Friday, July 30, 2010

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, July 30th, 2010
video podcast

Guests: Joseph Cammarata, Annie Lowrey, Bob Cavnar, Marissa Guthrie



LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The GOP's great shame. Republicans kill a bill that would give financial assistance to first responders sickened at ground zero. Congressman Anthony Weiner calls them out on the House floor.


REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans, rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes! It is a shame! A shame!


O'DONNELL: Former police officer, Joseph Cammarata, is one of those heroes that got sick from the 9/11 aftermath. He will join us.

And the "party of no" knows no bounds. Senate Republicans filibuster a jobs package that includes tax cuts. Yes, that's right, the GOP blocks a tax cut bill they helped write.

BP's incoming CEO says it's time to scale back the cleanup effort.

And what about the leak?


BOB DUDLEY, INCOMING BP CEO: We haven't seen oil flow into the Gulf since the 15th of July.


O'DONNELL: That's because the underwater camera is no longer pointed at the leaky wellhead.

With the media moving on, who's keeping BP accountable? Bob Cavnar will join us.

It's the hottest Swedish export since Abba.


O'DONNELL: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the runaway bestseller is set to become the next Hollywood blockbuster. We'll explore the story behind the global phenomenon.

"American Idol" shake-up:




O'DONNELL: Ellen quits. Kara might be fired. Who will replace them?


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm leaving after a year and a half of taking tough questions to be a judge on "American Idol."



O'DONNELL: All that and more - now on Countdown.


RANDY JACKSON, "AMERICAN IDOL" JUDGE: Check it out, dawg. Check this out.




O'DONNELL: Good evening. From Los Angeles, I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.

In the decades since the attacks, the GOP has been fond of saying that 9/11 changed everything.

But in our fifth story: the Republican Party is back to politics as usual, voting against a bill that would have provided aid to the survivors of the September 11th attacks - including the first responders who rushed to the scene and breathed in all manner of toxins in the days, weeks, and months that followed.

Ahead, I will be joined by one of those first responders, former NYPD officer, Joseph Cammarata.

First, the details: The 9/11 health bill would have provided up to $7.4 billion in aid to those who were sickened by toxins in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Democrats had feared the GOP would exploit the bill by tacking on unnecessary amendments so they introduced the measure on the House's suspension calendar, which meant the bill could not be altered and needed a two-thirds vote to pass.

Last night, right before the vote, Congressman Peter King, who co-sponsored the bill, made it clear that it was most likely that his fellow Republicans would be mostly voting against the bill, ostensibly for procedural reasons.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Everyone knows that this bill will not get the two-thirds majority required under the suspension calendar. Everyone also knows that this bill would pass with a clear majority if the Democrat leadership would allow it to come to the floor under the regular procedures of the House. The reason H.R. 847 is not being brought up under regular order is that the majority party is petrified of having its members face a potential vote on illegal immigration.

You can blame it on the Republicans, and I've been strongly critical of the Republican position on this issue. But the reality is, you couldn't pass this bill if you wanted to. You are in control. You have the power. You have the responsibility.

This bill should be more important than a campaign talking point. You could have passed it at any time during the past 3 ½ years, but you want political cover. Thank God for our country that the first responders of 9/11 didn't look for cover before they did what they had to do and lived up to their oath.

As Mayor Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, said just today about the procedure we are following tonight, quote, "It's an outrage. A majority of people would vote for this bill, but they know full well they will not get two-thirds. They know that. So, this is a way to avoid having to make a tough decision. Our people who worked down at 9/11, whose health has fallen apart did what America wanted them to do. This is an American problem and Congress should stand up.

And I know it's a tough vote for some people, but I don't have a lot of sympathy. They should bring this vote and vote up-or-down on any amendments and vote up-or-down on the bill and go on the record. And that, incidentally, is what the leadership should force."

That was Mayor Bloomberg this afternoon.

They say they want Republican support, yet they never consulted even one Republican before they made the corporate tax increase as to pay for it. They say they want Republican support before they pass this bill, but they never applied that standard when they ran through the stimulus, health care, cap-and-trade, or financial regulatory reform.

No. You only apply it to cops and firefighter and construction workers. What a sad and pathetic double standard. These heroes deserve better then they are receiving here tonight. And no matter what happens on this vote, I will continue to do all I can to pass this bill as soon as possible in the future.


O'DONNELL: These are moments on the House floor that try the patience and pain the souls of honorable members of Congress. New York Democrat Anthony Weiner could take no more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, I yield one minute to the distinguished gentleman from New York, Mr. Weiner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman is recognized.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Great courage, to wait until all members have already spoken and then stand up and wrap your arms around procedure. We see it in the United States' Senate every single day where members say, "We want amendments, we want debate, we want amendment, but we're still a no." And then we stand up and say, "Oh, if only we had a different process we'd vote yes."

You vote yes if you believe yes. You vote in favor of something if you believe it's the right thing. If you believe it's the wrong thing, you vote no.

We are following a procedure - I will not yield to the gentleman and the gentleman will observe regular order. The gentleman will observe regular order.

The gentleman speaks to you and gets up and yells, thinking he's going to intimidate people into believing he's right. He is wrong! The gentleman is wrong! The gentleman is providing cover for his colleagues, rather than doing the right thing!

It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans, rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes. It is a shame! A shame!

If you believe this is a bad idea, to provide health care, then vote no. But don't give me the cowardly view that, "Oh, if it was a different procedure" - the gentleman will observe regular order and sit down. I will not!

The gentleman will sit! The gentleman is correct in sitting. I will not -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is quite -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman will suspend. The gentleman will suspend.

WEINER: I will not stand here -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman is recognized.

WEINER: - and listen to my colleague say, "Oh, if only I had a different procedure that allows us to stall, stall, stall and then vote no." Instead of standing up and defending your colleagues and voting no on this humane bill, you should urge them to vote yes - something the gentleman has not done!



O'DONNELL: Congressman King turned out to be one of only 10 Republicans to vote yes on the 9/11 health bill last night, which did not get the two-thirds majority it needed, failing by a vote of 255 in favor and 159 against.

As promised, we are joined now by Joseph Cammarata, a New York City police officer at the time of the attacks, whose brother, Michael, was the youngest firefighter killed. Joseph spent nearly two days searching ground zero for his brother, Michael, and other victims. He has recounted his experience in a new book, "Face of Courage: Rise from the Rubble."

Thank you for your time tonight, Mr. Cammarata.

What health issues have you faced as a result of your experiences on 9/11 and the days that followed?

JOSEPH CAMMARATA, FORMER NYPD OFFICER: Well, my life has been dominated by posttraumatic stress since the attacks, sleeplessness, and recently I have been diagnosed with a sleep-related disease called sleep apnea, which some believe is related to the World Trade Center attacks.

O'DONNELL: And have you had any of the respiratory problems that

others have had as a result of breathing in all of the toxins and dust, and

at that time, mysterious substances that were floating in the air?

CAMMARATA: Thankfully not up until this point, but they are exploring further at this time.

O'DONNELL: And how difficult has it been getting the city or the health insurance companies involved to view these 9/11-related illnesses as conditions that require treatment under their plans, that were - in other words, have there been any difficulty demonstrating the link between working in the 9/11 recovery mission and these illnesses?

CAMMARATA: As far as I'm concerned, with my particular case - no. But there has been tremendous resistance from colleagues I have worked with, first responders, it's a long and daunting task for them to get their story across and get into the ears of the people who make the big decisions. So, yes, they have been receiving tremendous resistance in getting compensated for it.

O'DONNELL: And what information were you first responders given about how to take care of yourselves while working in that area in the aftermath of the buildings' collapse, with everything that was floating in the air down there?

CAMMARATA: The minutes and hours after the attack, it was a free-for-all. Everybody was just trying to save lives. We were given no direction as far as precautions to take for days after the attacks.

O'DONNELL: And it's been known, there's an industrial history in this country, where we have known since the early 1930s - actually, as a result of congressional investigations - how dangerous it is to inhale dust of any kind in the digging of tunnels and construction sites, and certainly in sites like the aftermath of 9/11, where the composition of the buildings had collapsed and produced all sorts of toxins that were floating into the air. We could, on television, actually see that stuff floating in the air.

And yet, most of the first responders that we saw there and most of the people we saw working in the aftermath didn't seem to have any breathing masks on. They didn't seem to have anything that was protecting them from what was in the air down there.

CAMMARATA: For several hours after, the whole entire day, I had been exposed to those toxins. And I can tell you firsthand, as I would breathe in, my lungs felt like they were being attacked by razor blades. It was hot, knifing pain that we were all experiencing in our chest and our lungs.

O'DONNELL: And have any of the people who responded during that period died as a result of these respiratory infections that a lot of them developed?

CAMMARATA: Yes. I've heard many stories of rescue workers, both police, fire, and volunteers and sanitation, Red Cross members that have gotten sick and brought to the point of death in some cases. And it's quite unfortunate that we didn't have the preparedness necessary.

O'DONNELL: Now, you saw that the 9/11 bill last night won a majority, a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, but was still defeated because it needed the procedural two-thirds vote to go forward. What do you think needed to be said on the House floor that wasn't said? What do you think the people who voted against that bill last night need to know?

CAMMARATA: I think what needed to be done was, you needed to get one or two rescue workers from each side to go in and give testimony of what it was like to be down there - how their lives were impacted physically, mentally, and how it's destroyed relationships in their lives as a result.

And I believe that what could have been done differently is, you know, cool heads prevail. We have to - bipartisanship, in this matter, is going to be tremendous, and we just have to be slow and steady and make sure that the proper amount of money is delegated to the proper people and they receive the proper care.

O'DONNELL: Now, Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York, spent a great deal of time defending his fellow Republicans who were going to vote no. He, himself, voted yes.

Do you wish that all of the New York delegation had worked harder to get this passed, and not just vote yes, but actually work harder to collect votes for it and get it passed?

CAMMARATA: Yes. I believe that - I wish that they would have worked harder. I know they're coming up on a summer recess and they wanted to get it done before that - but slow and steady wins the race. We have to get this done, but we have to make it the right way to make sure that everybody in need is, in fact, covered.

O'DONNELL: Joseph Cammarata, thanks for sharing your story with us tonight.

CAMMARATA: Thanks for having me.

O'DONNELL: Coming up: The action didn't stop at the house. We head to the Senate for a Republican filibuster for a bill that would have cut taxes - a closer look at the reason why. One hint: it's an election year.

And a Friday frenzy over who stays and who goes on "American Idol."

Not the contestants, this time, it's the judges.


O'DONNELL: Coming up: The story how not even a bill with bipartisan support, a bill that would have cut taxes could make it through the gridlocked Senate.

And why BP thinks it's time to scale back the clean up in the Gulf before it's finished killing the well.


O'DONNELL: Eighty-one percent of the jobs lost in America have been lost from small business. So, yesterday the Senate tried to hold a vote on a bill with broad bipartisan support - a bill Republicans helped to write that would cut taxes and help small businesses and reward them for creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

In our fourth story tonight: you see where this is going, right? The bill would create a $30 billion fund to help small banks lend to small businesses and give entrepreneurs $12 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, much of this paid for by revenues from letting taxpayers convert retirement accounts into Roth accounts and pay the taxes up-front. It had broad bipartisan support.

But according to "The Hill" newspaper, Republicans thought Democrats would use it to campaign on job creation this November. And yesterday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell killed it, at least for now.

The trouble started when Republican Senator Olympia Snowe angrily blasted Democrats for not allowing even a few amendments. So, even though the amendments had nothing to do with the bill, that's exactly what Senate Leader Harry Reid did. He allowed three amendments to please Republicans.

And Republicans - as they so often do in these attempts at compromise

then moved the bar. McConnell said three amendments were not enough.

How many is enough?

Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu challenged McConnell to say how many amendments would be enough to allow a vote. McConnell shut of debate rather than give an answer.

All of this, of course, not on the merits of the bill, but simply on whether the Senate could take an up-or-down vote on it - billions of dollars in aid to small businesses hanging in the balance. As one, all 41 Republicans voted no. Senator Snowe, who actually helped write the bill voted no. Senator George Lemieux, who told "Politico," quote, "It sure would be a shame if it didn't get done," voted no.

Let's bring in Annie Lowrey, economy reporter for "The Washington Independent."

Thanks for joining us tonight, Annie.

And I just want to get a quick fact check. How bipartisan was this bill? How bipartisan was it, really, if when it came up to the vote, it couldn't get a single Republican?

ANNIE LOWREY, THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT: Well, you know, this was - this bill was actually a priority for Republicans, and it was constructed with bipartisan support. George Lemieux helped on this bill, Olympia Snowe helped on this bill. This is a bill that you could imagine, if it were a Leader McConnell instead of a Leader Reid bringing forward. This is absolutely, you know, just the bread and butter of the Republican Party that wants to help small businesses and, you know, help entrepreneurs.

O'DONNELL: Now, if - if the Republicans thought the Democrats wanted to use this to run against them in November, you know, as their job creation bill, why did Mitch McConnell and his colleagues let it get that far? Why didn't they kill it more quietly, earlier in the game?

LOWREY: Well, I mean, they couldn't actually kill it during its creation. You know, it wasn't possible to do that.

And I would note that this bill is very, very popular. You know, I'm sure if you polled the average Americans, you know, they would - they would be in support of it.

And actually, you know, a lot of major Republican donors and backers are in support of it. The Chamber of Commerce, for instance, has lobbied very, very hard for this bill.

You know, so the Republicans, they couldn't stop it from happening, and now, they just want to stop it from passing because it will be a good bill and it's not a particularly controversial bill at all. So, you know, the game for them is just to slow it down as much as possible and not to give Democrats this victory.

O'DONNELL: Now, it looks like Harry Reid, as many majority leaders before him have found themselves, it looks like he found himself caught in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" moment on the question of allowing amendments.

Where would we be now if he had just not allowed any amendments?

LOWREY: You know, my sense is that probably then he wouldn't be much in a different place. You know what he said throughout this process - and this bill has been held up for about three weeks now - was that he wasn't going to allow amendments that weren't germane to the actual text of the bill. And so, the bill contains, you know, a big fund that will help small banks lend to small businesses. And it contains a number of tax breaks that Republicans are actually in support of.

And so, Mitch McConnell just put up a bunch of amendments having to do with the estate tax, having to do with the Bush tax cuts and, you know, the Republicans just continually sort of move to the goalposts on Democrats.

So, you know, obviously, there is some strategy going on here. And I'm not sure that Harry Reid could have done much to move this any faster.

Again, the substance of the bill is not particularly controversial. And if you talk to Republicans and Democrats on the Hill, they still expect it to pass once the sort of procedural that chicanery is over with.

O'DONNELL: Yes, a lot of big Republican business interest groups, lobbying groups, like this bill and want to the see it passed. It seems to me they will continue to push Republicans to find a way to get it done. And it's - so - and it's your view that the Republicans just want to delay it as long as possible?

LOWREY: Sure. You know, and at this point, they've held it to the very, very end of the session. You know, when both parties come back from the August recess, they're really going to go into campaign mode. They're not going to have a lot of time. As you know, the legislative calendar is very, very crowded and they've managed to delay this again.

You know, Harry Reid changed his vote so he could recall the cloture vote whenever he wants. But, you know, after three weeks of negotiations on this, you know, they're still going to spend a couple days negotiating. And Harry Reid actually said that tempers had flared so high, Republicans are - sorry - Democrats were so angry at Republicans for doing this, and felt like it was such a brazen maneuver that Harry Reid told everybody, basically, to cool off, that the tempers weren't helping anything.

But, you know, they're going to spend - a couple days that they could be doing other things, they're going to spend doing this.

O'DONNELL: Annie Lowrey, many thanks for watching the Senate for us tonight.

LOWREY: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Coming up: out of sight, out of mind for BP. The company is calling for a scale back on the clean up because it's becoming harder to find the oil. Bob Cavnar joins us next with his thoughts.

And a little later, Hollywood looks to cash in on the worldwide phenomenon that is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." What makes these three books so popular? One is nearly sold every second in this country.


O'DONNELL: On the day BP's outgoing CEO complained he had been portrayed as a villain for doing the right thing, the incoming CEO announced a pullback of cleaning efforts.

In our third story: the new guy also appeared to suggest there was no longer any oil flowing into the ocean - a claim that is unverifiable because the feed monitoring the well went black for the past three days.

This morning, in Biloxi, Mississippi, incoming CEO Bob Dudley announced James Lee Witt, former head of FEMA under President Clinton, had been hired to help with BP's Gulf restoration work.

Addressing the ongoing cleanup effort, Dudley said there would be less boom, fewer hazmat suits, but the same commitment.


DUDLEY: Where there's no oil on the beaches, you probably don't need people walking up and down with hazmat suits. So, you'll see that kind of a pullback. But commitment? Absolutely no pullback.


O'DONNELL: Back underwater, the latest effort to further plug the well is being pushed back. The "static kill" procedure was scheduled to start Sunday. It has been moved to Tuesday and now, there are concerns over what's actually coming out of the well.

This morning, Dudley proclaimed BP hasn't seen oil flowing in two weeks.


DUDLEY: We haven't seen oil flow into the Gulf since the 15th of July. And I'd like to say, though, even at that point at which that oil stops flowing, the commitment remains by BP to stay here along the communities of the Gulf Coast, to make good, to restore the Gulf Coast.


O'DONNELL: Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing what's flowing into the ocean, because the live feed of the wellhead that BP had been providing was black for the past three days. This morning, on his teleconference, Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen was asked by the "Daily Kos" why the feed was gone? Allen had no answer. Soon after, however, the feed came back online.

Joining us once again tonight is former oil executive Bob Cavnar, who now writes about the industry at He is also the author of "Disaster on the Horizon" due out in October. Bob, why do you think the video feed was turned off for three days? Is there something or was there something that BP didn't want us to see?

BOB CAVNAR, OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY EXPERT: Well, I think that's clearly the case, Lawrence. It was reported to me by the Gulf watchers on "Daily Kos" that the leaks were getting worse. And when I watched the feeds, when they showed the wellhead, you could see that some of the leaks around the cap, the connector between the two blowout preventers, was actually getting worse.

And then about three days ago, the feeds just went black. In fact, several other feeds also went black during that same period of time. So I think it was clear that they didn't want us to see what was going on around the wellhead.

O'DONNELL: So just to clarify what's actually - what actually happened here is the giant gushing spill has been reduced to a leak, something that is still constantly leaking oil?

CAVNAR: That's exactly right. This stack started leaking almost immediately after they shut the well in, as pressure built up on it. And we've been watching those leaks over the last couple of weeks, as they've talked about the - there being no more oil flowing into the Gulf. And you've seen the media attention kind of fall off and BP talking about scaling back their efforts here.

It's clear they want to get this behind them. And the less they show, I think the more people kind of lose interest. And I've been really focused and others have been focused on making sure that that gets exposed. And as a matter of fact, as you said, when Admiral Allen had them bring the feeds back up, they spent the afternoon with ROVs cleaning oil off of that wellhead with a chemical wand, with one of their ROVs.

O'DONNELL: So what does the current leak level indicate for what the plan is going forward in actually plugging this well?

CAVNAR: Well, you know, Lawrence, once of the things they're going forward with is this static kill, that I'm very concerned about, because I'm concerned about the condition of the wellhead itself. In order to start this static kill, they're going to have to put pressure on those very connections that are leaking right now. And I just think it's an unwise operation, especially since the relief well itself is so close to killing the well from down below.

I just don't understand why they're taking this risk of damaging the wellhead, or the tubulars right below the wellhead, any further than what they already are.

O'DONNELL: Now, BP's position seems to be, if I'm hearing it correctly, that there's no leaking at all; there's nothing to see here. At a technical hearing this afternoon, a BP executive went even further saying that there's definitely - definitely no oil has flowed out of that wellhead since July 15th. Is that true?

CAVNAR: It's not true. The wellhead is leaking. Now, obviously, it's not leaking like it was. But it does show some integrity problems with the wellhead itself. Now, if - will the wellhead fail during a top kill or static kill procedure? We don't know that, but it just sure seems like an unnecessary risk to take. Plus, there is oil going into the Gulf, so I would think they would want to get that relief well finished as quickly as possible.

O'DONNELL: And with the new CEO now, and now James Lee Witt signing on, does this change in personnel, adding personnel, like James Lee Witt, indicate that there's some kind of progress here that you think is going to get us to a better place?

CAVNAR: You know, I'm getting the opposite message, frankly. With this hiring of Witt and announcing him today, it really seems that BP is trying to put themselves at arm's length from the public attention. And by putting someone in between the public and BP, they're trying to accomplish that. I think the messaging will get much tighter with Witt and the communication will probably be much tighter than what it's been. But it will probably be less informative, and it's already been pretty sparse from this point - at least up until this point.

O'DONNELL: Bob Cavnar, thanks again for clarifying once again what's really happening at that well.

CAVNAR: Great talking to you, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, four months after the West Virginia mining disaster, there's a new investigation into whether anything criminal caused it.

And three crime novels set in Sweden are the biggest thing to hit bookstores and Hollywood since that Harry Potter kid. The story behind "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."


O'DONNELL: It's been nearly four months since 29 miners died in the worst mining disaster in this country in 40 years. And now some miners are telling the FBI that something criminal may have been going on. Detectors meant to protect workers from explosive methane gas may have been disabled intentionally. Here's NBC's Tom Costello.


TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was February 13th, two months before 29 miners died at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, when something happened at the mine that scared Ricky Lee Campbell, what authorities say could have been criminal tampering with a methane gas detector in a mine where explosive gas has emerged as a major concern.

RICKY LEE CAMPBELL, FORMER UPPER BIG BRANCH MINER: In February, I witnessed an electrician bypassing a methane detector on the machines.

COSTELL (on camera): The machines that cut coal?

CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.

COSTELLO: Why would they do that?

CAMPBELL: So we can continue to run coal.

COSTELLO (voice-over): What's not clear is whether the gas monitor was detecting methane or instead malfunctioning and shutting down the machinery. But Campbell says he's told the FBI that a supervisor ordered the electrician to disable it.

CAMPBELL: He didn't want to do it, but - he knew the danger. But when somebody above you is telling you what to do, you're going to do what they say.

COSTELLO: The mine operator, Massey Energy, says it was an isolated incident, but tells NBC News, "the methane monitor was bypassed in order to move the miner, the machine, from the area that did not have roof support to a safer area for repair." Not so, says Campbell.

CAMPBELL: We kept using it.

COSTELLO (on camera): You kept cutting coal?

CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.

COSTELLO: Without the methane detector?

CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Federal investigators say they've heard the allegations, and, quote, "if true, such actions would clearly violate the law and would jeopardize the lives and safety of the miners." The question, was there a general disregard for safety before the explosion? NPR reporter Howard Berkes has heard from multiple witnesses that disabling the monitors was common. He broke the story.

HOWARD BERKES, NPR CORRESPONDENT: People are extremely concerned about being identified as snitches. One miner said to me that the rule is, what goes on underground stays underground.

COSTELLO: That miners' code of silence runs deep in much of West Virginia, where mining, quite literally, puts food on the table. Few jobs are as lucrative or as dangerous.

The man in charge of West Virginia's independent investigation says some miners have admitted they're afraid to talk.

DAVITT MCATEER, WV SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: They have expressed some concerns about intimidation and about conditions at the mine. And we've taken note of that.

COSTELLO (on camera): You were in the mine the day of the explosion?


COSTELLO (voice-over): Stanley Stewart worked for Massey Energy, but says he often felt too intimidated to voice safety concerns.

STEWART: I felt like if you complained too much, if you rocked the boat too much, you'd probably disappear.

COSTELLO (on camera): They would just fire you?

STEWART: Uh, either fire you or possibly harass you.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Massey Energy tells NBC News that Stewart's and Campbell's claims are without merit, and it, quote, "strongly forbids any improper conduct relating to any and all safety devices."

DON BLANKENSHIP, MASSEY ENERGY CEO: We don't condone it. We discharge people for safety violations routinely.

COSTELLO: After raising safety concerns at another company mine in April, Ricky Lee Campbell was fired by Massey for allegedly unsafe behavior. He's since been hired by another mine operator and has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against Massey. His lawyer says he's now telling his story to a federal grand jury.

Tom Costello, NBC News, Charleston, West Virginia.


O'DONNELL: We have long had the technology to prevent these kinds of so-called mining disasters. They are not accidents, I have held from the start, these things amount to industrial homicide. The criminal investigation is more than warranted.

We want to again offer a brief reminder tonight about two upcoming health clinics made possible by generous donations from you, our Countdown viewers. On August 4th in Washington, D.C., you can register to be seen by going to, or to donate your services and time, medical or otherwise.

The other clinic that we are still raising money for is a two-day clinic in New Orleans coinciding with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, taking place on August 31st and September 1st. As always, we appreciate all the efforts, time and money that you have provided to give health care to those in need. Once again, that's

Coming up, Sweden's already made movies of its runaway best sellers, but Hollywood loves a remake. The plans to turn "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" into an American blockbuster.

And can a change behind the judges' table turn "American Idol" back into a blockbuster?

And at the top of the hour on "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW," Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm joins Chris Hayes to talk about the president's stop in Michigan today and why the auto bailout was the right call.


O'DONNELL: Three books by a Swedish writer about a female hacker and a liberal journalist; you wouldn't think they'd create a frenzy the likes of which Hollywood hasn't seen since that boy wizard thing. But if the stars align, the American film version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" could become a blockbuster. And fans are finding the story behind the Millennium trilogy as intriguing as the books themselves.

In our number two story, NBC News's Stephanie Gosk goes to the source of the frenzy, Stockholm.


STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sweden has no problem attracting tourists. Beautiful islands, beautiful people. Abba literally playing in the streets.

But this summer, tourists are flocking here for something else:

Millennium Series madness. "Dragon Tattoo" book tours in Stockholm are sold out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First page, second page, and it just, quick, quick, quick.

GOSK: Swedish author Stieg Larsson's dark and violent crime series has turned into a phenomenon; 40 million copies of the books have been printed worldwide. Last week in the U.S., one was sold nearly every second. The Swedish movies based on the series vaulted an unknown actress to fame. Now it's Hollywood's turn.

Daniel Craig will play muckraking journalist Michael Blomquist. Lisbeth Salander, the dragon tattooed computer hacking vigilante, has yet to be cast.

MIKE FLEMMING, DEADLINE.COM: It is the single biggest make star opportunity for a young actress in perhaps as long as I can remember.

GOSK: For fans like Linda Harding from California, Salander is the series.

LINDA HARDING, FAN: She's strong. She's smart. And yet, if you looked at her, you wouldn't, of course, think that.

GOSK: Adding to the intrigue of the novels is the author himself. In 2004, he died suddenly, just before the books were published.

(on camera): When Larsson died, he was making just 30,000 dollars a year. He had always dreamt of buying a cottage on an island. If he were alive today, he would probably just buy the island.

(voice-over): The crime writer drew inspiration from his own world, from the bucolic Swedish countryside to Stockholm. Like most Swede's, his characters drink a ton of coffee, sometimes at the same shop the author did. And in that neighborhood, we discovered almost everyone has a tattoo. Anna has five.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was actually quite painful.

GOSK: Plot lines were ripped straight from the author's day job at a left-wing pro-democracy magazine. Michael Ekman worked with him for ten years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you read the book, it's not hard to understand that he's a believer in democracy and feminism.

GOSK: It's a political message wrapped within three thrilling page turners. And if rumors in Sweden are true, there could be more. Larsson may have written a fourth.

Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, Stockholm.


O'DONNELL: Coming up, "American idol" turned on its head. It's now the judges who are apparently wondering if they've been voted off, or not.


O'DONNELL: Dim the lights, I've voted myself off "American Idol." With those instantly immortal words in the form of a Tweet, Ellen Degeneres announced that she would be leaving "American Idol" after just one season. And in our number one story, if other sources are correct, Judge Cara Dioguardi has been fired. Jennifer Lopez has been hired. And to replace the judge of judges, Simon Cowell, Steven Tyler?

In addition to her Tweet, Ellen released a statement explaining that her role on the show was not a good fit, that she wasn't comfortable criticizing contestants. And on his radio show, Ryan Seacrest repeatedly said that Ellen was, indeed, leaving for those reasons, that it was her decision to leave. He added that, quote, "it's not like she needs the work," words that could easily be said about Mr. Seacrest himself, of course.

Meantime, TMZ is reporting that Jennifer Lopez, who also doesn't need the work, will be joining judge Randy Jackson, who just might need the work, that Cara Dioguardi is out also, and that Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler will fill the spot left by the one and only Simon Cowell. Even though the apparently too nice Harry Connick Jr. had reportedly been in the running for the Simon job.

"American Idol" will also reportedly return to a three-judge format next year, after two seasons of a four-judge panel, which most "Idol" devotees found wildly annoying. There are also reports of Nigel Lythgoe returning as executive producer.

The frenzy and faux frenzy about who would be the next judge on "American Idol" even reached into the daily business of the White House.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This would be a great opportunity to announce that I am leaving after a year and a half of taking tough questions to be a judge on "American Idol".


WILLIE GEIST, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You know, we long suspected you, but couldn't get it confirmed. We appreciate you announcing it here.

GIBBS: I do hope that no discernible music talent is not held against me.


O'DONNELL: Let's bring in the programming editor for "Broadcasting and Cable," Marissa Guthrie. Good evening, Melissa.

Let's start with Ellen. Now, she's leaving the show. She's saying that she voted herself off. Is there anymore too it? Is it just what she says, that she didn't like it and she's done with it?

MARISSA GUTHRIE, "BROADCASTING AND CABLE": Well, I believe that Ellen doesn't like to be mean to poor, aspiring singers. But I also think it's clear that that panel last season had zero chemistry. And I think she saw the writing on the wall there.

O'DONNELL: And what about Simon Cowell? The irreplaceable Simon Cowell? I mean, he's the guy who even if you never watched the show, you know about Simon; you know his attitude; you know what he's like. They couldn't get a carbon copy, obviously. But Steven Tyler? That's - that's a surprise, to put it mildly.

GUTHRIE: I'd like to think that Jennifer Lopez is replacing Simon Cowell. But in all seriousness, yes, Steven Tyler is a bit of a dark horse. I mean, he's an aging Boston rocker. He does know his music. I mean, I can totally see J.Lo and Randy Jackson clicking. I get that chemistry. But I'm not quite sure what Steven Tyler has in common with them, personality wise.

Then again, I don't think the chemistry can be any worse than it was last season. And like I said, he knows his music. So maybe he will - we'll have to see how they actually develop, the three of them together. But this is a wholesale makeover of this show.

O'DONNELL: And Harry Connick Jr., just too nice for the Simon role?

GUTHRIE: Too nice. Maybe, you know, they didn't like the Louisiana accent. I think, you know, there's all sorts of different reasons for, you know, why someone would want to be on it or not be on it. I mean, I think that the centerpiece of this makeover is Jennifer Lopez. And they needed to fit the pieces around her. And she's the diva at the table. So I'm curious to see who actually does end up taking on the Simon Cowell role here.

O'DONNELL: And why would Jennifer Lopez do this? She is a huge star.

GUTHRIE: Well, she's - yeah, she's a big star. She's not as big a star as she was. She's kind of been like sort of a little bit eclipsed by Lady Gaga and Beyonce. And so I think it would be good exposure for her. And I think she can actually add something. She knows music. She knows performance. And I think, again, her career's lagging. Her film career, not much going on there. And she needs something to put her back in the headlines.

O'DONNELL: Now, in the grand tradition of every "American Idol" segment ever done on Countdown, there is the question of why should we care about any of this? Why should we care about this show, especially when the ratings are on the curve downward?

GUTHRIE: Well, the White House is paying attention. I think we should care, Lawrence, because your kids care. So we have to care. But, yes, it's on a downslide. It's down nine percent year to year. It's been declining for the last several years. But, you know, what, it is still the number one television show on. And it's still a huge hit.

O'DONNELL: The truth is here at Countdown, something close to a majority of the staff actually does care. Marissa Guthrie, many thanks for joining us tonight.

GUTHRIE: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: That's going to be it for this California week of Countdown. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann. You can catch my new MSNBC show, "The Last Word," debuting Monday, September 27th at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific.