'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 26th
Guests: Ivor Van Heerden, Moby Solangi
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Beaumont, Texas, Port Arthur, Texas, Lake Charles, Louisiana. Rita was not Katrina, but it was bad enough. And how much worse did it make New Orleans? The new figure for how much reliable levees there might cost, $40 billion.
Four weeks after the first hurricane, and the president is in high-impact mode.
To say nothing of Cindy Sheehan, arrested today in Washington.
One of television's cult favorites of the '60s is gone. We'll remember Don Adams and his role, Maxwell Smart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have one simple request, and that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As a second choice, how about dolphins with poisoned dart guns harnessed to their backs, who may be missing in the Gulf after the hurricanes?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are they intempered?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on Countdown.
In other years, and with other alphabets, we would not be talking about how Hurricane Rita was not as bad as Hurricane Katrina, nor would we suddenly be overlooking, to some degree, the new damage in Louisiana and Texas, merely because late this afternoon it was learned that the fired former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, is working again for FEMA.
But as suggested in our fifth story, context is everything. And once Katrina made New Orleans virtually uninhabitable, the fact that after Rita hit over the weekend, at least 1,000 Louisiana residents had to be rescued by chopper and airboat could actually be turned into the phrase, "Only 1,000 Louisiana residents had to be rescued by chopper and airboat."
The Mike Brown story upcoming.
First, much of southwestern Louisiana still under water today, floodwaters which surged ashore in Rita's wake, leaving entire towns completely destroyed. Texas faring little better, the cites of Beaumont and Port Arthur, not far from where the storm's eye made landfall early Saturday morning under at least four feet of water in some areas, officials saying as many as a million homes and businesses along the Texas-Louisiana coast still without electricity.
Most, however, were unoccupied after an unprecedented evacuation of that area in advance of the hurricane, authorities crediting the low fatality numbers so far to those efforts. Seven deaths tied directly to the storm, five when a temporary generator malfunctioned and produced carbon monoxide inside a home. This in addition to 24 who died Friday when the bus taking them to safety caught fire.
Property damage also light compared to Katrina. Estimates were the insured losses at less than $5 billion. Economic concerns driving the president's next visit to the region, Mr. Bush announcing he will go to Texas tomorrow to assess the damage to area oil refineries.
As we learned with Katrina, words can be powerful, evocative, essential. But often they just get in the way of the real story.
Once again, we bring you a "You Are There" kind of feature, above and around Broussard, Cameron, and Forked Island, Louisiana, and Beaumont and Sabine Pass, Texas.
OLBERMANN: The use of the term "ground zero" may be wearing thin or a little disrespectful to New York or Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but it is, unfortunately, completely descriptive, yet again, of at least one American city. This time, it is Lake Charles, Louisiana, where there is this slice of life among the 75,000 residents. The NBC television station there had to abandon its facilities in mid-hurricane and relocate to one room in one hospital.
Our correspondent David Shuster has seen the worst of Biloxi and New Orleans and is now in Lake Charles. Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening to you.
We're actually reporting from the Shinall (ph) Airport, which is a forward staging point for rescue teams like the urban search-and-rescue team from Phoenix that we went out with today. As you go from Lake Charles to the Gulf Coast, to small towns like Cameron and Grand Gagnier (ph), that's where you see the devastation at its absolute worst.
Lake Charles, of course, the damage is fairly bad, as far as a lot of downed trees, power lines that are down, a lot of roads that are impassable. But when we were going with the search-and-rescue crews to these very small towns along the Gulf Coast, from the air, you could actually see the devastation.
This is normally swampland anyway, but the few roads that you could see, those were under water. The few homes that are there, they're littered with sort of debris over the property.
And then when you get to the Gulf Coast, to these small towns like Cameron and the small towns where the teams were today, that's where you see the devastation is absolute and total. Four to five hundred people live in these small towns. Most of them apparently left.
And the team that we were with today, the urban search-and-rescue team from Phoenix, they ran into a couple of guys who actually work in the cattle industry. They had taken a boat to get back to their property to try to survey the damage for themselves and found that, of course, it was totally destroyed, but they reported to the urban search-and-rescue teams that, in fact, most people had left. And that made the job, of course, a lot easier.
So this was a good day for these search-and-rescue crews that were able to find the information they were looking for that most people, in fact, had gotten out. But, of course, a bad day for anybody who lives there, because those people returned found that, in fact, everything along the coast, Keith, had been destroyed.
OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE) David, about Lake Charles per se, the story that the power grid is gone, and they're not talking about overhead cables and overhead wiring, but the feeder cable system, is that going to be, for that city, a rebuilding effort akin to the one we're facing in New Orleans?
SHUSTER: Yes. They've got to rebuild the essential infrastructure in Lake Charles, because apparently the feeder system was the central feeding point, the central power source for so many of these outlying areas. So that's a major problem.
The other thing, Keith, which is so bizarre about Lake Charles is, they're still trying to keep people out of here, but they're not doing a very good job of it. They have state police at some of the exits, but there are back roads to get into Lake Charles, and a lot of people are getting in that way. And so you have the mix of the utility crews, the police trying to keep the city for themselves, other people managing to get in. And that's obviously causing a lot of confusion, because nobody has power or gasoline, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Confusion, as we have seen throughout this month in the region. David Shuster, outside Lake Charles, Louisiana. Great thanks, David.
Just about 50 miles southwest of there, another city in desperate straits, Port Arthur, Texas. There, they believe, 98 percent of the residents got out beforehand. But will there be anything left when they get back in?
There is deep symbolism too there. Only one house reported to have been destroyed by fire after the hurricane. It was the mayor's.
Our correspondent there is Lester Holt. Lester?
LESTER HOLT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, it's likely the owner of this business hasn't seen the damage. Most residents of Port Arthur are being kept out until authorities can get a better handle on the dangers here. The mayor of the city says it's no time to come home. In fact, many people, including the mayor, no longer have a home.
(voice-over): Mayor Oscar Ortiz, still assessing the damage to his city.
MAYOR OSCAR ORTIZ, PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS: See, that's come down some.
HOLT: As if coping with all this isn't enough, early Sunday morning, just 24 hours after the eye of Hurricane Rita slammed into his town, the mayor is awakened to assess the damage to his own home.
ORTIZ: It's about 2:00 in the morning, they were banging on the door, saying that the house had burned down.
HOLT: His house, which, ironically, has escaped major hurricane damage.
ORTIZ: Oh, lord. That's my niece's car, and that's what I'm thinking, that maybe that may have overheated or something.
HOLT: I'm with the mayor as he sees for the first time what is left of his house.
(on camera): It's all gone.
ORTIZ: All gone. I'm sure they'll declare it a total.
HOLT: How are you going to get your city on its feet, when you're trying to get yourself back on your feet?
ORTIZ: Well, of course, my priority is my people. That's what they elected me for. So the main thing right now is to try to get water, try to get electricity back, try to get, you know, all the necessities they're going to need when they come back here.
HOLT: And you've got to push this in the back of your mind.
ORTIZ: I got to push this back.
Thank you much.
HOLT: With a thank-you to the firefighters who tried to save his home, Mayor Ortiz heads back to the hurricane command center, now just one more newly homeless citizen of Port Arthur, Texas.
(on camera): The key to getting people back in the city is getting the power on. Today, an army of 10,000 utility workers descended on this region. But they're saying it could take weeks, maybe even over a month, to get power back on, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Lester Holt in Port Arthur. Thanks.
In New Orleans, meanwhile, that city once again flooded out in many places, and more rain on the way. Will the levees keep anyone protected for long? And how much will the new ones cost?
And the political lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, deploy fast, deploy often, bring cameras. The president now preparing for his second trip to the hurricane zone in as many days.
And Brownie is preparing for his second tour of duty with FEMA.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: In New York, we probably stopped marking each Tuesday as an anniversary of 9/11 at about week seven or eight. That means the people of New Orleans still have quite a while to go before every Monday stops reminding them of the day their city was submerged.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, four weeks now since the arrival of Katrina and the departure of life as the Crescent City knew it. And just three days after Rita had threatened New Orleans anew, Mayor Ray Nagin again urged some of his residents to come home.
Residents of Algiers, across the river from Storyville, were allowed to return to a neighborhood with power, with clean water, with a working sewer. And business owners were encouraged to inspect their property and begin the cleanup in the central business district, the French Quarter, and uptown. There were even a few traffic delays.
Hurricane Rita had made landfall 270 miles west, but its storm surges still managed to breach damaged levees in New Orleans on Friday. Yet the Army Corps of Engineers now says that newly flooded areas could be pumped dry within a week, an improvement over the original estimate, two to three weeks, when the Ninth Ward was deluged again.
And if Louisiana's congressional delegation has its way, those engineers would be endowed with a great deal more money for new and improved levees, $40 billion. That would be five times what it cost Holland to protect its entire nation from seawater with levees and sea walls and floodgates. It would be 10 times the pre-Katrina 2004 core budget for the entire nation, and it would be 16 times the Corps estimate for protecting New Orleans against a category 5 storm.
It's all part of Louisiana's total request for Katrina relief, recovery, and rebuilding of a quarter of a trillion dollars.
As noted in "The Washington Post," that is more than the cost of the Louisiana Purchase, even when that purchase is adjusted for 202 years of inflation.
My next guest knows an enormous amount about those levees, probably more than he wishes right now. Ivor Van Heerden is deputy director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center. The Army engineers will be consulting him about the levees.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
IVOR VAN HEERDEN, LSU HURRICANE CENTER: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: The immediate future. Over the weekend, we got a glimpse of how much the standing water had weakened the levees in four weeks' time. If they aren't going to be reliably sealed before next June, or permanently sealed, how vulnerable is New Orleans through the end of this hurricane season?
VAN HEERDEN: New Orleans is still very, very vulnerable. As you stated, the eye of Rita was 275 miles from New Orleans, and still it flooded. So even a near-miss from a tropical storm could once again breach these levees or overtop the levees.
So extremely vulnerable, especially if we recognize we've still got quite a long time to go with this hurricane season.
OLBERMANN: Give me a handle, from your perspective and your knowledge, on that figure for a reliable levee system that was requested, (INAUDIBLE) at least it's got part of the overall price tag of $40 billion. Why that much if, as the example I just cited, Holland wrapped itself over a period of 25 years pretty securely for about $8 billion?
VAN HEERDEN: Well, I think, you know, I haven't seen the bill, but the two important things are, one is, we really need to build some substantial levees combined with floodgates. But in addition, part of the necessary protection is to rebuild the Louisiana coastal wetlands. And that's about a $16 billion tag.
So a combination of the two would really do the job. Just how much, I really couldn't say.
OLBERMANN: Something that I don't know I've heard discussed at length at any point in the last four weeks, what are the current levees made of, and how should the new ones differ in construction?
VAN HEERDEN: Well, the current levees, there are two basic kinds. One is just an earthen dike built up to the required height, of, in most cases, 14 to 18 feet above sea level. And then there's a second kind, which is a smaller earthen dike with a sea wall on it. And that sea wall generally consisted of sheet piling driven in the ground as an anchor, and then a concrete wall attached to that.
So two different kinds. The earthen ones around the city did real good, except where they were exposed to the full force of the category 4 hurricane waves and surge. The concrete walls, these flood walls of 17th Street and London Avenue Canal, they failed pretty dismally.
OLBERMANN: What would you build the new ones out of, then?
VAN HEERDEN: Well, in the London Avenue and the 17th Street, the key would be to build a floodgate on the lakeside, so you wouldn't have to really do a whole lot more other than replace the existing structure, maybe a different design, if it's just a drainage canal. The problem was, these canals weren't sealed from Lake Pontchartrain. And the key thing would be to build the necessary floodgates, so when a surge comes in, you can close those gates, and thus protect the city.
OLBERMANN: Ivor Van Heerden, who, as deputy director of LSU's Hurricane Center, will be advising the Army Corps of Engineers on the new levees in New Orleans. Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
VAN HEERDEN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: We already debunked the rumors of sharks swimming around that city and alligators attacking survivors there. Now comes a tale of the antiterrorist dolphins, armed with tranquilizer guns, supposedly roaming free in the Gulf.
Our suggestion? Send this guy in to catch them, the one to the right there. Charlie, the fishing chimp, is ahead on Oddball.
OLBERMANN: We're back. We pause our Countdown, because no hurricane nor sleet nor snow can prevent the strange people of this world from doing weird things on videotape. I'm not referring to myself here. It's our duty to bring you that videotape, so let's play Oddball.
We begin at the Huntington Raceway in England, where 60 man-sized furry animals competed Sunday in the big annual Mascot Grand National.
And into the first furlong, it's big squirrel with no tail in front, a sun thing kind of thing second, dog in striped shirt third, big squirrel through the hurdles. It could go wire to wire. Coming up fast behind the dog, it's a hippopotamus.
And down the stretch they come. It's the big squirrel with no tail way out in front, big squirrel with no tail first, sun thing second, a lion or monkey is, I'm not sure what. Is there a big squirrel thing, 12, 46, 75, and 550, finishing last in the race.
This guy, who appeared to actually be carrying a dead horse on his back. You can make it, Old Glue.
Now, here's a monkey fishing, Charlie, the fishing chimpanzee. Nice shirt. Relaxing on the shores of Niagara River in Youngstown, New York. They say Charlie caught two trout for the day, as he helped kick off the 2005 Wildlife Festival with his rod and reel, because, as the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, Give a chimp a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a chimp to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Very nice video.
Teach a chimp to smoke, and you make him a media sensation.
And lastly here, say hello to Elsie, the 6-month-old St. Bernard from Fort Lauderdale. We followed Elsie to the veterinarian to see what a doggie X-ray looks like. And in it, you can see the vertebrae, and there's the rib cage, and there's the 13-inch-long serrated kitchen knife she swallowed about four days ago. No one is sure how Elsie managed to swallow a 13-inch knife. They're even more confused by the fact that she was completely uninjured and didn't mention anything to anybody.
But docs performed a two-hour surgery to remove the knife, which is good, because waiting for nature to take its course would have doubtless been a huge mistake.
Speaking of trying to compensate for making huge mistakes, took him three days to leave his ranch in the wake of Katrina. But now you can't blink without seeing the president everywhere, New Orleans, Biloxi, Colorado Springs, and Austin, even going back to the disaster zone tomorrow, and bringing back Brownie.
But he was in Washington long enough today to see this unfolding near his doorstep, Cindy Sheehan, arrested outside the White House. Who decided to put her back on the map?
Those stories ahead.
Now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, the unnamed 20-year-old driver from Lynwood, Washington, went and took a red Buick for a test drive, mistook the gas for the brake, went through two chain-link fences and into a condo swimming pool. Firefighters dragged her to safety through the sun roof.
Number two, Moses Bittok of West Des Moines, Iowa, formerly of Kenya, recently formerly of Kenya, took his U.S. citizenship oath on Friday. This morning, he won the state lottery to the tune of $1.8 million.
Number one, Silo, the penguin, the first openly gay penguin at New York's Central Park Zoo. Not any more. Observers say he has split with his partner, Roy the Penguin, and built a new nest with a female penguin named Scrappy. Another Pat Robertson prayer come true.
OLBERMANN: Even his staunchest defenders have long since admitted that whatever else the president did or did not do, or was or was not supposed to do, his supposedly solid political sense had let him down completely at the beginning of the month of the hurricanes.
Our third story on the Countdown, it had seemed to rebound lately, until today, anyway. That's when a protester was arrested on a technicality not far from the White House. You might recognize her name, Cindy Sheehan. And that's when it was revealed that FEMA had evidently rehired a former employee as a consultant. You might recognize his name, Michael Brown.
Lots politically to talk about with Howard Fineman in a moment.
First, at the White House, our chief correspondent, David Gregory, on how the president made be most widely judged on all this, what he does about hurricane-adjusted gas prices.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Though Rita largely spared Gulf Coast refineries, today, the president still warned of even more sticker shock at the gas pump.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you have a Hurricane Katrina followed by a Hurricane Rita, it's natural, unfortunately, that it is going to affect supply.
GREGORY: Mr. Bush said the government was again prepared to take the rare step of tapping the nation's oil reserves, as it did after Katrina. But experts say the extra crude oil will not bring down gas prices.
JOHN KILDUFF, OIL ANALYST: It has to be refined, and, unfortunately, we have a great deal of refineries offline and that are going to stay offline for some time.
GREGORY: Mr. Bush also called on consumers to conserve energy and directed federal employees to suspend nonessential travel. That, however, won't stop the president himself from visiting Rita-ravaged areas in Texas tomorrow, part of his ongoing effort to regain political standing after the botched response to Katrina.
Starting last Friday with a tour at FEMA headquarters, Mr. Bush practically stalked this oncoming storm, briefings at Northern Command in Colorado and an emergency response center in Austin, Texas.
BUSH: For a lot of folks in the states, these are miserable times.
GREGORY: From there, San Antonio, then Baton Rouge.
BUSH: Governor, thank you for your hospitality. I know you've been through a lot. I appreciate your leadership.
GREGORY: And, these days, the normally tightlipped White House is working in public, showing the president thinking big. Perhaps Mr. Bush suggested yesterday the military should take the lead role in disaster response. Today, after critics weighed in, Mr. Bush was more cautious.
BUSH: I don't want to, you know, prejudge the Congress' discussion on this issue, because it may require a change of law.
GREGORY (on camera): In fact, much has changed since Katrina struck the president's second term, leaving him to pursue simpler goals, compassion and basic competence in the wake of disaster.
David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.
OLBERMANN: And then there's Brownie's heck of a new job. At a
meeting with the staff of the special House committee looking into Katrina
preparations today, the disgraced and displaced former FEMA director,
Michael Brown, said he had rejoined the agency as a consultant to - quote
"provide a review" - unquote - "of how the agency functioned before, during and after the storm," a congressional aide telling NBC News nobody is sure, but it's assumed Brown is being paid.
A senior Homeland Security official confirming to MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell, that Brown in fact was to remain on the FEMA payroll for roughly four weeks after his resignation as part of the transition.
The job continues endlessly, it seems, in Iraq. After a day that saw the arrest of one of the conflict's most notorious figures, an act of unspeakable violence at an Iraqi elementary school and the arrest outside the White House of the woman who has been leading the anti-war protest movement here at home.
Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan taken into police custody on Pennsylvania Avenue this afternoon, the California mother among dozens of protesters sitting down on the sidewalk after having marched to the White House, police reportedly warning them three times that they were breaking the raw by failing to move along. And they didn't move along and they made the arrests.
As to the notorious figure, a verdict today in the legal action against the Army private Lynndie England, convicted on six counts for her role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Her case now moves into the sentencing phase, Private England facing up to 10 years in prison.
And a deadly day in Iraq, as if every day there was not, a brazen attack on an elementary school, killing five Shiite teachers in Baghdad. Also, the Pentagon saying that three American soldiers were killed today in roadside bomb attacks. That would be 40 dead since Katrina.
Time for a general political temperature taking. For that, let's call in Howard Fineman, MSNBC analyst and chief political correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let me start with these blasts from our past, first, this
the word that Mike Brown is back after having seemingly signified everything that went wrong there, it's just beginning to heal and now we find out he's been a consultant to FEMA all this time? Are they standing in waste-high toxic water at the political end of the White House? How could they let that happen? How could they let that out?
FINEMAN: I'm waiting for them to announce that Jack Abramoff will be in charge of investigating the corruption of lobbying on K Street.
You know, I know there's an innocent bureaucratic explanation for it. He made the mess. He can examine it and help clean it up, perhaps. I think, politically it's asinine. And it's just further evidence that they're still kind of off their game.
I mean, no situation room in the world is safe from George Bush right now, certainly none within a few states of the disaster area. I talked to a White House official tonight who was very proud about the president's statements about using the military in future disasters. But, as David Gregory pointed out, they're dialing back from that slightly.
What the president needs to do is show that he's serious about trying to get the budget in line to pay for all this and maybe even do the "Nixon goes to China" thing of a president from Texas and declare that the federal government is going to build a couple of oil refineries to refine that crude oil. That's what we need in this country, in addition to conservation, are refineries.
OLBERMANN: Again touching on this issue of political slump, although, at a month, it's more than a slump, I know the president doesn't manage the D.C. Police. I was there last week. I understand how this works. I know about Posse Comitatus and all the rest of that.
But, if the woman is in town, doesn't somebody get a message over there to whoever is going to handle the protest, saying, look, for the last month, the hurricanes have almost obliterated the story of Cindy Sheehan from the public consciousness. Do not touch her even if she self-immolates? How does that message not get across?
FINEMAN: Well, lack of coordination. It's the U.S. Park Police that is in charge of the area out in front of the White House.
My understanding is that she may have violated the specific terms of the police department there, which was not to do a sit-in demonstration. They arrested her. Technically, the White House doesn't run the U.S. Park Police.
But, look, they've got bigger problems than Cindy Sheehan right now. Gasoline prices are eating away at the base. The budget spending is eating away at the Republican base. The president has got big problems. I was at an event tonight with a bunch of Republicans going after the president for lack of competence and lack of discipline on spending.
His big problem is, he doesn't seem to be mastering events. The American people want a president who is decisive and who can make things happen, even if they don't always agree with what he's doing. This is a president who is facing a lot of big global forces, whether it's global warming in hurricanes or hyper-capitalism from China or terrorism out of Islamic fundamentalists.
You name it, he just doesn't seem to be in charge of events right now.
OLBERMANN: So, does going out on all these trips, going again to Texas tomorrow, does that help him or does it make him look like he's being opportunistic and simply showing up and turning everything into a photo-op?
FINEMAN: Well, I don't think it hurts that badly. I think it does remind people of Katrina, but also people probably want to know that the president's learning something about how disaster management actually works.
I mean, they should be taken at their word in that sense. But they've got to do more than that. And I know that he has a limited agenda right now, as David Gregory was saying. But budget-cutting and energy conservation and energy production are three key things, not to mention making radios, emergency radios in the country operating - operate together.
I was talking to a top White House official tonight who was lamenting to me that police and fire around the country can't talk to each other. And I was biting my tongue, saying, hello, you're in charge of that. Make it happen. And they haven't done it.
OLBERMANN: Yes, that's not weather.
Of course, the president can now always consult with Mike Brown, as we find out.
"Newsweek"'s Howard Fineman...
FINEMAN:... doing a heck of a job, too.
OLBERMANN: Doing a heck of a job.
OLBERMANN: As are you.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman, always, sir, great thanks.
Also tonight, an unparalleled look at the life and the legacy of an American icon, Bob Dylan giving us an exclusive sneak peek into the new movie about his formative years as an artist. It's not so much the princess and the frog as it is the actress and the tadpole. Heaven brought them together, no doubt.
Those stories ahead. But, first, here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm so confident (INAUDIBLE) that I promise, if he does, to win - to walk naked down the main street of Ipsum (ph) - that is, Broadway.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we can't afford to Mr. Locke (ph) to be running down Broadway scantily clad with his organic fruit and veg swinging indiscriminately all over the place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of all the rescue calls Broward County firefighters responded to during Hurricane Rita, this was probably the most unusual.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you saw the snake, your reaction was?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just screamed because I couldn't believe a snake that tall, that size was on my house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cattle in the area for the past probably 24 or 48 hours, trying to stay in the only high ground that they have here. Some of these cattle...
OLBERMANN: A rare glimpse of an American cultural icon talking about his views, rather than singing about them, and saying goodbye to a cult favorite. Would you believe Maxwell Smart has died?
That's next. This is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: It is hard now to recreate the impact of the arrival on the public scene of a folk and rock singer named Bob Dylan. There have been politically relevant musicians before. They usually got marginalized, like Woody Guthrie, or stepped on, like The Weavers. They also never had played anything like rock 'n' roll.
But four decades past, that's exactly what Dylan did, how he exploded into American culture.
Our number two story on the Countdown, tonight, on PBS, the filmmaker Martin Scorsese premieres a study of the early Dylan with previously unseen archival footage and rarely seen interview candor.
Brian Williams got an exclusive preview.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR (voice-over): More than 40 years ago, he seemed to come out of nowhere to change the face of popular music.
BOB DYLAN, MUSICIAN: I wrote the songs to perform the songs. And I needed to sing it, like, in that language, which is a language that I hadn't heard before.
WILLIAMS: Bob Dylan arrived in New York City in 1961, a Minnesota teenager on a voyage of self-discovery and reinvention. He was steeped in American music, blues, country, folk, absorbing all of it and turning it into something new. His early topical songs seemed to capture the spirit of the times. But Dylan's artistic ambitions went far beyond politics.
DYLAN: To be on the side of people who are struggling for something doesn't necessarily mean you're being political.
WILLIAMS: From the beginning, he avoided labels of any kind. He saw them as a trap, no matter how well-intentioned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Dylan is a genius.
WILLIAMS: He was soon called the voice of a generation. The folk music crowd claimed him as one of their own. But he was having none of it.
At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan went electric. It was a cultural turning point and a defining moment for Dylan. But he was also attacked as a sellout for playing rock 'n' roll. For a time, he was booed at every concert.
DYLAN: These are all protest songs now. Come on.
I had a perspective about the booing, because you have got to realize you can kill somebody with kindness, too. I was like an outsider anyway. They were trying to make me an insider to some kind of trip they were on.
I don't think so.
WILLIAMS: Dylan ignored his critics and carved out new territory as a poet of popular song, but he was careful never to give away too much of himself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or as a poet?
DYLAN: No, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, you know?
I have never been that kind of performer that wants to be one of them, like one of the crowd. I don't try to endear myself that way.
No, you don't need my autograph. If you needed it, I would give it to you.
WILLIAMS: For some, Bob Dylan will always stand in the shadow of his own early work. He achieved so much so quickly, it seemed to amaze even him.
DYLAN: I felt like I had discovered something no one had ever discovered. And I was in a certain arena artistically that no one else had ever been before, ever.
WILLIAMS: For Dylan himself, it's less about where he's been than where he's going.
Brian Williams, NBC News.
OLBERMANN: The '60s had breakout stars like Bob Dylan. This decade got breakout stars like Ashton Kutcher. Woo-hoo.
He's the segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and gossip news, "Keeping Tabs." And, if you haven't heard, he married Demi Moore. She's 42. He's 27. If that data is accurate, he's only 10 years older than her oldest daughter. It's her third marriage, his first. And there's nothing else I can say about this that's either relevant or true.
Lastly, even then - I can testify to this personally - it was considered very silly. It was meant to be. And it pulled it off beautifully. It was the TV series "Get Smart." And the reason it was pulled off beautifully was a comedian named Don Adams. He's dead tonight.
At the height of the "James Bond" craze, comic legends Mel Brooks and Buck Henry envisioned a weekly spoof of the entire genre, technological gadgets, ridiculous on their face, the shoe phone, for instance, others that never worked, like the infamous cone of silence, in which the two users could hear everything except each other.
But key to the five seasons of the show was the performer who had to take it all seriously, to never let on that the point was to be funny. That was Don Adams, who, before and after his run as Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, was a fairly successful stand-up comedian and cartoon voice-over artist, everything from Tennessee Tuxedo to Inspector Gadget.
Don Adams, three times an Emmy award-winner for "Get Smart," died last night in Los Angeles after a lung infection. He was 82 years old.
Speaking of super-secret federal agencies, a report out today that an alleged pet project of the U.S. military now loose in the Gulf of Mexico, 36 little bottle-nosed dolphins with fricking toxic dart guns attached to them. A Countdown investigation ahead.
But, first, time for our list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in the world.
Nominated at the bronze level, the folks at IraqPartnership.org. The $200 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars we have spent there not enough. They want Americans to make voluntary contributions to the rebuilding, too. A British newspaper says that, in about two weeks' time, those contributions have amounted to $600.
Also, Paul F. Weinbaum (ph) and Martin Jay Boyd (ph), two residents of the greater Las Cruces, New Mexico, area. They have sued over three religious symbols on the official emblem of the city of Las Cruces, three crosses. See, guys, Las Cruces in Spanish means "The Crosses."
But the winner, Congressman Richard Pombo of California, the chairman of the House Resources committee. He has proposed selling naming rights to many of our national parks and just plain selling as many as 16 of them to developers. One of them is the famous Theodore Roosevelt Island in the middle of the Potomac, just outside D.C. Congressman Pombo is a Republican. Evidently, he does not know that Theodore Roosevelt was also a Republican.
Congressman Richard Pombo of California, today's worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: To the number one story on our Countdown tonight. This one is going to be a little hard to believe. We all know the cliche about life imitating art. Well, here we go again. Because of Hurricane Katrina, we have learned of a reported factual parallel to one of the most over-the-top ideas ever in one of the most over-the-top movie spoofs ever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY")
MIKE MYERS, ACTOR: I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with fricking laser beams attached to their heads.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, how about dolphins trained to shoot terrorists with toxic darts?
We just evoked the movie "Austin Powers" two weeks ago, when eight dolphins aquarium washed out to sea, made their way back to the area and recognized their handlers on a boat. We also mentioned the George C. Scott flick "Day of the Dolphin." Well, the British newspaper "The Observer" quotes an accident investigator who claims that three dozen U.S. military dolphins, supposedly trained in secret training near Lake Pontchartrain, they have also been washed away by Hurricane Katrina.
These Flippers were supposedly capable of identify underwater spies and were carrying special harness which permitted them to fire toxic darts at anybody trying to sabotage a ship. Presumably, the actual firing would be done by remote control, rather than by the dolphins, who may be really smart, but who do not have hands with which to press the firing button for the fricking darts, nor, for that matter, any fricking laser beams attached to their heads.
Well, it sounds ludicrous, except that the Navy has long admitted experimented to see if dolphins could be used militarily. The idea of them as last lines of defense against underwater terrorists was broached very seriously in the months and years immediately after 9/11.
This evening, however, the Pentagon actually issued a statement saying all of its dolphins have been accounted for. Moreover, the DOD says its dolphins aren't trained to attack, just to look for - quote - "objects" with their diver companions. Plus, they have no dolphin units in Louisiana, only in San Diego. Must be some other dolphins, huh? Rogue dolphins, perhaps.
So, could there be 36 trained dolphins out there somewhere carrying toxic darts on their backs, ready to shoot surfers or divers or Lloyd Bridges or Patrick Duffy from "Manimal"?
Joining me now by phone, Moby Solangi, the president of Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Thanks for your time tonight, sir.
MOBY SOLANGI, PRESIDENT, MARINE LIFE OCEANARIUM: Hi, Keith. How are you?
OLBERMANN: Well, I'm confused. Are there such dolphins? Were they in the New Orleans area? Could they be missing? And, if so, should we assume they are armed and dangerous?
SOLANGI: Well, boy, I will tell you, that sounds like something from "X-Files." If I'd known, we probably would be running away from our own dolphins.
OLBERMANN: Make sure I'm right on this one point here, that dolphins could not actually fire poison dart guns, even they are wearing them, even they are loose, because they don't have hands. Am I right about this so far?
SOLANGI: No, I think that's science fiction. And these animals are trained. It's common knowledge, underwater mines and divers. But I think darts and all that is a little bit too far.
OLBERMANN: The story in the British paper suggested the one thing, the one kernel of supposed truth off which they hung this entire story was that, when your dolphins were located out in the Gulf and were - and met up with their handlers and eventually rescued, that the Navy wanted to inspect the dolphins first. Is there any truth to that?
SOLANGI: No, not at all.
As a matter of fact, we didn't have any Navy folks. Now, they have had helped us, provided us these temporary tanks, which we're holding these animals until they recover, so they can be transported. But, no, the Navy has absolutely no involvement in the rescue of these animals, other than providing with us temporary pools.
OLBERMANN: And nobody saw any other dolphins in the neighborhood wearing - wearing - wearing big darts.
How are your dolphins, by the way? We need to follow up on that.
SOLANGI: Oh, they're doing wonderfully well. They're getting healthy. We moved all eight of them to the C.B. base in Gulfport, Mississippi. And, after they recover, we should move them into other aquariums around the country.
OLBERMANN: All right, last question. If - if I see one of these dolphins wearing a harness with a poison dart gun on its back in my neighborhood, should I call Homeland Security or George C. Scott or Dr. Evil? Or who should I call?
SOLANGI: I think should you swim fast.
OLBERMANN: But you're assuming I'm in the water. I'm just thinking, you know, if they - they're smart enough to carry around dart guns, they might be able to walk up the street, too, couldn't they?
SOLANGI: Well, Keith, it's funny.
But, hey, come down and we will let you go and swim with one of these dolphins.
OLBERMANN: I would be happy to do it. I think the dolphins clearly are smarter than I am. And we know this much. At the very minimum, they're darn better swimmers than I am.
SOLANGI: You bet.
OLBERMANN: But I'm glad to hear about the condition of your dolphins. And I think that's one of the more remarkable stories. And I hope it doesn't get obscured by this silliness out of the - out of the British newspaper.
SOLANGI: Yes, no, I appreciate it. And thank you for asking. And I think it was a miraculous story.
OLBERMANN: It was, indeed.
Moby Solangi, the president of Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, good luck in your rebuilding efforts. And great thanks for joining us tonight and helping us clear up this nonsense here.
That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. As the dolphins would tell you, keep your knees loose.
Good night and good luck.
Time to turn it over to "RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT" here with us in the studio.
Good evening, Rita.
RITA COSBY, HOST, "RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT": And no dolphins.
Thanks so much, Keith.
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