'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 8
Guest: Jack Jacobs, Howard Fineman, Savannah Guthrie
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Are they an al Qaeda-trained terrorist and his father, or a kid who works at a fruit plant and the guy who drives the ice cream truck in Lodi, California? The FBI goes after folks stuck in Lodi again.
Army recruiting. When you miss the quota by 42 percent, what do you do? You drop the quota by 18 percent. Then what do you do when you still miss the quota by 25 percent? Well, you keep the numbers a secret.
Howard Dean. Democratic loose cannon, or playing the Republicans' game back at them?
And the world's only oceangoing taxi. The who, what, why, when, and what color? And, yes, the previous model, and what we did to it.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Once again, it's the lady or the tiger in the era of terrorism. The FBI says he went to Pakistan to attend an al Qaeda training camp and learn how to kill Americans in America. His cousin says he went to Pakistan to arrange some marriages and visit some relatives. And, oh, by the way, when he went there, he brought his mother with him.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, the government insisting that 23-year-old fruit packer Hamid Hayat of Lodi, California, is a terrorist in the making, just back from indoctrination. Initial court documents said his potential targets in the U.S. could include hospitals and the food supply. But a second set of filings has left those targets off.
So far, though, they have charged him and his father, the ice cream truck driver, only with lying to federal authorities. According to the criminal complaint, both suspects initially denied having anything to do with terrorism, but after voluntarily taking a lie detector test, Hamid Hayat allegedly confessed to attending an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan from 2002 - 2003, rather, to 2004.
The purported confession says also they trained him in explosives and weapons, President Bush's face painted on a target. After seeing his son's confession on videotape, the FBI says, Hayat Sr. admitted to having financed his boy's trip to terror camp with an allowance of $100 a month. Hamid Hayat said he specifically asked to return to the U.S. in this document to carry out his jihadi mission.
And while the FBI will not characterize the suspects as part of an al Qaeda cell in California, there are two other local Muslims in custody, and the special agent in charge implied that this investigation is bigger than just a few guys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH SLOTTER, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, SACRAMENTO: We believe, through our investigation, that various individuals connected to al Qaeda have been operating in the Lodi area in various capacities, including individuals who have received terrorist training abroad with the specific intent to initiate a terrorist attack in the United States, and to harm Americans and our institutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Hayats and their attorney say there's no terrorism, and there was no confession.
So once again, what are we dealing with? For some answers, or at least some informed analysis, I'm joined by our terrorist analyst, former counterterrorism coordinator of the NSC staff, Roger Cressey.
Good evening, Roger.
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So is there, could there be an al Qaeda cell in Lodi, California?
CRESSEY: Well, all we know right now is the FBI's very worried about a number of individuals. And what's striking is that these guys weren't charged with, at the very least, material support for terrorism.
So clearly, there's a lot of smoke here. But I'm - it's unclear whether or not there's actually a fire.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I was going to ask you about that. It always concerns me when you hear that the charges are - not the charges, but the suspicions are so dire, and the charges wind up with lying to FBI agents. Could we be in a situation again where somebody is playing politics with this? Or somebody's trying to make a name for themselves with this?
CRESSEY: Well, I wouldn't say playing politics. There's always the potential for an overreaction. I think what's striking is that here's an individual who was on the no-fly list. The plane was diverted. He was interviewed. He said, No, I'm not a terrorist. And they said OK, we'll downgrade to you a person of interest, and then came back to the United States.
It's clear the FBI's very worried about the Muslim community in Lodi right now. And they do not have enough to go forward with some more substantive charges. I think absent any additional information, it's going to be kind of thin for them to prosecute these individuals.
OLBERMANN: Do you worry about just the media reportage of something like this? I saw this tonight on three of the network broadcast newscasts referred to largely as, the guy confessed to being trained to join al Qaeda. What we actually have is an affidavit from an FBI agent who says that they pulled this guy off the plane from the no-fly list. They asked about al Qaeda. They say he denied any connection. They asked him to take a lie detector test. They said there was some deception in his answers.
And the next thing we know, he is supposedly confessing to being there and shooting at targets with the president's face on them.
I know it's an impossible-to-answer question. But how do we know that there's evidence here, and not somebody just saying this?
CRESSEY: Well, the special agent leaned very far forward in his statement. And what the affidavit said doesn't support that to the same degree. What I hope is going on is that the bureau has additional information, perhaps from the CIA and others, about what these two were up to, maybe the imam as well, and others, that's part of a broader conspiracy. That, of course, would make perfect sense.
So I don't think people are playing politics, but there is always the potential here to overreact. And it's always - it behooves us in the media, and I guess I'm one of you now...
OLBERMANN: You are.
CRESSEY:... not to wig out every time we see one of these arrests.
OLBERMANN: What do you read, how, what - is this just a procedural problem, when the first set of documents that they file suggests that he was planning to or could have been choosing targets that were the food stores and hospitals, and then the second document makes no reference to targets at all? Is there anything to be read in that?
CRESSEY: Too soon to say. I mean, you read the initial affidavit, and it - when he confesses, it reads like someone who went through the Afghan training camps. I mean, it really talks in striking detail about how al Qaeda used to work inside Afghanistan pre-9/11. So either he did see this, which would be really disturbing, or he made it up, or he has some people who talked to him about it before he went to Pakistan.
All of those are very interesting questions. And I'd like to see some more evidence before I convict this guy.
OLBERMANN: Well, what about Pakistan? I mean, one of these camps is supposed to be in Rawalpindi, which is their major training center for their Pakistani military. Is there evidence to support the idea that there are such camps in Pakistan? Do we have that out of this story, at least?
CRESSEY: Well, there's certainly a network of training camps inside Pakistan that are key to training militants to fight in Kashmir. Many of the Pakistani militant are part of the broader Kashmir struggle between Pakistan and India. The idea of an al Qaeda camp on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, which would be akin to having a camp in Arlington, Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C., strikes me as rather strange.
So there's something in the story here that doesn't hold together.
And that's why it really requires further investigation.
OLBERMANN: An investigation in Lodi, California, of all places.
Roger Cressey, MSNBC this morning analyst, former director on the National Security Council staff. As always, sir, great thanks for your time and your insight.
CRESSEY: Pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Moving from what may or may be al Qaeda in Lodi to what is unquestionably terror abroad. Along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, jihadists, have attacked a U.S. military base, killing two American soldiers, wounding eight more.
In Iraq, four more U.S. servicemen lost their lives in three separate attacks that were north of Baghdad.
Insurgents also targeted and killed at least nine Iraqis today, including two more civilians killed by a suicide car bomb at a gas station in Baqubah.
At least 889 people have now died in that country since the new government took office at the end of April.
That statistic, doubtless part of the mosaic contributing to decreasing military enlistment in this country. For the fourth month in a row, the Army has missed its recruiting goals. This time it missed its recruiting goal after first lowering it, and then trying to keep all of it a secret.
According to "The New York Times," the Army's original aim was to get 8,050 new recruits in May. It then scaled that number back, without making that news public, to 6,700. But it only got 5,000. That's 63 percent of the original goal, 75 percent of the revised goal. Even that doesn't guarantee that there will be 5,000 new soldiers ready for combat. In 2004, 14 percent, nearly, of all the new recruits dropped out after initial training. And that number jumped to more than 17 percent this year.
One of the solutions, as reported by "The Wall Street Journal" today, the Army is trying to retain more of the GIs it usually kicks out. The guys, as the "Journal" quoted one battalion commander, quote, "on weight control, school no-shows, drug users, etc."
I'm joined by retired U.S. Army colonel and now MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs.
Good evening, Jack.
COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: OK, we started with slight misses on the recruiting quotas, then big misses, then a moratorium, a one-day moratorium to remind recruiters what was legal and what wasn't. Now they were delaying the numbers, hiding the numbers. Besides the obvious, that people are not signing up, is there something wrong with the system that we're not recognizing?
JACOBS: Well, I think probably so. But that's the least of our worries. Our biggest worry is that we just can't recruit the numbers that we need. Even the Marine Corps, who typically has no problem recruiting people, has had difficulty the last few months or so.
Not only that, we rely so heavily on Guard, National Guard, and Reserve troops, because they provide us with the military occupational specialties that are in short supply in active duty ranks, and we require them there for the Guard and the Reserve people to perform extended duty in Southwest Asia.
If we rely so heavily on them, and their recruitment goals are not being met, we're going to have a very big problem a couple of years down the road.
OLBERMANN: To speculate about that time, Army recruiting down 42 percent in April, they lower the quota by 18 percent for May, still miss the quota by a quarter. Can you do the rough math here? At what point do we run out of the personnel required just for the commitments we already have?
JACOBS: Well, I think we're probably at the limit now. I think we may have if - another six months or so before things really get dire, and something significant is going to have to be done.
It's difficult, I think, for the Defense Department to come up with solutions, however. They're going to have to do things like you suggested earlier, keeping people we would otherwise throw out, lower the standards for people we do bring in.
You know, we've had an all-volunteer army. We've had nothing but high school graduates, fairly high standards, for the duration of the all-volunteer Army. And now we're at a point where we're going to have to lower the standards if we want to make the numbers, and it's going to be extremely difficult to do so without turning the Army into what it was in the '70s, after the war in the Vietnam, a really ineffective fighting force.
And that's unfortunate, for two reasons. First of all, I don't like to see my Army denigrated like that. And secondly, we have enormous worldwide commitments that we will not able to satisfy with that kind of force.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and additionally, we might wind up with Lee Martin and the Dirty Dozen, the way they're talking this way.
JACOBS: Well, we had that. When I was in the Army in the '70s, after Vietnam, after we came back from Vietnam, we had an Army that was greatly reduced in size, and not very good at what it did. We had an Army of Dirty Dozen people.
OLBERMANN: Last question, during the presidential campaign last year, the Republicans insisted, no draft, never, no draft. Let's take them at their word. But if there's no draft, what is there? Where does the military find the personnel it needs? Or what changes need to be done regarding those commitments?
JACOBS: Well, we've already raised the sign-on bonus to as much as $20,000. I guess we could raise it more. We do have some active duty people who could be used in commitments that we have in Southwest Asia, in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have 37,000 troops still in Korea. Ostensibly, they're there only as a tripwire. All we really need is one American soldier there to die if the North Koreans decide to come across the DMZ again.
So we could deploy, oh, I guess the better part of a division, maybe two-thirds to a complete division, from Korea to Southwest Asia, and make it part of the rotation. We have some people in Europe still who could be moved, maybe 100,000 or so, and we could rotate some of them through. We ostensibly don't need them in Europe any more. The Russians are not coming across the Fulda Gap. And we have some units in the United States that haven't rotated through.
But at the end of the day, we're probably about six months away before we have a situation that's something of a crisis, and we're going to have to think up novel solutions right now if we're going to avoid that six months from now.
OLBERMANN: And those have been in scarce supply recently.
Jack Jacobs, colonel, U.S. Army, retired. Great thanks, Jack.
JACOBS: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, a White House official accused of cooking the books to try to minimize the greenhouse effect. And by the way, he used to be the lobbyist on the subject for the oil business.
And day four of the jury deliberations behind us. A waiting game now in Santa Maria, and an announcement from the court. Oooh, news.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: It is the seeming climax to one of the principal complaints against the Bush administration, the I-told-you-so from its critics. Need a U.N. ambassador? Choose somebody who doubts the validity of the U.N. Need an attorney general too uphold the laws of the country? Nominate somebody who once wrote that parts of the Geneva Convention were "quaint."
And in our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, need somebody to confront greenhouse gases and global warming? Hire the oil industry lobbyist who used to fight the Environmental Protection Agency against stricter emissions standards.
The problem is, as our correspondent David Gregory reports from the White House, though the man had no scientific training, he was reportedly editing the scientific stuff the government's been putting out.
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Critics of the administration's global warming policy seized on this morning's report in "The New York Times," the disclosure that a former oil industry lobbyist, now chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Philip Cooney, repeatedly edited the administration's scientific reports on global warming.
Cooney, who is not a scientist, made revisions that reflected White House doubts about the existence of climate change and whether human activity is responsible for it.
In this example from a 2002 draft report on climate change, provided by the watchdog group Government Accountability Project, he added that there were, quote, "significant remaining uncertainties associated with human-induced climate change."
Rick Piltz recently resigned from the government office that coordinates climate change research.
RICK PILTZ: It seemed to me this was a politically driven, a policy-driven intervention into the science program.
GREGORY: Critics note this has happened before. Two years ago, in an EPA report on the environment, a section devoted to the potential harmful effects of global warming was deleted.
EILEEN CLAUSEN, PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE: The problem, you know, is that the White House says they listen to the science and then respond accordingly. But in fact, they don't listen to the science.
GREGORY: Untrue, the White House countered today, saying Cooney's was just one voice in the review process.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One of the reports that you highlighted was widely praised by the scientific community, including the National Academies of Science.
GREGORY: White house officials tout the administration's program that calls on voluntary measures to slow the growth of emissions that cause global warming.
(on camera): And the administration is spending billions to research the issue. But the question remain, has the administration aggressively tackled global warming, or attempted to muddy the science, ensuring that any attempt to reduce it will fail?
David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.
OLBERMANN: No muddy science here. In one part of California, the bears are clearly in charge. In fact, these guys are expecting Goldilocks at about 9:15.
And later, can't we let these people into this country sheerly on the basis of creativity? The fate of the water taxi.
OLBERMANN: Sometimes, you can boil these stories down to their essences. Porridge, three bowls, too hot, too cold, just right. Three beds, too hard, too soft, just right. Visiting girl, sleeps, surprised, scrams. You know the rest.
Now let's watch it come to life.
Let's play Oddball.
Yes, three bears, Monrovia, California, looking for Goldilocks, no doubt, trashed this lady's house, charged her with trying to lie to bear agents. That was a political satire right there.
A mother and two cubs had the run of the yard for a while, helped themselves to avocados as the homeowner videotaped the whole incident, until the mother bear saw the camera and went all Sean Penn on her. There was damage to the house. No one, though, was injured.
It must have been a bear-season thing somehow, because they're popping up everywhere lately, this one on the loose in Atlantic City, waiting for the light to change. They say he was just wandering through, maybe to play a little poker at the Taj. Cops tried to corral him, but no Jersey barrier is going to hold this Jersey bearier.
He escaped into the woods, never to be heard from again, though he is suspected in a house trashing in California. And by the way, vote Lonigan, vote Lonigan!
To Kansas City, Missouri. Back it up, back it up. You got it. OK, right there'll be good. Surveillance camera video from the daring midnight robbery of the ATM machine from the friendly local Price Chopper store. Clean up aisle five, six, seven, eight, 23. Three men crashed the stolen truck through front door, then backed it up a couple more times to smash the ATM off its floor bolts.
The gang then took the whole machine, threw it in the truck, and they were gone in 60 seconds. Now, of course, they have to steal 1 million PIN codes. Clearly, a well-disciplined heist. The crew left the gumball machine and the canned beets untouched.
Now, here's a very old guy bowling. OK. It's better than I could do. He's a 103-year-old Texan named Samuel Pate (ph), competing in this year's Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh. He is the odds-on favorite to win the 100-and-up bowling division, insomuch as that division consists of him. The rest all failed the steroid tests.
The senior Olympics run for about two weeks, feature many of the sports from the real Olympic Games, plus some new ones, such as bowling, shuffleboard, late afternoon naps, and yelling, Hey, you kids, get out of my yard! for which I'm eligible.
Also tonight, accusing the other party of being white Christians, speaking of yelling. Politically, is that a good idea, or a bad idea these days?
And poll questions about Congress. Is it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for the job that your Congressman is doing? The answers included both thumbs-up and thumbs-down.
Those stories ahead.
But first, now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, the gunners aboard the U.S.S. "Ross" leaving port at Norfolk, Virginia. It accidentally fired one of its 50-caliber machine guns at shore. See you, bye. One bullet was fired. It hit two washing machines on board a nearby barge. I never liked those washing machines.
Number two, Kevin Millar of the Boston Red Sox taking some much-needed extra batting practice at the ballpark in St. Louis. It was real humid, so he stripped down to his Lycra compression shorts and nothing else. He was there in his underwear, basically his jock. Nobody told him that just at that hour, the stadium was being toured by a women's group.
Fortunately, Millar has what baseball reporters refer to as a light bat.
And number one, Gregory Despres of Minto (ph), New Brunswick, in Canada. He approached the U.S. border at Callas (ph), Maine, and Customs officials knew something was wrong. They confiscated his homemade sword. They confiscated his red-stained chainsaw, and his knife, his hatchet, and his brass knuckles.
Him? After talking to him for two hours, with that expression on his face, they let him come into this country on the premise that they couldn't tell if the stains on the chainsaw were blood, or paint.
He was arrested two days later, accused of murdering two of his neighbors back home in Canada.
Let's hear it for Homeland Security.
OLBERMANN: On May 19, 1856, Free Soil Party Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts criticized President Franklin Pierce and Democratic senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina for their stance on pro-slavery violence in Kansas. Three days later, Butler's nephew, Congressman Preston Brooks, came to the Senate floor and beat Sumner over the head with his cane until Sumner was unconscious and the cane was broken. Now, that was dirty politics.
Our third story on the Countdown, current Democratic chair Howard Dean saying that the Republicans are, quote, "pretty much a white Christian party" and then defending those remarks this morning. That is what apparently passes for dirty politics these days. It is now a regular occurrence of sorts for the former presidential candidate to say something branded, at least, as outrageous. It is then pounced upon by the GOP and some Democrats alike.
Last week, it was the idea that a lot of Republicans, quote, "have never made an honest living in their lives," a statement that he says was misinterpreted - somehow. While two weeks before that, it was the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, who, quote, "ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence.
And as Dean showed this morning on the "Today" show, the chairman is as unapologetic as he is outspoken.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: What I'm trying to point out
is that the Republicans don't include people. They are outside the
mainstream. They have not included a lot of people in this party who are -
· in their party, who are incredibly important to America. And in fact, they have used words like "quota" to try to separate black from white Americans. They did scapegoat gay Americans by putting an anti-gay amendment in 11 states where gay marriage was already against the law. And they are attacking immigrants. Two Republican congressmen, Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Tancredo, have incredible anti-immigrant legislation. This is not the way America needs to be. We need to be all in this together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining me now, "Newsweek's" chief political correspondent Howard Fineman, who's in here with me together. Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, the statistics are supposed to be that 80 to 85 percent of Republicans are white Christian men, and of course, 57 percent of Democrats are white Christian men. Obviously, as Dean alluded to there, Democrats like to think of themselves as inclusive and like to think of themselves - or Republicans, rather, as not being inclusive. We heard Dean say that, too.
So what is this exactly that he's doing? Is it the Democrats trying to play offense and trying to steal some of that in-your-face quality that the Republicans have been showing so well for the last decade?
FINEMAN: Well, there are ways to be in your face, and there are ways to act like Russell Crowe at the front desk. I mean...
OLBERMANN: A telephone (INAUDIBLE)
FINEMAN: And I just think this is a bridge too far for a couple - well, first of all, let's say about Howard Dean that he's done a better job than some people think in some aspects of fundraising for the party. His people are doing well with Internet fund-raising, which, after all, was one of his great strengths when he ran for the presidency. You know, he's out there trying to fire up the troops. But he's not narrowcasting anymore. In other words, on the Internet and in his own campaign, he was speaking to discrete audiences.
Here he's attempting to speak to the whole country. And his professed goal is to go to all the red states and show that the Democrats can win in those places. You don't win that by implying that the - basically, accusing the other party of being the, quote, "white Christian party." What, as some Democrats said to me today, does that make our party? You cited the statistics, but rhetorically, he's sort of putting the Democrats in the box as the non-white, non-Christian party.
OLBERMANN: Is there, though - could there be, at least from Dean's point of view, some method in the madness, the madman factor in play? He becomes a lightning rod? Every Democrat who distances himself slightly, even, suddenly looks malleable? Nancy Pelosi looks slightly moderate on this issue. And yet they all still get to say this talking point, that the Republicans are pretty much a white Christian party, and it's repeated endlessly on TV. Could they be trying to get their cake and eat it, too, here?
FINEMAN: Well, you're accusing them of way too much method here, Keith.
FINEMAN: You know, the Democrats had no choice but to take Howard Dean because they couldn't find another candidate, really, to coalesce around, to win the chairmanship. And they sat around telling themselves, Well, you know, how bad can he really be? Well, the Democrats I talked to today said pretty bad, that this doesn't really help them a lot if they're out there all the time saying, No, no, you know, we didn't mean to accuse one party of cornering the market on all the white people and all the Christians.
I mean, it just doesn't make any sense for Joe Biden and John Edwards and even Nancy Pelosi to spend a lot of time saying that the guy who has the title chairman of the Democratic Party doesn't speak for the party. It really doesn't help them all that much.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of Biden, while we have you, two other political footballs, one on which there's just been a development. Gitmo - Joe Biden called for it to be shut down. Jimmy Carter called for it to be shut down. There's a "Washington Post" poll showing a majority for the first time who think the war in Iraq has done nothing for our security here. And now there was an interview this afternoon between President Bush and his - the network that sort of serves as his running (ph) press spokespeople, in which he was asked, Do you think Gitmo should be shut down? And he said, Well, you know, we're exploring alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America. What we don't want to do is let somebody out that comes back and harms us. And so we're looking at all alternatives and have been, which is being - a statement that's being interpreted in political speak as the president does not refuse to - or the president does not say he will not shut down Gitmo.
Is this thing, Gitmo, and the idea that the war in Iraq is, to use one word, bad - are these two concepts about to go mainstream as a primary or the primary political topic of the time?
FINEMAN: I think so because they feed back into the question, which I think is the most profound one and the central one over the next few years in foreign policy, and that is, Are we safer here in America as a result of having gone to Iraq? The American people, at least in the "WashPost" poll, have their doubts, and growing doubts. And I think that's going to be the big question. And I think even a lot of Republicans are beginning to wonder if it's really made us safer. And I think it's crucial.
And I think the fact that the president gave the answer that he gave means that Guantanamo will be shut down. And the president is going to have to deal with growing dissatisfaction here at home at a time when the Army can't get its quota of new recruits. I think that's a crucial fact, and one that, in its own way, expresses public opinion.
OLBERMANN: The domestic stuff in the "Post" poll yesterday had some contradictory numbers, two in particular. See if you can juxtapose them for us. "Who do you trust to better to deal with the country's problems? Democrats 46 percent, Republicans 41 percent, first time the Dems have won that since 9/11. On the other hand, "Do you approve how your representative in Congress is doing his job? Sixty-one percent say yes.
Is this anything in the way of a tea leaf regarding the mid-term elections next year?
FINEMAN: Short answer, no.
FINEMAN: Because everybody always seemed to like their own congressperson. Their pork is good pork, et cetera. It's everybody else's pork that's bad pork. That doesn't mean something. I think that the Congress is not in good shape with the American people, and that doesn't bode well for the Republicans.
OLBERMANN: "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman, as always, sir, our great thanks for your insight.
FINEMAN: Of course, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Good night.
The latest - or the last great political hoo-hah played out today. That judicial compromise that paved the way for a vote on some of the president's most controversial judicial nominees. It got one of them confirmed. The up-and-down vote on the candidacy of Janice Rogers Brown, easily up, 56-43. The only measure of controversy coming shortly before the vote. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked into the Senate to show its opposition to Brown. They have described her as a conservative ideologue hostile to Civil Rights. A California supreme court justice since 1996, Judge Brown will become only the second black woman to serve on the U.S. circuit court of appeals for the District of Columbia.
The senators also voted to do away with another filibuster as part of the compromise, clearing the way for a vote on the nomination of former Alabama attorney general William Pryor tomorrow.
And lastly in politics, a surprise for former president Bill Clinton. His phone number may be in the hands of a 22-year-old self-described "stoner" from Palm Beach, Florida, "The Palm Beach Post" reporting that singer Jimmy Buffet left his cell phone in a local eatery and a busboy recovered it, took it home at 4:00 AM and, quote, "We were sitting around smoking weed and scrolling down the list of Jimmy's phone, going, Wow!" The busboy, Jason Martin, claims he did not crank call anybody on that list, but a police report suggests he may have called Mr. Clinton.
One way or the other, this may mean a new phone number for the ex-president. Young Mr. Martin claims he kept the phone's memory card with all those phone numbers on it. Michael Jackson's number was not on the phone.
There was one sliver of Jackson news today. We will wring every last second out of it. Savannah Guthrie joins us for today's festivities. And it is hard to get anything for free these days, but what if could you phone home without spending a dime? There's a catch, of course. There's always a catch.
Those stories ahead, but now here at Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
_UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drivers, get ready! Let's move!_
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People nationwide have started catching on to the new racing form, lawn mower racing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a way you can get into motor sports and really enjoy it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Students in Thomasville (ph) High School's metals technology class often get their lawn mowers literally out of the trash and turn them into racing treasures.
_UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good overpowers evil! Good overpowers evil!__UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael, Michael, Michael!_
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael's the king! Michael's the king!
Michael's the king!
_UNIDENTIFIED MALE: King of pop! King of pop! King of pop!_
JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT" SHOW: In fact, the jurors are deliberating right now. In fact, we have the only camera in the jury room. Did you know that? Can we see how the deliberations are going? Ellen, can you - oh, it doesn't look good. Oh, it looks - looks like some lively debate.
OLBERMANN: The Jackson jurors are 0 for 4. They have a had the case since last Friday and have not reached a verdict, despite their third consecutive nearly strenuous day of deliberations, deliberations that have often gone almost six hours in a row. It's our number two story on the Countdown, your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 569 of the Michael Jackson investigations.
And there was one minor development this afternoon. As court closed for the day, somebody involved in the case slipped a note out to the teeming millions of media types. For the details, I'm joined now by one of those teeming millions, Savannah Guthrie, correspondent for Court TV and an attorney herself. Good evening, Savannah.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV: Hi, there, Keith.
_OLBERMANN: So something actually happened today? What was that?_
GUTHRIE: Well, kind of. It's almost a news-freeze zone. But yes, we had a little something at the end of the day. Tom Mesereau got permission from the judge to issue a statement. And I can read it to you. It's very short. He said, "I have not authorized anyone to speak or hold any press conferences on behalf of Michael Jackson or his family. A gag order is in effect, which the defense team will continue to honor."
The back story here, Keith, is that Raymone Bain, Jackson's purported spokeswoman, has been here giving press conferences to a grateful press who has no news to report. But evidently, Tom Mesereau is not happy about that.
And she was actually asked point-blank today during her news conference, you know, We're hearing that Tom Mesereau might not really want you out front and center giving news conferences, and she said adamantly, I wouldn't be here if Tom Mesereau didn't want me to be here. Well, about an hour later, we got the statement from Tom Mesereau that I just read to you.
OLBERMANN: Yes. She said here, "I am Mr. Jackson's personal publicist and spokesman, so that memo does not apply to me." Evidently, she's wrong about that.
So America is not exactly holding its breath for the outcome of this case, or at least, certainly not like it was for O.J. Simpson, maybe not even the way it was for Martha Stewart. So you guys are stuck covering this, and you don't have the energy and the inspiration provided by knowing that there's a nation on pins and needles awaiting that word. I know this feeling. I mean, I once covered a football strike for eight months. What are you all doing to pass the time?
GUTHRIE: Well, let's see. I'm researching, Keith, various forms of hairspray to deal with the wind that you see here in Santa Maria.
OLBERMANN: An ongoing project, that one.
GUTHRIE: Do you really want to know...
OLBERMANN: Yes, an ongoing project.
GUTHRIE: It is. A thankless task. A thankless task. I'm pondering whether a flowered skirt worn by one of the jurors means the verdict is imminent. Possibly. But apparently not because she was wearing that today, and we didn't get a verdict.
You know, we're speculating a lot, and I'm doing a lot of this, talking and not having much to say and just sort of stretching out the time and using up network cable news minutes, you know, that kind of thing.
OLBERMANN: I've been doing that since 1997. Welcome to the club.
GUTHRIE: And darn well, too, may I add.
OLBERMANN: Thank you kindly. Court TV's Savannah Guthrie tonight from Santa Maria, where we will not get a verdict before tomorrow. And think about that sentence in terms of temporal reality. As always, Savannah, great. Thanks for your time.
GUTHRIE: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: A perfect segue tonight into our round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs." From the Michael Jackson trial to the Macaulay Culkin trial, the actor and former Jackson defense witness in an Oklahoma City courtroom today. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, possession of marijuana and of medication without a prescription. Last September, police found the pot and the Xanax in a car in which Culkin was a passenger. He paid $540 in fees and was sentenced to a year, deferred - he's not going to jail - deferred on each charge. The assistant district attorney characterized the incident as, quote, "a rare circumstance for Mr. Culkin," adding, "He was not an abuser."
Meanwhile, Jennifer Lopez is engaged, which is a neat trick considering she's already married. "In Touch Weekly" reports that husband Marc Anthony celebrated their first wedding anniversary by getting her a ring valued at about $1 million and declaring it an engagement ring. See, they never actually got engaged, the report explains, they only got married. Continuing the out-of-order sequence, next year, for their second anniversary, Anthony will ask Lopez out. And the year after, he will tell her she has a nice backside.
And the original TV series, "Mission Impossible," featured no fewer than three different sidekicks for Agent Jim Phelps. So why shouldn't there have been three different movies made with Tom Cruise as Jim Phelps? The threatened third installment is back on track. It will begin shooting next month in Italy after a week of negotiations with Cruise that convinced the star to adjust his deal for a slice of the profit and thus reduce the budget from its reported $185 million.
Just in case you were agonizing over what I said before, the three TV sidekicks to Phelps were, in order, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy and Sam Elliott. And before there was an Agent Jim Phelps, there was an Agent Dan Briggs played by Steven Hill, who later went on to fame in the original "Law and Order" and who, in character, would have said to Tom Cruise here, Make a deal!
What's the deal here? Another marvel of Cuban ingenuity gets stopped short, suffering the same fate as the first improvised vessel. When it's not the next best thing to being there, next here on Countdown..
OLBERMANN: Back in the days when long distance phone service was a monopoly, the telephone company actually used to advertise it. The catchphrase was, "It's the next best thing to being there." Our number one story on the Countdown tonight: If you saw this happen during our news hour last night, you know that the idea of simply making a call simply is not always enough. In a moment, the inside story of more than four people trying to take a cab from Havana to Miami. First, about those long distance calls. When Ma Bell was broken up in 1984, the average cost of a long-distance call was 28 cents a minute. Two decades later, last year, it was down to 11 cents a minute.
Countdown's Monica Novotny joins me now with the startling news that in parts of our fair land, the cost has just dropped to no cents a minute. Good evening, Monica.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening. It may have been a while since you've used a public pay phone, but we found a new one that won't take your money, no matter how often you use it. Needless to say, even though it's only been around for a few weeks, callers are hooked already.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's addictive. I wish they had more of them in more places!
NOVOTNY (voice-over): And when they do, you'll be able to call your momma on a Popa phone free of charge. It's the latest way for advertisers to reach out and touch someone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called Texas. I've called California, Florida, Virginia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was a joke, like, a free phone.
Well, the next day, actually, I saw a line out here.
NOVOTNY: These phone kiosks now popping up throughout New York state, advertisers paying a monthly flat fee ranging from $500 to $2,000, Sponsoring an in-your-face ad and free four-minute domestic phone calls.
ANTHONY CAPEZZA, POPA MEDIA CEO: The future in phone services, and it's the future in advertisement. It'll replace pay phones. It's going to replace anything that has to do with phones in a public area.
NOVOTNY: So far, 90 phones are in place, utilizing land lines or Internet connections, targeting college students and urban neighborhoods, with plans to expand nationally.
CAPEZZA: We want to get them in malls, movie theaters, shopping centers, colleges, high schools, sidewalks, if we can.
NOVOTNY (on camera): Advertisers get more than just this billboard for their money. There's also a speed dial option set into each phone, so you can call them directly.
CIRO VERDE, DA CIRO RESTAURANT: I'm getting more phone calls, actual phone calls from the site of the phone, like, five to ten phone calls a day.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Are four-minute calls the future of advertising? Only time will tell.
ABBEY KLAASSEN, "ADVERTISING AGE": Out-of-home advertising is a $5.8 billion industry. But it's relatively - got a low cost of entry. So it's less risky. I do wonder, were they 15 minutes - 15 years too late on this one?
NOVOTNY: Too late to compete with...
VERDE: Cell phones, you lose signals sometimes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going over 40 cents a minute, so good to have something, especially in emergency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Battery on my cell phone wasn't good, so I stopped, used the phone. And it worked. Yes. Checked my voice-mail.
NOVOTNY (on camera): OK, so now I'm going to make a phone call to test it and see how well it really works. Hi, mom. It sounds like I'm under water.
(voice-over): Technical difficulties remain.
(on camera): What do you think about the advertisers? Do you pay any attention to it? Do you care?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not really. They have graffiti and stuff.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Not a hassle-free connection, but you can't beat the price.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good idea.
VERDE: I was skeptical at first, but I think I'm going to stick with it.
NOVOTNY: The kiosks we visited log several hundred calls each month. And the CEO of the media company behind the Popa phones says they may include international calls eventually, if it's a promotion that they can tie in for an advertiser. And you know, if that free phone didn't work for me, I was going to use my Keith card.
OLBERMANN: Yes, but you know what you get when you call, when you use one of those? You get my voice advertising the show. There's no way around that advertisement. What if you close your eyes while you're standing at the booth making the phone call?
NOVOTNY: They say they don't care. They say they think that you're going to at some point get hit with that advertisement, and it could be as long as four to even seven minutes, if you're standing there on line...
OLBERMANN: Staring at it.
OLBERMANN: You don't like who you called. You called - you phoned Mom, right?
NOVOTNY: I did.
OLBERMANN: Countdown's Monica Novotny.
NOVOTNY: She was excited!
OLBERMANN: Such a program would not be too likely in Cuba, of course. And even if it were installed, it would not be enough because when it comes to escaping to somewhere else, the next best thing to being there just isn't bestest enough. Turns out that the guy who tried to sail the converted beautiful blue 1948 Mercury taxi from Cuba to Florida yesterday was the same guy who tried to drive a truck over the same watery route a year ago. Our correspondent in Miami is Kerry Sanders.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A desire to escape communist Cuba, the will to live and one ingenious design right there off the Florida coast, a vintage 1940 sedan, parts from a Mercury and a Buick. Most recently, it appears to have been a taxi in Cuba. But on Tuesday, that cab had an unrestricted fare, 13 passengers, all with one destination in mind: the United States. They almost made it. The Coast Guard picked them up 20 miles off Key West.
ALDO LEIVA, CUBAN-AMERICAN NATIONAL FOUNDATION: Unfortunately, that is what Cuban talent is going towards. It's going towards - instead of improving Cuba, instead of - because there's no hope there, the only hope for Cubans is to leave the island.
SANDERS: Family members in Miami say the brains behind this aqua cab has tried it before. About 18 months ago, they say, Raphael Diaz outfitted a 1950 Chevy flatbed. It, too, was stopped short.
JESUS ZAMORA, COUSIN: He needed to get out of the country. He needs to get out, and this was his only chance. I'm sure if he goes back, it ain't going to be good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see they're real sick.
SANDERS: So far this year, the Coast Guard has intercepted more than 1,400 Cubans.
LEWIS DIAZ, U.S. COAST GUARD: We've seen just about everything - surfboards, bathtubs, cardboard boxes, homemade vessels.
SANDERS: Those picked up at sea will likely be sent back to Cuba. The last time, the old Chevy truck was sent to the ocean floor. This car met the same fate. For Countdown, Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.
OLBERMANN: Two of the home kit engineering marvels of the decade, and we sank them. And the guy who rebuilt them, we sent him back to Cuba, apparently because we don't want to offend Castro. Those free four-minute calls - can I make one to Washington?
NOVOTNY: You can.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night, and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END