUDS": It is a step, but we don't know where the step will lead. It could be more violence.

MILLER: The overseas vote count will be complete by Tuesday, but the impact of the election on Iraq and the outside world will take much longer to calculate.

Keith Miller, NBC News, London.


OLBERMANN: And it will be days, weeks before actual voter turnout worldwide, especially in Iraq, is known. Nonetheless, the fact that so many Iraqis literally risked their lives to go to the polls today was not lost on their neighbors.

Hisham Melham is a host of the TV network Al-Arabiya and also the Washington bureau chief of "An-Nahar," the leading daily newspaper in Beirut.

Mr. Melham, good evening. Thank you for your time.


OLBERMANN: Never mind what President Bush said or what American TV is saying. How are the realities of this election going to be received throughout the Middle East?

MELHAM: If the turnout is as high as some Iraqi officials said today, 70 and plus, this will be a validation of the whole process.

And the issue of the legitimacy - the legitimacy of the Iraqi elections will be decided by the Iraqis, not the Arabs outside Iraq and not by the Bush administration. And that's why it was very important for the Arabs to see the long lines of Iraqis standing before the polling centers, risking their lives to participate in a process that is denied to their brethren throughout the Arab world.

And that's why these results, albeit imperfect, and this is an election that is not ideal, marred by violence and uncertainty and questions, will present the Arab political establishments with some tough questions. If the Palestinians a few weeks ago and the Iraqis today participated in a process of empowerment, if you will, under abnormal conditions, to say the least, how come the rest of the Arabs are denied these basic rights?

OLBERMANN: Bringing that specific point into focus, in the State of the Union address, in the radio address yesterday, in his comments today, the president emphasized this is about democracy on the march and all that. What does that mean? What does this vote mean in kingdoms like Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the other countries you mentioned?

MELHAM: People are very concerned about the elections in Iraq and before that the elections in Palestine, because the Arab rulers understand that their people are yearning for a sense of empowerment.

People in Iraq - in Syria, in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Tunisia, where the ruler, when he runs for elections, for instance, he runs unopposed and he achieves the results in the 90s. Mahmoud Abbas achieved the results in 63, 62 percent in Palestine in elections that were seen as legitimate by people, although they occurred under occupation.

Arabs not empowered with this kind of process in the neighboring countries. And those governments were - looked at the elections in Iraq with a sense of trepidation and concern, because they do understand that their people are yearning for democracy.

Look, there is a movement for democracy and transparency and reform in the Arab world, Keith, before George Bush was elected in the year 2000. The problem that Arabs have with George Bush is that, sometimes, he focuses on the easy targets, on the Syrias of the Arab world, but not on Egypt, not on Saudi Arabia, not on Morocco, not on Jordan.

And they accuse President Bush, I think correctly, of resorting to double standards. Unless George Bush criticizes the Israelis when they violate Palestinian rights and unless he does that in the countries that are seen and considered friendly to the United States, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan and others, his words will not be seen as credible by many Arabs, including those reformers who have been struggling for reform and democracy and human rights in the Arab world for decades.

OLBERMANN: A final question, Mr. Melham. Have there been assumptions in the region about what would happen after these elections? And how might those assumptions have been changed today?

MELHAM: Yes. I think people expected huge violence. I expected a bloodbath. And I'm extremely happy that I was - my predictions were not correct.

I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised that the Iraqis showed a degree of political maturity. And I think now it's incumbent on those who are going to win, the Shia, the Kurds and others, to extend their hands to those who did not participate, the nonviolent forces who did not participate. And I think we are going to see some interesting developments in Iraq in the next few months.

OLBERMANN: Hisham Melham, the host of - on Al-Arabiya and the Washington bureau chief of the newspaper "An-Nahar," great thanks for joining us tonight.

MELHAM: Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN: Not just in Iraq, but around the world, this tonight is a badge of honor, what they did to you after you voted. But could there be unforeseen consequences to this logistical innovation?


OLBERMANN: It is a phrase perhaps as old as our language, sticking out like a sore thumb. For all that appears to have gone well in Iraq's first free elections in 50 years, there is a nagging worry about recrimination and, in our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, the prospect that people who voted might be terrorist targets this week because they almost literally stick out like a sore thumb.

While some of those assigned to protect the polling places obscured their faces with ski masks, the voters were unmistakable. Whether in Baghdad or suburban Washington, voters had to dip an index finger into a sponge soaked in dye, designed not to fade or wash off for as long as three days, perhaps a risky venture, given the insurgent threats to kill anyone who voted today.

I'm joined now by one of today's voters. Dilshad Qadir is an Iraqi citizen and a U.S. resident. He voted in New Carrollton, Maryland, today.

Mr. Qadir, thank you for your time. Good evening.

DILSHAD QADIR, IRAQI CITIZEN: Thank you. Good evening.

OLBERMANN: So, apparently, they used the ink not just in Iraq, but also in Maryland. Tell me about the process of getting your finger all purple.

QADIR: Well, today, I went to Prince George's County. And they had a special place for the votes for all - most of the, like, Iraqis and all the Iraqis who had, like, papers and the - they're the citizen of Iraq.

So, basically, they set up a place for them, allocated a place for them to go and vote, which is - this vote for our Kurdish is a very, very important thing in our history for Iraq especially. Like, Iraq, they never had any elections like this as of today.

OLBERMANN: How about the ink? How about - did they tell you about the ink and that you were going to dip your finger in that thing?

QADIR: Well, I had like - as you can see, my finger, it's still - it's being like painted with the ink. And that is purple ink that will stay there for two to three days.

And I tried my best to remove it, but I couldn't remove that. And I thought there is going to be poison associated with that color and that ink, so I didn't use my finger to eat with it.

OLBERMANN: Did they give you any idea how to wash it off?

QADIR: They didn't give me no ideas. So, I was expecting them, one of them, to give me an idea how to remove that ink from my finger. And I don't know what the purpose of this ink that they are using now for this election.

OLBERMANN: I guess just consistency with what happened in Iraq. But, obviously, here and in Iraq, it's been viewed as a mark of freedom. Do you worry about your family, though, in Iraq after the vote? The terrorists did not get to many people today, but if they want to come after people tomorrow, most of the voters will still have the blue fingers. Do you worry about that?

QADIR: Well, we are not really - as the Kurdish, we are not worried about that. We are faced with so many consequences and with so many problems in Iraq. So, this problem - like, actually, this is one of the opportunities for all Kurdish to participate and to achieve something within Iraq, in the parliament of Iraq.

So, every single Kurdish, as you can see, in - around the world in different countries, that they are traveling far away just for - especially to vote and to achieve something within Iraq.

OLBERMANN: We've spent an hour talking about a vote. Until you, none of the people we talked to was Iraqi. Let me give you the last words of this hour. What did this all mean to you today?

QADIR: Well, that's a really good thing.

Like, that's everything to me. That is the day that I was waiting for and to participate, to have an election like today, a vote, and which makes me happy and to have a right for myself and to stay - to stay up and to have - to have something within my country, within Iraq, in Iraq, to actually like - to have self-freedom, yes.

OLBERMANN: Dilshad Qadir, thanks for joining us and good luck in getting the ink off your finger.

QADIR: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: That's it for this special edition of Countdown. Thank you for being part of it. If you encountered us for the first time tonight, we're usually here Monday through Friday 8:00 Eastern, again at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific. Be there. Aloha.

MSNBC's coverage of the Iraqi elections continues next with Chris Matthews.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.


Friday, January 28, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 28

Guest: Randy Clark, Margaret Carlson, Jeff Thomason, Tom Squitieri

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC ANCHOR: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Democracy and the deadly road to it. Insurgent attack polling places, U.S. soldiers, Iraqi policemen, and even an electoral candidate. Just as President Bush says U.S. forces will get out if asked.

Hey, all the kids are doing it. A third journalist enthusiastically supporting the Bush administration's marriage initiative as long as the check is in the mail.

Sunday surprise. An NFL player turned New Jersey construction worker is headed to Jacksonville for one last game. They call it the Super Bowl.

The belly as billboard. A pregnant woman offering advertisers the chance to plug their product on her seven-month bump.

All that and more now on Countdown.

Good evening to you. I'm Alison Stewart. Still holding down fort while Keith Olbermann is on vacation. The good news tonight, voting has officially begun in the Iraqi elections without incident. The bad news, that's because none of it has taken place within the borders of the country itself.

Our fifth story in the Countdown, T minus two days until the polls open inside Iraq. The creation of a hostile and deadly environment continued as more lives were lost today. Insurgents attacking at least six designated polling sites in yet another attempt to make Iraqis stay home on Sunday. That's in addition to roadside bombs targeting U.S. troops. At least 10 Iraqis and five American soldiers were killed in today's violence.

Now the Iraqi government announced it has arrested three close associates of the al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And insisted it's the insurgents who are on the defensive. There's still more. Two American pilots, the fate of them unknown tonight after their Kiowa helicopter crashed in southwest Baghdad. Military officials do not believe the helicopter was hit by hostile fire. It is believed the chopper flew into electrical wires.

Today's crash comes just two days after a Super Stallion helicopter went down in bad weather in western Iraq killing 31 servicemen.

In the Iraqi capital tonight the lockdown has begun. U.S. soldiers blocking the streets of Baghdad today with concrete barriers. MSNBC's David Shuster join us now from Baghdad. David, with only hours to go until the polls open, can you set the scene for us tonight in that city?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Alison, it is very tense as you mentioned. Streets are closed. Shops are closed. The U.S. forces have moved out of some of the larger bases like this one and essentially made the security zone much larger. In addition for much of the night, we've been hearing F-15s, F-16s flying over. We've been told that U.S. operations are much more aggressive now as far as trying to find out the insurgents, trying to track down some of the bombs that they may have placed or that they may be making. There have been some claims by insurgent groups that they may have as many as 400 suicide bombers ready to go on Sunday. U.S. forces are desperately trying to find some of them in order to prevent the violence.

In addition to that, a lot of the bombs that you were talking about, the car bombs, you can hear them here in Baghdad every time they go off. And the frequency with which you've been hearing these thuds, and then followed by the gunfire and then the roar of the Bradleys as the U.S. forces out there try to go after the insurgents or escape from them. The frequency by which those attacks and those engagements are happening is much more frequent than people, say, have been happening in the past. For example, my colleagues who have been here much longer than me say there have been certainly a ratcheting up of the attacks and of the engagements here in Baghdad.

STEWART: Now on the surface, it appears that that announcement that three of Zarqawi's associates have been arrested was aimed at helping reassure Iraqis about security. Now is that how it is being received over there?

SHUSTER: Not really, Alison. The interior minister, when he made the announcement, it was clearly part of the campaign to try to reassure Iraqis. But it turns out that these arrests were made more than 10 days ago and it is not clear what impact if any, what information if any they they've been able to get out of these aides to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And clearly, even though they made the arrests, the violence is intensifying and it has sort of become a bit of a wash, at least as far as many Iraqis seem to think.

STEWART: All right. I need to pick your brain here. This election is far from a vanilla, walk in, pick a guy, walk out. Walk us through what makes this Iraqi election so unusual.

SHUSTER: One of the things that makes it unusual right off the start is Iraqis have not voted for anybody but one candidate over the last several decades. That's very strange to be going into an election ballot where you have essentially 111 different lists. When you look at the ballot, there are mostly parties. There are few individuals but each of those sort of representatives and they are numbered. The campaign has been conducted with the group saying vote for number 50, number 75, or vote for this particular logo.

With each particular party, there is a list of possible candidates who would serve in the legislature. And the number of seats that they would receive in the legislature, the general assembly, whatever you want to call it, is based on a percentage of the votes. For example, if somebody gets 33 percent of the popular vote, they would then get one-third of 275 seats which I think according to my math is about 88.

So that's the way the election essentially will break down. Again, most of the people that are listed on the ballot, these are parties, not individuals, although if you want to look for the individuals who might get possible seats in the legislature, you can now do so after a lot of candidates deciding that they didn't want their names published. Now officially the names are being released. There are some 7,000 who could possibly, or at least tonight are thinking they may have an outside chance of landing one of these seats in the legislature. But again it depends on the percentage of the vote that their particular organization receives.

STEWART: David Shuster, thanks for taking something complicated and helping us to understand it. We appreciate it. Take care in Baghdad tonight.

SHUSTER: You're welcome. Thanks, Alison.

STEWART: Someone who is not running for election could still end up a major player in the new Iraqi government. Richard Engel has more from Baghdad on the invisible force who is guiding many candidates.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Campaigning door to door. Waffah Hussein (ph) is determined. A devout Shiite Muslim, she is running on a little known slate. Her campaign message? Voting is a God-given right that will lead to stability and security. Her headquarters, a charity now educating women voters.

Her husband Rod (ph) is running, too, but for a different small party. His political forum, mosques. But what many voters don't realize is the same invisible yet formidable force is behind both of them. The senior Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Al-Sistani isn't a candidate himself but it doesn't matter. Many people here consider him to be the most powerful man in Iraq, the leader of the Shiite who make up 60 percent of the population. The question everyone is asking is if his supporters win, will he push this country toward Islamic rule?

The answer according to Abdel Aziz al-Hakim (ph), the leader of the most prominent Shiite bloc, also blessed by al-Sistani is no.

"We don't want to establish a religious or sectarian state but one open to everyone," he says.

But there's a different message at Rod's mosque seminars. "The new government will be accountable to the people who have suffered so much," says this cleric, "and will promote Islam throughout the land."

But there is another concern about Sistani and his top clerics: their

close ties to Iran. Waffar's charity and Rod's mosque campaigns are funded

by the Iran's hardline Islamist government.

GEOFFREY KEMP, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: The priority for Iran is to make sure that a government comes into power in Baghdad that is dominated by Shiites with whom they have relations.

ENGEL: Many others fear Sunday's elections could set a course for Iraq to gradually drift closer to Iran and its theocracy, guided by a powerful and reclusive Ayatollah whose vision for Iraq remains unclear. Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.


STEWART: Now as you mentioned at the top of the program, actual voting in the Iraqi elections has begun only not in Baghdad. All around the world, in fact, though, including five U.S. cities. Kerry Sanders is in one of them tonight, Nashville, with more on democracy in action.


KERRY SANDERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Casting a ballot. Cause for celebration. A dance for democracy among people who once lived under dictatorship. In Nashville, home of the largest Iraqi Kurdish community, Mohammed Hamo (ph) with his 3-year-old son Dylan, grateful to the more than 1,400 members of the U.S. military who have died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it wasn't for all the sacrifice the American people did and all the allied forces, we wouldn't be here today.

SANDERS: In New York, 26-year-old Nadir al-Hadini (ph) says he will travel to Maryland to vote this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I vote because I believe in it.

SANDERS: His vote represents his whole family. His uncle in Baghdad said he is not voting because it is too dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, the security, it's very danger to me now to go to the vote.

SANDERS: In this country, the Department of Homeland Security said it has received no credible threats against U.S. polling places. Still all those eligible are not voting. In Detroit, Ayad Nakshabani (ph) blames confusion. The ballot has 111 party choices. But the names of candidates weren't released until yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't know who is who.

SANDERS: Of an estimated 350,000 eligible voters in the United States, fewer than 26,000 registered to vote in this historic election. Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Nashville.


STEWART: And rounding out our number five story, a sharp turn from the Iraqi voting booth to detainees interrogation chambers. Female interrogators at Guantanamo Bay have employed a slate of extreme tactics, specifically designed to prey upon strict Islamist religious tenets. According to an insider's account obtained by the Associated Press, the interrogators sported thongs and bras during questioning, touched themselves or prisoners in the genital area and in one case, allegedly smeared a Saudi man's face with red ink and told the prisoners it was menstrual blood. All efforts designed to psychologically break the Muslim men many of whom have strict beliefs that forbid close contact with any woman who isn't a wife or any women menstruating. Both are considered a sin, strictly taboo.

"Inside the Wire," a book due out later this year details the firsthand accounts of Army Sergeant Eric Sar (ph) worked as an Arabic translator at Gitmo from December of '02 to June 2003. The FBI criticized these sexual tactics as, quote, "highly aggressive" in a letter sent last month to U.S. defense officials.

Moving from punishment abroad to crime at home, a Georgia mom disappears without a trace near a marina where she lives. Now nine days later, suspicions are falling on her husband.

And later, it looks like Armstrong Williams, just the tip of the iceberg. He was not alone. A third journalist now accused of accepting cash from the Bush administration to promote its agenda.


STEWART: It is a story eerily reminiscent of another case. A woman vanishes. Authorities search the waters where she lived and some family member point to her husband as a possible suspect.

Our number four story on the Countdown tonight, without a trace. A Georgia woman disappeared nine days ago from a marina where she lived with her husband and nearly three years. Cindy Lynch shared a three-story yacht with her husband Chet at the Thunderbolt Yacht Club Marina in Savannah, Georgia. Authorities from several agencies have already searched the waters there and plan to extend that search farther down the Wilmington (ph) River.

Police have also searched at least two construction sites where Chet Lynch worked as a contractor. The detective on the case saying, quote, "it works to rule him out or link him and we haven't done either yet." Meanwhile, Chet Lynch is adamant that he is not responsible for his wife's disappearance.


CHET LYNCH, HUSBAND OF MISSING WOMAN: Absolutely nothing to do with her disappearance. And I've been put through the wringer with that. And you know, I have nothing to do with my wife's appearance. I loved her. It just didn't happen.


STEWART: The mystery is yielding some authentic clues, investigators say, but also strange calls regarding possible sightings. Joining me now is Cindy Lynch's brother Randy Clark. And Randy, thank you so much for taking time to be on the program under these circumstances.


STEWART: Mr. Clark, there have been reports about a phone call between your sister and your mom before she disappeared. Can you tell us what was said?

CLARK: Sure. My mom and sister were obviously very close. And my sister had called my mom and spoke to her, I mean, my mom and my mom's husband for about an hour and a half. She had some concerns about her situation with the relationship. And during the conversation which was just a day before she became missing, she made a comment to my mom that mom, if anything ever happens, you just need to make sure you contact the authorities. And that is what has gotten most of the family members very concerned about her disappearance. Because it was just the day before she became missing.

STEWART: Now how would you categorize the relationship between Cindy and her husband?

CLARK: Well, I mean, they were having some marital problems . And it has been going on since the end of last year. They've only been married for a couple years. so they were having some tough times.

STEWART: Have they known each other a long time before they got married?

CLARK: No. They didn't. They probably were only acquaintances for probably three or four years. Eight months prior to marriage.

STEWART: Eight months prior to marriage. OK.

As far as you know, Chet is being cooperative with the police, right?

CLARK: Yes. Chet has been cooperative and assisting the GBI with any of the investigation that we can bring her home safely and that's our ultimate goal.

STEWART: Now I know you're in law enforcement yourself. And I know you cannot comment on the details of this case, nor should you. But in a case like this, what kind of clues are law enforcement looking for?

CLARK: Well, they go through with a fine-toothed comb. And they try to pick up on any potential leads, phone calls is very helpful. Especially anyone who knows of any of the dealings with Cindy or her relationships and things like that that can possibly break the case for them.

STEWART: What's the police hotline? I know you have got a number there.

CLARK: I do.

STEWART: Let me help you out. I think we have...

CLARK: It's Crimestoppers hotline and it's area code 912-234-2020.

STEWART: Randy Clark, we thank you for your time tonight. We hope that putting that phone number up there helps out a whole lot. Best to your family.

CLARK: Thank you so much. Thank you.

STEWART: Up next, we take a nightly break from the very serious news of the day to bring you some stuff like that. Like that guy. Forget the terminator. Meet a real robot on "Oddball."

Plus, parents who share every single moment of their baby's lives with family and friends are now taking it one step further, sharing every moment with a global audience as well. On the web, baby blogging coming up.


STEWART: I'm Alison Stewart wrapping up the week in Keith Olbermann's comfy chair. But they make me sit on a booster seat because I'm short. Sometimes you just got to stop the Countdown of that real news stuff and pause to appreciate all things goofy. Let's play "Oddball."

I got to give me one of these. It's called the sword. And it is being developed for military, not home consumer use. Not yet anyway. The robot is the second generation with one being used in Iraq right now. Except that this one is armed with live cameras, night vision, and a .50 caliber machine gun. And you thought that Roomba vacuum rocked.

The sword is slated to be ready sometime later this year and will ship with one simple warning label: aim away from face.

Another new product news. Check out the latest craze across South Korea. It's a 21st century version of the hula hoop. It's the sing song hoop. That's is it, sing song hoop. Rather than molded plastic, this new version is heavier with a focus on exercise and made from a double layer of metal springs. Here two women dangerously demonstrate the sing song hoop in a crowded shopping mall. One woman said the hoop had acupuncture effects that have improved digestion. I hear Tums do the same thing. Just a thought.

And finally, by popular request, we are updating our story from Northridge, Illinois concerning the deer who had a trash can lid stuck on his head for the past month. We don't have any real new information really. It's just that so many people wanted to see it again so. We will, however, be looking into what animal control officials can do to free this little fellow because as we reported last night, they cannot tranquilize the deer without then having to put the animal down. Of course, it's always possible that the buck actually prefers lid. A little bit of deer bling bling or something like that. I mean, he could be saying to the other deer, hey, yo, yo, check me out. I like that I made an urban deer. Yo, yo, check me out.

Stay tuned to the Countdown for further updates on this developing "Oddball" story.

Two days to the election that could provide an exit strategy of sorts for American soldiers. The president saying that he will pull U.S. troops out of Iraq if the government asks him to.

And what about Poland? The vice president making a major fashion faux pas at a solemn ceremony for the victims of Auschwitz. Those stories ahead.

But first here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of the day. Number three, Dantler Thomas of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been arrested and charged with robbery after holding up a market for about $2,000. Police say he might have gotten away with it if he hadn't returned to the scene of the crime to get the gun that he actually left there.

Number two, Carolyn Folsom working at a gas station in Omaha, Nebraska. She accidentally programmed the pumps to sell gas at 18 cents a gallon instead of $1.98. The problem went unnoticed for about a couple of hours as 500 gallons were sold at the bargain price. But when word got around town, the rush on the station ended in a near riot. She is so lucky that her dad is the boss of the station! So lucky.

And number one, David Dickinson, a cattle man of Milford, Nebraska. He's got a bit of a situation in his high density feed lot. His manure pile is on fire. Not his manure but that of more than 12,000 cows. The 30-foot high and 100 foot long pile has been burning for almost three months and no one seems able to be able to put it out. Did they try stomping on that?


STEWART: A "say, what?" moment for the president and another journalist with a nice bank account courtesy of the administration. Our third story on the Countdown President Bush sends tongues wagging with a comment about pulling troops out of Iraq. Another journalist is outed for taking payments from the administration and the secretary of state sworn in twice so it can be nice.

But we start with the president who told the "New York Times," as a matter of principle, he would pull American troops out of Iraq if the government that's elected Sunday asks him to do so. The president told the paper, "this is a sovereign government. They're on their feet." But added, "it seems like most of the leadership there understands that there will be a need for coalition troops at least until the Iraqis are able to fight."

A Zogby survey released today found the majorities of both Iraq's Shiite and Sunnis calling for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from their soil. To quote the Clash, should we stay or should we go? To talk about all of this, I'm joined now by Tom Squitieri, Pentagon reporter for "USA Today." Tom, is this the first time we've heard the all you had to do was ask concept?

TOM SQUITIERI, "USA TODAY": Well, it sort of trickled up from some of the other people in the Bush administration. But it is the first time the president has said it. And you know, Alison, it is one of those things that the latest reason the United States says it is in Iraq is to bring democracy.

So when you have a vote, it is considered bad form not to listen to what the new government that the people selected asked you to do.

STEWART: Do you think we're moving towards an exit strategy?

SQUITIERI: Well, there's no exit strategy in the Pentagon at this point. So this would give them an exit strategy. And some people think that's what the Bush administration wants to do. You may recall, the last couple of weeks you've been hearing from generals and other senior Pentagon types that it looks like the United States is going to be there at its present troop level for a couple more years. The Bush administration and Secretary Rumsfeld have also said we'll be there as long as it takes. So they're sort of conceding the fact that Iraq is not yet a done deal for democracy or stability. Yet if the - which means they can't get out before at least two or three more years. But if the new government comes and says, hey, we want to you leave, that gives them that opportunity.

STEWART: It was also interesting in that article, the president said that U.S. troops need to be seen as helpers rather than occupiers. Has there been any movement towards that end?

SQUITIERI: Indeed, the military does do a lot of what you and I may call humanitarian work. They build schools, they guard sewage plants. There's a lot of that going on. But in those local areas, that is impact and the memory of U.S. troops. But over all, the U.S. is viewed as an occupier. And the problem with saying we're going to leave at a certain date, which they haven't said yet, other countries are pulling out at certain dates, it gives the insurgents or the bad guys the opportunity to sit back and wait for that date to happen. And then resume their activities. If you know the United States is going to leave, let's say, at the end of this year or the middle of next year, or 90 days after the election, why do you want to attack U.S. soldiers now and disrupt the economy and disrupt the political system when you can wait until there are fewer people shooting at you to do that?

STEWART: You know, a lot of pundits say that this election is almost as important for President Bush as it is for the Iraqis. Is that an overstating the case or is it on the money?

SQUITIERI: I think it is pretty close to on the money. If you look at what happened in Afghanistan. They had a very successful election that's helped Afghanistan move toward a stronger democracy, a stronger country free of terrorism. It is a different situation, of course, in Iraq. A lot more different elements, a lot more challenges. But if you do have an election Sunday that it can be credibly seen as a small step toward democracy that can give President Bush some vindication of bringing a democracy to Iraq others say. We have to see what happens Sunday and the two weeks, three weeks after the election when they're counting the votes, how many candidates who are elected are still alive.

STEWART: Tom Squitieri, Pentagon reporter for "USA Today." Thank you so much for your time.

SQUITIERI: Have a pleasant weekend.

STEWART: You too, sir.

When the Armstrong Williams story broke, he was quoted as saying, quote, "This happens all the time. There are others." Well, he wasn't fibbing about that. Today word of a third journalist who received payments from the Bush administration. Michael McManus writes a weekly column called "Religion and Ethics" and is the co-founder with his wife of an advocacy group called Marriage Savers. In 2003, the Department of Health and Human Services, we've heard of him, paid McManus $4,000 plus travel expenses, apparently he drives a hard bargain. He was paid the money and he delivered a number of speeches promoting the administration's, quote, "community, healthy marriage initiative." Last September, he received a $49,000 grant to develop a program to encourage single moms with babies to get hitched.

Mr. McManus told NBC News he is no Armstrong Williams saying, quote, "I don't feel it's appropriate to flack for the administration. I wasn't bought." End quote.

Political backlash was swift. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee releasing this statement, quote, "President Bush's agenda must be in real trouble when he's forced to buy stories from right-wing columnists and reporters. The American people deserve to know the truth. How many more reporters are on your payroll, Mr. Bush?" End quote.

This marks the third such payee to come to light. Earlier in the week, the "Washington Post" reported the same department, Health and Human Services, paid syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher $22,000 to promote the president's marriage initiative. She, too, claims she did nothing wrong.

Well, to tear into all this, it is a privilege to be joined for a second time this week by "TIME" magazine's Margaret Carlson. Margaret, did these people do something wrong? And if so, exactly what?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, if they disclosed what was going on, it wouldn't be so wrong. But to act as a journalist, or play one on TV, and not say that you're being paid by the person that you're commenting on, is - treads very close to being unethical. Because if I were being paid by someone, wouldn't you want to know that? That -

Armstrong Williams was paid directly to promote No Child Left Behind. These others, McManus and Gallagher were paid to do actual work. But they're on the payroll of the Bush administration and then go out and talk about these programs as if they're not. And I think that crosses the line.

STEWART: So these three people, McManus, Williams and Gallagher, why these three?

CARLSON: Well, here's the real scandal. The Bush administration is paying, spending, taxpayer dollars to get what they could have for free. It's not as if these people are changing their opinion. Now, if you get a convert to your side, maybe that's, you know, money better spent because you're getting something out of it. This is not a good use of your scandalous dollars.

STEWART: Well, this fellow Michael McManus, he founded an organization called Marriage Savers back in, I think, 1996. Now these are his beliefs were likely in line anyway. Could it be argued he was just being savvy, he was going to write a column like that anyway?

CARLSON: Well, he was. So why the Bush administration was paying him, and why he wouldn't reveal it. Because hey, the name of his organization is Marriage Savers. And in fact, editors and producers should be the ones that either vet the person that they're putting on TV or having write a column and disclose it in some way when they put the person on. I think that would be the preferable way to do it. If the journalist, if the McManus or the Gallagher doesn't know to reveal it, the editor or producer should know to reveal it.

STEWART: One more question for you before I let you go. In terms of the administration, is this just a mild embarrassment or is this something bigger?

CARLSON: Well, in his press conference, you could tell President Bush seemed not to like it. I'm not sure how big it is. I think someone got the bright idea, oh, hey, let's get people to pretend to be journalists and on our side. One of the peculiar things about it is that the Bush administration, and HHS, they don't like journalists. Why would they think that the journalists they don't like promoting their policies is going to make their policies more palatable to people? That's a mystery that remains. But in any event, it is not money well spent.

STEWART: This is weird journalism infomercial territory. Margaret Carlson of "TIME" magazine, thanks again.

CARLSON: Alison, good night.

STEWART: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was officially sworn in today. Wait. Didn't I already report this? It is deja vu all over again. That's because Dr. Rice was sworn in Wednesday privately in the White House by the president's chief of staff. That's Andy Card. Today was the public ceremony. And practice makes perfect. A perfectly good photo op for madam secretary to be sworn in with the president of the United States right there for the world to see. Oh, yes. That's also her Aunt Maddie (ph), her Aunt Jean (ph) and her Uncle Alto (ph) up there. The president is the guy on the left.

So now she really, really is the secretary of state. Ruth Bader Ginsberg as well.

And lastly, a programming note. Senator John Kerry will sit down with Tim Russert Sunday on "Meet The Press." This is an exclusive. His first interview since he lost the election.

But first watch this. Space. A mom to be puts her belly up for sale to the highest advertising bidder. If you think that's odd, wait until you see what some parents are doing after the kid is born.

Plus, she's handed in her notice three times and now she's handing it in six years in advance. Is Oprah really calling it quits?


STEWART: There is nothing more amazing than the bond between parent and child forged by prenatal nurturing and ultrasound photo framing, cemented by baby book (UNINTELLIGIBLE), little Morgan or Bethany's first lock of hair. Every single feeding, hick up and diaper change, documented in unnerving detail. All things thankfully to be treasured privately because honestly, the rest of us don't really care that much. The kid is cute and everything but we're just being nice.

Our number two story on the Countdown tonight, the World Wide Web and TMI, new proof that the Internet is making parents insane. More insane. We begin in Myrtle Beach where one mother to be took one look at her expanding waistline and thought, real estate. Here's Lucas McFadden with our affiliate WIS.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First reaction was, like, I can't believe you're doing this. You're crazy. You're nuts.

LUCAS MCFADDEN, WIS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 22-year-old Amber Rainey (ph) from Myrtle Beach is taking pregnancy to a whole new level. She's selling advertising space on her pregnant belly on E-bay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got the idea from the guy who put his forehead up for bid on E-bay. He got 37-some thousand dollars doing it. So I was just joking around, I'll put my face up on E-Bay. I said, wait a minute. I have a really big stomach. It's like, hey! Everyone looks at it, too.

You can't help but look at a pregnant belly.

MCFADDEN: Your husband isn't here but what does he think of this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basically he thinks I'm crazy and he has the shaking of the head and the - that's pretty much what I get from him.

MCFADDEN: What do you want to say to folks that say it is kind of tacky.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE; I just don't think it's tacky. I think pregnant bellies are cute.

MCFADDEN: Rainey will display her belly billboard until she has her child in late March.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it would be cute for a company like, you know, a diaper company or a pregnancy test company. How cute to have me walking around with a pregnant belly with a pregnancy test. Just something silly like that.

MCFADDEN: You and I know that's probably not going to happen.

Rainey's belly has been posted on E-Bay since late Tuesday night. And the bidding will end in five days. She says her site is averaging roughly seven hits a minute. One group that bellied up was a local rock band that wanted exposure.

MCFADDEN: Do you think it's inappropriate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I mean, logos and websites and what not. I mean, nothing obscene or anything. And basically, I don't really have anything - just as long as it is not obscene or offensive.

MCFADDEN: So far the bid for Rainey's belly is over $400.

Does this set a good example for your unborn child?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it will prove to him that his mom is a lot of fun.

MCFADDEN: With the money from this auction, Rainey plans to furnish a nursery for her child and set up a college fund.


STEWART: By the way, the bidding on Amber's belly now nearly $2,000.

That story makes those baby on board signs seem a whole lot less noxious. And our next story will make them seem downright quaint. Baby blogging can take a parent's obsession with his perfect little angel to a whole new level. Countdown's Monica Novotny checked this al out for us. Hi, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alison. It is the latest must have item for tech savvy parents. An online brag book. That's right. A baby blog written by mom and dad, devoted entirely to the proud moments of parenthood and the intricacies of infancy.


(voice-over): Meet the McNeils (ph), one family that's not afraid to air their dirty laundry.

Each day, stay-at-home dad Ben tracks messy diapers along with just about every other detail, documenting the development of his 18-month-old daughter. All on a baby blog devoted to Trixie (ph).

What was meant to be an online baby book just for family is now yet another Internet web log read by thousands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to document the experience that you don't find out about in the baby books.

NOVOTNY: Ben created the "Trixie Update" five weeks after her birth when wife Jennifer returned to work as a web window into their world at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it might be, like, fun if she could see that Trixie was taking a nap or that she was getting enough milk and that her diapering is going OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's histology. It really made me feel connected. And it made the days go by better.

NOVOTNY: Park database, part diary, part community where word spread and soon strangers started logging in to get advice, to give it, or just watch Trixie grow.

Now this baby blog attracts 2,000 readers a day. From her belly button to milk consumption to sleep charts, the world is watching. And some of the information is unusual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I discovered that she was taking 38 minutes naps all the time.

One year of breast pumping to feed Trixie translated into 22 straight days of pumping. She didn't really have a butt until she was, like, a month or two old and if you don't have a butt, the diaper's not going to fit.

NOVOTNY: She's going to love watching this in 10 years!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I know. She's going to kill me.

AMANDA LENHART, PEW INTERNET RESEARCH: They're definitely a growing phenomenon. It actually streamlines a lot of things that parents want to do. It allows them to record things that are important to them and also share it with people they love.

NOVOTNY: But Internet researcher Amanda Lenhart warns, blog carefully.

LENHART: Though a web logs are a public space. Parents need to remember that when you put something up about your child, that anyone can come and see it.

NOVOTNY: For Ben, a careful balance. With his lovable devil in the details.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just like one look at a very specific little girl who had a dad who had too much extra time when she was a little baby.


NOVOTNY: If you want to start your own baby blog but are concerned about privacy issues, experts say there are few easy tips you can follow. First, don't use your baby's full name. You may just want to use a first initial or a nickname. Don't disclose where you live and think about having password protection on the website so that you can decide who has access to it.

Finally, remember that your beautiful baby will grow up and in a few years, maybe mortified by what you've offered up to the world so please edit wisely.

STEWART: Trixie, so cute! Adorable.

NOVOTNY: So cute.

STEWART: And a great family.

NOVOTNY: They're really really sweet.

STEWART: Monica Novotny, thanks so much for introducing us to the Trixie cam.

The fashion entertainment stories are keeping tabs with some breaking news. Oprah Winfrey is retiring in the year 2011. It is the third such announcement for the queen of all media but Oprah says this time she means it. Her contract expires in six years and after that, no more. We can begin the farewell tour now. And you have a little less than 2,190 days to figure out how to get on one of those shows where she gives away all the really expensive stuff.

And finally the fashion faux pas that is becoming an international incident. There's an uproar over Vice President Cheney's choice of attire when he attended the Holocaust Memorial in Holland yesterday. It was a solemn event marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Well, he dressed for the weather, at least.

Sitting among a sea of world leaders in black formal coats, the vice president stood out in his green parka and knit hat from the Jackson Hole Ski Resort. Fashion writer Robin Givhan of the "Washington Post" criticized Cheney for arriving dressed, quote, "in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snowblower." End quote. And pointed out that clearly Cheney owns a proper over coat. The world saw it during his swearing in as vice president last week in frigid snowdusted Washington. Perhaps he forgot to pack his good coat or it was at the dry cleaner's.

Maybe he thought he was going to a Green Bay-Packers game.

The Givhan contended the parker cap and boots had the unfortunate effect of suggesting that he was more concerned with his own comfort than the reason for braving the cold at all.

A final shot at glory for an old NFL pro called out of retirement for one game. And it's the Super Bowl.


STEWART: In a little more than a week, about 90 million people will pull up a Lazy Boy and park their nachos in front of a wide screen to watch the annual grid iron clash that is the Super Bowl. Now how many of those will want to put the Bud down and turn that ineffectual screaming into on-field action? How many will actually get the chance to do it?

Our number one story in the Countdown, one, one lucky man. Like every other rabid Philly sports fan an assistant project manager for a New Jersey construction firm was watching last week's Eagles-Falcons game where he saw Eagles tight end Chad Lewis's Super Bowl dreams cut short by an injury. Next day, his phone rang. Chad Lewis wanted Jeff Thomason, that construction worker to take his place on February 6. Bit of a shocker, no? Actually maybe not so much. The two are buds. Earlier, I had a chance to speak with Mr. Thomason.


STEWART: Jeff, thanks a bunch for joining us.

JEFF THOMASON, CONTRACTOR: Hi, Alison, good to be here.

STEWART: OK, so you're sitting at home, your pal calls you on the phone, you're talking for a little while then he says, hey, you want to take my place in the Super Bowl? What were you thinking?

THOMASON: I was actually sitting in my office. And he called me about 10:00 and said, hey, come in and take my spot. Chad Lewis mentioned that as unselfish as he is. And I was shocked. I never thought it would actually come to be but here I am today.

STEWART: Had you guys ever talked about anything like this? About, man, I'd really like another chance to be in the Super Bowl?

THOMASON: Well, I've seen him a lot throughout the season, a lot of tight ends. And we discussed - they keep saying we'd like to get me back. We had some good, you know, good couple of years ago. Mike Baten (ph), Chad Lewis, and myself. Never did I think two weeks before the Super Bowl I'd come in for the biggest game of the year.

STEWART: OK, you need to clarify for the non-football people out there. You're not this average construction guy putting up sheet rock with the plumbers cracking everything. You were a live former pro player. And you played for the Eagles for how long actually?

THOMASON: Three years I played for them.

STEWART: So what is it you think that you know or you have that might have that might help out on February 6?

THOMASON: Well, I've been in this offense for ten years. I'm familiar with these guys. I spent three years here. It's a pretty comfortable setting for me being back here with these guys. And I'm comfortable in the big game. I've played in two Super Bowls. So I have a little bit of experience in these type of games so. With those I think that's definitely helped me get the nod .

STEWART: So why'd you retire in the first place?

THOMASON: It was not my choice. The phones stopped ringing. I didn't have any other options to go play anymore.

STEWART: Well, it is ringing now.

THOMASON: It is ringing . It's going crazy and I'm loving it.

STEWART: Is it really true that you had to take vacation time to be part of this?

THOMASON: Initially when I found out about it I was actually going to a sales meeting. I ran out of there and went straight to the facility here to try to get some stuff to show these guys I can still run. so initially I called my boss and said, hey, I'll take vacation time, whatever I've got to do. I need to take advantage of this opportunity so...

STEWART: But it's kind of a working vacation though? Best case scenario, you walk away with how much? Worst case scenario, may I ask?

THOMASON: Best case, I think it's about $38,000 - I'm not exactly sure of the numbers. I'm sorry best case is $68,000, worst case is $38,000. Which is - if we win it doubles my salary so.

STEWART: One quick question for you, how is Chad doing? It's been really exciting for you but he's really missing out on a big thing?

THOMASON: He is. Chad is the most incredible guy I know. He's such a good man. All he does is think about other people. And I know that he's hurting, he'd love to be - I'd give (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to have him here to be able to play in the game. But he's so positive. All he does is think about the fact that I'm getting a chance to play in this thing and I'm here. All he does is talk about other people. I know he's hurting. I wish he could be here. But he's just a positive man. He takes things as they come.

STEWART: All right, so February 8, let's say, headed back to work or are you thinking you might stick around and do this football thing again another year?

THOMASON: You know what, realistically, I'm probably going to be heading back to work. It's going to be a strange feeling sitting back on my desk on the 8th or 9th and just kind of wondering what I just went through.

STEWART: Yes, but you might have a big, fat ring to show everybody so...

THOMASON: Which will be nice. I'm definitely hoping for that.

STEWART: Jeff Thomason, thanks a bunch. We appreciate it. Good luck to you.

Yes, all the ladies on the Countdown staff think he's cute too. That's it for Countdown. Thanks for being a part of it. I'm Alison Stewart, Keith Olbermann will be back this Sunday for a special edition of Countdown on the Iraqi elections. That's 8:00 p.m. this Sunday on MSNBC. Have a really great night.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 27

Guest: Richard Boucher, Donald Claxton, Tom Lorenz, Dennis Adamo


ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The insurgents assault won't let up. A day of bombings aimed at sites where Iraqis were supposed to vote. We'll get latest on the ground in Baghdad. And talk to State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher.

The L.A. train tragedy. The death toll rises as survivors recount the horrifying crash. Rescue workers getting praise for their flawless response.

Kids find money, kids keep money, even share with a classmate. The drug dealer who stashed the hundred grand had a problem with that, and he's not shy about wanting it back. An entire community is on edge.

Putting the science in CSI. Crime scene shows are all the rage on the tube, now they're all the rage in the classroom. And some teachers couldn't be any happier.

And is that your cell phone in your pocket or are you just really happy to see me? Jenna Jameson makes a big splash with the way cell phone users reach out and touch someone. All that and more now on Countdown.


STEWART: And good evening to you, I'm Alison Stewart here, while Keith Olbermann is enjoying a well deserved vacation.

Many Americans won't venture out to vote when it is even raining outside, raising the question how can Iraqis be expected to vote if they could lose their life attempting to do so?

Our fifth story on the Countdown, violence before the vote with only two days to go until the polls open in Iraq. A bloody campaign bent on intimidation is surging forward. There are concerns that large numbers of Iraqis believe it is simply safer to just stay home.

Richard Engel has our report from Baghdad.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Car bombs, mortars and machine gun attacks, at least 19 Iraqis and one U.S. Marine dead. The Marine was killed in Iskandariyah in mortar attack, five others were wounded. In Baqubah, a suicide car bomb killed an Iraqi policeman and injured six bystanders. Two roadside bombs in Tarmiyah killed two Iraqi civilians. In Ramadi, four Iraqi national guards were found executed. In Baghdad, three schools designated as polling centers were attacked. No injuries but that's at least 16 schools hit in three days. Just a few of the attacks scattered across the country today. But there's a pattern. Suspected Sunni insurgents carrying out attacks in Sunni Muslim areas.


SIMON HENDERSON, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: They have to make sure that any Sunni who was thinking about going to vote is too scared to go out and vote.

ENGEL: The goal - to make the elections illegitimate, unbalanced without Sunni participation. And as this footage obtained by NBC News shows, insurgents are taking their threats directly to the people. In Haditha, west of Baghdad, they're plastering fliers outside mosques, warning people not to vote. And at night, spray painting more threats. And militants are using the media, posting this video on the Internet that shows insurgents carrying a bomb into a voting center in Mosul, setting the fuse, and then detonating it.

Along with this roadside bombing two weeks ago in Mosul of a U.S. striker fighting vehicle. The U.S. military said, one soldier was killed and three others injured in a bombing in the same area on the same day.

(on camera): The threats and attacks are intimidating people. Baghdad is bunkering down. More people are staying home. Shops are closing early. Some not opening at all.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.


STEWART: And as Richard just reported, at least 16 different schools designated as polling centers have been attacked in the last three days. MSNBC's David Shuster join us live in Baghdad. He's there to cover the election.

David, with all the violence and the vote just days away, what is the word in the Iraqi capital tonight?

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Alison, it is very tense. With all the bombings and you can actually just sense that the thing - things here have ratcheted up. Not only are we starting to hear now gun fire at night, as we did a few moments ago, which is usually something you hear during the day. You can hear the explosions. You can hear the intensity really picking up. But the great fear that Iraqis seem to have, and the great question that hangs in the air, both for the Iraqis and for U.S. Forces, is when they finally announces where the polling places are going to be, and they clamp down curfews and close the road, will that be enough to ensure security?

And furthermore, when Iraqis go to the polls, will they go there with the confidence that the election worker have the nerve to show up. Because if the election worker don't go, there are problems at the polls, and then the insurgents are able to attack some of these polling stations. That, of course, could be a huge problem.

STEWART: Question for you. We heard about the lockdown in Baghdad. How is that affecting your ability as a journalist to do your job? Are you just confined to the green zone?

SHUSTER: Yes. For westerners, Alison, it's very, very difficult, impart because of security concern. You can't go anywhere now, for example, in the green zone without having a military escort to take you there. Outside the green zone, you can still travel around for a little while, but then you risk - you stick out as a sore thumb, so to speak, if you're a westerner and you're travelling around the city of Baghdad and that's very dangerous. So fair or not, there is some legitimate criticism that the western press, especially, isn't being allowed to tell some of the stories other than the one that you see with the plume of smoke or the gun fire in the air or the explosion.

There are a lot of good stories, of course, that are going on as far as the water and the sewage and the sort of the day by day civil affairs. But the problem is those stories can't be told, because journalists are afraid to go out. But also right now, you really can't travel much anywhere over the next couple days, simply because of the curfews and the roads being clamped down. So, there not going be much of a story that's told out of Baghdad for the next couple days, except at those polling sights where, again, the military is going to be escorting members of the press to those particular sites to get pictures, and to get the results of whether or not the Iraqis are actually showing up at the polls.

STEWART: Before I let you go, you mentioned something that was really quite interesting. Tell us a little bit about the infrastructure in Baghdad? We've all been concentrating on the vote and the election so much, how is daily life for Iraqis now?

SHUSTER: Alison, when you drive around, you see people waiting at bus stops. You see people carrying groceries. There are some kids that are kicking around soccer balls. So in a weird sort of way, it looks like your typical big city. Of course, you also then get glares when people notice that you are a westerner. And you do get expense that there's still some electric problems. People, though, do have power several hours a day. There is running water now in most of Baghdad. And life to a certain extent looks like it's returning to normal. But then you hear the explosions. You see that there are 16 polling places attacked. There are the notes that are left on the polling stations saying that you'll be killed if you vote. So, that makes it a very, very abnormal situation.

STEWART: David Shuster live from Baghdad, please take care and thanks for the report.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Alison.

STEWART: Iraq is just one of the challenges facing America's new top diplomat tonight. Newly installed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was welcomed to her new office this morning by State Department employees. But word is she won't be hanging around the water cooler all that often. Not wasting any time, Secretary Rice announced she'll travel to the Middle East and Europe beginning next week. She'll probably have to mend some fences with America's closest ally while she's overseas. British Prime Minister Tony Blair facing a tough re-election fight, directing some rare criticism at the United States yesterday, by claiming that the Bush administration expects far more from its allies than it is willing to give in return.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda, too.


STEWART: Blair's comments, one of the many topics I discussed with Secretary Rice's chief spokesman, Richard Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for public affair. I also asked him about the violence in Iraq and the bloody campaign to keep voter from the polls, beginning with the administration's confidence about security in Iraq on Sunday.


RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We know there going to be attacks. We know there are people who violently opposed to an election, that are violently trying to hold Iraq back. They don't want to concede power. They had power, they had privilege and they don't want to give it up. And they're going to try to cling to it. We also know that the vast majorities of Iraqis want to move forward. They want a chance to decide their future and decide their own government. And all the indications are that there are a lot of Iraqi that's really do want to turn out. That really want to have this election. The government was determined to have it on time, and we've helped them do it. So, I think just the fact of having the election really moves them forward towards a well founded representative government that's based on the legitimacy of an election. And that in itself is an achievement.

STEWART: The president does continue to encourage Iraqis to vote, but how can we here in the comfortable United States of America expect a population to get out there and vote when they could be kill or harassed down the road?

BOUCHER: There are very large parts of the country where it is safe to vote. As safe as it is in the United States, or almost as safe as it is anywhere. But there are places where it is dangerous and where there are problems. There these violent groups, but what they've done in Iraq is not only try to do a better job both between coalition and the Iraqi that's provide security in those areas, so people can go with some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of safety, but also to give them alternatives.

So, folks who can't vote in their home providence might be able to vote in alternate voting centers in Baghdad. Or you can go in and register and vote at the same time in a few provinces, just to make it easier for them. But it will be interesting to see. We've seen it all over the world and other places. That people have gone to vote despite the violence. They did it in Afghanistan, they did it years ago in El Salvador and elsewhere. The fact is people around the world want to control their own lives, want to decide their own futures. It will be interesting to see the Iraqis turn out despite the threats and despite the violence.

STEWART: I want to get your response as to some reports that have been out there, that U.S. forces are helping to promote election and that the U.N. has warned that this will make it difficult to convince the Iraqi public that the Iraqis are still directing these elections. What's your response?

BOUCHER: I think first of all, the U.N. explained itself, shall we say yesterday evening after they made that original statement. So I think they sort of toned down their comments. They realized that they were off base. Second of all, the Iraqis, what the Iraqis are seeing on their television, the Iraqi candidates, Iraqi ads, Iraqi parties, Iraqi coalitions, Iraqis running the election, the Iraqi Election Commission is running the election. As much as we all do support it, I think it really does look like what it is. Which is an Iraqi exercise of Iraqis choosing their own future. So there have been some U.S. military out there providing voter education materials. As far as I'm concerned, the more the better. The more people know about the election the better. It doesn't in any way detract from the legitimacy of the voters who are the Iraqis who actually go out and cast their votes and decide who gets elected.

STEWART: Let's talk bigger picture here. It was announced today that Condoleezza Rice expected to head to London in March. Just yesterday, Tony Blair said that if the U.S. wants the rest of the world to support its agenda, the U.S. needs to do a better job of working with other countries on their priorities. Is Prime Minister Blair correct?

BOUCHER: Well, I think what we have is a situation where we need to remind ourselves of our common priorities. We're all together fighting terrorism, we're fighting AIDS, we're trying to reduce poverty. We have the G-8, NATO, the EU, all these organizations reaching out to bring reform and modernization and democracy to the Arab world. We've got a common interest in Middle East peace. And what Dr. Rice will do first in the trip that starts next week, she'll go off. Secretary Rice will go from the third to the tenth to eight different stops in Europe and also to the Middle East to pursue that common agenda. To tell the Europeans, we want to work with you. We want to work with you on all these important things that we in fact share and want to do together.

Then the president will advance that agenda. And then she'll go back again after the president's trip, she'll go back to this Palestinian conference in London in March. We've got a lot on the plate with the Europeans, a lot of common issues that we have to work on. She's going to get down to work with them.

STEWART: How about you? Are you going to stick around and see it through?

BOUCHER: I think I'll probably move on to some other job. She'll bring in her own spokesman. I'm going to be around to ensure a smooth transition. After all, we're conducting it essentially the same foreign policy that President Bush has been conducting for the last four years.

STEWART: Is there a dream job out there for you?

BOUCHER: There are a lot of things I would like to do. I'm still young and there are a lot of things I would still like to do. We'll just see where I end up.

STEWART: We wish you the best of luck, wherever that is.

BOUCHER: Thank you very much. Good to talk to you.

STEWART: Mr. Boucher signalling his exit as Dr. Rice begins her tenure on the eve of the Iraqi election. And regarding that election, now, according to Mr. Boucher, it is apparently as safe to vote in some places in Iraq as it is to vote in the United States. Just one of the things we'll find out for sure this Sunday. MSNBC will have live coverage from Iraq throughout the day. And Keith Olbermann will be back a day early from vacation to anchor a special Countdown on the election in Iraq. That is this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

Right now, a dangerous case of finders, keepers. Threats at school after some kids find and keep a drug dealer's cash stash.

And it is tragic irony that the suicidal man who killed 11 people by parking his car on the train tracks will now be eligible for the death penalty. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


STEWART: Our next story sound like an afterschool special gone terribly wrong. A 12-year-old kid is home sick from school when two men suddenly barge in to the house. One of the thugs makes like he has a gun in his pocket and he says, I don't have any problem killing you. I want my money right now. Number four on the Countdown tonight in Dallas, a stash of cash. About $100,000 has some drug dealers targeting the kids who found the funds. Authorities fear the dealers are threatening at least several kids both at their homes and at school. An elementary school student found the money somewhere near J.J. Rhodes Learning Center (ph).

Apparently students started showing up at school with just fistfuls of cash as early as Monday. Now that elementary school has beefed up its security. What remains unknown or undisclosed, who found the cash and where exactly they found it. As for that 12-year-old we mentioned, his mom called 911 while intruders were still in her house. And after they fled, ran out and got the license plate number of the car. Dallas police have now issued a felony warrant for 23-year-old Sylvester Adams (ph) who a spokesman said is somehow tied to this case. Meanwhile, parents are still in fear for their kids' live. Today 200 out of the 600 students at J.J. Rhodes Elementary School didn't show up.

Joining me now the spokesman for the Dallas Independent School District, Donald Claxton. Mr. Claxton, thank you so much for your time tonight.


STEWART: A third of the students didn't make to it to school today.

Did you expect that large a number to stay away?

CLAXTON: Well, we had hoped the numbers wouldn't be that high. But actually, what we started doing this morning were 5:00 interviews with all the local television stations. And when children arrived at school with their parents about 8:00 this morning, some of the parents were actually telling the media they brought their kids because they saw that we had a very extensive presence of law enforcement at the schools.

STEWART: Sounds like you're being very proactive about this. How else have you ramped up security?

CLAXTON: Well, we've had Dallas police officers. We've had some of the our Dallas ISD police officers inside the building today. We've had them outside on patrol. We've also had help from the Dallas sheriff's office and the constables.

There were many, many patrol cars, sometimes as many as 3 or 4 at a time traveling around the neighborhoods while school was in session, and particularly at dismissal and arrival.

STEWART: Now, what has been the reaction of the students, the parents to having armed police officers on the school ground?

CLAXTON: Well, that's nothing unusual for our school district. We have a police force. We have long had a contract with the Dallas Police Department to have them in our schools and helping us patrol and keep order and making sure that our kids are constantly safe.

STEWART: Now there have been some reports in the "Dallas Morning News" that are pretty frightening about two men approaching a 17-year-old and getting pretty physical with him at his high school and demanding the money. Now what have you learned about your school safety situation from this experience?

CLAXTON: Well, we always try to strive to do better. We think we've done a pretty good job this week so far. Nobody, obviously, has gotten hurt that we're aware of, nobody has been taken off of our campuses or hurt while they were on our campuses. And even the incidents which you refer to, one of our coaches approached what we now believe is actually the suspect that you mentioned earlier and he fled.

STEWART: Now what guidance have you given your coaches and your teachers and your guidance counselors about talking to the kids about this and dealing with the situation? It is so unusual.

CLAXTON: Well, we've had our counselors on campus at J.J. Rhodes Learning Center this week. We've been actually consulting - counselling with some of our principals and our teachers as well, trying to one, to help them get the facts of the situation and then encourage them to do the right thing. If they've found some of this money, if they have some of it, the best thing we're encouraging them to do is turn it back into authorities so that they don't get caught having some of this dirty money in their hands.

STEWART: Well, Donald Claxton, spokesperson for the Dallas Independent School District, we thank you so much for joining us, tonight. And good luck with your situation.

CLAXTON: Thank you.

STEWART: Moving from the serious news to the seriously silly. It's fish with famous faces. That's next on "Oddball."

And then selling phone sex, literally. We'll neat man behind porn star moan tones for your cell phone. That rhymed.


STEWART: I'm Alison Stewart watering the plants and feeding the fish for Keith Olbermann this week. Although, he did lock the liquor cabinet.

It's time once again for us to pause the Countdown for a quick tour of the world's strangest people, bizarre animals and the things that happen when the two cross paths. Let's play "Oddball."

And let's get a look at those fish. New video coming to us from South Korea of the now famous Chun Jiu-Jao (ph) Carp. The 2 fish with the creepy human faces. The 20 and 30 inch long fish are hybrids, half carp, half leather carp which has produced an animal with the body of a fish and the mug of Christian Slater we think. Stop looking at me. Stop looking at me!

Those fish are creepy.

Speaking of faces in strange places, I don't care if it rains or freezes as long as I got my clipboard Jesus. Douglas Seed (ph) of Cleveland, Ohio says he's had his clipboard for many years, but only recently noticed the face of Jesus staring back at him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is mouth. This is his nose. And he has the two eyes, right there. Then this is like hair coming down off the side of his face. Now why do you have a half that's not here. I don't know.


STEWART: I don't know either, Doug. Maybe we should consider what would Jesus do.

In the meantime, could someone please help this poor deer get the trash can lid off his head? North Ridge, Ohio resident Paul Thomas first spotted the buck 3 weeks ago in his back yard. It was hanging around with a bunch of other deer, you know, engaging in some deer talk, but nobody brought up the lid around his neck. He's been back time and time again over the weeks and shows no signs of being able to get the thing off.

Local animal control officers say they can't help him, because any time they tranquilize a deer, they're forced to euthanize the animal, which is a whole separate issue, so they're leaving it to the deer to figure this out on his own. He got in it, they say, he'll get himself out of it.

Now, that's a plan. And I'd be on the look out for that karmic boomerang guys.

Back to the serious news of the day. In the fatal commuter train crash in L.A. the culprit now facing 11 possible murder charges. Where rescue workers get high praise for making sure the death toll wasn't even higher.

Then the fall-out from the fall-out. Now, even spoofing the Superbowl moment is apparently too hot for TV.

Those stories ahead.

Now here are Countdowns top 3 newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, Alan and Anne Leigh-Browne, the self described devout Baptist couple from Somerset, England say they bought a Doris Day DVD at a local supermarket, but were shocked to find an Italian porn movie come up on the screen when they played it at home. Mr. Leigh-Browne was quoted as saying quote, "my wife and I were very shocked, but we watched it until the end, because we couldn't believe what we were seeing." Sounds reasonable.

No. 2, New York State senator Kevin Parker who last week was arrested for punching a city traffic agent in the face for giving him a ticket. This week he introduced new legislation that would bar public access to some police records. He called it, quote, "the clear your good name act." And it's already working.

And at No. 1, Oklahoma State senator Frank Shurden. With all other problems in his state apparently solved, he has proposed a way to bring back cock fighting, which was banned in Oklahoma in 2002. His idea, boxing gloves for the roosters.

I wish I could tell you I was making this up. His quote, "who's going to object to chickens fighting like humans do. Everybody wins." end quote.

Yes, Frank, everybody wins. Now take (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


STEWART: It has been called the perfect storm of an accident. The man who caused it will be charged with murder, and a day later in the same state, someone else tried the same dangerous stunt. Our No. 3 story on the Countdown tonight, the California commuter crash caused yesterday morning when a man aborted suicide attempt but he left his Jeep on the tracks. That man, Juan Manuel Alvarez, now facing 11 charges of murder with special circumstances for all 11 victims of that crash. Alvarez could face the death penalty.

And less than 60 miles from this Griffith (ph) Park crash site, and only a day later, police say another man, identified as Tyrone Kashkarian (ph), stopped his SUV on the railroad tracks in Irvine, California. He drove away when he saw police. He was later apprehended after telling a dispatcher that he had planned on committing suicide.

A passenger car of that MetroLink train was the first to crash into the Jeep early yesterday morning. The train derailed, but that was only the beginning. The MetroLink then hit an idle freight train and jackknifed, causing it to hit another passenger train, moving in the opposite direction.

That disastrous chain reaction killed 11 people and injured nearly 200 more. One man, believing he might not survive, wrote a message to his family with his own blood.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love my kids and I love - I don't know if it was Leslie or Liz. Whatever his wife's name was. It's pretty moving. I've been a fireman for 27 years, and that was - it moved me.


STEWART: The man that wrote that message, he survived. Many survivors now having the chance to tell the story in their own words.


CLAUDIA TOUMA, SURVIVED CALIFORNIA TRAIN WRECK: The first thing, I was reading a book and I just saw the glass flew at my face, and I held on to my chair, and it was like bumping and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) each other, or screaming, shouting. And then after that, I tried so hard to hold on to the chair, but it seemed like it was not working. And I blacked out. After I blacked out, I opened my eyes, I saw dark all over. Broken glasses. Doors broke. I don't know. It was like a nightmare, as I have those movies running through my head, like a movie. And I felt wet on my face, and I started smelling smoke. And I closed my eyes, and I saw fire. I said I better move, and then I could not move because - I couldn't. I just could not. And then I forced myself to get up. Somebody helped me, and after that I see the fire department guys, they were helping me out to sit by the fire.

DAVID MORRISON, SURVIVED CALIFORNIA TRAIN WRECK: I was basically trying to get some sleep, because it is very early in the morning. But I remembered hearing a thud and then a sound that to my mind was like dragging, but obviously we were pushing a car, it turned out. And thinking, oh, boy. We probably hit somebody.

And it went on for quite a while, you know, 15 seconds. And then I felt a slight shudder, and we could hear the train tracks going - the wheels going on to the gravel. And within a second or two after that, there was a tremendous abrupt stopping. The lights dropped by about 50 percent. I slid forward and hit my chest on the table that I was sitting behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the impact occurred, something just flew back and hit me on the side of the head. But when something like this happens, you realize how fragile you are, and I consider myself very lucky that I was able to get up, get all my stuff and just walk out of there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the train hit whatever it hit, everybody went flying in the upstairs compartment of the car I was in. And our car stayed on the tracks that we were in pretty good shape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People were lying down in blood and we had to step over people. That was really unfair. I don't know. Just traumatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came off the chair, and I was just tumbling basically in the aisle way. Lost my glasses, lost things that came out of my pocket. And then of course, you couldn't see anything once the train stopped, because it was dark.


STEWART: Today "The Los Angeles Times" praised the efforts of rescue workers. In an editorial, the paper gave serious props to the hundreds of firefighters, police officers and paramedics who responded fast and efficiently, or as the paper put it, with, quote, "grit and grace."

The success is being attributed at least in part to the city's rehearsals for a terrorist attack. And joining me now from Glendale, Sergeant Tom Lorenz, Glendale police department. Sergeant Lorenz, we would like to get an update right now from you on what's happening at the scene.

SGT. TOM LORENZ, GLENDALE P.D.: Yes. After two days of rescue operations and recovery operations, we're about ready to move into our final stage here. We've recently recovered some evidence, and mapped out the crime scene to support the criminal case against this individual. We will now, upon the completion of that, we're going to turn it back over to the NTSB, Union Pacific Railroad and the MetroLink authorities so they can start their clean-up process.

STEWART: All right, so let me take you back 24 hours plus. The response in those first crucial hours was tremendous. Much of it being attributed to the training for preparedness for a terror attack. Can you tell us some of the specific changes of procedures that really helped this effort go so well?

LORENZ: Well, unfortunately, it comes from lessons learned. And as a result, we learned greatly from what happened on the East Coast. And we decided that we would join forces and work as a single entity as first responders.

We developed protocols. We purchased the appropriate equipment, and most importantly, we trained our people accordingly. And made sure they had the right equipment during that training, and so that when something like this would occur, we can respond quickly. And I would have to say that the response was tremendous. And with the assistance of the public, too, because this is right next to Costco, employees, when they heard it, they too stepped up to the plate and also began their own little rescue operations until more emergency personnel arrived.

STEWART: If I'm hearing and you reading between lines a little bit, one of the biggest things the 9/11 reported, they cited was, the lack of communication between the various respondents. How have you improved your communication abilities?

LORENZ: Actually, we're very proud of the fact that we're trying to develop an interoperability program here known as Isis in the Los Angeles Area. We want to make sure that we are able to communicate among several agencies.

In Los Angeles County alone, there are over 45 law enforcement agencies. Local municipalities. Then we have our county and federal counterparts. We also have just, almost as many fire departments. And at one time, we were not able to communicate.

As time progresses, we are getting more people on board and we're able to communicate a lot better. With that ability and a strong working relationship, we're able to get it done.

STEWART: Well, sir, we'll let you go back to work. Sgt. Tom Lorenz of the Glendale Police Department, thank you so much.

LORENZ: Thank you.

STEWART: Another train story on the other coast has produced no praise for officials having anything to do with that system. Two New York City subway lines which carry over 580,000 passengers a week were hobbled early Sunday when a fire destroyed the subway's antiquated switching station. OK, that's the thing that keeps the trains from running into each other.

The New York subway station has dozens of these vital switching stations. But this one allegedly burned up after a homeless man started a fire to escape the bitter cold. The station will take 9 months to fix. Down from the original estimate of three to five years, which was floated by an official yesterday. The whole mess prompting critics to state the obvious quote, "the area should have been fire proofed and equipped with video cameras in order to keep something like this from happening."

And MTA representative said, "there should be an alarm system, or something that would indicate someone had trespassed onto the property. Even a terrorist can dress up like a homeless person."

Science class, not always so cool. Crime scene investigations? That's cool. See how some teachers are turning classrooms into crime labs all in the name of learning those kids a thing or two.

Now remember the good old days when cell phones used to just ring? Maybe a little vibration? A new move that could make you blush big time when you hear a cell phone go off.


STEWART: The scene, a blood spattered hallway, the clue is a bloody fishing knife, and that's only after first period.

Our No. 2 story this evening, murder mayhem in science class.

Forensic courses are popping up in high schools across the country. Teachers turn to real live classroom labs into not so real crime labs all in the name of making science a little more palatable for today's teens.

Countdown's Monica Novotny joins me now with this story. And I was sharing with you, my two teenage nieces love Crossing Jordan and C.S.I.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're definitely not alone. It's this generation of high school students, they were only about 6 years old when O.J. rode the white Bronco and they have grown up watching trials of the century, hearing about D.N.A., fibers and fingerprints. Well, now those same topics seem to be the subject of just about every hour-long drama of primetime. So these students and their teachers are taking notes.


NOVOTNY (voice-over): It's a television trend that's to die for. The murder, the mystery and then the investigation. And now, turning D.N.A. into straight A's. High schools across the country are following suit. This time, someone has been killed at Connecticut's Norwalk High.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a homicide.

NOVOTNY: Sort of.

Biology teacher Caitlin Engle offering, for the first time ever, a forensics class, showing students that science can be cool.

CAITLIN ENGLE, NORWALK HIGH SCHOOL: It is so overdramatized on TV that I felt I had to bring some of that into the classroom.

NOVOTNY: The response to the crime scenes? Overwhelming. The course filled immediately and more than 100 students were turned away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a different approach to science.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I definitely enjoyed forensics way more than I enjoyed physics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Though they don't all watch the TV shows, these students do see the reality.

ENGLE: The fact that they can directly apply what they're learn in class to what they see on the news has a huge impact on their learning. As you can tell, the light is always on in their eyes. They're always paying attention.

NOVOTNY: So these young detectives solve simulated crimes through fingerprinting, fiber analysis, D.N.A. tests, and today's lesson, blood spatters.

ENGLE: So when you're looking at the marks of blood in the crime scene, what is it tell you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is pretty much tell me, first you have to find the measurements. You have to find the width and the length. And you can find the exact angle in which the blood splattered.

NOVOTNY (on camera): Does it make science more cool?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It definitely makes science more cool. It's a different approach. It's more out of the box. It's hands on. It's a lot of different things, more so than just the text book learning that we've done for the past 4 years.

NOVOTNY: And an informal survey taken last October, the National Science Teacher's Association found that more than 70 percent of high school teachers are now using forensics to teach science.

NOVOTNY: Are you teaching them how to commit the perfect crime?

ENGLE: I suppose I could. I hope not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we sort of laugh about it. Because we're like, we actually, could get away with this if we really planned it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought about that, actually.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): But as always, the teacher is one step ahead.

Pulling off her own trick.

ENGLE: Some of them hate science. But when they see stuff like this actually applied, they want to learn more. And I just love it.


NOVOTNY: Now if you need further proof, in that survey we mentioned, taken by the National Science Teacher's Association, when asked if the popularity of forensic based television shows had ignited students' interest in science, the response was a resounding yes by 78 percent.

STEWART: Now Monica, you told me the greatest story about some kids wanting a little extra credit in this class.

NOVOTNY: That's right. When we were in the classroom we saw that there was a large, shattered wind-shield. And I asked if it was a project. She said no, the students saw it by the side of the road, there was an actual accident, they picked it up in pieces, brought it in for extra credit, pieced it together and were able to determine the point of impact for the car, how fast the person was going and all these different details just by piecing back together this windshield. And that was painstaking work. And so I think what they're really thrilled about it is the fact that even kids who don't love science have now found an entry point.

STEWART: It makes me almost want to go back to high school.

NOVOTNY: Almost.

STEWART: Thanks a lot. Yeah. We'll be appearing in Vegas next week.

Monica Novotny, thank you so much. It's a great report.

From high school CSI to crime probes in the semi-real world. We begin "Keeping Tabs" tonight with the investigation of Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby reportedly spent about 90 minutes being interviewed by Philadelphia prosecutors investigating allegations that he drugged and groped a woman in his Pennsylvania residence last year. Cosby's lawyers have denied the accusation as utterly preposterous and false. The prosecutor, Bruce Caster, says the decision whether to file charges has not yet been made, but suggests the case against the Cos may not be very strong. Caster cited the former Temple University employee's year-long delay in reporting the alleged incident, and the fact that she continued to have contact with Cosby afterward as factors that quote, "weigh toward Mr. Cosby," end quote.

And finally, we're counting down to the Super Bowl. One year since the infamous wardrobe malfunction. The Anheuser-Busch Company has come up with a little home-brewed controversy already. The company produced a Budweiser ad which offered a humorous explanation for the Janet Jackson incident last year. With all those pesky yet enormous FCC fines being slapped on folks, the company pulled the Bud ad so as not to offend anyone. But that has not stopped them from playing the ad on their Web site, nor will it stop us from showing it to you right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that it is five minutes to the show.

Fine. I'm on my way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That ends the first half. Stay tuned for what is sure to be an unforgettable halftime show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fresh, smooth, real. Bud light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa! That's something you don't see every day.



STEWART: Tonight's No. 1 story, from porn star to operator? Sort of.

Sort of. Jenna Jameson coming to a cell phone near you.


STEWART: We are back. And a brief warning, the following story does contain some adult content. I'll count to three to let you leave or to go get somebody and bring them back.

It's been nearly 10 years since the mobile cellular phone burst onto the scene, and in that time, it has risen from neat-o gadget to essential accessory. But until now, there has only been three basic ring styles - annoying, really annoying and the silent vibrator. But with every technological advance, there's one group always in the forefront, pioneering new delivery methods - that's the porn industry.

Our No. 1 story tonight, if you thought it was disturbing to hear your co-worker's phone playing "The Hokey Pokey" 10 times a day, picture for a moment sitting in a restaurant and hearing this from the next table over.


JENNA JAMESON, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: Is that your phone ringing?


STEWART: We're going to stop right there, because that hokey-pokey gets a lot more graphic.

For you non-porn consumers, that was the voice of porn superstar Jenna Jameson and her latest venture, moan tones. Prerecorded moans, groans, grunts and lurid sex talk available as ringers on mobile phones for the price of $2.50 a pop.

Joining me now is Dennis Adamo, CEO of Wicked Wireless, the company providing this service. Mr. Adamo, thanks for joining us, and I'm going to congratulate you on the kabillion dollars you're going to make on this. But tell me why this is a good thing, or why this is even necessary?

DENNIS ADAMO, MARKETING "MOAN TONES": Thank you. Well, as we all know, cell phones' popularity has just grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years. And fundamentally, this is an evolution of the medium. And we're able to actually leverage our technology in ways that we didn't anticipate, of course, and then to kind of partner up with the supercelebrity like Jenna Jameson is a great thing. It's just part of our branded mobile experience. And we think that's pretty unique in the marketplace today.

STEWART: So I'm wondering, though, from a marketing point of view, considering the uproars in the past year over Janet Jackson and Howard Stern getting these huge FCC fines, is this the best time business-wise to introduce some smutty sounds on your phone?

ADAMO: Well, at this point, you know, again, the market has evolved to the point where users are personal - using their cell phones to personalize their accessory. We're currently launching this product in Latin America. And we expect to offer these services on a limited basis in the U.S. sometime this year.

STEWART: Have you gotten any resistance getting it into the States?

ADAMO: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's no telecom carrier that's outright acknowledged or accepted marketing these tones directly. Now, you know, that also represents or puts the onus on us as content and software providers to then implement all the rules around the adult nature of this particular content.

But then again, this is not definitely sexual content. What it is is novelty. And it's just a funny, kind of cool, whimsical experience that's created with these phones.

STEWART: Now, do you think these are obscene in any way? Would you want this thing to go off in a room sitting next to your best friend's mom?

ADAMO: Well, you know, obviously not. And I think it's up to people's discretion to use these tones in the appropriate settings. Of course, it's a great conversation piece. It's, again, funny. It definitely represents a bit of someone's personal character. But, again, in a workplace environment or in a social setting or public setting, I don't think it's appropriate, just as any other sort of personal sort of sexual product or service.

STEWART: Dennis, is it on your phone?

ADAMO: It is on my phone.

STEWART: I knew it. Dennis Adamo, CEO of Wicked Wireless, the birthplace of the Jenna Jameson moan tone. Thanks for sharing this product with us.

ADAMO: Oh, you're welcome, Alison. Thank you very much.

STEWART: That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann. I'll see you back tomorrow night.