Friday, August 3, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 3

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Turley, Rachel Maddow, Derrick Pitts

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The president of the United States, having been told no on warrantless wiretapping by the courts, having been told no on warrantless wiretapping by the Congress, demands more warrantless wiretapping from Congress.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So far the Democrats in Congress have not drafted a bill I could sign. We worked hard and in good faith with the Democrats to find a solution, but we are not going to put our national security at risk.


OLBERMANN: Except if a Republican Congressman goes on "FOX Noise" and leaks secret information about a FISA judges ruling.

The goal post moving again in Iraq. Defense Secretary Gates says because Iraqi politics are not working, now it's not the surge, nor the political breathing room it was to provide, it is training Iraqi forces and police that matters. And the wheel of excuses for why we stay in the quagmire spins again.

The bridge, day three, the fatality count increases. But the number of missing is reduced dramatically from 30 unaccounted for to eight.

The bridges of every county, how the endless war crippled our ability to repair or just check our infrastructure.

Maybe the Martians can do it for us. We're sending off another Mars lander, using state-of-the-art technology. State-of-the-art if this is 1977. Object? Martian ice, and the big question...


UNIDENTIFIED: Does it melt over time and provide a habitat for some sort of Martian biology?


OLBERMANN: Can we ever find a habitat for somebody willing to do this? He walked away. You know the joke - no brain, no pain.

Also in sports...


That man looks like Borat.


OLBERMANN: Plus, reminder about safely using a Stairmaster and to always bolt down your basketball hoop as we steal a moment to bring you "Odd Ball's Plays of the Month."

All that and more now on "Countdown."




OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening from New York. Breaking news tonight about the breaking down of negotiations between the White House and Congress over the FISA laws and the urgent issue of vacation. President Bush took more vacation in three years than did his predecessor. He was on vacation when a briefing crossed his desk entitled "bin Laden determined to attack in the U.S." He is still sending American troops to die in a country whose parliament has gone on vacation in the middle of a civil war.

But in our fifth story in the "Countdown" tonight, the President Bush is threatening to stop Congress from taking its vacation if it does not give him the right to spy on you, whether you're on vacation or not, as he wishes.

Similarly, Mr. Bush today demanded a rubber stamp on his own proposal to modernize the 1978 Foreign Surveillance Act, FISA. And much as he points to General Petraeus, as his point person in Iraq, the president claims that the director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, will guide him in dealing with any Congressional compromise.


BUSH: Is this what you need to do your job, Mr. Dean, that's the question I want to question. If the answer is yes, I Will sign the bill and if the answer is no, I'm going to veto the bill. So far, the Democrats in Congress have not drafted a bill I can sign.


OLBERMANN: All sides agree that FISA law is outdated but not everyone agrees with the president's demand that the DNI and the attorney general becoming in charge of deciding who to target with surveillance, while a court would not be able to review their decisions until 120 days after the fact.

The disagreement so sharp that late this evening negotiations between Congress and the White House broke down. Democrats accusing the administration of reneging on an earlier agreement.

As for the reasons behind the original disagreement, Democrats pointing out that the apparent incompetence and partisanship of the current attorney general aside, there's also the little issue of checks and balances.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't care who the attorney general is. The attorney general under a Republican or Democratic president, it's not appropriate that the same branch of government have all of that power.


OLBERMANN: The president resorting to a familiar rationale to try to sway people to his will.


BUSH: It's important for the American people to understand there are cold-blooded killers who want to come to our homeland and wreak havoc through death.


OLBERMANN: Promptly and properly and newly scared yet? Now for a specific example.


BUSH: You know, it was a year ago that I met with the counterterrorism team that we worked with Great Britain to uncover an airline plot. A plot that had it gone forward would have caused death on a massive scale.


OLBERMANN: The one with plotters who did not have plane tickets and whose plan to make a liquid bomb midair was impossible to carry out. That plot.

No mention of the other country he includes in the war in terror. Maybe because even members of his own cabinet now have little good to say about Iraq.

Defense Secretary Gates offering a bleak assessment and the political progress the president's surge was meant to foster. Telling reporters, quote, "We probably all underestimated the depths of the mistrust and how difficult would be for these guys to come together on legislation."

Because of that underestimation, Mr. Gates appears to be changing the benchmarks for measuring any success. The plan originally shifted away from training Iraqi forces and focused instead on establishing security to give the government breathing space.

But now, Gates seems to be advocating a switch back to training. "I think the key is," he continues, "not only establishing the security, but being able to hold on to those areas and for Iraqi army and police to be able to provide the continuity of security over time. It's under that umbrella I think progress will be made at the national level."

I'm joined now by our own Richard Wolffe, the Newsweek's senior White House correspondent.

Richard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: We'll get to the breaking FISA issue, but first the rather astonishing comments from the defense secretary. Did he not just complete the backend of bait and switch? First Iraq was about training Iraqis and then about political room the surge and now its about training Iraqis again?

WOLFFE: Well, bait and switch would suggest that's an over-rising strategy or coordination here. I think it's more of a shell game, frankly. Which means that they're just moving things around as they need to.

I think Gates is actually been fairly frank here. This was always about giving their politicians in Iraq some time to get their act together. The problem here is that with all of these different rationales and measurements for the surge, and - out there, the question is how do you measure it?

Clearly, they're failing on the political progress. It is at best a very mixed picture on the military side of this as any conflict is. As long as it's up in the air they can make a case for what they want to do - which is sustain this policy.

Gates may be sending a subtle message here or not so subtle message this he doesn't believe in the overall strategy.

OLBERMANN: If it's switched from the training to the surge, back to the training, should we assume it will be switched back to the surge again in the not too distance future to rationalize stay in Iraq any longer?

WOLFFE: You should assume that they will switch it to whatever works at this time. These are arguments of convenience, not of reality.

Look, what happened when Larry King asked Dick Cheney how long the surge lasts, he said as long as it needs to. Who decides what needs to happen? Dick Cheney and President Bush.

OLBERMANN: About the FISA vote, Congress is already working tomorrow, possibly through the weekend, but there are three different bills, one from the administration, one from Senate Democrats, one from House Democrats.

The DNI came out tonight against the House bill. Congressional negotiators just broke off the talks with the White House. What is the likelihood of either the White House or Congress bending enough to get some sort of suitable compromise bill?

WOLFFE: Well, I know it doesn't look good at this stage, but I'm going to put my neck out here and say I think they'll come up with a compromise because fear is what rules the day here. The fear is that it's the summer, nobody knows when or if there may be another attack and nobody wants to have the finger pointed at them. That's why they're taking this extraordinary step of working late or working weekends or delaying the vacation, whatever it is. They're actually working.

So the fact that they're willing to do this suggests to me that, again, they don't want to be caught here, have the finger of accusation pointed at them. They'll figure something out.

OLBERMANN: The House Minority Leader Mr. Boehner went on FOX News to push the administrations FISA bill and, according to the sources in the Washington Post, ended up revealing classified information on just what part of the president's warrantless wiretap program had been illegal. Has he been reprimanded for that? Anybody give him a phone call, anything happen after that?

WOLFFE: Not that I know of. But this is an administration that needs every piece of help they can get, and John Boehner is a significant help to them right now.

So, look, you have to imagine what would have happened if it would have been a Democrat doing this, there would have been all sorts of accusations about aiding and comforting the enemy. But they need him, so it won't happen.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolfe of Newsweek and MSNBC, great thanks and have a good weekend.

WOLFFE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: We return now to the surveillance bill. Mr. Bush's big compromise today was to allow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review his wiretaps, but only, as we mentioned, four months after the wiretap, according to the Associated Press, and that not on an individual case-by-case basis, by merely the general process.

Mr. Bush claims his legal wunderkind Mr. Gonzales is better suited than the judges of the Surveillance Court to review the individual wiretaps, and that Mr. Gonzales can somehow review the wiretaps faster, that Mr. Gonzales can be trusted and Mr. Gonzales can find his way into the office. The same Mr. Gonzales whose judgment helped craft the original warrantless wiretap program, which a judge had since curtailed. The same Mr. Gonzales reported to Congress no abuses of the PATRIOT Act when abuses there were, the same Mr. Gonzales who told Congress there was no dissent about the original wiretapping program when dissent there was.

That untruth leading us this week to confirmation by National Intelligence Director McConnell that the president's surveillance program extends considerably beyond those warrantless wiretaps.

All of which brings us to Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University.

Much thanks, as always, for your time tonight, sir.



OLBERMANN: The Senate Republican whip, Mr. Lott, today warned without the new surveillance law the threat of a terrorist strike on Washington is so great that, to quote him, "I think it would be good to leave town in August and it would probably be good to stay out until September 12".

Conversely, Senator Feingold said, "I would much rather stay here than have us make a terrible mistake."

So setting aside the question of who sounds braver here, which should we be fearing more here? Mr. Lott's hypothetical terrorist strike or the terrible mistake that Mr. Feingold speaks of?

TURLEY: I have to agree with Lott. I think the republic will be safer if Congress stays out of town for long periods of time. But I don't think it has anything to do with terrorism.

This is part of a cycle here, keeping fear alive. When we get to the question civil liberties, suddenly Armageddon is around the corner and we can protect it only by giving unlimited authority to the president.

But what the president has offered Congress, frankly in my view is outrageous, this idea that Alberto Gonzales is going to review these things. This is the same attorney general, in the torture memo, who said he doesn't read his memos, that he just signed it. He really wasn't sure what was in it.

And as you've noted, he has an incredibly checkered past. I find it quite astonishing that they would put him forward as a protection of civil liberties.

OLBERMANN: It is not just a checkered past, but a checkered right now. On the admission that wiretapping is not the sum of this administration's secret decisions about what it can and cannot do, if we assume Mr. Bush is already doing everything allowed by law, does that mean we can safely conclude, is this the logical chain, we can we conclude the other activities are extra legal?

TURLEY: I think that is a problem. What we do know occupies the full extent of what the constitution would allow and, in my view, beyond it. It's astonishing we're talking about this FISA and FISA court as this high bar of civil liberties.

Before 9/11, many of us were arguing and still argue that a secret court is inimical, is un-American in our system of law and that was a court that was created to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. The fact we're struggling to use the FISA court shows how far we have gone.

But the White House has gotten away with this many, many times. They take an extreme position and the Democrats rush to the middle wherever that middle is, to show they're moderate and that they're not weak on terrorism.

OLBERMANN: Members of Congress apparently have been briefed on some of these governmental activities. So to what extent is Congress complicit in Mr. Bush's activities?

TURLEY: I'm afraid there's great complicity in all of this for members of Congress. They were in fact informed, a small number of them, of the domestic surveillance program, which in my view, as we talked before, is a federal crime. You know, it violated expressly the language of federal law.

But I think the Democrats and other - and Republicans have a lot to answer for. They have a history of being very, very weak on civil liberties. This is an example. They're rushing this weekend to create a major piece of legislation that will affect all Americans. Once again, we're going to do this over the course of a weekend. So people can go on their vacations and so the president won't call Congress back.

Why? Why was such a critical part of what makes this country what it is, civil liberties, has to be done in a rush, in a tear, the way it's always done. That's the way we got the PATRIOT Act.

But I think the Democrats are going to march to that tune. And we're likely to come out with another bill that endorses the secret court and compromises with this administration. And I expect the loser will be civil liberties.

OLBERMANN: And incidentally, the collateral loser on this, the not so innocent bystander, is often the prosecutions. We learned today that a court had ruled against the Justice Department of Alberto Gonzales concerning its raid - his raid, if you will, of Congressman Jefferson. He of the $90,000 in the freezer, frozen funds. He said taking Mr. Jefferson's legislative files out of his office constituted a breach of separation of powers. If you couple with that the administration's history about unilateralism on FISA, is there a connected lesson here?

TURLEY: Well, there is. I testified at the House Judiciary hearing after that raid and testified that I thought it was unconstitutional. As did many people. And I think it's a lesson. I mean, Alberto Gonzales is the greatest gift to Congressman Jefferson. He violated the Constitution. He didn't have to. He's delayed the trial. He may have jeopardized evidence. Why is that a function you can keep your job for?

OLBERMANN: Jonathan Turley. We'll take the weekend off and let the mind stop reeling. Professor at George Washington University, great thanks, John, good weekend.

TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: There appears to be good news out of Minneapolis tonight. The list of 30 missing is down to eight, with only two additional fatalities reported.

And we're going back to Mars. Looking for ice there. Can't we just drink it neat? You're watching "Countdown" on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: To get a measure of what constitutes good news in Minneapolis this week, the officials in the mourning city say the number of people believed missing than reduced to eight. It had stood as high as 30 yesterday.

In our fourth story night, the confirmed death toll meanwhile went up by two. The official tally standing at six tonight, almost 80 people were injured, several who remain in critical condition this evening.

Divers returned to the water after the Army Corps of Engineers lowered this stretch of the Mississippi River by two feet to help those divers better search for bodies in the murky and treacherous waters. Normal visibility at this time of the year estimated at one foot. They found five more vehicles submerged but no more bodies.

Among those still missing, a 23-year-old woman five months pregnant and her 2-year-old daughter.

Visiting the scene today, the First Lady Laura Bush said so many good stories have come out of this tragedy and, quote, "It really encourages people."

Her husband will arrive there tomorrow. A White House spokesman today saying his trip will include a briefing on the situation as well as time spent comforting people there three days after it happened.

But comfort is not all that the city of Minneapolis seeks right now. In addition to the bodies to be found, there's the undiscovered truth, the explanation for how this happened.

Tonight, the U.S. Transportation Department announced it will investigate the Federal Highway Administration, the agency which inspected the I-35 W. Bridge. Questions the investigators will consider: whether the agency followed recommendations last year to improve oversight on deficient bridges and the federal funding for them.

Governor Tim Pawlenty has called this an engineering issue. We do not know if his engineers felt constrained by his budgets, but tonight, a spokesman said he'll consider raising the state's 20 cent per gallon gas tax, an increase he vetoed before, even though the money would have gone to state infrastructure.

Earlier today, Minnesota Governor Amy Klobuchar referred to the, quote, "Messed up priorities of spending half a trillion dollars in Iraq while bridges crumble at home."

New York Congresswoman Louis Slaughter joined the connection even tighter, calling the bridge victims, quote, "almost victims of war" because our, quote, "perpetual war depletes the funds available to maintain our infrastructure."

By some estimates, bringing all of America's bridges up to satisfactory condition would take nearly $190 billion. The Iraq war now estimated at costing about half a trillion dollars.

It almost takes a Rhodes Scholar to analyze all this. Fortunately, Rachel Maddow is that, and hosts her show every night on Air America Radio.

Rachel, great thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Republicans, including Governor Pawlenty, President Bush, have demonized taxes and demonized any Democrat who ever said tax hike could improve our lives, save our lives at home. Does the governor's reversal suggest somebody is going to have sane, reasoned discussions about taxes and when they're need?

MADDOW: I hope so. I really do. But I have to tell you, I'm so steamed about this and everybody I have talked to about it this week, in my personal life and on the radio, everybody that I know who I talked to about this is steamed as well. Because there aren't Republican bridges or Democratic bridges and there aren't Republican sewers and Democratic levees. We're a country that as a whole is paying this incredible deadly price for a brand of American conservatism that hates and demeans government, and that has defined any sort of spending on anything for the common good as something that's soft headed and suspect.

And it's a brand of conservatism that goes back to, you know, Reagan's first inaugural where he defined government as the problem and to Barry Goldwater before him and the Republican Party defends itself as uncritical inheritors of the legacy.

And while they may be benefiting from it politically, we're all paying the price for it in terms of a country that's falling apart. It's a national disgrace. And I hope the governor's change of heart is a sign of a change in it. But the fact that the president this week still used an anti-tax, anti-government piece of rhetoric to explain why he's going to veto kid's health insurance and why he's going to veto waste water infrastructure bills doesn't make me feel like it's going to change any time soon in that party.

OLBERMANN: That was a privately-owned bridge now, in which the owners were threatening to move the bridge to another state. They'd be able to get the tax money under those circumstances.


OLBERMANN: Is it fair, it is premature to blame spending short falls for this when the state rates so well on its bridges in Minnesota? We have no evidence at this point that anyone, any organization warned that the 35 W. was in any - anything resembling imminent trouble or need more money that it was getting for upkeep.

MADDOW: That's the single scariest thing about that is that Minnesota fares so well compared to the rest of the country compared to the infrastructure and upkeep. That's the scariest thing, the fact that a major bridge like this carrying between 140,000 and 180,000 cars a dead can be rated at 50 percent structurally sufficient, and that doesn't slate it for replacement or major repairs, because compared to what else we have going on in the country that actually means it's looking pretty good. That's the scariest element of all of this.

If you only look - if you only look at bridges that carry 190,000 cars a day, there are at least 20 that rate worse than that bridge that collapsed in terms of their structural sufficiency. Minnesota is looking good. They're trying to define this as an anomaly. It's the scariest part of this.

OLBERMANN: You're right. This is the leadership state and its bridge has fallen down, what happens to the 50th ranked state?

MADDOW: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: Now the White House wants all the states to shoulder the government and governance as much as possible. Is that some sort of variety or mutation of a push for small government, the original principled idea, or an attempt to disperse accountability so corporations and contractors and such can get to the public trough more easily? What is it?

MADDOW: I think it's a way to deflect accountability for this specific crisis, on one hand. But it also denies the historical truth in the United States that 80 percent of highway money comes from the federal government and this government would like it to seem as a state problem.

The initial response immediately from the White House was, well, the state's responsibility was to maintain that bridge and they should have known about it and it was their responsibility to act. No, the federal government is 80 percent responsible, historically for highway funding, in this country. And to have an anti-government, demeaning government, demeaning of any spending on the public good bit of rhetoric coming out from the White House on the very week that this interstate collapsed tells me that all their planning on doing is deflecting, deflecting, deflecting the responsibility.

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow of Air America, great thanks. Great thanks for coming in and have a good weekend.

MADDOW: You too, Keith, and thank you.

OLBERMANN: Believe it or not, this was considered a success. I meant to do that.

And heavy rains did not affect the World Pogo Stick Championships. He meant to do that too. Explanations when "Countdown" continues.


OLBERMANN: On August 3, 1953, the still-young "Today" show made its first major personnel change, a Washington-based correspondent was promoted to reading the news headlines. His name was Frank Blair and he held the job for 22 years. Blair was famously unflappable, except for a time when a newly crowned Miss America was asked what kind of husband show hoped for and she replied, someone reliable like Frank Blair.

On that note, let's play Oddball.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin with pool coverage here in New York City, where people have already begun to ask the question where were you when the underwater pogo sticking record was broken? This is the world record holder for Guinness World Records, Ashrita Fuhrman (ph), setting the mark, hopping over 1,500 feet on a pogo stick underwater. Fuhrman stayed in the pool to break his own record for underwater hula hooping. He did that for almost three minutes.

However, like baseball slugger Barry Bonds, both records are tainted due to Fuhrman's admitted use of swimmies in his training. He gets an asterix. Sorry, bud.

To the mug shot hall of fame, non-celebrity wing. A new picture to raise tonight to the rafters alongside the all-time greats, like the I can't get enough of the Hoff guy, the smooth criminal posing guy, the I heart midget porn fellow, and Tom Delay. Tonight's newest addition, Amanda Lynn Bailey (ph) of Tampa, arrested for DUI this week while wearing a t-shirt that reads, I'm not an alcoholic. I'm a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings.

Of course, we hope Amanda gets the help she needs. But we thank her for her wearing that shirt. We thank the Tampa P.D. officer who was kind enough to widen the camera lens to get the whole t-shirt in. You sir or madam are the real hero.

Finally, to the Internets, where we find this video of a bunch of goats in a tree. How did the goats get into the tree? The hell if we know. We don't have any tape of that. But what we have here is goats in a tree, and goats climbing down from a tree.

You know what? This is more stupid than usual here. Play that hoof hearted clip again, will you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hoof hearted on the extreme outside. Colorado Coed, Toasted Dozen on the inside. Hoof Hearted. Hoof Hearted on the outside. It's close. Hoof Hearted in the winner's circle.


OLBERMANN: Oh, the fun we have. Time to recap another month's worth of it. Bring your friends, even if they're inflatable. When will we find out if they have inflatable rubber women on Mars? We're sending up another unmanned explorer so we have even more remarkably cool animation of what is supposed to happen. These stories ahead, but first here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, the government of China, its latest ruling about Tibet designed to humiliate that country and its religion may have actually only made itself look foolish. As of the first of next month, Tibetan Buddhas who intend to be reincarnated after their deaths have to get government approval. Reincarnation applications, reports the Chinese Shinxua (ph) News Agency, must be submitted to Religious Affairs officials for approval.

Number two, baseball's banned hit king Pete Rose, not so much of a hit with the kids at the U.S. Army Reds Legends baseball camp last week. Actually, they may have loved this. The parents clearly differed. The staff sergeant in charge reports that when Rose spoke to the group of kids, aged seven to 14, he, quote, dropped the F bomb and the S bomb. He told them winning is everything, and if you get second place you're losers.

A parent reports Rose also told the campers, quote, that he saw Joe Dimaggio in the shower and he saw more of him than Marilyn Monroe ever did. Pete Rose, everybody. Pete Rose.

But our winner, Mayor Stephen Childers of Lake Hearst, New Jersey, where 70 years and three months ago the Zeppelin the Hindenburg burst into flames. Not to make fun of that, but it was another kind of lighting up that put the town back in the news. During a traffic jam the other night, a passing police officer smelled marijuana coming out of a pickup truck. He then says the driver threw the remains of joint out his window, and the remains promptly hit the police car's front wind shield.

The driver, say police, hit with six drug charges, plus a littering citation, was Mayor Childers of Lake Hearst. Oh, the humanity.


OLBERMANN: It was the legendary former Vice President Dan Quayle musing about the planet Mars who summed up all our hopes; we have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there's water, that means there's oxygen. If oxygen that means we can breathe.

Mr. Quayle's brilliant deductions startled scientists, before it sent them into convulsive laughter. The Martian canal theory had been disproved in all but comic books. It was a mistranslation of an Italian astronomer's notation of channels, as in grooves, in the Martian surface.

Since then, Mars exploration, if not the vice presidency, has advanced greatly. Our third story on the Countdown, the next mission to Mars begins in mere hours. A delta rocket carrying the Phoenix Lander is scheduled for a clear early morning launch from Cape Canaveral. That the beginning of a 10-month, 430 million mile journey to the north polar region of Mars.

Unlike other craft that have parashutted and then bounced to a landing using air bags, the Phoenix will soar through the Martian atmosphere, retro rockets slowing the craft from 13,000 miles an hour to a gentle five mile an hour landing, the way men landed on the moon. NASA calling this a stepping stone for future missions.

Another difference, the lander is designed to dig into an icy region thought to be suitable to support life, even Vice President Quayle. Once again, some out of this world analysis from Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. Good evening to you, Derrick.


OLBERMANN: So there are no astronauts to sober up. The mission is go at about 5:30 in the morning. This is NASA's second attempt to land at a Martian pole. What's so interesting about the polar regions of Mars?

PITTS: The most interesting thing about the polar regions, Keith, is that several independent studies have shown that there's a tremendous amount of water frozen beneath the surface of the regions around the north pole of Mars. In fact, there's so much water frozen beneath the surface up there that if it were meltable somehow, it would flood the entire planet to a depth of three feet.

That's a tremendous amount of water. But the most interesting aspect of it is the questions about how it got there. So that's one of the things that the Phoenix Lander will be trying to figure out, as well as doing some soil analysis to figure out if the soil might be a good place for life to develop.

OLBERMANN: And this one is using retro rockets to land? Aren't they really retro retro rockets? This is what we stopped using in the 1970's?

PITTS: Yes, that's true. The last time we used these, at least at Mars, was when the Viking Landers landed on Mars in 1976. We do have some experience with these, but Mars is a tricky place to land a spacecraft at any time, as a number of different countries have proven. Not only have we lost landers trying to land on the surface, but the U.K. has lost landers there. The Russians have famously lost many spacecraft trying to get a spacecraft to land.

We have been lucky a couple of times. We keep our fingers crossed on this one.

OLBERMANN: Phoenix is going to use seven different instruments, according to this information here, to search for signs of life, including this little super shovel that can dig a deep trench. What - how do these things work? What exactly are they looking for, other than someone's business card?

PITTS: They are all powered by solar energy, using solar panels to collect light to convert into electricity. But what they're actually doing here, Keith, is they're going to do a very, very intense analysis of the soil. This is what they call a wet laboratory experiment of really the finest kind available.

The sensors that they're using, the detectors that they're using, the chemical methods they're using are incredible for such a remote place. For example, in one experiment, what they're going to do is dig up some soil, drop it into a beaker, set that beaker inside the spacecraft, and then test it with 26 different sensors right inside the beaker, add material to it, stir it around for a few hours, and then heat it to see what comes out of it, so they can figure out whether or not the soil has volatile materials in it, if it has organize materials in it. All in an effort to try to figure out and characterize exactly what the soil is like.

And these experiments are really remarkable to be able to be done on the surface of Mars. But they're doing that. They're going to test the water to see what the chemical composition - what the trace elements are in the water, I should say, and find out, if they can, where that water actually came from. Maybe there was a vast northern sea that sort of subsided beneath the surface after a while. Perhaps there was enough moisture in the air that it could condense and sort of settle under the soil. We don't know yet. Hopefully we can figure that out.

OLBERMANN: It's three years, Derrick, since the president called for a return to the moon in 2020, and a manned mission to Mars after that. Are the plans still on track at this point?

PITTS: For the moon, the plans are on track. It's a long ways out. We won't get a person to the moon until about 2020 it looks like. As far as Mars is concerned, Mars is a completely different type of exploration, Keith, because it's fraught with so many difficulties. It's so far away. It's such a long trip. There's nothing we can do if anything goes wrong on the way out. All those kind of things, as well as the idea of, again, being so far out.

It's really a troublesome trip. But doing it the way we're doing it in this particular example, using robots, this is a very economical, highly successful way to study the planet surface. I'd love to go to Mars myself, but it seems too tricky at this point.

OLBERMANN: Plus they have robot field scientist, so you're out of luck right now.

PITTS: And they work really well.

OLBERMANN: Yes, and really cheap. Mr. Science himself, Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

PITTS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Here's one of the rejected plans for getting a man onto the surface of Mars. He's all right. We're presuming he was all right to begin with. Wow, the segues just write themselves sometimes.

How the president got himself nominated for Worst Person tonight when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: Our number two story on the Countdown tonight, the plethora of celebrity and entertainment news - English; celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. We begin with this disclaimer, no animals were harmed in the segment. As for human, that's a whole other story.

The Big Air event at the X Games, where the skate boarders make it look so darn easy. James Brown attempting a brand new trick, walking in midair. The low jump, perhaps. Brown falling 50 feet, hitting the ground so hard it knocked the wind out of him and the shoes of has feet. Looks like he needs to practice that one a few more times. James Brown, the hardest working man in skateboarding.

Don't worry, he was OK, mostly. Next time someone might tell him he's supposed to knock the audience off their feet.

Meanwhile, fans of country singer Tim Mcgraw can't seem to get enough of the man, piece by piece. At the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Louisiana, Mcgraw playing slap me five with some female fans, and then he realized, where the heck is my ring? Bringing to mind that old country favorite, she got the ring and I got the finger.

Mcgraw tells the woman he wants it back. She either does not understand what he means or plays dumb and he calls a security guard. The ring was eventually turned in. Mcgraw's people say it may have slipped off since he lost weight. During an earlier appearance in Lafayette, Mcgraw's wife, Faith Hill, yelled at a female fan for grabbing Mcgraw's other jewels, if you know what I mean.

For those who accuse us of getting too risque to be a news cast. Yes, pretty much. Time for Oddball plays of the month. First time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to Bill-O, trying to dig himself out of the hole that he's made about the website the Daily Kos. He has now blasted the conservative website, "Free Republic," for permitting people to post comments there like "Hillary Clinton should be assassinated," unquote. Bill, there have been posts threatening her life made on BillyO', right near that warning that read that you won't, quote, be held liable for any user activity on the message boards. We do not actively monitor user submitted content.

Also a reminder to conservatives, to save his skin, Bill-O will happily throw you under the bus too.

The runner-up tonight, President Bush, holding another off the record Oval Office chat with conservative talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Bill Bennett, Neil Bortz, Scott Hannen, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingram, Lars Larson, Mark Levin, Michael Medven, and Janet Partial (ph). Certainly likes to hear a variety of opinions doesn't he? The good news is that among them, the president and the 10 water carriers did set a Guinness Book of Records mark for most lifetime lies by 11 people in the same room.

But our winner, Gunny Bob Newman (ph), Denver talker, angling for an invite to next year's event at the White House by lying entirely about what General Wesley Clark said on this newscast on the 26th of last month. Newman said, quote, Wes Clark is claiming that former NFL player turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman may have been murdered on orders from the president of the United States. I wish I was making this up, but the thing is Clark made the claim on live TV on MSNBC. And we have him on video and we have the transcripts of the appearance to boot.

Maybe in that VCR in your mind, pal, but not in reality. You are making it up. I asked General Clark about the report that investigators weren't even permitted to inquire of Pat Tillman was murdered. He said that the cover-up of whatever really happened to the American hero must have gone up the chain of command. Here's the actual tape.


GEN. WES CLARK (RET), US MILITARY: Where did the idea that you shouldn't give any indication of what happened to Tillman? Just go ahead and go through with the burial ceremony. Give him the Silver Star. Where was that idea blessed? You can be sure that that idea did not originate or stop at the two or three star level. That was - someone approved that all the way to the top, because Pat Tillman was a political symbol used by the administration when it suited their purposes.


OLBERMANN: This idiot Newman called General Clark a bizarre conspiracy theorist crackpot. No, sir. A conspiracy theorist crack pot is somebody who takes the plain facts right in front of them on tape and deliberately changes them to fit their own paranoia. Somebody like Gunny Bob Newman, today's Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN: Thirty years ago today, the Tandy Corporation issued a press release trumpeting something new it called the TRS-80, a pricey 599 dollar piece of electronics available for sale at its Radio Shack stores. It was a home computer with a modified black-and-white TV for its monitor and a cassette deck as the data storage unit.

At the time of the announcement, Tandy had only build 25 of them. The company was inundated when thousands of orders came in. Also, if you put the TRS-80 too close to any other electronic device, like a TV or radio, it would completely overwhelm whatever was on the TV, just part of the march towards the Internet, and thus towards our number one story on the Countdown, when computers took over TV, and permitted us to create the Oddball plays of the month for July.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin in Tiblissi, Georgia. We begin in Sydney, Australia. We begin in Hamburg, in Germany. We begin at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. You have a dog on the runway, boys.

And we begin on the Internets with shocking home video of a daring jailbreak by pair of pandas.

We begin near Oclair (ph), Wisconsin, where they have a dog that craps money.

We begin in Webster, Massachusetts, where Hollywood's out of control pantiless starlets are having a terrible impact on the elderly.

We begin in Switzerland, where we get a look at Al's Porn Convention. No, sorry, I read that wrong. It's the Alp Horn Convention. Dozens from competitors from all around the world, competing for the title of world's greatest Alp Horn player. An American wound up placing second in the competition, and we will now play for you the prize-winning toot.

All right, nobody saw that coming.

To Orlando, where there is a new footage of the latest young celebrity diva having trouble with a 12-step plan. Down goes Beyonce. To her credit, Miss Knowles finished the song, even though here body bruise-ilicoius.

We begin in Frankfurt, Kentucky, and stories about drunk people plowing cars through store fronts are about a dime a dozen these days. What is unique about this one is newly released security footage. There is lots of it. Four different camera angles, multiples. Every second of the car plowing into the store is on tape. It's like the freaking Super Bowl in here.

We begin in Spain, with amazing action on this the sixth day of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Tonight, there are at least 13 people in the hospital wondering why that one big bull did not want to go along with the program, and just mosey on down to the stadium to be killed for the entertainment of the crowd. How do you like me now, brown cow?

At the British parliament, MPs, in an effort to get improved performance from the House of Commons, have invited India yoga guru Babba Ramdev (ph) to teach them how to relieve stress. As if this particular spiritual tact does not work, MPs say they will follow the California State Legislature's head and bring in some Shaolin monks to kick them in the jimmies.

In Taiwan, where it is still unclear if lawmakers actually make any laws there, or whether they just meet up to brawl.

To Abbs (ph) Lake, where there is either a shortage of inner tubes, or an excess of perverts.

To the Netherlands, where they are really excited about balloons, really excited about balloons.

To Denver, and the home of Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies.

Never let the wind get under the tarp. Help me!

We begin in France. Who needs a yellow jersey when you have a yellow thong?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they can't see the tail of the convoy because they are now five minutes and 15 seconds - that mean looks like Borat, I think. Isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's got to be.

OLBERMANN: Great success. Bubbles, yay bubbles.

We have secretly placed this huge parrot on the shoulder of the deputy defense secretary, Gordon England. Oh boy, is he going to be steamed when he sees this tape.

It's a simple story really, boy meets grill, boy eats grill, boy gets X-rays of grill in his stomach, boy waits for grill to exit stage right.

We begin in Aberdeen, Scotland, where the hardships of living in the cold north taking its toll on the local wildlife. They are turning to crime to survive.

To the Internets, viral video from China, home of NBA great Yao Ming. Don't let that fool you. There they are still working on the basics. But you don't need years of training in a dojo to rid your home of disease carrying insects. The fly man has invented a trap to catch the bugs for you. It's called the Highly Effective Fly Slaying Machine. That's the actual title. It uses sugar water and a wheel of death to catch the flies. Help me.

He is 7 feet 9 inches tall and once reached down the gullet of a dolphin to pull plastic out of its stomach. The other guy, Ping Ping, in the tie, is just 29 inches tall, and incredible as it might seem, that was his dolphin.

Northern Japan, where we find a new born pooch with a brown heart shaped patch of fur on its side. It is heart puppy.


OLBERMANN: That is Countdown for this the 1,556th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. A brief note before we go. My thoughts and wishes to a man I am proud to call a colleague and a mentor, Hal Fishman of KTLA in Los Angeles, hospitalized tonight, a great broadcaster, and a greater person. From New York, I am Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.