updated 6/13/2006 12:36:07 PM ET 2006-06-13T16:36:07

Guests: Thomas DeFrank, Markos Moulitsas, Stephen Voltz

BRIAN UNGER, GUEST HOST:  And good evening and thanks for be us with us.  I‘m Brian Unger in for Keith Olbermann. Where does a president go when he want to resolve the thorniest of issues in Iraq? How that country finally governs and defends itself so American troops can start heading home.  The answer, the same place he heads for the weekend and for just about as long. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, two days at Camp David.  President Bush heading into seclusion with his national security team today for a war summit that on face values looks to be tackling the big ticket items still unresolved after three costly years in Iraq.  The kind of meeting of the minds that might have been more valuable before Americans were sent into battle.  We begin our coverage with chief White House correspondent David Gregory at Camp David.  David.

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Brian, this was an elaborately planned Iraq summit meant to show that the president is serious about retooling his strategy toward Iraq at a time when Iraqis and Americans are losing patience. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY (voice-over):  In the secluded setting of Camp David today, the president and his team reassessed the way forward in Iraq, saying the burden is now on Iraq‘s new government to perform. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Success in Iraq will depend upon the capacity of the new government to provide for its people. 

GREGORY: Administration officials say they have high hopes for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has made securing Baghdad a top priority.  Again today, Mr. Bush was cautious saying it was too soon to say when U.S.  troops could begin to withdraw.  Asked about Zarqawi‘s successor the president was blunt. 

BUSH: I think the successor to Zarqawi is going to be on our list to bring to justice. 

GREGORY: The Maliki government will meet via video conference with the Bush team tomorrow but experts say it needs more than U.S. support to be considered relevant. 

JOHN ALTERMAN, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: What matters to people‘s daily lives are war lords, sectarian leaders, local leaders, people who aren‘t tied in to national politics in the green zone. 

GREGORY: With the war growing political liability and his party, the White House is trying hard to appear more pragmatic about the conflict and more open to outside advice.  The president today avoided overselling progress after a  briefing by his  ambassador in Baghdad. 

BUSH: I thought your assessment of the situation in Iraq was very realistic. 

GREGORY: A leading critic of the White House argued today the president must make ending sectarian violence his number one goal in Iraq. 

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D) DELAWARE: If it breaks out to an all-out civil war, all the king‘s horses and all the king‘s men will not be able to hold that country together. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY After his meetings today, the president highlighted Iraqi oil as a key asset that would get that country moving again, but he also pushed for Iraq‘s neighbors to give more money to the country as it tries to rebuild.  Brian.

UNGER: David, thanks. More fall out over the three detainees who committed suicide Saturday at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The American lawyer for one of those men telling the BBC that his client was due to be released but just hadn‘t been told yet.  Another claim raising alarm bells of a different sort, that the suicides were a PR stunt.  A senior diplomatic official with the State Department, Colleen Graphy (ph) saying over the weekend that the suicides were quote, a good  PR move to draw attention.  Apparently, she‘s not the only one who feels that way.  Bill O‘Reilly making a feel good tour to Gitmo before the suicides and coming back with this nugget.  A guard at Gitmo telling O‘Reilly on Friday that previous suicide attempts and hunger strikes by detainees were orchestrated to get headlines. 

Time now to put those stories in perspective. For that, we call in the Washington bureau chief of the “New York Daily News” Thomas Defrank.  Thank you your time sir.

THOMAS DEFRANK, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Hi, Brian.

UNGER: Beginning with the meetings at Camp David, this White House has never shown eagerness certainly to listen to outside advice.  Do we think that President Bush and his closest advisors have changed their minds about soliciting other opinions on Iraq. Is this some kind of seminal moment?

DEFRANK: Well, I don‘t know if it is a seminal moment, but I believe the president is more open now to other views. It was very noteworthy a couple of weeks ago that retired General Barry McCaffrey was invited to a meeting at the White House and was invited by the president to give him his best advice and his best analysis of what is going on over there.  This was a time not too many months ago, when Barry McCaffrey, a distinguished soldier was derided by the White House as just another naysayer.  So I think they finally decided the situation is dire enough that the president is opening up.  It is too early to know whether this will be a seminal moment, though.

UNGER:  This was a well publicized summit, too.  This didn‘t take place in sort of a sequestered venue somewhere in say Tampa or something like that among the president and his military advisors.  Is there a reason for the highly publicized nature of it?

DEFRANK: I think basically there is a government now.  For the last three years, the White House has been raising expectations about what is going on there.  They‘ve talked about this turning point and that turning point and none of those turning points came to pass.  But I think the president and his advisors clearly realized that with the government now in place and with the defense minister and national security minister and an interior minister, the managers are in place to get something done.  Now we got to see whether they‘re going to get something done.  And so I think—

I wouldn‘t say it is now or never but the fact of the matter is this, probably is a turning point but this—the policy in Iraq could go either way and it‘s still very much up in the air and so I think that is why the urgency of this summit. 

UNGER: Thomas Defrank, is this a kind of signal that we are going to see troop withdrawals, the levels drop?

DEFRANK: Now not necessarily. The White House has been furiously backpedaling on that sort of speculation.  The White House clearly wants there to be some troops to come home, especially before the November 7th elections, but it‘s going to be dictated by what the commanders on the ground say.  I don‘t think we will have an announcement tomorrow about troop withdrawals.  They are hoping they will be able to bring home 10,000 or 15,000 if they‘re lucky, maybe 25,000.  But I think we‘re a long way away from that and it will only happen if the president and General Casey as commander in Iraq are convinced that this government can step up and that‘s still very much up in the air at the moment. 

UNGER: On the political side of things, is it a coincidence that the summit is happening the same week that the Senate is considering a supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq?

DEFRANK: I don‘t think so because that bill has been up for quite a long time and that bill is going to pass.  It is pretty hard to vote against something for body armor and other equipment for our brave men and women.  So I don‘t think there was any juxtaposition there.  If there was any juxtaposition, it was linked to the forming of the government.  I think that was the only calculus. 

UNGER:  Let‘s switch over to this other item in this lead tonight, this idea that the suicides at Guantanamo Bay might have been a good PR move, quote, designed to get media attention.  Now given the human rights abuses there and admittedly they are not complying with the Geneva conventions there.  Are the lives of these detainees somehow cheaper? That seems to be the implication if their deaths were a PR stunt. 

DEFRANK: Well, I just have to tell you just a personal view here, I used to be an Army public affairs officer and the woman who said that or the guard who said that to Bill O‘Reilly, those people need a public affairs officer because that was a stupid, dumb thing to say even if there may be elements of truth to it..  It is the wrong thing to say and especially for a policy that is very, very controversial.  The UN is upset about Guantanamo, a lot of the American people are. It was tasteless and dopey. 

UNGER: With the issues there at Gitmo so sensitive and with the world watching so carefully you would think that those statements released to the press or the public would be vetted perhaps more diligently?

DEFRANK: They probably were vetted but that just sounds like somebody didn‘t get the talking point memo because as I said, there is no positive percentage for this administration to be saying things as dopey as that about a situation. However you slice it, human life has been taken, at least certainly at their own hand these suicide folks.  These are not the cream of the crop of world society, but just was the wrong tone to be setting I think. 

UNGER: So where we find ourselves at the moment, can I ask you this, are we any closer—is Gitmo any closer to being closed down because of these suicides?

DEFRANK: I don‘t think so.  I think Gitmo‘s going to stay open as long as there‘s a feeling that it needs to stay open.  And I believe the administration is pretty much locked in concrete at least for the moment until you can figure out.  It is clear that the White House and the Pentagon doesn‘t believe all these combatants should go someplace else and it is clear they doesn‘t want them to be released either.  So they‘re not going to just send them back to the Middle East to do other bad things.  So I think Guantanamo is a necessity at the moment. 

UNGER:  Perhaps a topic to be resolved at another summit perhaps. 

DEFRANK: We‘ll be talking about that a long time I think, Brian. 

UNGER:  Thomas Defrank, Washington bureau chief of the “New York Daily News.” Thank you very much for spending some time with us tonight. 

DEFRANK: Thank you. 

UNGER:  Democratic hopefuls gather in Las Vegas, not for a political boondoggle or a convention, but for a blogger convention.  The organizer, Markos Moulitsas of “The Daily Kos” blog joins us.

And it is not even half way through June and already there‘s a potential hurricane called Alberto churning towards Florida.  Batten down the hatches.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Political blogs, they were a burgeoning media phenomenon in the last presidential election.  Since then and leading up to the midterm election this November, they are demonstrating to be a force of nature.  They don‘t play by the rules of the mainstream media, nor do they obey the same process.  But their voices are growing louder and their endorsements more credible.  Now in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the blogosphere through a convention in Las Vegas and plenty of presidential hopefuls showed up.  One of the country‘s most influential progressive bloggers, “The Daily Kos,” held its first annual convention. It was dubbed the yearly kos and drew nearly 1,000 bloggers, but it also became the stomping ground for congressional candidates and presidential hopefuls.  Among them, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, retired Army General Wesley Clark and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.  Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean was the key note address speaker giving the whole affair the feel of a straw poll or a political convention.  And joining me now, the founder of The Daily Kos,” Markos Moulitsas. He‘s also author of “Crashing the Gate, Net Roots, Grassroots and the Rise of People Powered Politics.” Thank you for your time Marcos.

MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILY KOS: Always a pleasure.

UNGER:  This was your first yearly Kos convention and it looks like it turned into a pretty political, big potent political event in that you had 1,000 bloggers and at least four possible presidential contenders there.  I mean is this the first political convention for the 2008 race?

MOULITSAS: It looked that way. I mean you are right.  We had four potential candidates.  We had a horde of media, national and international and of course, we had us bloggers, really kind of showing that now we‘re a force to be reckoned with.  I mean it is hard to see this presidential election move forward.  It‘s still very early. We‘re still two years out.  It is hard to see it move forward without bloggers having a big say in how things shape up. 

UNGER:  I want to talk about the midterm elections in a moment, but I want to ask you about the heavyweights that were there, the candidates which one created the biggest sensation and the most hullabaloo this weekend, the biggest one. 

MOULITSAS: Well, I think Governor Mark Warner of Virginia did create a big sensation.  He had a big party. Some criticized it as being a little bit too lavish.  Others, like me said, you know what, there‘s so much stupid money wasted in politics. It‘s about time that they spend it on meeting some regular people and at the end of the day, bloggers really are regular people.  We‘re not media elite. We‘re not political elite. We‘re just people sitting at our computers really passionate about politics, and if they want to spend a few dollars on us, I say bring it on. 

So but because of that reason, I think Warner really made a big splash.  General Wes Clark as well had a big bash at the Hard Rock Casino, which was well attended and generated a lot of buzz as well. 

UNGER:  Markos, let‘s talk about the midterm elections.  How do you think the blogosphere, grassroots presence, is it already affecting the up coming midterm elections?

MOULITSAS: I think there‘s no doubt that we are having an impact.  I think as far as mediums go and as far as movements go, the net roots, people like bloggers and MoveOn, we‘re still fairly small.  It‘s a nascent movement. We‘re growing.  We‘re starting to flex our muscle, but I don‘t think we‘re quite at the point yet where we can determine who wins and loses elections.  I don‘t know if we will ever get to that point, but there is no doubt that we can shine the light on certain elections.  We can make a little bit of money. We can generate a lot of buzz and we‘re seeing that in states like Montana, where the Senate race in Montana, this big, big state land wise, not a lot of people live there, yet it‘s become one of the hottest, most talked about races in the country because of the blogs.  We‘re seeing that in the Connecticut in the Democratic Senate primary where Senator Joe Lieberman is facing a serious and very, very strong primary challenge from Ned Lamont.  We are very much strongly behind Ned Lamont in that primary.  So I think we are having an impact, not on every race, but in a lot of races. 

UNGER: You know Markos, people who write about the media tend to sort of paint the blogosphere as this sort of fringe media voice out there in the nether world.  Has it gone—it certainly has gone more mainstream but what‘s the evolution for you?  How mainstream is the grand plan to be?

MOULITSAS: Well, you know, to me it is amusing to see a lot of coverage.  People are saying look, Markos wrote a brook.  That‘s very mainstream and look, he is having a convention.  That‘s very mainstream and as though the world mainstream is something that we‘re allergic to.  What we‘re trying to do is change the mainstream. We‘re trying to teach the traditional media, the mainstream media that it doesn‘t have to be a lap dog to the Bush administration and to the Republican conservative spin machine.  We‘re trying to teach politicians that they can reconnect with their populist roots, that they should be out and about outside of Washington, D.C. talking to regular people, because regular people don‘t think the way they think inside of Washington, D.C.  So this is what we are trying to do and if we have our way, clearly this way of thinking is going to be the so-called mainstream.  So we are not allergic to it. We want to be the mainstream. 

UNGER: And it certainly seems to be inevitable, as you grow in popularity you are going to get more and more people looking at more page views. You become more mainstream by mere existence, right?

MOULITSAS: Absolutely.  That‘s why I do not like the word mainstream media and I‘ve always tried to tell people, use traditional media, because that‘s what we‘re talking about. We‘re not talking about—if we‘re talking about numbers and size of audiences, I don‘t understand how a small, low rated show on Fox News is somehow more mainstream than  “Daily Kos” which has hundreds of thousands of people reading it on a daily basis or even some of the biggest newspapers.  So it not a question of numbers equals mainstream.  The question is, can we pierce that bubble in Washington, D.C.? Can we let them realize that there‘s a lot of talent, a lot of energy and a lot of excitement and intelligence outside of Washington, D.C. that the media and the political elite should tap in to. 

UNGER: I suppose media writers will have plenty to say come November. 

MOULITSAS: About our impact?

UNGER: Yes. 

MOULITSAS: I suppose so.  We‘re going to win some. We‘re going to lose some and people are always going to wonder how much impact did the blogs have?  If Democrats win in November, everybody is going to be trained to take credit for it.  The party is going to try to take credit for it.  I guess some bloggers will try to take credit for it. So who knows.  But if we lose, I have a feeling that they‘re going to try to blame us for all the losses, instead of realizing that we‘ve been losing for a long time as a party.  We‘ve been losing long before bloggers came on the scene.  We‘re the fresh horses. We‘re trying to shake things up in D.C., turn things around for the party that hasn‘t won very many elections in a long, long time. 

UNGER: Markos Moulitsas, founder of “The Daily Kos” and organizer of the yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas last weekend.  Thank you for joining us. 

MOULITSAS: Always a pleasure, thanks so much.

UNGER: Turning to democracy in action in Bolivia.  Maybe brawling isn‘t the best way to settle your differences, but it‘s a heck of a lot more exciting than actually talking them out.  And it‘s time for another edition of cool stuff we found on the Internet.  This one is actually educational, though debatable when COUNTDOWN continues.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  I‘m Brian Unger sitting in for Keith Olbermann.  And this week I thought we‘d try something a little different perhaps even radical.  At this point in the show, we are going to take a break from the serious news of the day and enjoy a short segment dedicated to weird news, silly video, dumb criminals. We‘ll do it over funny music and it will all start when I say let‘s play oddball. 

So maybe Keith has done this before.  But did he ever have video of a grilled cheese sandwich eating contest? He did? OK, well, this one comes to us from Las Vegas, Nevada, $100,000 on the line.  The deal was any amateur who could power down 36 sandwiches in 10 minutes would take home the $100,000 grand.  But not one of them could do it.  The winner in the pro category ate 47 of them, but the amateurs didn‘t even get close. But they went home with this consolation prize, a week of wrenching intestinal pain and a  T-shirt from the big blogger convention.

In other food-related news, these are Asian water buffalo at the Mitzeron (ph) ranch in Israel.  Cameras are on hand to get the reaction to the big news of the day.  Following extensive research by scientists, one of Israel‘s chief rabbis has declared that from now on, the Asian water buffalo is considered kosher under Jewish dietary laws.  Congratulations guys, you are kosher.  Oh, I‘m sorry. That really isn‘t good news for the buffalo at all, though I hope it all works out for them anyway. 

And finally to La Paz, Bolivia for a reminder that while our elected leaders may be a bunch of embarrassments, at least they are not brawling on the floor of the Congress. That‘s Congressman Walter Adriazola (ph) of the Ponemos (ph) party at the microphone there, shouting about the elimination of the national road services law.  My Spanish isn‘t great, but I believe what he is saying translates roughly to how can I deliver my speech with you punching me in the head like that? Quit it.  Yeah, I think that‘s what he‘s saying.

Our capital state of oddball, Florida, bracing for something distinctly unfunny, the first potential hurricane of the storm season. 

And what do you get when you put Mentos mints in a bottle of Coke?  See, kids, science is fun and it leaves your breath fresh, too.  Those stories ahead.

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of the day. 

Number three, Sheriff‘s Deputy Dawn Renee Roberson of (INAUDIBLE) Arkansas.  She‘s been relieved of her duties after being arrested on charges of indecent exposure.  Police say she wasn‘t going around topless at a Hot Springs campground. She was going around topless, became loud and disorderly when a family complained.  At least she scared the bears away. 

Number two, Tony and Aaron Carlson of Chandler, Arizona.  The parents of three sons, aged 12, 11 and four have been arrested after police say they were giving marijuana to their children as a reward for good behavior.  You kids clean your rooms or you are going to bed without getting baked tonight. 

And number one, the volunteer fire department of Livingston, Kentucky.  They had a big fundraiser this past Saturday, a fish fry. Only problem is, the fish fryer burned down the fire house.  It will need a total renovation now, and the department is planning a new event to help raise money for that, another fish fry.  At least they‘re not deep frying turkeys, because that would be very, very dangerous.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Well, it sounds both calculating and callus but in the internet climate it was about to happen.  The web is taking bets on our real climate, specifically the new hurricane season.  Letting you wager how many storms will make landfall, where they will hit and how bad they will be.  That kind of gaming looks even more shameless now that an actual storm is brewing off the Gulf Coast of Florida. 

Our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, the first tropical storm this year, Alberto, in the Gulf of Mexico and closing in and with it the first hurricane warnings of the season.  Our correspondent is Safety Harbor, Florida is Jay Gray—Jay. 

JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hey there Brian.  Safety Harbor, just North of Tampa.  And Safety Harbor, that name taking on an even more significant meaning at this storm Alberto intensified.  We‘ve really seen conditions get much worse here throughout the day.  The wind has picked up dramatically; the surf has been very strong.  And as Alberto continues to intensify, so do preparations here in the strike zone. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Once considered little more than a rainmaker. 

DON MARTIN, FLORIDA RESIDENT:  Been here for 35 years, it‘s just a rainy day. 

GRAY:  Alberto has grown in to a much bigger problem.  The outer bands of the storm are being blamed for this fatal plane crash, on person died, another was injured, when the plane crashed in to this house shortly after take-off from Davis Island, near Tampa.  The soaking rains have also led to flooding in low-lying areas and early winds have already pulled the tarps from roves on homes that were still struggling to recover from the last two years of storms here.  As the storm barrels in on the Florida coast, it is gaining momentum and even though it is just a warning, at this point, locals are still concerned about what could come next. 

DANAH GEORGE, CLEARWATER RESIDENT:  I‘m a little concerned about winds because this is my first time here in Clearwater. 

MICHAEL NIEDBALA, CLEARWATER RESIDENT:  We‘re watching it a lot closer than we were before. 

GRAY:  Suddenly, the idea that hurricane season has started is all too real in an area where survivors know all too well the severe affects of even the smallest of the storms. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And again, things here are likely to continue to intensify as this storm makes its way toward the Florida coast.  Again Alberto could become a Category One hurricane sometime late in the evening and that‘s before it should make landfall.  That would be sometime Tuesday morning. 

Live in Safety Harbor, I‘m Jay Gray, now back to you, Brian. 

UNGER:  Jay, I just had one quick question for you.  The residents that you‘ve spoken to down there, in Safety Harbor, do you get the sense that they are prepared for this and/or something worse? 

GRAY:  Yeah, I do.  In fact, when you talk to lot of people here, they have really changed the way they‘re thinking about this storm over the last couple of days.  First it was going to be a rainmaker, as we talked about, delivering a lot of rain, and people really need that here, they‘ve been suffering through some wildfires, a severe drought, so they were really looking forward to the rain.  They will still get that, but now we‘ve got the stronger winds, the thing‘s really beginning to fall apart weather-wise here, today.  And it‘s really sparked an emotion in these people that they‘re remembering what they‘ve gone through over the last two years and they are taking this very seriously, in fact, over 20,000 people, not here, but throughout the Big Bend area of Florida have already evacuated. 

UNGER:  Correspondent, Jay Gray, in Safety Harbor, Florida, thank you so much. 

GRAY:  You bet. 

UNGER:  It looks all too familiar, the warnings, the evacuations, and the waiting, but there is still the chance that this tropical storm will remain just that.  Our NBC Weather Plus meteorologist is Bill Karins—

Bill. 

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS METEOROLOGIST:  Well, thanks Brian.  This storm, we woke up this morning, it rapidly intensified.  Just a cruel reminder that any storm in the Gulf, with the warm water, you have to watch very closely.  This storm was not supposed to intensify like this, earlier today.  But the good news is, it didn‘t keep up that intensification.  It looks like it is pretty much held its own during the afternoon and the evening hours.  And now we‘re not even watching any of those huge thunderstorms near the center of the storm.  So, time is slowly running out on this storm to get to Category One status and to be a hurricane.  It still could do it if it flares up later on tonight, but it‘s not looking as impressive now as it did earlier this morning. 

Let me try to explain why.  This is Our Water Vapor Imagery, kind of just a fancy map that shows where all the dry areas and where all the tropical areas, of course it‘s a tropical system, it needs the tropical air.  And this orange section you see here, this is all dry air.  This is the center of the storm, and this dry air is being sucked into the center of the storm.  That‘s what is cutting off all of those thunderstorms and this is probably why this storm will not become a hurricane.  Probably staying a tropical storm or maybe just barely a Category One.  We don‘t have to worry about flaring up to a Category Two or doing a ton of damage.  Right now the winds are still pretty strong, though, 70 miles-per-hour, it‘s only 130 miles away, now, from Cedar Key, Florida. 

We‘re going to talk a lot about that town.  That‘s where we have NBC correspondents stationed out throughout the night.  And if we‘re going to get flooding pictures from a town that has water in it, it would probably be Cedar Key, here.  A highly unpopulated area, once you get North of Tampa, pretty swampy area where the storm is moving inland. 

We do have those hurricane warnings in effect that do cover the area of expected landfall.  Tampa, Northward and then pretty much heading Apalachicola heading East. 

I want to show you the radar out of Cedar Key, because this is the area that‘s going to get hit the hardest.  The radar, the winds and everything else, coming up pretty much due South and that‘s where we‘re going to see all the water piling up in this region.  That‘s where we could be dealing with a storm surge in a lot of these small towns. 

Here‘s a few, a wider view of the entire storm.  Notice the West side of the storm, nothing.  The South side of the storm, really not much, so the storm is only healthy, pretty much on the North side and on the East side.  So once the center crosses tomorrow, the sun could even come out in Cedar Key after the storm blows through.  So, it‘s going to be a quick mover as we go throughout tomorrow.  We‘re still going to see heavy rainfall totals here.  Hey, it looks like this area in red is where we could pick up six inches of rain and that‘s where we could have a little bit of minor flooding.  Gainesville is one of those locations that could get hit hard by that rainfall, also.  Then that rain will continue from Jacksonville Northwards, and even Georgia is going to pick up some significant rainfall. 

So, the timing here, maybe a Category One by tomorrow morning, tropical storm by tomorrow night and then the storm heads up the Eastern Seaboard.  It doesn‘t like it‘s going to intensify, it should weaken, and then head out to sea. 

And Brain, one thing that interesting, last year, Arlene hit Florida at about the exact same time as this storm.  Hopefully this season will not copy last year. 

UNGER:  One can only hope.  Bill Karins of NBC Weather Plus, thank you for your insight. 

Six months ago, he took his team to victory in the Super Bowl.  Now Ben Roethlisberger lies seriously in a hospital after a motorcycle crash. 

And barely a week old Brangelina‘s baby may be the youngest human ever to be asked:  Who are you wearing?  How Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt sent sales is soaring thanks to her wardrobe.  Those stories ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, (voice-over):  Most see Barbie‘s blue eyes and blonde air. 

JOYCE LUKE, BARBIE GIRL:  I see fun.  I see neat memories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  History repeats itself often at Joyce Luke‘s home where she still plays with her Barbie dolls. 

LUKE:  I don‘t call it playing, I just call it rearrange it. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Yeah, Anna Nicole Smith is pregnant.  You know what that means, now she‘s gold digging for two. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, (voice-over):  Tyler Groth bailed himself out of jail today.  When he tracked him down he admitted he and his cousin vandalized peaceful Catholic meditation sites with satanic messages. 

(on camera):  Are you religious? 

TYLER GROTH, VANDAL:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you have a problem with people who are? 

GROTH:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know you spelled Satan wrong? 

GROTH:  No, I‘m not aware of it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You spelled it satin like the fabric. 

GROTH:  If I was speaking of the devil I would have spelt it right. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think that is funny? 

GROTH:  No, that I spelt it wrong?  No I‘m a bad speller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why graffiti at all?

GROTH:  Because I‘m a punk, that‘s what I do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  The youngest quarterback to take his team to the Super Bowl and win, lies seriously injured in a hospital after crashing his motorcycle tonight.  And it turns out he wasn‘t wearing a helmet.  The latest on been Roethlisberger‘s condition when COUNTDOWN continues. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  It was a little more than four months ago that Ben Roethlisberger was on the field leading his team to victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 40.  This morning, the Steelers quarterback was on the road riding his black 2005 Hayabusa motorcycle, a motorcycle the company calls “the world‘s fastest for street legal riding.” 

In our No. 2 story, Ben Roethlisberger crashed that bike this morning.  He suffered a broken jaw and a broke nose and he‘s in serious, but stable condition in a Pittsburgh hospital. 

When Ben Roethlisberger led his team to a Super Bowl victory on the field four months ago, he was wearing a hell mitt.  When he crashed his bike this morning he was not.  NBC‘s Tracie Potts has more. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRACIE POTTS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It happened near downtown Pittsburgh.  Steelers‘ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was in a motorcycle accident. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I heard a really loud crash and I looked over my shoulder, saw his—a man‘s bike and a man on the ground. 

POTTS:  Police hauled away the bike and a silver Chrysler New Yorker with front end damage.  At a nearby hospital, a doctor confirmed Roethlisberger was serious, but stable before surgery. 

DR.  LARRY JONES, MERCY HOSPITAL:  He was talking to me before he left

for the operating room, he was coherent, he was making sense, he knows what

happened, he knows where he is

POTTS:  The 24-year-old quarterback frustrated coaches and own areas refusing to wear a helmet.  Three years ago, Pennsylvania changed its 35-year-old mandatory helmet law, allowing drivers and passengers to ride without one.  Now fans hope they‘ll think twice about it.

MAURICE TRENT, STEELERS FAN:  You always have to worry about the person in the other vehicle.  So, you know, I pray that he takes, you know, better precautions. 

POTTS:  Two weeks ago, Roethlisberger, met President Bush at the White House to celebrate his Super Bowl win. 

QUESTION:  You coming back next year?

BEN ROETHLISBERGER, STEELERS‘ QUARTERBACK:  That would be nice.  No promises though.

POTTS:  Today, fans are hoping he‘ll have the chance. 

Tracie Potts, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  As they say, on the lighter side of things, we turn to our daily roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

Not since the “Opera” show featured a Los Angeles bakery for selling what Oprah‘s best friend Gale King thought was one of the most scrumptious cakes in America, has a product created such a huge hoopla.  The cake was red velvet, and for now what‘s being dubbed the next perfect product placement, this one‘s on Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt‘s very own pillow-lipped newborn baby, and one very lucky designer is reaping the benefits what Shiloh Nouvel wore on her first photo shoot, now catapulting his career to celebrity status.  CNBC correspondent, Jane Wells, has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANE WELLS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In a celebrity driven culture this is what is call the money shot.  The most sought after photos of the season, of Braddy‘s girl, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, she‘s cute, but wait, what‘s she wearing?  Kingsley?  Kingsley Aarons and his wife Amy starting a baby clothing business in Southern California two years ago after the birth of their son.  Their Web site plays Led Zeppelin and price tags look like concert tickets. 

KINGSLEY AARONS, DESIGNER:  Our goal is to make quality product products with some cool art that, you know, the clothes that I would even wear, that I would love to put on my son.

WELLS:  Sales at Kingsley are expected to double this year to $1 million, but that was before baby Shiloh made Kingsley famous.  The shirt she‘s wearing is called “Pots and Pans” and costs about $40. 

KIM CILIBERTO, TUTIIBELLA.COM:  This was our best selling item from the last collection. 

WELLS:  Kim Ciliberto kids‘ clothing through her Web site, tutiibella.com.  She says the kingly shirts always do well with the in-style crowd, but she‘s now sold out of the white “Pots and Pans” shirt Shiloh was wearing and is ordering more. 

CILIBERTO:  It seems like it broke today, really, as of this morning we‘re seeing the orders rolling in. 

WELLS:  Who knew what a windfall a little logo could bring.  The pictures cost millions, but they‘ve given a young clothing maker publicity money can‘t buy.

AARONS:  Well, I tell you right now, I couldn‘t afford it, so we‘re enjoying it. 

WELLS:  On the money, Jane wells, CNBC, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  And in other celebrity baby news, first it was thespian Ben Affleck who hatched an egg with fellow actress, Jennifer Garner, last December, now it‘s a girl for Ben‘s bud, Matt Damon and his wife Luciana. 

According to Damon‘s brother, as quoted in “People” magazine, the baby arrived on Sunday and mother and child resting comfortably.  This is the first child for the talented Mr. Damon and the second for his wife who has a 5-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.  As for the newborn‘s identity, no bizarro celeb baby name, she‘ll be simply called Isabella.  Congratulations and thanks from everyone who appreciates a low-key celebrity birthing. 

And lastly, this just in, Superman is not gay.  In response to suggestions in the media that the man of steel is a homosexual, Brian Singer, the director of the soon to be released “Superman Returns,” Staring actor Brandon Routh, says “Superman is the most heterosexual character in any movie I have ever made.”  What would explain all the gay chatter, then?  “Clearly guys who write about the new Superman are getting turned on.”  Mr.  Singer did not comment on the sexuality cartoon crime fighter‘s Ace and Gary, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo,” either.  Can‘t we all agree as long as the crime gets fought, who cares where a superhero hangs his cape? 

Also here, one of the senior producers on COUNTDOWN tried this with some Altoids and a mug of cola, it flunked.  So, instead of trying that again, we‘ll talk to a guy who can actually make this happen using mints and soda.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Well, not since one person got their chocolate in someone else‘s peanut butter, has there been such an immaculate convergence and its yield is this.  Tonight‘s No. 1 story, it‘s a marriage of a sweet soda that fills you up, but won‘t let you down, the minty candy that keeps you fresh and keeps you cool and the worldwide web.  At the nexus of these three things has arrived the sublime knowledge that when you jam a Mentos into a soda bottle it blows up real good and when you put it on the internet, people watch it.  There are all manners of Mentos and Coke video on the web.  Most feature giggling pranksters going “Whoa, dude!” as the soda explodes in front of their parents‘ Handycam, but I think I speak for the viral video viewing public when I say these videos leave you want wanting for something more, something bigger, something spectacularly Mento-licious. 

Wow, that is just fantastic.  One of the maestros fiddling with Mentos in that video you‘ve just watched joins us.  He is performance artist, Stephen Voltz.  You can find his video eepybird.com. 

Stephen, welcome.

STEPHEN VOLTZ, PERFORMANCE ARTIST:  Thank you.

UNGER:  Hey look, I got to get this out of the way first.  Did the Mikey kid from the Live cereal commercial explode after drinking Coke with Pop Rocks in his mouth? 

VOLTZ:  That‘s an urban myth, we‘ve look into this, in face, and he died actually from the spider eggs in the Bubble Yum? 

UNGER:  Of course.  That‘s what we were just testing you.  Hey, did anyone get hurt or explode in the taping of your act?  It looks a little dangerous.

VOLTZ:  Absolutely not, but those goggles that you see that look so stylish on us, we actually put those on to start with because we were worried about it.  And now we keep them because the look is so good.

UNGER:  The obvious comparisons have been made to the famous fountains outside the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.  What inspired this work of art?  A visit to Old Faithful, was it, or just as it a trip to the men‘s room?  I mean, please tell me. 

VOLTZ:  We were certainly aware of the Bellagio fountains, but my—we got a little theater in Maine—the Oddfellow Theater in Buckfield, Maine and there was a show the night I showed the basic effects to my partner, Fritz Grobe, and his eyes lit up and he came back an hour or two later with 10 bottles and said we‘ve got to do a fountain! And we were off to the races.  We did one that night and then we realized we got to make a really big one.  So, what you see is the result of that. 

UNGER:  Now we can see that you and your partner are wearing lab coats, there. 

VOLTZ:  Yes.

UNGER:  I know you‘re not scientists, but can you give me the chemist for dummies version of what‘s happening here when the mint splashes down? 

VOLTZ:  Well actually I think getting the lab coat does make a person a scientist, so I feel like I can speak with some authority.  We—what happens is on a molecular level, the C02 is compressed into the soda and it‘s looking to get out if find a little something to grab on to, and when you drop—you can see that on the side of a glass, for example, when you pour the soda in and it hit‘s the side of the class and it‘s got what‘s called nucleation sites.  It touches the class and starts to form.  As those bubbles form, the outside edge of those bubbles, themselves, nucleation sites where more bubbles will form and they gather together and when you drop candy into the soda, you have 1,000 glass edges and it‘s a chain reaction that happens really—happens really fast and you get that “shweet” right out of the top. 

UNGER:  Now, the video we saw, how long did it take you to make that?  Because it seems like there no cut in there and how many takes did you take to shoot that? 

VOLTZ:  That was one take.  If you look carefully, there‘s one cut where actually we just cut out the stuff that didn‘t work.  A couple of things didn‘t go off and there is one subtle cut that Fritz Grobe, my partner, made.  We had to rehearse it however with what I call invisible bottles all day the day before, because there was a lot of choreography involved and we had them all drawn out on the plywood on which the bottles were going to sit.  And so we went through time and time again and time again the three or four minutes we were—three minutes that we were shooting with imaginary bottles.  And when we got it, it was one take.  Like Fritz likes to say, it was like blowing up a building.  You get everything ready, get all the lines ready, and everything and you get one shot.  And we really just had one shot. 

UNGER:  Well, let‘s really get into the weeds on this thing.  Does it have to be Mentos?  Could I use Velamints?  Is diet Coke the best soda for this or.

VOLTZ:  There‘s lots of things that you can use.  We‘ve tried everything from the Mentos that we used to Life Savers to Gummy Worms and we‘ve gotten all kinds of different reactions.  Almost anything will give you some reaction.  And we used what we ended up using for various different reasons and they worked well for us, but there‘s a lot of different reaction reactions that you can use.  And we may be trying some that in the future. 

UNGER:  Well, nice work there.  And we can‘t wait to see what you‘re going to do next.  Thank you for coming.

VOLTZ:  Check us out again. 

UNGER:  Stephen Voltz, performance artist and master of the Mentos-Coke phenomenon.  Great thanks for joining us. 

VOLTZ:  Thank you.

UNGER:  That‘s COUNTDOWN, I‘m Brian Unger in for Keith Olbermann.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with a view from “Scarborough Country,” Good evening Joe.

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

END   

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