updated 5/8/2007 11:51:15 AM ET 2007-05-08T15:51:15

Guests: John Copenhaver, Jonathan Alter, Rachel Maddow, Richard Justice, Dana Milbank

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

Since Katrina, the president had been warned, the administration had been screamed at.  And now it‘s happening in Kansas.  Twelve percent of the Kansas National Guard is still in Iraq, tours newly extended.  Thus, after the urgent recovery mission in the tornado-devastated town of Greensburg, Kansas, one more emergency, and Kansas will not be able to handle it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS:  We‘re missing about half of our trucks from the National Guard units.  Clearly, trucks to haul this debris away would be enormously helpful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The hauling away of the debris that is Iraq might be done by the Republicans.  House minority leader Boehner says if the surge still hasn‘t worked by September, what‘s plan B?

What‘s plan B when your approval rating is down to 28 percent?  For the president, it‘s play queen for a day, and try to remember what year 1976 was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 -- in 1976.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Please don‘t hug her.  Please don‘t hug her.  Please don‘t hug her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEEN ELIZABETH II:  (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Sven British TV producers can‘t figure out what she said. 

Sounded to me like “Booyah.”

This sounded to me, and everybody else at Yankee Stadium, like a big surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER CLEMENS:  Well, they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you, it is a privilege to be back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Roger Clemens rejoins the New York Yankees.  But why such a big deal, and why such a big $18 million paycheck for a 44-year-old pitcher who last year won seven games and lost six?

And has never even dated Paris Hilton, who‘s going to jail because she asked her publicist instead of her lawyer if it was OK to drive without a license.  Well, she showed him.  She just fired the publicist.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  ... 17 -- in 1976.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

One hundred and fifty years ago, in the battle to determine if it would enter the Union as a slave state or a free one, it was known as Bleeding Kansas.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it might as well be called that again, after a natural disaster, horrifying even by the standards of tornadoes.

And the war in Iraq has made it worse.  It has made us less safe here at home, in Kansas.  Because the Kansas National Guard has half its equipment in Iraq, the government of—governor of Kansas now warns that the government may now not be able to respond to any other kind of calamity in her state.

And the Kansas National Guard will not have a full equipment stock in Kansas until at least four years after Mr. Bush is out of office.

Friday night, the town of Greensburg, Kansas, was hit head-on by a force 5 tornado, with winds of 205 miles an hour.  Ten people were killed, 17 critically injured, and pretty much the entire town, population 1,400, utterly devastated.  The city‘s fire engines are all buried in that rubble.

It was part of a series of violent storms that stretched through Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas over the weekend, weather experts warning that this is shaping up to be one of the busiest tornado seasons in a decade.  It has already been the deadliest year since 36 people were killed by the last force 5 tornado to hit the continental U.S.  That was in Oklahoma, in May 1999.

More rain and storms expected to hit the panhandle and the Plains over the next few days, which is of particular concern to the Kansas National Guard in Kansas, because with so much of their gear and 12 percent of their manpower in Iraq, Guardsmen are concerned that flooding or another big storm could be mission impossible, a situation the governor has been warning the Department of Defense about for years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEBELIUS:  We‘re missing about half of our trucks from the National Guard units.  Clearly, trucks to haul this debris away would be enormously helpful.

We‘re missing flatbeds, we‘re Missing Humvees, which are used to get people to safety and security and haul equipment around.  And we‘re missing a number of our well-trained National Guard personnel.

The county and city equipment was destroyed as part of the tornado.  The trucks are in shambles here.  So not having the National Guard equipment, which used to be positioned in various parts of the state, to bring in immediately is really going to handicap this effort to rebuild.  And it‘s a real example of why we need the Department of Defense to step up and put that equipment back in place in communities across America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Unfortunately for Kansas and the rest of the country, under the currently planned budget, National Guard units will not be back to pre-9/11 equipment levels until 2012 or 2013.

I‘m joined now by former FEMA regional director John Copenhaver.

Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.

JOHN COPENHAVER, FORMER FEMA REGIONAL DIRECTOR:  I‘m pleased to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This is less about Greensburg as it is about the next Greensburg, right?  I mean, what [js1]happens if, if, forbid the thought, another tornado hits another Kansas town next week, or even six months from now?

COPENHAVER:  The key issue here is that the National Guard is a fundamental element of state and local capability to respond to emergencies and disasters.  And not having adequate numbers of people and not having adequate National Guard equipment nearby under the chain of command of the governor is a dangerous situation.

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s not just Kansas that‘s got about half of its normal equipment.  This is across the board, across the country.  How dangerous is this current situation in other states?

COPENHAVER:  It‘s of concern.  And it is of concern in situations where there might be a large-scale disaster, particularly of concern, because, again, the National Guard is counted on by local and state emergency management, and certainly by the governors of the states, to be able to provide the kind of assistance that only they can provide on a timely basis when a disaster happens.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned the National Guard‘s primary role in response to disasters like this.  What—is there a domino effect here?  Does the lack of Guard equipment trip down the layers here and affect other emergency agencies like FEMA?

COPENHAVER:  Absolutely, it does.  Anytime that you diminish the capability of local jurisdictions and/or the states to adequately respond to disasters, to respond quickly and effectively, then you add pressure to the federal government, because there‘s going to be requests made of the president for FEMA intervention probably more quickly, and calling for more assistance from the federal government, than had the state been able to satisfy much of that using its own National Guard.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve heard this already.  The Guard units will not be fully stocked again in Kansas until at least 2012.  How is that situation allowed to occur?  Did the administration learn nothing from the results of Hurricane Katrina and lack of preparedness in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

COPENHAVER:  Understanding that there are a number of different priorities of the administration, but it‘s difficult to understand how the example of Katrina could not have been taken into account with regard to the availability of this kind of a resource to the states.  I‘m somewhat at a loss by this.

OLBERMANN:  As I guess the rest of us are, looking at it.

Former FEMA regional director John Copenhaver, thank you for your time again tonight, sir.

COPENHAVER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And of those National Guardsmen in Iraq and all the other Americans in harm‘s way there, it‘s so obvious now that House Republicans just dropped abandoned ship hints.  Today, two suicide car bombings killed at least 20 people, eight more U.S. troops died on Sunday.  And once again, the White House explanation is, that‘s what we expected as the plan to make Baghdad safer progresses.  And suddenly, progress like this is making Republicans like House minority leader John Boehner sound a little nervous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  Over the course of the next three or four months, we‘ll have some idea how well the plan‘s working.  By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working.  And if it isn‘t, what‘s plan B?

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  So you really think September is about the point at which (INAUDIBLE) -- members‘ patience will wear out.

BOEHNER:  Well, I think this fall, people are going to want to assess, how well is the plan working?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But if Boehner and others are willing to wait four more months, the same way they said they would in January, wait three more months, the patience of the public might be another matter, the latest poll from “Newsweek” showing the president‘s approval rate down to 28 percent, an all-time low for him, and the lowest rating of any president in a generation, the majority of Americans agreeing in another question that Bush is stubborn and unwilling to admit mistakes, on the Democratic side, highest overall approval going to Senator Clinton, the poll showing she remains the popular choice among Democrats and would defeat any potential Republican nominee, but there are caveats to that.

The poll shows Senator Barack Obama is the most optimistic Democrat, it also shows, like Clinton, he is preferred by most Americans over any Republican opponent, but by a wider margin than is Senator Clinton.  For that matter, even the number three Democrat in the race, John Edwards, was preferred over all the Republican opponents by a wider margin than was Senator Clinton.

For more on the—more of the politics and the polls, we‘re joined now by Jonathan Alter, “Newsweek” senior editor, MSNBC political analyst.

Jon, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  First to John Boehner.  Obviously, what he said dovetails with this September song we‘ve been hearing for a couple weeks.  Is that—was that statement meant primarily for Mr. Bush, for his own supporters in his 2008 race?  Or who was that said to, and what does it mean?

ALTER:  I love the “September Song.”  Walter Houston, 1930s filmography.

Look, September‘s critical, and I, this is especially important coming from a prominent Republican conservative, the House minority leader.  The president does not have as much running room on this as I think he assumed.  Everybody kind of assumed that he could run out the clock until the end of his presidency with this war.

But his numbers are so low that pressure is building within the Republican Party, and he is going to have to find some kind of an exit strategy in 2008 if he doesn‘t turn it around.

OLBERMANN:  And it is a long, long time from May to September.

Boehner mentioned the word “benchmarks” at least eight times in the interview yesterday.  He always winds up saying, Give it a few more months.  He said it in January.  Today, Trent Lott, second-ranking Republican in the Senate, though, said that there has to be significant change in Baghdad by the fall, or else.  Is that adding to this acceleration in Mr. Bush‘s thinking, in your estimation?

ALTER:  Absolutely.  You know, the Democrats can talk all they want and put pressure on him.  All that helps.  But the way real change happens in an administration is when support within the party collapses.  That‘s the only reason, for instance, Nixon had to resign, is when support within the Republican Party collapses.  So keep your eye on these Republicans.  And as they get disenchanted, as feel the heat, when they go home and talk to their constituents, that‘s what‘s going to bring real change in this war.

OLBERMANN:  Something a little bit off the track here.  Bin Laden‘s number two, Zawahiri, released yet another tape.  He seems to be in a pretty comfortable setting, somebody‘s conference room somewhere.  He mocked the deadline for troop withdrawal because it would deprive him of the opportunity, he said, to kill more U.S. forces.  And he said he prays for 200,000 or 300,000 dead.

The past, the president told us to take that man‘s threats seriously.  So what does the White House do about a tape in which the terrorists are endorsing his Iraq policy?

ALTER:  Well, I don‘t think they‘ll parse it to that extent, Keith.  What they will do is say, Look, it‘s al Qaeda again, just like right before the 2004 election.  And that helped Bush beat John Kerry.  So I think what this does do is, it gives them an argument to say that we‘re fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, even though the al Qaeda presence in the Anbar Province, which is an extremely serious problem, is only a small part of that war in Iraq.  It‘s—the bulk of it is, as we discuss all the time, is the Sunni-Shiite civil war.

So it gives them a little bit of an argument to confuse the public yet again into thinking that the main struggle in Iraq is with al Qaeda.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s go back to the domestic things for a moment.  We‘d be remiss if we didn‘t mention some of those numbers from the latest poll from your magazine.  What—explain those Democratic numbers.  And are there Republican numbers yet the wake of last week‘s debate?

ALTER:  Well, you know, the main thing that is just striking to me is just how low this president has sunk.  I mean, I‘m surprised that he hasn‘t called Jimmy Bush or George W., you know, Carter at this point, because they are down there in the same territory, even lower than Jimmy Carter when we had 18 percent interest rates and a, you know, a horrible economy in 1979 and ‘80.

So these are really, really low numbers.  And they kind of condition pretty much everything else.  And so that right now, those numbers are running off on these Republican candidates.  That‘s why they barely mentioned the president in that debate.  They‘re going to start heading for the exits and fleeing now the administration, unless those numbers turn up pretty quickly.  In the meantime, of course, that gives the Democrats the edge in the head-to-heads with the Republican candidate.

OLBERMANN:  So the head-to-heads indicate the largest margin of victories go to Obama and Edwards, and then Clinton third?  Is that it?

ALTER:  Well, what‘s really interesting about that is, you know, it‘s further evidence that Hillary Clinton is not the frontrunner now.  She—yes, she maintains a lead in the polls, it even extended a little bit, according to some recent polls.  But there are too many other things going on in the Democratic primary.  The voters in Democratic primaries look at these head-to-head match-ups.  And this will give Edwards and Obama a little bit of a boost, because Democrats can taste retaking the White House.  They want a winner.  And they‘re very focused on whether Hillary Clinton is going to be strong enough to carry the day, should she be the nominee.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  As always, Jon, thanks for coming in.

And more immediate problems for the president.  A formal dinner with the queen of England.  Hide the pretzels.

Gonzales-gate mutates again.  Why it may now be the tip of an iceberg designed to keep Democrats from voting.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was at first a disturbing story about political servitude, violating the sanctity of the offices of federal prosecutors.  Then it was a story about employees in those offices being hired only if they were political adherents, something that rang of the old Soviet Politburo.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the Alberto Gonzales U.S. attorney firing scandal has now reshaped itself again, like some governmental Andromeda strain, into what looks like an attempt to deprive Democrats of the right to vote.

Meet Bradley Schlozman, the McClatchy Newspapers reporting that Mr.  Schlozman, a senior official at the Department of Justice, is now sharing the spotlight of the White House liaison Monica Goodling as the focus of congressional investigators pursuing accusations that both of them illegally used political party as hiring criteria.

What takes this beyond the U.S. attorneys is that now Congress is looking at allegations that virtually level of employment at Justice was subject to a political litmus test.  This went down to the interns.  Furthermore, Schlozman‘s involvement means the scandal now revolves around your fundamental right to vote, because the office Schlozman is accused of turning into a political arm of the Republican Party is the Justice Department‘s Voting Rights Section, two former attorneys telling the McClatchy chain that Schlozman hired them after seeing Republican credentials on their resumes, and then told them to resubmit those resumes without including their telltale Republican Party ties.

Schlozman and his staff aggressively targeted voter fraud, but did so by pushing laws and policies widely seen as depressing the votes of minorities and the poor, like the Georgia law that required the use of $20 photo IDs, Tom DeLay‘s Texas redistricting that favored Republicans there, and, of course, the push to sweep voters off the rolls in Missouri, all struck down by various courts.

Well, at the same time, Schlozman, head of the Voting Rights Section, reportedly prosecuted not a single case defending a black person‘s right to vote.  According to Schlozman‘s predecessor, Joe Rich, “U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.”  The career voting rights attorneys, veterans of administrations of both parties, so disheartened that more than half of them left or quit the section in just the last two years.

Let‘s turn now to Rachel Maddow, who tracks the emerging details every weeknight on Air America Radio.

Thanks again for your time, Rachel

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Keith, nice to see you.

OLBERMANN:  This must be a full-time job.  Let‘s cut to the chase here.  When Karl Rove spoke about wanting to create the permanent Republican majority, is this what he was talking about, install prosecutors who only pursue voting fraud cases in which the alleged perps are Democrats?

MADDOW:  The Civil Rights Division, the Voting Rights Section in the Civil Rights Division, it‘s not supposed to be one of the teams in the partisan warfare in Washington.  It‘s supposed to be the ump.  This is supposed to be the group that‘s making sure that nobody‘s cheating, that nobody‘s throwing spitballs.

To have made this a partisan thing, to have had a political litmus test for people to be employed in this division or in this section, but also to use the power of that division to drive things in a Republican division—in a Republican direction, it‘s constitutionally obscene.

At the other—the other side of it, though, is that it shows that the Republicans may not believe they can win on a level playing field.  It shows that they may not think they can win if nobody‘s cheating, if they feel like they need to bribe the ump this way.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but you could even take it a little more broadly than that, couldn‘t you, and suggest that the goal of the Republican Party is to eliminate the two-party system, or have the other one be the Washington Nationals to its Harlem Globetrotters?

MADDOW:  Yes, well, there‘s something to be said for the fact that they have decided to take the machinery of the federal government, turn it into an arm of the Republican Party.  I mean, the way that the division works, and the way that the Civil Rights Division works and the Voting Rights Division works, is, it‘s part of the 1957 Civil Rights Act.  This is something that‘s supposed to make sure that everybody has access to our democracy.

This is something that‘s supposed to make sure that people who have been historically kept out of the voting booth are not discriminated against and are brought in.

The fact that the Justice Department right now, in its Civil Rights Division, has two African-American attorneys out of 50 on staff, which is the same number of African-American attorneys they had in 1978 when I was 5, meanwhile, their staff has doubled in size, shows that they‘re not taking their civil rights obligations seriously.

OLBERMANN:  As to this Mr. Schlozman, who comes in with a nickname or a name that sounds like it was created by some fiction writer, he was a U.S. attorney in Missouri briefly, and during his brief stay there, got to indict four people on voting fraud charges.  I know you‘ve been following that part of this.  Give us the particulars of that story.

MADDOW:  As I understand it, the previous U.S. attorney for Kansas City, Missouri, one of the reasons that they may have had a target on him from the Justice Department, from the Bush administration, possibly from the White House, is because he had not shown sufficient willingness to bring anti-Democrat cases in Missouri,  cases that might help the Republicans‘ election chances.

So he was pushed out.  Bradley Schlozman was installed in his place, Schlozman, who had no prosecutorial experience, and, because of the PATRIOT Act, didn‘t require Senate confirmation.

As soon as he got there, literally five days before the election in November 2006, he brought indictments against four people who worked as $8 an hour voter registration workers for a progressive group.  Five days before the election.  And the Republican Party, predictably, then used those indictments to beat up on the Democrats right up until election day.

Schlozman also announced that on election day, he would have a prosecutor ready to go, on call, in case there was any voter fraud anywhere that needed to be prosecuted, creating an environment of hysteria, fear, and voter suppression among people who might potentially want to vote Democratic.

OLBERMANN:  If, as you have posited here, the agency supposed to defend voting rights has been turned into a means of keeping one side‘s voting rights intact and depressing the other ones, how do you undo that?  How do you undo just that part of the process, let alone whatever ultimate damage has been done to the basic notion of equal rights for voting in this country?

MADDOW:  Well, it‘s very serious.  It goes to the core of how we function as a democracy.  And I think two things need to happen.  Number one, whoever we pick as president next has to decide not to just keep all of this expanded partisan executive power that the Bush and Cheney administration has created.  They need to decide to do what‘s right for the country, and not just what‘s right for themselves and their party.

But secondly, we need to make sure, we need to make sure that people are held accountable for what they‘ve done here.  We need to make sure that there are people who are impeached if they need to be impeached, people who are brought up on charges if they need to be brought up on charges.  The wrongs committed here need to be answered to so this doesn‘t happen again.

OLBERMANN:  Rachel Maddow, the host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America.  As always, great thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  It could not have been more dramatic if Roger Clemens had been dropped onto the field at Yankee Stadium by parachute.  But is any 44-year-old pitcher worth $18 million, even in baseball money?

And exclusive video, how the Yankees are going to pay for Clemens.

Well, this is just another attack on the nation‘s ATMs, the scourge in America.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Last Saturday, actor Will Arnett turned 37 years old.  Featured in “Blades of Glory” and “Let‘s Go to Prison,” he‘s best known for his star turn as Gob in the late lamented series “Arrested Development.”  His birthday was Saturday, and we‘re not mentioning it till tonight?  Come on!

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Kansas City for yet another wild attempt to steal an ATM machine caught on tape.  Once again, criminals smashing a stolen van through the front door of the joint.  We‘ve seen a lot of these style crimes recently.  That‘s not because the media keeps showing them on TV?  Naah.  Well, this one didn‘t work out anyway, because two things got wrong.  The van got stuck, and it got stuck on the ATM machine.  No money for you guys, although they did get away, and the damage they caused to the store was probably more than what was in the machine to begin with.  But that is some fantastic video, isn‘t it, Debbie?  Debbie?  Oh, yes, I don‘t have a co-anchor, I forgot.

To the Internets for what must certainly be a first in the history of international relations.  British Prime Minister Tony Blair has delivered a message of congratulations to the new French president-elect, Nicolas Sarkozy, by posting video on YouTube.  That‘s class.  A personal phone call would have been so Old Europe, you know?  Plus, it‘s nice to know that while watching this great moment in diplomatic relations, the new French president elect was just one click away from this. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now for my impression of David Hasselhoff eating a hamburger. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Is Roger Clemens impersonating an 18 dollars million a year pitcher?  Returning to the Yankees sure was dramatic but is it worth it?  And President Bush is sitting down to his first formal white tie state dinner of his presidency, with the woman with the best and most proper manners on the planet.  Nothing could possibly go wrong there.

That‘s ahead.  First time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.  Number three, Professor Giuum Tononi of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  He and his colleagues are developing a small electronic device worn on the head that tricks the brain into inducing slow waves, the waves you have when you‘re deeply, deeply asleep.  It is apparently side effect free and can give you the equivalent of eight hour sleep in about three hours.  I would like to order 146 of them, please!

Number two, Brad Pitt, his movie “Babel” anyway.  Ads in Japan for the film are warning viewers that they may become ill watching it.  Now this isn‘t an “Ishtar” kind of thing.  At least 15 people in Japan have gotten dizzy while they watched a scene shot in a nightclub in which strobe lights flash for about a minute.  So you‘re saying it‘s still better than “Godfather Part Three?”

And number three, the 3M company and its happy bear.  It‘s happy, happy bear.  These are self-adhesive hooks being distributed in Asia.  A happy, happy bear.  The corner of each package tells potential buyers, follow me, hug me, kiss me.  You know, I think that last part has already happened!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So me and the 52,552 others in the stands at Yankee Stadium stand up for the seventh inning stretch yesterday and the organist plays the first ten notes of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” which they suddenly interrupt so the public address announcer Bob Sheppard can intone, “Your attention, plea, your attention please,” and everybody thinks it is an evacuation or something. 

And then he says, please direct your attention to the owner‘s box.  And I‘m thinking, it is George Steinbrenner and he is going to jump!  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, not quite.  But he had just signed a 44-year-old pitcher who won only seven games last year and he is going to pay him 18 million dollars for two third of a season.  Mr. Steinbrenner might have been better off jumping.  But the signee is Roger Clemens, the winningest living pitcher. 

And on top of all that, he got Clemens to announce his own signing to the crowd during the seventh inning stretch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER CLEMENS, BASEBALL PLAYER:  They came and got me out of Texas.  And I can tell you, it is a privilege to be back.  I‘ll be talking to you all soon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And a mighty roar went up from the crowd.  Clemens, who has won 348 career games, in a career stretching back to 1984, retired from the Yankees after the 2003 season.  And then after all the fair wells, showed up pitching for his hometown Houston Astros in 2004.  Then retired again after 2005, rejoined the Astros about this time last year, only to retire again and now rejoin the Yankees, probably about June 1st, though probably not in time for their games next month in Boston, where he pitched for the Red Sox for the first 13 years of his career. 

But for almost every success in Clemens‘ career, there is a parallel controversy.  And in playoffs and the World Series, the supposedly finest pitcher of our time has made 33 starts.  And his team has lost 17 of those game.  And in eight of those, he has surrendered leads his teammates have given him. 

Lets turn now to the well respected sports columnist of the Houston Chronicle, Richard Justice.  Good evening, sir.  A pleasure to have you here. 

RICHARD JUSTICE, “HOUSTON CHRONICLE”:  Thank you, sir.  What did you think the announcement was?

OLBERMANN:  I seriously, I thought they were selling the Yankee.  And when I saw Clemens, I thought, well, he has enough money to buy them now.  But the theatrics are one thing.  The controversy, the wreckage of the fans in other cities when he has gone through.  But was this a good baseball move?  I mean, it‘s 18 million dollars, even in this market, for a guy who is going to be 45 in two and ½ months and has effectively been a 500 pitcher in the postseason. 

JUSTICE:  A couple years ago, Randy Johnson said to me, look, if you keep writing me off every spring, one of these Springs you‘re going to be right.  Rogers Clemens had the best ERA in baseball last year.  The last two years has had the best ERA in baseball.  And if you take the last three years, he‘s had the best ERA in baseball.  He is an amazing competitor, Keith. 

There is a place behind the dugout at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where he pitched, called a rocket hole.  And players could hear him down there between innings, psyching himself up, screaming.  And they gained all kinds of respect.  Jeff Bagwell once said, you‘re afraid to make an error behind him, because he cares so much, you feel the need to care so much.  And he doesn‘t have great stuff anymore.  He doesn‘t have that over powering fastball. 

But he has an incredible pitching aptitude.  He works around guys.  He works the counts.  He knows how to win.  I think what he does—if you‘re just measuring the dollar, no, it doesn‘t make sense.  The Kansas City Royals probably couldn‘t pay him all that.  But I‘ll tell you this, the Houston Astros would have gladly paid it.  The Texas Rangers gladly would have paid it.  And the Boston Red Sox gladly would have paid it.

He brings—to the Astros and Rangers, he brings visibility, credibility, all those things.  They would have loved to have paid that.  For the Yankees, it is just about winning.  It‘s the bottom line.  If you‘re trying to install logic in baseball economics, it‘s not there.  

OLBERMANN:  Never has been.  About the competitiveness; I‘m the contrarian in this. 

JUSTICE:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  In 1990 things aren‘t going well; he gets himself thrown out of a playoff game for the Red Sox against the A‘s.  He came out in the second inning of a playoff game where he was just getting rocked in Boston for the Yankees in 1999.  Some murky explanation of a bad back.  The unclear bat throwing incident with Mike Piazza in the World Series in 2000.  Comes out of a playoff game when he‘s losing in 2001.  Suddenly he‘s got this hamstring pull out of nowhere.  First game of the World Series in 2005, he has nothing.  Walking fine, no problem.  And all of a sudden, as he reaches the dugout, he starts to limp and he has another hamstring pull. 

Has he gotten a pass on this subject from fans in the media?  Is he really the competitor when it counts or is there something missing at the end of the day? 

JUSTICE:  Well, I‘ve been around him a lot for the last three years and even before that.  I think the competitor is not overstated a bit.  Now, all those things you said happened.  I think there is a different Clemens post-1999, after he got to the Yankees. 

Before he got to the Yankees, he behave in a way he shouldn‘t be proud of.  He acted like a jerk.  You remember in Boston once he gave the interview and said, people don‘t know how tough we have it here.  We have to carry our luggage sometime.  There was a different guy.  Pitching for the Yankees changed him.  He was part of a franchise bigger than him.  And I think that‘s what lured him back wearing the pinstripes. 

So yes, in things you can measure in the regular season, he has been maybe the best who ever lived.  You know, Peter Gammons would say the best in the era of the four man rotation.  But he‘s had games in the postseason where he didn‘t get it done.  But then I think back to that game, what was it game seven of 2001 World Series.  Did he leave?  He turned a lead over to the bullpen, did his job. 

I think all of the Yankees are looking at this; can he help us win?  Do we want him on the mound in October?  and regardless of what you say in the past, he‘s a guy you trust with the ball in his hand in October. 

OLBERMANN:  I talked about early in his career, in the 1980s in Boston, he was on the disabled list with a bad back and they caught him golf, and not just playing golf, but with a TV sports caster at the time.  Here‘s my final question.  Is there a sense—Red Sox fans still hate him for leaving, even though that wasn‘t entirely his choice.  There were a lot of Yankee fans, until the seventh inning yesterday, who hated him for retiring and then showing up in an Astros uniform.  What is the mood now in Houston where he was going back to retire, to be at home, to maybe play alongside his son Kobe, who is in the minor leagues? 

JUSTICE:  Yes, that Norman Rockwell painting we had here; turns out I guess it is about business.  Look, I think people are angry.  Beyond angry.  When he signed here, he gave the franchise credibility.  There were people in the Astros front office with tears in their, saying, look, this guy, who means so much to the game.  He wants to be part of us.  All the fans felt that way.  They had to bring in temporary help to sell all the tickets when he signed. 

And then to be told, hey, what, you‘re a second class citizen, a second class city, a second class team?  You feel differently.  And the anger is understandable.  That‘s one of the reason we love sports.  We get excited about it. 

OLBERMANN:  Richard Justice, who is one of the true authorities in the baseball media, of the “Houston Chronicle,” great thanks for your time, sir. 

Paris Hilton asked her publicist if it was OK to go driving.  She‘s going to jail now because she listened to him.  Now you‘ll get to see where the publicist gets to go. 

And after the drunken video, David Hasselhoff said he hoped people could learn from it.  He‘s just learned something from it courtesy of family court judge. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The bed will not be turned down every evening, no chocolates on the pillow and check in and check out determined strictly by management.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, hotel heiress Paris Hilton grappling with the reality of a different kind of pokey.  A day after having been sentenced to 45 days in an L.A. County jail for driving with a suspended license, Miss Hilton fired the man she claimed caused the whole mess, her publicist, Elliot Mince. 

Hilton had said in court that Mr. Mince said she could drive under certain conditions.  “I told the truth,” Hilton said this weekend, before leaving her home for a shopping trip with mother.  Stripes?  “I feel that I was treated unfairly and that the sentence is both cruel and unwarranted and I don‘t deserve this.”

Mr. Minces said it was a, quote, misunderstanding she received from me.  And with Miss Hilton‘s appeal unlikely to succeed, the Century Regional Detention Facility awaits her arrival on June five.  Like other celebrity inmates, Hilton will be segregated from the general pop.  But like all inmates, she will be limited to only one hour per day outside her cell to shower, make a phone call or watch TV.  The last celebrity to stay at that facility was former “Lost” star Michelle Rodriguez, who was released after only four hours of a 60-day sentence because the jail was overcrowded. 

The policy about that has now been changed.  So Miss Hilton cannot hope for the same kind of luck.  Meantime, the judge who sentenced her, Michael T. Sauer, received a standing ovation as he entered his church on Sunday.  That according to TMZ.com. 

Because we just spent more than a minute discussing Paris Hilton, federal law now requires us to segue immediately into our nightly round-up of celebrity and tabloid news, Keeping Tabs.  Good new, bad news for David Hasselhoff, again according to TMZ.com.  The good news, he gets to see the kids soon.  The bad news, a judge has ruled he can only see them at a court ordered visit with a therapist, a prelude to his legal hearing May 21 on visitation rights. 

Hasselhoff is used to spending quality time with his kids, as we saw last week.  The judge said that for now he‘ll to have content himself with talking to them on the phone.  And if you don‘t see how that might go wrong, ask Alec Baldwin. 

To hear the stars promote it, you would probably enjoy watching two hours of David Hasselhoff‘s drunk videos or music videos more than you would enjoy watching the new flick “Spiderman 3,” but the first of the summer blockbusters, and Hollywood‘s latest effort to take a two dollar comic book and turn it into a 300 million dollar movie ensnared thousands of viewers and took in more than 150 mill out of them in the opening weekend.  It is another new record. 

In “Spiderman 3,” Peter Parker must save New York for a trio of super villains, Venom, Sandman and Goblin.  But the movie was actually stolen by a cameo appearance by my former colleague at KTLA in Los Angeles, Hal Fishman, whose anchor man character, if there is a “Spiderman 4,” will probably wind up marrying Kirsten Dunst. 

He already had a daytime faux pas.  Can the president make it through tonight‘s state dinner with Queen Elizabeth without any more?  The answer is next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. 

The bronze to John Brandrick‘s (ph) doctor.  Two years ago, he told the London man that at age 60, he, Brandrick, had pancreatic cancer and would probably die within a year.  So Mr. Brandrick did his best.  He quit his job, sold or gave away all of his possessions, stopped paying his mortgage and spent his life savings on fancy dinners and vacations.  Only it now turn out Brandrick‘s pancreas was not cancerous.  It was inflamed.  He is alive and broke and suing his doctor. 

Our runner-up, Lou Dobbs.  To buttress this anti-immigration kick of his, his show had reported that there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the U.S. in the last three years, presumably brought in from people from somewhere else.  The problem is, there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy here in the last 30 years.  “60 Minutes” caught the error and confronted him on it, whereupon Mr. Dobbs said the three-year statistic was correct, because, quote, “if we reported it, it‘s a fact, because I‘m the managing editor.  That‘s the way we do business.  We don‘t make up numbers.”  Lou?  You‘re beginning to sound like Bill-O. 

And our winner?  Bill-O.  Remember that Indiana University study that while he claims he never does these personal attacks, he in fact calls a person or a group a derogatory name once every seven seconds during those yakking notes memos that he does?  He‘s now claimed that this is just an another smear by George Soros, who apparently owns the University of Indiana.  He claims Soros donated $5 million to Indiana University. 

Well, Soros did donate $5 million to IU, but not to study O‘Reilly—rather to fund Indiana‘s educational outreach in Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Burma.  The fact, the university says, the O‘Reilly study got no funding.  Bill just made the Soros stuff up.  And as if you need to spend $5 million to know Bill-O insults people.  Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, with the first white tie dinner state dinner of the Bush presidency well underway, Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip of England, the honored guests, there may be a few new examples of how to offend her majesty, including making a joke about her being your mother and winking at her.  And that was from just the arrival ceremony this morning on the south lawn of the White House, hours before the current event.  The president, in his remarks, was trying to say that the queen had helped celebrate our nation‘s bicentennial celebration, which occurred in 1976.  He did manage to get that out after nearly aging her by 200 years.  Here is the mistake and the follow-up when the president went off script. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 -- in 1976.  She gave me a look a that only a mother could give a child. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And in case you missed it, watch the slow motion of the president winking at the queen.  That‘s right, after the initial gaff, he waited for her to return his gaze so he could wink at her.  No winking at the queen!

There‘s also the matter of the queen‘s response, which sounded like a one word utterance which makes this evening‘s dinner all the more perilous.  One hundred and thirty two guests, a five-course meal, toasts and possible pretzels.  Let‘s turn now to the national political reporter for the “Washington Post,” and MSNBC analyst, Dana Milbank.  Good evening, nice threads? 

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening to you. 

OLBERMANN:  I will have the lobster tail and—

MILBANK:  It‘s Dover sole amondine this evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you very much.  We will get to the white tie dinner for which you are dressed in a moment, which appears not to be happening where you are.  I‘m still trying to get a handle on what happened this morning.  Winking at the queen?  What would happen to you if you winked at the queen in England at some sort of state event?

MILBANK:  I understand the first offense you get locked in the tower of London, and the second offense you have to wear one of those puffy bear skin hat.  But look, it could have been a lot worse.  It‘s not as if the president suggested that she—thanked her for signing the Magna Carta, and neither is it the worst international incident we have had at just a ceremony.  It was just a year ago that President Hu from China was there and was actually heckled by a Falun Gong protester and they confused Taiwan and China in the announcements.  It could have been a whole lot worse. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and he did not give her any shoulder or back massages.  The queen said something in response.  Nobody knows what.  Our partners in England, ITV, put—literally had six or seven producers on it.  They can‘t figure out what she said in response.  It sounded to me like booyah.  Did she venture into Latin?  She once described that awful year of Princess Diana‘s death as annis horriblis.  Do you have any idea what she said? 

MILBANK:  Well, I played it over and over and I didn‘t get booya.  I thought she was saying you‘re near or oh dear, which might have been appropriate in the instance.  It was also very hard to tell whether it was a grimace or a smile on her face.  Let‘s give him the benefit of the doubt, she liked the joke in the end. 

OLBERMANN:  Did she?  I mean, lowering the head after the joke, does that make it official?  Was that the royal—we are not amused diss there. 

MILBANK:  Well, I think she went back to the text.  She had the card in her hand.  She was the next speaker up, and it‘s interesting that Bush, in his speech, spoke about thanking her for her help in Baghdad and Kabul, and she went on saying this is not a time to talk about the current preoccupations, so she got her dig in there. 

OLBERMANN:  She does not know every time in Washington is the time to talk about that.  At the arrival ceremony a fife and drum corps dressed up like George Washington‘s continental army.  Did that confuse the president into thinking maybe it was 1776. 

MILBANK:  It‘s possible and it‘s also very confusing to anybody, because they are actually red coats.  And apparently the band would dress in the opposite colors of its regiment, which you think would create some possibility of friendly fire.  But that might be what threw him off there for just a moment. 

OLBERMANN:  But they are very well mannered.  They are an extremely continental army.  The event tonight, the white-tie dinner, there are toasts, but otherwise we‘re talking about this five course meal.  The president had lunch with the queen earlier today, will have dinner with her again tomorrow at the British embassy.  And he had to have a practice dinner in preparation for this?  They had a rehearsal --  I mean, in the other sense of the phrase, they had a rehearsal dinner so this would all go right? 

MILBANK:  Well, there is a lot of forks, and you have to know exactly which one to use. 

OLBERMANN:  Which one not to stick the queen with.

MILBANK:  While you‘re winking.  But, look, this is not the president‘s favorite format, and it keeps him up well past his bedtime, even though they are getting Yitzhak Perlman tonight, which certainly is some compensation there.  But the truth is the president, I think, is enjoying all the pomp and ceremony that‘s going on today.  It‘s a nice holiday from other events going on in Washington. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, 28 percent of approval, the queen‘s popularity is soaring.  Should he have turned this over to somebody else, somebody more popular like the vice president? 

MILBANK:  I am going to get very alarmed if he starts wearing those

Dr. Seuss hats that she has been wearing.  That is the advantage of being -

she‘s a head of state.  She is not a head of government.  And the president has to do both here.  And he can still do fine as the head of state.  He has some problems as head of government. 

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC and the wait staff.  And we have just got the word, Dana, you can expense that outfit.  Great thanks. 

MILBANK:  Cheerio.

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,468th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

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