Guests: Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza, John Harwood, Derrick Pitts, Michael Musto
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
September Song again. First Boehner, then Lott, now Senator Smith of Oregon says by September, there will either be success in Iraq, or a “change in our disposition of troops in Iraq.” Similar from Senator Coleman of Minnesota, from Senator Collins of Maine. Republicans in revolt, giving the White House three months‘ lead time. Not enough time, the White House responds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Please avoid the idea that Iraq is like Oz, and one day it‘s going to be black and white, and the next day you‘re going to wake up and it‘s color.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The color of money in the campaign, not millions raised, but hundreds donated. Why just $900 contributed by Rudy Giuliani could kill off his chances for the Republican nomination.
The Wolfowitz at the door. Europe so wanting the former deputy defense secretary out at the World Bank, it will even let President Bush select his successor.
A Champagne supernova in the sky, a distant star blows up, blows up real good, 100 times more powerful than anything seen before, and fraught with meaning for life in outer space.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This particular supernova and all the questions that it brings about, you know, will keep us awake for quite a while.
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OLBERMANN: Mr. Science, Derek Pitts of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, joining us to track the kaboom and the astronomers‘ insomnia.
And the push to pardon Paris. Practical, pathetic, and who would get to pardon her? The Governator. One problem, the online Paris site originally asked people to “sin” the petition. Yes.
OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA: Let us all work together on this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
One part has the echo of a layaway plan in a furniture store or a financing offer from a car dealership, half now, half later. The other part sounds like the warning from the repo man, Pony up, or we‘ll see you in September. Neither seems particularly appropriate to the life-and-death issue of stopping the war.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, House Democrats are now offering the president 50 percent of his requested funding for the Iraq war now, the rest only when he proves whether his strategy is actually working or not, congressional Republicans, meantime, again implying even their patience could be at an end before the summer is.
First, the supplemental bill, threatened by Representative Jack Murtha and Dave Obey, it would give only $43 billion out of the $96 billion requested by the White House. To get the rest of that amount, the president would have to deliver an assessment of how the Iraqi government is meeting certain benchmarks on the 13th of July. Then Congress can vote on whether to give the president the rest of the war funding money.
As for congressional Republicans, there are increasing indications on the Hill that members want at least some indication of success in Iraq by September, which happens to be when General David Petraeus says he will have a good idea on whether the troop increase worked or not, Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon claiming that, “Many of my Republican colleagues have been promised they will get a straight story on the surge by September. I won‘t be the only Republican or one of two Republicans demanding a change in our disposition of troops in Iraq at that point. That is very clear to me,” Senator Coleman of Minnesota agreeing, “There is a sense that by September, you‘ve got to see real action on the part of Iraqis. I think everybody knows that, I really do,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine concurring, “I think a lot of us feel that way.”
Perhaps true of Republicans in Congress, but not of Republicans in the White House, press secretary Tony Snow refuting the idea of a deadline by first playing down expectations of an obvious turnaround in the war.
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SNOW: Please avoid the idea that Iraq is like Oz, and one day it‘s going to be black and white, and the next day you‘re going to wake up and it‘s color.
A lot of times facts are funny things, and sometimes they can support your position and turn around and either good news or bad news, depending on how you view it, can force you to adjust your view of things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And resorting, Mr. Snow did, to familiar tactics to justify staying in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Look at the statements of Zawahiri and others, they want Iraq. They want Iraq for theirs. I‘m not going to get out the crystal ball, but it is certainly a war in which our walking away is not going to turn Osama bin Laden in a flower child.
If you leave, how do you make America safer? How does that make America one tiny bit safer? How would you do that in a way that would not allow Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was gloating about such a possibility in the most recently released tape, to proclaim victory and use that as a way of recruiting new terrorists?
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OLBERMANN: Mr. Snow conveniently omitting that Mr. Zawahiri actually endorsed in his latest tape the Bush strategy. Zawahiri asked that U.S. troops stay in Iraq so terrorists could kill at least 200,000 or 300,000 of them.
As for how the administration is measuring the success or failure of putting more troops in harm‘s way.
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SNOW: We‘ve offered metrics, and we‘ve offered things that allow you a basis of judgment. And the American people have to take a look at it. What I would encourage you to do, though, is not only look at the bad guys when they commit acts of terror, but look at what‘s going on with military operation. Take a look at what‘s going on on the ground, take a look at what goes on in the neighborhoods, because if you want to measure progress, you got to report it.
For instance, you had the prime minister today in response to yesterday‘s bombings in Ramadi saying, We‘re going to step forward, and we‘re going to compensate the victims. Now, that may not seem like a big thing to us, but you understand the politics of Iraq, reaching out to a Shia population—I mean, a Sunni population after such a thing is an important act of political reconciliation.
All I‘m saying, that, look, what we‘re doing now is, we are talking at such a level of abstraction that it‘s almost as impossible to give a good answer as it is to ask a good question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Turning now to someone who always finds it possible to give good answers, “Newsweek” magazine senior Washington correspondent, our own Howard Fineman.
Thanks for your time tonight, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
OLBERMANN: John Boehner Sunday, Trent Lott yesterday, now the three senators, is that the entirety of this Republican minirevolt on Iraq, or is just the start of it?
FINEMAN: No, I think it‘s just the start. Lot of the other members that you quoted earlier in the show tonight happen to be senators, Republican senators, who are up for reelection in 2008. And I think what you‘re going to see come fall, if it takes that long, is for any Republican who‘s up, many of the Republicans who are up, especially in the Senate, to say, This far, no further, and to put conditions, firm conditions, on any further spending beyond that simply as a way to being distancing themselves from the president.
I talked to one of those people just today, and they said, you know, We have sacrificed for this president politically all we‘re going to do. Next time around, we‘ve got to start putting some distance between him and our own fates, and that‘s what‘s going to happen.
OLBERMANN: But is the, is the September talk in particular some kind of a red herring? I mean, the Pentagon just notified 35,000 Army members to be prepared to deploy in the fall. Does that not suggest two things, that one, the surge is not having the requisite impact on Iraq, and secondly, the president is going to stay there regardless of what General Petraeus says in September?
FINEMAN: Well, I think the fact that they‘re preparing further troops to go doesn‘t necessarily prove the case one way or the other. That‘s probably the prudent thing to do. Even MoveOn.org, the antiwar group, is not suggesting all the troops be pulled out of there yesterday.
But I think it is clear, and I base this on having covered George Bush for a long, long time and watched the progress of him politically in this war, his goal is to basically maintain his policy as close to the way he shaped it originally as he possibly can through the end of his presidency, meaning noon, January 20, 2009.
The Republicans up for reelection in the Congress, and in the governorships, et cetera, are going to move away from him politically. But George Bush is going to move as absolutely little as he possibly can away from his objective.
The fact is that he‘s probably right, and Tony Snow is probably right about some of the potential risk of a quick pullout. The problem that the president has is that he‘s used up a generation‘s worth of patience for war in this country, Keith. Americans are not a warrior people. Once a generation, they cross their fingers and go to war. That‘s what happened this time. I think he‘s used up our patience for it. By “our,” I mean the American public, if you look at the polls. That‘s the problem that he‘s got politically. But he‘s not going to budge personally, I don‘t think.
OLBERMANN: Is he going to be forced to? Does the Democrats‘ half-and-half plan have a chance, if not now, then maybe in September with Republican support?
FINEMAN: Yes, I think that‘s where we‘re headed eventually, to some kind of constitutional crisis before the end of his presidency. When it‘s going to happen, I don‘t know. I talked to some House Democrats today, they‘re planning to go ahead with this 50-50 thing, as you described it. And they probably have the votes for it.
On the Senate side, I think the senators, Democratic leadership in the Senate is hanging back, trying to see what they want to do. It might be a little different in tone.
I think one of the thing that Karl Rove is—things that Karl Rove is trying to do in a last-ditch effort to buy time for his boss is to see if he can divide Democrats on tactics. He didn‘t do it last month, he may be able to do it coming down the road. This is a—this is the end game politically for the president, and he and Rove are going to play it to the very end.
OLBERMANN: “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman. As always, Howard, great thanks for your time.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And as to the upcoming presidential race, while the options in Iraq this September will certainly help determine who is still standing come primary season, perhaps so will some donations in New York made in 1999.
First, the latest “USA Today” poll, which shows that if the two frontrunners in each party faced off against each other right now, Senator Clinton would handily beat Senator Obama 56 to 37 among the Democratic voters, and Rudy Giuliani would trounce Senator John McCain 56 percent to 36 percent among Republican-leaning voters.
That is despite Mr. Giuliani‘s nuanced position on abortion rights, which just got a little more nuanced, the Web site Politico.com reporting that in the 1990s, Mr. Giuliani contributed at least six separate times to the pro-choice organization Planned Parenthood, the former mayor of New York City insisting today the donations are in line with his previously stated position that he personally finds abortion abhorrent, but he supports a woman‘s right to information about the procedure, which Planned Parenthood provides.
Joined now by Chris Cillizza, author of the political blog The Fix on WashingtonPost.com.
Chris, thanks for your time tonight.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Donations for informational purposes, is the religious right going to see it that way about Rudy Giuliani?
CILLIZZA: No, I don‘t think so. The reality in politics is that perception is the reality, and the perception here is that while Planned Parenthood may well provide information to women contemplating abortion, the religious right, the social conservatives of this country, see it as equaling abortion.
And that‘s where Giuliani gets into problems. It‘s not an easily explainable thing. Any day he‘s talking about abortion, his position on abortion, trying to explain the complexities and the nuances, is a losing day for him. He wants to be talking about national security, September 11, what he did in New York City. This is not a topic he wants to stay on.
OLBERMANN: The latest “USA Today” poll, as we suggested, has him out in front, and out in front by 20 points, nearly 20 points, over Mr. McCain. Analysts of all political persuasion have been expecting that will blow up sooner rather than later. It hasn‘t blown up. Are the expectations wrong, or is just the timing of the predictions wrong, or what‘s happening with Giuliani?
CILLIZZA: Well, look, here‘s what I think is happening. I think there‘s a narrative that exists out there that he‘s too liberal, that, frankly, when it gets down to it, he‘s just too different from the average Republican primary voter for them to pull the lever for him or caucus for him, or what have you. And I think that narrative is what this Planned Parenthood donation plays into.
This Planned Parenthood donation does not ruin Rudy Giuliani‘s candidacy. Frankly, I think people are worried about making their mortgage payment, who‘s going to win on “American Idol.” I‘m not sure they‘re following it that closely.
But what it does is, it plays into a narrative, it plays into a line of thinking that this guy is just too liberal, and he‘s too liberal on a key issue, abortion, an issue that is close to the heart of many social conservatives. I don‘t think we‘re going to see his polling lead (ph) a road any time soon. People just aren‘t that focused on it. But it is a dangerous thing lurking under the surface for him.
OLBERMANN: Something else lurking under the surface for everybody, Chuck Hagel hinting to NBC News again he‘s considering running for president as an independent. He‘s hinted it before. Practically speaking, Chris, as an antiwar Republican, which of the other two parties would him as a third candidate hurt?
CILLIZZA: Well, I think this may be a little counter conventional wisdom, but I‘ve written about this and thought about it a lot, because Senator Hagel‘s given us a lot of time to think about it. And I do think he might hurt the Democratic nominee more than the Republican nominee. The reality of the situation is that most Republicans in this country still believe that the—we should stay in Iraq, we should continue what we‘re doing, and might not agree with what has happened up till now, but they don‘t want to leave.
Hagel has been the most vociferous Republican opponent of that policy. I think he‘s more in line with Democrats on the issue that most people seem likely to make their minds up on in 2008. So I think he might detract a little bit from the Democratic nominee, making it a less-hard contrast between sort of a stay-the-course mentality in Iraq and a weenie change now mentality.
OLBERMANN: On the subject of people who aren‘t in but might, “The Washington Times” reported that many of Al Gore‘s political backers, workers from 2000, are still waiting to see if he might run again before they might choose another candidate, either to work for or just to endorse. There‘s the Fred Thompson noncampaign campaign, there‘s Gingrich. Are we getting anywhere near the deadline for tossing your hat into the ring, or is that just wishful thinking, and it‘s still months ahead?
CILLIZZA: I think for people like Gore and Thompson, they can wait a little bit longer. Gore, I think, has a longer timeline, because, frankly, if he decided to run, and I don‘t still think he is going to run, despite these sort of inklings that are out there. I think that he has time. He‘s a known commodity. He could raise money very quickly. He‘s a celebrity politician. And he‘d instantly be, in terms of name identification, in that top three with the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Thompson, I think, is a different kind of deal. This is somebody who‘s been in the Senate for a relatively short period of time, doesn‘t have a national fundraising base, doesn‘t have a national organization. He is an actor-turned-politician-turned-actor. That will help him in names of name identification. But to win these primaries and these caucuses, you really need people on the ground, door knocking, getting people to turn out for you. And Fred Thompson needs to start building that sooner rather than later.
OLBERMANN: Yes, one would think his iron is hot now, not later.
Chris Cillizza of WashingtonPost.com. As always, Chris, great thanks.
CILLIZZA: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And one other note today. The ultimate premise of the war in Iraq and the ultimate premise, certainly, of the Republican presidential campaign ahead, counterterrorism. The FBI claims it has broken up a plot to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey. The flaw, though, in the breathless reporting of the purported terror cell, the bureau infiltrated the six-person group after its members took video of themselves practicing with assault weapons, brought the tape to a photo store, and had it transferred to a DVD.
The details of the supposed plot don‘t seem to hold together that well either, though that did not stop extensive and entirely credulous coverage on TV, the Internet, in print today. The men supposedly had plans to gain access to the base disguised as pizza delivery guys, then cut the power somehow, they, quote, “hit four, five, or six Humvees and light the whole place, and retreat without any losses.” And take the tape of yourselves practicing and have it copied at PhotoMat. In other words, the FBI has arrested six morons.
The World Bank wants Paul Wolfowitz out, and now the European contingent so displeased it‘s willing to give Mr. Bush carte blanche to name a replacement, any replacement.
How about her? Why not? She‘s now approaching the government for a pardon.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq War, has been president of the World Bank for less than two years, and perhaps the territory now looks too familiar to him. Instead of being greeted as a liberator, he and his appointments were widely seen as an occupying force, and with allies deserting him, there is no indication Wolfowitz has anything close to an exit strategy.
In our fourth story tonight, a lot of his critics are generously offering their own. President Bush says Mr. Wolfowitz, whom he appointed, can still do his job effectively, even though a World Bank panel just yesterday concluded that Wolfowitz violated several rules in promoting his girlfriend and giving her multiple raises, the bank‘s board meeting as soon as tomorrow to act on the findings.
Today, “The New York Times” reported that European officials, who control a larger share of the board than does the U.S., have let Mr. Bush know that unless he gets Wolfowitz to step down voluntarily, they may move to end the six-decades-long tradition of letting America choose the bank president.
Let‘s turn now to John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for our sister network, CNBC, senior contributing writer at “The Wall Street Journal.”
John, thanks for your time tonight. Good to talk...
JOHN HARWOOD, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Hey, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Before we get to some of these possible implications for the world, our place in it, explain how the rest of this week is likely to unfold.
HARWOOD: Well, Wolfowitz was given until late tonight to respond to the allegations of this committee, which has said he‘s broken rules. Wolfowitz and his team are seeking more time. They‘re trying to push this into next week. So the optimum solution from Wolfowitz‘s point of view is that he gets to address the board next week and make his case for why he didn‘t violate the rules, that whatever happened in terms of a miscommunication wasn‘t something with its roots in an integrity violation on his part. We‘ll see whether or not he gets the extra time. That‘s what his lawyer‘s pushing for.
OLBERMANN: What, if anything, is Mr. Bush likely to do, when, and why?
HARWOOD: Well, when I talk to people close to the White House, they say the White House wants this pain to end, wants Wolfowitz to go, but isn‘t doing anything to make that happen. And so I think what you‘re likely to see is continued statements of support from members of the administration. They‘re soft statements of support, but they‘re not publicly bailing on him, they‘re not actively pushing. Everyone seems to feel that this saga is headed to one conclusion, which is Wolfowitz to leave. The question is, how do you get there?
OLBERMANN: And what are the Europeans doing in this? I mean, how does this work, that they could wind up controlling who picks his successor, or, as was reported also, potentially deal that right back to President Bush if he can just get Wolfowitz to go, and go now?
HARWOOD: Well, it‘s not much of a concession that they‘re offering, Keith, because since the bank was founded in the 1940s, the United States has always picked the president. And in turn, Europe gets to pick the head of the IMF. If that right is somehow taken away from the United States, you could see repercussions in the choice of the head of the IMF.
I wouldn‘t expect that to happen. I think these European governments would like to see Wolfowitz leave, and let Bush step up and pick somebody else, and they‘d be confident they‘d get somebody they like a lot better than Wolfowitz.
OLBERMANN: Other than, oh, yes, here‘s something else that touches the Bush administration, here‘s one of the architects of the war, why, on the fundamental level, does this matter to somebody watching this?
HARWOOD: Well, that‘s a good question. You know, there are some people who argue, Keith, the World Bank itself isn‘t so necessary any more because the capital markets are so developed that you can get money into developing countries that you couldn‘t when the bank was founded.
I think the real consequence, though, Keith, is potential further rupture of the United States‘ relations with the rest of the world. People who work in foreign policy say there‘s hard power, which is the production of military force, there‘s soft power, which is the influence a country exerts over the rest of the world. And the United States‘ soft power is very soft right now. We don‘t need anything further complicating our diplomacy, our efforts to get what we want around the rest of the world. And the longer this drags on, the more difficult that becomes.
OLBERMANN: So we see this as some sort of domestic political scandal and a little helping out the girlfriend, but there‘s also these friends who were hired for large salaries, an attempt by Mr. Wolfowitz and his friends to dial back the traditional emphasis of the World Bank on family planning, tone down the language on climate change, funnel money into Iraq. Is that, those latter issues, is that where the way this is being seen internationally?
HARWOOD: Sure, there‘s a lot of politics here. There‘s the politics of Iraq, there‘s the politics of the international aid issues that you mentioned, this administration pressing conservative concerns has made a big anticorruption push, trying to make some of the development aid contingent on steps that the borrowing countries might reform their internal practices. That‘s very divisive for substantive reasons and for political reasons.
So this is—there‘s a lot of politics on both sides here.
OLBERMANN: John Harwood, CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.
Great thanks, John.
HARWOOD: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Star power. This is not an NBC News animation of Paris Hilton talking to her publicist. The biggest space explosion ever has scientists a-twitter.
From stargazing to sheep racing. You mean the queen of England left to come here and miss this?
This and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1893, Francis Wimette (ph) was born. Tiger Woods should send his descendents a million dollars or two, Niklaus and Palmer as well. Wimette was a 20-year-old amateur when the U.S. Open golf tournament came to the country club in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he had once been a caddy. It and the world‘s other major tournaments to that point had invariably been won by Englishmen. But Wimette bet—beat two of Britain‘s best in 18-hole playoff, within 10 years the number of Americans playing golf had tripled, American golf was born.
On that note, let‘s play Oddball.
(INAUDIBLE) say, let‘s play golf. We begin in Telford, England, where you are looking live at the field in the (ph) 18th running of the British Grand National Steeplechase. These are the depths to which Francis Wimette reduced British sports. A dozen sheep coming strong out of the gate, wearing heavy coats despite the unseasonable warmth, unshaved, if you will, each ridden by a tiny cotton jockey strapped to its back.
Here are the first hurdles. It‘s Future Hanger out in front, followed closer by Lamb Shanks, Mutton Curry and I‘d Make a Great Sweater Vest. And now Mutton Curry is making low on the inside. Future Hanger is holding it. I‘d Make a Great Sweater Vest—and down the stretch they come. Future Hanger is a length ahead. Future Hanger is going to win the grand national. What guts that sheep has. Future Hanger pays 10.75, 8.50 and 3.00 dollars.
To Varadia (ph), India now, where the animals are not forced to do unnatural things, unless you think marriage is unnatural. This the fabulous wedding ceremony of two cows in central India, brought together in holy matrimony to bring good luck to farmers who own them. Two hearts, eight stomachs.
Planned for months, the lavish fair cost more than 5,000 dollars, attracted 1,500 guests. And yes, the cow was a bridezilla. Everybody seemed really excited about the entire affair except the bull and the cow themselves. In fact, she never acknowledged the groom, staring straight ahead, chewing her cud throughout the entire ceremony. You may kiss the bride. No!
OLBERMANN: And unprecedented light show galaxies away, the biggest, brightest star explosion ever. How it will affect your weekend. And Paris Hilton.
And did Sanjaya just go super nova from “American Idol” to “I Love New York?” Those stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. Number three, John Facenda, you know him, he was the voice of National Football League films for 20 years. The saintly baritone flying across scripts ripe with references to the frozen tundra of Green Bay‘s Lambeau Field. He has won a lawsuit against NFL Films. A judge ruling a waiver rescinding a file assigned in 1984 granting the use of his voice in future documentaries does not include a special on the making of the John Madden video game.
All of this is even odder considering that Mr. Facenda died in 1984.
Number two, Tom Gambaro of Portland, Oregon. Taking mother earth to his chest, the owner of five computer keyboard patents decided to create a pollution free alternative fuel. He mixed sodium, mercury and powdered aluminum, cooked it at 400 degrees. The result, according to Mr. Gambaro, should have been a new kind of hydrogen fuel cell that could have powered a car on just a little water.
The result actually was a gas cloud that caused the evacuation of the other 22 people in his apartment complex. It sure propelled them fast enough.
Number one, an unnamed would be driver in Bendorf (ph), Germany. A 27-year-old man failed his driving test there in part because he also failed his breathalyzer test. Drunk, three times over the legal limit for the road test for his license.
OLBERMANN: Four hundred and seven years ago this past February the Italian monk Giordano Bruno insisted the universe contained not just our Earth and sun, but an infinite number of stars and planets. For that and other heresy, Bruno was burned at the stake. In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, we note in somber memory of Brother Bruno that something very big, very bright and very strange is going on in a galaxy far, far away.
This NASA illustration shows a massive star burst of truly cosmic proportions, a super nova more than 100 time bigger than our sun, 240 million light years away, a brilliant series of runaway nuclear explosions spewing the remains of the star into space. Again, it‘s animation, not home video. All of this after astronomers were thrilled with the recent discovery of what may be the first Earth-like planet ever discovered with the right conditions to support life as we know it.
That has delighted scientists, even caught the attention of London bookies, who have now lowered the odds of finding extraterrestrial life to just 100 to one. Derrick Pitts is, of course, thrilled to be chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia now, rather than 407 years ago.
Thank you for being with us tonight, sir.
DERRICK PITTS, CHIEF ASTRONOMER: Sure, my pleasure Keith.
OLBERMANN: Tell us why this is such a super supernova?
PITTS: Well, the reason why it‘s a super supernova, as you call it, is because, number one, it‘s 150 times bigger than our sun. So this puts it into a class of super nova all by itself. It‘s absolutely enormous. Because it‘s so big, what has happened is instead of it taking the usual trip of super nova stars, and going down to a black hole, the force of the explosion absolutely tore the star apart completely. So all we have left are some gas clouds floating around through space. So that‘s the one thing.
Also, the other big thing about this is that we don‘t want to see anything like this anywhere near us. So, we like these big explosions like this to be very far out. This seems to be the largest explosion of a star we have ever seen.
OLBERMANN: To that point, if there were one in the neighborhood, how would it affect us? How quickly would we know? And why hasn‘t Al Gore mentioned it already?
PITTS: He has not gotten the email message, I guess. The important thing about this is that it‘s a good distance away from us. The only way that a super nova can really have a big affect on us, Keith, is if it were right in our own backyard. Let‘s say it was our sun. A super nova in our region would absolutely destroy the earth. But, it has to be actually within about 30 light years of us to have effect.
What would be the biggest affect at that distance would be the x-rays and the gamma ray radiation that would essentially sterilize the planet. So if it‘s further away than that, we don‘t have to worry about it inside our own atmosphere. Now, astronauts have to be very careful because a super nova 60 light years away can produce enough affect to cause them trouble. So, 30 light years, we‘re fine; 60 light years, don‘t go outside the space craft.
OLBERMANN: And this is 240 million years away, all told?
PITTS: Yes, 240 million light years away, it‘s a great distance.
OLBERMANN: Does it tell us anything about what our descendants presumably would have to do when the sun goes? I mean, I suppose the choice of the sun blowing up and the sun imploding and sucking in the neighborhood into a space the size of a walnut does not make much difference if you are on the Earth at the moment, but do we at least get a chance to bet on which one is likelier. Because, as I understand it, it was assumed at one point that every one of these stars that went, became a black hole, right?
PITTS: Yes, it was assumed that. And that‘s the interesting thing here, is that we have learned something new about our universe, and that is that there are stars this size and that stars this size can do something other than what was originally predicted. We actually have to keep in mind here, Keith, that we don‘t know absolutely everything about what happens in the universe. We are still learning. And here is a perfect example of a new learning opportunity for us, that objects this size exist, and when they go, boy, do they ever.
OLBERMANN: Kaboom. And about this newly discovered planet, GLEESEE 581C, some of your colleagues calling it this the Goldilocks Planet, not too hot, not too cold, just right for life. Are you willing to follow the lead of those London bookies and put some money on finding life on that planet?
PITTS: Only to a point, and the reason why is because what makes it a Goldilocks planet is the size and temperature of its star. That allows this planet to have a temperature environment that seems to be indicated somewhere between 30 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So if there were water there, it could exist as a liquid. That‘s if there was water.
So far we have not actually discovered water, so we cannot go down the pike that there is some life there. But this is the best one that we have come across so far. It‘s about 50 percent larger than the earth. This is the closest size to Earth that we have found so far, and this is what astronomers have been hunting down, little by little, is finding these additional planets that are about the size of earth, with the possibility for the environment where we might find somebody there.
OLBERMANN: But isn‘t there a problem with this about the orbit? Doesn‘t it got around its sun about once every hour and a half? Wouldn‘t any life there be immediately noxious.
PITTS: Yes, there is that, but we are planning to ship large amounts of dramamine out there sometime soon. You can make money from that.
OLBERMANN: Planet Maalox 13. Derrick Pitts, the chief astronomer with Philadelphia‘s Franklin Institute. Always a pleasure sir. Thanks for your time.
PITTS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Not a hardened criminal, but guilty of wrong doing. The judge who thinks hard time is not enough as big time public embarrassment. Speaking of embarrassment, there‘s no end to the shame of Paris Hilton. Now she wants a pardon, and not the pokey. Michael Musto to analyze that ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It was one of the regular features of justice in this country and elsewhere before say 1900, convict a guy of stealing, hang a sign around his neck reading burglar and then make him walk around the city or village, often before running him out of town on a rail. In our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, all of which explains why Lisa Fithian (ph) wound up walking around outside a department store wearing a sign reading thief. We have eliminated the running them out of town on a rail things.
As to the rest, here is our correspondent Michelle Kosinski.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lisa Fithian did not appreciate having to advertise this outside an Alabama Wal-Mart; “I Am a Thief.” That‘s her embarrassing sentence for shop lifting.
JUDGE KEN ROBERTSON JR., CITY COURT JUDGE: There has to be something that we do in the judicial system that causes change. If being embarrassed or making a public acknowledgment that you have done something wrong causes a change, that‘s my job and I have done my job.
KOSINSKI: With some judges, turning red faced is the order of the day when you get caught red handed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) It‘s going to be embarrassing.
KOSINSKI: There was the dog abuser forced to talk to school kids about safety dressed as a dog. Or the stereo blasters, sentenced to lots of easy listening. The Ohio kids forced to walk a donkey, saying “sorry for the jackass offense” after they vandalized a nativity scene. These manly men in drag for throwing bottles at a woman. Or how about the woman ordered to spend the night in the woods in the snow for abandoning kittens.
MICHELLE MURRAW, SENTENCE TO NIGHT OUTSIDE: I think that this whole thing has been about the media.
KOSINSKI: Her sentence and many others the work of Ohio Judge Michael Cicconetti.
JUDGE MICHAEL CICCONETTI, OHIO MUNICIPAL COURT: What is wrong with traditional sentences? The answer to that is easy. They don‘t work.
KOSINSKI: Hey, even super model cell phone thrower Naomi Campbell was sentenced to scrub up at the Department of Sanitation.
(on camera): Some judges are applauded for this, for keeping non-violent people out of jail, and reducing over crowding. But they can also take some heat, accused of looking for attention, or publicly shaming people.
(voice over): So sentenced like the one for the run away bride, having to mow before she could go, may be unusual, but are they cruel?
SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: If capital punishment hasn‘t been ruled cruel and unusual, I don‘t think wearing a sign is going to be ruled so.
KOSINSKI: The idea is make the not so bad apples think about what they have done, so as to not end up really rotten.
Michelle Kosinski, NBC News, Atlanta.
OLBERMANN: To a different kind of sentence then a life sentence. After being booted from “American Idol,” in our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs. It‘s Sanjaya Malakar. The website TMZ.com, making its record four millionth reference on this show, claims that Sanjaya may be up for a gig on VH1, not singing, not hosting his own show. It has to do with the spin off of the “Flava of Love” program called “I Love New York.” In it, the woman identifying herself as New York, goes through—what‘s the right phrase here—eligible bachelors to find her true soul mate.
It worked so well there‘s going to be an “I Love New York” second season. Sanjaya reportedly sent in his audition tape to be one of Miss New York‘s suitors. Although it might be a practical joke. Although, then again, that might not make any difference.
On to celebrities under the influence, extreme makeovers, Ty Pennington and singer George Michael. Mr. Pennington has now publicly apologized. He was arrested over the weekend in L.A., misdemeanor charges of drunken driving. In a statement, he says he is grateful there was no accident, nor harm done to anybody.
Meantime, Mr. Michael pleaded guilty today to a judge of driving while unfit through drugs. He says he was exhausted and on prescription medication when the police found him slumped over the wheel of his car at a traffic intersection in North London six months ago. Michael told the court he was ready for, quote, the correct punishment.
Here is another tactic if they get you for being under the influence, ask Governor Schwarzenegger for a pardon. Michael next on Paris Hilton, so to speak. First time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to the executive director of the National Rifle Association, Chris Cox. After Virginia Tech, Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey proposed a plug to the loophole to stop or at least slow down the sales of fire arms to suspected terrorists. The Bush administration concurred. This has bipartisan support. Mr. Cox and the NRA have now come out against the bill because, quote, it would allow arbitrary denial of second amendment rights. Still burnishing that public image, huh? By the way, read the second amendment some time, the whole thing, with the context. It‘s about not infringing the rights of people to keep and bear arms as part of a state militia.
The runner-up tonight, Representative Ted Poe of Texas, who made an unfortunate historical analogy on the floor of the House, insisting on the funding for the war in Iraq, quote, Nathan Bedford Forest, Representative Poe said, successful confederate general said it best about winning and victory and the means to do so. He said get thar firstest with the mostest. Yes, see Bedford Forest was kind of a problem. He was called a guerrilla leader. In retrospect, many of his military actions were reminiscent of terrorism. And, oh by the way, after the war he became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
But our winner, Dick Morris of Fox Noise. You may want to sit down for this. Taking the fight them there so we don‘t fight them here nonsense to kind of delusional levels, he said, quote, if we are putting the Americans right within their arms reach in Iraq, the terrorists don‘t have to come to Wall Street to kill Americans. They don‘t have to knock down the Trade Center. They can do it around the corner and convenience is a big factor when you are a terrorists.
So the point of the war in Iraq is to send Americans over there so terrorists can kill them and not have to bother coming here to kill them? I see. Kind of undermines our military recruiting efforts, Dick? Dick Morris of Fox Noise, today‘s Worst Person in the World!
OLBERMANN: A fan of Paris Hilton has started an online petition to keep her out of jail. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, he appeals to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon her. This fan even compares Hilton to another prominent figure who received a pardon for an honest mistake, Richard Milhouse Nixon. Such is the Hilton P.R. offensive on the day that Miss Hilton rehired the publicist that she fired over the weekend, Elliot Mince.
The free Paris Hilton is linked from her own MySpace page, where Hilton has now written, my friend Joshua started this petition. Please help and sihn it. Sign spelled sihn. I love you all. Of course, Ms. Hilton has not yet been jailed for driving on a suspended license, twice.
Her 45 day sentence to begin June 5th.
But the petition to Governor Schwarzenegger spares no hyperbole. It states that Miss Hilton, quote, “provides hope for young people, and provides beauty and excitement to most of our otherwise mundane lives.” Speak for yourself buddy.
At the end of the full page letter there is this, “if the late former President Gerald Ford could find it in his heart to pardon the late former President Richard Nixon after his mistakes, we undeniably support Paris Hilton being pardoned for her honest mistake as well.”
The petition has thus far gotten more than 6,700 signatures. Governor Schwarzenegger‘s press secretary telling COUNTDOWN in a statement that, quote, we‘ll treat this as we would any request of this nature. We‘re joined now by a man who never requires a pardon, “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto. Good evening Michael.
MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”: Hi Keith.
OLBERMANN: The same press secretary told TMZ.com, third reference of the night, that the governor only acts in extraordinary circumstances and then the website asked the press secretary if Hilton qualified for extraordinary circumstances. The spokeswoman laughed. But, you know, if there is some sort of ground swell of support here, does the governor have to stand up and take notice?
MUSTO: No, he‘s going to tell her hasta la vista baby. He does have a steroid connection with Paris. But otherwise, he really has much important issues to deal with, like getting Maria Shriver to eat. She‘s looking like a Georgia O‘Keefe cow stall. And this whole thing is like an old Jimmy Cagney movie. The governor is going to call at midnight with a reprieve. And the reason why, oh, because I don‘t feel like going to prison? That is not a good reason.
OLBERMANN: My publicist told me I could drive. There‘s one online poll, speaking of stuff on the Internet, that found that 95 percent of voters, 95, were in favor of her going to jail. Doesn‘t it sound like pardoning Richard Nixon might have been easier politically than pardoning Paris Hilton would be?
MUSTO: That‘s more than voted against Sanjaya. And interestingly, among the 95 percent are Paris‘ parents and her fan club. But actually Paris was against the pardoning of Cynthia Nixon because she was the worst one on “Sex in the City,” and she can‘t believe Tom Ford did that.
OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, there is an L.A. sheriff spokesman who says that it is true that while she will be somewhat segregated from the rest of the population, the 2,200 inmates in the lockup Paris Hilton; she‘ll be in a unit for high profile prisoners called the Special Needs Unit. Do you get the idea that it is a bad idea to try to cater to Paris Hilton‘s special needs?
MUSTO: Yes, because her special needs are going to be enormous and illiterate. Like which way is the poitrine. And I‘m a veterinarian. I only eat corn. But at least she‘ll have fun with the other high profile prisoners like Alec Baldwin, David Hasselhoff, Ty Pennington. This is a party.
OLBERMANN: There is also this jail policy there that can reduce inmates their sentences by an hour for each day they serve in good behavior. What would be defined for Paris Hilton as good behavior? Pants?
MUSTO: I guess not complaining that the Prada store in prison only sells stripes. Not crying when she has to make license plates, I used to be able to use these. I don‘t know. Not acting out her teen choice award winning scream from House of Wax. You remember that.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I do. I also remember “The Simple Life,” her series that went gradually from network television to something that the E Network mocks on its own network. So it‘s going on—it‘s premiering, the new season, a week before she‘s supposed to go to jail. Is that going to mean that her sentence is going to be extended, because they will have seen a new episode of the series? I mean, she‘s gone from 45 days to like 10 years so she can‘t film this thing anymore.
MUST: Look, I‘m on E, so I really represent that. I‘m on the Fabulous Life of Britney, as well as 25 reasons Britney is a skank. I can‘t live with myself. No, I just don‘t think Paris in the communal TV room should watch “Simple Life,” and that will remind everybody who she is. And they‘ll want to melt down her gold fillings and her dog and her vagina and stuff.
OLBERMANN: Last question here, is this entire sentencing, this whole to do about Paris Hilton, just a means of providing some sort of publicity diversion for the L.A. cops who attacked the immigration rally a week ago today in MacArthur Park?
MUSTO: I don‘t think it is connected. First of all, Paris loves MacArthur Park. The Donna Summer version, not the Richard Harris. But no, I think it was on the up and up, because the L.A. cops just want to see her behind bars for a change, instead of in front of one ordering a triple. And you really can‘t argue with that Keith.
OLBERMANN: Richard Harris is on the phone for us from beyond, from the other world. The one and only Michael Musto, always a pleasure sir. Great thanks.
That is COUNTDOWN for this 1,469th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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