updated 12/14/2005 2:53:04 PM ET 2005-12-14T19:53:04

Guests: Howard Fineman, John Holley, Tom O‘Neil

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The president‘s approval ratings on the rebound, except in the poll that shows him down two points.

Do you remember voting to let the Pentagon spy on us?  There‘s a Department of Defense database listing 1,500 suspicious incidents in this country, including an antiwar protest planning session at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is the J. Edgar Hoover vacuum cleaner. 

They‘re collecting everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If the Pentagon‘s spending our money spying us on, that would at least explain why it‘s trying to save money by shipping the dead body of a 101st Airborne medic back home to San Diego as commercial freight.  The father of the late Matthew John Holley joins us.

Entertainment.  Nice to see an old-fashioned cowboy picture cleaning up at the Golden Globe Award nominations.  A gay cowboy picture?  Oh, that‘s going to be a story, huh?

And I didn‘t really buy Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai.”  But he was better than this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CRUISE:  Man, gee, you don‘t even—you‘re glib.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

We interrupt this week of Iraq news to bring you wall-to-wall coverage of the president‘s trip this morning to a Virginia retirement community touting his Medicare prescription drug plan.

What are you, nuts?  Nice try.

But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, we‘re going to talk about Iraq and the politics of Iraq anyway.  With the approach of critical elections there this week, and on a rare day off in the Bush war strategy speech schedule, we begin with the president‘s off-day, at least where public opinion polls on Iraq is concerned, 58 percent of those Americans surveyed by Gallup for “USA Today” believing Mr. Bush does not have a plan for achieving victory in Iraq.

The good news for the president, his overall job approval rating now starting to rebound, currently at 42 percent, 5 points higher than his record low of 37 percent in the same poll last month.

No such reversal, however, in the latest numbers from Zogby.  Based on interviews taken a few days earlier, the president‘s job approval there back down to 38 percent, after having edged just above 40 percent last month.  Those who disapprove in the Zogby poll, anyway, a whopping 61 percent.

Mr. Bush returns to the topic tomorrow, and to the lectern, preceding the full-scale start of voting in Iraq, with another speech at the Reagan Building in Washington tomorrow.  The talking in D.C. today was to a more select audience, the commander in chief inviting half a dozen Republican lawmakers to hear directly from those in charge of the war effort, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey among them, the senators apparently liking what they heard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  There‘s been a lot of discussion around Washington lately about whether or not we can achieve victory in Iraq.  Well, on Thursday of this week, we‘re going to see the third national election take place in Iraq.  All signs are that the election is going well.  Political campaigns are being carried out door to door, as well as by television ads, not unlike what you see in America.  That in and of itself is victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  After the lawmakers left, the meetings continued on and off all day, staffers saying only that the president and his top military commanders were discussing the elections in Iraq.  Democrats on the Hill, including Senator Joe Biden, a former chair and now ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, left wondering whether his invitation was lost in the mail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  I want the president to succeed more than you can imagine, because if his policy fails, we‘re going to inherit the wind for the better part of a generation in Iraq.  We‘re going to pay a terrible price.  And I don‘t quite get it.  I don‘t quite get why you would not do this in a bipartisan way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let me call in “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Biden doing his best impression of Claude Rains in “Casablanca” there, shocked that there wasn‘t bipartisanship today.  But why would anybody expect that at the moment there‘d be some bipartisanship, given that, barring some sort of cataclysmic disaster in Iraq starting tomorrow, it‘s going to be very hard for anybody to look at all those ink-stained voters‘ fingers and not say, again, Voting, therefore, election, therefore a triumph, particularly that it was Mr. Bush‘s triumph.

FINEMAN:  Well, I, it‘s a classic Bush operation, Keith.  I‘ve watched them do it time and again.  It‘s all about timing.  It‘s about a sort of hedgehog-like focus on the plan.  And it‘s not so much a plan for victory as a plan to sell this election.  That‘s what all these speeches have been about.  And it‘s about lowering expectations.

And in an odd way, some of those people leaving the IEDs by the side of the road, and exploding them in Baghdad, have had the effect of lowering the expectations of the American people for any good news out of Iraq.  And I think these elections, which are going to be very tightly watched by the American troops, 20,000 more of whom are there than were there a few months ago, to watch these elections.

I think it‘s going to be another good show, another good demonstration of a small step towards democracy that George Bush is going to sell the heck out of.  That‘s what he‘s been giving these speeches for.

OLBERMANN:  The initial voting last January really did staunch what at the time seemed to be a hemorrhage in the public support for his policy in Iraq.  But eventually, that hemorrhage resumed.  Are they expecting as much bang for the buck this time?  Or are we dealing with a more jaded public than it was even 11 months ago?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think we are dealing with a more jaded and more skeptical public.  All the polls show that, even if the approval rating has inched upwards in some polls overall for job performance.  And I put that down more to the economy and to declining oil prices and to the visibility of some controversial Democrats.

His numbers on Iraq have not improved.  Everybody‘s focusing on this number about whether he has a plan or not, and a majority say he doesn‘t have a plan for victory there.  The much more important number has always been whether we in America feel safer as a result of the president having gone to Iraq.

And those numbers have been in negative territory for a long time now.  People are skeptical and deeply skeptical of this whole thing.  They want it to work out as best as possible, to try to salvage the situation.  But they don‘t view it as a popular crusade anymore by any mean, obviously.

OLBERMANN:  The press secretary, Scott McClellan, said in the briefing today, quote, “It‘s becoming very clear that through the document and the speeches, we have a plan for Iraq.”  Other than Mr. McClellan‘s established willingness to always do the H.L. Mencken bit, to keep repeating something again and again in the hope that it will eventually become true, is that statement based on anything?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s based more on hope than expectation.  As I said, the numbers in the polls show that a majority of the American people, and a pretty strong majority, don‘t believe they have such a plan.

But I think George Bush and Karl Rove are once again focusing not on all of America, but they‘re focusing on an operational critical mass of political support, and that means reunifying the Republican base.  That‘s the reason for the pageantry there of Republican senators at the White House.

And I think some of the president‘s marginal improvement in the numbers comes from the fact that Republicans have come home to him.  I think the reason they‘ve come home, and some Republican strategists have told me as much, is that the visibility of Howard Dean, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi. and so on reminded some wavering moderate Republicans of why they marginally preferred this president.

OLBERMANN:  And thus, looking towards the political impact here of the politics in Iraq, what is your best guess where we‘re going to be next week, unless there‘s some sort of disaster that we can‘t foresee in Iraq around the elections?

FINEMAN:  I think they‘ve—the Republicans and the White—the White—I think the White House has set this up for some good news out of there in the next couple of days.  And the president is probably going to inch upward slightly in the polls.  But I don‘t think they‘re expecting, nor will there be, some sudden rebound in his standing in general, or for war in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent, MSNBC analyst, Howard Fineman.  As always, Howard, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If you saw Mr. Bush‘s impromptu question and answer session in Philadelphia yesterday, you will recall that he explained the Iraq war by saying that 9/11 changed his perception of foreign policy.  He did not say domestic too, evidently he should have.

Case in point, a change giving the Pentagon authority to expand its intelligence collection inside the U.S., ostensibly to monitor the activities of would-be terrorists.

But as senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reports now in an NBC News exclusive, it turns out that the Pentagon is now using that authority to monitor those here who are merely protesting that war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A year ago, in Lake Worth, Florida, at this Quaker Meeting House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi, everybody. welcome to...

MYERS:  A small group of activists met to plan how to protest military recruiting at local high schools.  What they didn‘t know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.  This 400-page secret Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a threat, one of 1,500 suspicious incidents across the country over a 10-month period.

We showed the document to the group.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The incident type, threat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible.

MYERS (on camera):  This document is the first inside look at how the Pentagon has stepped up intelligence collection in this country since 9/11, even monitoring peaceful protests against the Iraq war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Americans should be concerned that the military in fact has reached too far.

MYERS:  NBC News military analyst Bill Arkin says the Pentagon now collects domestic intelligence that goes beyond legitimate concerns about terrorism or protecting U.S. military installations.

For example, the database includes four dozen antiwar meetings, or protests, including this one in Hollywood.  Some, but not all, the protests are aimed at military recruiting.

A briefing document, also stamped “Secret,” concludes, “We have noted increased communication between protest groups using the Internet, but not a significant connection between incidents, such as reoccurring instigators or vehicle descriptions.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It means there are actually collecting information about who‘s at those protests, the descriptions of vehicles at those protests.

MYERS:  All this is disturbing but familiar to Christopher Pyle (ph), a former Army intelligence officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Some people never learn.

MYERS:  During the Vietnam War, Pyle he blew the whistle on the Pentagon from monitoring and infiltrating antiwar and civil rights protests.  The public was outraged, so the federal government put strict limits on military spying inside the U.S.  Pyle says this database suggests the military may be doing it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is the J. Edgar Hoover Memorial Vacuum Cleaner.  They‘re collecting everything.

MYERS:  The Pentagon declined repeated requests for an interview.  A spokesman said all domestic intelligence information is properly collected and involves protection of Defense Department installations, interests, and personnel.

But a professor at the U.S. Army War College sees dangerous territory.

LT. COL. BERT TUSSING (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS:  If we start going down this slippery slope, it would be too easy to go back to a place we never want to see again.

MYERS:  The Pentagon would not comment on how it obtained information on the Lake Worth meeting, or why it considers a dozen or so peace activists a threat.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, he lost his life serving his country in Iraq.  Yet Matthew John Holley was sent home in the baggage compartment of a commercial jet and was going to be put on a baggage cart before his family managed to intervene.  His father will join us next.

Just how out of hand is this nonsense about a war against Christmas?  The citizens of Saginaw Township, Michigan, and Plano, Texas, have a message for the man behind the fraud.  “There are no anti-Christmas dress codes in our town.  Please stop making this stuff up.”

You are watching COUNTDOWN ON MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Four more American soldiers lost their lives in Iraq today.  A bomb went off on a roadside northwest of Baghdad.

The number of U.S. service personnel killed since the start of the war now totals at least 2,149.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Army Specialist Combat Medic Matthew John Holley, the only son of John and Stacey Holley, was among them.  By all reports, he believed deeply in what he was fighting for.  He was from a military family.  He seems to have personified what the president keeps talking about.

Why then, when he came home for the last time, was his coffin to be treated as if it had been freight?

Normally, if it is in keeping with the family‘s wishes, a fallen service member‘s coffin is flown home draped with an American flag and accompanied by an honor guard to the final resting place.  But that was not the case, was not scheduled to be the case, for Matthew John Holley.  He died when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Iraq on November 15.

His remains were flown to his home town, San Diego, as freight on a commercial airline in the baggage compartment.  And with the honor guard scheduled to meet the flight delayed, the airline did not want to wait for that guard.  Matthew Holley would have been taken off the craft by baggage handlers.

His father, John Holley, joins us tonight.

Sir, thank you for your time.  Obviously, our greatest condolences on your loss.

JOHN HOLLEY, SON MATTHEW DIED IN IRAQ:  Thank you, Keith

OLBERMANN:  What happened here?  And do you know, was it airline‘s responsibility or the Army‘s responsibility or both?

HOLLEY:  Well, What I‘m finding out from, you know, just talking about it with different people, and especially, I‘m getting little tidbits from media here and there, it seems to be the standard procedure.  You know, they fly them into Dover, I‘m understanding.  They give them military honors, of course, when they offload them from the aircraft coming from overseas.

And then, you know, their process there, they told me they had to do some sort of DNA processing in Dover, and then he was going to be shipped to San Diego.

And so we were waiting to find out when that was going to occur.  When we were at the funeral home making arrangements for him, they informed us early that morning that he was actually going to be coming in later that day.

And so they were explaining, you know, the procedure for that.  And first off, they said commercial aircraft, which kind of raised an alarm in my mind, because, you know, I‘m thinking, why isn‘t he flying into North Island or Miramar Marine Carps Naval Air Station, and being handled by the military?

And then I asked them, Well, explain, you know, the process.  And they just proceeded to tell me that he was going to be offloaded from the aircraft after all the baggage was offloaded, loaded onto one of those dollies that they load baggage on, wheeled over to the freight area.  And then we were going to meet him there and be able to proceed with an escort from the military to the funeral home.

And I just basically said, No, that‘s not going to happen.  And I got on the phone to our casualty assistance officer, who is a great person and a great soldier.  And he went to work for us on our behalf.  And through, I‘m assuming, numerous phone calls, he was able to get some help from Barbara Boxer‘s office.

A gentleman called me, oh, I‘d probably say 6:00, 5:00, 6:00 in the evening on that day and asked me if—you know, talked to me a little about what I was expecting.  And he said, would I accept anything less?  I said no.  And so he said he was going to make a few phone calls, see what he could do.  And I said, Well, the first phone call you should make, sir, is to the FAA, because they control the airport, all the aircraft there, you know, everything that has to do with anything.

So he said, Yes, that‘s a good idea.  So I would say within an hour or so, I got another phone call saying everything had been ironed out, and that we were going to be able to—they were going to hold the aircraft for the honor guard, expedite the landing of the honor guard‘s aircraft, because it was going to arrive after the fact.

And when you were—we were allowed to roll out onto the tarmac and actually witness a proper ceremony for a fallen war hero that‘s returning home to be laid to rest.

OLBERMANN:  You and your wife were both in the Army, and obviously, you knew what needed to be done here.  But would other families in this situation be able to avoid the dishonoring of the memory of their lost loved one if they had not your expertise in the military?

HOLLEY:  I would think not.  That was one of the points my wife made in an interview, is that because of our military background, you know, we are sensitive to that protocol.  And, no, I believe the other people are probably not aware of it, and they‘re grieving.  I mean, when you‘re—you know, we lost our only child.  But, you know, anybody losing a child is going to be so deep in grief that they‘re not thinking about those sorts of things.

So that is why we‘re here.  My wife and I could have just sat on our hands after we had our own son taken care of, and just said, OK, we took care of our own, and that‘s it.  But we thought, you know, our duty to our fellow soldiers, you know, veterans and families of people who are coming back from Iraq, that we needed to speak out on this to make sure that it doesn‘t happen again.

OLBERMANN:  Is this sufficient?  If it—as you say, and even as a statement from the Army that we got suggests, if this is standard procedure, is this—all that is left is the ritual and the honoring of memory?  Is this sufficient?

HOLLEY:  You mean, as what they were going to do?

OLBERMANN:  No, as to what is done with our people who are lost there, and might be treated in this way on their way to their final resting places.

HOLLEY:  Oh, no, no.  What they were going to do originally, what they told me, is totally unsatisfactory.  I mean, my opinion, if I was running the show, I don‘t know what the person would be called, but they‘re flown into Dover.  They‘re processed—which I hate to use these terms, but this is what they told me.

And they go through this procedure to identify them for sure.  And

then what they need to be done is flown on a military aircraft of some size

doesn‘t have to be a C-130 or anything like that.  They‘ve got all kind of aircraft—but flown to the nearest military facility to their home of record, or where they‘re going to be laid to rest, given the honors when they‘re offloaded from that aircraft, give the family an opportunity to be there, to view it, and then transport that individual with an honor guard to their final resting place in the funeral home, so to speak, and then rendered honors again.

And then from there, the family should be able to have the option to have a service, a military service or not, like we did.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.

John Holley, our great thanks for sharing your family‘s story with us tonight.  If we‘re lucky, maybe bringing attention to this will at least relieve other families of one more burden.  Thank you, sir.

HOLLEY:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And the Holleys have set up a scholarship fund in Matthew Holley‘s name to help students in two of his favorite subjects, graphic arts and martial arts.  If you‘d like to donate to the Matthew John Holley Memorial Scholarship Fund, you can write to the address you see on the screen here, or call 1-800-752-4419, as you see.  And don‘t worry about writing this down.  We‘ve also put information up on our Web site at countdown.msnbc.com.

Also tonight, a money-making film.  It‘s described as Jesus posing as a lion.  And an award-winning film about cowboys in love, with each other.

And a partial score, far ends of the spectrum 2, middle ground, nothing.

COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We are back.  But before we rejoin our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s non-war-on-Christmas-related news, a brief update from the front, where Santa‘s elves are reportedly boxed in at a Toys ‘R‘ Us near Machapango (ph), Virginia.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Argentina, where the Christmas war has come to the streets of Buenos Aires, the Santy Claus Green and Yellow Brigade has taken to those streets amid mass confusion after reports that Michael Moore was seen in the area, brandishing a generic holiday bush.

Actually, these are city tax collectors who‘ve decided to dress as old Saint Nick as a reminder to area businesses to pay what is owed.  It‘s supposed to be a friendly reminder in Buenos Aires, but it is the last friendly remainder.  So pay up.  The Santa Claus is coming to town, and then going to town on your accounts receivable, if you catch my drift.

And then to Spain for an all-too-grim reminder of what we‘re up against in this war.  These are literally sharks circling the Baby Jesus at the Madrid Aquarium.  Once again, officials have set up their annual underwater Nativity scene, a fan favorite even if it is offensive to some of the shellfish.  Every year, hundreds of visitors stream in to watch the fish interact with the scene, which gets particularly interesting around feeding time, when the Three Kings present the gold, frankincense, and chum.

Speaking of chums, a buddy picture leads the nominations at the Golden Globes, a different kind of buddy picture.  Think there‘ll be a controversy over a film about two gay cowboys?

And another day, another new robot, a samurai robot.  Belushi was better.

Those stories ahead.

But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, a judge in Harbeingin (ph), southeastern China.  He has let a defendant off with nothing more than a warning.  The man had broken into a neighbor‘s home five times.  He fixed her appliances while she was out, did her laundry, left her snacks.  Why?  Because he was in love with her, but too shy to say anything.  Aw.  The judge thought this was sweet too, evidently omitting the fact that the man also stole photographs of the woman and one of her bras.

Number two, Lothar Matthaus, the former German World Cup soccer star.  He was responsible for selecting the teams that would face Italy in the next World Cup by drawing Ping-Pong balls out of a container.  An Italian TV channel has accused Matthaus of beginning to pull out one Ping-Pong ball that would have represented an easy team the Italians would have faced, and then dropping it back in, and instead taking the Ping-Pong ball representing the U.S., which is ranked seventh in the world.

They say it was deliberate, that the easy team‘s Ping-Pong balls were cold, and the tough ones were hot.

Number one, Fred Gage of the Soth (ph) Institute in San Diego.  He led the research team that has developed a new kind of mouse for use in studies of Parkinson‘s disease.  The mice had small amounts of human embryonic stem cells injected into their brains.  The mice, of course, immediately changed the channel to FOX News.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Hollywood has never been known to shy away from controversy, except if it was controversy that cost it money.  The other kind?  Happy days are here again.  Legendary is the movie mogul so clueless that he described the screenplay as “too blood and thirsty” and then made the film anyway.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, cue the 2005 versions of “blood and thirsty.”  First there‘s “Brokeback Mountain,” which today garnered the most Golden Globe nominations, seven of them including “best drama,” “best director” Ang Lee, and “best actor” for Heath ledger.  Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play cowboys who fall in love.  No Annie Oakley here, they fall in love with each other.  The year is 1963, a 20-year relationship ensues, despite wives and children and their fear of getting caught.  The movie may be groundbreaking as the first gay cowboy romance that we know of.  It opened in only five theater this past weekend. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the leading moneymaker of the weekend, meantime, has a Christ figure in the guise of a magic lion:  $67 million for what, as Don Teague reports, seems to be another example of the mainstreaming of so-called Christian entertainment. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I ain‘t going to smell it if that‘s what you want.

DON TEAGUE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The box office triumph of the “Chronicles of Narnia,” yet another sign that Christian themed entertainment is turning mainstream. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Take him. 

TEAGUE:  If that‘s a surprise to you, then you probably won‘t recognize Lauren, Alyssa, and Becca Barlow doing a little Christmas shopping. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hey Bec, did you see this purse? 

TEAGUE:  But million of their fans know Barlow Girl it is one of the hottest new groups on Christian radio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Girls. 

TEAGUE:  Singing of broken lives and faith in god. 

ALYSSA BARLOW,.  MUSICIAN:  Even if people, you know, think we‘re or whatever, I have to tell them about who he is because of what he can do and I think that I want to be a part of healing this world. 

TEAGUE:  And entertain.  Barlow Girl is on tour with Christian artists ranging from rap to reggae, all with a message. 

MATTHEW WEST, MUSICIAN:  If you‘re facing something this Christmas that seems beggar than you, it is bigger than you, but there is a god who promises to walk beside you. 

TEAGUE (on camera):  For Christian artists sending a positive message can also mean making a lot of money.  Tonight‘s concert in Nashville is sold out, that‘s more than 5,000 tickets. 

(voice-over):  Christian entertainment has boomed into a $3 billion a year industry, on concert stages, in praise nightclub, and on television.  The new Gospel Music Channel has “MTV” style videos and its own version of “American Idol.” 

For kids, Christian skate board parks. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My gosh! I was here first. 

TEAGUE:  And bible based video game.  In theater, the blockbuster “Passion of the Christ” and the left behind movies helped open the door for films like “Narnia” which Disney actively marketed to churches. 

ASLAN, LION IN “CHRONICLES OF NARNIA”:  The future of Narnia rests on your courage.

TEAGUE:  And some independent film makers are going a step further, making movies with a direct message for Christian audiences. 

DAVE CHRISTIANO, DAVE CHRISTIANO FILMS:  They‘re looking for a message that‘s going to help them grow in the faith, get to know the lord better, learn something—a rather the about Christ.  They‘re not afraid of the message, they want the message. 

TEAGUE:  Nearly 87 percent of Americans classify themselves Christians.  They flexed their buying power in bookstores for years.  In 2004, Christian retailers tallied $4.3 billion in sales. 

AMY COTTER, SHOPPER:  It makes you comfortable that there is a place you can go and that they can get things you feel like the content will be wholesome. 

TEAGUE:  But Christian music may be making the biggest strides with 43 million album sold last year.

DEBORAH EVANS-PRICE, “BILLBOARD” MAGAZINE:  It‘s not your grandpa‘s Jesus freak music anymore. 

TEAGUE:  Billboard magazine‘s Deborah Evans-Price. 

EVANS-PRICE:  From a business perspective, I think that people are realizing the power of the Christian consumer in this country. 

TEAGUE:  Even as the sisters of Barlow Girl realize their power to use music.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  To show the world there‘s another way to live. 

TEAGUE:  As ministry. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Don Teague reporting.  So, is it really the Jesus lions versus the gay cowboys?  Or it‘s just a matter of anything sells.  Let‘s call in Tom O‘Neil, senior editor of “In Touch” magazine. 

Good evening, Tom. 

TOM O‘NEIL, SR. EDITOR, “IN TOUCH”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the obvious.  There‘s going to be a controversy over “Brokeback Mountain?”  I‘m just guessing, right? 

O‘NEIL:  Maybe so.  This is the worst nightmare of the anti-gay forces because this is a movie you have to see if you follow Oscars and the Globes.  This looks like the movie to beat, in fact.  And in order to appreciate it, you have to buy into the romance of it, you have to care that these two get to love even other against the cruel, harsh world. 

OLBERMANN:  And on the other side of things, the Christian commentators are very excited about “Narnia.”  How much is that what used to be referred to derogatorily as a screwball bible picture?  Or is it a mainstream picture that happens to have religious overtones to it? 

O‘NEIL:  Yeah, in this case, I think it‘s a mainstream movie, the same way that the books proved to be a mainstream commodity that was appreciated as literature, and the message of Christianity was second.  So you can go to see this movie as pure entertainment and enjoy it.  And that‘s probably the balance you need to strike.  Great movies, great books have a strong point of view, the question is, can they reach a large audience and express it in an artistic way. 

OLBERMANN:  If it‘s got Tilda Swinton in it it‘s got to be pretty good to start with, but that‘s another—that‘s (INAUDIBLE) to commentary sort of review part of it.  But the conclusion here is that what I suggested at the beginning, that we‘re seeing Hollywood again realize that there‘s a market, not just in the middle, but also at the cultural edges? 

O‘NEIL:  Yeah.  I think so.  And I think you have to just concede that great movies have passionate points of view.  Whether a liberal movie like “Dr. Strangelove” or a religious movie like the “Sound of Music.”  Religious movies aren‘t new, you have “The Song of Bernadette,” “Going my Way,” were great films that took faith seriously.  Now, we‘re a little more conscious, though, as we target those groups. 

OLBERMANN:  But if “Brokeback Mountain” and “Narnia,” between them, make money and win awards, will we see more films that would have been avoided by Hollywood five years ago, 10 years ago?  Is it—is the copycat methodology of the motion picture industry going to be applied to what would have been risky subject a few years ago? 

O‘NEIL:  Inevitably, Keith.  And think of all the fodder that you‘ll have for fun in the future when we take apart the copycats who are never as good as the originals. 

OLBERMANN:  What‘s next, though?  I mean, are they looking to see how this goes?  How these two go?  To see if they go even further to push the envelope of mainstream—what is considered mainstream moviemaking even further? 

O‘NEIL:  Right.  And they‘re doing it so consciously in the case of “Brokeback,” you mentioned a few minutes ago that it‘s only in five theaters.  Well, that‘s deliberate.  Next week they‘re only adding 25 more, and then 25 more the next week.  This movie really isn‘t going to open wide until the third week of January.  They‘re that afraid that people won‘t come to see it that they‘re limiting the release of it.  As of Golden Globe weekend, January 15, 16, they‘re going wide so everybody can see it at the time that it‘s getting awards. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see how this latest controversy unfolds.  It is usually somebody making a profit.  Now it turn out it may be everybody.  The senior editor of “In Touch Weekly” Tom O‘Neil.  As always sir, great thanks for your time. 

O‘NEIL:  Thanks. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of selling, this time of year you know what makes a boat load of dough?  Those people to whom you pay your $4.95 for shipping and handling.  Are you getting your money‘s worth? 

The controversial football star Terrell Owens throws a birthday party for himself.  Did any of his ex-teammates show up?  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Technology on your side, more or less, from speedy overnight deliveries of millions of packages to breakthrough Samurai robots and running robots.  COUNTDOWN goes kind of high-tech, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I can remember it clear as a bell, my parents warning me that one of my Christmas presents was going to have to be an IOU because the place they ordered it from had not been able to get it shipped in the six weeks after my folks placed the order. 

Our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN: Try to tell kids that today stuff like that and they won‘t believe you.  If you get a package to UPS tomorrow, the 14th, it will still get there for Christmas.  How do they and FedEx and the post office, and all the others do it?  As Tom Costello reports the answer is volume, volume, volume. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s a high-speed, tightly choreographed logistical ballet in the dead of night. 

ANTHONY BREWER, FILLER:  It is overwhelming and out of control, but it‘s fun—it‘s like going to the amusement park. 

COSTELLO:  While most of us are sleeping, the giants of the express shipping, FedEx and UPS, are at full throttle.  And for the next 11 days the pressure is on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The challenge is always the weather. 

COSTELLO:  To see how it works, we decided to follow our own express shipment:  20 furry friends in need of homes.  Overnight express, New York to Atlanta, with special markings for easy spotting. 

Nine-thirty p.m.  first stop, the FedEx hub at Newark Airport.  By 11:30 p.m., our 20 friend are airborne bound for Memphis; 90 minutes later, we‘re on the ground at the Navy FedEx operations center in Memphis, almost everything goes through here. 

(on camera):  It‘s now 2:30 in the morning, here at Memphis, and this is crunch time, the busiest time of the day; 1.4 million pieces move through here on a typical night on 300 mile of conveyor belts. 

(voice-over):  The man in charge of the Memphis world hub is Reggie Owens. 

REGGIE OWENS, FEDEX MEMPHIS:  On a nightly basis, we touch 212 countries.  This is the heart and soul of the corporation. 

COSTELLO:  The heart and soul of UPS is at its world port in Louisville, Kentucky, 260 takeoffs and landings, a million packages each day.  And during the holidays, 230 deliveries every second. 

ROB LEKITES, VP UPS AIRLINE OPS: We‘re hiring between 40 to 60,000, what we call peak season hires. 

COSTELLO:  Back at FedEx and Memphis, our 20 boxes have been scanned, routed and sorted along with packages moving to Anchorage, Tokyo, Toledo, Dallas, Denver, and Boston.  And the fleet is lined up. 

(on camera):  Three-thirty a.m.  now.  It is bone-chilling cold and they‘re involved in the final load.  By 4:30, they want all 150 planes off the tarmac and in the air. 

(voice-over):  Four-twenty-five a.m.  Central Time, and we‘re airborne again with 58,000 pounds of cargo.  By 6:00 Eastern Time, back on the ground and our special delivery has also made it.  All 20 off the belt and by 7:00 a.m., on their way to their final destination, Egleston Children‘s Hospitals. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right, we had 20 altogether, OK? 

COSTELLO:  And just in time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  New York city! Wow!

COSTELLO:  For a little holiday cheer. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of getting shipped home for Christmas, there‘s the lead item in our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  And the birthday party for the banished football star, Terrell Owens. 

The venue was the Atlantic City club of hip hop hero Jay-Z.  Women dancers wore uniforms bearing Owens‘ number, 81.  And the invitations were shaped, appropriately enough, like a penalty flag.  In attendance, reportedly, celebrities such Jamie Fox, Will Smith, Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, and Michael Irvin who told Dan Patrick and me on the radio yesterday that before he let anybody to get in the limo with him to go to the party, he‘d have to pat them down first.  A little joke.  Nineteen of Owens‘ Philadelphia Eagles teammate attended.  But, actor Colin Ferrell was not there. 

The self-proclaimed hard partier and star of the just-filmed “Miami Vice” movie checking himself into an unidentified treatment facility for addiction to medication prescribed for a back injury and exhaustion.  And according to Ferrell‘s publicists, she added we ask that the press respect the privacy of Mr. Ferrell and his family until, she could have added, we need all the publicity we can get to spell that new movie of his. 

If he‘s got back problems and he‘s in rehab, Mr. Ferrell could probably use a little robotic assistance.  The latest in the endless procession, the Samurai robot, next.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze tonight, an unnamed couple from Luton in England.  They decided to have a romp in the toilet of a 777 flying to Jamaica.  They were so noisy, however, that the flight crew ordered them back to their seats.  They were so drunk that they started spitting at the flight attendants.  They were so threatening that the plastic handcuffs were not sufficient to restrain them.  So the plane had to make an emergency landing in Bermuda.  British Airways said it is billing the couple for said landing $3.8 million. 

Runner up, Wally O‘Dell, the chairman and CEO of Diebold, the company that makes automatic teller machines and those little computerized voting gizmos that leave no record.  Mr. O‘Dell is the man who as part of the Republican campaign in Ohio infamously declared he would “deliver” that state to Mr. Bush last year.  Then agreed later his remarks might have been seemingly inappropriate.  He‘s resigned for personal reasons, although his personal reasons might be financial in nature.  We‘re waiting for that story to break. 

But the winner tonight, yeah, him again.  You know how we‘ve been telling you he‘s been making up this blarney about a plot against Christmas?  Well, I had meant that term “making up” metaphorically.  Silly me.  O‘Reilly told his TV audience that a school in Plano, Texas, was so anti-Christmas it had told its kids not to wear red and green during the holidays and he told his radio audience that the entire township of Saginaw, Michigan had done the same thing.  Plano‘s superintendent of schools had to contact parents and tell them O‘Reilly was wrong.  Saginaw‘s townships manager, Ron Lee, wearing his red shirt and his Santa Claus tie and sitting next to his Christmas tree in his office, has also demanded a retraction.  Where does O‘Reilly get this nonsense?  Well, take a guess.  Bill O‘Reilly, once again, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You know what?  I was saying to the staff the other day as we convened for our annual retreat inside the phone booth out on the corner out there.  You know what we don‘t have enough of on this show?  Robots.  We don‘t get but what?  Three, five, 27 robot stories a week.  So our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, more robots. 

The Samurai robot has been unveiled at the very same Shito Shrine in Japan where, for centuries, inventors and investors have come together to offer prayers before taking their offerings to the masses.  The company has no plans to actually sell this thing.  But, it hopes to make enough improvements to make it marketable eventually as a security or caretaker robot. 

And then there‘s this little guy.  You may remember his trumpet playing predecessor, Honda‘s latest version of the Asimo robot can run at twice the original speed, a swift 3.7-miles-per-hour.  Still looks like a guy who is really rushing to get to the bathroom, doesn‘t he?  He has an additional 14 joints.  He‘s able to serve coffee.  A little more cargo room and it‘ll be bigger than the original Honda Civic sedan of 1992. 

Add the Samurai robot to the exoskeleton robot made by Toyota, which sort of sits on top of you and you can go up to 25-miles-per-hour in it and you can just concentrate on making that cell phone call instead of distracting your energy into things like, oh, paying attention to where you are going!

So, we‘re getting there, towards that promise they used to put in public service announcements of 40 years ago encouraging to you exercise, because if we didn‘t exercise, we‘d all wind up some day as just disembodied heads with robots moving us from place to place.  Like that would be a bad thing.  So, we‘re getting there.  Robots to clean, to cook, to fill in for me so I can take a night off every once in a while.  Robots to stand in for me the next time I have to battle a Samurai. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  The futures, what wonders will it bring?  Well, it certainly is a mystery, but one thing is for sure, the future will be filled with robots.  Robots will do anything humans could do only better.  Need some help with the housework, mom?  Dad not around to chip in?  Relax, take a load off, get your hair done.  How about a robotini?  In the future, you‘ll never do chores again. 

Our scientists of today are busy building the world of tomorrow where menial tasks and dangerous duties are done for you leaving you free to relax and enjoy the finer things all thanks to the magic of the robot. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Hmm, hasn‘t really turned out that way, has it?  Sure there‘s a robot to detonate bombs here and there, maybe explore some distant planet, like I needed that.  Where‘s my robot?  I saw the “Jetsons.”  I should have a robot maid, a robot car, a robot golf caddie. 

ROSIE, ROBOT:  Come and get it. 

OLBERMANN:  “Star Wars” is loaded with robots. 

Sure the robots could be annoying, but they follow orders, they help fight to save the galaxy, and that was a long time ago.  It says right there, “long time ago.”  It‘s 2005 over here.  What do I have?  And don‘t tell me “Roomba.”  I‘m not saying it‘s lack of effort on the part of scientists these days, but how hard are they really trying to get me my robot? 

We‘ve a handful of robots that do some cool stuff like they can fight each other, but who‘s cleaning my kitchen?  I am.  Well I am paying somebody else to clean my kitchen, but you know what I mean.  There should be a robot for all of that and all I see are these robo jokes.  An arm wrestling robot! What‘s that good for?  Robot mice! We don‘t have enough real mice?  A walking robot that can‘t walk straight.  Have another drink, Remi.  Where‘s my robot car?  Where‘s my Optimums Prime (ph)?  The only ones even halfway serious about making robots are the Japanese.  Our robots, they waddle around on a table top. 

Asimo over there is at least playing the trumpet.  Another one plays the trumpet on wheels.  Sure, rub it in, guys! Have one conduct the whole orchestra, why don‘t you?  They‘ve even got flying Mr. Soccer Ball robot.  At least they are trying! We are over here messing around with Clocky while they‘re getting robot massages, watching robodogs play robo soccer.  It is embarrassing to us as a nation.  If we aspire to be truly lazy as Americans, then we need to get off our butts and build some better robots!  And then get back down on our butts and say, Coolio, bring me a beer!

It‘s probably worth taking another look at Asimo who does look like he, either he is late for the men‘s room or perhaps he was raised in a house with very low ceilings.  And this is the way he‘s learned to run.  The future of robotic science, Asimo joins our COUNTDOWN robot hall of fame. 

As Dr.  Zachary Smith used to say in “Lost in Space,” “You monstrous metallurgical meddler, you terrified mechanical dunderhead! Oh the pain.  The shame.”

That‘s COUNTDOWN, I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose. 

Goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, “LIVE AND DIRECT” tonight from San Francisco.  Good evening, Rita.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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