updated 12/14/2006 10:53:14 AM ET 2006-12-14T15:53:14

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Lawrence Korb, Paul F. Tompkins

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

The health of the senior senator from South Dakota.  Democrat Tim Johnson suffers stroke-like symptoms at the Capitol.

There is a split focus here.  Foremost, the health of a youthful 59-year-old slated to chair the Senate Ethics Committee as of next month.  Secondly the political implications.  If Senator Johnson could not continue to serve, his replacement would be appointed by a Republican governor, and the Senate could be thrown back to a 50-50 split.  The latest on each focus.

Doubling down.  The latest rumor on the president‘s new way forward in Iraq.  Not less troops, but more, for a shorter period.  Mr. Bush says said he would not be rushed and he would not do something he wouldn‘t want to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve heard some idea that would lead to defeat, and I reject those ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, the parting wisdom of the secretary of defense. 

Read any good books lately?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HANNITY AND COLMES,” FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST:  Have you had an opportunity to read the ISG report?

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  No.

HANNITY:  Will you read it?

RUMSFELD:  I‘ve seen (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Inspiring confidence to the very end.

And what‘s the political phrase of the year?  “I have the math?” 

“I‘ve used the Google?”  Or is it the entry from the press secretary?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I don‘t know.

I don‘t know.

I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll hear that again and again.

And duck season?  Wabbit season?  Comedian season?  Paulie Shore was not punched out on stage by an angry heckler.  What this is, and what this isn‘t, tonight.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota has not suffered either a stroke or a heart attack, that according to a statement tonight from his spokeswoman.

Make no mistake that the most important aspect of our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, if not the only one, is the health of Senator Johnson himself, and the desire for him to recover swiftly and completely after some kind of medical episode today that left the senator unable to speak.

Secondary to that, the question of what would happen to the balance of power in the Senate should Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, be unable to continue in office, and the prospect then that a Republican governor reelected last month by less than 86,000 votes would become the most important political person of the moment.

The first sign of the trouble for the senator, only days away now from his 60th birthday, coming today, when he began to stutter during a conference call with reporters.  He recovered shortly thereafter, but not much later, having walked back to his office, Senator Johnson, sitting at his desk, unable to move, and barely able to speak, the Capitol physician ordering an ambulance to take the senator to George Washington University Hospital in downtown Washington, where he was said to be undergoing evaluation by stroke specialists tonight, their diagnosis not expected until tomorrow, but again, Senator Johnson‘s spokeswoman saying only there was no stroke, and no heart attack.

Yet the episode underscored what would happen if the senator unable to serve out his term, which runs into early 2009.  The responsibility for appointing a replacement would belong to South Dakota‘s governor, Mike Rounds, a Republican.  And the implications of that in a Senate that this hour maps out essentially 51 Democrats to 49 Republicans, should be immediately perceptible.

For more on this developing story, I‘m joined now by our correspondent David Shuster in Washington.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Firstly, anything newer there on Senator Johnson‘s health?

SHUSTER:  Well, Keith, the hospital‘s not commenting, and the senator‘s staff is not saying much.  But there is every indication tonight that at this hour, the senator‘s health is not good, and that his staff has great cause for concern, and that‘s because they are acknowledging that the senator had slurred speech earlier today, and that he was unable to move and was taken to the hospital.

A short time ago, a spokesman was asked directly if the senator is unconscious, and the spokesman refused to say.  We are told that if the senator‘s office had good news to report, they would tell us that.  And so the wall of silence, Keith, I suppose, speaks volumes about just how serious the senator‘s condition might be, even though we‘re not getting any clear indication right now from the hospital.

OLBERMANN:  And yet we‘re getting that statement from the spokeswoman, Ms. Fisher, that it was neither a heart attack nor a stroke.  Perhaps there‘s something positive in that.

Now, to the political implications of this, is this correct, there‘s nothing either in the U.S. Constitution nor in the one in South Dakota that can force a senator in ill health of any kind out of office?

SHUSTER:  Well, that‘s right.  I mean, it comes down to the difference between a vacancy and somebody who is incapacitated.  If there is a vacancy, if somebody were to die, then, of course, the governor, the Republican, in this case, would appoint a replacement.  But if a senator or a congressman, for that matter, is merely incapacitated, there is nothing in federal state law that essentially enables the governor at that point to step in.

In fact, you go back to 1969.  The then-senator from South Dakota, ironically, had a stroke.  He was incapacitated.  There was huge amount of pressure on him to get out of office.  He kept saying to the governor, Look, appoint my wife, and I‘ll step down.  The governor refused, so he stayed in office, even though he missed a bunch of votes, he stayed in office for almost four years.

So it literally incapacitation is not a reason for somebody to be replaced.  In fact, the Senate historian says tonight that incapacitation, in other words, somebody‘s health might be severe, but as long as they‘re not dead, there‘s nothing that either state law or federal law can do.

OLBERMANN:  Again on the question of law, if Senator Johnson were to resign for health reasons, any kind of health reasons, Governor Rounds gets the appointment.  Would it be a foregone conclusion that a Republican governor would appoint a Republican senator?  Would there be implications that he‘d have to overcome regarding that, or would it simply be political pressure but nothing else?

SHUSTER:  Well, it‘s so interesting tonight, Keith, in that even some Republicans tonight are saying, Look, this is not the way that we want to take control of the U.S. Senate.  And there might be huge political pressure both ways for the governor, both because there might be pressure from Democrats, of course, to say, Look, honor this guy‘s memory if he were to die, appoint his wife or a Democrat.  And then, of course, you‘ve got perhaps the subtle pressure from Republicans, No, let‘s go ahead and change the Senate, make it 50-50, have the vice president break a tie.

But one thing to keep in mind, though, as somebody pointed out to me tonight, nothing really gets done in the U.S. Senate unless there are 60 votes.  So while there might be some changes in money (ph) as far as who gets what on the committees, it still takes 60 votes, a consensus, in order for things to move through the U.S. Senate.

OLBERMANN:  But there are those other issues that don‘t require 60.  If a Republican were to replace Senator Johnson, and Vice President Cheney would again have to break a tie, would this call into question every chairmanship, every major investigation?

SHUSTER:  Well, it certainly could.  And if the Republicans, if they came to that, and the Republicans wanted to play hardball, they could essentially jam this one down the Democrats‘ throats.  But again, the message right now from Republicans, who are trying to sort of reach out and be conciliatory to the Democrats, especially with the prospects that the Democrats are going to be running the Senate as it stands right now, the message is, We want to work together, we‘re not going to force this one.  Maybe this isn‘t the circumstance under which Republicans should suddenly have subpoena power, control of all the committees, and all the rest.

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s nice to hear that, because we know, and I‘m sure the viewers feel the same way,  that to discuss it in these terms is somewhat ghoulish.  We don‘t want to appear that way.  Our concern is obviously with the senator‘s health.  But the political end of this does sound like the plotline from the movie “Advise and Consent.”

SHUSTER:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster.  As always, great thanks.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ll keep you updated if there‘s further developments on Senator Johnson‘s health.

Meantime tonight, the analogy being used to describe the latest rumor about the president‘s forthcoming new way forward for Iraq is as easy to understand as it is insulting, the commander in chief said to be leaning toward sending far more troops into that country, or doubling down, as if the lives of Americans in uniform were as expendable as a 7 and 4 in Vegas, NBC News learning the Army has drawn up orders for a short-term surge of up to 35,000 combat forces to Iraq, most to be used as military trainers embedded with Iraqi military and police.

A second, far riskier proposal, what one military official called the “do or die” option, an equally objectionable phrase, that would force the Iraqi government to get control over the Shi‘ite militia responsible for much of the sectarian violence in Baghdad.  The plan, according to “The Los Angeles Times,” quote, “would appear to satisfy Mr. Bush‘s demand for a strategy focused on victory rather than disengagement, in effect, completely dismissing the recommendations and warnings of the Iraq Study Group,” this afternoon at the Pentagon, Mr. Bush making it clear whose ideas and whose counsel he values the most.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I‘ve heard some ideas that would lead to defeat, and I reject those ideas, ideas such as leaving before the job is done, ideas such as not helping this government take the necessary and hard steps to be able to do its job.

Today, I heard from some opinions that matter a lot to me.  And these are the opinions of those who wear the uniform.

These are smart people and capable people and people whose judgment I, I, I, I, I, I listen to.  And at the appropriate time, I will stand up in front of the nation and say, Here‘s where we‘re headed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president apparently not even considering troop withdrawals, in fact, he is looking at the exact opposite, despite polls consistently showing less is what the majority of Americans truly want, the latest poll, our own, no different, and no doubt about it, only 23 percent of those surveyed approving of how Mr. Bush is handling the war in Iraq.  That‘s a drop of 11 points in this poll in just the last month.

Sixty-nine percent now less confident that the conflict there will come to a successful conclusion, 59 percent looking to have Congress take the lead role in setting policy for the country instead of Mr. Bush.  Can‘t wait to hear what they have to say.

Time now to call on our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush quite emphatic today about which ideas and which people he‘ll be listening to and which he will not.  Should we read into that that he still does not value the opinion of anyone with whom he does not already agree?

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, Keith, the president has earned his reputation as a great diplomat over many years, and he just dispensed with the Iraq Study Group, James Baker, and all of them with great diplomatic skill, in other words, you know, thank you very much, as we‘ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks.  He said he was going to treat this seriously, and the serious consideration lasted for about a week.

He has made up his mind on the big questions, the big questions being, I‘m sticking with the mission, going for—trying to make it work one more time around, and really keeping the troops where they are.  The difficult stuff is how you reposition those troops.  Of course, the difficult stuff is winning.  But on the big questions, he‘s made up his mind.

OLBERMANN:  Is it an accident that this idea about doubling down in Iraq surfacing only weeks after the neocons at “The Weekly Standard” published an article making the case, headlined, “Doubling Down in Iraq”?  Are the neocons once again driving this bus, just a different one, or a different direction?

WOLFFE:  You know, I don‘t think they are.  Everything I hear from the White House says that the individuals associated with the whole neoconservative movement have really lost a lot of stature in the White House.  So those people aren‘t really at the forefront.  And in fact, when they bring outside neocons into the White House, they‘re coming in as critics.

You know, the president, though, has taken his own arc, his own neoconservative arc.  And back in 2000, if you remember, he said the mission, the purpose of the United States military was to fight and win wars.  That was the conservative view.  Now, he‘s talking about, really, the mission of the military being to establish democracy.  He is his own neocon.

OLBERMANN:  We mentioned the doubling down option being considered in the face of what appears to be overwhelming evidence, when the polls are that large in one direction or another, the scientific vagaries of polls are no longer a factor, the American people don‘t want more troops in Iraq, they want fewer troops there.  The news briefing at the White House yesterday, Mr. Snow quoted the polls by saying, “What‘s interesting is that a majority of the American public not only thinks that we‘re capable of winning, but we should.”

Do, does the White House, Richard, have a different set of polls?  Does Karl Rove has his—have his own math still?  Or are they just interpreting the polling data the rest of us have access to in a different way?

WOLFFE:  That—you know, it‘s a classic case of Tony Snow using a lot of words without saying very much.  You know, he—the idea that people believe, Americans believe, that American forces are capable of winning, the best military force in the world, yes, that‘s true.  The idea that Americans want victory, yes, that‘s true.  The bit he‘s missing out here is, of course, the vast majority of American people now think that victory is not possible.  And that‘s the point he‘s not talking about.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, there‘s—there is really no other side in this.  There‘s not a bunch of Americans who have bets down in Las Vegas on the other side of this equation.  But on the political end of it, with the opportunity here, the presentation of possibly 35,000 more troops, if you‘re the Democrats, how do you—do you try to stop this, and if so, how?  I mean, politically, they can‘t reduce funding for Iraq, probably.  But would they have the political muscle in the new year to deny the president‘s wish to increase spending there by a figure reported of about $100 billion?

WOLFFE:  Well, we‘re talking politically here, and, of course, that kind of feels weird talking about this life-and-death stuff.  But politically, really, Republicans are in a tougher position.  You have a president who‘s saying, I don‘t care what the polls are, damn the torpedoes, I don‘t care about 2008, I want this mission to work.

A smart Democrat would say. Go ahead, you know, we‘ll criticize you, we‘ll investigate you.  We‘re not going to pull the plug out from the troops, but, you know, Mr. President, if you want to drive this truck down the path, then that‘s your choice.

OLBERMANN:  Anybody telling you, lastly, where these 357,000 extra troops would come from, considering how stretched thin the military is?

WOLFFE:  A rotational quirk.  You can overlap, you can push the numbers up 20,0000 or lower than 20,000, 30,000.  It‘s not sustainable over the long term, but for a few months you can do it.

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek.”  As always, sir, our great thanks for your time.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  Still more from the White House tonight, has Tony Snow become the first man since Ted Williams to hit .400?  Four hundred answers to reporters‘ questions, that is, consisting of “I don‘t know.”

And now that Donald Rumsfeld is in his final days at the Pentagon, he‘s got all sorts of answers, the last known unknowns and unknown unknowns, including a whopper that directly contradicts President Bush.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When Tony Snow from Fox News became the official spokesman for the Bush White House, emphasis on the world “official,” he drew a distinction between himself and his predecessors, assuring Americans that he would be in the loop and that he was taking the job because he would have the super-double-secret access needed to do the job properly.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, did Snow really get that access?  When he first started, he won praise for his candor about not knowing stuff.  But he‘s now been there eight months, and sooner or later, “I don‘t know” loses the charm of “Aw, shucks, ma‘am,” and moves closer to “Well, what do you know?”  In fact, Dana Milbank, in “The Washington Post” today, counts more than 400 times Mr. Snow has said, “I don‘t know,” from that famous podium.

Just this week, we‘ve scored more than a dozen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SNOW:  I don‘t know.

I don‘t know.

I just don‘t know.

So I don‘t know—I honestly don‘t know how.

I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  When it comes to Snow‘s “I don‘t knows,” Iraq looms large.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SNOW:  Neither he nor I know exactly when hostilities will cease in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will they be discussing the particulars of the Baker-Hamilton report?

SNOW:  I don‘t know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE) involved in these meetings read the full report?

SNOW:  I don‘t know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Anything today he hadn‘t thought of before, or was new?

SNOW:  I don‘t know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Baker-Hamilton, was there anything in there that this administration hasn‘t already considered?

SNOW:  I don‘t know.  Again, good question.  I don‘t know. 

(INAUDIBLE) some—you know, (INAUDIBLE) -- you know...

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  But Mr. Snow appears to be something of a Renaissance man, not knowing things across a broad spectrum of topics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SNOW:  I don‘t know the answer about security, and nor do I know about (INAUDIBLE).

I don‘t know the intent of the public statements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you saying Republican Senator Smith is not in favor of democracy?

SNOW:  Well, I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And in Snow‘s defense, sometimes there are known I-don‘t-knows, and sometimes there are the unknowable I-don‘t-knows, which does not mean he‘s not trying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SNOW:  I don‘t know.  That‘s what I‘m trying to find out.  He—you know, I don‘t know.

I only know the fractional amount.  There‘s no way that anybody‘s going to know what the vice president said to the king.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If you‘re wondering whether Mr. Snow actually does know and just isn‘t telling us, well, who knows?

From the question marks of Tony Snow to the question marks about Donald Rumsfeld.  The defense secretary rethinks the phrase “the war on terror.”  And he also has a different story about his departure than the one the president gave.

And we‘ve all heard of the running of the bulls.  But the running of the drunks?  No, I‘m not kidding.

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Eric Bishop was born on this date in 1967.  You don‘t know him by that name.  But as an aspiring standup who kept hitting the wall at comedy clubs, he noticed that on the rare occasion that women showed up for the auditions, they invariably got the tryouts (INAUDIBLE) most of the men did not.  So he changed his first name to Jamie, to confuse his gender, on paper, anyway, and appropriated his comic hero‘s last name as his own.  Thus did Eric Bishop become Jaime Foxx.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Tokyo, where a man walked into a bar with a tiny piano and a 12-inch pianist.  Hey, hey, can‘t tell that one.  Grrrrr.  It‘s the world‘s smallest fully functioning grand piano, built by a toy company in Japan for people with tiny little fingers.  One of the piano‘s developers said Japan‘s housing situation allows only a very few people to have a full-sized grand piano in their home, so this version was scaled down for people living in small spaces.  And that is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

Elsewhere in Tokyo, a man sits alone in a room controlling a model train with his brain power.  How does he do it?  There is no train.  Ohhhh.  Actually, it‘s those sensor dealies stuck all over his big melon.  They‘re monitoring blood flow in the brain, or something, to move the train around the track.  Scientists are hoping this breakthrough technology can be used to control those little Tyco race cars, and maybe someday even hungry, hungry hippos.

Finally to El Salvador, for what seems to be the most counterproductive charity deal we have ever seen, a race organized by the country‘s Antidrug Foundation.  It is basically the running of the alcoholics.  Seventy-one inebriates were given shots of grain alcohol.  They then stumbled down a 450-foot track to the amusement of onlookers.  The top three were rewarded with free visits to a rehab center.  The other 68, what, they all drove home?  Thanks for the free booze, courtesy of the El Salvador Antidrug Foundation.

Join us next week for MSNBC‘S live coverage of the Crackhead Olympics.

It looked like Michael Richards: The Rematch, but this onstage fight between comedian Paulie Shore and a heckler is not exactly what it seems.

And a new test could dramatically increase your chances of living through a rollover crash, and dramatically increase your chances of saying silently to yourself, Cool video.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, George Lucas.  You may like “Star Wars” or you may hate it, but you have to tip your cap to the man for this.  That cavelike set that Luke Skywalker had as his underground on the planet Tattooine, turns out after he was done filming on it, in the Tunisian desert, Lucas didn‘t just knock it over like every other producer in history.  He gave it to the locals, and 30 years later, people still live there.

Number two, Erion Buza, owner of a home under construction at Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  Mention my name in Sheboygan.  He had a theft at the site.  His polished nickel, gold-trimmed showerhead, worth $1,000, was stolen, possibly because he and his contractor were dumb enough to have had it installed before they bothered to put any doors on the new house.

And number one, Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana.  Some wounds heal slowly.  Dinner with the governor was offered to Louisiana business leaders in a charity auction.  Let‘s start it at $1,000.  Do I hear $1,000?  No?  $500?  No?  Any bids?  Yes, sir.  Going once, twice, dinner with Governor Blanco, sold to Mr. Malcolm Maddox for one dollar.  No word on whether or not they let him pay cash, or he still owes them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On Monday Donald Rumsfeld will no longer be the U.S.  secretary of defense.  After failing to get Osama bin Laden, or shut down al Qaeda, and failing to secure the peace in Iraq or Afghanistan, Mr.  Rumsfeld is already thinking about his next project, establishing his legacy, I mean a good legacy.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the future ex-secretary is making the rounds of friendly interrogators, and pushing views that favor him, like his dismissive take on the watershed Iraq Study Group report that outlines his failures. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Have you had an opportunity to read the I.S.G. report? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  No, I‘ve skimmed it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  He‘s even willing to contradict his still commander in chief, to claim that he lost his job due to politics. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD:  I think that this time the outcome of the election, just to put it right up on the table, created a situation where I personally believe, and the president agrees, it is better for someone else to be leading this department with that new Congress. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Which is not, by the way, what President Bush said in announcing Mr. Rumsfeld‘s departure the day after the elections. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:     He and I both agreed in our meeting yesterday that it was appropriate that I accept his resignation, and so the decision was made, actually I thought we were going to do fine yesterday.  Shows what I know, but I thought we were going to be fine in the election.  My point to you is that win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now, a Pentagon veteran from the Reagan administration, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, who is now a fellow at the Center for American Progress.  As always sir, thanks for your time tonight.   

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Nice to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve got a couple of more intriguing post-Rumsfeldian era Rumsfeld remarks for you, I would like you to weigh in first on the two we just played.  Firstly, the idea of skimming the Iraq Study Group report.  Your reaction when you heard that? 

KORB:  Well, I mean, he knows how much it criticized him, by saying, well I‘m very busy and it‘s not that important, so I‘m just going to dismiss it.  I mean, that‘s his way of not confronting all of the criticisms they made about how he ran the war, how he ignored the advice from the military, how he botched the post-Saddam phase of the war. 

OLBERMANN:  And the other headline, claiming that he was dismissed because the election, even though he knew it was coming before the election.  Somewhere in there, necessarily, either he or the president is not being, we‘ll be polite about this, forthcoming on this subject. 

KORB:  Well, again, Bob Gates was interviewed the weekend before the election.  Given Rumsfeld‘s relationship with Vice President Cheney, I‘m sure that he knew about it.  The president, actually, was thinking about getting rid of him about a year ago, and then you had the so-called revolt of the generals, calling for his resignation.  So, I think, the president backed off, because he didn‘t want to look like he was caving in to pressure.  And remember him, by Rumsfeld saying, oh, it‘s just politics, he basically then is not acknowledging that it was really his performance that led to him being pushed out before he wanted to, because he really wanted to break Secretary McNamara‘s record. 

OLBERMANN:  Which he would have done in about a week and a half? 

KORB:  Yes, if he had stayed to the end of this calendar year. 

OLBERMANN:  A certain finality to the fact that he is not reaching that certain element of his legacy may be contained in that bit of trivia, but the other elements that he brought up in this interview, admitting that he used this term himself, he said that he would have chosen a label now, in retrospect, other than war on terror.  Is the idea here to propagate a notion that fighting al Qaeda had to be done as some on-going eternal struggle, which might some day be won, rather than simply wrapping the group of 40,000 to 50,000 who attacked us, which he and the administration did not choose to do?

KORB:  Well, very definitely.  I mean, you can‘t win a war on terror.  I mean, terror, you know, is a tactic and you‘re not going to defeat all the terrorists in the world.  And I think he is basically saying, well, you know, that‘s the president, that‘s those people trying to scare Americans.  I always had a balanced video of the situation.  I didn‘t want to bring democracy to the Middle East, I just wanted to go after the people who attacked us on September 11th.  So, to the extent that we‘ve broadened this far beyond where we need to, that‘s somebody else‘s fault.  I was just following orders. 

OLBERMANN:  But just last month, as we learned when it was leaked to

the “New York Times”—and no one has said this was a fabricated document

Mr. Rumsfeld wrote this menu of possible options in Iraq, along with some recommendations, to peruse or pursue, but when he was asked this week whether he had any advice for Bob Gates, his reply was no.  You worked with Mr. Rumsfeld briefly, does he want Gates to succeed where he himself has failed? 

KORB:  No, he‘s always been interested basically in himself, not taking responsibility for things that happen, and trying to push the blame off on other people.  That memo was a classic Rumsfeld thing, saying well, see, I knew it wasn‘t going well.  I tried to tell you people here.  You can look it up, and we need to change the present course.  And by saying he hasn‘t even looked at the Baker/Hamilton report, again that‘s something that he could help Bob Gates out, if he really wanted to. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, he did leave advice for his successor.  Unfortunately he left every possible piece of advice, and much of it is self-contradictory.  In any event, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, as always sir, thanks for your time. 

KORB:  Nice to be with you again. 

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, here they are the most rare kind of car crashes, but when they do happen they are usually among the most deadly.  New tests revealed to help you and your family survive a rollover. 

And the rollover, if you will forgive the analogy, that is the marriage of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.  First it was an alleged sex tape, now he is reportedly threatening a tell-all book.  Wait, he can write?  Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes of the day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I really am hoping that you plan on writing about your second tour in the Pentagon.  Is there any chance that will happen?

RUMSFELD:  Oh my gosh, my wife‘s after me to do that. 

JOHN STEWART, THE DAILY SHOW:  Oh gosh, golly, geeze, a book?  I hadn‘t thought of that.  Although I do good title I might, “Gosh Willakcers, How My 1950‘s Folksy Interjections Failed to Fix a Disastrous War.” 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He barks when he wants his leash, but he‘s also a law-abiding dog.  The city ordinance says all pets must be on a leash. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So far we haven‘t been cited, so I don‘t know how that would hold up in court, but he is technically on a leash. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is all the talk on the campus of Chesterfield County‘s Monikan (ph) high school.  By day he is popular, well respected art teacher Steven Murmor (ph).  But during his off hours he goes by Stan, avant guard painter and proprietor of ButtPrintingArtists.com. 

STEVEN MURMOR, BUTPRINTINGARTISTS.COM:  I do have a real job, where I do have real clients, and I don‘t think they would be too understanding. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In video clips on both YouTube and iFilm.com, Murmor can be seen brushing paint on a rubber mat, sitting on it and then pressing his butt onto the canvas.  Others paintings, mostly floral prints, are obviously done with the same blot and stamp method, but using his genitals. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The numbers tell it all.  Only four percent of crashes result in a rollover, but rollovers cause 40 percent of all highway fatalities.  But now in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, there may be a new tool to help prevent such catastrophic accidents, and in the interim, provide you exciting action video.  Our correspondent is Jay Gray. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  More than 10,000 people are killed each year, another 16,000 injured, when their vehicles roll over in a crash. 

JOAN CLAYBROOK, PUBLIC CITIZEN PRESIDENT:  The most important step automakers can take to protect us in roll over crashes is to prevent roofs from crushing in during the roll over. 

GRAY:  This new test, shown in this video from the manufacturer of the Jordan Rollover System, or J.R.S., is seen by some as the key to making vehicles safer in a rollover accident.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on a safety standard for all vehicles.  General Motors developed this 10 million dollar roll over test facility in Michigan, and other manufacturers test their roofs as well, but there has been no industry standard for testing to this point.  Critics say the new J.R.S. test should become the measuring stick for new nationwide standards in vehicle roof safety. 

CLAYBROOK:  And the advantage here is that this is a highly controlled test, so that each time you run it, you get the same results, with the same vehicle. 

GRAY:  Results that watchdog groups like Public Citizen say can improve dramatically. 

Jay Gray, NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of car wrecks, another new high and low in the Britney Spears-Kevin Federline saga.  And that tops our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  In an attempt, perhaps, to get more money out of his soon-to-be ex-wife, the re-christened Fed-Ex is reportedly threatening to write a tell-all book.  A source telling “Star Magazine” that the wannabe rapper would spill shocking details of Mrs.  Spears and alleged drug use, wild drinking, attraction to other women, unless she gives him more money in the divorce.  What, the Madonna kiss? 

The magazine also reporting that Federline is suing for sole custody of their two children, alleging Spears is an unfit mother, who partied her way through pregnancy after the kids will born.  She will reportedly counter, he wears that hat.  Federline is apparently planning on using a video of her from a few months ago, babbling incoherently, as part of his evidence, though it‘s unclear how anything could top his footage of Mrs.  Spears from 2004, before she ever got pregnant. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER:  (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And thanks to her husband‘s possible attempt at extortion, Britney Spears now has something in common with Yoko Ono.  Ms. Ono‘s chauffeur, Coral Carson (ph), is under arrest, charged with trying to extort two million dollars from her.  According to the police in New York City, Carson secretly recorded Ono‘s conversations, threatened to make them public unless she paid him off.  No word exactly what was said in those conversations that made him think that John Lennon‘s widow might submit to blackmail. 

And to a generation he may have been known as Ray Ramono‘s crotchety TV father, but the entertainment world today lost one of its most versatile and gifted actors when Peter Boyle died.  He earned an Emmy nomination, having famously won the role on “Everybody Loves Raymond” after being kept waiting for his audition and going in angry, exactly what the producers wanted.  And he had a comedic tour de force, nearly a quarter of a century earlier, as the monster in Mel Brooks‘ “Young Frankenstein.”  But Peter Boyle also convincingly played a corner cutting political campaign manager alongside Robert Redford in “The Candidate.” 

He was chillingly realistic as Senator Joe McCarthy in a 1977 television film, “Tail Gunner Joe,” and as 1960s activist David Dellinger (ph), in another TV movie, “The Trial of the Chicago Eight.  Who else could play Joe McCarthy and David Dellinger?  Peter Boyle continued to work, despite suffering from the blood cancer, multiple myeloma, and heart disease.  He died last night at New York Presbyterian Hospital, far too soon, at the age of 71. 

Also tonight, Pauly Shore.  Police forced to investigate an on-stage fight at one of his appearances.  But it proves this was more like a desperate ploy for attention and it worked.  We‘re doing a story on it. 

That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.  The bronze to somebody at the post office at Carol Stream (ph), Illinois.  Four-year-old twins Eric and Evan Gilmore mailed their letters to Santa.  Well, Grandma mailed them actually.  Eric and Evan a little too short to reach the mail box slot.  Evan‘s letter was handled in the traditional manner, sent along to the North Pole Christmas Postmark Center, But Eric‘s delivered back to him, marked return to sender, insufficient address, unable to forward.  The local post master has corrected the gaffe. 

Our runner up, the unnamed teacher at the middle school in Salsbury, Maryland.  It‘s one of those schools riddled by kids asking for phony bathroom breaks and one of those which has instituted, as a result, the teacher must escort the kid to the bathroom rule.  One of the teachers wouldn‘t.  He reportedly told the three eighth graders to instead use a soda bottle. 

But tonight‘s winners, the fine folks at the waste water treatment plant at Boulder, Colorado.  The stuff they‘re pumping in the Boulder Creek is not just your ordinary cleaned up human—et cetera, waste.  A University of Colorado researcher says the stuff has magic powers.  It turns four out of every five male fish in the creek into female fish.  The researchers think some chemicals from pharmaceuticals and skin care products are making it through the waste treatment system and creating this mass fish sex change.  Something to think about if you live down stream from their outflow pipe.  Those in charge of the Boulder waste water treatment plant, today‘s Worst Persons in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There is no war on Christmas, but for a time there certainly seemed appeared to be a war on comedians.  But Michael Richards you already know, but the level of conflict seemed to have been raised one frightening notch, a heckler physically attacking a performer.  Yet in our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, what you will see involving the comic Pauly Shore at the Eight Street Comedy Club in Odessa, Texas is not what it seems. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULY SHORE, COMEDIAN:  That‘s not (EXPLETIVE DELETED) cool.  I‘m in the middle of my (EXPLETIVE DELETED). 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) you‘re just like the rest of us.

SHORE:  Well first of all, shut the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hoss.  What?  You‘re not coming up here.  No, no, no, bro.  What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  Really, stop, stop, stop, stop.  Stop, I‘m sorry, I‘m sorry, bro.  I know, but he was (EXPLETIVE DELETED) talking during my show. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everybody else has been talking too.

SHORE:  Well, you know what, that‘s (EXPLETIVE DELETED) how it is. 

Sometimes people got to shut the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up. 

(INAUDIBLE)

SHORE:  (EXPLETIVE DELETED) all of you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) white trash. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The clip hit the Internet faster than Pauly Shore hit the deck, prompting the Odessa Police Department to investigate what happened.  After speaking to the off duty officer, who appeared to be escorting that heckler off the stage, the Odessa police revealed it was all pre-planned. 

“The officer reported he had met with Mr. Shore prior to his set and was asked to participate in the skit.  The officer stated that the skit went as designed, and that Shore was not injured in the designed skit.”  In fact, according to police, Shore even posed with his alleged attacker for a photo at the end of the night.  But not everyone appears to agree exactly what happened.  Pauly Shore‘s alleged road manager, who identifies himself only as Warlock, told the Odessa American Newspaper that Shore did get punched. 

Quote, when I talked to him yesterday, he said he got hit.  He seems really embarrassed.  But the comedy club‘s owner, Rob Jenkins, tells COUNTDOWN it was stunt planned by his people.  Jenkins says it was rehearsed several times.  All the patrons were in on it.  The alleged heckler was a friend of his, as was the guy who posted the video on the various Internets.  We even got ahold of Mr. Shore himself, a viewer of the program, who was surprised that Mr. Jenkins claimed responsibility, didn‘t want to talk about the incident, other than to say, you caught me.  To help us figure out just what this was all about, I‘m joined again by comedian Paul F. Tompkins, a regular contributor to VH-1‘s Best Week Ever, and we‘re glad to say a frequent contributor here.  Thanks for your time again Paul. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN:  Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Firstly, the most impressive part of the whole deal, in my mind, the Odessa police referring to Mr. Shore‘s comedy act as a, quote, set.  That‘s pretty hip, isn‘t it? 

TOMPKINS:  Oh, yes, the Odessa police are big comedy nerds.  They know all the terms.  They know all about one-nighters and a tight 20 and they‘re huge fans of Mitch Hedberg (ph).   

OLBERMANN:  What does this tell you about live comedy though Paul, if we‘ve had this sort of setup.  Is it actually as fixed as pro wrestling? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, I guess so.  I mean, that‘s the trend.  You can say that Pauly is now the Rowdy Roddy Piper of stand up and their film careers are in about the same place right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Big picture, did the gag work, or does Pauly Shore just come off looking kind of desperate to do this? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, I would say if you‘re constructing a scenario in which someone‘s going to charge you from the stage, why don‘t you make it so that you win?  If you‘re the author of that universe, you know, come out on top. 

OLBERMANN:  Andy Coughman (ph) would have given him that advice.  Right, at least you‘re going to wrestle, you‘re going to fight with somebody, you‘re going to stage it, have it come out a little better on your side.  Have you ever heard of somebody doing something like this before?  I mean, obviously you often—stand ups will involve themselves with the audience, but would you encourage one to pretend to attack you? 

TOMPKINS:  I wouldn‘t encourage one to pretend to attack me.  But there‘s many times I‘ve gone home after a gig and I like to comfort myself by saying, maybe those people were just pretending, when they said those things. 

OLBERMANN:  Or at least they didn‘t attack.  Do you think that the—are we jumping to the wrong conclusion here?  Was this intentionally a response to the Michael Richards rant towards the hecklers, or was there an attempt to poke fun at Texans or the reference to white trash?  What was the satirical goal here? 

TOMPKINS:  I wonder if the attempt was to poke fun at Pauly himself, just to sort of finally give the people what they want, you know, like hey, you‘ve wanted to punch me for a long, long time.  Maybe you forgot how much you did. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, it just occurs to me there‘s an additional element to this, because he is, of course, the son of one of the owners of a famous comedy club.  Is there even a more inside element to this than we may be suspecting?  Is he riffing on the whole comedy club experience? 

TOMPKINS:  He might very well be sort of acting out.  Maybe there‘s some level to it we‘re not aware of, that he‘s sort of turning the mirror on us, as the audience. 

OLBERMANN:  Or working out some mother issues, it‘s his mother who is the manager, right, or the owner of the comedy store? 

TOMPKINS:  That‘s right, Mitzy.  I hope Mitzy was watching. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, only half kidding with this other question, this stunt was a joke.  It wasn‘t extraordinarily well done, but are you worried that being on the Internet, being on TV with this, that it might actually encourage somebody to come out of the seats against a stand up comic? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, I‘m only half joke when I reply that I‘m a 20-year veteran of stand up comedy clubs, and there‘s a lot of times up there that you‘re looking at a sea of people that you sort of get the feeling that they‘re waiting for the signal to unleash hell.  So I‘m not encouraged by this at all.  I don‘t think it‘s such a great idea to present an audience with, perhaps this is a scenario you might want to enact. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but specify it in terms of Pauly‘s career.  In this any publicity is good publicity?  Did we just revive it, or what?

TOMPKINS:  Well, you know, there‘s the old adage, you know, no publicity is bad publicity, but I don‘t know if, publicist wise, you want to go with reminding people how maddeningly punchable your face is. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Many thanks for your time and we encourage anyone who goes to see you to please keep your seats.  Thanks Paul.

TOMPKINS:  Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,320th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

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

END   

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