Monday, October 3, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 3

Guests: Wayne Slater, Thomas Riccio, Joe Torre

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The Supreme Court nominee is Miers. Not Jacoby and Meyers, just Miers. There might be a controversy, since she's never been a judge.

An old controversy, a decade old controversy, to be exact. O.J. Simpson, selling his autographs at a show almost 10 years to the day of his acquittal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I met O.J. earlier, and he didn't stab me or anything.


OLBERMANN: Simpson never went to jail. This woman might, for sitting on a New York City park bench.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a big sign saying, "No Dogs Allowed."

You can't miss that. You can't see that.


OLBERMANN: We'll tell you what law the cops say she violated.

And Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees, Pods, Braves and Angels, Astros, Cards. The baseball playoffs loom. We will preview with our special guest, Yankees manager Joe Torrey.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Sometimes politics is too nuanced, too subtle, too self-inflating to be truly understood by the rest of us. Then there are days like today.

Conservatives are not happy. Tom DeLay, already on the sidelines as House majority leader after an indictment last week of virtual political money laundering, was today indicted again for actual money laundering. Details in a moment.

First, in our fifth story on the Countdown, the president of the United States nominating a successor for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, about whom the head of the Democrats in the Senate did everything but ask out on a date, about whom a prominent conservative did everything but describe her as David Souter in a dress.

White House counsel Harriet Miers, nominated by President Bush. We begin our coverage with justice correspondent Pete Williams. Good evening, Pete.


In the end, the suspense is over. The president turned to a trusted aide, someone he had worked with for 10 years. But it would be an understatement to say Harriet Miers has a low profile here in Washington, and she has very little paper trail on legal issues.


WILLIAMS (voice-over): The nomination brings double diversity. She's a woman, and, unlike anyone on the Supreme Court now, has never been a judge.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Harriet Miers has served in critical roles in our nation's government, including one of the most important legal positions in the country, White House counsel.

HARRIET MIERS, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: If confirmed, I recognize that I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong.

WILLIAMS: She's thoroughly Texas, born and educated in Dallas, with a law degree from Southern Methodist University.

PROF. JOHN ATTANASIO, SMU LAW SCHOOL DEAN: She's someone who does feel a profound sense of duty, and who is very public minded.

WILLIAMS: She served a term on the Dallas City Council, and in 1993, as the first woman president of the Texas state bar, she pushed the American Bar Association to reconsider its support for abortion rights.

LEONARD LEO, MEYERS SUPPORTER: I think it shows she understands a good bit about conservative legal principles and the controversial nature of some of the modern Supreme Court's constitutional law doctrine.

WILLIAMS: And this program from 1989 shows she gave $150 to a Texas group opposed to abortion rights. But a former Bush White House speechwriter today said he's disappointed the president did not choose someone with a clearer judicial record, like the federal judges said to have been under consideration.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: We know what they are made of and where they came from and what they believe. And it is baffling that the president would have passed over that group of people to pick someone who is such an uncertain quantity.

WILLIAMS: Harriet Miers is a converted Democrat who gave $1,000 to the Gore campaign in 1988. But after doing private legal work for Governor Bush, she became part of his inner circle. He appointed her to the state lottery commission in 1995, once called her a pit bull in size 6 shoes, and made her one of the first hires when he came to Washington.


WILLIAMS: And one other point, Keith, she is 60 years old. That is older than the average age of Supreme Court nominees in recent history over the past 35 years or so, older by nine years. And the Republicans are saying tonight they hope to have her confirmed by Thanksgiving.

OLBERMANN: Pete, this is obviously not the first time the president has tapped a person who was leading a search committee for a job to get the job, the vice president being the most prominent example of that.


OLBERMANN: But there are a lot of prominent women judges, as Mr. Frum suggested in your piece, there, the controversial ones like Priscilla Owens and Janice Rodgers Brown. There are others like Karen J. Williams and Edith Clement and Edith Jones. Is there any explanation flying under the radar as to why Harriet Miers was his choice, even just among all the other seemingly conservative women judges?

WILLIAMS: Well, let's take the president at his word, to start with, and say that he was looking for someone who had no judicial experience. He wanted someone who was an outsider. In fact, he'd been encouraged by members of the Senate to look beyond what I think they called the federal court monastery to find his next nominee.

So he's done that. So, you know, there's one possible answer to your question. He wanted to look in the other direction of federal judges.

A second possible answer is that many of those federal judges, including some of the brightest ones, were also going to be, without question, some of the most controversial, who had made comments that would be very hard to get through the Senate confirmation. That's another possibility.

And a third possibility is that he met these people, and they just failed to impress him personally.

So, you know, I don't know what the answer is. I suspect it's maybe a combination of all those three.

OLBERMANN: The other point that you made, not all kneejerk reactions are bad things, and it is a kneejerk reaction to say you can't have a Supreme Court justice who has never been a judge. We've had plenty of presidents who had never run for office before, Eisenhower, as recently as Eisenhower. Do you have to be a judge to be a good justice?

WILLIAMS: You know, you don't even have to be a lawyer to be a member of the Supreme Court. It helps, but it's not essential. The Constitution says very little about it. William Rehnquist had never been a judge when he came to the U.S. Supreme Court. Byron White was not a judge. Louis Powell was not a judge.

Now, you could say, Yes, but they had an experience in the federal arena working with constitutional issues. But on the question of whether you have to be a judge, the answer is no. And, as a matter of fact, I would say probably slightly less than half of the Supreme Court nominees in history have not been federal judges.

The recent trend has been to go to federal judges, but it's not essential.

OLBERMANN: Pete Williams, as always, great insight, great thanks.

WILLIAMS: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: The breaking news on Tom DeLay in a moment.

First, what's also breaking are the hearts of the conservative bloggers. At least their blood vessels are breaking, relying on words like "betrayal" and "disappointment" to describe their dismay over the choice and the president who made it.

Paul Marengoff, on the conservative round table PowerLine, setting the tone, and feeling duped. Quoting him, "Instead of a 50-year-old conservative experienced jurist, we get a 60-year-old with no judicial experience, who may or may not be conservative. I was hoping that, because this is Bush's second term, he would thumb his nose at the diversity-mongers and appoint the best candidate. He thumbed his nose all right, but at conservatives."

The folks at Public Advocate calling her selection "a betrayal of the conservative pro-family voters whose support put Bush in the White House."

With anger over the nomination so palpable, perhaps it is not surprising that the most seemingly enthusiastic reaction came today from the mouths of Democrats on Capitol Hill.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We have someone who has been nominated by the president who is like approximately 39 other people who have served on the court, people who have had no judicial experience. I think that's a plus, not a minus.

Goes without saying that I'm very happy that the president chose a woman to fill the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why go to bat for a Republican nominee?

REID: Pardon me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why go to bat for a Republican nominee?

REID: Well, I don't know if this is going to bat. I'm, you know, I'm going to wait until all the hearings are completed. I just - I have to say, without any qualification, that I'm very happy that we have someone like her.


OLBERMANN: Time now to call in "Congressional Quarterly"'s Craig Crawford, our nominee for Countdown's court of public opinion.

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Oh, my. That's a heady responsibility here.

OLBERMANN: Well, so is this. And when it - what do you make of this? I mean, it looks like the final score on this one is middle won, left nothing, right nothing.

CRAWFORD: I'm stunned by this nomination, Keith, because I thought at least one of these, the president would use to stir up the conservative base for the Republican Party, not against it, because we've got the battle for control of Congress coming a year away. And these are the voters, in a low-turnout election like that, that make so much of a difference. And this is their biggest issue, is changing the direction of the Supreme Court.

OLBERMANN: The president waited patiently for nearly five years, certainly four years, to push through these almost-toxic appeals court nominations, Priscilla Owens, Janice Rogers Brown, now this. Does it reflect, perhaps, how much weaker politically the president is now than he was even when he nominated John Roberts in July?

CRAWFORD: I think it reflects two things. One is what you indicate, is that they weren't coming from the position of strength to take on the Democrats with this nomination. I think it also suggests what I've begun thinking for some time, is that President Bush is a campaign conservative, not as much of a governing conservative. By that I mean, he campaigns on conservative issues, but he doesn't really push them through as legislation.

And now we see with the Supreme Court nominations, suggesting to me that he's been playing these conservative voters for the fool just a bit in both campaigns, trying to stir them up to get their votes. But he hasn't delivered for them, and they're starting to squawk about that.

OLBERMANN: There's another theory that's posited here by Andrew Sullivan, the - from the blogosphere, the conservative end of it. Let me quote this, "This very personal, very crony appointment to be a response to being told he," being the president, "could not pick his main man, Alberto Gonzales. Harriet is his main woman."

Is it possible that this really could be the lifetime irrevocable equivalent of, Don't tell me what to do, I'm going to come up with a bigger surprise for you?

CRAWFORD: That's right. I think there was so much speculation about Gonzalez. And I think Bush likes to surprise us so much, that might have actually hurt Gonzales in the long run. But, you know, appointing a friend is not something unusual. Franklin Roosevelt appointed his poker buddy, William O. Douglas, who turned out to be one of the most influential justices in history.

So I think historically, we have lots of examples of people without judicial experience who were close friends of the president, just not in recent history. And I do think we've seen a lot of Senate Democrats and Republicans telling the president, There are too many technocrats on the Supreme Court. We need somebody with more life experience.

OLBERMANN: Last question. And I know this flies in the face of everything we know about politics 2005. And I'm going to get into extraordinary trouble for asking this. But in the case of the nomination of Judge Roberts, and now of Ms. Miers, is it possible that the president decided simply on two people from essentially his team, his side of the ball, if you will, but basically the two people he thought would make the best Supreme Court judges, regardless of their actual political orientation?

CRAWFORD: I think that's where it comes down. And I think this tells more about George Bush than anything we've seen for a long time. He is a more moderate conservative, perhaps a country club conservative, more so than we thought before. Tells us a lot about him. He is the not the firebrand right-wing evangelical conservative he campaigned as.

OLBERMANN: Millions of people hearing you say that and hearing me say this, who just feel like the earth just spun off its axis. Craig Crawford, author of "Attack the Messenger," once again, thanks for joining us.

CRAWFORD: Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, speaking of, once again, Tom DeLay again, first it was conspiracy, now a grand jury has leveled a charge of money laundering against the Republican leader. We'll get the very latest from Texas.

And a criminal investigation under way into the deadly boat accident in upstate New York, 20 people, all elderly, killed when a sightseeing craft suddenly capsized. The latest on what went so horribly wrong.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: For the second time in less than a week, Tom DeLay is under indictment. Same case, different grand jury, different charge.

In our fourth story on the Countdown, last Wednesday, a grand jury had accused him of one count of conspiring to violate Texas campaign finance laws. This afternoon, a separate grand jury also charged him in the same case with money laundering. Same money trail, $155,000 worth of corporate donations through his own political action committee, then redirecting $190,000 to divide among Republican candidates for the Texas legislature.

DeLay releasing a statement this evening, reiterating he's done nothing illegal, he says, and that he is essentially the victim of a political witch-hunt with prosecutor Ronnie Earle at the front of the torch-carrying citizens. Quoting the statement, "Ronnie Earle has now stooped to a new low with his brand of prosecutorial abuse. He is trying to pull the legal equivalent of a do-over, since he knows very well that the charges he brought against me last week are totally manufactured and illegitimate. This is an abomination of justice," end quote.

Last week's indictment forced DeLay to relinquish his House majority leadership. What will today's charge cost him?

For answers, we turn again to Wayne Slater, the senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning News," co-author of the biography of Karl Rove, "Bush's Brain."

Thanks again for joining us, sir.


Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: So, all right, why this second indictment? Was there something wrong with the first? Is there a subtext here the rest of us don't know about?

SLATER: Well, it's high-speed chess over at the Travis County courthouse. Last week, DeLay's indicted on conspiracy charges. This morning, DeLay's - the lawyers for DeLay went to the court, tried to get a judge to throw the whole thing out, saying that the original indictment is flawed, that, in fact, the conspiracy charge doesn't apply under Texas law. And they made an argument to that effect.

By the afternoon, Ronnie Earle was before a new grand jury, presenting the complicated case. And before 5:00 today, a new grand jury issued a new indictment, in this case, saying not only conspiracy, but that DeLay was guilty of money laundering itself.

I think the prosecutor in this case is trying to cover his bases.

OLBERMANN: We spoke last Wednesday about how just that first indictment was enough to kneecap Tom DeLay in Washington, obviously forcing him, under Republican rules, to step aside from the House majority leadership. Will this second one have any impact on him?

SLATER: You know, it's interesting, because the last week, you heard some DeLay allies saying, Well, it's conspiracy, and that means Ronnie Earle doesn't have anything, Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor, doesn't have a case. So you always bring conspiracy as the charge of last resort.

This isn't conspiracy. This is actually money laundering under the criminal statute. And so the question now is, does this indicate that the prosecutor does indeed have more evidence than Ronnie Earle's allies said in the past?

In the end, the case is essentially the same. The charges are the same. But in this case, Earle has charged DeLay with a whole range of crimes, two or three different areas, to make sure, I assume, that something sticks.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of things sticking, is there a chance now of blowback here, that at some point, the few remaining neutrals who might be looking at this would say, Jeez, indict the same guy twice on the same - essentially, in the same crime, if you will, or whatever it is, in one week's time? The district attorney really has gone overboard.

SLATER: Well, it raises that possibility, there's no question about it, because people watching from a distance will say exactly that, or might say that. The problem, of course, for Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor, is, we don't really care what people say if, in fact, DeLay escapes a particular charge because of a flaw in the indictment last week.

If we can solve this by making sure he's charged with two or three different things, all our bases are covered. In the end, if we indict him, everything will be fine.

But I think you're right, it's a possibility that looks like this district attorney is doing everything he can, in this high-speed chess match, to make sure he gets Tom DeLay.

OLBERMANN: And he managed to get Tom DeLay to use the phrase, "the legal equivalent of a do-over." We have that, at least, on the record.

Wayne Slater of "The Dallas Morning News," helping us out again on the latest bad news for Tom DeLay. Great thanks, sir.


OLBERMANN: O.J. Simpson took time out from his search to find the real killer. Signed autographs this weekend, for a fee, just days before the 10th anniversary of his historic acquittal. We'll take you behind the scenes of the comic book show.

Did that leave a bad taste in your mouth? Well, these folks can relate. They are not spitting watermelon seeds here. Those are - oh, those are - Details next on Oddball.


OLBERMANN: It is at this point each evening when we turn away from the real stories to keep you updated on what's been happening on the weird news front.

Let's play Oddball.

Beginning in San Diego, where - ow, ow, ow, ow, you can't park that thing here. Police are not sure exactly why the woman behind the wheel of this 31-foot motor home rammed it through the front door of the Arco convenience store last night. Usually it's because somebody's mistaken the gas pedal for the brake, but that would not explain why she backed up and rammed the place two more times.

Police say the woman had not been a customer. She just pulled into the parking lot and aimed straight for the front door. No beef jerky was injured in this incident.

To the St. Louis Science Center in Missouri, where a small group of young hopefuls gathering to take a run at the Guinness World Record for cricket-spitting. The rules, take one frozen cricket, put it in your mouth, and spit. It's a distance thing, 30 feet, one inch, is the world mark.

But these kids really didn't have that much chance for that kind of (INAUDIBLE). They just did it for the good old-fashioned fun that comes with sticking bugs in your mouth and then expectorating them. Even world record-holder Danny Kaps (ph) himself tried to improve his record. But he too fell short, his glory days clearly long behind him.

See, guys, gals, the sport of critical is something else than this.

Finally, speaking of glory and days, 23-year-old British rower Oliver Hicks has arrived in England after an Atlantic crossing that began in New Jersey. He was going for the world record for fastest rowboat trip across the Atlantic, which would be 62 days. But Oliver's twist, he got the world record for slowest crossing, 124 days. Well, it's better than nothing.

He also became the youngest to ever do this, and the first Brit. But it's that slowest record that was hardest to achieve. Took a lot of drinking, lot of fotzing (ph) around, and a lot of time spent not rowing to get a record like that. Congratulations, you big loser.

Also tonight, 10 years to the day since the world watched O.J. Simpson acquitted on murder charges. So as the anniversary approached, what was he doing? Signing autographs at a comic and horror convention. We will talk to one of the promoters.

And the investigation in upstate New York into the deadly boat accident. Late developments here, and survivors saying the sliding chairs on deck may have played a role in this disaster.

These stories ahead.

Now, here first are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, the Nautilus Brewery of Germany, about to roll out its latest brand of suds, Nico Shot (ph), the beer with nicotine in it, designed, they say, for those who do not want to pause long enough from their drinking in smoke-free bars to go outside for a puff. Hey, if it helps you stop smoking even for a couple hours, what the hell.

Number two, the Italian researchers whose work, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, permitted a Reuters correspondent to fashion the following sentence, "A clown in the operating room may relax anxious children who are about to undergo surgery." They meant a clown-clown, not a quack, not Dr. Nick Riviera.

Number one, Matthew Brookes of Madison, Wisconsin. He was arrested, accused of smashing a display case at the historical society there, and stealing a collection of the January to April 1777 issues of the newspaper "The Pennsylvania Evening Post," a collection word $5,000. Police say Mr. Brookes told them he did it because he wanted to read the story on page 106 about a Revolutionary War figure named William Hill.

Apparently the 10,000 hits for Private William Hill on that thing we call the Internet not sufficient for Mr. Brookes.


OLBERMANN: It is 10 years to the day. On October 3, 1995, a jury acquitted Orenthal James Simpson of the murders of his wife, his ex-wife, really, and Ronald Goldman. Initially, the verdict seemed to split the country along racial lines.

But, as the years wore on, it became more and more evident that even those African-Americans who thought Simpson had been railroaded or was actually innocent or saw his acquittal some kind of balancing of the books with the acquittal of the L.A. policemen who had beaten Rodney King, even they did not really rally to Simpson's side.

Few have been his public appearances in the decade that has ensued. His sportscasting and acting careers never resumed. And he has not been invited to speak at black colleges or address black groups or been embraced by black communities.

Our third story on the Countdown, he did, however, make an appearance this, of all weekends, at a comic book collectibles and horror show outside L.A., just up the aisle inside the hallway of a Northridge, California, strip mall from the woman selling theatrical contract - contact lenses and the guy pushing his self-produced slasher movie. Simpson stayed for about an hour Friday and for about five hours Saturday, charging $5 for an eight-by-10 photo, $195 for an autographed helmet, either from his most notable pro team, the Buffalo Bills, or his college, the University of Southern California.

"The Los Angeles Times" reports he did not seem to do a lot of business, at least not on Friday. And with a sort of "South Park" mentality, some of the fans there managed to give him a little business of their own.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I met O.J. earlier and he didn't stab me or anything. He was a really cool guy.


OLBERMANN: Simpson himself told a small group of rotters that the venue was - quote - "kind of unusual," but added, "People who aren't fans don't need to come." The event was called Necronomicon.

And one of its promoters, Thomas Riccio, joins us now.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: Before the question of taste here, this was about business. How did he impact your attendance Friday and Saturday? Did he sell a lot of autographs? Not so many? What do you know?

RICCIO: Well, you know, I'm not part of the actual promoting of the show. I was just - I brought O.J. to the show. This show was planned way before O.J. decided to attend.

OLBERMANN: Any idea how - whether he drew in a large number of people or did it not seem to have an impact on how big the house was?

RICCIO: There - there was an incident on Friday with the media that these people may him leave a little earlier, because the media wasn't cooperating.

But, on Saturday, it was - it was great attendance. And, on Sunday, his partner, A.C. Cowlings, canceled. So, we made a deal to let him cancel for Sunday. But it was a great success. A lot of people showed up and had a good time.

OLBERMANN: Did you interact with him at all? Did he comment on being in a horror show or did he sort of maintain that detachment he has shown over the last 10 years?

RICCIO: You know, it - the horror show wasn't built around him. He came later on.

And he just seemed to go with it, including the - a lot of people were making a big issue of the fact that it was the 10th anniversary. It just so happened to land on that. It is a coincidence that - the show was booked about a year ago. We didn't know O.J. was going to be there. And it was - he went with it. He went with the flow and had a good time.

OLBERMANN: And, in terms of you going with the flow and the people who were there going with the flow, regardless of the coincidence of the timing, it did occur virtually on the anniversary of the acquittal. One of the other dealers that was there told "The Times": "I'm offended, but I will look past it. It is great press."

How do you justify to yourself doing this? Is there any way around the idea that, indirectly, people there made money off the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman?

RICCIO: You know, that's a question that's been asked of me. And I have thought about it. And, well, how do you justify having a segment on your show? People are interested. People are interested in having O.J.'s autograph. He was a great football player.

And the same way all the media that criticizes it, they love to have segments on the show about him. They love to talk about O.J. And fans want his autographs. And I provided an avenue for it.

OLBERMANN: All right, that's a fair enough question in return. I wouldn't - I wouldn't say I love to have segments on him, but I think it is a good point.

Thomas Riccio, one of the promoters of the comic and horror show in Northridge, California, over the weekend at which O.J. Simpson appeared, thanks for your time tonight.

RICCIO: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: As O.J. Simpson continues to recede into the status of the 20th century Lizzie Borden, today's crimes still hurt.

The news gets worse in New York there. You may remember from Friday's newscast, police had taken the unusual step of letting reporters interview a 4-year-old girl who had been discovered unharmed and shoeless walking in a Queens neighborhood at 1:00 in the morning. The grim reality is here now. The girl, little Valery Lozada, said she had two daddies and one of them had taken her out of the car and left her on the street.

Asked what her mother looked like, the bright and friendly child answered, like a princess. Police have now charged the boyfriend of Valery's princess mother with killing the woman. They say Cesar Ascarrunz strangled her, then cut her throat. It turns out he is a doctor from Bolivia. He said he and Valery's mother fought over how she was raising the little girl.

She attacked him with a knife, he says. He defended himself, put her in a choke hold. And, when she went limp, he tried to open an airway, he said, to start her breathing again. Then he left her daughter to fend for herself on a street in the middle of the night and dumped her mother's body in the trash.

And, in Upstate New York, you can trot out all the cliches you want about watery graves and deaths surmounting what had been an impeccable early fall day in one of the peaceful bodies of water in the country. But the simple truth is tonight that police have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of 20 Michigan tourists who drowned, almost without warning, when something caused their 40-foot excursion boat to capsize in the middle of Lake George.

Our correspondent there is Ron Allen.


RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Late today, investigators worked to lift the tour boat up from 70 feet below Lake George. And survivors like 76-year-old Jeane Siler felt lucky to be alive.

JEANE SILER, SURVIVOR: I was not prepared for this at all. I was - never thought I was going to lose friends and never have a chance to say goodbye to them.

ALLEN: Twenty people died. Their bodies were laid on shore as residents jumped in boats and made frantic rescues; 47 seniors from Michigan were on a week-long vacation seeing fall foliage.

Annie Pierson (ph) feared for her parents, Mack (ph) and Anne McGunical (ph), until she reached them by phone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said that she said goodbye to all her children and her grandchildren and told them that she loved them. And she thought that was it.

ALLEN: But they were safe. Like today, conditions were perfect for boating, sunny skies, smooth water. Survivors said a wave suddenly hit the boat, throwing everybody on to one side as water poured on to the deck. It capsized so quickly, no one had time to put on a life preserver.

SILER: I treaded water, came to the surface, took a big breath and swam away from the boat.

ALLEN (on camera): Investigators say hundreds of boats were on the lake, none big enough to cause such a powerful wake by itself.

(voice-over): The National Transportation Safety Board has sent seven investigators to determine what happened.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: And we have an obligation to make sure every stone is turned over.

SILER: When I got on a boat, I thanked God for letting me live.

ALLEN: Someone had thrown her a rope. And, unlike so many others, she was able to hang on.

Ron Allen, NBC News, Lake George, New York.


OLBERMANN: And, tonight, state officials say the boat was one crew member short of regulation, that only the captain was on board. In the words of the local sheriff, if that's the case, there's going to be a problem.

This woman faces 90 days behind bars and a $1,000 fine. Her crime?

Sitting on a New York park bench. There's more to the story.

And extreme baby names, Nicolas Cage the latest. What did he name his son? Your hint: "You will bow down before me, Jor-El. If not you, then someday your heirs."

Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: Ninety Days in jail for sitting on a park bench. That story is not as simple as it seems, a problem with taking the law too literally perhaps. And, later, as baseball heads into the postseason, the manager of the New York Yankees, Joe Torre, will join us.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: There is a James Thurber fable that ends with the pertinent observation that you might as well fall flat on your face, as bend over too far backwards.

Our number two on the Countdown, why is a New York woman facing 90 days in jail? Well, broadly, for the same reason a Florida man killed himself last April, after having been falsely accused of having abused children. This is not quite on that level, but, in both cases, you can see where righteousness and understandable anger and vigilance can run amok if not carefully monitored.

Countdown's Monica Novotny joins me now with the story of the park bench that turns out to be a lot more trouble than it seemed.

Good evening, Monica.


If you've ever thought about taking a moment to relax on a park bench, you may want to think again, because, as one woman recently found out, if you're alone, you could be breaking the law. And you might even spend a few months in jail.


SANDRA CATENA, TICKETED FOR SITTING ON PARK BENCH: I walked over to the bench and sat down.

NOVOTNY: And then what happened?

CATENA: Two police officers walked through the gate that we entered and came up to me, one on either side, and told me I was breaking the law.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Many public parks now require a special pass. You're welcome if you bring a child, a detail 47-year-old Sandra Catena and many others miss. She was ticketed for being here alone and now faces a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

NOVOTNY (on camera): Did you ask for a warning?

CATENA: I begged him for a warning several times. I told him, I will leave immediately and never come back. And he said, no. We need to give you a summons.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): The rule in large part designed to keep sex offenders out. You'll see it here if you read the fine print.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't see that. There's a sign that says playground. So, I saw benches and I figured, I will rest my feet.

NOVOTNY (on camera): Officials say because of high-profile cases in the media involving sex offenders or missing children, that, more and more, throughout the country, communities are creating strict rules like this one to protect their children.

ADRIAN BENEPE, NEW YORK CITY PARKS COMMISSIONER: It's a very important rule in terms of maintaining playgrounds as safe havens for children and for their caretaker. And it is a rule that we're consistently asked by neighborhood groups and civic groups to enforce.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Officials say, these days, the rules need to be as creative as the offenders.

ANDY KAHAN, HOUSTON CRIME VICTIM ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: They cannot go in through parks, sometimes video arcades. I know there are some jurisdictions right now that are looking into where the school bus picks up their children to make sure that it is not in front of a sex offender's home.

NOVOTNY: The question, are rules the answer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The rule is overboard in that it actually misses the point. I think that the best way to protect children is to have them accompanied by a responsible adult.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should the city really be watching everybody's children? I mean, isn't it up to the parent or the guardian?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just can't be too careful. I mean, you turn your back for one second and your child could be gone.

KAHAN: We need to realize that this is a public safety health crisis. And that's why we have to take such measures that some might view as draconian, but others, like myself, view as more being proactive.

NOVOTNY: For Catena, who will fight the ticket in court next month, the problem isn't the rule, but how it is enforced.

CATENA: I do not disagree with this rule. If I had kids, I would feel good about it. However, they need to let the public know it exists. There's a big sign saying no dogs allowed. You can't miss that. You can't see that.


NOVOTNY: Now, there are close to 400,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. So, these rules aren't likely to go anywhere, though officials agree, they need to be enforced on a case-by-case basis, so that strides made in battling sex offenders are not lost. Ms. Catena's court date is November 16. Her hope is that the judge will dismiss the case - Keith.

OLBERMANN: Countdown's Monica Novotny, thanks for the report.

NOVOTNY: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of back on the bench, we segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tab."

And the Paris Hilton-Paris Latsis engagement is over. So, if you had September 30 in the "How long is this going to last?" pool, you're the winner. Ms. Hilton tells "Us Weekly" that: "We remain best of friends. And I will always love him." She added, "I hope people will respect my privacy during this emotional time." She added that in a press release.

No truth to rumors that Paris Hilton will now pursue the stock car executive Bill France Jr., marry him, and then become, of course, Paris France Jr.

Speaking of names, if you heard that the actor Nicolas Cage had just became a father, you might think he would name the new boy Nathan or Arizona after his movie with Holly Hunter, "Raising Arizona." Nope. Trust me, Arizona Cage would have been an improvement over the name he and his child bride selected, Kal-El Coppola Cage, Kal-El, as in Superman's birth name back in the old country. And by old country, I mean the planet Krypton, or, as Marlon Brando said it in the movie, Krypton.

Kal-El, with the hyphen and everything. Cage is a big fan of the Superman series. No word on whether he has pre-ordered 17 years of therapy for the kid or if they will just ad hoc that as the personality flaws development - develop.

And we have late and sad news tonight of the death of the comic and comic actor Nipsey Russell in New York. Best known to later generations as a game show panelist who was always ready at a moment's notice to produce a rhyme of some sort, he also made dozens of pierces on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and spent several seasons as a member of the cast of such TV shows as "Barefoot in the Park" and even a year on "Car 54, Where Are You?" in the early '60s. Nipsey Russell succumbed to lung cancer yesterday at a hospital in New York. He had never retained his birth certificate, but he was believed to be 81 or 82 years old.

The baseball playoffs will be well under way this time tomorrow. And we will be joined in a moment by the manager of the New York Yankees, Joe Torre. That's ahead.

But, first, time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in the world.

Nominated at the bronze level, Boeing and Bell Helicopter advertising their new Osprey chopper in trade magazines by showing special forces troops repelling from them into something identified as the Muhammad Mosque with the caption: "It descends from the heavens. Ironically, it unleashes hell." The companies have apologized to everybody and may soon run an actual raid on their own ad agency.

Also nominated, the mayor of Riviera Beach, Florida. Inspired perhaps by the Supreme Court, he wants to use eminent domain to displace about 6,000 local residents along the beach there and build where they live now a $1 billion waterfront yachting and house - housing complex. Like this doesn't make him enough of a schmuck. The mayor's name is Michael Brown.

But the winner, speaking of which, FEMA. Remember the story Lisa Myers reported here about the agency buying $100 million worth of ice to be trucked to victims of Hurricane Katrina; only then, they learned most of them already had enough ice, so they rerouted it around the country for days and weeks? Well, it is official now. A month after the storm hit, virtually all the 182 million pounds of ice is back in government freezers in places as far away from the Gulf as Fremont, Nebraska, after they used our tax dollars to take all of that ice out for a drive.

FEMA, today's worst persons in the world.


OLBERMANN: If you're at either of the far ends of the spectrum, fanatics and people who don't care at all about the sport, the just concluded 2005 baseball season was probably summed up for you in one word, steroids.

For everybody else, it was a stunningly successful year. Total attendance went up again. The New York Yankees became the first team in 12 years to draw four million spectators. The L.A. Dodgers had their biggest audiences in 23 years. And the new team in Washington drew 2,700,000 fans, more than the old team in Washington drew in its last three seasons combined.

Our number one story on the Countdown, and here comes the playoffs.

Baseball's 115th postseason begins when the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals host the National League West champion San Diego Padres at 1:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. The Padres seem somewhat hindered by the fact that they won only two more games than they lost this season. But in the season's last month, the two teams' pitching statistics were almost identical. And San Diego could be a dark horse pick.

At 4:00 p.m., the American League wild card team, the defending world champion Boston Red Sox, start their best-of-five playoff series against the Central Division Chicago White Sox. The White Sox nearly blew a 15-game lead. But, in their final month, they had the second best pitching in their league.

And, at 8:00 Eastern tomorrow, the Eastern division champion New York Yankees begin their playoff hunt on the road against the Western champs, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga. The Yankees staggered through their season, only to win 20 of their last 28 games. The Angels won 19 of their last 28.

The fourth playoff series, the N.L. Eastern champion Atlanta Braves against the wild card Houston Astros, beginning Wednesday afternoon, the powerful Braves just a .500 team down the stretch. The Astros are the hip pick among the cognoscenti. My full predictions online on our Bloggermann Web site at

An extraordinary coincidence contained in this year's playoffs. Of the eight teams involved, Joe Torre has been the manager of three of them and an announcer for a fourth. He used to broadcast the Angels' game on TV in Southern California and has won world championships in eight years as manager of the Yankees.

So, the visiting manager's office of what is now called Angels Stadium in Anaheim is a familiar locale for him. He joins us from there now by phone.

Thanks for doing this, Joe.

JOE TORRE, NEW YORK YANKEES MANAGERS: Keith, you're very welcome.

OLBERMANN: No Yankee champion team was ever in first place for fewer days in a season than yours was this year. It was like you guys were on a tightrope since opening day. Is that to your advantage in the playoffs or could it have exhausted your players?

TORRE: Well, I think we are going to wait and see.

I think the one thing, Keith, that we are going to do in these playoffs is - is enjoy it a little bit. You know, I - Derek Jeter must have said about three weeks ago, these are our playoffs. We're not talking about just getting there. We're talking about, these are our playoffs, because we weren't thinking in terms of winning series. We were thinking in terms of winning every single game.

And I think we're ready. We're very lose. We have been loose. These guys, when we clenched on Saturday, were certainly a lot looser than their manager was.


I saw that. And I also saw today a list of 15 baseball experts, six of whom think the Angels are going to win the World Series. Five of them say the Astros. Two say the Cardinals. One said the Red Sox, one the Yankees. Now, I know six of these guys. And I wouldn't ask them for their prediction on whether up is up and down is down. But none of them say the White Sox. None of them said the Braves. None of them said the Padres.

In this, though, there's a perception that the team you're playing in the playoffs, the Angels, might be the toughest and the team that the Red Sox are playing in the playoffs, the Chicago White Sox, might not be the toughest. Yet, you won the division that you and the Red Sox are in, yet the Red Sox seemingly got the easier team in the playoffs. Is there something amiss with the playoff format or the wild card format?

TORRE: Well, I think, the wild card team probably should have some kind of - there should be some disadvantage. I don't know what that would be. I don't know, as far as one less home game. I really don't know, because I really don't think home and road have a really big impact in baseball, as they do in other sports.

But the - you know, the situation we're, playing this ball club, the reason that everybody thinks highly of the Angels is basically because they're so unpredictable. There's no one way to beat them, because they're pesty. They're pesty with talent. And they do a good job matching up out of the bullpen. And I think that's so important. When you get to postseason, it's all about pitching.

OLBERMANN: Give me one name from your team that, if the viewer at home hears positive headlines about, it means you're beating the Angels and one guy from the Angels who, if the viewer at home hears positive headlines about, it means they're beating you.

TORRE: Well, I think their guy - there's two guys. To me, it's either Figgins or Guerrero. As far as our group, you know, aside from our starting pitcher, I think Mariano Rivera.

OLBERMANN: The - the experience of your playing career, when you didn't get into the postseason, has been the opposite as in the last 10, 12 years. You've been to 11 postseasons as a manager, 10 in a row, a couple more in there as a broadcaster.

For the casual fan's benefit, what's the biggest change in play, the biggest on-the-field difference between the regular season and the postseason?

TORRE: Well, there's no safety net.

You play a five-game series. You play 162, and, normally, the best team gets in, because, over that period of time, you have your ups and downs. And you handle stress and you do a lot of things you have got to do. Even the White Sox, with the big lead they had, it was probably doing them a favor to shrink the lead the way they did, because they were challenged, you know? They hadn't been challenged before that.

You know, to me, the best team doesn't necessarily win in the postseason, but the team who seems to be playing the best at the time. And that is - it certainly plays a lot with your emotions here, because you know that the most important thing as a manager is to hope nothing goes wrong, you know, bad hop, this, that and the other thing.

But, you have your club. And I like to think experience carries a lot of weight, that these guys have been ready to play here for the last three weeks. And they seem to be ready to do this. As I said, we just - we're in the process of having our meetings as we speak. And the players seem to be very focused and yet very relaxed.

OLBERMANN: Couldn't ask for a better combination of things than that.

I guess the playoffs have been going on all season. We - I will not discuss my rooting interest and simply wish you all the best against the Angels, although I have a lot of friends with the Angels, too.

Thanks for doing this, Joe. Appreciate it. And I guess we will see you at Yankees Stadium on Friday night.

TORRE: I look forward to it, Keith. Thanks.

OLBERMANN: All the best, Joe.

Joe Torre, with whom I worked at that Los Angeles television station when he did the Angels' games there 20-some-odd years ago, carries his New York Yankees into the playoffs beginning tomorrow. And, as we said, the baseball predictions are on the Web site at Bloggermann at

That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with "RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT."

Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, "RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT": Good evening. Thanks so much, Keith.