Guests: Dana Priest, Jon Soltz, Michael Musto
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Happy Presidents‘ Day. Now, the Iraq war is a replay of the American Revolutionary War.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone.
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OLBERMANN: The Kurdish are coming! The Kurdish are coming! So it‘s no longer World War II or the cold war or Grenada? Might explain the new “Newsweek” poll, 58 percent of Americans wish the Bush presidency was already over, presuming it isn‘t.
It will never end for the wounded. Tonight, dramatic, awful news that a new an annex at Walter Reed Hospital, where those we are treating back from Iraq with brain injuries or intense psychological stress, fight for space with cockroaches, and with military superiors who do not care.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They made me feel like, on a regular basis, like I was being a lazy, weak, poor excuse for a Marine.
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OLBERMANN: Also, another hat in the ring in the Anna Nicole Smith‘s who‘s-your-daddy sweepstakes. Nancy Grace, Nancy “I know what you did last summer” Grace? Come on!
If they‘re going to be using laugh tracks on Fox Noise, starting tonight, we‘re here to help.
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BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: And that sound bite is naivete writ large. And the man is an absolute fountain of such talk.
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OLBERMANN: And Britney sheared.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Britney Spears came in and sat in my chair and said, I want to shave my hair off.
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OLBERMANN: Anybody else seen “Taxi Diver”? You talking to me? You can talking to me? You talking to me? Then who the hell else are you talking? You talking to me? Well, I‘m the only one here.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You talking to me?
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OLBERMANN: Good evening.
It would seem that the only war not being debated in this country these days is the only one in which we‘re currently engaged.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the Republican Party sinking an Iraq debate for the second time in the Senate, slandering its main Iraq critic in the House, the Republican president equating this conflict and his leadership to that of the one faced by and executed by George Washington.
Could be worse. He could think he‘s Napoleon.
Democrats in the Senate having failed over the weekend to force a debate on the war in Iraq, instead contemplating placing restrictions on the 2002 resolution that authorized the use of force in the first place, the plan, to limit American troops to a support mission, rather than a combat one, Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin saying such a rewrite could sidestep constitutional questions, the Senate‘s top Democrat, Harry Reid, realizing he does not need a nonbinding resolution in order to condemn the conflict himself, the majority leader declaring the Iraq war a worse blunder than Vietnam or anything else.
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SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Any proposal, I think, offered by any member of Congress, I think we should look at it very seriously. This war is a serious situation. It‘s—it involves the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country. So we should take everything serious. This is—we find ourselves in a very deep hole. We need to find a way to dig out of it.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: So I, I, I, I, maybe I, I mis, I misheard you. But you‘re saying this is the worst foreign policy blunder in American history?
REID: That‘s what I said.
BLITZER: Worse than Vietnam?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Mere kids‘ play compared to the rhetoric being slung by the Republicans, where truth apparently is no longer part of the equation, one like of attack, attacking Jack Murtha‘s character, Fox Noise Channel‘s Brit Hume calling the decorated Marine veteran “an absolute fountain of naivete,” saying the Pennsylvania Democrat is “long past the day when he had anything but the foggiest awareness of what the heck is going on in the world,” the other line of attack, smearing Iraq war critics by changing the epithet applied to their legislative plan from “cut and run” to “a slow bleed strategy,” and also by falsely claiming that the Democrats came up with that misleading, inflammatory name themselves, the trouble beginning with the new blog called Politico.com, characterizing the Democratic plan as “a slow bleed strategy,” even though it was not a term used by any Democrats or antiwar supporters, the Republicans, despite a correction by the Web site, taking the term and abusing it, as readily as if it had been a fabricated quote from Abraham Lincoln.
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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®: Democrats have been clear about the strategy behind this resolution. They described it as a slow bleed.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MINORITY LEADER: Let‘s get away from the slow bleed.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not with a slow bleed.
I think it‘s been referred to by some as a slow bleed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... their so-called slow bleed approach...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A, quote, “slow bleed,” end quote...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... advancing a slow bleed strategy...
SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI: And I think Congressman Murtha was very clear in indicating that this is just a part of the slow bleed threat strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: Easier to get that (INAUDIBLE) talking point across if you can say “slow bleed” 10 times fast.
This being Presidents‘ Day, the president‘s rhetoric not escaping notice at a Mount Vernon celebration for George Washington‘s 275th birthday, the current George W. of the opinion that he has far more in common with the first president named George W. than just the first name and an initial.
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BUSH: Today, we‘re fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life. And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone.
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OLBERMANN: Nothing says childhood more than spending a day off from school outside on a freezing lawn, listening to that.
To help bring us in out of the cold in the figurative sense, our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Dana, good evening.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: These two tracks, you know, Get me, I‘m George Washington, from the president, and the just flat-out fake etymology about the Republican term, “slow bleed,” each of them has its own absurdity, on the face of it. But from this bigger picture, why are the Republicans still obsessed with catchphrases, when their previous obsessions with catchphrases didn‘t save them in the midterms or at any point since?
MILBANK: No, the problem is if the United States has come up with as many brigades as they have catchphrases, they probably would have won the war by now.
You‘ve got the “shock and awe” led to “mission accomplished,” “the Iraqis stand up, we‘ll stand down,” then we had “the new way forward,” we had the “clear, build, and hold” in there somewhere as well. And now we are slowly bleeding, if not cutting and running.
But clearly, there‘s nothing else that can be said here, particularly on the pro-war side of the debate. So, you know, it‘s become this sort of rhetorical battle back and forth.
Now, it may have been helped the Republicans a bit to blunt the effect of these nonbinding resolutions, to have some pretty strong talking points to come back with, but it‘s not really changing the overall debate or the direction of the war.
OLBERMANN: Yes, if there were not fatalities involved, it would be a laughable convention of bad headline writers. But now, (INAUDIBLE), now (INAUDIBLE) that might be binding, this Democratic idea about rewriting or appending the 2002 resolution to use force as a support mission, is there anything to that? Or is it merely wishful thinking?
MILBANK: Well, it probably is wishful thinking, but not as much as the Murtha proposal, the idea of fiddling with the funding, Carl Levin saying, Look, the—we just don‘t have the votes for that in the Senate. Not clear they‘ve got anywhere near enough votes on even the idea of restructuring that 2002 authorization. Nothing approaching that could withstand a presidential veto, which would certainly come.
So at some level, really all we‘re dealing with here are symbolic statements. But this may be the most powerful one that could bring the most Republicans on board.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned Jack Murtha. Obviously, there‘s an attempt at a takedown. It just spread so quickly, it spread as quickly as the “bleed” line. Is it Max Cleland all over again? And in this climate, would attacking a decorated war veteran in such a way work, or would it be more likely to backfire today?
MILBANK: Well, it‘s not Max Cleland, because you have a far less popular president and far less popular war going around. And Murtha has been a bit savvier. I mean, he‘s still going to open himself up to all kinds of criticism, when you—ever you get into the question of, are we denying the troops the reinforcement that the generals are asking for?
But he‘s been very clever in the way that he‘s worded this, in terms of giving the troops more rest, giving them better armaments.
John Murtha is in no political jeopardy the way Cleland was, and we‘re certainly not about to approach an election here. So it‘s not really analogous. And they‘ve been hitting Murtha with this for a year and a half now.
OLBERMANN: There is a final irony in here, of course, the White House trying to minimize the nonbinding resolution in the House and talk about it in the Senate, rebuking the president. Yet secretary of state was trying to strongarm the Iraqis with it over the weekend. What exactly did she do? And should she be sending Speaker Pelosi a fruit basket of thanks or something?
MILBANK: Well, the whole debate was how this was emboldening and enabling the terrorists, so now it seems it has also enabled the Iraqi government. The Democrats can claim victory, and Bush can say that they—the Senate didn‘t pass it. So everybody can declare victory and go back to exactly where they were before, which, is, of course, nothing having advanced at all.
OLBERMANN: Sort of the Lyndon Johnson applied to politics at the moment. Dana Milbank of MSNBC and “The Washington Post.” As always, Dana, great thanks.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The main justification these days for the war in Iraq, apart from today‘s proposal that George Washington would like it, is that it is the central battlefront on the war of terror—on terror, sorry—
American intelligence and counterterrorism officials possibly disagreeing with that, telling “The New York Times” that top al Qaeda officials are regaining power, having opened up a new crop of training camps in Pakistan, the administration‘s days of describing Osama bin Laden and top deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri as on the run and isolated apparently over, new evidence suggesting they remain key parts of the terror organization and its supposed resurgence.
Even the president‘s rhetoric has changed, painted a sober picture of al Qaeda‘s current strength inside Pakistan just last week.
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BUSH: Taliban, al Qaeda fighters do hide in remote regions of Pakistan. This is, this is wild country. This is wilder than the wild West. And these folks hide and recruit and launch attacks.
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OLBERMANN: Let‘s get the evaluation of the former head of the CIA‘s bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer.
Thank you for some of your time tonight, sir.
MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER HEAD, CIA BIN LADEN UNIT: You‘re welcome.
Thank you, sir.
OLBERMANN: First of all, the substance of this report, does it sound accurate to you that al Qaeda has regrouped, regained strength, building new training camps in Pakistan?
SCHEUER: Sure. We‘ve always overestimated the damage we did to al Qaeda in Afghanistan, sir. We didn‘t close the borders there. We won the cities, but the Taliban and al Qaeda escaped basically intact, and they‘ve been rebuilding and reequipping over the past five years.
OLBERMANN: How did that happen? I mean, did this administration just sort of declare they it had done all it needed to do about al Qaeda? And last Halloween, the president was saying it was on the run. And now, as of Valentine‘s Day, they‘re back?
SCHEUER: Well, it‘s a—this is a very strange administration, sir, but we really don‘t take the transnational threat seriously, the terrorist threat. We‘re pretty good at nation-states, but on the—on al Qaeda, we still have a government that doesn‘t, as a whole, both parties, don‘t take this threat very seriously.
The idea that we‘re going to try to do with 40,000 troops in Afghanistan what the Soviets couldn‘t do with 150,000 troops is a bit of madness.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Scheuer, given how often the Republicans said during the debate last week in the House that insurgents in Iraq would follow us home if we left Iraq, which battleground is actually more central to the war against terrorists? Is it al Qaeda starting to rebuild training camps that it had in Afghanistan or the Taliban rebuilding them in the neighboring nation of Pakistan? Or is this the central place still the civil war in Iraq?
SCHEUER: No, the central place in terms of an attack inside the United States is Afghanistan and Pakistan. When the next attack occurs in America, it will be planned and orchestrated out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda values Iraq primarily for the entree it gives them into Jordan, into Syria, into the Arab peninsula, and into Turkey.
We‘ve really signed—for example, we‘ve signed Jordan‘s death warrant by the—through the war in Iraq. But actually, the people who will plan the next attack in the United States are those who are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, sir.
OLBERMANN: So does this emergence of evidence that bin Laden and Zawahiri are regaining strength, individually and collectively, does it diminish, in fact, the justification for the administration now looking over at Iran? I mean, should we be, should we be utterly shifting away from both of those countries and saying, No, al Qaeda, where they are, not where we want them to be, is where we need to look?
SCHEUER: Well, this administration, sir, seems to be afraid of almost anything that moves. And certainly Iraq was a containable country. The Iranians are no threat to the United States unless we provoke them. They may be a threat to the Israelis. They‘re not a threat to the United States.
The threat to the United States, inside the United States, comes from al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to address the threat to America, that‘s where it is.
OLBERMANN: So is this a very deadly serious version of the old joke about the guy who loses his watch on a dark street, (INAUDIBLE) and he‘s seen under a spotlight looking for it, under a streetlight, and the guy, the other guy comes up to him and says, Where did you lose the watch? He said, Down in the dark. And he said, Well, why are you looking here under the lamp? Well, that‘s where the light is. Is that what we‘re doing?
SCHEUER: That‘s where we are, sir. That‘s where we have been for the past 15 years. We don‘t treat the—this Islamist enemy as seriously as we should. We think somehow we‘re going to arrest them, one man at a time. These people are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States, and we‘re going to have absolutely nothing to respond against.
It‘s going to be a unique situation for a great power, and we‘re going to have no one to blame but ourselves.
OLBERMANN: Michael Scheuer, the former head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA. Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
SCHEUER: You‘re very kind, sir. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight here, did the vice president tacitly encourage his chief of staff to commit perjury? And how did Karl Rove get the Novak column three days ahead of time? The latest revelations in the Libby trial ahead.
And the administration keeps saying it supports the troops, yet it put at least 700 wounded veterans in a rotting, rodent-infested building. Where? Washington, D.C.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Notable on this day off at the Libby trial that we discover that Bob Novak, among those who has just attacked Congressman Murtha, had at least one of his columns vetted by the White House, that column, the one in which he outed CIA WMD operative Valerie Plame.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, waiting for the closing statements, with plenty to talk about in the interim. First, the news that Karl Rove got to see that Novak column three days in advance of its publication, knew that Novak was going to be expose a valuable agency asset in Miss Plame‘s covert identity. And then there‘s today‘s report in “The National Journal” that Vice President Cheney may have known that Mr. Libby was going to give the FBI a false story about that leak.
Joining us with details on both stories tonight, David Shuster.
David, good evening.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening to you.
“The National Journal” tonight is reporting, citing sources familiar with still-secret grand jury testimony, that when the CIA leak investigation began, Vice President Cheney may have known that the testimony Scooter Libby was giving to the FBI was not true. “The National Journal” says Libby told Cheney that Libby was attributing information about Valerie Wilson to reporters, and that Vice President Cheney did nothing to keep Libby from giving this account to criminal investigators.
The Libby trial has already produced evidence showing Libby took a series of actions at Vice President Cheney‘s behest. Libby‘s own grand jury transcripts, for example, reveal that when Libby confronted Vice President Cheney in one conversation after the criminal investigation began, referred to notes Libby had been presented with, and told Cheney the key the vice president was the first one to give Libby information about a CIA operative, the vice president responded with, “What, me?”
“The National Journal” is not saying that Vice President Cheney actually knew what Libby was telling investigators, only that he might have known.
However, prosecutors have repeatedly argued in court and in documents that they believe Scooter Libby lied about the CIA leak to protect Cheney politically and possibly legally.
So legal sources confirm to MSNBC tonight that if Libby is convicted, prosecutors are expected to attempt to revisit Libby‘s vague testimony about Vice President Cheney. The idea is that prosecutors would seek to flip Libby in order to get at some of the lingering suspicions about the vice president.
A few months ago, sources confirmed that friends of Libby urged him to cut a deal with Patrick Fitzgerald and give up information about Vice President Cheney, and that suggesting to Libby supporters believe (ph). Prosecutors are still looking at ways to pursue Cheney in the overall investigation.
Libby, of course, still stands firm, asserting that he is not guilty of anything.
One issue hanging over all of this is the prospect that Scooter Libby will get a presidential pardon if he‘s convicted, and sources outside of Patrick Fitzgerald‘s office but familiar with his thinking say the prosecution team is as aware as anybody else about the possibility of a Libby pardon from President Bush, making all of this irrelevant.
Finally, there was that juicy nugget this past weekend about the original Novak column. Thanks to “Newsweek,” we‘ve now learned that Karl Rove got an advance copy of the Novak column via a friend of Bob Novak‘s. In other words, Rove saw for himself that his mission of leaking damaging information to reporters about the Wilsons was a success, and that Valerie Wilson was going to be outed, and that Rove knew this three days before anybody else, except for Bob Novak, Keith.
OLBERMANN: David, any indication that Novak knew Rove was going to see that? Or was that just going through an intermediary, and he has no, no fingerprints on the fine, final end of the, of the facts?
SHUSTER: No, there are some indications, because even Novak‘s testimony suggested that this person that was getting the information was well known in Republican circles and was well known as being somebody who had conversations with Karl Rove and others at the White House.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC‘s David Shuster. As always, great thanks.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And also tonight, one of the most pointlessly painful events on the annual calendar of Oddball. An entire town waging war with itself, with only oranges for weapons.
And just hours after COUNTDOWN pointed out the benefits of baldness, Britney Spears decided to shave her entire cranium. Brit, we were talking about guys.
Full investigation ahead.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1930, the television and later movie director John Frankenheimer was born. And if you exist at the same Lexus of politics and entertainment as this show does, go watch any of his masterpieces, from the political science fiction of “The Manchurian Candidate” or “Seven Days in May” to his docudrama HBO films, “George Wallace” and “Path to War.” Only don‘t get the wrong “Manchurian Candidate” with Denzel Washington and no visible plot, 1962, Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra. Thank you.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Ibreria (ph), Italy, with one of our favorite wastes of food of the calendar year. It is the festival of shattered facial bones and vitamin C known as the Battle of the Oranges. And it‘s the fourth year straight we‘ve done this story, so I‘ve already used up all the good puns. Orange you glad they‘re not coconuts? I think that guy‘s on the juice.
That kid‘s eyes all pulpy.
It‘s a tradition dating back centuries, so the locals probably ran out of orange jokes sometime in the 1600s.
I‘m way more into wasting watermelons these days, anyway. Yay, watermelons! You don‘t smash people in the face with them, you smash the watermelon with your face. Smashy-smashy. That was John Alwood (ph) of Australia. He‘s a melon picker by trade. They—he‘s going for the world record for melons smashed by head butting. In this country, he would be known as a moron, but he‘s a record-holding moron, 40 watermelons smashed in just 58 seconds.
And he‘s get a great story, which, someday, his grandchildren will have to tell to him.
And the reviews are in on the new comedy show on Fox Noise Channel, you know, the one with the laugh track. They‘re so bad, these reviews, we can only say, For heaven‘s sake, don‘t cancel it! In fact, we‘d like to extend suggesting the laugh track to some of the network‘s funnier shows. We‘ll be giving you periodic samples in a new Oddball series we call “Fox News, the 24-hour Comedy Hour.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)
HUME: The sound bite you played from John Murtha suggested it‘s time that a few things be said about him. Even “The Washington Post” noted that he didn‘t seem particularly well informed about what‘s going on over there, to say the least.
This guy is long past the day when he had anything but the foggiest awareness of what of what the heck is going on there, and that sound bite is naivete writ large, and the man is an absolute fountain of such talk.
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS: Well, he‘ll have a lot to say about what Mara was just discussing, which is appropriations...
HUME: And a lot, a lot of it will be (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the administration loudly keeps reminding us who is and who is not supporting the troops. So why are hundreds of wounded Iraq veterans stuck in roach-infested housing? Who exactly is supporting them?
And a sidelight to history, 43 years, two months, and 28 days later, new film found from the moments just before the assassination of President Kennedy.
Those stories ahead.
Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, XM and Sirius, satellite radio giants, they are merging.
No idea whose equipment becomes the BetaMax of 2007.
Number two, Thomas L. Piles, middle-school teacher in Shelbyville, Indiana, suspended after allegedly driving along I-74 while exposing himself. The officer reports that while—when he pulled Mr. Piles over, Mr. Piles‘ pants were unzipped. Mr. Piles offered an extraordinary explanation, quote, “These pants always do that.”
And number one, the Canadian Compass, a newspaper in the Cayman Islands, which a visiting newspaper man from the Livingstone, Missouri “Daily Press” reports printed one of the all-time headline typos. The “Canadian Compass” story was supposed to read, business using public land. They left a letter out of public.
OLBERMANN: After learning that this administration wants to send more troops into harm‘s way without proper protection, and that it wants to cut funding for those veterans who return, while hiking their health care fees and drug payments, if we were to learn that hundreds of wounded American soldiers back from Iraq are forced to endure sub-standard care in shoddy, run down facilities, maybe it shouldn‘t be so shocking.
But in our third story tonight, it is shocking and offensive, and an indictment of the political hypocrisy that has been substituted for the absolute mandate presented to every American government by President Lincoln, to care for him who shall have born the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, a mandate the current administration is ignoring.
Reporting for the “Washington Post,” NBC News and MSNBC is the Post‘s Dan Priest.
DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Tucked away in a northwest Washington neighborhood is a former hotel the Army simply calls Building 18. It‘s an unlikely place to house injured soldiers in the nation‘s capital, but the respected Walter Reid Army Medical Center, just across the street, is overflowing with the wounded from five years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So for some of the 700 out patients, Building 18 is now home. Walter Reid clinical social worker Joe Wilson.
JOE WILSON, WALTER REID SOCIAL WORKER: They had to do a quick renovation, which was very quick and very cursory. It didn‘t necessarily address all of the issues that you would want to address if you were building a barracks.
PRIEST: Many soldiers living here are being treated for brain injuries and psychological stress. They‘ve been promised the best the nation can provide.
BUSH: We owe them all we can give them.
PRIEST: But, as a “Washington Post” investigation found, conditions here are far from ideal, mold and pealing wallpaper, shower rot, mice and cockroaches. Walter Reid staff members and out patients told the Post that the conditions here at Building 18 are symptomatic of a system overwhelmed by more injured soldiers than the Pentagon expected.
Small matters can become huge obstacles to injured servicemen trying to recover. Marine Sergeant Ryan Groves lost a leg when a rocket propelled grenade exploded near him in Fallujah.
SERGEANT RYAN GROVES, U.S. MARINE CORPS: You know, we‘re missing legs, arms, brain injuries.
PRIEST: For Groves and others, reporting to a supervisor meant an awkward trek around three buildings. He says there‘s a ramp that would shorten the trip, but it‘s too steep. Filling a prescription requires an even longer trip. Psychiatric treatment is clear across post. And at the end of the day, a long trip home uphill.
But his larger complaint is that his military supervisors didn‘t treat him like a patient.
GROVES: They made me feel, on a regular basis, like I was being a lazy, weak, poor excuse for a Marine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Soldiers can feel disenfranchises from the system. They begin to resent the system. They will withdraw and they will not seek out services.
PRIEST: No one is complaining about the quality of medical care at Walter Reid, most say it‘s top notch. But 65 percent of the troops polled by the hospital last March said their experience as out patients had been stressful. As for Building 18, Army officials told us they started an aggressive campaign to deal with the mice infestation last October, and it‘s now at a manageable level.
They also say they will review all outstanding work orders in the next 30 days. And they have added more social workers, case managers and platoon sergeants to better address the needs of out patients. But for soldiers and Marines, trying hard to recover, it‘s another battlefield here at home.
Dan Priest, for NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: Ironically, thanks to medical advances in the field, the Iraq war is yielding a far higher ratio of wounded to fatalities. In other words, had this war been fought just a couple of decades ago, the fatality totals would be much higher, and on the flip side, we would have expected far fewer injuries serious injuries. Meaning that today far more of our troops require better care than they‘re obviously getting.
Let‘s bringing Iraq war veteran Jon Soltz, now chairman of the political action committee VoteVets.org. Jon, thanks for your time tonight.
JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG: Yes sir, thanks for having me on. It‘s a pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Is the “Washington Post” account of the out patient conditions at Walter Reid consistent with the accounts you‘re hearing from around the country?
SOLTZ: You know sir, I think the “Washington Post” piece speaks for itself. Walter Reid is in a specifically different position than some of the other out patient places around the United States Army and the Department of Defense. You know, last year the Republican Congress decided they were going to have BRAC a lot of military installations around the country, which means Base Realignment and Closure. Walter Reid came up on that list.
I think you‘re seeing the affects of that policy, which is Why are you going to fix the paint and clear the mice out of an institution that‘s closing. I think the second striking thing about this piece is that this is actually part of the Department of Defense. This is not the Veterans‘ Administration, which we know is woefully underfunded.
The DOD is responsible for these soldiers until they leave active duty. So, basically, the same administration that brought us no body armor and no up-armored humvees, the same administration that just brought us mice at Walter Reid, and their support for the war fighter is abysmal.
OLBERMANN: Even if this country had to pay full price at private hospitals so these guys, our neighbors and friends, could get the care that they need, at full price, no insurance, could the cost possibly amount to more than a microscopic fraction of the billions we‘ve seen vanish down the rabbit holes in Iraq?
SOLTZ: No sir, not at all. You know, VoteVets.org, we did this big commercial with body armor and we blew up the body armor. It cost me 1,000 dollars on eBay to buy the piece. When my unit went to Iraq, we were cross leveling plates. We didn‘t have up-armored humvees. It took public embarrassment for that.
So, the tactical equipment is actually not that expensive. And what makes it so shocking is the money is there for the Pentagon. They get what they request. They get the supplementals from Congress. So what this is this is an administration that‘s dedicated to the high end corporate contractors, you know, the high end weapons systems in the sky, the super duper missile defense systems that alienate our allies. These are the same people that are making 40 million dollars a year on their corporate contracts.
And that money is coming into the political system on one side. And one of the really great things we do at VoteVets.org is we try to fight for the war fighter. In this specific case there‘s no reason why we can‘t spend the small money on the regular war fighter, when we‘re spending the large money on weapons systems that aren‘t making a difference in the war on terror.
OLBERMANN: Where is the protest over this? I mean, we‘ve heard this political nonsense about Iraq veterans being spit on, or symbolically spit at, and claims withdrawn, and a huge political hub-ub made over this, where are the Republicans speaking about the treatment of these maimed Americans? And where are the Democrats in their protest on this? Where is that? Why is there no outrage about this extraordinary circumstance?
SOLTZ: You know, I think there‘s a larger issue. A lot of people think supporting the troops right now is putting a three dollar yellow magnet made in Hong Kong on the back of their Hummer, saying they support the troops. So, I think the bait, it‘s been absent for a long time.
People would rather flip the channel than deal with the war. You know, as for the Republicans, they just presented another budget—the president just did a new budget that slams the V.A. two years down the road. It was woefully under-funded last year, by two billion dollars.
As for the Democrats, I think we are seeing movements in this direction. You know, Congressman Murtha‘s plan here is basically not to let more guys go to Iraq unless they‘re trained properly, unless they‘re equipped properly. So this is the first time we‘re actually seeing oversight from Congress. And I expect to see that.
There‘s no reason why the president and secretary of defense, who controls this facility, shouldn‘t have an immediate investigation and Congress should demand hearings immediately on this, because our troops deserve the best and they deserve support that‘s worthy of the sacrifice they‘re making in this war.
OLBERMANN: To protect he who has-born the fight. It‘s shameful. There‘s no other word for it. Jon Soltz, Iraq vet, chairman of VoteVets.org, our greatest things for your time.
SOLTZ: Thank you sir, appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the comic relief, sadly it is at this woman‘s expense. The third week of the Anna Nicole Smith saga looms. Embalmed? Yes. Buried? No. Father of her child, Nancy Grace?
And first she shed husband Kevin Federline, then she cut off BFF Paris Hilton. Now Britney Spears shaves her head. All that ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
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PHILIP KERKHOFF, SHARK WRANGLER: And next minute I‘m in the water with him, and he‘s just going, trying to get away from me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As he was pulling his jeans back on, the shark got a bit aggressive back on him and turned around and grabbed him on the jeans and just about lot his good ones.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When rescue teams found him this weekend, he had curled up in a ball on a stranger‘s front porch. Rescue teems found him frozen to the ice, and nearly frozen to death.
Rescue crews not only sought out a surprisingly healthy 3-year-old dog, but also a heart warmed with love.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Although some suggestions sounded silly, it is no laughing matter to them. At this point they are willing to try anything, from utensils in water glasses, to a piece of paper on her forehead, from white Rolaids, to bitters and lemon juice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: OK, it‘s time to bury this woman already. If you ever thought of Anna Nicole Smith in life as a drugged up caricature, or a not-even close Marilyn Monroe wannabee, or a gold digger, like the Spanish conquistadors were gold diggers, she has now clearly been transformed in death into a sympathetic and much abused victim, almost literally being kicked around, when she cannot possibly offer any defense.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, day 12 of her James Brownian saga, featuring news from “Broadcasting and Cable Magazine” that CNN‘s reprehensible Nancy Grace actually sent a mock e-mail to her own staff, claiming that she, Grace, was the father of Miss Smith‘s infant child. “I‘m the father” read the apparently sarcastic message, which according to the magazine, was delivered to the Headline News witches kitchen staffers and led the 19th of this month, and led to several of them returning fire to the same effect by e-mails.
That was the day after Anna Nicole Smith died. It would be eight more days before her body was finally embalmed. That happened on Saturday. Smith‘s burial, whether it would be by her mother, Virgie Arthur, or by her companion, Howard K. Stern, still awaits a Florida judge‘s decision. In the meantime, the Bohemian immigration minister, accused of giving Mrs. Smith special treatment in granting her permanent residency there, has now resigned his office.
Photographs surfaced a week ago of Shane Gibson and Miss Smith embracing on a bed. It was described by Mr. Gibson as, quote, completely innocent.
Kind of easy stagger into our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. And tonight, news that the third in line to the British thrown will see active duty in Iraq. The report in London‘s “Daily Mirror” that Prince Harry, second son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, will join the 7,100 British troops already in Iraq, although that number will probably be lower by the time he gets there.
The formal announcement of Harry‘s tour will come in the House of Commons February 26th. The 22 year old prince, who graduated from Sandhurst, the military academy, last year, will be in command of a dozen men, conducting reconnaissance missions in light armored vehicles. The “Mirror Newspaper” reports that Prince Harry warned his superiors he would quit the service if they did not allow him to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq.
From British royalty to Camelot. New footage of President Kennedy 90 seconds before the assassination, surfacing on President‘s Day. The silent eight millimeter film, taken to November 22nd, 1963, at about 12:28 Dallas time, showing the first family‘s motorcade approaching and then passing the camera about 20 feet away. Less than two minutes later President Kennedy would be dead.
The brief clip was taken by now 82-year-old George Jeffries, who put it away in a drawer for 40 years. His son in law urged him to donate the celluloid to the Sixth Floor museum. That museum has now made the footage public at its website, JFK.org. The curator calls the clip the clearest, best film of Jackie Kennedy in the motorcade.
Also tonight, Britney Spears goes from blond to brunettes, to none of the above. The weekend after our tribute to baldness, coincidence? I think not.
But first time for COUNTDOWN latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. The bronze to Abdul Powalla ibn Alishtari (ph), of Arsley, New York. He‘s known as Michael Nixon. He‘s been accused of trying to send 152,000 dollars secretly to the Middle East to buy equipment for a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. CBS News reports Mr. Alishtari has also been found to have given 15,000 dollars to the National Republican Campaign Committee, between 2002 and 2004, and identifies himself as that committee‘s New York State Businessman of the Year for 2003.
The silver to Bill O‘Reilly, wonder how this correction appeared in today‘s Inner Tuber column in the “New York Daily News,” quote, Bill O‘Reilly‘s Fox News show attracts three times the viewers of MSNBC‘s COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann, not twice as many.
Bill-O, didn‘t you used to say it was nine times as many. Keep gripping tighter and tighter, it will all work out just fine.
But our winner, Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri, arguing against the non-binding resolution disapproving of escalation in Iraq, he actually said, quote, could you picture Davey Crockett at the Alamo, looking at his blackberry, getting a message from Congress? Davy Crockett, we support you. The only thing is, we‘re not going to send any troops.
Just skip the idea of a blackberry in 1836. Congressman, you do realize that Davey Crockett lost the Alamo, right, that he was leading what amounted to a surge, 200 Americans against the Mexican Army of about 1,500. It didn‘t turn out too well, with or without congressional resolutions. Historically challenged Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Look, you may thing a pop tart shaving off her hair, and in the process looking briefly like Robert Deniro playing Travis Bickle, is at best trivial, but let‘s be blunt about this, the way the Britney Spears story is projecting, this is all going to end with a Meth lab somewhere blowing up.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, since the question now turns to what was she thinking, if not what was she on, and if she was profoundly effected by COUNTDOWN‘s tribute to bald people last Friday, gee thanks, and sorry. Miss Spears head, long thought to be empty, now its surface certainly is.
Miss Spears showed up at a L.A. hair salon Friday night and surprised the proprietor, Esther Tognozzi (ph), with here request.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Britney Spears came in and sat in my chair and said, I want to shave my hair off. And I said, well, I‘m not shaving your hair off, and I tried to talk her out of it. As I was talking to her bodyguard, the next thing I know, she grabbed the buzzer and she went to the back of my salon, and she was shaving off her own hair, and she actually enjoyed shaving off her own hair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Miss Tognozzi also said she had feared a lawsuit if she had actually done the job herself, that perhaps Miss Spears was, in heard word, hormonal, or was simply having a bad day, and would regret it later. But immediately afterwards, Britney Spears went to the Body and Soul parlor in Sherman Oaks to get two new tattoos, a black and white and pink cross on her lower hip, and red and pink lips on her wrist. She looks like a monk.
One of the artists at the tattoo parlor, Emily Wayne Hughes, said Spears was, quote, distraught and disturbed. We‘re not sure if that was before or after. Anyway, it‘s time to call in “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto. Michael, good evening.
OLBERMANN: Britney Spears, less hair, more tattoos. I‘m sure we can all remember exactly what we were doing when we first heard the news of this. Perhaps you would like to recreate your first impression.
MICHAEL MUSTO, “THE VILLAGE VOICE”: Well, I thought Britney‘s gotten bald again. I also thought this opens up tremendous career possibilities. He could do Kojak, the King and I, the Melissa Etheridge story. But mainly, I just ran right to eBay and for 20 bucks I got this. Yes, I‘m bringing props now. And a Red Bull that she was drinking at the time, with a heavy hint of crack.
OLBERMANN: The hair dresser, who is now an international star after this, offered up an additional explanation. I would like to listen to it and then get your reaction to it.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think maybe the braids were on too tight. She had a lot of extensions in her hair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The braid were on too tight. Did this just explain everything? The braids too tight? Does that just give us the span of the last three years?
MUSTO: Absolutely, the baby was on Britney‘s lap in the car. The braids were too tight. She married K-Fed, the braids were too tight. But what‘s her excuse going to be now, the panties are too tight. I mean, that‘s nothing new. She needs the braids back for an alibi.
OLBERMANN: Is there also possibly some genius in this decision here, that she hopes the next time the paparazzi follows her, the light off the head will bounce off the head and blind them so they can‘t find her?
MUSTO: Yes, but that‘s already backfiring, because the light is going all the way in, and as you noted, it‘s rather hallow in there. It‘s reverberating, causing pounding headaches. And Britney‘s head might explode. And, in case that happens, Howard K. Stern has nicely came forward and said he will handle the estate.
OLBERMANN: The hair dresser, Miss Tognozzi, also asked if Britney Spears appeared to be under the influence. She said no, but she did use the word trance to describe her. A trance.
MUSTO: No, she actually said the tramp dropped her pants, and it got reported as trance, but it works anyway.
OLBERMANN: She did say that there was some emotion here. Miss spears was afraid that her mother might get upset. Do we now have another sudden psychological explanation here, the whole Spears cannon here, trance interrupted occasionally by mother?
MUSTO: Yes, because her whole life story basically has been trance, trance, trance, momma, trance, then she recorded “Toxic,” trance, razor, mamma. And that brings you up to date. Now she basically is like a Chihuahua in a trance, looking for her mother.
OLBERMANN: And there is still a denial here from her people that she checked into any rehab, including this “People Magazine” version that she had gone to the Eric Clapton Crossroads Center, but checked out within 24 hours. At this point, does it really matter whether this was post rehab or pre intervention?
MUSTO: It‘s totally irrelevant when you go for one day, if you do go. I mean, even Prince Harry went longer than that. I mean, rehab now is a place where starlets go to fix their lipstick on the way to the next night club. It‘s just ridiculous. I guess it wasn‘t open bar, so Britney tired of it quickly.
OLBERMANN: Right, and while she was there, she decided, I know what to do, I‘ll shave my head. But lastly on this Michael, we seem to be in an extraordinary position none of us could have predicted on this. How in the hell did Kevin Federline wind up as the responsible, sane one?
MUSTO: I disagree with that. I think even if Britney went hairless from head to toe, and I have seen her video, she hasn‘t, he would still be the nuttier of the two. I mean, talk about extensions too tight. Though Britney‘s running around now like Harpo Marx in a blond wig. So, it‘s really neck and neck, I suppose.
OLBERMANN: You don‘t think he pulled ahead slightly, or got back into contention, here?
MUSTO: I do, but I don‘t want to admit that in public. So let me just still say that he‘s the worst off loser.
OLBERMANN: The author of “La Dolce Musto,” the incomparable Michael Musto of the “Village Voice.” As always Michael, great thanks for your time tonight.
MUSTO: Thanks, I‘m going to take the hair back.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,408th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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