Friday, October 13, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 13

Guests: Thomas Edsell, Richard Wolffe, Charles Swift

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Bending facts on tempting fate, the White House finally responds to its own former number two man at the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He said Carl Rove said just get me a f-ing faith-based theme.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've asked Carl, did you say the things attributed to you. He said no.


OLBERMANN: Answers to the answers in part three of our exclusive read of David's Kuo's startling new book.

Plus, we'll be joined by the one reporter Kuo says had figured out even part of the scam to spend taxpayer money to help republicans, and only republicans, con evangelicals out of their votes.

Fundamental disconnect apparent in Iraq, former of Secretary of State Baker's special report to the president. It rules out victory as a possibility ten months after Mr. Bush said this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will never accept anything less than complete victory.


OLBERMANN: So we're there forever? But the British plan to go home soon?

Somebody doesn't want Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift in the Navy forever. The man bypassed for promotion because he defended a Gitmo detainee. He'll join us.

History repeating itself at Coca-Cola, perhaps? Another new Coke disaster. The cola that's supposed to help you actually lose weight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's flat, like it was poured in an old shoe and then poured it in my mouth.




Back to the drawing board, Coke.


OLBERMANN: It helps you lose weight because you won't want to drink it?

And finally, that rocket belt your folks promised you when you were eight years old is finally ready.

I can see my house from here.

All that and more, now on "Countdown."

Good evening from New York. This is Friday, October 13, 25 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

And whatever the republican message is, it was today drowned out again as the White House had to go on defense about the book we first told you about on Wednesday's "Countdown," David Kuo's "Tempting Faith."

And while the White House today issued carefully phrased denials about what we have reported so far, on "Countdown" tonight, we'll share new details from "Tempting Faith", some of which serve to answer White House spokesman Tony Snow, other of which raise serious questions about White House use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes.

Our fifth story on the "Countdown" tonight, an administration on the defensive against a former insider, conservative Christian David Kuo.

First, a quick dissection of Mr. Snow's comments today. Almost as soon as he was asked about "Tempting Faith," Snow was quoting Kuo's 2003 resignation letter.


SNOW: We have advanced the cause of the faith-based groups, ensuring that they are treated fairly by the federal government and have the tools necessary to make their efforts successful.


OLBERMANN: It is fitting that that was the big thing Snow chose to quote, because Kuo's book makes clear that ensuring faith-based groups were treated fairly was, in fact, the White House priority, because it was easy and cheap. Moreover, Kuo says, it was unnecessary because they struggled to find any examples of faith-based groups being treated unfairly beforehand.

Snow stopped just short of calling Kuo a liar. But the implication is clear.


SNOW: I'm a little bit perplexed because it does seem at odds with what he was saying inside the building at the time he departed.


OLBERMANN: In fact, at the time he departed, Kuo says he meet with Chief of Staff Andy Card, telling him the president's promises had not been fulfilled and, quote, "Worse than that, the White House hadn't tried. Worse than that, we had used people of faith," - used people of faith -

"to further our political agenda and hadn't given them anything in return. And finally, sir, this thought," he says he said to Card, "I don't know if you're aware of this, but your staff frequently refers to the faith-based initiative as the f-ing faith-based initiative. That doesn't help."

OLBERMANN: Oh, and on this question...


SNOW: Martha?

MARTHA (ph): Is it possible that Karl Rove called him nuts?

SNOW: He says no.


OLBERMANN: Kuo makes no claim about what Rove called evangelical leaders. But says Rove's office called them nuts, ridiculous, goofy. And while the White House may want to make sure its top vote-getting allies don't feel insulted, Kuo's primary concern, and ours, is to follow the money.

Tony Snow quoted no figures to refute Kuo's central claim that, when it comes to the president's promises, faith-based initiatives have been stiffed time after time.

Snow did, however, deny any political uses of the office, including roundtables designed to help Republican candidates.

On MSNBC today, the office's former director Jim Towey elaborated on that denial.


JIM TOWEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FAITH-BASED INITIATIVES: If you look at record, I went to more democrat districts than republican ones. I had more public meetings with democrat officials than republican ones. In 2002, I was at a roundtable with Senator Landrew, who's in a tight race in Louisiana. Ask Harold Ford. I went to his district. Tom Daschle, I meet with him in 2002.


OLBERMANN: Towey and the White House also denied this story back in 2002.

But Kuo explains, "Our press shop responded with a state: 'The bottom

line is that Jim Towey travels all over the country to talk about the

president's faith-based initiative. And he visits with people regardless

of political affiliation. This was true in general. It was certainly not

true of the roundtables.' "

Kuo explains that democrats were not invited to roundtables until the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives decided it needed political cover. That's when it launched intensive efforts to find a Democrat who would invite them to do one.

Kuo writes that, then, White House Political Advisor Ken Mehlman was alone in knowing about Kuo and Towey's roundtable plan. And no one knew that he and Towey, quote, "both kept handy a copy of the political map with every state shaded to reveal its importance. Mine was taped to the pullout shelf on my desk. Towey's was in a desk drawer. We never did anything without looking at them."

Thomas Edsall is the one reporter Kuo says even came close to the truth. He was working for the "Washington Post" at the time. Most recently, he's the author of "Building Red America."

Thank you for some of your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: I would like to start Tony Snow's evidence that the Faith-Based Office is not political and then get your response.

Here is what the press secretary said today.


SNOW: If you take a look at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which is hardly a conservative group, it came to the conclusion that the faith-based initiative was dispensing money not on the basis of ideology. In fact, most of the money was going to blue states.


OLBERMANN: Did Mr. Snow just imply there that the money went where the republicans are the weakest?

EDSALL: Yes, that's a strange claim. To put money into blue states means you're putting money into states where you hope to win, and not into safe states. That doesn't de-politicize the program in any real sense at all.

And also, if you look at the grants that were actually made, there was a huge percentage that were given to minority groups, where you had previously democratic religious leaders suddenly becoming republican supporters of George Bush, getting multi-million dollar grants under the two major programs, which are the Compassion Capital Fund and the abstinence programs.

And sometimes these people were in blue states. But these were blue States like Pennsylvania, like Wisconsin, like Minnesota, all of which the Bush administration, the Bush campaign, had hoped to win in going into 2004, and to convert them in to red states.

OLBERMANN: Mr. Edsall, what exactly did you report for the "Post" back in 2002? And with retrospect, do you think you were over or underestimating at the time?

EDSALL: From reading David Kuo's book, clearly we underestimated it. What I reported back then was some of what he cites, that there were a great many early appearances, clearly before they were worried, that it was looking to republicans in key competitive districts where republicans were struggling to survive.

And the case specifically that he went into at some length was in South Carolina where there was a huge conference put on at the behest of, then, Senator Strom Thurmond. And it was put on by the South Carolina Republican Party, which issued the invitations. And then, on Republican Party letterhead, afterwards, sent out to all the attendees, who were basically the black ministers of South Carolina, how to actually apply for grants, how to - what to do next, and offering their help as a political party. I mean, it was explicitly political.

OLBERMANN: How much money are we talking about? Do you know? And do you know if it stopped after you reported it in 2002?

EDSALL: It didn't stop, because I was able to do a story after the 2004 election documenting a lot more money.

I mean, the money didn't really start flowing. We're talking back in 2002 as sort of the worm is put on the hook, and the word is out that there is going to be money starting to flow to faith-based groups.

And then, in the minority community, you got very poor churches, very poor religious groups, desperate for money. And this was very strong bait.

Not very much ultimately by federal standards went into this. The Compassion Capital Fund would get roughly $30 million to $50 million a year. And the new Abstinence Education money, which went largely to anti-abortion groups that were supportive of President Bush, got about the same. We're not talking billions. We're talking millions.

But when you're talking very marginal hand-to-mouth groups, that's a lot of money.

OLBERMANN: Do you have an estimation, not a financial one, but one about impact regarding Kuo's book?

You have worked and reported within these realms. Do you think this is going to resonate with the people he is talking about? Are people going to come away from the evangelical rights and the religious right and say we've been conned by the Bush Administration?

EDSALL: To some extent, but the - I think what's going to have the most impact are the suggestions that White House staff were describing conservative religious leaders, as Kuo uses the word "nuts," but it's not common - not uncommon to hear key republican strategists referring to kind of the fruitcakes on the religious right.

There is a lot of tension between Republican Party regulars and the religious leaders. And religious leaders are often very offended when they hear, through this kind of thing.

And Kuo has a lot of credibility because he's a legitimate conservative Christian. He's not some left-wing bomb thrower looking just to stir up trouble. He is a serious person.

OLBERMANN: As he has shown in this book, obviously.

Tom Edsel, former reporter for the "Washington Post," currently author of "Building Red America."

Great. Thanks for your time. And great, thanks for your respective.

EDSALL: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: And on top of potentially losing some evangelicals, it now looks like the Bush administration is also losing Iraq. It's not a value judgment. It is a government commission on the verge of ruling out not only democracy, but victory as well.

Richard Wolffe on that and more on Kuo's book.

And a military lawyer, who managed to persuade the Supreme Court that the Bush administration policy for trying Guantanamo detainees was unconstitutional, gets his reward - a pink slip. He joins us.

You're watching "Countdown" on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: There may be congressional scandals and base-bashing accusations, but there's even worse news for the Republican Party out of Iraq. According to the James Baker investigation that the president keeps touting, Iraq has become mission impossible, victory not optional.

And America's biggest ally is making mumblings about pulling out of Iraq. Details as "Countdown" continues.


OLBERMANN: Hand in hand with the Bush administration's tempting of faith in its treatment of the religious right, is its tempting of fate in its treatment of the 141,000 American troops still serving in Iraq. Especially if, as in our fourth story in the "Countdown," a government panel is considering whether to completely rule out the prospect of victory there.

That startling conclusion reached by a ten-member commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, the commission, President Bush keeps praising in advance, of course.

According to a draft of its report, leaked to the "New York Sun" newspaper, that commission appears ready to offer Mr. Bush just two options for U.S. policy in Iraq.

The first, give up on democracy in order to reach political accommodation with the insurgents. That's the good option.

The second, redeploy and contain. In other words, just pull out - withdrawing also the option favored by the new head of the British army in a newspaper interview given yesterday. Only hours later, however, both the general and his prime minister were backing off and playing nice.


GEN. RICHARD DANNAT, CHIEF OF BRITISH ARMY: We're not on the run. We're not holding our colors down. We will see this thing through. But we've got to get on with it. We can't be there for years and years in the sort of numbers that we are. We all recognize that. There is nothing new in what I'm saying there. And that's what I mean when I said sometime soon, when the mission is substantially done.



TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: What he is saying, absolutely rightly, is that it's tough for British solders in Iraq. It is. It's tough for us in Iraq. It's tough for us in Afghanistan. But we see the job through. And we will do. And I've got no doubt that Sir Richard is fully behind it.


OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Richard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: We'll get back to the keeping faith fall-out in a moment. But first, since making that original comment that British troops in Iraq are exacerbating security problems there, increasing the violence by their very presence, General Danatt has been in partial retreat, as we heard.

But has the political damage already been done here? Was not the trap door already opened up beneath the Blair and Bush foreign policy simply by someone of that rank and import and seeming neutrality saying something like that?

WOLFFE: Absolutely. This is a very senior figure, right at the top of the British army.

But remember, the political damage in Britain was done a long time ago. Tony Blair's career has been severely curtailed by Iraq.

British troops - and many people in America don't realize, British troops are down from 40,000 at the start of the war to 7,000 now.

And you've got to admire their attempt to spin through this. Tony Blair and the general apparently agree on everything. And there is no news here. In fact, the White House said everything was simply taken out of context.

If you go back to his original interview, that the general gave just a couple of days ago, it's very clear what he is saying. And it's not about years and years of deployment. He said the troops should be out sometime soon. And he's very clear that their presence in Iraq exacerbates the security problem not just in Iraq, but around the world.

So it's devastating not just to the British mission there, but I think to the coalition strategy in general.

OLBERMANN: Soon does not mean within this geological era, just to clarify that.


WOLFFE: Right.

OLBERMANN: Now, was any hope that Secretary Baker might have been able to give cover to republican candidates on Iraq pretty much obliterated as soon as somebody leaked the full draft of his panel's report? Had not Secretary Baker been planning to hold this thing off until after the election?

WOLFFE: Well, he says he was. He has been out on TV saying he wanted to do that because he didn't want to play politics with anything. Never mind the fact that his study group was set up as a political enterprise by republican members of Congress, who wanted some way out.

Now, if you talk to White House officials, as I have been doing, they say that, look, the president looks forward to getting any new ideas. He is genuinely appreciative, I'm told, of all the inputs he gets.

And I don't think that is just spin. They really are looking for new ways and in ideas. Whether or not they're looking forward to this kind of thing is very different. Because, I have to say, I cannot see this president backing off the democracy agenda now, because he's invested so much in it.

OLBERMANN: All right. Let's turn over to this book "Tempting Faith."

And obviously, this snowball is gaining momentum.

In the same way the White House attempted to discredit former Secretary O'Neal, former terrorism czar, Mr. Clark, should we expect it to be pulling out the long knives on David Kuo? Is this, today, with Tony snow just kind of the preface to what we might have seen in the past being reprieved?

WOLFFE: Well, again, I spoke to senior White House officials today.

And they really don't know how to deal with this one.

One senior official told me they were flummoxed by Kuo, by his book.

They didn't understand his motives or what he was trying to do here.

And he does pose a particular problem. For a start, his Christian - his conservative credentials are unimpeachable. And they don't understand, you know, if he's trying to - if he's had some change of heart, or if they slighted him in any way. And they are sort of going back through the documents and trying to figure out what happened.

You know, the truth is - Tom Edsall sort of hinted at this just before - but I have spoken to senior White House officials and their close allies outside the White House, and they all make the same kinds of points about the conservative right - the Christian right.

What they say is these people are overly demanding. They are - they don't do enough of the groundwork in politics. And they are sort of unreasonable people.

So I haven't heard them use the kinds of words Kuo used. It is not surprising that they wouldn't use those words with a reporter. But they are not as positive as they are in public when they speak about them, even to people like me.

OLBERMANN: It's going to be an extraordinary week ahead.

Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, great, thanks you for helping us preview it.

WOLFFE: Anytime.

OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, what now seems almost quaint in its web of corruption has claimed its first congressman.

Representative Bob Ney has pleaded guilty in the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal. Mr. New, from Ohio's 18th, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to making false statements, all part of a scheme where Mr. Ney acknowledged taking money, gifts and favors in exchange for his own official actions on behalf of the disgraced lobbyist, Mr. Abramoff and his cohorts.

Neys' plea bargain means that a possible ten-year conviction will be likely be reduced to 27 months.

Mr. Ney's spokesman said the congressman will step down at the end of his current term in January 2007. A rather obvious move, it would seem, such as GOP's leaders brilliantly saying that, if Ney did not leave office, his expulsion would be their first order of business after the election. Nice guys.

Across the pond, in Britain, forget corruption. This is the shame of a nation, a swing and a miss. The one guy on the field who can use his hands, and he does that with his feet.

Back here, this would be strictly for amateurs. All the promises of the space age now relegated to a bunch of rocket geeks near Niagara Falls.

That's next. This is "Countdown."


OLBERMANN: On this date in the year 54, the emperor, Claudius, died in room, supposedly murdered by his wife by a plate of poisoned mushrooms. He, of course, had the last laugh. He added the letters "w" and "y" to the Roman alphabet, and then ours. And a scant 1,923 years later, Derrick Jacoby, portraying the fictionalized version of Claudius, won the British equivalent of the Emmy Award. Let's see that Julius Caesar do that.

Let's play "Oddball."

We begin in the world of wide sports, with highlights of a crazy game called soccer they play in other countries. Even goal keepers can't use their hands outside the box. But that's no excuse for not using your feet. Whoops. That was England's goalie Paul Robinson playing in an important Euro 2008 qualifying match against Croatia. He appears to just simply miss the ball, perhaps distracted by that giant boratz (ph) starring at him from the sidelines.

Robinson then appears to kick around at the turf, like maybe that had something to do with it. You know, like, you stumble in public and you look back and pretend there's something wrong with the sidewalk? We're not buying it, pal.

Croatia won the game. But in fairness, it was already a blowout by this point. They were up 1 to nothing.

You ever go to the zoo and wonder what do they do with the animal poop? Well, at the Miami Zoo, they have apparently put it all in a room with a fancy sign and called it an exhibit. It is everything you wanted to know about animal waste, but were afraid to ask.


UNIDENTIFIED ZOO WORKER: Do you know what the goal of this whole exhibit is? It's to have fun. It's for kids to come in here and be able to talk about things with their parents.


OLBERMANN: Wait a second. Wait a second. Am I supposed to be listening to this guy? Put some gloves on, for the love of Joe. I guess that's what you get from a man who works at the poop chute.

Finally, in a totally unrelated story, these guys will no longer be dancing on the sidelines during the games of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. They were known as the phat cats - that's p,h.a.t. And the London member dance troupe made up of guys who apparently had eaten the original cheerleading squad.

The team has cancelled all future performances by the group after receiving a number of complaints and negative comments about the show. I just hope they don't let themselves go while they are out looking for their next gig.

The Supreme Court sided with him over the Bush administration over the constitutional rights of detainees. So what's next for U.S. Navy lawyer Charles Swift? Unemployment. He'll join us.

But it will be Madonna without child joining her. The singer leaves her newly adopted baby boy behind in Africa.

Those stories ahead, but now, here's "Countdown's" top 3 newsmakers of the day.

Kathleen Coronna - but this can't be true. Ms. Coronna was the woman critically injured during the 1997 New York Thanksgivings Day Parade when the wind blew a balloon into a lamp post and the lamp post hit her in the head.

When New York Yankees Pitcher Cory Lidle's plane crashed into a New York high-rise Wednesday, the apartment it hit was Kathleen Coronna's. Ms. Coronna was not there. But she was on her way there when the accident occurred.

Number two, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees - this can't be for real either, can it? Another private plane skids off a runway after landing at Burbank, California today. Nobody injured. But two days after his teammate Lidle was killed, one of those on board today was Alex Rodriguez. Watch the "New York Post" blame him for it.

And number one, a woman in Gwinnett County, Georgia, now wanted on five counts of bigamy. At 31, she has married six different men, authorities say, without divorcing anybody. Who would have thought somebody would have seen this coming? Her name is Shawnta McBride.


OLBERMANN: As great as, if not greater than, the benefits of the

loyalty of the Bush administration, see Rumsfeld, Donald or Hastert, Dennis

are the risks of defiance. For that, one need look no further than the career of U.S. Navy lawyer, Charles Swift.

Our third story on the Countdown tonight, Lieutenant Commander Swift's reward for successfully defending his client before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case to which he was involuntarily assigned was - you probably guessed it, being fired this week by the Navy or in military parlance, getting passed over for promotion.

It undoubtedly did not help that the Commander Swift's clients was Salim Ahmed Hamdan with the alleged al-Qaeda operative, also a bodyguard and driver to bin Laden, now being held as an enemy combatant at GITMO.

No doubt also raising some hackles, Commander Swift's comparing his boss to King George, III, in court. But arguing that President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military war trials for detainees did help Commander Swift win his case. The Supreme Court, you may recall, ruling in June by a 5-3 majority in favor of dismantling the current tribunal system. Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift joins us now.

Good evening, Commander, thank you for your time.


OLBERMANN: Not to downplay the significance of what happened to you, but were you at all surprised by this decision?

SWIFT: Well, I knew that when I'd taken the Hamdan case they I'd stepped off the normal career path, and that that would make it more difficult to get promoted. As far as the outcome of the Hamdan decision in the Supreme Court, I was confident we would win it, it was the right decision.

OLBERMANN: Earlier this year, the "National Law Journal" listed the 100 most influential lawyers in the country and you're on that list. Is there irony or bitterness that you're now also one of the most influential unemployed lawyers in the country?

SWIFT: Well, you know, A. I won't be unemployed until next summer when I retire. But in the sense, the "National Law Journal" listing me, I was incredibly flattered. It was validation that what I was doing was being effective, and that was, to me, the most important thing, was to explain why the commission system was unfair, and was actually illegal and a mistake in our history, and that - the feedback from my peers that I was being effective was extremely gratifying.

OLBERMANN: Two questions about this case - is it true access to your client was conditional upon his admission of guilt?

SWIFT: Yes, it was. The original part, when I was - the letter that asked me to be assigned to him, or for someone to be detailed said that access was only - or access to him was conditioned on working on a guilty plea. And that was the most difficult thing ethically was how to deal with that, taking the case. And I decided the only way I could do that was offer him an option B and that would have been and was to sue in the federal courts to try and get a fair trial, a second option, and, well, once I decided that that was - those were the two options, and I went down and talked to him, from then on, every decision was pretty easy.

OLBERMANN: Will you still be representing him, and regardless, what's the next stage of this defense.

SWIFT: Well, his case is back in the district court. And I still represent him there. The Supreme Court sent it back down. and we're now waiting to see what the government tries to does with the MCA. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be much of an improvement, Mr. Hamdan's case, given the Supreme Court's decision, I think it's pretty clear that it's unconstitutional.

It would constitute ex post facto and a bill of attainder and so, you know, if they try to try him in the new system then we're going to, again, pursue action in the federal courts. There are alternatives, we could have a trial in the federal court. The Supreme Courts may clear that that would be legal and I would hope to defend him in either place, but you know, he's my client I promised him I would defend him and that's what I intend to do.

OLBERMANN: Some of us have been shaken to the core by all that we are seeing in the last few months pertaining to things like GITMO and detainment and the rest. How serious do you think all this is based on your experience with the Hamdan case at Guantanamo Bay and with what has happened to you. To what degree is the fairness of our legal system, even the preservation of our collective legal rights at risk right now?

SWIFT: Well, you know, the Supreme Court has taken six commission cases in their history and that's actually a tremendous number, given the number of commissions, and in Milligan, the first commission case, this is the same court that decided Dred Scott, they said that no graver issue had ever faced them as a court than the question of the military commissions and executive entering into to be the sole decider of justice.

I think that continues to be true and it was true at our founding. Thomas Payne said famously that "He who would seek liberty must first defend his enemies from oppression, lest he set a precedent that will reach himself," and when we say that you can have a full and fair trial without the accused present or you can use techniques such as waterboarding to extort a confession, and use that, and that's fair, then inevitably, that's going to haunt to us, and it's going to haunt us and your children. We have a chance still to stop this, and I'm you know, dedicated to preventing that from happening.

OLBERMANN: Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift. Thanks not only for joining us. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of what this country is supposed to stand for, sir.

SWIFT: Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, here, a long-promised innovation that never really got off the ground, except apparently in upstate New York called the Jet Pack, called The Rocket Belt, call it I think I set my backside on fire, it's here.

And need a less deadly kind of pick me up? Try decaf coffee. You heard me. Decaf as a pick me up, that's ahead, but now here are Countdown's "Top 3 Sound Bites" of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their golden retriever, Bailey, likes to sing along with the news center theme, so take it away Bailey.


TINA FEY, ACTRESS: I was glad she's back in the news because I am hoping to play her in a movie.

I feel like I could get that part.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, there's almost an eerie.

FEY: It's a creepy resemblance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what, if "30 Rock" doesn't work out, you've got another job.

FEY: I've got a Lifetime movie.

KEVIN BRYANT, FOOTBALL PLAYER: My first impression were (SIC) - the word that came to my mind were boats. Big boats.

Oh yeah, they make joke like, yeah, you walking on 20-inch rims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until last month he had one serious problem -

Bryant couldn't find a pair of cleats that actually fit him, so that's when the Miami Dolphins stepped in, happy to place the order, and foot the cost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't never seen some shoes this big in my life.

Size 20.



OLBERMANN: It of the meant to be the transportation of the 21st century, personal rockets. So how come the technology is still only limited to a few guys at a local convention? Actually, who cares? It makes for great footage.

That, plus caffeinated decaf coffee and a soda billed as a real Diet Coke, ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: In theory, they probably date back to the Flash Gordon movie serials of the 1930s. There was a guy flying around with one at the 1964 New York World's Fair. That's when I wanted one.

You might have been hooked then or maybe when Roger Moore was using one in a James Bond film and when another fellow flew into the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics on one.

Our No. 2 story in the Countdown, Jet Packs, Rocket Belts, the whole genre of portable personal space-aged transport, seems finally poised to hit the consumer market if, by poised to hit we mean a bunch of folks delighted to strap dangerous explosives to their backs and risk scalding by steam, have gathered at Niagara Falls, New York and nobody's been killed yet. Our correspondent is Andrew Potter of "Reuters."


ANDREW POTTER, "REUTERS" CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems hard to believe now, but this smoking device hanging from a clothes rack was viewed as the transport of the future. With a quick thumbs-up and the fire department watching on, the Rocket Belt will get you there, with speed and plenty of noise.

At the Niagara Aerospace Museum, Niagara Falls, fans have gathered for the first-ever Rocket Belt Convention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great day to see a machine like this actually - to be able to touch it and say this was what I based my dreams on, really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Rocket Belt originally was developed for the U.S. Army. They wanted a flying device that the average soldier could use without a lot of training.

POTTER: But the idea of an army of flying soldiers never took off, because the Rocket Belt runs out of fuel after 30 seconds, and as original test pilot Hal Graham discovered, they weren't easy to control.

ANNOUNCER: This first introduction of man to machine illustrates well problems of thrust control and system stability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This convention, well, I meet all these weirdo guys like me, you know, fellow guys that are off the wall. Just bonkers, and we have kind of a kinship. We're all nuts.

POTTER: Since the U.S. Army lost interest, Rocket Belt use is being confined to public displays like the opening of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. These enthusiasts hope an event like the convention will help keep the device in the sky no matter how briefly.

Andrew Potter, "Reuters."


OLBERMANN: Meantime, Madonna's adoption of a one-year-old child will not apparently proceed at rocket speed in our nightly roundup of celebrity and gossip news, Madonna has finally confirmed her adoption plans, but she and her husband, filmmaker Guy Richie, left the African nation Malawi today without the child pending final legal arrangements, according to their spokeswomen's.

A kid's right group call Eye of the Child has registered a complaint with the Malawi's high court saying, "You cannot buy a child as if you were buying a house." We are concerned that the high court has taken a short-cut and waived the law. Members of Madonna's entourage have reportedly stayed behind pending the final arrangements.

Mel Gibson, meantime, continues to sputter out explanations for his anti-Semitic tirade when he was arrested for drunk driving. In an interview, he takes pains to say that he does not believe what he said to those officers, that the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world, but he confessed he may have been suffering from some brewing resentment because his film "Passion of the Christ" had been so heavily criticized, quoting him now, "Even before anyone saw a frame of film, for an entire year I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating." He also said of conflicts in the Middle East that Jews are "not blameless."

Oh, here we go!

A brand new Coca-Cola product years in the making promising to help you to lose weight. Well, hold on. Then what the heck does Diet Coke do? That's ahead, but first latest time for Countdown latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

This is where Bill-O would point out where his book about wearing windbreakers is compared to ours about worst persons and the sales numbers. Here's a numerical comparison of interest: 8:00 to 8:15 p.m. Eastern, last night, we beat the "Orally Factor" again, in the group of viewers aged 25 to 54, beat them by 14 percent, beat them by 39,000.

So anyway, the Bronze, to first-time nominee Greta Van Susteren of FOX News, She went nuts because CNN President Jon Klein complimented Katie Couric's work on the CBS "Evening News" and made reference to Couric's appearance. Van Susteren blogged at length asking if Klein drools when he watches women newscasters, if he's the "creep of the day" and she went completely holier-than-thou on him for even bringing up how women newscasters and news commentators look on the air.

This is from a woman news commentator who, when she changed networks, went out and bought herself a total facelift.

The Silver tonight, Kay Askew, principal of North Liverpool Academy in England. Yes, student Charlie Bowden (ph) had won awards for great attendance, yes, Charlie's father had called to say Charlie would miss school anyway, but Askew still sent truant officers to Charlie's home to check up on him.

Why was Charlie out that day? His dog had died suddenly the night before, "Not a good enough reason," said the truant officers.

But in our Gold position tonight, a Countdown corrections, seems we named Dr. James Dobson of the right-wing influence group Focus on the Family, the "Worst Person in the World" last week for saying this whole Mark Foley sex scandal had turned out to be a joke being played on Foley by the pages. Here's how Dobson responded on his radio show.


DR. JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: One of the most far leftist reporters or talk show hosts or news people on cable television is a man named Keith Olbermann. He's another one who can always be counted on to give the leftist slant on everything. Let's hear his actual words about this issue that I just described.

OLBERMANN: James Dobson, founder of the religion group Focus on the Family suggesting that, "The whole thing turned out to be what some people are now saying was a sort of a joke by the boy and some of the other pages."

DOBSON: Well, there it is again, Tom, and it's all over the Internet, and I just want to set the record straight. What do you think they're trying to do with this?


OLBERMANN: Well, I'm not sure what I was trying to do with that. In fairness, let's play what James Dobson actually had said.


DOBSON: As it turns out, Mr. Foley has had illicit sex with no one that we know of, and the whole thing turned out to be what some people are now saying was a sort of a joke by the boy, and some of the other pages.


OLBERMANN: So, as you can see, I was totally in error - hey, wait a minute! That's exactly what I said he said! I guess no correction is necessary from us, that is.

So, for first for saying the Foley scandal was a joke and again for lying about having said that, James, now of course, he's getting his clock cleaned by the Bush administration while he thinks they're his friends, so maybe that's embarrassing enough - nah!

James Dobson, today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: Heaven for bid you should drink a beverage that is not actively doing something for you. After all, even old school choices like milk and orange juice provide calcium or vitamin C or both. But these days it's more of a science, as well as a way for beverage company's behemoths to elbow their way into an ever-growing percentage of space on the shelves of our nation's supermarkets.

And in our No. 1 story in the Countdown, the Coca-Cola Company is introducing a yet another new, targeting people looking not just for stuff that won't make them fatter, but for stuff that will actively make them thinner.

All this while another long-standing blend has been caught in a bit of false advertising. For those who do not want to lose sleep, beware of that. On the beverage beat, our correspondent Michelle Kosinski -



MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Keith. It definitely has been a busy week in beverage news.

(voice-over): Let's face it, there are days you don't want your coffee to give you that extra kick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Caffeine makes me anxious.

KOSINSKI: And that's where you count on decaf.

KELLIE PALLADINO, COFFEE DRINKER: And we can feel a difference.

KOSINSKI: Well, a University of Florida researcher has made some surprising findings.

BRUCE GOLDBERGER, UNIV. OF FLORIDA: The level of caffeine present in decaf coffees is addictive, it can increase your heart rate and it can increase your blood pressure.

KOSINSKI: He says there's enough caffeine in so-called decaf that when you stop drinking it, your body goes through withdrawals.

PALLANDINO: Well, it makes sense when you're kept up at night after drinking decaffeinated coffee, but I think it should be clearly labeled.

KOSINSKI: The guys at Batdorf & Bronson Roasters in Atlanta take what they sell to customers very seriously. And when they buy beans that say 99 percent caffeine free, they trust that they are.

AARON SHIVELY, BATDORF & BRONSON ROASTERS: When we're searching for our decaffeinated coffees, we want that decaf guarantee.

KOSINSKI: Scientists say the claims on those beans may be true. But when they start out being extremely high in caffeine what's left behind after the decaffeination process can also be significant.

(on camera): So the study shows it may have more caffeine in it than many people think it does, but at the same time, you'd have to drink 12 cups it of to equal one cup of regular.

(voice-over): The think is, if you have high blood pressure, kidney problems, or anxiety and doctors say you need to avoid caffeine, scientists say decaf may not be your best substitute.

The only coffee they found in their study that was truly without caffeine was Folgers instant decaf they bought in a restaurant.

Sodas, on the other hand, that say "caffeine free" really are, according to this research. You just have to realize that all decafs are not made the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want something caffeine free, stay away from coffee.


KOSINSKI: You might be getting a jump-start you didn't bargain for.


KOSINSKI (on camera): And now that you got your heart pumping with that decaf coffee, Coke is coming out with a product that it claims will help you burn off even more calories, but says it will work even better if you drink at least three cans a day.

(voice-over): A light, sparkling new drink with a big new claim.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if it really works, then it's worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'd give it a whirl.

KOSINSKI: Enviga, a five calorie drink made by Coca-Cola promises to burn calories for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope it's true.

KOSINSKI: Coke claims that drinking three of these a day boosts your metabolism an extra 60 to 100 calories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, then I better start buying all it of they have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has a proven level of calorie burning benefits.

KOSINSKI: The magic ingredients? Green tea and caffeine.

In coke speak:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Epigallocatechin gallate

KOSINSKI: Enviga's creator says that powerful antioxidant in the tea along as with about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, is clinically proven to increase your metabolism gently and safely.

(on camera): The beverage aisle is already jammed, but Coke spent three years to try to make Enviga stand out. They put it in this skinny silver can. But when it says "the" calorie burner, is this really the real thing?

JULIE SCHWARTZ, NUTRITIONIST: A lot of products coming out are not going to show great benefit, they're not the magic bullet people are looking for.

KOSINSKI: Now, for the all-important taste test.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is very good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's not bad. Actually it's kind of fruity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like the flavor.

KOSINSKI: Three people loved it and two people didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is bitter. It is bitter. It makes your mouth dry a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back to the drawing bored.


Back to the drawing board.

KOSINSKI (on camera): What do you think? Why do you say that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flat like it was poured in an old shoe and poured in my mouth.




Back to the drawing board, Coke!

KOSINSKI (voice-over): A matter of taste.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything that would burn calorie, I'd try it.

KOSINSKI: For many, reason enough to raise a glass.

Michelle Kosinski, NBC NEWS, Atlanta.


OLBERMANN: You get the feeling that that guy has actually has had something to drink out of his old shoes?

Next week our special report, "Fizzies we hardly knew ye."

That's Countdown for this, the 1,359th since the declaration of the "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

From New York, I'm Keith Olbermann. Goodnight and good luck.