updated 1/24/2006 12:18:30 PM ET 2006-01-24T17:18:30

Guests: Mark Dayton, Richard Wolffe, Kate Martin

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

Why spy?  As new polling says 56 percent of us believe the president must have a warrant before spying on us, he takes to familiar stumps to defend what he did and what he did not do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Why was Halliburton exposing our troops and civilians in Iraq to contaminated water?  The Senate wants to know that.  Mr.  Dayton of Minnesota will join us.

There is no Ford in your future, not if you‘re one of 25,000 of the auto giant‘s employees.  A quarter of its North American employees, unemployed.

The Super Bowl is set.  Kobe Bryant scores 81 points in a basketball game, and he throws curves for a living.  She shows her off for a living.  They‘ve both been traded, and she‘s not happy about it.

And I‘m riding the New York subway, and I‘m not wearing any pants. 

And this is news—why?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

That the Bush administration is deadly serious about aggressively defending its unauthorized spying on America, that it is deadly serious about relaunching as its campaign theme, Only we can save you, and anyone who disagrees with us unpatriotic and maybe even a terrorist sympathizer, had already been underscored last week with the sudden and unexpected reappearance from the shadows of, first, Osama bin Laden, and second, Karl Rove.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the start of this week marked the return to more traditional and familiar point men in the twin campaigns, starting with an address at Kansas State University by the man who employs one of last week‘s speakers.  Of course I mean he employs Karl Rove.

Any number of government officials actively and aggressively making the case for the NSA‘s EWW, eavesdropping without warrants.  But it was the president facing the biggest audience, 9,000 of them, in Kansas, trying to swing public opinion ahead of congressional hearings on this topic next month.

Most of what he said, same speech, different day, with one exception, the use of that pesky phrase “domestic spying program” is also on the White House enemies list.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  It‘s what I would call a terrorist surveillance program.  You know, you hear words, domestic spying.  No—these are not phone calls within the United States.  This is a phone call of a al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect making a phone call into the United States.  I, I‘m mindful of your civil liberties.  And so I had all kinds of lawyers review the process.

You know, it‘s amazing that people say to me, Well, he‘s just breaking the law.  If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Should you be thinking that maybe, just maybe, terrorist surveillance program was a W-esque slip of the tongue, we bring you Exhibit B, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president on all things communications related, taking the new turn of phrase out for a test drive early this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  We felt it was very important that we aggressively explain to the American people what this terrorist surveillance program actually is...

It‘s important to understand, this terrorist surveillance program was authorized by the president four years ago....

What the president has authorized, this terrorist surveillance program, absolutely what the American people should expect from their commander in chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOST1:  To discuss the TSP, the terrorist surveillance program and its political ramifications, let‘s call in “Newsweek” magazine White House correspondent Richard Wolffe.

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Keith, I‘m glad you got the memo.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and again and again, about 12 copies.

Clearly, it has worked for the White House before, but in this instance, is playing the 9/11 card the clean-cut political win that the administration thinks it‘s going to be?

WOLFFE:  Well, it has worked before pretty well in 2002 and 2004, so you can understand why they‘re reaching for it.  But, you know, the president isn‘t on the ticket this time around with these congressional elections.  And, you know, as the distance to 9/11 extends out, it‘s unclear how the aura of 9/11 and the image of the president as the protector of the nation, how that transfers to his party.

You know, we just don‘t know.  And if you look at the polls, of course people‘s attitudes towards whether they think they‘re likely to be attacked, those all—those numbers have also changed.

So it‘s not clearcut, but it has been successful, and it‘s been successful because the Democrats still don‘t have an adequate response.

OLBERMANN:  And also, it—they continue to be painted on the other side of this equation.  In a speech Friday, Mr. Rove claimed that there were Democrats, who he did not name, who are against tracking al Qaeda.  I guess the question in that context would have to be, who does he mean?  I mean, has any Democrat actually argued that it‘s not in our best interest to keep tabs on al Qaeda?

WOLFFE:  No.  You know, one of Karl‘s friends told me that Karl has been in his lab again cooking up ideas for the election.  And I think he may have cooked up some sort of a Mr. Hyde-type approach here, because, of course, those Democrats don‘t exist.  It‘s not, to coin a phrase, exactly fair and balanced here.

What Democrats oppose is not the idea of surveillance, it‘s how the surveillance is conducted.  That‘s to say, without going to court, without getting a warrant.  So, you know, it‘s effective politics, it‘s a good strategy, and that‘s why Karl Rove gets paid the big bucks.

But whether it is truthful or not is another question.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve all gotten, by the way, that memo about fair and balanced.  Does bringing Mr. Rove back out now or at any point this year risk reigniting the CIA leak case?  I mean, Patrick Fitzgerald hasn‘t gone home yet, has he?

WOLFFE:  No, he has not.  But it is a sign that Karl and his lawyer obviously feeling pretty confident in there.  Karl‘s also traveling with the president more.  So he is taking a much higher public profile.

But, you know, this is a traditional role that he has done in previous cycles, where he goes out there.  They say he goes to talk to the RNC, but the RNC gets his stuff anyway.  This was really a message to the media to get the talking points out there.  We report in this week‘s “Newsweek” that he‘s also been meeting with bloggers.  Some people who love you so much.

And, you know, getting them to sort of start putting out the news in the way they want to portray Democrats, especially.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, great.  All I need is Karl Rove on my back now too.

Last question about the Abramoff investigation and this report that there are photos extant of President Bush and Abramoff together, and there‘s already some spin going on here that supposedly they‘ve been shown to “Washingtonian” magazine.  Obviously, it‘s only a matter of time before somebody sees them in the public.

Is that going to be damaging regardless of the context, or is there going to be some way to explain this away?

WOLFFE:  Oh, images are always more important than words, in spite of what you and I do for a living.  And those images are going to be very hard to expunge from people‘s memory.  Just think back to Clinton, to Buddhist temple and Al Gore.  Those problems—you know, you can talk around it any which way you like, but Jack Abramoff has become a cartoon character in his own right.

And the pictures will just underscore what is already pretty clear, that Jack Abramoff was a lifelong Republican, he was a Pioneer for Bush-Cheney campaign, and his relationship with the White House goes back a long way.

So it‘s very hard to back away from someone like Abramoff when the pictures are there in people‘s minds.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, well, we‘ll see if he‘s wearing that hat in them.

The “Newsweek” White House correspondent Richard Wolffe, bringing his A-game tonight, as they say in sports.  As always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  The all-hands-on-deck effort to defend the domestic spying bringing out a rare public appearance today from someone in the spy game, General Michael Hayden, the country‘s deputy national intelligence chief now, holding a news conference this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, giving a spirited and unprecedented defense of the NSA spying, a program that he initiated.

General Hayden hitting on all the talking points, and with a twist, the spying unlikely to target you or your kids, the 9/11 attacks possibly preventable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: 

When you‘re talking to your daughter at state college, this program cannot intercept your conversations.  And when she takes a semester abroad to complete her Arabic studies, this program will not intercept your communications.

Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda  operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  For a reality check on that claim and everything else we heard from the Bush administration today, I‘m joined now by Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies.

Ms. Martin, thanks for being with us tonight.

KATE MARTIN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s a pretty bold claim there from General Hayden today, obviously an improvable one.  What credibility is it given by experts in the field?

MARTIN:  Well, you know, Vice President Cheney made the same statement, I think, in an effort to deflect the conversation from whether or not the president broke the law.

I mean, what General Hayden said is that we would have detected al Qaeda operatives in the United States before 9/11.  But, of course, the 9/11 commission found that they did detect two al Qaeda operatives, two of the hijackers, in the United States before 9/11, they knew they were al Qaeda, and they didn‘t do anything about it.

OLBERMANN:  The issue then was not finding, but knowing what to do when you find.

MARTIN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  A question about the semantics of what we just heard General Hayden say about the domestic spying program.  He said that a call to your kid at state college “cannot” be intercepted by this program, but he then said that if she‘s studying Arabic, the program “will not” intercept.  Is that anything more than just somebody writing it unclearly?  Or should we assume that there‘s something about “will not” that implies that in the past the program could have intercepted those calls?

MARTIN:  Well, I think the problem is that the administration hasn‘t been forthcoming about who they are listening to at all.  The only thing they‘ve said is, they are listening Americans without warrants who are calling overseas, and that there‘s some link to al Qaeda.

And so he‘s trying to reassure people.  But, of course, if you look at the actual law and their words about what is that mean with regard to the link to al Qaeda, any American who‘s conspiring with al Qaeda, they can get a warrant on in about two seconds.

And so these people that they‘re wiretapping, and we don‘t know who they are, appear to be people who are maybe calling somebody who, in turn, is calling somebody, who then may be linked to some al Qaeda affiliate.

And that‘s apparently why they haven‘t gone to court to get a warrant do the wiretapping.

OLBERMANN:  Even in—just in terms of the technology, could this domestic spying program really be targeted, as targeted, as limited, as the administration is saying?  Because this is what does not add up for me.  How would you know in advance that it‘s an al Qaeda operative making a phone call, sending an e-mail, making a contact in some way with somebody here?

Is there not necessarily, even if you‘re hitting a 500 percentage here, is there not some fishing around just to find out, in fact, that it‘s an al Qaeda representative calling someone?

MARTIN:  Well, those are all unanswered questions, but very good questions, because, of course, the NSA does have the capability to vacuum up millions of telephone conversations and then sort them through a computer and pick out which ones some actual person is going to listen to.

And even though the law that the president is ignoring, and, in my judgment, violating is very specific, that if you have some probable cause that an American is in communication with, is involved with, al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization, you can get a secret warrant and secretly wiretap them.

So the question that hasn‘t been answered by the administration is, why didn‘t they get those warrants?  Who is it that they‘re trying to wire—that they are wiretapping, who the judge wouldn‘t give them a warrant for?  The judges have given them 13,000 warrants, and generally say yes when they ask.

OLBERMANN:  Which question resonates more within the intelligence community, that one, or the one that the president asked today rhetorically that, of course it was legal, because if he were trying to break the law, why would he have briefed Congress?

MARTIN:  Well, of course, if you—he did not brief Congress in any forthcoming way at all.  In fact, Senator Rockefeller wrote Vice President Cheney a handwritten note after that briefing, saying, You told me something, I don‘t understand the significance, it was completely confused.  And then you told me that I was prohibited from telling my staff or anyone else.  I want more details.

He never got an answer.

And, you know, telling Congress, of course, doesn‘t matter, because the law says you may not wiretap without a warrant.  And whether or not he told Congress doesn‘t make it legal.

OLBERMANN:  Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, thanks for your perspective.  Thanks for joining us tonight.

MARTIN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also this evening, another black eye for the Halliburton Corporation, allegations from inside that company that it gave our troops in Iraq dangerously contaminated water.

And she may not be a household name, but she‘s now responsible for what appears to be the greatest sports press release ever.  Anna Benson (ph), former exotic dancer, lashing out after the New York Mets traded her husband, the baseball player, to another team.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Since they were awarded the contract for rebuilding much of Iraq, they have been accused of defrauding the American taxpayer, overcharging the government for food and fuel, and wasting vast amounts of money.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the latest allegation against Halliburton is actually worse.

A memo from July 2005, originally sent in May of last year, from William Granger (ph), who worked for the Halliburton subsidiary in charge of water quality, reads in part, quote, “We have exposed a base camp population, military and civilian, to a water source that was not treated.  The level of contamination was roughly two times the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River.”

Mr. Granger says the company would not tell him, or would not tell the military, about the problem in Iraq, and told him to keep quiet about it.

Another former Halliburton employee, Ken May (ph), supports Mr.  Granger‘s claim, that the company ignored the contamination, and both Mr. May and Mr. Granger say they became ill because of the bad water.  Both of them offered testimony on the Hill today at a hearing into the allegations conducted by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

Joining me now, one of the senators who participated in that hearing today, Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

SEN. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA:  Glad to, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Does this strike you, from what you know of it here, and what you heard today, as bureaucratic oversight, or is there a suggestion that Halliburton deliberately ignored the contamination?

DAYTON:  I think, first, it was at least gross negligence that Halliburton did not chlorinate the water, they say, for probably a year before it was detected by these two whistleblowers who appeared before the policy committee today.

And then it was a blatant coverup, attempt to hide it and even conceal it from the military that caused these two whistleblowers to resign from the company about April of 2005, when they couldn‘t get the higher-ups to do anything and wouldn‘t permit them to notify the military that this water was highly contaminated.

OLBERMANN:  After today, do we know the extent to which this was a problem, what kind of results and—occurred, and to whom they occurred?

DAYTON:  What we know from the memo that you just described is that it went on for about a year.  This is at a major base camp, Ramadi, just west of Fallujah.  Tens of thousands of American troops were exposed unknowingly to this highly contaminated water that was coming from less than a mile downstream from raw sewage being dumped into the Euphrates.

Microorganisms, larvae detected.  People were having gastrointestinal problems, including these two whistleblowers, and no one was told about it.  And even after Halliburton found out about it, the only thing they cared about was covering it up and concealing it, rather than notifying even their own employees, much less the military.

OLBERMANN:  This is the seventh time that there‘s been a hearing by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on possible contract abuses in Iraq.  Is there going to be any resolution to the investigations here?  Is there going to be any kind of bipartisan investigation?

DAYTON:  Well, there should be.  I‘m on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  We tried there.  I‘m on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Harry Truman started in World War II to look into these contracting abuses back then.  We can‘t get either one of them to do it.

The Republicans just don‘t care.  As long as Dick Cheney‘s former firm, Halliburton, is responsible, the sky‘s the limit.  They‘ve been told that they‘ve been overcharging the American taxpayer, they‘ve been bilking our troops.

This is disgraceful, the fact that our troops are over there putting their lives on the line, and they can‘t even trust to have safe water.

OLBERMANN:  Halliburton‘s denying these allegations, of course, even though the Democratic Policy Committee has a copy of an e-mail that is purportedly from one of the company‘s PR people acknowledging the allegation that is—that says, and let me quote it exactly, “I don‘t want to turn into a big issue right now, but if we end up getting some media calls, I want to make sure we have all the facts so we are ready to respond.”  That‘s the end of that quote.

That would seem to suggest that the company, at the very least, knew enough about the allegations to want to do damage control but not literal control.

DAYTON:  Sure.  They wanted to cover it up.  The memo you cited earlier was from the head of the water quality for Ira, and he‘s the leading authority.  He said, Fact, we‘ve been providing contaminated water to our troops for a year now, statement of fact.  The company‘s lying if they deny responsibility., we have been providing contaminated water to our troops for a year now.  Statement of fact.  The company‘s lying if they deny responsibility for this.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Mark Dayton, who attended today‘s Democratic Policy Committee meeting looking into the Halliburton contaminated water charges in Iraq.  Great thanks for sharing some of your time tonight, sir.

DAYTON:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also, a disaster in the auto industry tonight, Ford announcing job cutbacks amounting long term to a quarter of its North American work force.

And the nightly round-up of—we shouldn‘t encourage these people, really.  We shouldn‘t.  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Back now, pausing the COUNTDOWN.  The great comedians Bob and Ray used to have a bit about Ray telling the so-called Bulgarian cream pie story, a saga so intricate and entertaining that he would only recite it once per decade.  When he finally got around to begin to tell it, they would invariably be told by a producer that they‘d run out of time.

No Bulgarian cream pies tonight, but we do have Bulgarian baby racing.

Let‘s play Oddball.

First, so a guy walk into a doctor‘s office with 400,000 bees all over him, and the bees say, Hey, doc, can you get this guy off my ass?

We‘re in Bucaramanga (ph), Colombia, and this is beekeeper Marin Telez (ph) shooting for the bee-suit Guinness record.  The old record was around 350,000 bees.  Let‘s see how Marin is doing.  One, two, three, four...

Count faster!

Mr. Telez suffered about 100 bee stings, including right then in his stomach when he chugged the bottle of Gatorade that had bees in it.  Ay, el estomaco (ph)!

Marin did break the bee-suit record with a tally of over 400,000.  He later told the kids in attendance to stay in school so they did not wind up on COUNTDOWN wearing a suit made out of bees.

Loved him in Bulgaria.  Just throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don‘t care.

The second annual Babies Holiday Show, and you can feel the magic.  (INAUDIBLE) kids getting together to put on a show filled with song and dance for their moms and dads.  Lovely jazz number, very well done.  And the prenatal fashion show comes up.  Next year‘s singers and dancers included, no doubt.

Then of course there‘s everybody‘s favorite, the Bulgarian baby derby.  And they‘re off.  No, no, it‘s a false start, false start on Baby Yellow in lane two.  Unfortunately, looks like none of the babies fared too well in the derby.  They‘re not sure if they get the point of it.  you can say for sure that everyone learned at least one valuable lesson, though, at this year‘s Babies Holiday.  Always go for the gold.

Ten bucks says she—yes, she did.  Kid was just picking her favorite.

Match up for Super Bowl 40, of course.  Super Bowl extra large, as it‘s also known.  Also set.  One city that has not won it in 26 years versus one city that has not won it or nearly (INAUDIBLE) anything else ever.

And from underdogs to underpants, in skivvies in the subway.  Just another day in Fun City.

Details on those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Kyala and Oscar, the penguins in the zoo on the Isle of Wight in southern England.  Their 3-month-old son, Toga, disappeared last month, hasn‘t been seen since.

But good news, penguin fans.  Kyala and Oscar are expecting.  A new egg appeared in their personal space this morning.  I would have said “roost,” but actually the female penguin just stands with the egg between her feet throughout the hatching period.  They‘re very protective, of eggs, anyway.  Three-month-olds?  They‘re on their own, apparently.

Number two, an unnamed 58-year-old German motorist pulled over to use a rest stop on the A-6 highway near Lichtenau in Bavaria, went into the toilet stall on a cold morning, did his thing, got up to leave, discovered the lock had frozen solid.  Police had to pry him loose.

And number one, Joel Kackstetter.  Police in Chemault (ph), Oregon, say he was the passenger in a car they pulled over for going the wrong direction on a highway.  They claim Mr. Kackstetter got out of the vehicle and threatened the officer.  The officer chased Kackstetter, who promptly took off one of his own artificial legs and threw it at the officer.

When he missed, Mr. Kackstetter he then took off his other artificial leg and threw it at the officer.

The good news for Mr. Kackstetter, he hit the officer the second time.  The bad news for Mr. Kackstetter, this was where the pursuit ended, because he‘d thrown both of his legs at the cop.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The news shoots through an industrial map of the United States like archers‘ arrows through a paper bull‘s eye.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the Ford Motor Company will close a plant in St. Louis and one in Atlanta and in Michigan and in Canada.  As many as 30,000 jobs will be gone.  All this two days after the “Wall Street Journal” reported the salary of the average corporate CEO is 470 times greater than the salary of the average American worker.  In England that average CEO makes only 22 times what the average worker makes.  In Japan it‘s only 11 times greater.  Our coverage begins with chief financial correspondent Anne Thompson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNE THOMSPON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  The bad news came from the top.

BILL FORD, JR, FORD CEO:  These cuts are a painful last resort.

THOMPSON:  CEO Bill Ford, Jr.  Thirty miles from Wixom, Michigan the workers the locals absorbed it over coffee.  While on the line the plant closing came like a punch in the gut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now my stomach is in knots.  It‘s scary.  This is all I know.

THOMPSON:  Home to the slow selling Lincoln LS Town Car and the Ford GT Sports car.  Wixom will close as part of Ford‘s “Way Forward” plan.  Lately the nation‘s number two automaker has been in reverse, selling just three million vehicles last year compared to more than four million in 2000.  Ford said the sweeping plant closings and job cuts were necessary.

FORD:  In the long run we will create far more stable and secure jobs.  We all have to change.  We all have to sacrifice.  But I believe this is the path to winning.

THOMPSON:  And profitability.  Ford promised the North American business would make money in 2008 after losing $1.6 billion last year.

DAVID COLE, CENTER FOR AUTOMOTIVE RESEARCH:  I would say it‘s a good start.  It‘s good platform for the future but it is change or die for the Ford Motor Company.

THOMPSON (on camera):  The 25 to 30,0000 job cuts will be both blue and white collar and Ford will cut is officer ranks, board appointed vice presidents and hire, by 12 percent.

(voice-over):  The United Autoworkers Union blasted the plan as extremely disappointing saying that it will make next year‘s negotiations all the more difficult and all the more important.  But Ford has been down this road before closing five plants and slashing 35,000 jobs four years ago and it still lost market sale and shares.

(on camera):  So how will this time be different?

FORD:  You have never seen this level of cuts taking place.  You have not seen this level of innovation.

THOMPSON:  Innovation that Ford says will drive a leaner company, changing the way it does business focusing on building vehicles that attract customers and make money.  Anne Thompson, NBC News Dearborn.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Ford‘s name will remain on the stadium where the Super Bowl will play two weeks hence.  Making money is one thing.  A person‘s entire livelihood is quite another.  As our correspondent Ron Mott reports from just outside Atlanta, nearly 1/3 of the residents in the town of Hapeville, Georgia, will lose their jobs when the Ford plant there closes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON MOTT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Brian O‘Brien (ph) had difficult news to swallow, a taped message from Ford management.

MARK FIELDS, EVP, FORD MOTOR COMPANY:  As you just heard, with we‘ll cease production here late this year.

MOTT:  Ford is pulling the plug on O‘Brien‘s job as an electrician in this plant in the small town of Hapeville, Georgia, near Atlanta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s one of the best jobs I‘ve ever had.  I‘ve been there 20 years now.  Not only the job but the people I‘ve worked with over the years were like family.

MOTT:  It‘s a painful blow for O‘Brien and his 2,000 co-workers who face unemployment this summer when the last Ford Taurus is scheduled to roll off the line and it‘s also harsh news for this town of 6,200 which could eventually lose $1.5 million in tax revenue, a tenth of its annual budget.

MAJOR ALAN HALLMAN, HAPEVILLE, GA:  Of course, our local businesses will be affect, gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, et cetera.  And they‘ll feel a pinch, as well.

MOTT (on camera):  It‘s a one-two punch for auto workers here in Metro Atlanta.  Two months ago General Motors announced a shutdown it‘s assembly plant, 5,000 jobs will be lost with both closings.

(voice-over):  Not everyone is sad to see Ford go.

MICHAEL RANDMAN, CAFE OWNER:  Might see an increase because of once again the accessibility.  Some don‘t want to the come to Hapeville because they don‘t want to be trapped by trains.

MOTT:  Developers already have plans for the valuable real estate near Atlanta‘s airport and experts say the area‘s economy is strong enough to absorb the impact.  Meanwhile analysts sounded alarms about the changing economy for future generations.

JEFFREY ROSENSWEIG, EMORY UNIVERSITY BUSINESS SCHOOL:  Mothers don‘t tell your kids to grow up to be autoworkers.  Tell them to get into healthcare.

MOTT:  A warning that comes too late for thousands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Life goes on.

MOTT:  Now forced to find a new way to make a living.  Ron Mott, NBC News, Hapeville, Georgia.

OLBERMANN:  Getting fired by a guy wearing protective goggles.

An out of body performance for Kobe Bryant last night and for LA Laker fans a front row seat to history, except for the one day who forgot to show up.  Eighty-one points by one guy in one game.  There are at least two fictional TV presidents.  One whose show got canceled reacts when COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ever since the officials of the National Football League and its old rival, the American Football League decided to attach roman numerals to their new championship game, the Super Bowl, we knew this day was coming.  The 2006 game, number 40 would be Super Bowl XL, Super Bowl Extra Large.

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the world of wide sports in the semi final games yesterday an expected classic in Denver went sour in a hurry.  The Pittsburgh Steelers already led the Denver Broncos 17 to 3 just before the half.  Denver had just gotten the ball back.  CBS announcer Phil Simms warned, this is where you need to be careful, whereupon Denver quarterback Jake Plummer promptly threw directly to Pittsburgh‘s Ike Taylor.

The Steelers scored again and led 24-3 at halftime, breezing to a 34-17 win.  In Pittsburgh where the beloved Steelers had not been to Super Bowl in a decade and had not won it since their streak of winning four of them in the six years ending in 1980, it was controlled pandemonium.  The Super Bowl is in Detroit, not even 300 miles away and all of Pittsburgh may try to move there.

Facing the Steelers will be a team representing a city that has had a franchise in each of the three major sports for a total of 98 seasons, yet has only one championship in all that time.  You saw the sequel to the movie “Chinatown,” “The Two Jakes”?

This time it was Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme getting intercepted and beaten up by the Seattle Seahawks as they breezed to a 34-14 win in the NFC Championship Game.  The Seahawks are going to their first Super Bowl.  And as the great Northwest celebrated it‘s first shot at a title of any kind since the Supersonics won the basketball crowd in 1979 there was this sobering thought, such was the assumed disparity between the play in the two conferences that though Seattle was the number one seed out of six in the NFC playoffs and Pittsburgh was the number six seed in the AFC playoffs, Pittsburgh is the betting line favorite by 3.5 or 4 points.

Speaking of points, there is Kobe Bryant, a month ago last Friday he scored a whopping 62 points in a game for the Los Angeles Lakers, the most in the NBCA in 11 years but most of the fourth quarter was left to play but he sat out the rest of the game.  He anmd his coach thought he should sit out the rest of the game.  On the radio, my partner Dan Patrick and I were sad.  We thought he should have stayed in and scored as many points as he could because he could play an entire career and not get another chance like that—or get another chance 33 days later.

Against Toronto last night, Bryant scored 81 in L.A.‘s 122-104 victory.  That‘s right.  He scored 81, the other 23 players in uniform in the game scored a total of 145.  It is the second most effort in a pro basketball game.  The legendary Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game in March 1962.  Big debate over which was more impressive.  I said Chamberlain because there was no three-point shot in his time.  Bryant made seven three-pointers last night.  Dan said Bryant because the sport is more athletic and competitive today.  And, of course, Dan was wrong.

Ever-present Laker fan Jack Nicholson, incidentally, missed the game.

Who was wrong in the dust-up last week between basketball player Antonio Davis and a fan in Chicago?  Apparently neither.  Both sides report a peace settlement with no money changing hands and no apology either.  Davis of the New York Knicks ran into the stands believing his wife had been assaulted by a fan who Davis later said was inebriated.

Twenty-two year old Michael Axelrod, son of a Chicago politico, initially threatened a lawsuit.  A million dollars was mentioned, saying he was not only not drunk but it was the player‘s wife who assaulted him.  He later amended his demands to an apology from Davis and a small donation to a charity fighting domestic violence.  No word if any of that will happen now.

But a joint statement from both parties says quote, “Common sense strongly suggests that we collectively put this episode behind us and move on.”

Speaking of behinds there‘s the former exotic dancer wife of now Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kris Benson and she provides our segue from sports into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”

Benson was traded by the New York Mets on Saturday after months of rumors to that effect.  Many of them surrounding the appearance and comments of his wife, Anna.  She, for instance, showed up at the Mets Christmas party dressed as Santa if Santa ever had plastic surgery and used to work at the Bada-Bing!

Mrs. Benson has repeatedly talked about christening stadiums at which her husband pitched by doing husband and wife type things in the parking lot of said stadiums.  Anna Benson felt compelled to issue a press release after her husband‘s trade to Baltimore was announced.  It has already been conceded to be the greatest sports press release ever.  We thought I should read it almost in full and offer a translation as necessary.

Quoting, “Anna Benson, loving wife of professional baseball player Chris

Benson -“

OK.  Loving wife is usually reserved for tombstones.  I digress.“Who was traded today from the NY Mets to the Baltimore Orioles issued the following statement.  ‘I heard the news that we were leaving NY oday while I was shooting the April cover of “FHM Magazine.”‘”

Wow, five whole seconds went by before she through out the ceremonial first self plug. “‘I am hurt and disappointed that the Mets have treated my husband and our family this way considering that we have done so much for the city of New York.‘” Yeah, and thanks for settling that transit strike. “‘We‘ve embraced the Mets organization and the New York fans.‘”

I thought she was embracing the fans.  I knew I smelled rubber burning. The Mets and their fans definitely got the raw end of the deal.  If anybody knows about raw ends it‘s Anna Benson.“‘And Kris is going to do amazing in Baltimore.” Grammar, anybody?  At least we know she wrote it herself.  “‘As much as I‘m going to miss New York, my family and I look forward to making a home in Baltimore, and yes, I will continue by fun-loving antics in Baltimore.  We look forward to christening the parking lot of Camden Yards.‘”

OK, all you Orioles fans who drive in the parking lot next season, be careful where you step. “‘My namesake charity Benson‘s Battalion will be active in Baltimore and  I will remain involved in countless charitable endeavors.‘”

Because if we have learned one thing it‘s that Anna Benson gives and gives and gives. Finally, a0 sad note for fans of NBC‘s “The West Wing.”  The network canceling a critically acclaimed political drama just before there‘s a new man is to play, as it reads on Martin Sheen‘s stationery, the acting president of the United States.  Viewers will find out who wins the election between the characters played by Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits even if they never actually see them serve.

As for the current seven season occupant of the White House he‘s poetically stoic about the show‘s demise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN SHEEN, ACTOR:  It‘s been a beautiful, beautiful grace-filled happy run.  I‘m mixed—I have great mixed feelings about it.  It‘s hard to let go off and yet it must be let go of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And there‘s all that stationery.

Also tonight, no shirts, no shoes, no service.  No pants?  That‘s just a Sunday afternoon on the New York subway.  Trust me.  That story ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominee‘s for worst person in the world.

There‘s Tyrone Fergo (ph) of Blockton (ph), Mass, police say he posted an advertisement offering to sell cocaine online.  And he listed his phone number.  He‘s been arrested now.

The return-up tonight, the unnamed nurse at a hospital in Kyoto, Japan sentenced to nearly four years in jail for trying to work off her nursing stress by picking nails.  Fortunately, they were the ones on toes and fingers of six comatose and immobilized patients.  Thank goodness she was not biting her nails.

But tonight‘s winner, as equal opportunity kvetches, we will let you pick who you like least.  Reverend Enrico Rigi wrote in his church bulletin in the Italian town of Bagnorigio (ph) that Jesus Christ existed as a historical figure.  A local atheist named Luigi Castioli promptly filed a complaint with the police saying that Jesus existed unless you could prove it in court violated two Italian national laws.

So next week Father Rigi‘s lawyers to have go to the to court and prove Jesus Christ was a real figure.  Your choice.  Reverend Rigi, Mr.  Castioli, the lawyers, the judge, whichever in it with it is wasting Italian money on the hearing is today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s been a long time since the executive producer lived in New York City.  Executive producer says to me today, at number one tonight, we have the New York City subway story.  And I, who first rode the New York City subway while in the womb, said, you finally found the dinosaurs living in it?  She said, no, there were 160 passengers not wearing any pants.  And I said, yeah?  And she said, on the same train.  And I said, yeah.  The E train about 20 years ago.  I used to see them all the time on the way home from work and she said, no.  No.  No.  It was a stunt like a flash mob.

And I said, you sure?  The fifth annual no pants subway ride packed onto a number 6, that‘s the East Side running up from City Hall in Pelembay Park (ph) in the Bronx.  At 5:00 yesterday evening.  There mission, other than showing up in their undies, was to act as normal as possible and pretend they didn‘t know each other but eight were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, that‘s a misdemeanor.  They were released soon after the tickets were issued.

The group calling itself Improv Everywhere is responsible for the prank.  Joining me now, its founder, Charlie Todd.  Thanks for your time tonight.

CHARLIE TODD, “NO PANTS” SUBWAY RIDE ORGANIZER:  Thank you for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So last week they discovered this guy who had been riding the same Q train from Midtown to Brooklyn for six hours wasn‘t just asleep?  He was dead?  No one noticed?  In the context of that, how is 160 people in their underwear supposed to shock New York City subway riders or even get noticed by them?

TODD:  It doesn‘t always.  This is the fifth tile I‘ve done this.  I‘ve been doing it since 2002.  And we always get a variety of response.  There‘s always that one New Yorker on every car who looks up from his “New York Post” and notices there‘s 40 people on this train be with their pants off and goes right back to his post completely unphased.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, that‘s me.  Was there more involved in just walking onto one of the trains without pants?

TODD:  Yeah, absolutely.  It was a highly-coordinated event.  We had  over 160 people divided into five groups with team leaders and group leaders.  And at every stop, a predetermined number of people would take their pants off in one car, exit the car, walk down the platform and enter the car in front of them with their pants off.  So the effect was in those cars every stop for 10 consecutive stops, new people were getting on from the platform with their pants off in the dead of  January.

OLBERMANN:  And not to miss the obvious but the point of all of this is what exactly?

TODD:  Well, Improv Everywhere is a group I started in 2001.  Our mission statement is to cause scenes of chaos and joy all around New York City and everywhere else.  The point is really just about having a good time and getting people a great story to tell.  It was a legal—it was a really fun experience for all of those involved except for those who end up dealing with the cops.  They had a good time as well.  Hopefully it was a great experience for all the New Yorkers who encountered it.  Everyone was laughing and smiling and try to figure out what was going on.  We usually get a pretty good reaction.

OLBERMANN:  What happened with the eight people who got rung up by the police?

TODD:  Well, I‘m not exactly sure how the police got involved in the first place.  It was running really smoothly.  We had it organized and planned out ahead of time.  Once we got onto 59th street, one cop happened to be on the platform and saw a bunch of people with their pants off.  So he got on the train and started demanding answers.  Of course I had told everyone just to say they forgot their pants.  I don‘t think the cop was happy with those answers.  So he immediately went to the subway conductor and had them stop the train which, you know, inconvenienced a lot of people which was not our intent at all.

He rounded up, you know, the few people he could find—you know, the capper of this is, at the find stop, we had people come through the cars with duffle bags full of pants.  They sell pants for $1.  That‘s kind of the punchline.  Most of the people had already bought their pants with the pant sellers but the unlucky eight who didn‘t get their pants back on time were detained for a couple of hours and ultimately issued a summons for disorderly conduct.

As far as I know, it‘s not illegal to be in your underwear in public.  The things people were wearing weren‘t any racier than what you would see on a beach or park in the summer.  Maybe the crime was doing this in the winter.  I‘m not sure.

OLBERMANN:  Did anyone really forget to bring underwear as well?

TODD:  No, no, everyone was pretty clothed.

OLBERMANN:  Let me turn this around here.  I saw a guy last week

carrying on a full-volume conversation on the subway with Napoleon

Bonaparte.  He was just yelling.  “Napoleon, you‘ve got to -“

And years ago I was on the rush hour train where a fella who was smoking a cigar, he was also lacing the end of the cigar with airplane glue.  If you don‘t do that right, you blow everyone to hell.  There‘s always a chance that Benard Geotz could be riding on your train already.  Is there anyone worried that you‘d get on one of the trains with a real lunatic on board that acts up and does something terrible?

TODD:  That‘s a concern when you ride on subways.  We believe in strength in numbers and there were 160 pantless riders and about 30 more behind the scenes, people selling pants and taking video with hidden cameras etc.  So we had the whole train cased out pretty in case any crazy people got on.  But, again, you can encounter a crazy person whether you have your pants on or not..

OLBERMANN:  Especially on the subway.  I‘ve got to ask that.  Since be midsummer of last year, the police had been doing the random package be checks.  Any anyone in your group get their package checked?

TODD:  Ha-ha.  I get your double entendre.

OLBERMANN:  What double entendre?

TODD:  Maybe I‘m reading to much into it, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Your package full of pants.

TODD:  I suspect some people‘s packages were checked out, absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  You just said you‘ve got guys with packages of pants running down the 6 train.

TODD:  We‘re on the same page Keith, don‘t worry.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Charlie Todd, the mastermind of the pantsless subway ride in New York City, this pantsless subway ride, anyway.  We‘ll see about the one tomorrow afternoon.  Thanks for your time.

TODD:  Thank you.  Please check improveverywhere.com for more information on all of that.

OLBERMANN:  You‘ll be billed for that.  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your pants on.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, LIVE & DIRECT tonight from Miami.  Good evening, Rita.

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

Copy:     Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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