Thursday, September 21, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 21

Guests: Thomas Ricks, Craig Crawford, Melanie Sloan, Marcus Baram

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

Let's make a deal. The reluctant Republicans reach a compromise with the White House on the torture bill.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There is to doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This agreement preserves the most single, most potent tool we have in protecting America.


OLBERMANN: How can both those statements be true? What early details we have, plus the politics with Craig Crawford.

And the politics of distraction. Is this all really about keeping our eyes off Iraq, where the U.N. now reports torture is at a level as high or higher than under Saddam. And 5,106 people were killed in July and August, just in Baghdad. Thomas Ricks on the continuing disaster.

The Clinton Global Initiative.


FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:... designed to tackle big global challenges in bite-sized pieces.


OLBERMANN: Well, Sir Richard Branson just paid for everybody's lunch, a pledge of $3 billion over the next decade to fight global warming.

A fight on their hands in Britain.




OLBERMANN: The cameras just don't watch, they talk.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's horrible, they - you know, Big Brother up there.


OLBERMANN: And is al Qaeda really watching Bill-O?


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: The FBI came in and warned me and a few other people at Fox News that al Qaeda had us on a death list.


OLBERMANN: Federal law enforcement denies it, the FBI denies that. Fox News? No comment. Just because you're paranoid, Bill, doesn't mean they are out to get you, either.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join Fox security.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Thursday, September 21, 47 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

The president has stopped torturing the Republican senators, the Republican senators have stopped torturing the president, and now they can all get back to doing the nation's important business, trying to torture the Democrats.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, even though the hands-on men of interrogation agree that torture is of almost no use in gaining reliable information, Mr. Bush and the Senate Republicans have struck a compromise of some sort on treatment and trial of terror detainees, but leaving unanswered how this government plans to define what constitutes unlawful torture, in the end, keeping the story alive for another day or more might be exactly the point, as a distraction from the torture that is Iraq, the president traveling in Florida, declaring victory tonight, saying he got the tools he needs to fight the war against terror, his Republican opponents on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham, saying that in the proposal the protections of the Geneva Conventions remain intact.

But how can both of those things be true?


BUSH: The agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect to us do, to capture terrorist, detain terrorists, to question terrorists, and then to try them.

MCCAIN: I also believe that it's consistence with the standards under the detainee treatment act, and there's no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: For a freshman senator, this has been a pretty heady endeavor, and I'm very pleased that long-term policy considerations trumped the political moment.

We're going to be able to bring charges against people while the war is still going on. But we're going to do it in a way in a won't come back to haunt us if our troops fall into enemy hands...

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Once the president puts signature to paper, that's when we will have a deal.


OLBERMANN: A few details of the proposed deal we do know. The compromise would also create military tribunals to prosecute terror suspects like the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now being held at Guantanamo Bay. Classified information would be provided to the defense in these cases, but with some sort of safeguard to protect how the information was gathered.

Let's call in our own Craig Crawford, also, of course, columnist for "Congressional Quarterly."

Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Hi, a torturous day on Capitol Hill.

OLBERMANN: To say the least, as they all seem to be. All involved short on actual specifics in their remarks this afternoon. We just heard Senator Warner appeared, perhaps sounded reluctant, even saying, We did our duty. Might there be less to this deal than meets the eye? Might they be playing nice for the cameras while the important deals are still being worked out?

CRAWFORD: I think they were ready to reach closure on the public spat, anyway. They'd gotten all they were going to get out of that in the past week. They are talking about the framework of an agreement. I'd suggest there are things left over. What's left over, some of the (INAUDIBLE), some of the things you mentioned earlier.

But the Geneva Convention issue, it appears, the White House did back down on rewriting the American obligations under the America - Geneva Convention, which was the main sticking point, certainly, for John McCain.

OLBERMANN: Got all they were going to get out of the public bickering. Are you suggesting that some of this was deliberate distraction?

CRAWFORD: Well, now, I don't want to be cynical here, Keith, but like I always say, when people say the news media is cynical, but I - we can't possibly be as cynical as the people we cover sometimes. And, yes, I think from the White House perspective, this was helpful to them, to show the president as the toughest, meanest guy on the block.

Even (INAUDIBLE) starting a fight with their own Republicans actually helps the Republican Party in the midterm election, I believe, because they needed to show some independence from this president with some of those voters out there who aren't as happy with Bush but lean conservative and would stick with Republicans if they felt like the Republicans in Congress weren't in lockstep.

And it elevated the whole debate to the overall war on terror and away from the war in Iraq, as you mentioned.

OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank had the same theory, from "The Washington Post," on this show in the last two nights. President toughest, meanest, but in this subject, not necessarily the smartest within political realms. Has anybody asked that question we asked last night, Why do you want to torture people, when torture consistently gets people to lie to you and make stuff up that they think you want them to tell you?

CRAWFORD: Because I don't think this is a policy debate, I never did.

I, this is about politics. This is about positioning for politics.

Now, I do not mean to say that Senator John McCain or Warner or Graham were not passionate and sincere in their beliefs. I do think they were. But I think the White House knew that they would provoke McCain into this public spat, once they brought up messing with the Geneva Convention. I don't think they ever intended to get that through. They, I think they knew they couldn't get that through Congress.

OLBERMANN: The leading Democrats have yet to comment on the deal specifically when it comes to how they should handle the response. Let me play you some of what the Democratic congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio said on the floor of the House this afternoon.


REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: And all of a sudden we're talking about a few political prisoners. And it has enormous ramifications. But the bottom line is this, this administration wants to talk about anything but the war or the economy. They want to change the subject anytime they get a chance to.

And now we've got this debate about military prisoners. And I'm not saying it's not important. But my God, here's the cost, $8.4 billion per month, $1.9 billion per week in Iraq.

And you know what? If I was in the White House, I wouldn't want to talk about this either. I would talk about anything other than this fact.


OLBERMANN: Craig, why isn't every Democrat on Capitol Hill following Congressman Ryan's lead there?

CRAWFORD: Well, Ryan's actually a different breed than the leader in the (INAUDIBLE) - leaders of the Democratic Party, because he's only been there a couple of terms. He doesn't know the days when they were in power.

I actually think a big part of the problem in the leadership of the Democrat Party, Keith, in the House, Nancy Pelosi and others, is, it's the arrogance of power. They (INAUDIBLE), they still act like they're (INAUDIBLE) the majority party.

So they just don't have that pitchfork peasant mentality that some of these younger folks do, who are you know, (INAUDIBLE) - Ryan, here, reminds me more of Newt Gingrich when he led the Republican charge to take over Congress in '94 than anything Pelosi and some of the others say.

OLBERMANN: To the lumberyard, as they said in "Young Frankenstein." Are the (INAUDIBLE) - is it (INAUDIBLE) - unless the Democrats adopt some other sort of strategy here, are they to come out behind on this?

CRAWFORD: Until they understand they are the challengers, they've got to get out there and give attention. They don't have natural forum. They think they can write press releases and ship them out to reporters and come up with a new slogan. You mentioned Dana Milbank. He had a great column last week, noting just the dozen or so different slogans at press conferences the Democrats have put out there in the course of this campaign.

Now, they're going to complain that the media hasn't given them the forum to get their message out. By my gosh, even if we wanted to do that, which message do we pick?

OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of MSNBC and "Congressional Quarterly." As always, sir, great thanks.

CRAWFORD: Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: If you are wondering exactly what Mr. Bush's political maneuvers distracted us from, a quick review might be in order with some new data.

A U.N. report has found that 5,106 people were killed in Baghdad, Iraq, just in the months of July and August, record numbers.

Also on the rise, torture, the U.N. finding that Iraqis are being tortured at the same, possibly even a higher, rate than they were under Saddam Hussein, by their government, by militias, by terrorists. Also, Iraq's defense ministry today said insurgents have come up with a new way of killing. They kidnap drivers, booby-trap their cars with explosives, without them knowing, then release them, detonating a car whenever they think they're going to pass a good target.

And in a story that may be a warning shot towards Iraq's premiere, or perhaps the White House scapegoating him, top officials, according to "The New York Times," having growing doubts about Prime Minister Maliki's ability to confront the militias, not a real surprise, considering the militias constitute much of his power base.

Given all that, this final story may not prove surprising either, U.S. troops not going anywhere. The Pentagon will keep more than 140,000 there through spring and may even send more.

Thomas Ricks has been chronicling Iraq's disintegration as a senior Pentagon correspondent for "The Washington Post." You can find his authoritative account in the book "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq."

Mr. Ricks, thanks for joining us again tonight.

THOMAS RICKS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: General Abizaid's announcement, troop levels are going to remain above 140,000 in Iraq through spring. Are the numbers even relevant to success at this point?

RICKS: Well, I think the numbers are, because General Abizaid's saying we're going to stay at the same level is kind of a belated recognition of reality. And one of the problems the U.S. military has had is recognizing the situation in Iraq. They consistently have been too optimistic, often unwarranted optimism over the last three years, and they keep on talking about cutting troop levels rather than actually talking about the security situation.

Well, two things that you're noticing now is, nobody's talking now about fast troop withdrawals. So 2006 has gone out the window as being supposedly the year of the big withdrawals.

Also, I'm finding much less media bashing. Far fewer people in the Bush consideration or the military saying Hey, the media's not telling you the truth about what's happening in Iraq, and all the great progress we're making out there.

OLBERMANN: To the rosy-tinted glasses. Let me play a question that the president was asked last week about bringing American troops home, and then get your comment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you've often used the phrase "stand up, stand down" to describe your policy (INAUDIBLE) troop withdrawals from Iraq, as Iraqi troops are trained and take over the fight, American troops will come home.

The Pentagon now says they've trained 294,000 Iraqi troops and expect to complete their program of training 325,000 by the end of year. But American troops aren't coming home, there are more there now than were previously. Is the goalpost moving, sir?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no. The enemy is changing tactics, and we're adapting. The policy still holds. The stand up-stand down still holds, and so does the policy of me listening to our commanders to give me the judgment necessary for troop levels.


OLBERMANN: Is he claiming two contradictory policies are in effect now? Or are we missing a nuance in this?

RICKS: Well, that question from my "Washington Post" colleague Peter Baker was very well put. I think what the president is saying is, we're still talking about standing down as the Iraqis stand up, but they've redefined what standing up means.

It used to be implied, Lookit, as soon as they have enough security forces and soldiers trained, we're out of here. Now, we're hearing standing up defined as, when the Iraqi government can stand on its own two feet, along with the Iraqi military.

And that's a far different proposition. Even just training, though, is going to take a long time. General Abizaid said earlier this week that he considered it a generational effort.

OLBERMANN: Is the prime minister a principal problem here for not confronting the militias, or is the entire system somehow fundamentally flawed?

RICKS: I feel kind of sorry for the guy. It's easy to blame one guy. But he's got history running against him pretty hard, and he hasn't been helped a lot by a pretty dysfunctional U.S. effort. We still don't have unity of command out there. People talk about Iraqi governance, I still worry about American governance in handling Iraq.

OLBERMANN: The United Arab Emirates paper, "Gulf Daily," reported about the insurgents yesterday. Let me quote this. "Most of them are Iraqi Sunnis, who fear that their interests would be totally undermined by the Shi'ite-dominated government. They are seeking to realize concrete local political goals and are not running a terrorism campaign against the U.S."

To what extent are we fighting this as if it were a different problem, and are we thus making it worse?

RICKS: It's a good question. I think most commanders on the ground, and certainly their intelligence officials, would agree with much of that assessment, not all of it. The insurgents do use terrorist methods, which is defined as attacking civilians, generally.

But they also would agree that, yes, most of the problem is an Iraqi problem, that the U.S. media and the Bush government - Bush administration tend to overemphasize the role of foreign fighters.

When you talk to senior intelligence people in Baghdad and around Iraq, they'll tell you 98 percent of this is Iraqi, it's nationalists, it's Ba'athists, as Islamic extremists have all moved in and kind of been manipulating each other.

OLBERMANN: We talked previously about Anbar Province and the dire situation there. There've now been some reports that some of the tribes, the Anbar tribes, are willing to combat foreign fighters. Is this a hopeful sign, or what is this?

RICKS: We'll see. It's a nice glimmer. We'll see if it gets followed through on. The tribes out there have always been very independent. Maybe they're sensing the U.S. is backing off a little bit and letting them run their own lives.

And they've always been willing to fight outsiders. In fact, during the '90s, one of the biggest tribes out in Anbar Province took on Saddam Hussein. So they're willing to fight with people to be let alone.

OLBERMANN: Thomas Ricks of "The Washington Post." The book is "Fiasco." The reporting continues to be unparalleled. Great thanks to you again, sir.

RICKS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: From the problems of the current president to the aspirations of the preceding one. A huge day for President Clinton's Global Initiative program, Richard Branson pledging billions to solve the problem of global warming.

And the list to avoid in Washington is out now. Is your congressman or congresswoman one of the most corrupt on Capitol Hill? And what does it say when we have to use the adjective "most"?

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Our fourth story on the Countdown is a real shocker. Not only are there corrupt politicians serving in the Senate and the House, but most people think Congress is doing a crappy job. According to the latest poll from "The New York Times," only 25 percent of the way - approval of the way Congress is doing its job, the same approval number from September 1994, just before Republicans regained control of the House from the Democrats.

And while most people approve of the job their congressional representative is doing, that's 53 percent, only 39 percent believe that representative deserves reelection.

The latest "L.A. Times"- Bloomberg poll contradicts the last finding. It shows 46 percent of registered voters think their representative should be reelected. Even with the caveat that only about 40 seats in the House are potentially up for grabs this election, and these are national polls, not local ones, there is still obvious and widespread displeasure with Congress, and perhaps for good reason.

According to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 20 lawmakers are so ethically tainted they have made an unusual or the annual list, unfortunately not unusual, of the most corrupt members of Congress.

On the list, three House Democrats, Maxine Waters of California, William Jefferson of Louisiana, Alan Mollahan of West Virginia. Three Republican senators, including the majority leader, Bill Frist, and Senators Conrad Burns and Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum, who are up for reelection, Representative Katherine Harris, who is running for a Senate seat, and Republican House majority whip Roy Blount.

On the sidebar list of politicians to watch for ethical issues in the time to come, the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, and Democratic Congressman John Murtha.

Joined now by the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Melanie Sloan.

Thanks for your time tonight.


WASHINGTON: Happy to be here.

OLBERMANN: Your list says it's in no particular order. Is there a guess? Does your organization have an opinion on who is the most ethically dubious member of the great Congress?

SLOAN: Well, probably William Jefferson, since he's likely to be the very next member indicted and sent to jail. But once you're in the list and under federal investigation, that's a pretty bad sign.

OLBERMANN: It's a list of most corrupt members in Congress. Corrupt is a pretty provocative term as it is. How do you determine that the members fit that criteria?

SLOAN: Well, one of the ways is, are they under federal investigation? And at least six different members on the list are under federal investigation, Senator Conrad Burns, Senator Bill Frist, William Jefferson, Jerry Lewis, Alan Mollahan, and Katherine Harris, all under federal investigation.

Then for the others, we looked through their financial disclosure records, their Federal Election Campaign Act records, and their travel disclosure records, and we look at all the stories relating to them over the past year. And we analyze all of that in light of federal law and House and Senate rules.

OLBERMANN: All right. At least six of the people are under federal investigation. If they're all corrupt, why aren't they all under federal investigation, or some form of investigation?

SLOAN: Well, I think there's a difference between criminal conduct and unethical conduct. Unfortunately, what happens now is, only criminal conduct is actually getting investigated, because the House and Senate ethics committees have taken a pass on all unethical conduct.

But the fact is, there's a lot of conduct that's not OK but not quite criminal. And there - so there's all that gray conduct, where the House and Senate ethics committees should be looking at members, and a lot of members fall into that realm.

OLBERMANN: There are more congressional representatives than senators on the list. There are more Republicans and Democrats. Is that only because there are more of each on that list? Or are there other reasons?

SLOAN: Well, the main reason that more - there are more Republicans on the list than Democrats is, frankly, you just have to have power to abuse it. And the Democrats don't have that much. The Democrats who are on the list do tend to have some power, and that's why they're there. For example, Alan Mollahan is on the Appropriations Committee. That gives him power. John Murtha on defense appropriations. That gives him a lot of power too.

But by far and wide, the Republicans have all the power, and they're the ones who can give things away.

OLBERMANN: And yet there is Representative John Murtha, who is being targeted in many different ways in his bid for reelection from Pennsylvania. And he's on the watch list of five representatives to keep an eye on for ethics violations in the future. What did he deserve - or what did he do to deserve to be on this list?

SLOAN: Well, he did something that a lot of members did. They're using their positions as members of Congress to financially benefit their family members. Representative Murtha has a brother, Kit Murtha, who was a consultant, who was a lobbyist at KSA Consulting, and they're a defense contracting lobby firm. So here he is, Kit Murtha goes and lobbies John Murtha for appropriations for his clients, and in return, his clients also give a lot of campaign contributions to John Murtha.

OLBERMANN: Also on that - of people who watch for the year ahead, speaker of House, of the House Hastert. What, what, what's the complaint?

SLOAN: He too falls into another broad category, where people are appropriating money to improve the value of property they own. And that's just what Dennis Hastert did. He took some land out in rural Illinois and he earmarked funds for a road, and then promptly increased the value of that property, and then sold it off and made had a fortune.

OLBERMANN: And the Senate majority leader, Dr. Frist, is this that blind trust that isn't so blind, or is there yet more on his plate?

SLOAN: Well, there's mostly the blind trust that is, in fact, not blind. And he is under investigation, as people, I think, may have forgotten by now, by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York for that.

But in addition to that, he has some campaign finance violations, where he had taken out a loan and failed to report it properly. This past June, the FEC fined his campaign committee $11,000.

OLBERMANN: When you put this stuff together, do you ever get so despairing that you might think we should turn over the government to another species, dogs, cats, something like that?

SLOAN: Well, you know, I think it's cyclical. I think we had a lot of problems in 1994 when the Republicans took over the House. They came in, in fact, in part on corruption issues. And I think now, mostly thanks to Tom DeLay, who was perhaps one of the most corrupt members to ever come through the House of Representatives, we've seen another rise in corruption.

And I think it's - I think we'll hopefully see a change, now that Americans are paying a little more attention to corruption issues.

OLBERMANN: Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW. Great thanks for joining us tonight.

Perhaps corruption could be curbed if we simply installed some of these in Congress, or in their offices, surveillance cameras that can not only record your activity, but can also yell at you.

And but for a few seconds, this could have ended up as criminal evidence, perhaps. Fortunately for the skydiver, the pilot, and for us, it merely qualifies as grist for our nightly mill.

Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On this date in 1961, Earl Dixon, a Johnson and Johnson employee whose wife was constantly cutting her fingers while preparing dinner, and so he invented the Band-Aid, died just shy of his 70th birthday. No, no, no, he didn't pick at it. No, no. It didn't get infected. Shame on you for even suggesting such a thing.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin with scary video we found on the Internets, skydiver helmetcam. And remember, even at 5,000 feet, to look both ways before crossing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, (beep) (beep) (beep).


OLBERMANN: Oh, that was almost really, really bad. Clearly, one of those two people was not supposed to be where he was turning out to be. We don't know who that skydiver was, but assuming the rest of the jump went according to plan, he appears to have survived. The same cannot be said so confidently about his underwear.

To Japan, where the country is celebrating the birth of the newborn Prince Hisahito. And one Tokyo jewelry store made this gift for the young lad: a million-dollar solid gold rocking horse. Only problem? The family apparently said thanks, but no thanks. They're not into the whole extravagant displays of wealth thing.

So the horse is for sale now, and this is why you always stick to the baby registry. A tube of butt paste would have been perfectly acceptable in this case.

Finally, to Peoria, Illinois, where the power company is about it hike its rates for the first time in 10 years. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn says he's got the perfect way to protest the move: tea bag them fat cats!


LT. GOV. PAT QUINN (D), ILLINOIS: If citizens agree with me on that, take a tea bag. And whether it's the wrapper or whatever, put it in your next bill to Ameren and help re-enact the Boston Tea Party in 2006.


OLBERMANN: Yes, that's what they'll do. A power company spokesman says tea bagging the company will only slow down the billing process, plus they're all coffee people over at the power company.

Well, practical solutions at President Clinton's Global Initiative, $3 billion practical solutions, all of them from Sir Richard Branson.

And any solution for dear old Bill "Orally"? A magazine searches for facts about his bizarre claim that he's on an Al Qaeda death list, and it doesn't find any. Another edition of "Factor Fiction" is ahead.

But first, time now for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three: Jim Schinneller, a retired art professor at the University of Wisconsin, he died earlier this month at home of a brain aneurism at the age of 81. And that is the photo he submitted for his obituary in the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel." He enjoyed showing people how absurd life was, says his daughter. He also liked that haircut.

Number two: Mark Giorgio of Palmetto, Florida, walking down the street when the wind blew a $20 bill out of his hand, so he leaped to grab it, literally. He leaped off the bridge over the Manatee River, plunged 50 feet into the water, but he got the $20 back and only cuts and bruises.

Number one: Jesus and Krystal Maldonado of San Marcos, California, outside San Diego. They were among the mystified victims of an unknown rock-throwing fiend who peppered a neighborhood's houses and cars with rocks, flung at all hours of the night. Then, a police rookie noticed that, of all the sufferers, the Maldonados alone did not seem worried that their cars might get hit.

It turned out it was the Maldonados doing the throwing, upset over some insult or another. And occasionally, they'd hit their own house with rocks to just to cover their tracks, but not their own cars. Wile E. Coyote, super genius!


OLBERMANN: Apparently, there are two ways to save the world. Muhammad Yunus, the president of the Grameen Bank, stood before the full assembly of former President Clinton's Global Initiative this afternoon and explained his bank's loans to beggars in Bangladesh. "They're going house to house and asking for money anyway," he would say to them. "Why not sell the people something? We'll loan you the money to buy these things." That's how he transformed literally hundreds of beggars into door-to-door salesmen. The loans: $12 each.

Or, as our third story suggests, you can do the Richard Branson route. Simply pony up $3 billion to fight global warming and, he hopes, develop environmentally friendly fuel to use in his own airliners. Our correspondent, Mike Taibbi, at the Clinton Global Initiative. Physically, it's just down the street from an evermore contentious United Nations; symbolically, it is a million miles away.



MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At one summit, the one run by a former president, action. British mogul Richard Branson today donating $3 billion over 10 years to fight global warming.

RICHARD BRANSON, VIRGIN GROUP: We must not be the generation responsible for irreversibly damaging the environment.

TAIBBI: And more action, announced by First Lady Laura Bush, millions for kid-powered so-called merry-go-round pumps to supply fresh water across southern Africa.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES:... clean drinking water to as many as 10 million sub-Saharan Africans...

TAIBBI: A few blocks across town, the U.N. summit offered better theater. Presidents trading accusations and claims to the high ground or reinventing the low ground.

HUGO CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yesterday, the devil came here, talking as if he owned world.

TAIBBI: But any solutions to be found were back at the Clinton gathering, where 1,000 private-sector and government-types only got to this red carpet because they'd already agreed to donate time, money or both.

(on camera): Some say the annual Clinton gathering is already succeeding in ways matching the best dreams for the U.N., addressing world problems that know no politics and that merely seek solutions that work.

(voice-over): Thus, a Clinton and a Bush in the warmest of greetings. A Streisand and a Murdoch, Clinton told the "Today" show's Meredith Vieira, fighting urban greenhouse gases together.

CLINTON: And I'm quite sure - we're talking about strange bedfellows

that they've never worked on anything before, but I think they're both pretty proud that they're doing it.

TAIBBI: Sir Richard was diplomatic.

BRANSON:... we need the U.N. We need Clinton's Global Initiative.

We need as many initiatives as possible to deal with the world's problems.

TAIBBI: But this week, it was the private initiatives that did the dealing: nearly $6 billion in commitments to battle world problems. While the world body, borne of the same ideal, merely made headlines.

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: And the man who gathered all that private enterprise in all senses of word, Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, my guest tomorrow night here on Countdown, 8:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern, 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Pacific. Please join us.

Here tonight, the city in which big brother cannot only see you, he can also hear you, and he can yell at you. And follow me here. Michael Jackson, Ireland, amusement parks, leprechauns. Also, Bill O'Reilly, Al Qaeda. A big night on Countdown.

But first, here are Countdown's top three sound bites.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Phil went into his shop and built a contraption that looked kind of like an old plough, but two stick figures were connected to strings and a big foot pedal. When he was done, Phil Horn had a one-man band and his own dance to go along with it.

PHIL HORN, ONE-MAN BAND: It's nice stuff (ph), patting my feet, and making it all tap dance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): And he can even yodel a few tunes.



ROBERT NOVAK, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The Jon Stewart program, I've never seen that in my life. It's a comedian, a self-righteous comedian taking on airs of grandeur.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": And I know that, in the past, I've referred to you as a douchebag.


But that's not an air of grandeur; that's just mean and sophomoric. And I only said those things to you because I sincerely believe you're a terrible person.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Canning began her tae kwon do training at the age of 70.

ARLETTE CANNING, KUNG FU GRANNY: I'm definitely not a super-granny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She may be an inspiration to others in her class and to those in her age bracket, but Canning is just having fun.

CANNING: The karate kick is as liberating as bra-burning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than just gaining confidence, Ms. Canning is also able to protect herself if someone like me were to come after her.

BEASTIE BOYS, MUSICIANS (singing): You got to fight for your right to party.



OLBERMANN: Great Britain, the country that brought us Eric Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell. Today, it is the place in which there are so many surveillance cameras that some people are seen on 300 of them per day, seen and - now in our number two story on the Countdown - heard.

As Dawna Friesen reports, in the city of Middlesbrough, big brother is not just watching you.


DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walk down any street in Britain, and they are there.

MICHAEL JACKSON, MUSICIAN (singing): I know it feels like somebody's watching me...

FRIESEN: More than 4 million security cameras, most of them silent sentinels, but now some of them speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warning, you are being monitored by CCTV.

FRIESEN: Loudspeakers have been fitted to seven CCTV cameras. The effect? Shock, and usually a sheepish correction of bad behavior. It's a pilot project in Middlesbrough, England. Mayor Ray Mallon, a former police officer, doesn't take kindly to crime. His nickname is Robocop.

RAY MALLON, MAYOR OF MIDDLESBROUGH: The number-one priority isn't terrorism. The number-one priority within the public domain is what we call anti-social behavior, people on the streets who misbehave.

FRIESEN: The commanding but anonymous voice comes from this control center, where operators keep 24-hour watch through 146 cameras.

(on camera): Pretty unnerving to be shouted at in public, but the whole point of this is to shame people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for that.

FRIESEN: You're welcome.

(voice-over): The operators are trained to be polite, and already the system has been used to break up a number of late-night brawls.

JACK BONNAR, SYSTEMS MANAGER: It will be effective. If you don't do anything wrong, we won't shout.

FRIESEN: Security technology is becoming more intrusive. It's in your car, on the bus, even strapped to the heads of police officers.

SIMON DAVIS, CIVIL LIBERTIES ADVOCATE: Use of these cameras amounts to psychological warfare on the people, that we will watch you, we will monitor, we will control you. What sort of country have we become?

FRIESEN: So far, there have been no complaints from the public, but there is some unease.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's horrible. You know, big brother up there.

FRIESEN: Now, big brother is not only keeping an eye on you, he's shouting at you, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warning. You are being monitored by CCTV.

FRIESEN: Dawna Friesen, NBC News, Middlesbrough, England.


OLBERMANN: Of course, we here at Countdown think that the police in Middlesbrough missed a golden opportunity to use celebrity voices to embarrass miscreants.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... (INAUDIBLE) pig, pig, pig, pig.


OLBERMANN: Ah, fun with creeping totalitarianism.

Not surprisingly, the topic of oogie (ph) things in the U.K., serving as an apt segue to our nightly round-up of tabloid and celebrity news, "Keeping Tabs," Michael Jackson has been hanging his hat and glove in Ireland these days. The "Daily Mirror" there reports he's making big plans, for one thing. Apparently, he's looking into buying an estate, possibly even a castle, although, given Mr. Jackson's finances, it's not exactly clear he could even afford to live in a White Castle burger place these days.

But he's also said to be meeting with potential financiers there about building an amusement park centered around a leprechaun theme. Because, you know, if parents were worried about taking their kids to a Michael Jackson theme park, nothing will reassure them like mentally hearing that theme from the Lucky Charms commercials about things being magically delicious.

Breaking news on the Barry Bonds steroids scandal. He is not going to jail, but the two reporters who revealed what he told a grand jury are. In another blow to the First Amendment, "San Francisco Chronicle" reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada have been sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing to disclose who leaked the testimony to them.

The pair revealed that the - revealed that during the grand jury investigation into BALCO, the lab at the center of the steroid ring. Bonds admitted to unknowingly using steroids, allegedly supplied to him by his personal trainer.

Williams and Fainaru-Wada are now appealing the jail sentence. They will not have to go to prison until that appeal is heard.

Police in Los Angeles, meantime, are investigating whether a photographer tried to run down Cameron Diaz and boyfriend Justin Timberlake with the photographer's car. Ms. Diaz has filed a formal report, saying that a photographer jumped out of the bushes when she and Timberlake emerged from a friend's home after midnight Wednesday.

The two of them chased the photographer, she says, until he got in his car and drove right at them, forcing her to jump out of the way, a charge the photographer's company denies. There were no reports of injuries during the incident, suggesting that Diaz succeeded in protecting Timberlake from any harm.

From being stalked by the paparazzi to thinking that guy behind you is Al Qaeda, a magazine fact-check's Bill "Orally's" paranoia. People at the FBI don't believe him. Hell, people at FOX don't even believe him. That's ahead.

But first, time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

Hey, good news: there's a third print run, meaning copies from print runs one and two may become collectibles, so you want to store these and then buy a print run three version for every day use.

Our nominee is the bronze. To prosecutors in Sonoma County in California, the computer with the child porn seized from John Mark Karr in 2001, they've lost it. They say, "Don't worry, they copied the hard drive. They printed out the images." The defense says it has been offered a plea deal.

Our runner up, got another guy who faked a death to get some time off work. James Snyder of Stout, Iowa, sent the local newspaper the obituary of his girlfriend's 17-year-old son. The kid was not dead. It might have worked out, though, if the fellow had not gone out to dinner the night the obit appeared.

But our winner, Jeff Skilling, the convicted Enron CEO. "Houston Chronicle" reporting he was ticketed by police earlier this month for public intoxication. The fine Mr. Skilling faces is slotted at $500, but don't worry, he can make it look like $500 million.

Jeff Skilling, today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: It sounded simultaneously both too unlikely and too befuddling to be true: Bill O'Reilly insisting to Barbara Walters that he was on an Al Qaeda death list. I mean, who in the hell do you root for in that fight?

Our number-one story on the Countdown, fortunately, after some quick sleuthing by the magazine, "Radar," it appears it is just another day at the office of the imagination of for Bill-O.


STEWIE, "FAMILY GUY": Countdown presents "Factor Fiction," wherein we catch that bastard, Bill O'Reilly, lying again. Oh, wait, Bill? Hold still. Allow me to soil myself on you. Victory is mine!


OLBERMANN: The big, giant head getting big, giant pub for his new book, you know, the one that's 101st on the Amazon sales list, compared to our little tome at 62nd. Interviewed by Babs and claiming that, while he gets a death threat a day, one of them was really impressive.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: The FBI came in and warned me and a few other people at FOX News that Al Qaeda had us on a death list.


OLBERMANN: But according to an online exclusive from "Radar" magazine, that claim may be more than a few chickpeas shy of a falafel. It quotes an unnamed FOX News correspondent as saying, quote, "I never heard that before. I do know the government has warned FOX about threats in the past, but I don't think they involved specific people."

Even a FOX News spokesperson is quoted as saying of O'Reilly's remarks, "We shouldn't be shouldering the burden of something he said on someone else's network." Watch out, brother: Soon FOX will be wishing you well.

Other news operations said they had never heard anything about warnings about Al Qaeda death threats. And then there was a federal law enforcement official who told "Radar" just this morning that, quote, "I'm not aware of any FBI agents warning anyone at FOX News of their presence on any list. For that matter, I'm not aware of any Al Qaeda hit list targeting journalists."

The man who investigated Mr. O'Reilly's claim and wrote that online piece joins us now, contributing writer for "Radar" magazine, Marcus Baram.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but do you mean Bill O'Reilly might not be telling the truth here?

BARAM: Well, I'd rather say that he might be exaggerating.


BARAM: I mean, to be honest, it's one of those things that I - when I first read the online account yesterday of his upcoming "20/20" interview, as a news story, I thought, "Wow, that's something very interesting, if Al Qaeda is actually targeting FOX News journalists." And started to make the phone calls and became increasingly skeptical, as more and more people kind of threw water on his claims.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Did anybody say anything that lent this the slightest bit of credence?

BARAM: Well, I mean, I guess this FOX correspondent I talked to said that he did know that the government had in the past warned FOX about threats. But as I reported, you know, none of that involved individuals, as far as he knew.

OLBERMANN: And finally, you've got an FBI man to say something, even though they're notorious for not saying anything on stuff like this?

BARAM: Yes. Well, two FBI officials. One FBI official was more vague and basically said that they weren't aware of any threat. And another one who I talked to this morning, who basically said that they were not aware of any FBI agent ever visiting FOX News and telling them about, you know, any of their employees being on a death list.

OLBERMANN: Any conclusions to be drawn then about why he would go on television with a book coming out and make a claim like this?

BARAM: I mean, I think part of it feeds into his own fantasy, perhaps? I mean, part of it could be just an exaggeration of - as I reported, I mean, FOX was visited by some FBI agents who were basically talking to them about the kidnapping of their employees in Gaza last month. And maybe, based on that, you know, Bill took that and turned it into something bigger than it really was.

OLBERMANN: The oddest part of this - even odder than Bill himself - this quote from the FOX News spokeswoman, how did that come about?

BARAM: Well, I mean, to be fair, I think that she was trying to get a comment from executives at FOX, and didn't really have anything to say, and basically was urging me to watch the videotape, and to talk to ABC News as to verify that that's actually what he was said. And it was at the deadline, so she was basically trying to buy some time to get a response from FOX executives.

OLBERMANN: The word from other news operations about this that you received in asking them about the possibility of Al Qaeda hit lists, there was one that was particularly blunt that you referred to, with terminology we can't use. Can you paraphrase that?

BARAM: Yes, I can. I can. I mean, one basically said - it was an executive at a news network - said it sounds like total, absolute B.S. to me, and said that they've - and it sounds like typical O'Reilly. They said that they were not aware of ever receiving any similar warnings about their own journalists and that they had plenty of reason to maybe fear something because they've annoyed bin Laden in the past with their own reporting.


BARAM: Never experienced that.

OLBERMANN: All right, so I guess we have to sort of create our alternate explanations for this. Could he have seen this on ABC's "The Path to 9/11"? Is that possible, that he just saw that - was something that was thrown in the rest of us missed?

BARAM: Sure.

OLBERMANN: You know, he misheard? He's not on Al Qaeda's death list, he's on an Al Gore death list? Or, you know, we suggested last night there was one possibility here, that there is an Al Qaeda death list, Bill is on it, but he's not a target, they're counting on him to help?

BARAM: That's very possible, Keith. And I think it's one of those things that he knows, probably maybe deep down in his conscience, that's saying that is going to make him more powerful and charismatic to his fans. It might be some of that, too.

OLBERMANN: Something. Something there. Marcus Baram, a contributing writer from "Radar" magazine, congratulations on surviving your trip into the O'Reilly world. And the falafels are on him.

BARAM: Yes, thank you.

OLBERMANN: Thank you.

That's Countdown for this, the 1,237th day since the declaration of "mission accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. Don't drink that, by the way, Joe.