updated 1/8/2007 11:36:25 AM ET 2007-01-08T16:36:25

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Alter, Arianna Huffington

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

The Democrats take a stand on Iraq.  They even put in it writing and send it to the president.  You‘ve already surged.  Do not surge again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The president, I think, has, as one of my colleagues said, the burden of proof.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president meets with what he perceives as moderates from the new majority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  I take him at his word that he was listening to what we were saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  You‘re still comparatively new here, right?

Not everyone takes the president at his word, any of his words. 

Senator Biden says he believes the White House has already conceded defeat in Iraq, and is now not surging but searching, searching for CYA, cover your administration, featuring a certain degree of frustration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  What the hell do you want me to do here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  John McCain will hear none of it.  He‘s surging to the far, far right, drum-beating for more troops, and more troops after that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  To be of value, the surge must be substantial, and it must be sustained.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Flip-flop?  Courting the Attila the Hun vote?  Or do you have a kinder explanation?

Speaking of aging action figures, just what the kids want, Rocky Balboa action figures.  And Bruce Willis is “Die Hard.”  Mister, do you have a Ready Rescue Ranger Alexander Graham Bell action figure?  OK, I‘ll settle for a Butter Benjamin Franklin.  He better.

And (INAUDIBLE), it‘s the first Friday of the month.  Watch that first step on the way out, ‘cause it‘s a doozy, because, kids, what time is it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Santa!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Santa!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Santa!

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right.  The Oddball plays of the month.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

No, sir, no surge.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, day two of the 110th Congress, the Democrats taking a surprisingly substantial step about the antiwar mandate that brought them back to power, the White House welcoming new ideas, new ideas on how to stay in Iraq, not leave it, even as a key Democrat says he believes top officials inside that White House have already secretly concluded they cannot win the conflict, postponing the inevitable so that it happens on the next president‘s watch, Senator Joe Biden, the once and current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, going where no Democrat has gone before, accusing the White House of knowing full well it has already lost Iraq, yet biding its time so that the next commander in chief will, quote, “be the guy landing helicopters inside the green zone, taking people off the roof,” Senator Biden further telling “The Washington Post, “I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost.  They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up.  I am not being facetious now.  Therefore, the best thing to do is to keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy—literally, not figuratively.”

Biden‘s colleague, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Speaker of the House Pelosi putting their concerns about the conflict not in the paper but in writing, in a letter to the president, the new power brokers telling Mr.  Bush that a so-called surge is a really bad idea, and that his own military advisers have already told him as much, in the name of television, this afternoon Senator Reid reiterating his concerns before a microphone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  This surge is a bad idea.  The surge is a bad idea.  The president has said he was going to listen to his commanders.  If he‘s listening to his commanders, he can‘t do this.  I know he‘s shuffling some in and out, obviously because they‘re not telling him what he wants to hear.  But he—what he needs to hear is the present situation in Iraq is deteriorating before our eyes, and a surge will not help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A group of senators from both parties taking their concerns directly to the president today with a meeting at the White House, one Republican in attendance, Senator Larry Craig, saying it was not a meeting with lots of smiles, the Democrat Barack Obama in attendance, saying at least the president appeared to have his listening cap on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It was an open-ended discussion.  The president asked for our opinions.  There was a wide-ranging conversation.  I think both Republican and Democratic senators expressed grave concern about the situation in Iraq.  I personally indicated that a escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake.  He said he understood my perspective.  I take him at his word that he was listening to what we were saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  OK.  As for how the White House is responding to the Democratic onslaught, the strategy apparently trying to put the onus for change in Iraq onto the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  That‘s precisely the kind of dialogue the president would love to have, which is, OK, when you say we want to do anything we can, what is that?  And how do you define success?  And again, Senator Reid, who has just put together this letter, and there‘s the implicit offer that they think that they may have a way for figuring out how to help Iraq succeed, where they say, We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future.  We want to hear what their ideas are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in our own Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Did any hope the White House might have been harboring that key Democrats would be pulling their punches on Iraq, that many people might have expected that that might be the case, did all that just evaporate today?

ALTER:  I think it pretty much did.  There‘s a new Democratic party line, which is antisurge, surge protector, to put it in computer terms.  And I don‘t think this thing is going to divide the Democrats.  I don‘t think Hillary Clinton or anybody else who‘s been making hawkish sounds in the past is going to get too far away from this line against the surge.

The question is not really so much pulling punches as whether the Democrats will pull closed their purse strings.  That‘s the power that the Congress has, and it remains to be seen whether they‘ll do that.  If they do it for troops on the ground right now, highly unlikely, because that would hurt them.  It would also open them to the charge, you know, that they‘ve lost a war for the country.

But I think what you will see, Keith, down the road, is an indication by Democrats that they will not fund an expansion of the war.  They‘ll only fund the status quo if the president insists.

OLBERMANN:  Is this how they finesse that very fine line, Jon?  I mean, Jack Murtha was on the newscast yesterday and told us that basically every appropriation from here on in, every item, item by item, will be reviewed.  Is that the way to do what they want to do in terms of cutting off the spigot without looking like they‘re endangering the troops?

ALTER:  Yes.  But they‘re going to be walking a fine line on that, and then Republicans are going to constantly make it seem as if they‘re, you know, cutting support for the troops.  But what‘s going to end, as Murtha indicated, is a kind of a legislative trick, where the administration, the Republican Congress, would fund the war, which is $8 billion a month at this point, with supplemental appropriations that were sent through in a rush without any analysis of the money being spent.

And those days are over.  You‘re going to see really rigorous analysis.  So today, for instance, a study came out from Harvard saying that the long-term costs of dealing with disabled veterans and the other costs associated with this war down the road are between $350 and $700 billion just on veterans‘ benefits.

Those sorts of numbers are the kinds of things that you‘re going to be hearing in the days ahead.

OLBERMANN:  In addition to his unprecedented comments, essentially saying that the Bush long-term strategy is to wait for the next inauguration, Senator Biden also announced his schedule for hearings on Iraq.  But where should we expect, or set our expectations for that as a showdown?  Is that, is there, is there a goal to it?  Or is the goal the contentiousness of it?

ALTER:  Well, I don‘t think the Democrats are going to be too contentious.  They want to be firm and aggressive, but not, you know, destroy this notion of civility that you heard so much about yesterday.  The Fulbright hearings about the Vietnam War might be a bit of a model for Joe Biden.  If he can restrain his own volubility enough to have kind of sober-minded but tough hearings, without a lot of histrionics, they might not make the most riveting television imaginable, because some of it is green eyeshade stuff, really asking tough questions about how the money‘s going to get spent.

OLBERMANN:  And is Biden, to some degree, with these hearings, opening himself up to a charge that he‘s grandstanding for a possible presidential bid again?

ALTER:  I guess, yes, sure.  He‘ll have to do that.  But he also has opportunity here to strut his stuff.  And he does have considerable knowledge about foreign policy.  Has a pretty interesting proposal for Iraq too, that would basically divide it into three countries, partition Iraq.  And I think that‘s an idea that you‘re going to be hearing more about in the days ahead too.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and, of course, of MSNBC. 

Great thanks, as always, for your time.  Have a good weekend.

ALTER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Once every utterance from the White House was scrutinized for what it might reveal about the political master plan.  Today, the interpretive focus has shifted 180 degrees, and now a more common pursuit seems to be the search for signs, however scary, that there is no plan.  The White House today even on defense for a plan it has not yet unveiled.  As Senator Chuck Schumer of New York unraveled the logic of Mr. Bush, leaning towards more troops, before deciding what it is they will do.

Joining us now, our own Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek”‘s senior White House correspondent.

Richard, good evening.  Thanks for your time tonight.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Mary Landrieu was at that meeting today.  She said approval for escalation, contingent upon the specifics from the president, not just about his plan, but about his reasons for believing it would work.  And the president himself last night promised specifics.  Here‘s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m in the process of making up my final decision as to what to recommend—what- -- what recommendations to accept.  One thing is for certain, I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If he hasn‘t accepted recommendation, is he really going to be able to pick one and work out all the specifics by next week?  Or is this some sort of example of what Senator Biden was alleging, this sort of delay strategy to avoid the defeat now, even if it makes the situation worse in Iraq?

WOLFFE:  Well, first off, I think the president is using language that you can probably classify, along with his words in the run-up to war, when he said there were no war plans on his desk.  I mean, this is the kind of stuff that is kind of meaningless.

I mean, he is the one who is making the decisions.  He asks for these recommendations and then approves them.  And if he hasn‘t approved them now, then the White House isn‘t going to be ready to make its speech early next week.  And everything points to the fact they are ready.

So those words may be just not operative, even as he said them.

Having said that, I had Biden is overstating it.  Yes, the White House is looking much beyond their own term.  They are looking to what the next president will have to deal with.  But do they think that this is headed for defeat?  Well, maybe some administration officials are, but the most senior of them all, the president, obviously doesn‘t believe that.

OLBERMANN:  We just heard Tony Snow three times say that the Democrats need to offer a plan here.  Since he knows the new leadership has laid out its plan, as recently as this letter today from Pelosi and Reid, what‘s that statement on Mr. Snow‘s behalf, what does that actually mean, if there is already a plan, but he‘s saying they need to put out a plan?

WOLFFE:  You know, it‘s so funny hearing Tony Snow do these exercises in selective reading, because one of the classic ways he pushes back on the press corps is to say that we take things out of context.  Well, I mean, this was a perfect example of taking things out of context.

Clearly, the message of this letter was that the Democratic leaders do not support a surge.  Clearly, it‘s ridiculous to suggest that they need to come up with a plan themselves, since the executive branch runs the war, and the president is the commander in chief.

Now, having said that, there are legitimate questions, if you want, withdrawal.  What does the regional policy look like?  But again, Congress does not set foreign policy, doesn‘t set military policy.  And if they were to try, the administration would say, Back off.

OLBERMANN:  And Mr. Bush tried to do a couple of things today.  Certainly, in that meeting, if what all the senators from both sides are to be believed, and there‘s no reason not to, to convey this idea that he‘s genuinely listening, he convinced Senator Obama, and also, as Mr. Snow suggested, pin the illness—the onus on the Democrats to fix a mess that is of his making, under his watch, in Iraq, in putting these two ideas out there together, is the White House worried at all that they risk giving credence to that evaluation that Mr. Bush has no idea what the hell he‘s doing?

WOLFFE:  You know, well, this is an exercise in holding your friends close and your enemies closer.  And you look at the enemies, the opponents that they have chosen.  This is part of the White House strategy.  Karl Rove‘s strategy here is to target moderate or conservative Democrats, people who are going to face challenges in the next round.  And in Barack Obama‘s case, people who are going to be in the presidential spotlight very shortly.

So this is very calculated.  If you think the president really wants to their advice of Democrats after he‘s had weeks and maybe months of hearing from his own administration officials on what to do about the war, I don‘t think so.  He‘s really here—this is about politics.  And, yes, it‘s good that he wants to talk to Democrats, but he‘s not taking their advice.

OLBERMANN:  He had nothing else to do this afternoon.  Richard Wolffe, the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek.”  Always busy, and we always appreciate your time, sir.  Thanks.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  John McCain‘s plan for Iraq, more troops, and lots of them, and for a long time.  Step one, suggest something far right.  Step two, grimace as the president enacts it.  Step three, suggest something even further far right.

And the politics of ethics reform on day one under Nancy Pelosi.  The House passes new ethics rules, and only one congressman votes no.  We‘ll tell you who.  Here‘s the hint, he once called a sitting president a, quote, “scumbag,” unquote.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s a romantic concept immortalized in classic films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the noble statesman, the lone voice of dissent, a single politician who stand ups against the corrupt (INAUDIBLE) machine for what‘s good and right, and the regions south of the picket wire and zoo-zoo‘s (ph) pedals.

But our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN turns those mixed movie metaphors on their head.  On the very first day of the 110th Congress, the House passed new ethics rules.  Among other things, the motion limits lawmakers from enjoying privately financed trips, requires more public disclosure of pet projects in legislation.

It passed 430 to one.  The lone one, the voice of dissent, Republican Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana, currently serving his 12th term in the House of Representatives.  He released a statement listing eight reasons why he, quote, “could not, in good conscience, vote for the Democrats‘ ethics bills,” end quote, all of which essentially said the package did not go far enough, the statement ending, quote, “I believe that instead of coming up with new reporting requirements that members and staff can inadvertently violate, the only true solution is to have complete transparency and reportability.”

Congressman Burton speaks from personal experience about ethics issues.  In 1998, after several newspapers reported disturbing details about his own use of campaign funds, the Congressional Accountability Project asked the Ethics Committee to investigate him.  But because official ethics complaints had to be filed by a member of the House, the request was denied.

As to the ethics issues in Congress now, the Democrats have promised to end the, quote, “culture of corruption” in Washington, even though, as our chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reports, they are already rubbing shoulders with the lobbyists.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Hours after changing House rules to reduce favors from lobbyists, it was back to business as usual in Washington.  Democrats threw a $1,000-a-person fundraising concert, with Hollywood celebrities, big donors, and Washington lobbyists writing checks to reelect Democrats.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER:  Tonight we are having a celebration.  Democrats are back.

MYERS:  Congressional Republicans also had a pricey fundraiser with lobbyists, after they assumed power 12 years ago.  But Democrats promised to be different.

Ethics reform advocate David Donald.

DAVID DONALD, ETHICS REFORM ADVOCATE:  Well, it sends a very mixed message to be, on one hand, saying that they‘re clamping down on lobbyists, but then raising money from the very same lobbyists that they say are part of the problem.

MYERS:  Democrats did get the new House to ban members from taking any gifts, meals, or trips from lobbyists, which reform groups call an important first step.  But most reformers say those are not the most important tools lobbyists use to influence Congress.

DONALD:  Lobbyists are most valuable to members of Congress by raising significant amounts of money for their reelection campaigns.

MYERS (on camera):  And neither party is doing anything to crack down on campaign money lobbyists give and raise.  Under the new rules, lobbyists can still wine and dine members of Congress, as long as it‘s a campaign fundraiser.

(voice-over):  Some lobbyists say that politicians who trash lobbyists are hypocritical.

PAUL MILLER:  If you want to bash me in the press, bash me in the press.  But don‘t call me next day and ask for money.

MYERS:  As for last night‘s event, Speaker Pelosi‘s spokesperson says there were only about 200 lobbyists there, and that this will still be the most open, honest Congress ever.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  It was apparent the day before the election, when he threw his bipartisan friend John Kerry under the bus, Senator McCain is moving another 4 degrees towards the irrational right every single day.  To win in Iraq, he now wants substantial forces added for a sustained amount of time.

Maybe we need to send John McClain from “Die Hard” to Iraq.  That‘s who Hollywood is turning to, returning to, in hopes of box office gold.  “Dyed Hair 3”—I‘m sorry, “Die Hard 3.”

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Jean Dixon was born on this date in 1918.  She was the leading psychic astrologer of the supermarket tabloids of the ‘60s and ‘70s, whose predictions somehow got to the attention of president Nixon.  Dixon told Nixon that he wouldn‘t have any real trouble with Watergate, and also that there was a terrorist plot involving comedian Alan King, although she wasn‘t sure if King was the intended victim, or the terrorist.

She also took Oklahoma over Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

No, we begin in a little town I know called Cereal City.  It‘s the Battle Creek, Michigan, amusement park, dedicated solely to breakfast cereal administration apparently built out of your cereal box tops.  It must have seemed like a really good idea at the time when it first opened in 1998, fun park with Tony the Tiger instead of Mickey, and the little Snap, Crackle, and Pop elf things.  Mmm, edible elves.

But lately, unfortunately Cereal City has gone all soggy, even without milk or cream.  Too many people moving to the suburbs, like Cantaloupe Springs and French Toastia, I guess.  So they‘re closing the doors forever, sealing the joint in Tupperware, and it will remain fresh for future generations.

Speaking of part of a nutritious breakfast, it‘s COUNTDOWN Butter Sculpture of the Month, this time from the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.  No, it‘s not a turtle standing on its hind legs.  It‘s a butter Ben Franklin and the Liberty Bell.  Mmm, spreadable founding father.  Aha.

Finally, to wrap up our food-themed edition of Oddball tonight, the world‘s largest souffle has fallen.  Sacre bleu!  Actually, this is B.C.  Place Stadium in Vancouver in British Columbia, the world‘s largest air-supported domed stadium.  Not any more.  The planned site of the 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies, that‘s what it used to look like.  Today, it is a deflated shell of its former self after high winds tore a hole in the fabric roof and the roof collapsed, as happened to the Minnesota Metrodome awhile ago.

Oh, the humanity.  Nobody hurt.  Officials say, though, it may be months before they can find a bicycle pump big enough to reinflate the damn thing.

It‘s bonus Oddball night, the best of December, just falling out of a tree and racing down the track at you and you don‘t even to have drive anywhere to go see it.

Speaking of people who will let you see it, Britney Spears explains her recent problems, and it‘s all the fault of—guess who?

Details ahead.

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

Number three, Tim Winchenbach, scallop fisherman from Cushing, Maine.  And how is the scallop fishing this January?  Got a lot of shells, caught ourselves a woolly mammoth too.  Seriously, their last run pulled up what appears to be a woolly mammoth tusk that had been lying in the seabed off Maine for thousands of years.  Fry it up in some butter.

Number two, Tammy Stanley, crack pipe smoker of Victoria, British Columbia, said she snapped when somebody stole her crack pipe.  She will get nine months in jail for how she snapped.  She stole $5 from a sidewalk entertainer who was playing an electric piano.  The piano player was a 12-year-old girl.

And number one, an unnamed 15-year-old (INAUDIBLE) from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  First he and his mom went to a pet store, wherein he shoplifted a 30-inch-long boa constrictor by wrapping the snake around his neck under his coat.  And he would have gotten away with it, too, if he and Mom had not come back to the same store the next day and asked to buy a book on how to care for a boa constrictor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The more Senator John McCain talks about the war in Iraq, the more the wheels seem to come off the Straight Talk Express.  That was the name of his bus, as well as his mantra, when he ran for president in 2000. 

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, he might want to ditch that phrase this time around, especially since his latest description and prescription for Iraq has changed again.  Calling not just for a troop surge, but one that is substantial and sustained. 

Yesterday, the all but certain presidential candidate said that he knew all along that the war was going to be long and tough, even though, as we noted in this news hour last night, he said almost exactly the opposite on at least three other occasions in the month immediately before the war. 

As for an escalation in troop levels, the senator had been calling for another 20,000 troops in Iraq.  But now that the Bush administration is likely to execute some kind of temporary troop surge at about that number, Senator McCain appears to be giving himself another out.  The surge must be substantial and sustained, he says, or it can‘t work. 

Today he addressed the conservative American Enterprise Institute, along with Senator Joe Lieberman and Retired Army General Jack Keen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  There are two keys to any surge of U.S. troops.  To be of value, the surge must be substantial and it must be sustained.  It must be substantial and it must be sustained.  I want to be clear.  And I mean this with all sincerity. 

Strategy will mean more casualties and extra hardships for our brave fighting men and women.  And the violence may get worse before it gets better.  Even if we send additional troop to Iraq, in large numbers, for a sustained period, there is no guarantee for success in Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The senator later said the surge must be significant and sustained, quote, otherwise do not do it, otherwise there will be needless loss of American lives.  Let‘s call in the founder and editor of the “Huffington Post,”” Arianna Huffington.  Thanks for your time tonight Arianna.   

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, “HUFFINGTON POST”:  Thank you Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  There were a lot of people outside John McCain‘s party who had a lot of respect for this man.  It is barely two years since many of them said John Kerry was right to at least approach him about a possible slot as vice president.  What happened to John McCain? 

HUFFINGTON:  Well, I‘m asking that question myself, Keith, because I was one of the big John McCain admirers.  Even though I didn‘t agree with him on many issues, there I was in New Hampshire in 2000, the Straight Talk Express.  It was absolutely inspiring. 

And in 2000, also, he opened the shadow convention that I had organized in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, despite the fact that George Bush had personally asked him not to.  So what happened to that independent, inspiring politician? 

With every speech, the Straight Talk Express, as you said, is going more and more off the rail.  And this particular speech was really disturbing, because it was completely disconnected from reality.  He really has reached Dick Cheney levels of disconnect, conflating Iraq with the war on terror, saying that effectively we are fighting over there so we don‘t fight them over here.  The very discredited fly paper theory was in full swing in his speech. 

And he even mentioned the writings of Osama bin Laden and Omar.  You know, it has nothing to do with Iraq.  I mean, we‘re talking about the Taliban, which has grown stronger again in Afghanistan, precisely because we‘ve taken our eye off Afghanistan, while concentrating on a war that has nothing to do with our national security. 

OLBERMANN:  Just how much do you suppose Mr. McCain is gaming this, moving the goal posts, so that when and if the troop surge fails to correct what‘s gone on in Iraq, he can say, no matter what happens, you did not do what I called for.  I would have been right, but you didn‘t listen to me. 

HUFFINGTON:  Well everything he is saying wreaks of calculation.  The fact that now we have this new, very spinnable phrase, sustained and substantial.  Substantial and sustained.  Did you notice how he muffled the words. because it is clearly a phrase that was not his.  Somebody gave it to him. 

And there he is repeating it again and again so that he has an out when the strategy fails.  He knows it‘s going to fail.  But on top of it, here is the key question, Keith, where are these troop going to come from?  There was a story on CBS last night that said that the military can only provide, at most, 9,000 troop.  So where are these substantial forces coming from?  Jack Murtha is going to be holding hearing, starting January 17th, on our readiness, on how, in fact, there is any real threat to our national security.  We don‘t have the troops.  We don‘t have the forces ready to deal with it. 

OLBERMANN:  Sticking with the politics, for a moment, Arianna, can he pull off this little dance on the surge?  Because no matter what he may think he is saying, if he keeps pounding this idea, surge, surge, surge, and Bush goes ahead and does this, as we all expect he is going to, and it doesn‘t work, won‘t he be the leading 2008 contender associated with this failed bloodletting that would follow a surge? 

HUFFINGTON:  You know, people are advising him purely tactically.  I would say it is very much the wrong tactics, the wrong strategy.  It appears now that Iraq will still remain the dominant issue in the 2008 presidential election.  And I believe there is going to be a dark horse to take on McCain.  Maybe somebody who we are not talking about yet.  It could be Chuck Hagel, even though Chuck Hagel is saying he won‘t run.  There are interesting parallels here.  They are friends.  They‘re both vets.  They part company completely on Iraq.  Chuck Hagel has been a sustained critic of this war.  He is incredibly charismatic.  And he could take McCain on this particular issue, and you know, Bobby Kennedy, you remember, had no plans to run when he decided to run in 1968, after Johnson pulled out. 

OLBERMANN:  And couldn‘t any Republican who thought McCain was the leader, that‘s what‘s going to be, as 2008 approach, couldn‘t they simply put together his speeches and the contrasts, and do a flip flop attack on him like the one that was launched against John Kerry? 

HUFFINGTON:  Well, you‘ve already started it.  I mean, you‘ve already started it by pulling the McCain quotes from before the war.  How unrealistic his expectations were, and how he keeps changing what he is saying to give himself cover, absolutely.  That would not a difficult attack ad to do. 

OLBERMANN:  Arianna Huffington, founder and editor of TheHuffingtonPost.com.  As always, great thanks for your time.  Have a great weekend. 

HUFFINGTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Is something wrong in Hollywood when the favorite action heroes could double as pitch men for Preparation H?  Everything old is new again for the big screen blockbuster.  It‘s also deja vu all over again for Oprah Winfrey.  First it was beef industry suing her.  Now an actual audience member has filed suit, and you get a subpoena, and you get a subpoena, and you get a subpoena, ahead on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The remake is the bane of creativity, as anybody who saw the second version of the Manchurian Candidate and got weepy about how they just don‘t make men with the acting skills of Frank Sinatra anymore, already know. 

But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, this is ridiculous.  Not just Sly Stallone, who has crawled back into the Multiplex with his reprisal of the Rocky character.  This is the sixth, presumably final installment, unless he goes for Rocky 7, Rocky gets a walker.  An absolute bevy of actors who‘s action heroes were hits twenty years ago and more are coming back.

No word on whether or not they will have to be hoisted onto their horses, senior citizens to the rescue.  Our correspondent is the youthful Jennifer London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Remember when Indiana Jones was on his last crusade?  Rocky Balboa was making a comeback?  Rambo was on the hunt for bad guys?  And the odds were against John McClane in Die Hard? 

Now more than 20 years later, Hollywood‘s favorite action heroes are making a come back.  In 2007 Indiana Jones is getting ready for another last crusade.  Rocky Balboa went for another come back this Christmas.  Rambo will hunt for more bad guys this year.  And come Summer, the odds are, once again, against John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN, MEDIA EXPERT:  These are iconic film characters, iconic franchises and any movie buff is going to be interested in seeing these films.

LONDON:  Hollywood hopes so and by dusting off the cobwebs of older action heroes, the studios hope to recapture those cash cows.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the first film in history to make 50 million dollars in a single week.  After more than a decade in development, filming of Indiana Jones Part Four begins this year. 

GEORGE LUCAS, DIRECTOR:  For me, I‘ve always planned it out first, and then executed it.  Rather than saying, well that was successful, let‘s do another one.

LONDON:  But do movie goers want to see their favorite old action heroes when they‘re, well, old? 

Bruce Willis is 51, Sylvester Stallone, 60, and Harrison Ford is 64. 

PROJ. RICHARD WALTER, UCLA FILM SCHOOL:  I don‘t think audiences are going to buy it.  To me, these kinds of events represent the death of the imagination, the suffocation of the spirit.

LONDON:  Still, Rocky‘s performance at the Box Office this holiday season has been respectable, bringing in 51 million dollars in two weeks. 

And Stallone is already working on bringing John Rambo back to life in Rambo Four.  It kind of makes you wonder, will Schwarzenegger stage a come back as the Terminator? 

Jennifer London, NBC News, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of celebrities past their sell by date, Britney Spears topping our nightly round up of entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, as she once again tries to undo the PR damage from her late night shenanigans by reaching out directly to her fans. 

Amid rumors, denied by her record company, that she was about to get dropped from the label, and as one of her biggest fan sites starts to shut down, Miss Spears posted a plea on her website, telling fans that she‘s been working so hard on her new album, and she can‘t wait for everyone to hear it. 

As for the last few years in her life, she says it‘s been quite a ride and very enlightening.  Well, yes, that‘s true because she wasn‘t wearing underwear.

Before playing a favorite card of the Bush administration, when in trouble, blame the media, quote, the media has criticized my every move and printed a skewed perception of who I really am as a human being.  Well that explains the late night boozing, pantless dancing, hoo ha flashing and passing out at parties.  The media did all that.

Speaking of blame the media, Oprah Winfrey now being sued by one of her audience members, who says she was injured at a show.  What, she didn‘t get a car? 

The litigant, Tanya Milner, claims that an unruly crowd caused her fall down stairs at a taping of the show on April 11th of last year.  She‘s alleging that the studio failed to adequately control the over-excited audience members as they rushed to get the best seats, and therefore she feels she‘s entitled to more than 50,000 dollars in damages.  no word on exactly how she was injured, nor whether part of that 50 grand is a refund for the ticket price for the show.

From falling audience members to falling Santa.  The dangers of reindeer games, to say nothing of the spectacle that is the run for the rehab.  All part of Oddball‘s month in review.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. 

A bronze tonight for Bill-O.  His paranoia about NBC tonight reaching the stages of tertiary syphilis, attacking Chris Matthews and me by trying to push around Andrea Mitchell on the air, then telling her, we‘ve checked you out.  You‘re OK.  Like some 25 cent addition of Senator Joe McCarthy.  Or like you could carry Andrea Mitchell‘s pencil.  Listen, big boy, you want to hit Matthews or me, come on down and do it like a man, not like a Bill O‘Reilly.

Number two, Michelle Malkin, a better man than O‘Reilly.  Among the bloggers from the irrational right who actually accused the Associate Press of making up a source in the Iraqi police force, who claims six people were shot and burned alive in sectarian violence at a mosque in November.  First, I‘ve worked for a wire service.  The Associate Press doesn‘t have time to make up anything.  Second, they already identified him by name, Captain Jamil Hussein.  Third, now that you have forced him to be identified publicly, because you don‘t want news reported if it contradicts your make believe world, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior says yes, not only is there a Captain Hussein assigned to the police station in Cadra, but now he faces prosecution, because he talked to reporters and you outed him.  We need to prove Michelle Malkin really exists and isn‘t animatronic, no, on second thought.  Let‘s not prove that. 

But our winner tonight, Ador Equipado (ph), deputy mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey.  After it was revealed that not only did he ask a couple of newlyweds for a 50 dollar bribe so he would perform their free marriage ceremony at city hall, but before he would declare them man and wife, for 10 minutes, he asked them about their finances and which phone service they used.  And then he handed them applications to change their phone company.  It turns out, the deputy mayor run his own phone service.  And it better be a good one, because Mr. Equipado has now resigned as deputy mayor, after trying to phone in the wedding.  Can you hear me now?  Ador Equipado, politics and long distance service especially, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Alexandra Dumas is still in print, the author of the Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers, but for Dumas it wasn‘t always books that would inspire great sandwiches or candy bars.  182 years ago today, when he was 23-years-old, Mr. Dumas fought his first duel to settle a dispute over a game of billiards. 

He took off his overcoat, picked up his sword and only then realized he had forgot to wear a belt or suspenders.  His pants promptly fell down at the start of a duel.  What better historical moment could we contemplate and celebrate as we enjoy our regular monthly review of Oddball‘s greatest plays, December edition. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  We begin in Viganella (ph).  We begin in Mexico City.  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. 

We begin in Egypt where two men with funny mustaches share a brief but passionate kiss. 

And we begin with scary video from Altamonte Springs (ph) in Florida.  We all know how hard it is to get a parking spot at the mall during Christmas season but this is ridiculous.  I‘ve got to get my TMX Elmo. 

Who is this anonymous hero, this tree-shaker of Sammy  Amish (ph)?  Wherever you are, sir, Oddball salutes you.  Not only did you save the kitty, you did it in the most hilarious manner possible and on camera to boot.  It‘s every day heroes like you that make this segment ridiculous possible. 

To the Internets, where we‘re getting our first disturbing video images from our embeds on the front lines in the war on Christmas.  Apparently there‘s been a mishap concerning the big man himself, Santa. 

Let‘s take a look at the videotape. 

Looks like somebody slipped Santa a micky.  Is there no low to which these secular progressives won‘t stoop.  Don‘t worry, he did not appear to be seriously hurt.  In fact, not only did he upload that video to the Internets, but Santa was healthy enough to edit together the tapes from all the other cameras in the garage, so we could watch it again from multiple angles. 

A war on Christmas update from Japan, where we get a remarkable demonstration of a Santa first class from the seal unit of the north pole Navy.  Taking hold of a secular progressive Moray Eel and interrogating a Sting Ray.  I don‘t need to tell you how dangerous that is. 

Berlin is also the European staging ground for the coming war on Christmas.  And the culture warriors look to be in fine form as they gather on the parade grounds for the attention of generalissimo O‘Reilly. 

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Santa boot camp is in full swing as new recruits undergo strength training and run the obstacle course in preparation for glorious battle at the end of the month.  This year‘s class, some of the finest Santas ever to put on the uniform. 

OK, we‘ve got one guy who bailed out of the program early. 

This, they say, is the ring rode around Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia.  The guys in the white robes are morons.  Oddball, of course, does not encourage anyone to leave the vehicle while it‘s in motion, but at least the driver stayed put, unlike our favorite American idiot. 

It‘s a (INAUDIBLE) stunt man show. It‘s a man and his wife and their mule pulling their house.  And look, it‘s a wax representation of the Supremes, if they were rich and white. 

It‘s another Assimo (ph) the Honda robot, you‘ve seen him jogging, lifting things, playing musical instruments, and now it‘s the Assimo that can walk up the steps. 

Oh, that might have hurt.  And you know, he‘s just catching a beating behind that wall. 

The spray-on condom, developed by a German company and demonstrated here.  That‘s right, we‘re showing this to you on television, the product seems to be a perfect compromise for men who might be too bothered to take that new pill.  As long as they don‘t mind carrying around a spray bottle and have a few minutes to put down a painter‘s tarp. 

We‘ve previously shown you some of the street traffic in India, which really is more of a free for all or a demolition derby than we might be used to.  Today we‘ll visit the train station, where commuters are apparently encouraged to wander around on the tracks as the train comes through. 

Remember, mind the gap and mind the 125 miles per hour speeding death train. 

To Epsom Surie (ph), in the United Kingdom, for a story that should make every guy whoever got too drunk and woke up in a strange place feel a little bit better himself.  I dare you to try that in India, pal.  I double dare you. 

Finally, to El Salvador, it is basically the running of the alcoholics.  71 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 three visits to a rehab center.  The other 68 -- what, they all drove home?  Thanks for the free booze, courtesy of the El Salvador Anti-Drug Foundation? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Suddenly, Alexander Dumas‘ pants falling down at the start of a duel will doesn‘t seem that bad anymore.  That is COUNTDOWN for this, 1,343th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, 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   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,