Thursday, October 25, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 25

Guests: Christian Finnegan

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: This is Countdown and I'm Keith Olbermann and despite appearances I'm not here, I'm on assignment. Alright, not so much on assignment as at the World Series over there. But I'll be back tomorrow night and in the interim I take it as a personal favor if you pay close attention now, to Mr. David Shuster.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, I'm David Shuster. And as you just heard - Keith Olbermann has this October evening off, which for all intents and purposes might as well be October, 2002. Our fifth story on the Countdown: The Bush administration once again beating the drums of war, this time against Iran and from way back file, Hans Blix , the former chief weapons inspector of United Nations, remember him? He says President Bush's overreacting. Meanwhile, President Putin of Russia says the U.S. is painting Iran into a corner. To paraphrase Berra, could this be deja vu all over again? The Bush administration imposing the harshest sanctions in nearly 30 years against Iran because the government's alleged nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism. Secretary of State Rice and Treasury Secretary Paulson the U.S. is cutting off key Iranian military and banking institutions from the American financial system all because the Bush administration really, really, really wants diplomacy to work.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States and our partners are fully committed to a diplomatic solution with Iran. If the Iranian government fulfills its international obligation to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing I will join my British, French, Russian, Chinese and German colleagues and I will meet with my Iranian counterpart, any time, anywhere.


SHUSTER: That would seem to be impossible, since the Russian president as we mentioned has already objected to the new sanctions, quoting him, "Why should we make the situation worse, corner Iran, threatening new sanctions, running around like a madman with a blade in one hand is not the best way to solve such problems." Yet, the White House apparently feels these new sanctions are the best way to confront not only Iran's nuclear ambition but also any threat that nation might pose against Iraq, Afghanistan and yes, Israel.


RICE: Unfortunately the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations. Instead, threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon, building dangerous ballistic missiles, supporting Shia militants in Iraq, and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.


SHUSTER: Time now to call in PJ Crowley, special assistant for the president for National Security during the Clinton administration and now director of Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress, thanks for joining us, PJ.

PJ CROWLEY, FMR CLINTON NAT'L SECURITY ASST.: Hey, David, I hope it's deya vu all over again for 2004. As a Red Sox fan, I'm very jealous of where Keith is tonight, you and I are not in Finley.

SHUSTER: Well, we see how Keith affects the intensity at Finley but in any case regarding Iran, economic sanctions that have already been in place for decades don't seem to have stopped Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions so far. So, why would the Bush administration be announcing a big dose of more of the same and lots of these by design a provocation?

CROWLEY: Well, certainly what the Bush administration offered today is not going to be acceptable to Iran. There are all stick, there are no carrots, and ironically, as you quoted a moment ago, you know, Secretary Rice is very disingenuous. Because in 2003 the Iranians made an unqualified offer of engagement on all of the issues and the Bush administration at that point said no. Now, four years later, you know, Iran has us over a barrel almost literally, oil $85 a barrel, the centrifuges are spinning as we speak, they're not a nuclear power yet but if the present trend continues they'll get there, so at some point in time if we want to have this engagement we need, sanctions are a part of the arsenal, could put pressure on them but if and when Iran comes to the table, we have to prepare to offer them what amounts to a grand bargain.

SHUSTER: So, by requiring Iran to stop enriching uranium before negotiations started, it would seem the Bush administration is doing the same thing to President Ahmadinejad that it did to Saddam Hussein. In other words, if Ahmadinejad wants us to engage in diplomacy he has to humiliate himself in front of his own people first. Your reaction?

CROWLEY: Well, it either has been paralysis within the Bush administration all along about Iran. You've got the hardliners who want to go to war. You've got the pragmatists and they've never come to a, never resolved that conflict. I think today is pretty much a half-hearted attempt at diplomacy but it's not going to work. Ultimately, we have to decide what is important to us, and obviously the nuclear ambitions of Iran are important and their support of terrorism is important. You know, by the same token we have to offer Iran something meaningful if we expect this diplomacy to happen, like we have with Libya, like we have with North Korea. We've got to make take regime change off the table. We've got to offer them normalized relations and the opportunity for investment. Only with those kind of incentives can we hope to resolve those current conflict between the two countries.

SHUSTER: PJ, ABC NEWS has reported tonight that tucked inside the $196 billion emergency war funding request made by the White House there was an item asking for $88 million to modify B-2 stealth bombers so they can drop bunker buster bombs. The explanation for the request said it is in the response to quote, "An urgent operational need from theater commanders." There's no such need regarding Afghanistan and Iraq, so, isn't this all about Iran and isn't this request just yet another sign pointing to a military confrontation?

CROWLEY: It certainly would appear to point in that direction. I mean, Admiral Mike Mullen gave his first public speech this afternoon and he made clear that, while you have military options, vis-... -vis Iran, they're not attractive and should very much be the last option. You know, the fact is we know less about Iran today than we did going into Iraq you know four years ago, which is why you really, really, really have to try to make this diplomatic arm work and like I say, the Bush administration is not very good at diplomacy and it shows.

SHUSTER: "Newsweek" is reporting a rare bit of good news out of Iraq, these days and that is the decrease in the number of attacks attributed to insurgents backed by Iran or armed by Iran. The Bush administration is never acknowledging this key bit of data because it undermines their rhetoric about Iran. So, once again, is there less than meets the eye in the administration's case for war?

CROWLEY: Well, I think, I've always thought that Iran - Iraq was one of the areas where there actually is a decent confluence of interest. Iran, while it's going to have interest in Iraq going forward, obviously wants to have a stable Iraq, and Iran, now that Saddam Hussein is gone you know is now the preeminent power in that region and we have to recognize that. But I've always thought there was the opportunity for cooperation, if we could see eye to eye on Iraq, as we did see eye to eye on Afghanistan in 2001, that you could use Iraq as a means to acquire some level of trust, some ability to communicate one government to another, because our diplomacy has been frozen for 30 years, but obviously, you know we've had some diplomatic contacts but they haven't gone anywhere at this point.

SHUSTER: And it certainly seems that diplomacy is not headed in that direction, at least but not right now. But in any case, PJ Crowley, the Center for American Progress, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

CROWLEY: Always a pleasure, David.

SHUSTER: Here is the quandary you'd be facing if you were in charge of Hillary Clinton's public relations strategy. What she has said going after Iran and what Secretary Rice said about that this morning are essentially the same. Senator Clinton is not just supporting these kinds of unilateral steps in word, she voted for a measure outlining similar step, the Kyle/Leibermann amendment last month. Clinton was the only Democrat in the race for president to do so. There is some indication that Clinton might wish she could take it back. Over the weekend, the presidential candidate sent out a mailer to voters in Iowa trying to explain why she supported designating the Revolutionary Guard a terror group. As for the Republicans running for the White House, they were sounding hawkish today at a campaign event in New Hampshire, Governor Mitt Romney said that to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon, he would be willing to use a bombardment of some kind. Let's turn now to Chris Cillizza, a national political reporter for the, and Chris, good evening. Thanks for being with us.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Good evening, David. Thanks for having me.

SHUSTER: Chris, even the Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2002, did not vote for the Kyle/Liebermann amendment, this time around, how is it Senator Clinton could not have anticipated that her vote would have been interpreted tantamount to giving President Bush a green light to use military force against Iran.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: You know, it's interesting, because given all of the flack over her 2002 vote for the use of force resolution and how carefully she has sought to paint that in a context that was to authorize the president to go to the U.N., not necessarily to invade Iraq. It's interesting she'd make this vote especially because as you pointed out - Joe Biden and Chris Dodd also in the Senate, also running for president, voted against it. I'm not sure. I think there's clearly an element of Senator Clinton that wants the position for the general election. We've seen it on other things. She's been more careful on health care than Obama or Edwards, rolling out a plan that is more doable than not letting Republicans shoot at it. So, we've seen her try and square that circle a few other times. I'm not sure if this was an example of it. But I do think the mailing shows very clearly she's on the defensive at this point on the issue.

SHUSTER: And those mailer, Chris, that she sent in Iowa, are those enough to contain the damage or at least neutralize it?

CILLIZZA: You know, she's doing a lot more than that, David. Right before I went on I got an e-mail from her campaign, a memo entitled "Obama versus Obama." Basically saying that Senator Obama in the fall 2006 supported something similar to the resolution that Senator Clinton voted for. Remember and this is really important in this debate, Senator Obama was not in the Senate the day this vote took place. He was in New Hampshire. There was a debate later that night, a Democratic debate that they all attended. He did not make his vote. He said publicly he would be against it. But he wasn't there to vote. Senator Clinton is putting a lot of emphasis saying both in the mailing and in this e-mail I just received "I was there, I didn't skip this vote. I worked to strip out language that could have been seen as giving George Bush free reign." She's really trying to say, where is Barack Obama standing on this issue? I was at least there and engaged in the process. He was up in New Hampshire campaigning.

SHUSTER: Chris, we actually have that e-mail and it struck me as a pretty strong as far as Hillary Clinton sort of statements about Barack Obama. And I want to quote from one part of it, which she's referring of course to Barack Obama's criticism of her and she says -"Senator Obama has abandoned the politics of hope and embarked on a journey in search of a campaign issue to use against Senator Clinton." How strong is this language in sort of the grand context of the this campaign and does it suggest the fact Hillary Clinton is worried and wants to stamp out Obama on the issue before he has a chance to put his arms around it in.

CILLIZZA: Yes, David, that's really astute. Look, Senator Clinton generally in this race has been willing to laugh off literally attacks from her opponents. You know, I don't want to speak ill of them. She's running something of a rose garden strategy. Don't - you know act like you're already the nominee and people will think you're the nominee. I do think if you combined the mailing and the tone of this email it does show that Senator Clinton recognizes that the ability that her opponents have to link her 2002 vote for the use of force in Iraq which to date has not been as powerful an issue against her as we thought to this current vote 2007 is potentially dangerous. I think what she's trying to do is cut them off at the pass, raise questions about their own motives and raise questions about their own previous statements and muddy the waters. Any time her vote in 2002 becomes a potential issue in 2007 and 2008, I think you're going to see them be more aggressive in terms of the tone they take to their opponent.

SHUSTER: And Chris regarding the Republicans, Governor Romney as you mentioned he commented today that he supports bombardment of some kind if necessary, while Mayor Rudy Giuliani fills with all of the neo-cons to advise President Bush to invade Iraq. Among the Republicans and putting aside Ron Paul for a moment, is there any controversy about the Iran plan that the administration is rolling out?

CILLIZZA: You know, I don't think we'll see any to be honest, David. The reality is this is still a Republican primary and in the end Republican primary voters, those most likely to turn out in the cold winter days of January in Iowa and New Hampshire are people who still support this president and still support his policy in Iraq and frankly, view Iran as a larger part of this jihadist network, so I don't think we're going to see anybody break with the president's policy until maybe we have a nominee on the Republican side.

SHUSTER: Chris Cillizza, author of "Washington Post" political blog - The Fix, Chris, thanks as always.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, David. And you're welcome.

SHUSTER: And the latest attempt to enact a popular children's health proposal succeeded today that is until it gets to the desk of President Bush. A revised version of the S-chip legislation passed in the House 265-142 but that is not enough to override an expected presidential veto. Democratic leaders say they addressed the concerns of Republicans that the proposal would benefit illegal immigrants and adults. The bill had called for stricter requirements of social security numbers, which would have discourage use by illegal immigrants and would phase out use by adults which some states had allowed. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi said the legislation had the clear support of the American people and its price tag of $35 billion over five years would have paid for by a 61-cent increase on the Federal tax on a pack of cigarettes. But enough Republicans sided with President Bush to prevent a two-thirds veto-proof majority.

The Giuliani campaign is facing a potential problem over the former mayor's terror credentials. On the stomp, he counts his experience facing terrorism but behind closed doors speaking to the 9/11 Commission, a portrait of a different leader. The secret testimony is leaking out.

And President Bush arrives at the wildfires amidst the long shadow of the Katrina disaster. We'll have that and the latest in the battle to beat back the flames. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


SHUSTER: In Greek myth, Cassandra was the prophet whose warnings were to be cursed never to be heeded until it was too late. In presidential politics, Rudy Giuliani has become the prophet whose warnings he has cursed never to have issued until it was too late. On the campaign trail he talks about his terrorism scholarship before 9/11 and says only he saw the real danger posed by al Qaeda. But in our fourth story in the Countdown: A secret document which you were never meant to say until after November 2008 has now been leaked refuting Giuliani's claim with his own words. Typical displaying a foresight was a presidential campaign speech to summer which he discussed in 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was a big mistake to not recognize that it was a terrorist act and an act of war, and then we were attacked at Cobart Towers, Kenya, Tanzania, 17 of our sailors killed on the USS COLE and the United States government under then President Clinton, didn't respond. Bin Laden declared war on us, we didn't hear it. I thought it was pretty clear at the time, but a lot of people didn't see it, couldn't see it.


SHUSTER: Never mind that al Qaeda's culpability for the COLE was only established after Mr. Bush's election and Mr. Bush then did nothing about it. Now, in New York, "The Village Voice Newspaper" reports that in the testimony before the 9/11 Commission on count after count, Giuliani revealed little knowledge of or positive dispositions influenced by the threat of al Qaeda. According to one commission memo it was after 9/11 that quote - "We brought in people to brief us on al Qaeda. We had nothing like this pre-9/11 which was a mistake." And Giuliani, on police commissioner told the commission - "I was not happy with NYPD's intelligence in general," when he took the job at 2000, seven years after the first bombing. Other items from the commission, Giuliani said Commissioner Ferric (ph) knows more than he does about software that might help in the war on terror and Giuliani had "No knowledge" of the amplifier system installed after the 1993 bombing to improve communications. Let's bring in the reporter who broke the story, Wayne Barrett, of the "Village Voice," author of "Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani in 9/11" and probably the source of more Giuliani reporting than anyone else, Wayne, thanks for your time tonight.

WAYNE BARRETT, VILLAGE VOICE: David, glad to be here.

SHUSTER: Wayne, give us the broad outline of the degree of terrorism expertise Giuliani claimed in his secret testimony to the 9/11 commission.

BARRETT: Zero, David, it was a confession of ignorance. He basically said, I knew nothing about al Qaeda. He mentioned Yosef Bodansky, who was an expert on al Qaeda, who had written a book about Bin Laden in 1999 that actually predicted spectacular attacks on New York and Washington and he mentioned he brought in Bodansky after 9/11 for a briefing and that this was really the first time that he was brought up-to-date on that. They asked him, what about the information that you were receiving on threats between '98 and 2001? And he said, "When I look back on it now, I know it was al Qaeda but at the time, I had no idea it was al Qaeda." So it was really across the board, just an admission that he knew absolutely nothing about it and now, as he goes around the country, he talks about how he wants to institute Comstat, which was the special program developed by the NYPD to fight crime. He wants to institute that to fight terrorism, when he's president. So he was asked in the same secret briefing, private briefing, what about using Comstat to fight terrorism and he said, "Ask Bernie about that," referring to Bernie Carrie (ph), he knows more about it than I do. Then he said, "Ask the current NYPD run by Mike Blumberg, Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly," but he didn't know anything about the application of Comstat to terrorism. These are the kinds of answers he gave.

SHUSTER: And in that period in late 1990s when Giuliani is referring to what the Clinton administration should have known, the contrast between what Giuliani knew then and what he is saying that he knew now about what was going on during that period, is that the biggest contrast with this current campaign rhetoric?

BARRETT: Well I think the whole statement here. Even when you get to some of the issues that the firefighters, for example, have raised about the radios, and how the radios malfunctioned in '93 and yet they were stuck with the same radios, this is an April 20th of 2004, and he's asked about the radios, and he doesn't know anything about it. He says, "Ask Richie Shier (ph)," who was the director of Emergency Management in the latter Giuliani years who now works at Giuliani partners. He says I don't know anything about it. They asked about the repeater which was supposed to amplify radio communications after the '93 bombing. It was installed, they asked him about the repeater at the World Trade Center and he said he had no knowledge of it. This is three years after 9/11. So he still wasn't studying the response issues that would logically be raised in a presidential campaign.

SHUSTER: Wayne, when you look at what Rudy Giuliani's general approach was to terrorism, and before running for president, he does seem sort of in sync with President Clinton's approach. Is there any sign that Giuliani's revisionist history on the campaign trail now is at leastr in part an attempt to undercut the terror credentials of either of the Clintons?

BARRETT: I think it's explicitly that. He talks about Bill Clinton's decade of denial; the clip you just played was a rendition of all of the terrorist incidents that occurred during the Clinton era. And as you mentioned he brings up the COLE, even though the COLE happened two months - there were only two months remaining in the Clinton administration and it was basically a Bush decision, the 9/11 commission quotes Condi Rice as saying, "We decided there was a consensus that developed within the administration not to retaliate for the COLE attack."

SHUSTER: And Wayne, really quickly, before we have to let you go, the testimony was not supposed to be made public until after the '08 election. How did that come about and was that a condition of mayor Giuliani's testimony to begin with?

BARRETT: It wasn't just mayor Giuliani's testimony that would be held until December, 2008. It was a wide variety of testimony that related to the city's response. I have the testimony of virtually everyone who testified regarding the city's response, and all of that was to be withheld until after 2008's election.

SHUSTER: Wayne Barrett, senior editor of "Village Voice," author of "Grand Illusion: The untold story of Rudy Giuliani" and a hell of the scope on that Wayne, thanks for your time, tonight. We appreciate it.

BARRETT: Thank you.

SHUSTER: Dick Chaney catching a little shut-eye, not a good thing when it's during a cabinet meeting and the cameras are rolling. But wait until you hear the official explanation of what really happened and there's no explanation about this incident but there is a police report. The official finding on whether cops crossed the line when they tasered a college student at the John Kerry event. That and more ahead on Countdown.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR: On this date, October 25th, 2007, a couple of hours again, Keith Olbermann left for Boston to attend the World Series. What am I doing here then? I'll be back tomorrow night. For tonight's Oddball segment, here again is David Shuster.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith. I think it is also worth noting that this day that Keith left New York for Boston is also known as St. Crispin's Day. It is the day immortalized in Shakespeare's "Henry V," when the king rallied his tired men during the battle of Agincourt with a stirring speech that ended, quote, gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhood cheap while any speaks that fought with us upon St. Crispin's day.

On that note, let's play Oddball.

We begin in the nation's capital, Washington D.C., where Vice President Dick Cheney is so concerned about the wildfires in California that he nodded off during the president's special cabinet meeting on that crisis and his snooze was caught on tape. Notice how his head bobs, then suddenly starts again. He's alert again. Is this what happened after Harry Widdington (ph) got shot? Hey Dick, wake up! One of Cheney's spokespeople explained that he was just practicing meditation, which is an improved excuse for the last time the Vice President passed out in a cabinet meeting and the administration said he was merely looking down at his notes.

To Thailand for the annual buffalo races. Look at them go. Over 100 bison took part in the competition, with jockeys clinging to their bear backs, some clinging better than others. Doh! The winner took home about 300 dollars, but it's the buffaloes who made out like bandits. The victorious ruminate netted a sweet 7,500 bucks for his owner. That ought to keep him off the barbecue menu, at least until next year's race.

Finally, back here in New York City, where a painting that was literally pulled out of the garbage turned out to be worth over a million smackeros. Elizabeth Gibson (ph) the piece caught her eye when she found it stacked up by some trash cans four years ago. Just before the garbage man came to take it away, she scooped it out. It turns out it's actually by Mexican artist Grafino Tamilo (ph), and was stolen more than 20 years ago. Gibson's reward for going through the trash and finding the million-dollar masterpiece, a comparative measly 15,000 dollars.

The president on the ground in California, but was this anything more than a PR trip? And the wildfires have already destroyed an area twice the size of New York. Can we add Marie Osmond's chances on "Dancing With the Stars" to the toll? That's what she's now claiming ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Have I gotten this point across yet? I'm at the World Series. I'll be back tomorrow for the big Friday finale to Countdown's week. In my stead, here again is David Schuster.

SHUSTER: Hurricane Katrina hit on a Sunday night. The president flew over the devastated city Wednesday, on his way back to Washington, D.C. Tonight, in our third story in the Countdown, the president has now learned if not the actual lesson of that blunder, than the PR lesson. The wildfires in southern California started raging out of control Sunday night, but this time President Bush was on the ground today.

More on that visit in a moment. First our correspondent George Lewis is in San Diego with the latest on the damage caused by the fires themselves. George?

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: David, tonight most of the people evacuated at the height of the San Diego fires are headed home. This as authorities made some grim new discoveries.


LEWIS (voice-over): The death toll from the fires rose to 12 today with the discovery of two bodies in this house and four more on the Mexican border. On a more positive note, the winds have died down and the fires have stopped growing. More aircraft, including this huge Martin Mars, have been added to the battle.

RON ROBERTS, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SUPERVISOR: Clearly we yesterday turned the corner on these fires, and while we still have a serious incident going on, we've got a lot of good news today.

LEWIS: One part of that good news, the big evacuation center at Qualcomm Stadium is shutting down, as people are being permit permitted to go home. Hundreds of residents returned to the hardest hit part of San Diego, Rancho Bernardo. But it was a sad homecoming for many. Vincent and Judy Puma (ph) lost everything. They were so upset they couldn't step into the ruins of their home.

VINCENT PUMA, HOUSE BURNED IN WILDFIRES: We were able to grab a couple of clothes and that was it, no pictures, no nothing, not even my wedding ring.

LEWIS: Farther east, authorities delayed re-opening the town of Ramona and residents were irate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They won't let me home. I'm just around the corner here, OK. It's ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting all of these mixed stories, but there's no facts. There's no communication.

LEWIS: In his tour of the fire area, President Bush promised San Diegans they will not be forgotten by his administration.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today your life may look dismal, but tomorrow life is going to be better. To the extent the federal government can help you, we want to do so.

LEWIS: Four years ago this month, after the last big fire in this area, the Cedar Fire, the president met with Pat Bentley (ph) and his family at their burned out house. Bentley says they were grateful for the president's attention, but now, Bentley says his property still sits vacant, awaiting county approval of his rebuilding plans. He feels forgotten by local bureaucrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still fighting. We're still trying to get it done.

LEWIS: He advises the people who lost their homes in this fire to be very patient.


LEWIS: Federal agents have joined arson investigators in trying to figure out how many of these fires may have been deliberately set. Two men have been arrested on suspicion of arson. A third was shot and killed by police. David?

SHUSTER: George Lewis, thanks.

Turning to more of the president's visit today; in between dodging questions on the federal response to the disaster, and sending not too subtle jabs at the Louisiana state government in praising California Governor Schwarzenegger for making a big difference by showing leadership, the president took a sight-seeing tour of the devastation. Our correspondent John Yang was traveling with him.

JOHN YANG, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: David, the president came to San Diego today to see firsthand the fires and the victims. And he found himself playing the role of consoler in chief.


YANG (voice-over): In the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood of San Diego, President Bush walked through the charred remains of Jay and Kendra Jeffcoat's (ph) home. The only things left standing, palm trees in the yard and a blackened spiral staircase.

BUSH: We've met the Jeffcoats, who came up this hill and went to what was their home. And we know how tough it is for you.

YANG: As he comforted Kendra Jeffcoat, Mr. Bush deflected a question about how the federal response measured up.

BUSH: Our hearts are with the Jeffcoats right now. That's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about people whose lives turned upside down. The experts can figure out whether the response was perfect or not.

YANG: When he walked down the street, more devastation, more losses, more heartbreak. So it went during Mr. Bush's tour, visiting a relief center where he consoled those who had lost their homes and thanked those who volunteered to help them, having lunch with fire fighters who battled the blazes 48 hours straight before resting.

BUSH: There's a lot of folks that live up in these hills that have their houses because of you. And they're not in a position to thank you. But we are.

YANG: The state's Democratic lieutenant governor dismissed the four-hour visit as a public relations stunt. But the president said it served a purpose.

BUSH: It's important for me to come out here and see firsthand the situation. And there's no question, a lot of people are suffering. And there's no question there's been terrible losses.


YANG: After the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush has been offering a robust response to these fires. But the real test may come in the rebuilding, which may take a lot of time and cost a lot of money. David?

SHUSTER: John Yang reporting from San Diego for us tonight, thanks.

"Don't tase me, bro" has been spoofed so much on the Internet, it's even become a ring tone. But to the guy who said it to university cops seconds before they did tase him, it's no laughing matter, especially now that the police might be off the hook.

Also off the hook tonight, Britney Spears, at least off the hook for her hit and run accident. She still, of course, has the whole court order custody battle and parenting thing to contend with. Those stories ahead. This is Countdown.


SHUSTER: When it comes to taking a stand and raging against the machine, getting tasered by campus police during a John Kerry speech isn't exactly on par with facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square. Still, our number two story set off a 50,000 volt controversy last month, spreading like wild fire on the Internet, and triggering a flood of argument over free speech, police fire and the right to act in a bit of nutty fashion in public.

Terry Sanders has the latest on the bro who refused to go quietly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're hurting me. What have I done?

TERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the electric shock heard around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't tase me, bro.

SANDERS: The incident at the university of Florida has been much spoofed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't tase me, bro. Oh, don't tase me bro.

SANDERS: The student's plea to police is now even a ring tone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't tase me bro, ow!

SANDERS: But a just released Florida Department of Law Enforcement review of the "Don't Tase me Bro" incident says the disruption at a Senator John Kerry speech last month was more than just college hijynx. The 17-page summary is the only portion of the 300-page investigation released so far. It says university police officers' actions appear to fall well within the guidelines.

Students who read that in the report online say they still question if tasering Andrew Meyer (ph) at the Kerry forum was police overreaction.

SAKINA SACKALOO, STUDENT: I don't think they should have tased him.

I think that's a bit too much. I don't think he needed to be tased.

SANDERS: Others question if 21-year-old Andrew Meyer was overly dramatic, creating an incident for the cameras. To that end, the report reveals one week earlier, on 9/11, Meyer exchanged words with Rudy Giuliani supporters, allegedly kicking their candidate's sign. His behavior described as boisterous and provocative.

(on camera): The full report is yet to be released. That could come next week. And it may explain events out of view of all the cell phone cameras and spectators. Among the evidence police have, a video and audio recording from a dash-mounted police camera once Meyer was arrested and in a squad car. And there's more, a taped phone recording between Meyer and his dad at the jail.

(voice-over): It said in that recording Meyer appears to sound elated that the arrest has occurred, and there is a great deal of discussion about the media exposure the incident has generated.

Andrew Meyer and his attorney say they can't comment until they see the full report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't tase me, bro!

SANDERS: Terry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.


SHUSTER: So who is Andrew MeyerrMD+DN_rMDNM_? A whacko, a show boater, a first amendment martyr? He hasn't said much since his run-in with the law. But that's about to change. You can meet him and judge for yourself when he joins Keith Olbermann next Tuesday here on Countdown on MSNBC. Don't miss it, bro!

It's on to our Keeping Tabs, our nightly roundup of celebrity news and often celebrity justice. Last night it was O.J. But if it's Thursday, it must be Britney's turn. Today she faced the music for this graceful maneuver last August when she crunched her Mercedes into a parked car and walked away without reporting it. Britney was charged with hit and run. Today she paid the price. The charges were dismissed.

Her attorney says she settled by paying an undisclosed amount to the car's owner, ka-ching. Britney still faces a charge of driving without a license that day. And then there's tomorrow's court hearing in the custody dispute over her children. So far she has visitation rights, and only with a parenting coach standing by, but she's working on that too.

She and ex-husband K-Fed are attending parenting classes together, according to "People Magazine." The classes at the Beverly Hills Hotel include anger management. When you get mad, count to 90210.

Speaking of numbers, you never want to be number one, if you're topping the list of the un-sexiest woman of the year. But that's where Sarah Jessica Parker finds herself, thanks to a nasty magazine rating. "Maxim Magazine" gave Parker the unwanted honor because it says she is the least sexy woman in a group of very un-sexy woman who starred in a show with the word sex in the title. Coming in second, singer Amy Winehouse (ph), because of her, quote, hemorrhaging translucent skin, rats nest mane and lashes that look more like surgically attached bates.

Rounding out spots three, four and five, Sandra-O of "Grey's Anatomy," Madonna and Britney Spears.

First she says she just forgot to breathe. Now Marie Osmond has a new excuse for passing out at "Dancing With the Stars," the wildfires. No, we are not kidding. That's ahead. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: This is Keith Olbermann in Boston, well, standing in front of a picture of Boston. I'll be back in time to host Countdown tomorrow night. I hope you will join us then. Now let's watch David Shuster's big finale number. David?

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith. And here goes. Blame it on diet pills, blame it on divorce, even blame it on Rio. But for heaven's sake, Marie Osmond, don't blame your fainting spell on the California wildfires. In the number one story on the Countdown, the analysis of Miss Osmond's falling out continues full throttle with the oddest assessment coming from Miss Osmond.


MARIE OSMOND, "DANCING WITH THE STARS": Air quality is really bad and I have allergies really bad. So maybe that was it. I'm a singer. I don't know why I should have been winded. We've done it six, seven, eight times in a row, no problem.


SHUSTER: Sure, if you practiced six or seven times in a row, then it must be the air quality, you know, because of all of those California wild fires. Good grief! Miss Osmond denied that dieting was the cause of her collapse. And she said that even though her recent divorce has been stressful, that wasn't the cause either. So let's refresh our memories in an attempt to get to the bottom of this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, before we get to the judges, let's get some recognition -

OSMOND: Is that enough for you!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, good lord. Let's go to our head judge first, Len Goodman (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, this dance, the samba, is the hardest one to master. You have to show the gaiety and the fun of the samba.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we're going to take a commercial break.

We'll be right back after this.

All right, OK, welcome back to the show. Just so you know, Marie is fine. You're about to see her back stage as she awaits her scores. I want to just quote her exactly - she passed out. She fainted, as you saw. And the first words out of her mouth when she saw us all leaning over her were oh, crap. So she is a trooper indeed.


SHUSTER: Huh? I've got no clue. But look, when it comes to weak-knee wonders, miss Osmond is in good company.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This on the - ah -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next moment she began to fall forwards on to the podium, her head grazing the microphone.


SHUSTER: Just in case you were thrown off by all the hair dye, that last one was the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (ph). Let's bring in comedian Christian Finnegan, also a regular contributor to VH-1's "Best Week Ever." Good evening, Christian.

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, VH-1: Good evening, sir.

SHUSTER: Of course, Miss Osmond survived Tuesday night's elimination round on "Dancing With the Stars," so might we see in her fainting spell a little bit of strategy here?

FINNEGAN: Well, far be it for me to impugn the integrity of "Dancing With the Stars," but the collapse did seem a little dramatic. I was half expecting Mr. Miaggi (ph) to run out and lay on the healing hands technique. This is what producers have to do now to keep the hype going. They had Heather Mills on last year, obviously hoping that her leg would go flying off. She didn't take the bait. So now they have to be a little more overt.

A couple of nights ago, before the taping, they went down to Marie's dressing room. And they said, listen Osmond, after the Samba, you go down!

SHUSTER: Let's go on to her stated explanation, bad allergies and bad air quality. Look Christian, it is possible - is it possible that the California wildfires actually did cause Marie Osmond to faint?

FINNEGAN: Sure, it's also possible that my head cold is the result of a curse put on me by an evil unicorn. It's possible our next president will be Dennis Kucinich. But I think that exhaustion is the more likely culprit. Think about it; she's doing interviews. She's on the show, cameras following her everywhere. You have no idea how much that creepy dead-eyed Osmond camera smile can take out of you.

SHUSTER: Miss Osmond does have a sense of humor about it. We can give her that. When she was asked how she reacted, she said, it was one of those moments where it is like, oh, brother. OK, so then it's Donny's fault?

FINNEGAN: It's not just Donny. It's the whole clan. You have no idea; the Osmonds are looking at a Marie victory as their road back to TV stardom. There are a bunch of 50-something dudes wearing sparkly leisure suits, just waiting in the wings.

SHUSTER: By the way, Christian, Vice President Dick Cheney didn't faint yesterday. but he did doze off, as we noted earlier, during a special cabinet meeting about the California wildfires. Marie Osmond, now Dick Cheney. What other unrelated public behavior will be blamed on the California wildfires?

FINNEGAN: Boy, the VP is all heart. Isn't he? This is definitely going to be the go-to excuse now. In fact, I heard that Keifer Sutherland is trying to have his recent DUI overturned on the grounds that he was anticipating the California wildfires. It's not even just public figures, just regular people. Like the next time you come home from poker night and your wife says, why is there glitter all over your face, just look at the sky and say, damn you Santa Ana winds!

SHUSTER: We don't have video of this but President Bush fainted after he choked on a pretzel back in 2002. Is it better when you're able to blame a pretzel?

FINNEGAN: I don't know. I think I choked on a pretzel is still the high water mark of like ridiculous excuses. You just know President Bush wishes he could have a do over on that one. He was the only one there. He could have said anything. He could have said he was saving a kitten, but somebody asked him how did you do that to your face? I choked on a pretzel? Doh!

SHUSTER: We all wish Marie Osmond better luck next time. In any case, comedian and regular contributor to VH-1's "Best Week Ever," Christian Finnegan. Christian, thanks for joining us.

That does it for this Thursday edition of Countdown. I'm David Shuster in for Keith Olbermann. Keith will be back tomorrow. Good night, everybody.