'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 1
Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jack Rice, Jonathan Turley
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
It might be a timetable, it might be a benchmark, it might even be a dreaded graceful exit. But the latest leak from the Baker Iraq Study Group, Bring the combat troops home before the 2008 presidential primaries. Will the president refuse? And what would happen to the Republicans if he does?
What's happening in Iraq now? It's more precarious than Vietnam, says the director of national intelligence, for diplomat in Vietnam, former ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN NEGROPONTE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: In Iraq, even the capital is highly insecure, perhaps one of the most insecure places in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Speaking of insecurity, do you know your credit score? Do you know your good cholesterol-bad cholesterol ratio? How about your personal terror rating, the government secretly assigning you a number based on how many one-way trips you've taken, your meal and seat preferences? The number determines if you're a terrorist or criminal. And they won't tell you what the number is. Oh, and they plan to keep the number in your file for 40 years.
The radiation poisoning death of the ex-Russian spy. A third man now contaminated, an Italian academic who'd had lunch with the dead man.
And time for the month's rich bounty, the election that stumped the negative ad writers, Kathy Finley versus Kathy Finley.
The reminder that you should never try to pick up a plastic pumpkin if you don't have any hands.
And the reminder that some people have just had one too many dry turkey Thanksgiving dinner. It's Oddball's plays of the month.
And oh, by the way, they've apparently figured out what Stonehenge actually was used for.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Good evening from Los Angeles.
Nearly one month removed from an election widely viewed as a referendum on the war in Iraq, any possibility of a timely withdrawal of American troops from that country seeming more remote now than ever before.
Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, early 2008, the date to be floated by the Baker-Hamilton commission, with the removal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq, just in time for the presidential primaries, even as the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, also the former ambassador to Iraq, is saying tonight that Iraq is less secure and more precarious than Vietnam was when he served there as a diplomat in the 1960s.
Let's begin with the timetable, sources saying the Baker-Hamilton commission, the Iraq Study Group, will recommend setting a goal of early 2008 for complete troop withdrawal from Iraq, but even that merely a goal, not an actual deadline, the president, you will recall, just yesterday giving the Iraqi prime minister an open-ended commitment for a U.S. military presence, despite growing pressure from Capitol Hill for a viable exit strategy and the sooner the better, the White House saying today that Mr. Bush will decide about course corrections in Iraq by Christmas, while somehow still insisting the president's core strategy for Iraq is sound, meanwhile, the president's national intelligence director, Mr. Negroponte, having served in both Iraq and in Vietnam, telling Brian Lamb of C-Span today, in an interview to air on that network Sunday night, that while he does not see many analogies between the two conflicts, Iraq does not compare favorably to Vietnam in the '60s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, C-SPAN)
NEGROPONTE: The security situations were very different. In Vietnam, the cities were secure, the province capitals were secure. I walked around that country as an unarmed civilian for almost four years without ever having any serious brushes, so to speak. Whereas, in Iraq, even the capital is highly insecure, perhaps one of the most insecure places in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let's call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek," and just back from the president's trip to Jordan.
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The Iraq Study Group is purportedly bipartisan. So should we be reading anything untoward in the timing of its anticipated recommendations for troop withdrawals just as the presidential primary season kicks into high gear early in 2008?
WOLFFE: No, I don't think we should. I mean, this date is so fuzzy, that such a (INAUDIBLE) report, from what we can see out of the leaks - obviously, we haven't seen the real report yet. But as far as we understand it, the recommendation is, as long as it's feasible to withdraw by this stage. And sure, the president would like to withdraw troops tomorrow, if it was feasible. It's just wishful thinking.
And if you talk to White House officials, as I have been over the last several days, they're taking a much longer time frame at this. And these are recommendations coming out of Baker. The Decider, the commander in chief, has a much longer timetable. And frankly, it's one that extends well beyond his presidency.
OLBERMANN: But what happens to him if these recommendations come out, even with the vaguest of time frames - I mean, those nuances and subtleties are more ours than the general public's - and the president doesn't even endorse these vague numbers? I mean, does he then hand the Democrats and other critics of this war an unbreakable club that they can use? Are we guaranteed two years of the politics of Itchy and Scratchy?
WOLFFE: Yes, I'm not sure who will be Crusty the Clown in that.
But, you know, the problem here is much more political than it is sort of policy based coming out of this report. Expectations are very high that there'll be some sort of significant course correction. But the president is really not signaling that, and that is a political problem.
How Democrats play it, of course, is a challenge for Democrats. Do they want to be the ones saying, We separate ourselves from the bipartisan group? Do they have to sign on to it? Are the recommendations so bland and easy because they're looking for consensus that everyone agrees with them? It's just motherhood and apple pie.
But the politics of this may take off in a different direction. If Democrats really want an unbreakable club, they could probably find it in the investigations, into the run-up to war, the contracts in Iraq, where you'll find many administration officials who now pretty openly criticize the way things were conducted.
OLBERMANN: But just yesterday, the president had said (INAUDIBLE) this memorable quote, this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all, in this context, with this report coming out, does he mean those words permanently? Or are those more the inoperative-style words, like the assurances that Don Rumsfeld was staying till '09?
WOLFFE: It's such a great phrase. I mean, he made troop withdrawals sound like something out of "Swan Lake." I, you know, don't think he is flat-out lying, which is basically what he did about Rumsfeld. There, he had a motive to lie, which was, he didn't want to seem weak before the election.
The graceful exit line, I think, is heartfelt. He doesn't think troop withdrawal is going to come any time soon.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, the comments from Mr. Negroponte, for C-Span on Sunday night. Did Negroponte wander off the reservation? Is it an aberration? Or are we going to see administration figures beginning to bail out on all this?
WOLFFE: You know, I - he certainly wandered off the talking points. There are three talking points, or two talking points, about Vietnam, and one of them is supposed to be that troops are really supported by American public opinion in a way that it wasn't in Vietnam. But we're in a strange situation where the administration is increasingly saying things are tough in Iraq, it's violent, it's difficult, and that's why we need to stick with it. It's a circular logic that we're seeing right now.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and it may not be a different - it may not be the same war, but it seems like it's the same logic as Vietnam when you phrase it in those terms.
Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek," welcome back. Have a good weekend. And take the two "Simpsons" reruns while you're...
WOLFFE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN:... while you're recuperating from your trip.
WOLFFE: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: It was in December of last year that we first learned the president had authorized domestic spying by the National Security Agency. Tonight, at the start of this December, comes word that eavesdropping might be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to the federal government's surveillance on its own citizens.
It seems not being on the no-fly list is no longer enough to keep someone out of the clutches of the Bush administration, the Associated Press reporting that millions of American citizens entering or leaving the U.S. in the past four years have been assigned a secret terror rating, based on such bizarre factors as number of one-way trips taken, seating preferences, dining preferences.
It get worse. Travelers are not allowed to see nor challenge the computer-generated scores, which the government plans to keep on file for up to 40 years, the Democrat Patrick Leahy, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today expressing outrage, promising scrutiny of the program in the new Congress.
One can only imagine how outraged Senator Leahy might be at seeing this other thing, the kind of image taken by a new federal screening system, X-raying of passengers' bodies to detect concealed explosives and other weapons. That's apparently not all it can detect, the (INAUDIBLE) -
Transportation Security Administration planning to have one such machine up and running at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport by Christmas. If you have been roped into spending the holidays with the in-laws in Scottsdale, here is your perfect excuse. Or go Greyhound.
For a constitutionality X-ray, I'm joined now by George Washington University law professor and constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley.
Thanks once more for your time tonight, sir.
JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Thanks,
OLBERMANN: Having now seen that photo, we can't not begin with the X-ray machine. It would seem, Jonathan, to be not just intrusive, but actually indecent, so much so, and what is the difference between requiring passengers to subject themselves to that, and simply asking them to strip off all their clothes before boarding?
TURLEY: Well, maybe this is a recruiting tool to get TSA applicants, which will now be called T-and-A or something. I don't know.
But most of us are more afraid we'll be sent to (INAUDIBLE) like Jenny Craig than Gitmo after this, because it is a very revealing picture.
And, you know, on the serious side, you know, there is real problems with having strangers looking at an image, even one with parts covered up, that still is pretty accurate in terms of what you look like under your clothes. And the Constitution recognizes that there are some unreasonable searches and seizures. I would have to say that this seems pretty unreasonable.
I think most people would be horrified. You know, we've all seen these people gathered around these screens looking at what's in your luggage. Sometimes it looks like a coffee clutch. I think people will be horrified to know that their physical image was on the machine.
OLBERMANN: Let's turn to this personal terror rating. I mean, it sounds terrible, but I'm having trouble nailing down what's particularly terrible about this. Is it the criteria? (INAUDIBLE), when you use things like meal preference, that might be a kind of hidden racial or religious profiling? Or if not that, what is the core problem with this plan?
TURLEY: Well, you know, I testified in Congress about the use of profiling in the airports, which I happen to support on a general level. But there are great dangers with profiling. One of them is obvious, that it's been used for racial purposes, and it's been used improperly in the past.
But also, it's something that is very easy to abuse. You know, we've seen in just normal profiling, people arrested when they're the first to get off a plane, because they're in a hurry, or people arrested when they're last to get off the plane, because why are you taking so long or holding back?
And you can put enough innocuous items in there that it becomes ludicrous. And when you're looking at what people are ordering, I mean, do we really think that terrorists are going to order a, you know, an appropriate religious meal? They're not looking for vegans, they're - obviously, the meal selection is probably geared a lot towards the Islamic faith. That's my guess.
OLBERMANN: Was the analyst who told the Associated Press, Never before in American history has our government gotten into the business of creating risk assessment ratings on of its own citizens, correct when he then said that this was an unprecedented attack on the privacy of the average American?
TURLEY: Well, I think it's a significant attack on privacy. What bothers me the most is what Senator Leahy said, that he seems to have been in the dark about this. And once again, we see an administration that has this insatiable appetite for massive computer systems and keeping records on Americans and sort of codifying everyone's life.
And repeatedly, Congress has told them they don't want these types of systems to exist. The fact that such a powerful senator seems to be have taken unaware by this, I find quite shocking.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, as if we needed another issue, there's another privacy issue. Starting today, U.S. companies also are required to store every e-mail and every instant message and every electronic document created by their employees. Basically, if you say it, you write it, you type it, you expect your employer to keep it, if you didn't already, but later, they could possibly use it against you, or someone could use it against you, in a court of law. How concerned should we be about this as an invasion of privacy?
TURLEY: Well, all of these form a sort of mosaic. I mean, privacy is one of the things that has distinguished us as a nation. We've always had a far more robust idea of privacy than any other nation. And we're fast becoming a fishbowl society. We're losing privacy. We have far less privacy today than my grandparents had.
And as you lose your privacy, your expectations of privacy, it changes who we are and creates chilling effects. And this is an example of that, where everything you write is going to be recorded and preserved, in the sense that I'm under a microscope as a citizen.
That's not healthy for a free society.
OLBERMANN: We need to have those e-mails free for other people to publish them on the Internet.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan Turley, the constitutional law expert, professor at George Washington University. As always, my friend, great thanks for joining us.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Have a good weekend.
Also tonight, a week after Alexander Litvinenko died from polonium 210 poisoning, his wife and a friend or colleague he had lunch with before falling ill also test positive for exposure to the isotope.
And apparently the head of the FBI has $10.5 million with your name on it, provided you send in the down payment to his office in Nigeria. Lisa Myers with a special investigation on the latest turn in the e-mail scam ahead.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The death of a former Russian spy from a rare radioactive isotope used as poison already had the markings of an international espionage novel. And the plot is thickening still.
In our fourth story on the Countdown, an Italian academic and security expert with a shady past, who met with the spy on the day the spy fell ill, has now himself tested positive for the same substance. And a Russian security officer, in prison since 2003 under bizarre circumstances, says all of it is part of a government plot.
Authorities in London, where Alexander Litvinenko was evidently poisoned and later died, are still searching for contaminated sites. Today they evacuated the Ashtown Park Hotel in East Sussex to conduct tests there. Traces of the substance, polonium 210, have already been identified at 12 other locations, as well as on two British Airways 767s.
Mario Scaramella, the latest person to test positive, he had lunch with Mr. Litvinenko on the day that Litvinenko became ill, Scaramella says he had shown the now-dead Russian spy confidential e-mails listing potential targets for assassination. He says both their names were on the list.
And now comes Mikhail Trepashkin, a jailed security officer from the Russian FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, he claims to have warned Mr. Litvinenko back in 2002 that a government-sponsored special team had been set up by Russia to kill him and others, that the killer substance is usually made in nuclear facilities, part of the guesswork as to its provenance, ABC News reporting that polonium 210 can be bought freely on the Internet from many companies, but it would cost about a million dollars to purchase an amount that would be toxic, and it would have to be ordered in thousands of small increments, which the companies say would even raise a red flag with them.
No word yet on whether the poison that has sickened a third man, a former Russian prime minister, was also polonium 210. And today's autopsy of Mr. Litvinenko may provide more clues as to when and how he ingested the toxin that killed him.
Help us distill the clues, I'm joined now by former CIA special agent Jack Rice.
Thanks for your time tonight, Jack.
JACK RICE, FORMER CIA SPECIAL AGENT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: First, tell us about this stuff, polonium 210. How do you have to get it into your body? How much does it take to kill you? And is it as easy to contain or transport as the one report suggests it is?
RICE: You know, those are the great questions here. It's a radioactive isotope. The real issue is, it emits alpha particles. I've been talking to people all over the world about this, here in the community, here in Britain I was talking to people, and then in Moscow even this morning.
And the thing is, is, it's very easy to transport, because you need almost nothing, a milligram, something the size of a grain of sand. And because of the way it emits alpha particles, it's not absorbed into your hand, so you can hold it. It's about getting it inside your body, so if it were dropped in a cup of tea, if it was sprayed up your nose, anything like that.
And as a result, because so little is necessary, you could put it in a small vial, put it in your pocket. It also emits so low radiation that you can get it through monitors onto an airplane. I mean, that's how simple this would be able to do.
OLBERMANN: So those passengers on the British Airways planes on which traces of this have been detected don't really need to be concerned?
RICE: Well, I think realistically, the concern is not that you have something that may be on your sleeve, something that's on the bottom of your shoe. It's when it gets inside you, because these alpha particles, according to the experts that I've been talking with, it's the alpha particles that destroy the DNA in your cells. That's what can cause things like leukemia, things like cancer.
Now, if you have high doses, like Litvinenko did, that's what can kill you as quickly as it did in his case.
OLBERMANN: So where would the traces, if the stuff could be contained and not be definitely harmful unless ingested, actually taken into the body, how would there be traces of this stuff in as many as these 12 different locations throughout England?
RICE: Again, talking to the people I've been talking to about this, a couple of things. How this is usually found in as it was found in Litvinenko, it was in his urine. You can find it in urine, you can find it in feces. So it's very possible they went to the bathrooms in these various locations.
Now, of course, there is one sort of interesting side to this. I think the first thing that we want to see from the home secretary, the MI5 and others, is that you want to make sure that Litvinenko was actually in all 12 of these places. If he was, then you might be able to say, OK, this was him. On the other hand, if there were any of these 12 locations where he wasn't, that may give you a hint as to who was there. Then what you do is, you cross-reference whoever those people were for people who may have been on any of these British Airways aircraft. You look at the manifests, and you may have something there. That's one of the things I'm certain that they're doing right now.
OLBERMANN: The Italian academic security consultant, Scaramella, who's now tested positive for this, said he had evidence of assassination targets. (INAUDIBLE) he also said he had lunch or met Litvinenko for lunch, but didn't eat anything, which would be a red flag for a layman like myself. But we also have the (INAUDIBLE), the jailed Russian security officer, Trepashkin, saying this is part of a government plot. Have you been able to sort through any of this and make sense of any of it?
RICE: It's an amazing story, Keith. As a former CIA operative, as a journalist who's chased this kind of stuff all over the world, you're right, this is like a cold war spy novel. Maybe the only connection we can really look at, if we go a little bit deeper. And what that would be is, there are 13 journalists who've been killed in Moscow since 2000. The last one was in October.
And what she was following was information that was very embarrassing to President Putin. And that was about atrocities committed by Russian soldiers down in Chechnya. Now, believe it or not, many of the connections here have to do with Chechnya. We can look at former FSB colonel Litvinenko. He has connections to that. We can also look at the man who's in prison right now, whose information was snuck out. He was involved with that issue too.
So all of these seem to tie together to that. Now, does this mean, of course, that Putin did anything? Well, that's one of the possibilities.
OLBERMANN: And the other possibility is, was suggested by Litvinenko's, one of Litvinenko's relatives, the possibility is also just as strong it could be used as an attempt to make Putin look bad. I guess we will be following this one as it unfolds, and it's not stopped unfolding yet.
Jack Rice, the former special agent with the CIA. Great thanks for your time tonight, Jack.
RICE: It's always a pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: An inauspicious start tonight for the new leader of Mexico. This is what his new parliament got up to on the day of his inauguration. See, it's funny, because we're looking at it in Mexico, and it didn't happen here six years ago in, say, Florida.
And if you're going to make stuff up about people, make sure nobody else was actually there. The latest "New York Post" story about Lindsay Lohan, the testimony of an eyewitness who says it is false. I am that eyewitness.
That's ahead, this is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: December 1, the birthday of three comic geniuses, Woody Allen, the late Richard Pryor, and the late Dick Shawn. And, of course, of Cecil Perkins. Cecil Perkins pitched in exactly two games for the 1967 New York Yankees. He was one of the first baseball players I actually remember. He lost his only start on July 5 of that year, but he did drive in a run in his only big league at bat. So I may be the only member of his national fan club, but I've got a TV newscast, so, happy birthday, Cecil Perkins.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin in Mexico City for the hallowed swearing-in ceremony of the new Mexican president, Felipe Calderon. And what ceremonial transfer of power isn't made more fun with a good, old-fashioned parliamentary brawl? Fisticuffs and chairs were thrown as supporters of the losing candidate, Agres Manuel Lopez Obrador, attempted to stop Calderon from taking the oath and assuming power. Meanwhile, in Washington, outgoing House majority leader John Boehner may have thought to himself, That might just work.
To the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the yellowfins are jumping, and the beaches are covered in Doritos, these photographs from the "Virginian Pilot" newspaper showing the shipping container which has washed ashore here and unleashed the flavor all over the beach. Officials have no idea what ship the container fell from, nor where the load was headed, but locals all chipped in to help out with the, quote, "cleanup effort." Yes, they're cleaning up all right, cleaning up with flavor.
Not sure that made sense.
But what does make sense, in a country where a scene like this is possible, it's a man and his wife and their mule, pulling their house. B understand and Patricia Kenney (ph) say there's no place they'd rather be than on the road with Della, with the homestead in tow. Bud built the home himself and says, Della don't mind, it's a pretty white house. They walked from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Milton, Massachusetts. And the donkey hasn't tried to escape yet, so the trio is going to trying to keep walking, they say, all the way to Europe. Hope Della's a good swimmer.
Extra bonus Oddball tonight, plays of the month, November edition. So that's where my plastic pumpkin Halloween candy basket from childhood went.
And it's not just Dr. Clemenge Okan (ph) or Mr. David Mark (ph) sending you, the honorable one, those e-mail scams from Nigeria. Apparently the head of the FBI is doing it too, whether or not he knows about it. Those stories ahead. Now here are Countdown's top three news makers of the day.
Number three, Viscount Oliver's Legendary Four Tops, a British tribute band for the famed R&B group. It had a unique explanation for canceling a performance at Cheltnom (ph), in England, driving there they inputted the wrong town name in to their global navigational system, and wound up not in Cheltnom, but 140 miles away in Chelms Ford. It's the same old song, but with a different route, since you typed wrong.
Number two, Chris Numme, auto mechanic in Port Chester, New York. He says he had just finished some minor body work on a car, was driving it back to the customer, doing only 30, when a truck swerved in to his path. He had to avoid it and he drove the car in to a telephone car. The car was a Porsche Carrera GT, the price, half a million dollars. Now, it's a half a million dollar really cool looking paperweight.
Number one, Leticia Viareal Garcia of Sierra Vista, Arizona, she has been convicted of smuggling 214 pounds of Marijuana, hidden in the trunk of her car. Prosecutors told the jury she was running the pot to finance another addiction. Ms. Viareal Garcia is a 61-year-old grandmother and for her Marijuana was the gateway drug into an uncontrollable desire to play bingo. Why do you think they call it dope?
OLBERMANN: If you've ever gotten an e-mail, chances are you've also gotten a fraudulent e-mail. In our third story on the Countdown tonight, we get to live out the fantasy of everyone who has ever gotten one of these, usual origin Nigeria, the official sounding, usually all caps, awkwardly phrased notices that you, lucky you, you've come in for an unearned windfall of a few million dollars. As with its ancestor, the Spanish prisoner scam, all that is required is for you to fork over a few thousand here and there for various piddling bureaucratic fees along the way.
Believe it or not Americans blow hundreds of millions of dollars a year on this sucker's bet. If you've ever fantasized about actually tracking down the people responsible and confronting them, thank our senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers, just don't thank her by e-mail.
LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): FBI Director Robert Moeller certainly is a friendly fellow. In these e-mails, bearing official FBI logos, Moeller's been notifying Americans that they've inherited 10.5 million dollars each. To receive the cash you must immediately contact the FBI in Nigeria to obtain a certificate of ownership.
We're not about to mess with the nation's top crime fighter, so when we got an e - mail, we immediately dialed away. Is this the FBI in Nigeria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this is the FBI for the Republic of Nigeria.
MYERS: My FBI pal quickly shared the news, a long lost relative had died in Nigeria. He was an oil mogul and left me a huge inheritance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is why the FBI contacted you directly through the e-mail address to inform you that you have about ten point five million U.S. dollars in your name, which is needed to be paid to you.
MYERS: There was just one catch -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All you have to send is only two thousand dollars.
MYERS: More than a little suspicious, we visited the FBI's address in Nigeria, listed on the e-mail. There was no FBI building. In fact, the address didn't exist. And when we read the letters closely, we noted many errors.
(on camera): Sir, your e-mails are full of misspellings and bad grammar and you want me to believe you're with the FBI, really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is the secretary. They have this problem of illiteracy. They don't go to school very well.
MYERS (voice-over): Then came the threats.
(on camera): So you're saying that if I don't claim the money, the FBI will start investigating me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, definitely.
MYERS (voice-over): Of course, the Moeller e-mails are fakes, just a new twist on an age old Nigerian con, all part of Internet scams that cost Americans 183 million dollars last year alone. In fact, the real FBI has posted a warning about the Moeller e-mail on its own website. It says, "this e-mail is a hoax. Do not respond."
(on camera): You're being recorded right now by NBC News. Would you like to admit that this is a scam?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, this is not a scam.
MYERS (voice-over): And if you believe that, has Attorney General Alberto Gonzales got a deal for you.
Lisa Myers, NBC NEWS, Washington.
OLBERMANN: Yes, well, I'd be careful about anything you got from Gonzalez too.
Also tonight, canceled flights, power outages, traffic accidents across the Midwest, as the first big snowstorm of the season hits and hits hard. And as it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, let the war on Christmas begin. Bonus Oddball ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: It may feel as though the arrival of winter weather is too predictable to qualify as news, but not when it lands as hard as it did today. Our number two story on the Countdown tonight, the first winter storm of the season has arrived, knocking out power for millions, stranding thousands of travelers and doing far worse to an unfortunate handful. Janet Shamlian is tracking the storm's impact from Chicago and joins us tonight from O'Hare Airport. Janet, good evening.
JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Keith. This powerful storm has been both dangerous and deadly, claiming five lives over the past two days and resulting in a state of emergency declaration in Missouri.
SHAMLIAN (voice-over): The nation's midsection socked in. The season's first big winter storm landing a crippling blow to much of the Midwest, with casualties all over the map.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eastbound I-70 at this point is impossible.
SHAMLIAN: Freezing rains putting roads in Missouri on ice, 50 mile an hour winds whipping in Kentucky, as much as 17 inches of snow paralyzing parts of Wisconsin. And all over a sudden biting cold.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday was golf weather. Today we're hitting snowballs.
SHAMLIAN: Downed lines cut the power to more than 500,000 in Illinois and Missouri, and a 50 mile stretch of the Interstate 70 was shut down.
KRISTEN CORNETT, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST: We've got all of this cold air coming down out of Canada. Add in a really strong jet stream and that is what caused our big major winter storm.
SHAMLIAN: In Chicago it was air travel taking the biggest hit.
(on camera): What is your frustration level at this moment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm exasperated. I've lost my voice. I just want to get home. It's important to get home.
SHAMLIAN (voice-over): At O'Hare, a Fedex plane slid off a slippery runway. Several airlines said they wouldn't even try to fly before midday, a move that dominoed delays across the country.
(on camera): The cancellation of hundreds of flights gave passengers who were lucky enough to get out something rarely seen at airports anymore, virtually empty security lines.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hoping we are going to get on that plane and we're going to be out of here.
SHAMLIAN (voice-over): By afternoon some planes were back in the air.
And the weather cleared, a sign this pre-winter wallop was moving on.
SHAMLIAN: The snow is ending here in the nation's mid section tonight, but this storm is continuing. Keith, it is now tracking east, taking with is thunder storms and what could be some very damaging winds. Keith, back to you.
OLBERMANN: Janet Shamlian at O'Hare, great thanks.
Continuing on the subject of excessive amounts of wind and snow, it's time for our nightly roundup of celebrity news, Keeping Tabs. A publicist for Lindsay Lohan is blasting the media for ridiculing Lohan's ungrammatical, at times incoherent statement regarding the death of director Robert Altman. Lohan, who attended high school on Long Island until she was home schooled, wrote an e-mail entitled Dead is Hard, Life is Much Easier. It included sentences such as, "he left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do," and, "life comes once, doesn't keep coming back and we all take such advantage of what we have, when we shouldn't. Thank you, Be Adequite, Lindsay Lohan."
The publicist should really be complaining about an item in today's New York Post. It describes Lohan at the GQ men of the year dinner Wednesday as having made a big scene, having flipped out, having screamed because another celebrity's assistant was present, and having necked with Johny Knoxville from Jackass. I was at the dinner, literally seated back to back with Knoxville's group and about three tables away from where Ms. Lohan was sitting.
I was there the whole time. Not only did none of that happen, but nobody in a room chock full of gossips even suggested anything remotely like it happened. In fact, when she went out to a balcony for a smoke, it was the first time most of us realized she was there. Celebrities deserve a lot of the grief they get, but just making it up is indefensible. So now, of course, the Post will make us something about me, again.
Anyway, if you have ever wondered where the Lindsay Lohans of 2700 B.C. used to go for rehab, well, you should probably get out more, but there is good news. We may have an answer and it may double as an answer for one of the oldest mysteries on earth. A new book says Stonehenge, the bizarre arrangement of monolithic stones in England, was a combination hospital, rehab facility, a kind of prehistoric Lourdes. The evidence, well we can't speak for the henge part of the Stonehenge name, but apparently the stone parts came from a Welsh quarry, near supposedly sacred springs that gave the stones magical powers.
Another piece of evidence, the poor health of the bodies found buried in the area, which has drawn one rebuttal from a scholar who points out that pretty much everybody was in poor health back then, which will happen if you seek medical help from magic stones.
Speaking of object made out of stone with no easy to discern purpose, there is Kevin Federline. US Online reports that Mr. Federline is in talks to develop his own reality series, which would focus on exploring his life beyond his marriage to Britney Spears. A producer told us that they are looking at an eight-episode deal for Federline. The series is expected to appeal to viewers who can find similarities between their own activities and those of Mr. Federline, such as not attracting legions of fans, not performing sold out concerts, and not having sex with Britney Spears and, of course, just chilling.
There has been a late-breaking development in the on-going Danny Devito drank alcohol saga. Drinking buddy George Clooney revealing to NBC's Matt Lauer, in an interview set to air on Monday, how Devito may have come to get as loaded as he did on the View.
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MATT LAUER, THE TODAY SHOW: This was Danny Devito, who showed up on the View the next day and just seemed wrecked.
GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: I think he probably was. I had to do Regis and Kelly the next day and I was pretty hung over as well.
LAUER: How much was consumed?
CLOONEY: A lot. I got to the point where I was dumping the shots in to a plant next to me. I don't think Danny saw me do that.
OLBERMANN: Just last week Clooney told David Letterman he had pulled a similar scam during a drinking contest with Arnold Schwarzenegger, bribing a waitress to bring him diluted orange juice, while she brought the future governor shots of Peach Schnapps. No word if Mr. Clooney is likewise responsible for this presumably drunken behavior, Oddball's plays of the month ahead.
But now time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for worst persons in the world. The bronze, the departing governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, as he warms up for a right-wing presidential bid he's getting hard line about illegal immigration. The Boston Globe reported today that for a decade he has been using a landscaping company, most of whose employees are illegal immigrants from Guatemala. Asked about this - what's the phrase, blatant hypocrisy, campaign ending moment, well whatever - Governor Romney replied, oh geez, and walked away.
Our runner up, Morton Kondracke of Fox News, also a columnist for Roll Call, explaining in his latest piece that, quote, all over the world scoundrels are ascendant, rising on a tide of American weakness. Tragically, it looks as though President Bush bit off more than the American people were willing to chew. Oh, I see. He chokes on the pretzel of international affairs and it's my fault.
But our winner, you know, I get just as tired of this as you do, but this is a lulu. I hate to blow my own horn, Bill-O said to a guest, like that was true, but I don't know whether you were watching the Factor on the night that Saddam's statue fell, but what I said on the air, hey, look at these guys looting the armories. As soon as I saw that, I went holy you know what, there's no plan to institute marshal law and to take step by step reconstruction of this country. He didn't say anything like that.
That was April 9th, 2003. What you did included, attacks on the losers of the war, like Howard Dean, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, al-Jazeera, the Russians, the French, the Germans, hysterical Hollywood celebrities, CNN, CBS, and ABC, and when that putz Dick Morris said that this would all mean the death of network news, you agreed with him. Holy you know what, Bill-O, you're a holy you know what liar. Bill O'Reilly, now and forever, today's worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: To our number one story, on this day in 1654, legend has it, a man the 20 miles form St. Albans, in England, to Croiden (ph) in less than 90 minutes. It's believed he did at least one of those miles in less than four minutes. That would be 300 years before Roger Bannister was credited with becoming the first human to run that fast, that long. It allows us to point out that men were actually timed running a measured mile in less than four minutes as far back as 1770, but since that was a century before the founding of the major sports unions, associations and leagues, we've erased them from history. Now you can ponder the implications of that for a while, or watch the highlights of our goofball video for the last 30 days, Oddball's plays of the month for November.
OLBERMANN: We begin in Havana.
We begin in Chicago.
We begin in Buenos Aires.
And we begin with a race everybody's talking about, the battle for Ramona, California city planner. Oddball polling showing it is neck and neck between Kathy Finley and Kathy Finley. Both candidates have the same name. The two appeared together for this report and seemed cordial enough, but even in a race where you opponent is rubber and you are glue, it looks like Kathy Finley is calling Kathy Finley a liar.
KATHY FINLEY, RUNNING FOR CITY PLANNER: I lived here all my life, and if there was another Kathy Finley in Ramona, I would know it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can we trust Kathy Finley? We're not even sure if she's from Ramona.
FINLEY: I would know it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't be a fool for Kathy Finley's smooth talk and same name as Kathy Finley. This Tuesday, vote for Kathy Finley. Paid for by friends of Kathy Finley, the good one. No, that one.
OLBERMANN: And this announcement, even though Josh Jennings is not actually running for Congress, Oddball tonight officially endorses Josh Jennings for Congress.
JOSH JENNINGS, UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's do this, let's rock the House of Representatives. I'm Josh Jennings, and I approved this message because I want to have a patty up in the hizzy with the pizzy.
OLBERMANN: In San Francisco, home of that liberal Nancy Pelosi and her liberal San Francisco values, in fact, if the Dems win next week, this will be Pelosi's choice to head the Armed Services Committee, the marijuana plant in a glass box.
I think we can all figure out the facts of this story on our own. Clearly the animal got drunk on Halloween. His dear friends stuffed a pumpkin on his head while he was passed out. The same thing happened to our director. Luckily there is one man out there who could save the day, if we could just find him in time. They call him the bear.
To Solan Springs (ph), Wisconsin, where this group of old ladies just witnessed a guy getting sideswiped by a car.
Here's something far less confusing. It's a Japanese underwear model showing off Triumph Lingerie's new eco friendly brazier, a bra that can be transformed into a shopping bag. Why? So we don't have to use so many plastic ones. Yes, it's the worst idea in modern history.
To the Internets, where 600,000 people have watched this video of a guy who apparently just got himself a sweet new Mustang Shelby Cobra, then lets his kid fire it up in the driveway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
OLBERMANN: It's funny, because it's not my car.
In Wisconsin, where we have had our second big foot sighting in the week. And going by official Oddball urban legend rules, twice in a week, with unimpeachable witnesses, means it must be true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw just a hairy monster on the corner of the woods.
OLBERMANN: And everybody's checked. Hairy Earl, who lives next door, was out of town that night.
We begin with the first movement on the central front in the war on Christmas, Louisville, Kentucky, where the 159th Aviation Battalion stormed in just after dawn today in a tandem rotor Chinook, and dropped a four ton Christmas tree deep into secular progressive territory. I love the smell of pine sap in the morning. It smells all Christmacy.
To the flaming turkey toss. That's impressive? Check out this guy catching grapes, in his mouth.
To Baldwin, Pennsylvania for another exciting episode of aren't you glad you don't live next door to this guy? Dude, you're the most rocking culture warrior since Striper, man. Christmas rules.
And speaking of attendance, we begin at the Target in west Des Moines, Iowa, where apparently the war on Christmas is starting a little early this year. Not only do they say happy holidays, we have video evidence here that this reindeer can't come in to the shop without being hassled by the secular - whatever they are.
Oddball Traffic, we go to Darmour, in the U.K., where police dash cam video of the running of the bulls of a construction zone. I wouldn't say that's a mad cow, but he's certainly got road rage.
Done in by a flat tire, this foxy felon makes one last break for it, out the passenger side, over the wall and - should have waited for the next exit. If there had been a row boat there, this might have been the perfect plan. Well, maybe she can swim to the big house.
And to Bucharest, where this is the world's longest painting, 10,000 feet long, painted by a group small schoolchildren. It will require 5,000 magnets to hang it up on the world's largest refrigerator.
Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week. Michael Richards is up next, enjoy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to have a party up in the hizzy with the pizzy.
OLBERMANN: Wise words standing the test of time. That is Countdown for this the 1,308th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. From Los Angeles, I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END