updated 10/19/2006 12:03:38 PM ET 2006-10-19T16:03:38

Guests: Craig Crawford, Thomas Ricks

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

Desperate House Republicans.  As the Democrats go to the bank for loans to increase last-minute campaign spending, the incumbents are overdrawn at the terror bank, Speaker Hastert, on the ropes, accuses the Democrats of planning to pamper terrorists and give them new rights.  Hastert‘s spokesman claims a coordinated message blitz among Republican candidates, quote, “We have 20 days to get our message out.”  Message?  Instant message?  Mark Foley?  Might need a new word there.

Something, anything new needed in Iraq.  As he finishes his report to the president, James Baker reportedly says that country is in, quote, “a hell of a mess.”

Certainly Mr. Bush is, with 10 more Americans dead there yesterday and 70 this month, the latest poll numbers on the president‘s handling of the war, approval is down to 33 percent, the highly approved former president today trying to fire up the Dems, fight intolerance, and fight back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRES. BILL CLINTON:  It‘s not about who represents the religious truth and who is basically running for office on his or her way to hell.  This is a contact sport, power play.  And you can‘t, you can‘t complain about being attacked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Celebrities can.  Stabbed her with a wine glass, refused to let her breastfeed, saying, “Those are my breasts.”  Round 800 of McCartney v. McCartney.

And the ex-major league baseball pitcher now selling a new kind of protective cup at great personal risk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here we go, man, well, yes, let‘s go.  Ha, ho. 

Yah!  (INAUDIBLE)!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And tonight, a special comment, the signing of the Military Commissions Act and the loss of habeas corpus.  We have been asleep in this country.  We must awaken and save it.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  This is Wednesday, October 18, 20 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

With the fate of Congress hanging in the balance, there are three emerging stories tonight.  One, the ever-more bleak view Americans have of their Republican leadership.  Two, a smattering of hints that what most Americans think may not matter.  And three, the reminder that under the right circumstances, a politician like Dennis Hastert will say anything.

We begin with the new NBC-“Wall Street Journal” poll out just tonight, President Bush‘s approval rating having fallen to 38 percent among registered voters, and down to 33 percent on his specific handling of the war in Iraq, that number still twice as high as the approval rating for Congress, now at 16 percent, and only 32 percent of voters voicing at least a somewhat positive view of the Republican Party itself.

As always, the only poll that actually matters the ones taken on election day.  Republicans are mixed in assessing how that will go, Karl Rove saying he‘s confident of keeping both houses.  But Barbara Bush calls this a terrible year, House majority leader John Boehner saying there‘s a jet stream in our face.

If the GOP has shown weakness or candor up to now, expect that to change.  The insider report “The Hill” says that aides to Boehner, Hastert, and other party leaders met yesterday for the first time since the Foley scandal broke to coordinate a unified GOP campaign message, to, quote, “expose that a Democrat majority would stand for higher taxes and national security policies of weakness and appeasement.”

On cue, Hastert released a statement saying Democrats, quote, “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans‘ lives.”  If that message does not resonate, there is this, sources telling the “National Journal”‘s Hotline that the RNC‘s secret internal report shows no dropoff in its get-out-the-vote operation.  In fact, new records in voter contacts.

Craig Crawford keeps his finger on both the people‘s pulse and on the internal workings of both parties for us and for “Congressional Quarterly.”  Craig joins us now.

As always, sir, thanks for your time tonight.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  It‘s a vibrant pulse to keep up with these days.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it sure is.  The NBC-“Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight has one particularly astonishing number among many that I‘d like your reaction to.  Fifty-two percent of registered voters not just planning to vote for a single Democratic candidate.  They want to see the entire Congress controlled by Democrats.  They‘ve been doing this poll for 12 years.  No party has ever had more than 50 percent on this question, until now.  Are the Republicans as nervous as that number would suggest they should be?

CRAWFORD:  Can we spell panic?  The worrywarts within the (INAUDIBLE) Republicans are definitely panicking.  There are some who are remaining somewhat calm, and the White House seems to be in denial, which is what you hear from a lot of Republicans.  There‘s a lot of concern the White House doesn‘t see this problem like they do.  We‘ll see who‘s right.

But this is bad numbers.  But I got to issue one caveat, Keith, this depends on if all these voters actually vote.  And if we only have a small percentage, like we usually have in midterm elections, we might see (INAUDIBLE) a slightly different result.

OLBERMANN:  What do the Republicans actually fear most about the prospect of Democratic control of one or both houses?  Is it Democrats coddling terrorists, or Democrats subpoenaing Republicans?

CRAWFORD:  I think in terms of their own hide that, you know, they‘re going to worry about investigations, hearings.  I do not think the Democrats are going to go down the impeachment road.  Only a few have mentioned that.  Speaker Pelosi certainly closed it off.  I said Speaker Pelosi.  I‘m jumping ahead of myself here.  But she would become speaker.  And she said they would not pursue that.  And I think that‘s critical.

But I do think, in the short run, we‘re going to see the temptation yielded to among Democrats to hold some hearings.  They may be more talking than hearing, but that I would expect.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re not the first person to make that slip.  Didn‘t a prominent Republican make that slip last week?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  I know we get scarred and immunized by some of the things that politicians will say of any stripe, especially the ones who are backed into a corner the way Speaker Hastert is.  But to seriously refer to Democrats “gingerly pampering the terrorists,” and the other quote that we didn‘t even mention yet, “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.”

I mean, honestly, is there no sewer this man will not crawl through just to save his job right now?

CRAWFORD:  I wouldn‘t put either party past much, the stakes are so high, Keith.  You know, I don‘t think a lot of Americans understand how much it means to these Republicans and Democrats who controls Congress.  I mean, right down to who gets the bigger offices, you know, the—and much more serious things than that.

So they‘re going to pull a lot of punches.  Now, what‘s happening here, and why I think politically the Republicans have to do what they‘re doing, is, they have got to get that base ignited again, those national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives.  That‘s where their problems are right now, is just their own voters they‘ve been able to rely on for so many elections.  If they can get them back into the game and at the polls voting for them, they‘ll survive this election.

OLBERMANN:  But the fiscal conservatives, the other factor in the GOP campaign message has been taxes.  But in this poll tonight, 14 percent, 14, of the registered voters said cutting taxes is a meaningful reason to vote Republican.  Has this equation, tax burden versus standard of living, somehow shifted into the favor of the Democrats?

CRAWFORD:  Well, you get back into the perverse math of these small-turnout elections.  I have to harp on that again.  I mean, in these midterm elections, you know, maybe 25 percent of these registered voters are actually going to show up.  Which means, which (INAUDIBLE) exaggerates the influence of minority groups of voters, niche voting.

And that‘s what it‘s all about in these kind of elections, so that if you turn out a small group of voters who are in a bare minority of the country at large, and you get them to vote your way, you can swing a low turnout and close election, which a lot of these are going to be.

OLBERMANN:  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly,” of course.  Thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  We turn now to the Democrats, former president Clinton continuing his recent high profile today at a conference on common good, articulating a vision of American politics past and possibly future.

It was a thinly veiled appeal for voters to choose Democrats, not so much for their plans that because their plans or ideas are superior, but because they represent a return to a time when Americans of all political stripe held honest, open debates about ideas, a process he knows well, having shared power with a Republican House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  Most of us long for a politics where we have genuine arguments, vigorous disagreements, but we don‘t claim to have the whole truth, and we don‘t demonize our opponents, and we‘re trying to work on what works best for the American people.

The problem with ideology is, if you got an ideology, you already got your mind made up.  You know all the answers.  And that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time.  So you tend to govern by assertion and attack.

The problem with that is, that discourages thinking and gives you bad results.

I grew up in an alcoholic home.  I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based world, and I like it here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  President Clinton not alone in his assessment.  Republican Congressman Zach Womp (ph) telling “The Hill” that the GOP, quote, “mindset was, go negative, raise money, and hold power.”

Let me call in Joe Trippi, MSNBC political analyst and, of course, political consultant, known best, perhaps, for the successes he shared as campaign manager for Howard Dean in 2004.

Joe, thanks for your time tonight.

JOE TRIPPI, MSNBC Political ANALYST:  Great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What, to what extent do you think President Clinton was floating a campaign theme there, that things are so bad that specific ideas won‘t even matter till we get back to having actual discussions about specific ideas?

TRIPPI:  Well, it‘s the same thing that he went with his new covenant speeches back in ‘91, when he was getting ready to run for president in ‘92.  I mean, back then, he was talking about common ground.  Now he‘s talking about the common good.

And I think it really—his message really sits in stark contrast to Bush.  And the Republicans now are sort of survival of the fittest, every man for himself kind of politics, where the Democratic Party is standing for a common ground.  We‘re all in this together.

And if you look at the problems facing the country, the deficit, the war in Iraq, global warming, and things that are coming up, that, you know, Clinton‘s leading the way here, and its time to find common ground.  That‘s where the American people really are.  And I think the Republicans are finding out that they‘re suddenly standing in the very wrong place at the wrong time.

OLBERMANN:  This Zach Womp quote on the Republican mantra, go negative, raise money, mount a voter turnout operation with a scientific precision unequaled anywhere in the universe.  Is this how you hold power even in the face of seemingly overwhelming public opposition?

TRIPPI:  I think it just shows such horrible—this is where the Reagan revolution is going to end?  The guy who led the revolution was a guy who talked about morning in America.  And suddenly it‘s devolved to, Let‘s raise a whole lot of money and nuke the other side to stay in power.

That‘s not where you‘d like to see this thing going, but it‘s clearly

what they‘re—it‘s down to their last hope here.  You‘re seeing them at -

the Speaker Hastert‘s remarks today, I mean, just unbelievable, going into the mud and the dirt and using language that‘s just not where the American people are.

And I think they‘re trying to play this card of fear one too many times.  It‘s not going to play out very well for them.  Right now, I don‘t see Hastert hanging onto the speakership if they—if this is how they try to go out.

OLBERMANN:  “The New York Observer” reporting this week that the Democratic professionals on the front lines on getting vote out on election day are, the word was used, “troubled” about the state of their operation.  Should they be worried?

TRIPPI:  Well, Craig Crawford pointed something out in the last segment (INAUDIBLE) about how it‘s really, this is going to be a lower-turnout election.  And the Republicans really have built, over the last four, eight years, an amazing microtargeting machine to get their base vote out.

Democrats and the Democratic organizes around the country have, you know, gotten in tune with that, and are doing real—a lot better than we have in the past this year.  But I still think, yes, we‘ve got to be worried about complacency.  We‘ve got to make sure we get everybody out.  No one can count this election over, no one can look at all these scandals and things that are breaking, and think we‘ve got this in the bag.

We‘ve got—Democrats have got to go out there and make sure we get our voters out.

OLBERMANN:  And what about the money spending, money raising, money borrowing argument?  Should the—as has been suggested in several quarters, should the Democrats be going to the bank and putting mortgages on the house to get more money to buy more ads in the next 20 days?

TRIPPI:  I think we‘re out to scrounging up, we‘re in the—looking in the cushions in the couch to get as much money (INAUDIBLE).  We‘ve got so many opportunities right now, that you‘re just seeing Democrats rally round, and we‘re broadening out, we‘re going into (INAUDIBLE) into new races where we actually think that two weeks ago weren‘t in play, a lot of it because of Foley and some of the other things that have broken against the Republicans in this last couple weeks.

OLBERMANN:  Joe Trippi, Democratic strategist, MSNBC political analyst.  Great thanks.  Good to talk to you again.

TRIPPI:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Last night on this newshour, Howard Fineman said it was outside the bounds of American history.  Professor Jonathan Turley says it essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values.

And yet, as Dennis Hastert‘s shameless remarks about Democrats “pampering terrorists” suggests, there are many who think permanently giving up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety is just what this country needs right now.

Ahead tonight on COUNTDOWN, a special comment on the signing of the Military Commissions Act and the loss of habeas corpus, and why, no matter what you think you know about your rights, you can now be legally pulled off the street and jailed without charge on the instructions of the president of the United States.

Meantime, that same president is being held at more than arm‘s length by members of his own party fighting to stay in power.  Even though Mr.  Bush is behind closed doors at fundraisers, when he‘s front and center in campaign commercials, they are commercials for Democrats.

And the awful news in Iraq, “a hell of a mess,” says former secretary of state James Baker, the man in charge of the administration‘s reevaluation.  We‘ll be joined for an assessment by the author of “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The radio advertisement for Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey perhaps says it all.  Elect his Republican opponent, and you give George Bush the Senate.  The ad mentions Bush more often than John Kerry‘s ads did, more often than commercials for the beer of the same name do.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, when the Democrats are mentioning the sitting president more than the Republicans are, it‘s safe to conclude that the sitting president is not a lame duck, but rather an albatross.

Here is our chief White House correspondent, David Gregory.

David?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, the president will be an active campaigner down the stretch, but some Republicans in tight races around the country are keeping their distance from the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

GREGORY (voice-over):  Mr. Bush is a big draw in campaign 2006 for Democrats eager to link their GOP opponents with an unpopular president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  The more we work together the happier we‘ll be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  The more we work together the happier we‘ll be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  The more we work together the happier we‘ll be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)

ANNOUNCER:  Michael Steele is a long-time supporter of George Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Jim Webb, challenging Republican Senator George Allen in Virginia, thinks Allen, particularly when it comes to the war in Iraq, is loyal to a fault.

JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  People are looking for someone who has the courage to stand up to power when power‘s being used wrongly.

GREGORY:  Democratic attacks have led some Republicans in moderate districts to highlight their independence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)

SEN. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS ®, CONNECTICUT:  I‘ve gone against the president and the Republican leadership when I think they‘re wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  A top adviser to Republican Senator Rick Santorum, who‘s trailing in his battle to win reelection in Pennsylvania, describes the president as a distraction.  A Bush visit becomes all about him.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT:  What we need are to have these races be about the Republican versus the Democrat, not just a referendum on some of the problems in Washington.

GREGORY:  The University of Virginia‘s Larry Sabato.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA:  It‘s a simple matter of Bush‘s unpopularity.  He‘s low enough in the polls so that he‘s a minus at the polls for the Republican candidates for Senate and House and governor.  So they put him at arm‘s length.

GREGORY:  But the Republican Party says Mr. Bush has raised nearly $200 million for the GOP this year.  Many appearances have been closed to the news media.  Some candidates prefer to be seen with more popular political figures, like John McCain or Rudy Giuliani.

That said, the commander in chief can still turn out the conservative base, with red meat pitches on taxes and terrorism.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   The stakes are high.  The Democrats are the party of cut and run.  Ours is a party that has got a clear vision.

GREGORY:  In a year when even stalwart Republicans have a lukewarm view of the White House.

Missouri Republican Jim Talent on “MEET THE PRESS.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

RUSSERT:  And do you believe that President Bush is a great president?

SEN. JIM TALENT ®, MISSOURI:  Certainly he‘s going to end up better than Jimmy Carter, probably not as good as Ronald Reagan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY (on camera):  Even in this climate, White House advisers deny that the president is a liability to his party.  Said one top official tonight, quote, “He can sharpen the questions in these races and motivate the party to pay attention.”  This in a year when voter intensity may win the day, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory at the White House.  Great thanks, David.

In signing away habeas corpus yesterday, the president quoted a terrorist who supposedly said he had hoped 9/11 would be the beginning of the end oaf America.  How Mr. Bush has helped fulfill that terrorist‘s hopes.  A special comment ahead.

Don‘t ever say we don‘t cover the world.

Also ahead, the Nutty Buddy.  No, not him, the thing he‘s demonstrating.

Next, on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Thirty years ago last Saturday, Mark Litell (ph) surrendered one of the most famous home runs in baseball history.  The rookie relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, he threw the pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive game of the 1976 American League playoffs, the one that Chris Chambliss (ph) hit for a home run, putting the New York Yankees in the World Series for the first time in a dozen years.

Then Mark Litell lost the pennant.  Tonight, as you‘ll see, he gives indication of having lost something much more important.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Just because we call it Oddball, that does not mean you have to take it literally.

We begin on the Internets at the Web site of Mr. Litell and his amazing new product, the Nutty Buddy, his revolutionary new athletic cup, guaranteed to, quote, “protect the family jewels.”  Best part of this site, the demonstration video, in which Litell takes one for the team, with the help of a pitching machine and former player Chris Sabo (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here we go, man, (INAUDIBLE), yes.  Let‘s go.  Ha, ho.  Yeah!  All the way!  (INAUDIBLE) works.  A direct ball will usually put you on your knees, and he didn‘t even flinch, so must be a way it disperses the hit that it doesn‘t—you don‘t feel it directly in the testiclee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:   You know, I love that Aesop‘s fable, “Testicles and the Lion.”

Just to show we‘re an equal opportunity newscast when it comes to below-the-belt humor, another Internet video from the files of office workers being mean to one another.  The bet apparently was whether the woman could balance a quarter on her head and drop it into the funnel stuck in the front of her pants.  Oh, how could you not see this coming?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

Ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK, now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s funny because she got embarrassed.

Also tonight, Vice President Cheney says things are going remarkably well in Iraq, but our troops, those who survived one of the deadliest days yet, might not agree.

And the latest polls showing the vast majority of the American public certainly does not agree.  Thomas Ricks on the politics and the realities in Iraq.

And if you had October 18 in the office pool as to when the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce would turn really ugly, you‘re a winner.

Details ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Judge Gregory Foss—Frost, rather, in a district in Ohio, staying the execution of Jeffrey Lungren (ph), who killed five members of his cult, including three children, staying it because Lungren‘s lawyers argued their client is obese and has diabetes and is thus at greater risk for suffering during the lethal injection.

Number two, officers of the Central (INAUDIBLE) Bank of Kazakhstan.  They‘re issuing new bills next month worth $15 and about $42 on which they have misspelled the word “bank.”  And they‘re worried about being embarrassed by “Borat”?

But number one, Andy Griffith of Hotjoe (ph), Wisconsin, changed his legal name last May so he could run for office for sheriff of Grant County.  Andy Griffith for sheriff!  I say this calls for action now.  Nip it in the bud.  First sign of a youngster‘s going right, you got to nip it in the bud.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The BBC is reporting that former Secretary of State James Baker, according to an unnamed “close friend,” took a look on the ground at Iraq and described it as being in “a hell of a mess.” 

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, that assessment from the man heading the commission to find a new direction there.  This month about to become the deadliest for coalition forces since January 2005, 21 months ago.  Secretary Baker‘s comments reportedly coming during his most recent visit to Iraq where he was visibly shocked according to that “friend” described by the BBC as another top politician. 

Mr. Bake also said, “There simply weren‘t any easy solution.” 

Meantime, 10 U.S. troops were killed in and around Baghdad yesterday at least one more in Iraq today bringing the American death toll in that nation, for the first 18 days of October, to 70. 

The sectarian violence claiming the lives of  767 Iraqis so far this month, as well.  Making October potentially the deadliest month for Iraqis since the “Associated Press” began keeping records of their casualties. 

None of this stopping Vice President Cheney from telling Rush Limbaugh that the Iraqi government is “off to a good start” and that “if you look at the general, overall situation, they‘re doing remarkably well.” 

The vice president said that the American public is concerned about the war because “it wasn‘t over instantaneously.”  The vice president evidently measuring time only in terms of geologic eras.

His view hardly mirrored by the latest polling, showing public optimism about the war, literally, plunging.  In the new NBC NEWS/”Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight, only 20 percent of respondents said they felt more optimistic about Iraq based on the course of the last month; 68 percent saying they feel less optimistic.  That is more than a 20 point shift since the same question was asked in June of this year. 

Joining us now the military correspondent for the “Washington Post,” Thomas Ricks, also, of course, author of one of the definitive works on the conflict, “Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”

Thank you again for your time tonight, sir. 

THOMAS RICKS, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  Two quotes about Iraq, firstly, sort of breaking news here.  Tonight, in an interview with ABC, the president was asked about Thomas Friedman‘s column in the “New York Times” that suggested events in Iraq may parallel what Vietnam was like at the time of the Tet Offensive in ‘68.  Mr. Bush said of Mr. Friedman, “He could be right.” 

First off, is he?  And secondly, does even that answer suggest that somebody may have opened Mr. Bush to some of the reality on the ground there? 

RICKS:  Well, I don‘t think Bush is trying to say that Iraq is Vietnam, I think he‘s saying that yes, there is a lot of worry about a Tet Offensive-like action in Iraq in which the insurgents seek the really inflict a large number of casualties on American forces and try to act on the eve of the election. 

I think that‘s the concern that Bush is expressing, because that‘s what I‘ve heard out of people in the military.  They‘re bracing about some sort of large-scale attack.  They worry about that a lot.

OLBERMANN:  The other quote, the one attributed to James Baker that Iraq‘s in a hell of a mess.  Is that a fair statement if it‘s accurately quoted?  And given what Mr. Baker is doing for Mr. Bush, is that some sort of indicator of some sort of broadened perspective in the White House? 

RICKS:  I think the Baker assessment, if it‘s—if that indeed what he says, is exactly correct.  I think it would be hard to find anybody on the ground in Iraq, in U.S. uniform or Iraqi cloths, who disagreed with that assessment. 

I think it does indicate that the White House is getting a more serious and realisting assessment and also more importantly, is listening to them.  For example, you no longer hear President Bush bashing the media or Secretary Rumsfeld bashing the medial and saying they‘re not telling you all the good news stories.  It‘s pretty difficult to find good news stories on the ground in Iraq right now.

OLBERMANN:  In fact, Secretary Rumsfeld, today, so some degree, endorsed the idea of some sort of amnesty of some recognition for insurgents.  Is that another indicator of what may be changing?

RICKS:  Yeah, it might be an indicator of a new realism.  Anybody who‘s studied counterinsurgencies, and the military has lots of those people now, will tell you that any ending of a counterinsurgency has to have some sort of amnesty program built into it otherwise you‘re simply driving people into the arms of the enemy. 

OLBERMANN:  Back to the Secretary Baker commission, the alternatives that it is to present to the president after the midterm elections, they keep surfacing; the accounts vary but not the thrust of them.  One option is supposedly focused on stability, even if it means cutting deals with insurgents, brining Iraq, Syria into the equation. 

The second calling for gradual withdrawal of American forces to bases outside of Iraq.  And the panel is reported to be less interested in other options like the quick withdrawal or simply, what was the official policy, it seems days ago, staying the course.  What‘s your overall assessment of this?  Is it even possible, at this point, to stabilize Iraq without their government making some accommodations with people that are preceded as its enemies? 

RICKS:  My bet is they will go for that stability option which really says let‘s not worry about Iraqi politics anymore, give up on the goal of democratization, put up with the strongman or a military coo, if that‘s what it takes.  But, I don‘t think you‘re going to see the Baker commission report point out anything right after the midterm election.  What I‘m hearing is we won‘t see anything out of them probably until January when the new Congress is seated. 

OLBERMANN:  The spike in casualties.  This is obviously not an aberration, it seems tied to the increase in American troops in Baghdad or at least one event followed the other trying to stop the sectarian violence there.  What else is factoring into these new and very disturbing numbers? 

RICKS:  Well that‘s right, it is obviously has to do in part with the fact that you now have U.S. troops operating around Baghdad—in Baghdad, trying to bring security.  By contrast, when I was there in February you could drive across the city and not see an American troop.  There are all kind of outside the city in a kind of doughnut strategy. 

But there are a couple of other factors, here.  First is, this is the month of Ramadan, it doesn‘t end until Monday.  And the holy month of Ramadan has seen a spike, every year that we‘ve been in Iraq, of violence and insurgent attacks.  Also, the insurgents and Iraqis generally are very aware of the U.S. midterm election coming up.  And the insurgents are almost certainly playing to that and trying to demonstrate to the American public that they can keep on inflicting casualties.  And unfortunately, they‘ve been successful, especially in the last couple of days. 

OLBERMANN:  Indeed they have.  Thomas Ricks of the “Washington Post”, author of “Fiasco,” great thanks once again for some of your time tonight. 

RICKS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Coming up, fiasco indeed.  currently we do fear nothing but fear itself and in the process we have let the Bush administration destroy habeas corpus and with our freedoms.  A special comment ahead.

And also, thou shalt not shortchange the rubberneckers.  The divorce of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills McCartney getting uglier still, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Additional evidence that there‘s apparently no such thing as an amicable celebrity separation.  Sir Paul McCartney‘s divorce from Heather Mills taking a dive into the gutter.  Though at least, if one of them gets arrested, they being British, will have the fundamental right of habeas corpus, unlike us.  My special comment on the death of the great writ at the hands of the president, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When she was pregnant, she claims, her spouse pushed her into a bath.  After she gave birth, she claims, he told her not to breastfeed saying, “They are my breasts and I don‘t want ta mouthful of breast milk.”  And earlier this year she claims he threw wine all over her, then stabbed her with a broken wine glass.  No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, these are the allegations of the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Paul Mccartney.  As or correspondent Ron Mott reports from London, tonight, you‘d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs—Ron.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening Keith.  London is abuzz about what was supposed to be a peaceful parting of the ways between pop legend Paul McCartney and his second wife, Heather Mills McCartney. 

In court papers allegedly filed by Heather Mills McCartney and published this morning in a London newspaper, the former Beatle is portrayed as a raging alcoholic, emotionally and physically abusive toward his wife and a partaker of an illegal drugs—anything and everything but a loving husband. 

Keeping in mind, there is no prenuptial agreement, there‘s no telling how nasty this divorce could ultimately become.  Paul McCartney said tonight through his lawyers in a statement that he will vigorously defend the allegations leveled against him and that he denies them. 

Among those allegations Heather Mills McCartney claims that she suffered four violent attacks from her husband and Paul McCartney continued to abuse drugs and alcohol despite promises that he made to her, that he was verbally abusive, tried to prevent her from breastfeeding their child, allegedly saying the breasts belonged to him, forced Heather Mills to cancel a crucial operation and that he refused to allow her to buy an antique bed pan that she said would prevent her from having to make late night trips to the bathroom on her hands and knees because of her physical disability. 

She lost a leg, as a lot of people remember, in a 1993 accident.  She says Paul McCartney often gave her little regard to those physical limitations. 

Now, Paul McCartney says he is saddened by the breakdown of his marriage and is requesting privacy for his family as the divorce proceedings go forward.  But that is probably going to be a pretty tall order considering the reaction here in London today—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Ron Mott in London, great thanks, Ron.

Oh boy, it‘s a theme of nasty celebrity divorces in our nightly segment of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

Get ready for the Whitney Houston/Bobby Brown smack down.  Houston filed divorce papers this week, just a month after having announced her separation from her husband.  No word on exactly why she‘s decided to end their 14 year marriage, which has previously survived drug arrests, domestic violence, stints in rehab, TV. 

But a relative told “People” magazine they “Fought like cats and dogs.  They would fight about what to eat for dinner, about who wasn‘t cleaning out the dishwasher, stupid things.  But they were always yelling.”  Apparently it was a bad thing for their marriage, even though it was the only entertaing thing on their short-lived reality TV show.”

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WHITNEY HOUSTON, SINGER:  Kiss my ass!

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OLBERMANN:  Finally on the celebrity beat, Eddie Murphy is apparently having a baby with singer Mel B, aka Scary Spice. 

The website TMZ.com reporting that the former Spice Girl revealed her condition at a lingerie store in Hollywood earlier this week.  Telling the sales people there that the pregnancy is making her sleepy and the she‘s worried she might actually be caring twins because they apparently run in Eddie Murphy‘s family.

He already has five kids with his ex-wife who he just divorced this past April, plus another son with a previous partner.  So if it runs out that Scary Spice is carrying his twins, Murphy will have definitely reclaimed the baby production crown from mister four kids in four years, Kevin Federline. 

Tonight‘s special comment is next.  The blank check we have given this president and why should we even hope he is not lying about how he will use.  That‘s ahead, but  first time for COUNTDOWN latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

Baseball theme tonight, the Bronze to WABC, channel seven in New York City.  Look, we all make mistakes with graphics.  We showed a photo of Max Cleland when we meant to show that radio lunatic, Neal Boortz last night.  I mean, that‘s so improbable it‘s almost funny. 

But when you‘re reporting on the memorial for a baseball player who died at the age of 30, you can‘t let this happen -- 3006?  3006?  3006?  Geesh.

The runner-up tonight Steve Lyons, my former co-host for Major League Baseball on FOX, dismissed by the network last week after a convoluted, basically unintelligible racist remark that had something to do with people of Spanish decent and not wanting to sit next to them for fear of losing your wallet.  While he was sitting next the man who since been named manager of the Chicago Cubs, Lou Piniella.  There was also, of course, the past joke about a Jewish player and the joke about a visually impaired fan and several homophobic jokes. 

But here‘s why he‘s on the list, he explained to ESPN radio that the reason his joke about the wallets and Hispanic people and Lou Piniella wasn‘t racist was because he didn‘t know Lou Piniella was of Spanish decent.  Meaning he‘s the only person in baseball, including every fan who didn‘t know that and he could have been fired just for that.

But the winners, baseball itself, along with the Eternal Image Company, now announcing they will combine efforts to put Major League team logos on caskets.  You can be buried inside a coffin with a Cubs insignia on it.  Or if you‘ve been cremated—the Cubs, Philly‘s, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and Dodgers—an urn for your ashes.  Wait, you‘re saying that wasn‘t a Dodger beer stein? 

Major League Baseball and the Eternal Image Company today‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

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And lastly as promised, a special comment tonight on the signing of the Military Commissions Act and the loss of habeas corpus. 

We have lived as if in a trance.

We have lived as people in fear.

And now, our rights and our freedoms in peril, we slowly awake to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.

Therefore, tonight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:  A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have been here before and we have been here before led here by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.

We have been here when President John Adams insisted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use those acts to jail newspaper editors. 

American newspaper editors, in American jails, for things they wrote about America.

We have been here when President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Espionage Act was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that Act to prosecute 2,000 Americans, especially those he disparaged as “Hyphenated Americans,” most of whom were guilty only of advocating peace in a time of war.

American public speakers, in American jails, for things they said about America.

And we have been here when President Franklin D.  Roosevelt insisted that Executive Order 9066 was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that order to imprison and pauperize 110,000 Americans while his man in charge, General DeWitt, told Congress: “It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese.”

American citizens, in American camps, for something they neither wrote nor said nor did, but for the choices they or their ancestors had made about coming to America.

Each of these actions was undertaken for the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.  And each was a betrayal of that for which the president who advocated them claimed to be fighting.

Adams and his party were swept from office, and the Alien and Sedition Acts erased.

Many of the very people Wilson silenced survived him, and one of them even ran to succeed him, and got 900,000 votes, though his presidential campaign was conducted entirely from his jail cell.

And Roosevelt‘s internment of the Japanese was not merely the worst blight on his record, but it would necessitate a formal apology from the government of the United States to the citizens of the United States whose lives it ruined.

The most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.  In times of fright, we have been only human.  We have let Roosevelt‘s “fear of fear itself” overtake us.

We have listened to the little voice inside that has said, “the wolf is at the door; this will be temporary; this will be precise; this too shall pass.”

We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.  Just the way we once accepted that the only way to stop the Soviets was to let the government become just a little bit like the Soviets.

Or substitute the Japanese.

Or the Germans.

Or the Socialists.

Or the Anarchists.

Or the Immigrants.

Or the British.

Or the Aliens.

The most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And, always, always wrong.

“With the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few:  Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?”

Wise words.

And ironic ones, Mr. Bush, your own, of course, yesterday, in signing the Military Commissions Act.  You spoke so much more than you know, Sir.

Sadly, of course, the distance of history will recognize that the threat this generation of Americans needed to take seriously was you.

We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.

You, sir, have now befouled that spring.

You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.

You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And again, Mr. Bush, all of them, wrong.

We have handed a blank check, drawn against our freedom, to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done to anything the terrorists have ever done.

We have handed a blank check, drawn against our freedom, to a man who has insisted again that “the United States does not torture.  It‘s against our laws and it‘s against our values” and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.

We have handed a blank, check drawn against our freedom, to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens “unlawful enemy combatants” and ship them somewhere, anywhere,  but may now, if he so decides, declare you an “unlawful enemy combatant” and ship you somewhere, anywhere.

And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was president or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was president or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was president.

And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this:  If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an “unlawful enemy combatant,” exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not?  Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?

This President now has his blank check.

He lied to get it.

He lied as he received it.

Is there any reason to even hope he has not lied about how he intends to use it nor who he intends to use it against?

“These military commissions will provide a fair trial,” you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush, “in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them.”

“Presumed innocent,” Mr. Bush?

The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain “serious mental and physical trauma” in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke the Geneva Conventions in their own defense.

“Access to an attorney,” Mr. Bush?

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.

“Hearing all the evidence,” Mr. Bush?

The Military Commissions Act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.

Your words are lies, Sir.

They are lies that imperil us all.

“One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks,” you told us yesterday, “said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America.”

That terrorist, sir, could only hope.

Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists, real or imagined, could measure up to what you have wrought.

Habeas corpus?  Gone.

The Geneva Conventions?  Optional.

The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection?  Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be “the beginning of the end of America.”

And did it even occur to you once, sir, somewhere in amidst those eight separate, gruesome, intentional, terroristic invocations yesterday of the horrors of 9/11 -- that with only a little further shift in this world we now know, just a touch more repudiation of all of that for which our patriots died—did it ever occur to you once that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future president and a “competent tribunal” of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of “unlawful enemy combatant” for—and convene a Military Commission to try—not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And doubtless, Sir, all of them, as always, wrong.

Joe Scarborough is next.  Goodnight and good luck.

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

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