updated 1/9/2007 11:46:24 AM ET 2007-01-09T16:46:24

Guests: Dana Milbank, P.J. Crowley, Jonathan Alter, Derrick Pitts

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

The president to reveal his newest new Iraq plan Wednesday, which assumes he will have chosen his newest new Iraq plan by Wednesday.

Up to 20,000 new troops, up to a billion dollars in job programs, hopes of securing small areas inside Baghdad, and the Democrats say, at minimum, they will vet every line of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER:  We want to see a justification for the mission...

OLBERMANN:  Justifications have never been the problem.  True justifications are the problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  I am running for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Another hat in the ring from a man who first ran for president 20 years ago.  Will Joe Biden‘s candidacy color his hearings into the conduct of the Iraq war?

Did we already conduct a war 30 years ago on Mars?  Those just-found signs of recent past life there, are they also signs of the unmanned Martian probes in the ‘70s squished Barben (ph) and the other Martians?  You stepped on my uranium PU-36 explosive space modulator.

Best place to work in America, maybe on earth?  “Fortune” magazine has made its choice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The sort of rack of lamb all the time.

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OLBERMANN:  He did have a great place to work.  First there was Justin censored on the tube, then Justin uncensored on the Web.  Now comes the hottest thing on the Internet.  Hey, lady, what you got in that box?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

It was exactly a month ago tonight that Senator Gordon Smith, Republican from Oregon, took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to say that he had reached the end of his rope supporting the president‘s Iraq policy, concluding that it was absurd and possibly even criminal to have American soldiers patrolling the same streets, being blown up by the same bombs day after day.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Mr. Smith still at the end of his rope, still speaking out, the stakes about to get even higher, President Bush preparing to announce to the nation on Wednesday night that he will be sending thousands more American soldiers into harm‘s way, while reaching out for a new White House counsel to a figure from the Watergate scandal, Mr. Bush said to be putting the finishing touches on a speech that will mark yet another new phase of a war now nearly four years old.

The plan, an increase of up to 20,000 U.S. troops, a new economic package, and a set of benchmarks to pressure the Maliki government, if by pressure you mean no deadlines to meet the benchmarks nor penalties should they not be met, Democrats in Congress saying the president wants to justify the new mission even as they express reluctance to cut off any funding for the conflict, Senator Lindsey Graham saying his only concern with an initial 20,000 troops is that it may not be enough, joined in that sentiment by independent Joe Lieberman, who is unlikely to be caucusing with the Democrats on this issue, the Democrats, however, gaining an increasingly powerful and unexpected ally in Mr. Smith, the Republican from Oregon, on his way out of a meeting with the president at the White House, Mr. Smith today questioning the time and resources really necessary to fight the insurgency in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GORDON SMITH ®, OREGON:  I have no idea how many troops that would take.  But I know it‘s more than an additional 20.  And I know it may take a decade and more to do it.

And I don‘t see America as being that vested in the politics of the Middle East, or understanded (ph) that we have that responsibility.

My own sense is that these are Iraqi questions that Iraqis can—must settle, whether they settle them peacefully or violently.  I don‘t want American men and women caught in the middle of that.

We like to leave a place better than we found it.  That‘s our history.  And yet, we cannot want democracy for Iraq more than they want it for themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Lee‘s call in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” of course.

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If President Bush is not able to rebuild support for the conflict among Republican senators, even ones like Gordon Smith, how is he expecting to do it with the American public on Wednesday night?

MILBANK:  (INAUDIBLE).  Who woulda thunk it, the last guy in Congress to be supporting President Bush is John McCain right now?

But I think what the president—everything we‘re hearing about what the president‘s going to say this week suggests that he has decided that he can‘t sway public opinion, and he can‘t even sway the members of Congress, because he‘s not, as Gordon SMITH was just saying, not talking about the enormous kind of surge that would be required to really make a difference on the ground in Iraq in the opinion of military experts.

He‘s talking about a small, cosmetic, face-saving kind of gesture, the sort of thing that the military advisers are describe as the moonwalk.  You‘re actually pulling out while appearing to be moving forward.

OLBERMANN:  So the theory, as I understand it, is, you go and you send these extra troops, or keep troops there, they secure individual patches of Baghdad, and then you turn them over to the Iraqis at some point and say, It‘s your problem now, and by the time you get your people out of there, it becomes a problem not for Americans, but for Iraqis.  Is that the gist of this?

MILBANK:  Well, that‘s the theory.  And the fervent hope is that—in the White House that the Democrats will be silly enough to go and say, Look, we‘re going to attempt to defund the war.  The president would love to be having that debate, saying, They are trying to take money away from troops that are on the front lines.

So he‘s trying to, I believe, lull them into a trap here.  So far, they do not appear to be nibbling at that.

OLBERMANN:  But they do appear to be nibbling, and perhaps nibbling the whole process to death, that the Democratic response, despite that stern letter to the president last week, not funding cutoff, but this line by line vetting, is that what they‘ve reached as their consensus is the approach to response to this?

MILBANK:  It seems to be.  Barack Obama today said he‘s looking for some way that you could strategically cut off some funds.  It seems really dubious that there is such a possibility of that.  However, it‘s not altogether a bad thing that there is actually some true oversight.  Lot of talk of getting rid of these emergency spending bills that, you know, (INAUDIBLE) you can‘t have an emergency on cue every year.  In fact, get it part (ph) of the regular spending process get some more hearings going on this.

So it doesn‘t actually change the arc of the war, but it does change the balance of power a bit.

OLBERMANN: Is Senator Biden just speaking the plain truth here, or is he spinning it to some reason politically by saying as a practical matter, there‘s no way to say, Mr. President, stop?

MILBANK:  Well, he‘s almost certainly saying the truth, but he, as a prospective Democratic candidate, is caught in between the Cindy Sheehans of the world, who say, Cut off funding now, and he realizing that that is a loser politically.  So he‘s got to try to thread that needle, and I think that‘s what he‘s doing.

OLBERMANN:  Dana, lastly, I mentioned the teaser at the start of the newscast, NBC News confirming tonight that the replacement for Harriet Miers, White House counsel, is going to be Fred Fielding.  Fred Fielding, and however creditably he may have conducted himself during Watergate, does it make sense for a Republican administration which is about to encounter a subpoena-happy Democratic Congress simply to bring in somebody whose name echoes of Watergate, somebody who the academics thought was a likely contender to have been Deep Throat?

MILBANK:  Well, you want to bring in the people who know best.  That‘s why, that‘s why the president brought back Donald Rumsfeld.

OLBERMANN:  Well, it worked well that time too, didn‘t it?

Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post.”  Always a pleasure, sir.  Thank you.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And to focus in on the specifics of these benchmarks, let‘s turn into former Pentagon spokesman P. J. Crowley, who‘s now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

P.J., good evening to you.

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESMAN:  Good evening to you.

OLBERMANN:  If the Americans and the Iraqis have agreed on benchmarks before, and some of them are the same benchmarks, they‘re all but cut and pasted from the earlier list hammered out with the Iraqis from October, why should we believe the president when he tells us that this time, the same benchmarks are going to work when they didn‘t before?

CROWLEY:  Well, and the reality is, they won‘t work, because these are our benchmarks, they‘re not the Iraqi benchmarks.  And when I looked for most recently at the Saddam execution, it was a Shia lynching, it really was not an execution by a unity government.

And it, to me, it served the purpose of inflaming the sectarian divide, not trying to turn a corner in Iraq.

So the real question is, is this Iraq government working the way it wants to?  And I think it is, as opposed to being ineffective.  And so, you know, it—there—the vision that Iraq has is not the vision that the United States has for the future.

OLBERMANN:  So what happens when we superimpose our template over their reality, again?

CROWLEY:  Well, yes, the (INAUDIBLE) -- and the answer is, we‘re, you know, we‘re now going to add 20,000 troops into a civil war.  And it‘s, you know, not clear what the mission‘s going to be, and the president will announce (INAUDIBLE) at this on Wednesday night, but if it—if our role is to knock down lots and lots of doors in Baghdad, looking for Sunni insurgents, replacing that many troops and more in the middle of a civil war, we have no business being there.

OLBERMANN:  These apparently would not be 20,000 fresh troops flown into Iraq, because there aren‘t 20,000 fresh troops to be flown into Iraq, but instead, brigades that are already there would (INAUDIBLE) would have their terms extended, and ones already scheduled to depart, which would be sent even earlier to the scene, if fresh troops don‘t exist, isn‘t the word “surge” itself, that which seems to be the only point of this, is that phrase, “surge,” isn‘t that, by itself, misleading?  Should we not be calling this indentured servitude or something?

CROWLEY:  Well, I think we should be calling it an overlap.  You know, we have done it before, we can do it this time.  I‘m not sure it‘s going to serve any particular military purpose.  But it‘s not really a surge, in the sense that the president, I doubt, is going to announce a permanent increase of 20,000 troops, you know, from the existing 135,000 ceiling.

He‘s going to accelerate the deployment of some troops.  He‘s going to hold those that are already in Iraq a little bit longer.  That‘s an overlap.  We‘ve done that around elections and key turning points in the past.  But this is really not a surge.  It‘s not exactly what the neocons had been pressing him to do.

OLBERMANN:  The Bush plan would also more than double the State Department‘s reconstruction efforts there.  But hadn‘t the administration stopped funding reconstruction because security was so bad in Iraq?  Why would security even worse than it was before, why would this be the acceptable time to start the construction again?

CROWLEY:  Well, I mean, this is a great strategy.  It was a great strategy four years ago, it was a great strategy three years ago.  It‘s unlikely, given the sectarian divide and the level of violence, as you mentioned, that today a jobs program or reconstruction is going to seriously advance without stability.

And as we‘ve talked about, it‘s highly doubtful that 20,000 more troops is going to change substantially the dynamic that we see in Iraq today.

OLBERMANN:  Boy, oh, boy, it‘s (INAUDIBLE) conducting a war in the middle of “Alice in  Wonderland.”

P.J. Crowley, senior fellow with the (INAUDIBLE) Center for American Progress.  As always, thanks for your time, sir.

CROWLEY:  OK, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush‘s new plan for Iraq, soon to be revealed, the U.S. strike against al Qaeda suspects in Somalia already a done deal, NBC News confirming tonight that a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship has conducted air strikes in the southern tip of Somalia.

Among the targets, no idea if they were caught, a senior al Qaeda leader in East Africa and another al Qaeda operative, both men believed to be responsible for the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Ethiopian and Somalian governments cooperating with the U.S.  in tracking those suspects.

There are reports of bodies on the ground following the strike but there has been no confirmation of their identities.  And the operation is said to be ongoing.

The new operation from Senator Biden.  His campaign for ‘08, does it begin in earnest with the start of his Iraq hearings tomorrow?  We‘ll examine Mr. Biden‘s chances against a crop of other presidential hopefuls on the Democratic side.

And did there use to be life on Mars, until we killed it?  The Martian Chronicles ahead.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Joe Biden‘s decision to seek the Democratic presidential nomination next year will be, if nothing else, a test of the statute of limitations on political shortcuts.  His last bid for the White House ended shortly after it began in 1987.  That‘s when somebody, in fact, two somebodys from the rival Michael Dukakis campaign, sent out a tape of a Biden speech and an earlier speech from the British Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock (ph), and large portions were the same speech, only Senator Biden had not said it first, and he wasn‘t quoting Kinnock when he did.

That Dukakis wound up firing those two staffers who distributed the speeches to the media, that it turned out Biden had frequently correctly attributed the passages to the British politician, all that did not come out until after Biden‘s campaign ‘88 got 86ed in ‘87.

Our forth story on the COUNTDOWN, but that stuff is so 20th century.  In this century, just this weekend, 20 years later, Senator Biden announced his candidacy again in such low-key fashion, it simultaneously frustrated critics, who say he‘s long-winded, and even got the surprise bonus of some Republican support.

Here it is, from yesterday‘s “MEET THE PRESS.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR:  Senator Biden, presidential politics.  You said last year that you would make a decision January of ‘07.  Are you running for president?

BIDEN:  I am running for president.

RUSSERT:  Are you filing exploratory committee?

BIDEN:  I‘m firing an exploratory committee before the month is out.

RUSSERT:  This month.

BIDEN:  This month.

RUSSERT:  And you‘re going to take on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and all other comers.

BIDEN:  I‘m going to be Joe Biden, and I‘m going to try to be the best Biden I can be.  If I can, I got a shot.  If I can‘t, I lose.

RUSSERT:  Joe Biden, Lindsey Graham, thanks (INAUDIBLE)...

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  He plays well in South Carolina.

RUSSERT:  Is that an endorsement?

GRAHAM:  I don‘t want to hurt his chances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Jonathan, great thanks for your time.

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

OLBERMANN:  Apart from that three seconds of bipartisanship, which kind of built in flows to it because the show‘s going off the air, this question, you know, Biden‘s been in the Senate since ‘73.  After 9/11, after America gets into a war and gets stuck in a war started by a novice in national politics, why are three one-term senators, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, the front-runners for the Democrats, rather than the long-term senator with bipartisan respect and decades of experience in foreign policy?  Is this the glamour aspect of politics in a nutshell?

ALTER:  Yes, and it‘s been that way for a long time, Keith.  Experience really doesn‘t pay off in presidential politics very often.  If you go back to 1960, for instance, you had a relatively inexperienced senator named John f. Kennedy, who got the nomination over Lyndon Johnson, Stewart Symington, other very experienced senators, and they were gnashing their teeth about it at the time.

In 1996, the Senate was such a liability for Bob Dole that he actually stepped down as the Republican leader in the Senate in order to run for president.

Biden‘s opening is to kind of confound expectations, as he did a little bit with that very low-key announcement you showed, and run a hearing that is different from what everybody‘s expecting him to do, that‘s much more crisp, businesslike, has more presidential bearing.

People tend to think of him as verbose, prolix, a motormouth, whatever you want to call it, and he has to confound those expectations.

OLBERMANN:  Well, let‘s combine those, but focus in on the hearings.  What are the—what is the downside of both for the hearing‘s sake and for his political aspirations of these two things suddenly being merged together, with them starting tomorrow?

ALTER:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s actually that much of a downside for him in terms of his presidential aspirations, because he‘s way back of the pack now, behind not just Clinton and Obama, but Edwards, and maybe a couple of others as well.  So he needs some kind of a breakthrough.  It‘s a real opportunity for him.

The trick for him, and actually, I think, for all of us, is for him to just get out of the way.  Sometimes you kind of want to shake him and say, You know, Senator, we like you, you‘re a smart guy, but would you just shut up and ask the question?  Because in some earlier hearings on Supreme Court nominees and other kinds of hearings, he just talked too much.  And you wanted to hear him act more like an interviewer and cross-examine the witness, get real information out of them instead of grandstanding.

So if he can do that, and because the expectations are low, these can be a real plus for him, and a plus for the country.  We can get some real information.  Just for instance, something that is going to probably come out at these hearings is, they were applying litmus tests to people who were going to work in Iraq.  They were saying, before they sent them over to Iraq, the Bush administration would say, Are you for Roe versus Wade?  Can you imagine them asking that kind of question?  So that‘s the sort of detail about how we got into this mess that we expect Joe Biden to extract.

OLBERMANN:  Could the hearings themselves, though, now be dismissed as his personal stage?  Could this be just entirely rendered almost irrelevant because of that fact that he‘s running for president?

ALTER:  Well, I think you‘ll hear that all the time, but I don‘t think so.  And the reason is, there‘s such pent-up demand for real oversight.  It‘s been so many years, and there have been so few questions asked.  The rubber-stamp Congress that we had before, amazingly, they just abdicated their oversight responsibilities.

And so now Republicans as well as Democrats want to start to reassert Congress‘s constitutional duty to ask tough questions.  So I don‘t think anybody‘s going to begrudge those tough questions about Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  And in 2004, when the senator asked or (INAUDIBLE) essentially suggested, encouraged John McCain to run as John Kerry‘s vice president, what happens if it‘s Biden versus McCain in 2008?  Will that, will they be able to put all that bipartisanship behind them?

ALTER:  Pretty quickly, yes, they‘ll be at each other hammer and tong in a general election.  But I wouldn‘t bet the ranch on Biden winning the nomination.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter, MSNBC analyst and senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.  As always, Jon, great thanks for coming in.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, no one ever said the path to enlightenment was easy, sir.  But maybe it would be faster if you didn‘t slide quite so much.

And from the sacred to the profane.  OK, I give.  What is in the box?

COUNTDOWN investigation ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Whatever it is about January 8, it cannot be explained by horoscopes.  Elvis Presley was born on January 8, and so was Stephen Hawking.  Soupy Sales was born on January, and so was Charles Osgood, Larry Storch, David Bowie, Graham Chapman from Monte Python‘s Flying Circus, Bob Eubanks, and R. Kelly.

On that eclectic note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in the Oddball capital of the world, India, where the path to enlightenment is paved with asphalt.  And isn‘t that a bummer for this guy?  That‘s the Tibetan monk Gantsen Lama (ph), who says he crawled to Motahari (ph) from Tibet to pray for peace and harmony in the world.  And got no problem with peace and harmony, but what you‘re doing, now, that ain‘t crawling.  Not sure what it is.  Lama seems to take a few short steps at a time, and then, I don‘t know, safe pertseken (ph).

The monk started his journey more than a year and a half ago, belly- flopping his way through Nepal and the Himalayas.  And for his next mission, something involving pillows.

To Huntsville, Utah, moose country, where, in fact, there are so many of the antlered animals wildlife officials have begun relocating some of them to Colorado to keep the population under control.  And how exactly do they do that?  (INAUDIBLE) I can see my house from here.

Yes, it‘s Operation Moose.  This has nothing to do with Jeanne Moos, by the way.  It‘s a moose spinning under a helicopter to Colorado.  She‘s a friend.  Officials are hoping to capture 25 meese over the next few days, tranquilize them, hook them up to the chopper, and then gamble on which one won‘t throw up, and on what the real word is for the plural form of moose.

From the great moose move to our attempt to find life on Mars, which might have killed off life on Mars.  Oops.  These people have found life on the job.  They work for the what has just been selected the best employer in America.

Details ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Vice President Dick Cheney, who today in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, began his annual hunting trip.  Attention residents, please report to your predesignated secure undisclosed locations.

Number two, management of the new AMC Theater in Rosedale, Minnesota. 

It is so big, they say they have to have 6,300 pounds of popcorn on hand.  And the owners are so clueless that those in line to buy tickets have to wait outside in Minnesota at night in winter.

And number one, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, explaining that the foul smell you heard about in the city and parts of Jersey today was nothing dangerous.  Sounds like there was a leak somewhere of the stuff they put in natural gas to make it smell that way, and then it was transmitted around through the subway tunnels.  They‘re not sure what it was.  Actually it was me, and I‘m very sorry.

But anyway, it‘s what Mayor Bloomberg said at the height of the stinko crisis that merits consideration.  Quote, “We are waiting for the gas to pass.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  United Federation of Planets starship captain James Tiberius Kirk could tell you that the prime directive prohibits any interference in primitive cultures, the ones that have not achieved warp drive yet.  But Captain Kirk was not above violating the prime directive when circumstances or a blue skin the female in a fir bikini warranted.  In our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, it turns out that, as you can see in this computerized simulation we prepared, NASA may have accidentally violated the prime directive big time during its landings on mars in the 1970‘s. 

In layman‘s terms, the NASA lander may have made it all the way to mars, might have actually found life on the surface, and then smashed it. 

At the time, NASA created several experiments to detect light on the surface.  It turns out the notion of life at NASA was a little primitive.  They were looking for life like mine and yours is based on saltwater.  Now scientists think life might come in other forms, specifically in environments like Mars, it might be hydrogen peroxide coursing through its veins.  A whole new form of life that could have died its own hair platinum blonde with any outside assistance.

Exposure to NASA‘s experiments, which heated and moistened the soil, the theory goes, would have had an unfortunate effect on that kind of form of life, namely, whacking it. 

Beaming in via satellite transmission right now Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, one of our favorite guides through the final frontier.  Thank you again for your help tonight, sir.  Let‘s first clear up the impression conveyed by bad headline writers everywhere.  The theory here is not that NASA destroyed all of the hypothetical life on Mars, but just whatever life might have existed in a few handfuls of dirt where the lander went.  It is not the reverse of the War of the Worlds, but closer to involuntary Mars slaughter. 

DERRICK PITTS, THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE:  That would be it if this theory actually held any water.  This is all completely theoretical.  It is based on the idea that scientist had that there is a chance that maybe life could have developed if it were hydrogen peroxide based.  At this point, we have no idea whether that was the case or not. 

So, even at that, we did not destroy all life on Mars.  We have no idea if we destroy any life at all. 

OLBERMANN:  But, of course, the question now is whether or not Mars held any water, rather than this theory.  But still, is the headline here that we‘re talking about kinds of life that have not really been contemplated by ordinary civilian humanity before now, as opposed to you scientists?  What are the implications if, you know, there are people running around living on Tungsten or something?

PITTS:  Well, there really is a lot to that story because, as we—even if we look at situations here on the Earth, Keith, we find that our there extreme situations where life can exist outside those kinds of boundaries that we are normally familiar with.  And so it is going to make more sense for us to think about the possibility that there could be life either on Mars or say one of the moons of Jupiter, for example, Europa, that has very extreme conditions, and that may not be based on Carbon either.  So, the idea that it could be Tungsten, or it could be Silicon or something else, that certainly is viable and we should look into that, because if we just go with the narrow view of what we are, then we are going to narrow ourselves tremendously in the chair that is sitting over in the corner, right next to you.  That could be a form of life and we just do not know it. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve seen that chair.  If there are, in fact, other kinds of life, not just other forms, how does that impact us back here?  The premise about life on Earth and the conditions that permit it to exist are meaningfully special or maybe even unique.  Is that out the window? 

PITT:  Yes, it really is out the window.  And we should let that one go anyway, because if you look at the expense of the universe and the different kinds of conditions that are found everywhere throughout the universe, if we narrowed down to just what we have here on the Earth, we will be mighty surprised when we get to the United Federation of Planet annual conference. 

OLBERMANN:  And let‘s leave Mars orbit for a moment here.  As we

mentioned earlier, among the many celebrity birthdays today, Steven Hawking

is 65 today, and he said for his birthday he wants to go up in one of these

the vomit comets, one of these private rocket ships, you know.  At this point, give him whatever he wants.  He‘s done rather a lot for the rest of us, but is this the best of ideas, do you thing? 

PITTS:  Well actually, I think it is an idea that is coming into its own very quickly.  The fact that there are rocket scientist available to do work on the commercial side makes all of this possible.  So, the question of safety and whether or not it is a really great idea to do, already people have been doing this on a commercial version.  So why not let Stephen Hawking take a look at the universe he has been writing about for so long from a little bit closer? 

OLBERMANN:  Do think there is a chance that he gets up there and says, ah, I see it now, everything I said was wrong. 

PITTS:  A new book coming for him.

OLBERMANN:  Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, always a pleasure and our great thanks for joining us. 

PITTS:  Yes, my pleasure too Keith, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  If you think Derrick‘s job sounds fun, how about a company that not gives its employees free haircuts, but sends the barber to where they are sitting in the office? 

And Britney Spears is back in trouble again.  Speaking of employment, how her new year‘s eve fiasco could cost her big time.  And there‘s an adoption war of words, by the way, between Madonna and Angelina Jolie.  It‘s come to this.

Those stories ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This year golfers are elated that their clubs are getting a year-round work out here in Connecticut. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Golfers agree that being able to hear this sound in their backyard sure beats having to travel 1,000 miles to the south. 

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  But if it is all one way, if it is all of them across the board, then I am saying where is the diversity? 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  It is coming out of his years.  He is so full of it.  I think it‘s great for COUNTDOWN.  It‘s great for MSNBC.  He keeps feeding His numbers keep going down.  Keith‘s numbers keep going up.  Status quo is great for MSNBC. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know, there is finite life to everything and it is great news for Keith and for MSNBC. 

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. 

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Ask not what your country to can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. 

GEORGE W, BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   One, two, three, four. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Which is the best employer in America?  Well, ask anybody around here and the answer is going to be obvious.  MSNBC. 

But, in our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, it turns out the folks at “Fortune Magazine” have a different choice than this.  And to stretch out the suspense a little more as to who it is, here is our correspondent John Larson.  

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  First off, let‘s talk food. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have a stir fried calamari with Chinese sausage. 

LARSON:  Imagine 11 gourmet restaurants in your office. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We server rack of lamb all the time. 

LARSON:  And all the food is free.  Now imagine a free fitness center, a barber shop that comes to you, car washes while you work, pool tables in your office, lap pools for exercise, volleyball courts and naturally, company massages.  Sound like vacation? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, it is definitely not a vacation, but it‘s a pretty great place to work. 

LARSON:  Want a hybrid?  This company will give you 5,000 dollars to do it.  Want to wear your pajamas to work?  No problem.  Do your laundry for free.  Got a cold?  There are five doctors on sight and they are all free. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There is a culture of appreciating your environment, your fellow human being, how it should be in Utopia. 

LARSON:  Utopia may be a bit strong, but after studying hundreds of American companies, “Fortune Magazine” this morning is announcing that—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Google is America‘s best company to work for. 

LARSON:  That‘s right, Google.  All of these perks are the product of the search engine based in Mountain View, California. 

ANDY SERWER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  This is the most engaging, insanely great work environment in corporate America.  It blows your mind when you see all the food, the massage stations, the couches, the wacky behavior.  People are truly having a great time at work. 

LARSON:  And what does Google get in return?  Employees with tremendous job loyalty and productivity. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everything is geared towards letting you focus on being productive and actually building a great product. 

LARSON:  People who work through the night, if necessary, and who tell us they have never had more fun. 

The Vice-President of People Operations Lazlo Back (ph). 

(on camera):  It seems like people here are way too happy.  Seriously, it looks like a problem.  They are way too happy.  I want to see more frowns around here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If that‘s a problem, I hope we have lots of problems of that nature.

LARSON (voice-over):  If there is a problem, it‘s success.  Despite all of these expensive perks, the company is posting record profits, with huge margins and growing so fast that keeping this intimate culture will be a challenge. 

(on camera)  Google receives about 3,000 applications a day.  That is about one million per year, all chasing about 4,000 jobs. 

(voice-over):  Jobs with drop dead perks.  Googlers, as they call themselves, can bring their pets to work, just as long as their co-workers do not mind pets or heavy breathing.  That‘s better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is nice to be able to share a little bit of your life with your co-workers. 

LARSON:  But will the company‘s founders wake up one day and realize their employees are having too much fun?  Like these two clowning around in their silver capes.  Wait, those are Google‘s founders, billionaires Larry Paige and Sergei Brin. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think a lot of the core philosophy about how we think about people comes from the hierarchy is bad, big monolithic teams are bad, and the opposite of those are good.

LARSON:  Meaning small, creative teams, highly flexible and so motivated—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a photographer.  I‘m going to take your picture from a helicopter about 500 feet above you. 

LARSON:  That Googlers are happy to do almost anything for the company, including standing out in the rain for the “Fortune Magazine” photo shoot. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It could be a blizzard and people would still be out here.  People love the company. 

LARSON (on camera):  Can I have a job?  No, I‘m just kidding.  I am really kidding.  I am very happy where I am.  I am not kidding.  Can I?  No, I‘m kidding.

(voice-over):  And for the lucky ones who do get jobs at Google, they tell us it is easy to love this company, and a little difficult to keep a straight face. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is a phenomenal upgrade from my last employer. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I love my job. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have more fun here than I do sometimes with my own family.  Wait, don‘t quote me on that. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  John Larson, formerly of our staff and now with Google.  And one of the most Googled names of 2006 tops our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Britney Spears.  She has finally reached an agreement on joint custody of her children with Kevin Federline through the end of the month.  Under set settlement, Mr. K-Fed of Fed-Ex can be with the kids for four hours three times a week and Miss Spears can take them to Florida for a week.  Whether she can still afford to take them anywhere is another matter. 

The “New York Daily News” reporting that Miss Spears might lose the 400,000 dollars she was reportedly paid for appearing at Pure nightclub on new year‘s eve.  Sources telling the paper that because she had to be carried out around 1:00 A.M., after either collapsing or falling asleep at the party, she violated the it terms of the appearance contract.  The club is denying any penalty, but does say she was paid far less than 400,000 dollars. 

Adopted children proving to be a fighting point between Angelina Jolie and Madonna.  This seems inevitable.  Miss Jolie, who adopted her son Maddux from Cambodia and her daughter Zahara from Ethiopia, says that while she‘s horrified at the amount of criticism Madonna garnered by adopting her son, David, she would not have done it, telling “Gala Magazine,” quote, Madonna new the situation in Malawi, where he was born.  It is a country where there is no legal framework for adoption.  Personally, I prefer to stay on the right side of the law.  I would never take a child away from a place where adoption is illegal, end quote. 

No word back from Madonna on the slight, but according to Malawian officials, who were monitoring her fitness to adopt David, she is a, quote, loving mother. 

From an adoption controversy to a COUNTDOWN investigation, the spoof of this Saturday Night Live spoof causing waves on the web.  And who is bunny, and what has she got in the box?  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for worst person in the world.

The bronze tonight to Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel, establishing a new weekly segment called Enemy of the State.  Selecting Sean Penn as the first recipient.  OK, we‘ll just skip the rip-off aspect of this, Sean.  If you want everyone to think of my show and my book when you launch into this segment, be my guest.  But to use that phrase, the one that Roman dictators used to apply before the Centurians would go and stab their enemies in the throat. 

The runner up, Geraldo Rivera.  The Orlando Sentinel reporting that late last nigh he was interviewed by a radio station there and asked about how he revealed American troop locations during the invasion of Iraq nearly four years ago, whereupon he promptly launched into tirade against me.  Claiming, as he did then, that NBC was blowing it out of proportion as revenge for his leaving the company, even though we were all happy to see him leave the company.  He called me a midget and a punk, and said he would be happy to fight me, and, quote, make a pizza out of me.  Which is kind of funny, because I‘m about seven inches taller than he is.  Plus, Geraldo, you should not give me a hard time.  I can still remember when you were a big deal.  Back when I was a kid. 

But the winner, Simon Garre (ph), of Brian, Texas, a 20-year-old arrested, accused of stabbing a man who was standing with him outside of Kentmore Cabinets store in that city.  Mr. Garre and his victim had both applied for the same job there and Mr. Garre was evidently just trying to eliminate anybody standing in his way of making the final cut.  Simon Garre, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So ultimately our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight is the fault of “Time Magazine.”  It was its esteemed editorial board which famously decided that the person of the year award for 2006 went to you, presuming you consumed material from, or specially produced it for the Internets, and you were not some kind of Luddite sitting at home reading newspapers and mailing handwritten letters. 

Yes, ultimately the hottest new thing on the Internet is Time‘s fault, that is to say, it‘s your faults.  My box in a box.  It is the diciest of propositions, a racy Internet satire, of a racy Internet satire, which itself followed the bleeped version of a television satire.  We‘ll get back to that video and our COUNTDOWN investigation and who she is and what‘s in the box in a moment.  Maybe it‘s a puppy. 

But first, if the thought hasn‘t occurred to you yet, if you don‘t want to find out what the title means, or if you don‘t want to have to explain it to a younger person, or an older one, what the title means, hit the mute button, or switch over to something less tawdry on TV right now, like Wife Swap on CBS. 

So first the back story.  This is where it started on Saturday Night Live on the 16th of last month, a send-up of a certain moronic music style boy band, performed by actual former boy band singer Justin Timberlake and cast member Andy Sandburg.  There was only one word bleeped, but it was bleeped a lot. 

Sixteen bleeps.  Within literally minutes of the conclusion of that Saturday Night Live, the un-bleeped version of the In A Box Video appeared in the Internet, on the NBC website and on Youtube.  A probably unprecedented event in television and Internet history, and possibly the first time anybody ever put any juice behind that tired old word, synergy. 

We don‘t need to play you the audio from the un-bleeped version.  If you can‘t figure it out by now, simply saying the word or hearing it won‘t help you, in fact nothing can.  The whole thing was heavy on the shock value and pretty good on the satire skill, but it clearly was at least one step below on the highest echelon of that scale, which is where Bunny comes in. 

Two weeks after the original Saturday Night Live skit and the R rated web version came the satire of the satire of the satire.  It‘s author identified herself online only as Bunny, a 20 year old singer from New York.  And at various Internet locals and even on some radio stations, the song has been played over two million times.  Bunny though is apparently a creation, another one of the Internet, that wouldn‘t be her name, that‘s not how old she is, that‘s not where she lives. 

Whoever she really is, however, this is apparently her video‘s TV debut.  We haven‘t bleeped it mostly because we couldn‘t really figure out how.  And that‘s a sign of good satire.  Now, yesterday and today our office has been jammed request newspaper men and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that the network has never seen the excitement stirred by this youngster from New York, who calls herself Bunny.  Ladies and gentlemen, Bunny. 

(SINGING)

OLBERMANN:  There may be reaction to that in the coming days.  In fact, there already is.  I actually heard, said Justin Timberlake, that a female has done her own version of the video, and I‘m not exactly sure how I feel about that.  Get ready for this statement, because it‘s probably the first time you‘ll ever have heard it, to say nothing of the last time you will ever hear it, but Mr. Timberlake, evidently, you speak for all of us. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,346th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  We hear at COUNTDOWN, of course, obviously today have spent the day thinking outside the box.  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.

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