updated 8/22/2007 11:24:55 AM ET 2007-08-22T15:24:55

Guests: Ramin Setoodeh

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Political finger-pointing at Iraq‘s parliament.  Today, President Bush pointed out the lack of progress by Iraq‘s government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The way I view Iraq is from a security perspective and a political perspective.  One aspect of my decision is working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Senator Clinton agrees, but says even if there are small security gains in places, it‘s too little too late.

Who is behind trying to start a fake family fight between the Clintons and the Obamas? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If you can‘t run your own house, you certainly cannot run the White House. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  That taken-out-of-context comment has been plastered across the blogosphere.  NBC‘s Political Director Chuck Todd  will true squad the supposed squabble.

That‘s one mean Dean, slamming into Mexico‘s Caribbean coast at an astounding Category 5.  Hurricane Dean may not be done yet.  We have the pictures of what it looked like as the monster storm hit and what‘s been left behind.  Who should be bracing for Dean‘s next strike?

A story of survival.  An American on board that China air jet moments before it burst into flames describes the ordeal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED:  I about reached the wall of the building when I heard it explode.  And it kept exploding and exploding and exploding. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  What is the most watched show on basic cable ever?  “High School Musical 2” of course.  If you didn‘t know that there was a “High School Musical 1,” then you have some schooling to do.  “Countdown” will learn ya‘ on the biggest pop culture sensation of the arts.

All that and more now on “Countdown.”

(on camera):  Good evening, I am Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  One of the big stories of the 2008 Democratic presidential contest so far has been Senator Hillary Clinton‘s slow and steady transformation from a hawk on the war in Iraq to a dove.  In our fifth story on the “Countdown,” either Mrs. Clinton is venturing back in to hawk territory or President Bush is showing early signs of morphing into a dove. 

Let‘s put it this way, in the past 24 hours, she and Mr. Bush have

apparently overlapped in some of their comments about Iraq.  Do you need

proof?  Exhibit A, a joint conference with the leaders of Canada and Mexico

the commander in chief made some news by saying that only one aspect of his decision to send more troops into Iraq is working.  That implies that others are not working. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The way I view Iraq is from a security perspective and a political perspective.  I made a decision to send more troops into Iraq to provide enough security for reconciliation to have time to take place.  It appears to me, and I certainly do not want to prejudge General David Petraeus‘ report back home, but there is some progress being made.  One aspect of my decision is working. 

STEWART:  Senator Clinton seemed to agree in her remarks yesterday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.  She said some elements of the U.S. strategy in one province of Iraq were on target, noting especially al Anbar, the section where the U.S. troops were pulled out about a year ago and where local leaders have joined the fight against al Qaeda. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  We have begun to change tactics in Iraq and in some areas, particularly in Anbar Province, it is working.  We‘re just years too late changing our tactics.  We can‘t ever let that happen again.  We can‘t be fighting the last war.  We have to be preparing to fight the war.  This new war requires different tactics and strategies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  To help us make sense of what the president and the Senator said and what it meant, we are calling and Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek.” 

Hi, Jonathan.

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Alison.

STEWART:  Is it a big deal that President Bush said, hey, at least one policy is working, which might imply others are not? 

ALTER:  All of the military commanders are saying that this is largely a political problem.  To say that the surge is working militarily but all the political reconciliation is not working, which is basically what the president just said, is to admit that the policies are failing.  Since even the military says that the political part of it is such an important component. 

STEWART:  How long can Mr. Bush hold out for political reconciliation in Iraq? 

ALTER:  That has been the big question all along.  When we talked about this last spring, we said, can they hold out until the summer, until September?  Now, can they hold out until the end of the year?  Patience is running thin on Capitol Hill with the Maliki government.  There are a lot of signs that they are not getting it done.  They do not have a deal on oil.  They are not even in town, but on vacation, as Barack Obama pointed out in his VFW speech today. 

At a certain point, there will be a change and everyone will go, you know what, let‘s go back to the timetable for withdrawal because the political process is not working.  Why should we be spending $9 billion per month, Alison, waiting around for them to get their act together in their parliament?             

STEWART:  Considering the parliament are on vacation for about two more weeks, would it be bad for Mr. Bush to follow Senator Levin‘s lead—he suggested today that Nouri al Maliki should be removed from office. 

ALTER:  I think it would be bad for the president to following the Senator‘s lead for this reason, if President Bush were to come out against Maliki, that would not surprisingly be the best thing that could happen to Maliki.  He would then stay in power longer because there is a lot of concern about sovereignty, understandably, among the Iraqis.  They do not want the president or the Senator telling them what to do.  That would be the best thing that could happen to Maliki and his failed process, would be for the president to come out against him. 

It is generally not a good idea for us to be seen as telling them what to do.  Were they successful in getting rid of him, whoever replaces him would be seen as an American puppet and would not be very effective.  When you try to meddle in another country‘s politics, it causes problems. 

STEWART:  Much of the coverage of Mrs. Clinton‘s comments at the VFW focus on her allegedly saying the surge is working.  Let‘s just get a refresher on exactly what she said. 

Here‘s the quote:  We‘ve begun to change tactics in Iraq and in some areas, particularly in al Anbar Province, it‘s working.  We‘re just years too late changing our tactics.  We can‘t ever let that happen again.  We can‘t be fighting the last war.  We have to be preparing to fight the new war.”

Senator Edwards, late today, jumped on the supposed support of the surge, saying it‘s another instance of a Washington politician trying to have it both ways.  Her campaign came out and clarified that she meant Anbar, the tribal leaders.  What do you think she accomplished by saying this?  This is a woman that picks her words very carefully. 

ALTER:  I think she wanted to acknowledge that there has been some progress in Anbar Province where the sheiks are tired of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia messing with their fiefdoms.  She should not have said it is working, but that it “appears” to be working.  That may sound like splitting hairs, but we‘ve been through so much in Iraq, to say that something is working when hopes have been dashed so often, I think was a mistake on her part.  It is too early to know.  We have to wait to see what Petraeus says. 

The surge, in general, you can‘t say right now it‘s working.  There were 500 people killed last week.  Yesterday, they killed an Iraqi governor.  In some areas, the death toll is down.  You have to remember that it is 140 degrees there now.  It is like a Cole Porter song—“To Damn Hot” even to kill people.  So the numbers of the people in the last few years have gone down in August.  We need to be careful about proclaiming the surge‘s a success, but we should also not call that a failure.  We should wait for what General Petraeus has to say, cross-examine him very carefully on Capitol Hill and then start drawing conclusions.  I think she was hasty in making those conclusions before the VFW. 

STEWART:  One of the criticisms is that she works the audience and tailors her message, nuances it—some say, appeases the audience.  Should we on pander-watch here considering that audience was full of service people—the Veterans of Foreign Wars? 

ALTER:  We should always be on pander-watch.  A lot of the candidates do it.  They like to tell their audiences what they think they want to hear.  Sometimes they step over the line into pander territory.  When her husband was running for president, the late Paul Tsongas used to carry around a teddy bear and he called it a pander bear.  I do not think it will quite got it, but it was an indication that we need to watch for that. 

STEWART:  And Jonathan Alter, of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” nice to see you. 

ALTER:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  There is good news for Barack Obama‘s campaign tonight and you knew it was coming, there‘s also some bad news.  The good news is that everyone has finally stopped talking about Karl Rove‘s reverse psychology attacks on Hillary, and Obama is back to being the media‘s obsession. 

The bad news is that Barack Obama is back to being the media‘s obsession.  What media blogs have reported about the Obama family has not always been positive.  It has not always been entirely accurate, in fact. 

Let‘s begin with the big guy himself, Mr. Obama putting his world dictator in writing, he penned an op-ed for the “Miami Herald” in which he promises that his administration would allow Cuban-Americans to send money and visit family in Cuba with no restrictions.  He would also normalize relations with Cuba after Castro is gone. 

At the same time, his wife, Michelle, is adopting a higher profile on the campaign trail, emphasizing in her standard campaign speech that the making of a good president begins at home. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA:  One of the most important things that we need to know about the next president of the United States it is he somebody that shares our values?  Is he someone that respects family, is a good and decent person?  Our view is that you can‘t run your own house, you certainly can‘t run the White House.  [Applause].  We have adjusted our schedule to make sure that our girls are first.  While he is traveling around, I do day trips.  I get the girls up in the morning, get them ready, get them off, go and do trips.  I‘m home before bedtime. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now, the Obamas say that she‘s talking about her own household and has been doing this for a long time.  Why then did a Chicago newspaper and the Drudge Report website run the story with a different take?  The later with the provocative headline, “Obama wife slams Hillary?”

To help us get to all things Obama, as well as the rest of the day‘s campaign news, we‘re joined now by NBC‘s Political Director Chuck Todd.

Good evening, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, Alison.

STEWART:  This seems to be something Mrs. Obama has said many times before.  How did this all boil over? 

TODD:  There are a couple of ways that it happened.  It started with a “Chicago Sun-Times” columnist who heard the quote and thought that the talk of running your own house was a shot at the Clintons and wondered in the column if it was.  It did not take somebody long to flag Mr. Drudge about it and we all know what happens when that can occur.  It creates a stir and somehow, the conversation got out of control. 

Barack Obama was asked today on a conference call about whether his wife was talking about the Clintons and he said, no, she was—he went through this diatribe that she was talking about their own family and this is something that she says on the stump.  Regardless, this conversation looks like it‘s going to turn into, what are the family values of a presidential candidate? 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about her husband a little bit, his op-ed about reforming Cuba.  How is that going to play with voters in Florida? 

TODD:  It‘s interesting.  I think rank and file Cubans are going to like what he had to say.  They would like to see the travel ban lifted and to see the ban on money lifted.  The Cuban-American leaders down in south Florida are not going to like that.  They are going to feel like it‘s showing some softness toward the Castro regime.  So it‘ll be interesting.  He could lose the political leadership of south Florida, but the rank and file might be behind him.  It sounds like when he talks about Cuba, he is being daring, but what he actually said was not that daring at all.  It will be interesting to see how it plays.  Others are going to try to hit him as being soft on Cuba. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about other campaign news.  There is a liberal blogger that has filed a complaint against former Senator Fred Thompson, saying that the would-be candidate is violating election laws by raising too much money without running.  Maybe this guy has a point.  Shouldn‘t he just get in the race already or does he hold the worst presidential launch ever? 

TODD:  I think he is vying for worse presidential launch ever.  Wesley Clark had that monochrome from the 2004 campaign.  It looks like Fred Thompson is going to take that away from him.  It is surprising that it has taken this long.  Any citizen can file a claim like this with the SEC.  It didn‘t get it done.  The good news for Fred Thompson, the SEC will probably rule on this sometime in 2020.  If he makes it to the White House, it will be four years after his two terms.  The bad news is it piles on this stumbling and bumbling launch that the Thompson campaign has been about.  They have had three campaign managers, by the way, and they‘ve yet to announce. 

STEWART:  I was going to say maybe the third time is the charm, but I don‘t know what the fourth is.

Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News.  Thanks for spending some time with us. 

TODD:  You got it, Alison. 

STEWART:  The power of Dean, a rare Category 5 maintaining that strength when it made landfall.  We‘ll show you what it looked like as it barreled ashore and find out where it is headed, next. 

The anguish in Utah.  Families of the trapped miners left to wonder if they will ever have any resolution as rescue efforts virtually come to a halt.

You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The most powerful hurricane to make landfall in two decades has weakened, but is far from the team.  It is going to slam into Mexico in these days for the second time in as many days.  On our fourth story in the “Countdown”, it‘s Hurricane Dean.  It plowed into Mexico‘s Caribbean coast this morning as a Category 5 with sustained winds of 160 miles per hour, with gusts up to 200 mph.  It was not only the most powerful category of hurricane, it ranked as the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall since recordkeeping began in the 1850‘s.  Luckily, the path was far more fortunate as a sparsely populated part of the coastline near Marawal (ph) took a direct hit.  So far no deaths have been reported in Mexico as a result of the storm, 13 people have perished in the path throughout the Caribbean, including Jamaica. 

Dean weakened considerably after making landfall in Mexico, dropping to a Category 1 as it moved into the Yucatan Peninsula, but now with the hurricane over water again in the lower Gulf of Mexico, it is regaining some of its strength and could make landfall for a second time on Mexico‘s Emerald Coast early Wednesday morning.  More on that in a moment.

Amazingly, Dean is only the third Category 5 storm to make landfall.  The last time was 15 years ago when Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Florida in 1992. 

Now in the past 48 hours fun-in-the-sun Mexican locations, like Playa del Carmen and archaeological treasures, like the Mayan ruins in Tulum, have been trounced by the storm, though the damage is heavy, it could have been far worse. 

NBC‘s Kerry Sanders is in Chetumal, Mexico—Kerry.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Alison, it is really surprising.  I actually went through a Category 5 hurricane, Andrew, 15 years ago and it was something that I thought I would never forget.  Then again, here we are 15 years later, in Chetumal, Mexico, and again, we decided to go out during the hurricane early this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY:  We are now driving through Chetumal.  What you can see is some of the tree limbs that have fallen.  Fortunately, we are on high ground, so as I make a turn, you can see some of the water, but we are well above sea level here.  As the storm surge comes in—and it‘s a storm surge of at least 23 feet they say—we are well above that. 

Hang on a second, we‘ve got a power line in front of us, I think.  Yes, there‘s a power line right there.  That‘s really dangerous.  You can see some awnings that are down here.  Here‘s some of the Gulf.  It‘s picking up now. 

We are in complete darkness.  The electricity was knocked out here about two hours ago.  I see that there are power lines down here.  Let me hold the microphone out here so you can get a sense of what it sounds like out here.  It is 4:31 in the morning here.  The hurricane-force winds have been battering Chetumal for at least an hour.  One reason I‘m not going to spend too much time out here is the danger from things like this.  Coconut‘s, in these very powerful winds, can become projectiles.  Goodness knows, if it hits you in the head it could kill you. 

After the harridan passes, they don‘t want people out on the street because they‘re going to start cleaning this up.  That will scare you.  That‘s a piece of metal that—that‘s the danger.  Dean has come ashore, making himself known here.  You‘re listening to the Category 5 winds there.  That is extremely powerful.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDERS:  Tonight, Mexico‘s President Felipe Calderon has left a meeting in Ottawa.  He was meeting with President Bush and Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada.  He took a flight and he has arrived here.  He is either on the ground or will arrive here on the ground shortly to tour the damage tomorrow—Alison?

STEWART:  Kerry, is it possible that the Mexican president perhaps learned some political lessons from his American counterpart, Mr. Bush, who was, as we all know, slow to react to Katrina? 

SANDERS:  That‘s what folks are talking about.  Members of the Mexican media are talking about that and they expect to hear from the president, as well as the residents, who would like to know that they are going to get the help that they need.  Although I should point out, as bad as this hurricane was, and we did see some damage, it could have been far worse.  A lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief. 

STEWART:  I am glad you did not get beaned by a coconut, Kerry.  Stay safe down there.

NBC‘s Kerry Sanders.  Thanks a lot.

Dean could have an act two.  There could be a second landfall on a different Mexican coastline. 

Let‘s call in NBC Weather Plus Meteorologist Samantha Davies for details on its strength and expected path. 

What‘s up Samantha?

SAMANTHA DAVIES, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST:  Hey, Alison.  We just got the latest advisory in from the National Hurricane Center and, at this time, Dean is still a Category 1 storm, but the hurricane hunters are investigating right now. 

You can watch on the satellite imagery as it continues to track off toward the west, although, it is starting to veer off toward the northwest.  An eye is beginning to reform on here, although, it is still a little bit ragged.  As it continues to track off into the warmer waters, we are still expecting Dean to strengthen to a possible Category 2 storm. 

Right now, the winds in Dean are at 80 miles per hour.  They are gusting at 98 miles per hour.   And again, moving toward the west northwest at 20 miles per hour. 

We‘ll show you where Dean is headed.  By the time we get to Wednesday morning is when we are expecting a Category 2 status.  During the day on Wednesday, it is going to approach the Mexican coast, probably making landfall Wednesday afternoon—Alison? 

STEWART:  NBC Weather Plus Meteorologist Samantha Davies.  Thanks for the latest. 

Here in the states, it has become clear it does not take a hurricane to wreak havoc.  Two different storm systems have caused flooding, which has caused at least 20 deaths in the Midwest. 

Our correspondent in Des Plaines, Illinois, is Kevin Tibbles—Kevin.

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Alison, tonight, they continue to watch the Des Plaines River very closely and with reason.  As heavy rains continue to flood across the Midwest, today, it is Ohio‘s turn. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIBBLES (voice-over):  The heavy rains dumped more than nine inches of rain in some parts, forcing many from their homes. 

In Shelby, north of Columbus, the downtown became an island. 

Residents had to be rescued by boat and helicopter.

At the high school, water reached the goal post on the football field. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are not going to be able to play any games this season.  

TIBBLES:  A 7-mile stretch of Interstate 75 was swamped.  Motorists had to be ferried from their cars. 

Nebraska saw heavy rains and 80 mile an hour winds overnight.  That led to this exchange between a driver and a police officer.

NEBRASKA POLICE OFFICER:  You just drove around a road block with a marked cruiser with his lights on. 

TIBBLES:  In Oklahoma, the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin continue to cause flooding, leaving the llamas on this farm knee-deep in water. 

In Minnesota, where the flooding has claimed six lives, it was time to assess the damage. 

JILL KOHRER, MINNESOTA RESIDENT:  We watched the garage fall off.  That just came right down, just slid right down the side.  It just went down the middle of the river.   

TIBBLES:  For the long-suffering mid section of this country, it is not over just yet.  There are some sections of the Midwest that can expect as much as more inches of rain over the next couple of days—Alison? 

STEWART:  Kevin Tibbles in Illinois.  Thanks a lot.

Surviving disaster in Japan—we will take you inside that burning plane to hear what was going on during the mad dash to escape the flames. 

A different kind of madness in Japan—the good kind.  Japanese TV, how we wish we could watch it here.  Well, you can, thanks to “Oddball.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It was on this date 18 years ago that “Hero” star Hayden Pentier (ph), the cheerleader, was born.  If you‘re one of them men folk out there, you may already know that, because in some circles there‘s been one of those creepy Mary Kate and Ashley Olson countdowns to legality.  If you‘re like us, you know it is Miss Pentier‘s birthday because she is a great actress on a great show, a great show that is on NBC.  A great show that premiers on September 24th, when the new stories begin and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. 

That said, let‘s play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART (voice-over):  We begin on the Internet and reason number 4,803 that Japanese television is better than ours.  This is Darren “Professor Splash” Taylor, and he is about to break the world record for a  high dive in to shallow water.  From 10.7 meters, or 33 feet, Taylor will dive into 12 inches of water.  You heard me right.  Let‘s watch. 

Professor Splash appears to be alive and class is dismissed. 

To Jakarta, Indonesia, where the best part of waking up is cat poop coffee in your cup.  Indonesia coffee maker discovered the enzymes in civet cats‘ stomach break down proteins that make coffee bitter.  The beans go into the civet, down into the tummy and then they leave the civet.  Then their newly infused beans are then cleaned, ground and brewed.

The result, a rare and expensive smooth blend of Jo, considered an Indonesian delicacy.  If for some freakish reason you want to do this it at home, don‘t.  The civet isn‘t like your tabby cat.  It‘s not even related.  So if you go jamming coffee beans into your cat‘s Fancy Feast, expect a visit from the law,  deputy city from animal control.  This has absolutely nothing to do with the story.  It is just a really good picture of Deputy Kitty. 

Finally, to Cairo, Egypt, where this is what paleontologists are calling the oldest known human footprint.  It was found in hardened mud from a dig in Egypt‘s western desert.  Experts say it‘s at least two million years old and it‘s believed to predate the oldest human fossil, which is three million years old.  What‘s even more shocking is that scientists have identified the man who left the footprint. 

It‘s TV‘s Abe Vigoda.  Long way to go for an Abe Vigoda joke.  But who would not go with a long way for a little bit of Abe.  You don‘t have to Google it, he is alive. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  An amazing story of survival out of Japan.  An American relives being aboard that China Airliner plane that went up in flames around it.  Even the channel that made the original movie was caught off guard.  Who knew a high school musical could make some much money with good, clean fun?  so you won‘t embarrass yourself in front of a gaggle of teenagers?  We‘ll take you to the entertainment juggernaut known as “High School Musical.”

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day.  Number three, Sheila Drummond of Laten (ph), Pennsylvania, who on Sunday teed off on the par three fourth hole at the Country Club.  Drummond‘s shot went 144 yards, hit the pin, and dropped in for a hole in one.  Big deal, happens all the time, you say?  It turns out Sheila Drummond is blind.  It is believed to be the first time a blind woman has ever made a hole in one. 

Number two, the organizer of car wash in Shirley, New York, who had some pretty ladies hold up signs on the side of the highway, promising a topless car wash before only five bucks.  When titillated drivers pulled behind the big talk for a wash, they found topless firemen scrubbing their cars.  Dirty cars, dirty minds and a dirty trick, unless you‘re a chick or a gay man. 

And number one, the organizers of a dualathon race at the Scottish Loch Ness.  Competitors have to run 10 kilometers, then bike another 20.  And should the Loch Ness monster attack anyone during the competition, organizers have them covered.  They have taken out a two million dollar insurance policy in case Nessy attacks.  Imaginary sea creature, we‘ve got your covered.  Twist your ankle?  You are on your own, pal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  When we look back into the summer of 2007, it could be called the summer mother nature did not take off.  Earthquakes, wild fires, hurricanes, floods, one disaster after another.  Some with stories of rescue and bravery, others with less happy endings.  Our number two story, an underground drama that gripped for weeks, the trapped underground in the mountains of Utah—six men simply working in a coal mine. 

Three people died trying to save them.  Today, one of them was buried, a final form of mourning that most of the families may never experience.  Here is correspondent George Lewis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  So many people wanted to attend the funeral of Dale Black that it was moved to a canyon near Huntington, Utah.  Black, who leaves a wife and two children, would have been 49 Friday. 

ASHLEY ALLRED, DAUGHTER OF DALE BLACK:  My dad worked as hard as we knew he would to get those miners out of there and he never gave up hope. 

LEWIS:  He loved hunting with a bow and arrow and this is how his friends honored him.  The grief is shared by the families of the trapped coal miners, who are angry at mine officials for saying things like this—

BOB MURRAY, CEO MURRAY ENERGY:  I don‘t know whether the miners will be found, but I am not optimistic they will be found alive. 

STEVE ALLRED, KERRY ALLRED‘S BROTHER:  My brother is trapped underground and I am hearing that they are basically giving up.  That is unacceptable. 

LEWIS:  His brother is miner Kerry Allred.  Kerry‘s son says it is awful not knowing if his dad is dead or alive. 

CODY ALLRED, KERRY ALLRED‘S SON:  I picture my dad wondering where the hell are they, any time. 

LEWIS:  After the three rescuers were killed last Thursday, rescue teams were pulled out.  Experts say the mine is too unstable. 

(on camera):  In the small community surrounding the Crandall Canyon mine, the mood of hope has turned to despair as people begin to realize that the rescue attempt will likely end in failure. 

(voice-over):  Tonight, crews are drilling a fifth hole into the mine to look for signs of life, but they have not found any so far and they do not expect to now. 

George Lewis, NBC News, Huntington, Utah. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Then there are other stories of survival that just can‘t be explained.  A China Airliners jet that exploded in flames in Okinawa, Japan the other day minutes after an uneventful flight and a safe landing.  The speed of the disaster stunned everyone, but amazingly, all 165 aboard managed to get out quickly, including Pamela Caruso (ph), an American woman returning from an Australian vacation with her husband and two young daughters.  Caruso told her story to “Today‘s” Ann Curry, but still can‘t understand how everyone escaped. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAMELA CARUSO, AIRLINE FIRE SURVIVOR:  I was in the middle of the plane, just in front of the wing.  We were getting ready to get off.  We had our baggage in the aisle.  And someone yelled that there was a fire.  It was small.  It seemed to have gone out.  Everybody said, everything is OK.  It has gone out.  And then it flared. 

The entire front of the plane—through every window, we could just see flames. 

ANN CURRY, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Interestingly, people did not rush for the exits.  In fact, your husband stopped and helped a man with crutches get off the plane, which might explain why so many people survived.  How you explain this, that people did not panic? 

CARUSO:  The front of the plan was very calm.  I do not know why.  We filed off very easily and everybody just jumped off and ran.  I didn‘t look back to see how high the flame was, but it kept exploding and exploding.  We kept running. 

CURRY:  You had just gotten to safety.  How long did all of this take, in your mind?  From the moment you saw the first flames to the when you started hearing those huge explosions as you were running? 

CARUSO:  It was only a couple of minutes, two minutes at the most.  I

watching the footage, I can‘t believe we all got off either. 

CURRY:  When you look at the footage, when you see the explosion, what goes through your mind?  As the mother of two little girls, six and nine, rushing them off that plane, what could have happened.  You were sitting right above that wing.  You were sitting where it looks like the thing ignited. 

CARUSO:  I am very proud of them.  They went down that shoot and they just ran.  There were people who helped them.  They had to get over a fence.  Someone just lifted them right over.  Everybody helped each other.  It was a good moment for a disaster. 

CURRY:  Yes, interestingly then, it may have been a strong lesson in the goodness of human beings and resilience.  Pamela Caruso, thanks. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  That was Pamela Caruso recounting the accounts running from that China Airlines plane.  A team of U.S. investigators will inspect the wreckage.  Right now, officials believe a faulty fuel pipeline in the plane‘s right engine likely sparked the blaze. 

Michael Vick is public enemy number one for dog lovers across the country.  Reaction pouring in to his plea deal on dog fighting charges.  How long should the football star be locked away for? 

Surprising news out of Kevin Federline.  He has got a job, a real job, an acting job in the entertainment industry.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The old saying goes, how can you expect football players to be warriors on Sunday and a gentleman on Monday?  Well, you can expect it because we are humans with free will who make our own decisions.  Some people decide torturing dogs they buy to fight other dogs is what they want to do between Sundays.  Some people get to think about that in jail.  Our number two story, the man who may blow a 130 million dollar contract for his role in a cruel and dumb dog fighting scheme.

For Atlanta Falcons quarter back Michael Vick the next stop could be the PFL, as in Prison Football League.  Correspondent Kevin Corke has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN CORKE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Sources tell NBC News the deal with federal prosecutors calls for Vick to admit to having played a major role in a dog fighting ring.  In a statement, Vick‘s attorney, Billy Martin, said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback accepts full responsibility for his actions, and the mistakes he has made.  Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.

Vick faces up to five years behind bars, but prosecutors will likely ask for less time than that.  Ultimately, Judge Henry Hudson will determine how much jail time Vick serves. 

KEITH WATTERS, FMR PRESIDENT NATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION:  I think the judge has to ask himself the question, would he be here if he was an ordinary person, and to what extent should I weigh that as a factor for or against incarceration? 

CORKE:  It is a stunning blow to the National Football League.  Vick is one of the most popular players in football, a star in a league built on star power.  Now, facing the prospect of becoming the most celebrated active player in history to go to prison. 

ALAN ABRAHAMSON, NBCSPORTS.COM:  People are just sick and tired of watching athletes and celebrities get away with it.  Ask Paris Hilton, that is why she spent time in jail.  Ask Michael Vick, that is where he is going now too. 

CORKE:  The NFL has yet to rule on Vick‘s future, but in a statement says, “we totally the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told our office and the Falcons.”

Under the league‘s code of conduct policy, Vick could be fined, suspended, even banned from the league for life. 

(on camera):  Vick rose to NFL stardom after a stellar college career at Virginia Tech.  But here, as elsewhere, there is deep disappointment in the news of his apparent downfall. 

For Today, Kevin Corke, NBC News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  On to our nightly round up of a celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  What would a week be without a little K-Fed update?  He has a new dream job.  Yes, he is actually going to work.  The freshly divorced Federline will have a recurring role on the CW‘s “One Tree Hill,” even better, he will get to play a rock singer.  Acting is really about pretending, after all.

His character is also described as cocky, maybe not that big an acting stretch.  But lock up your daughters in the Tar Hill state.  Federline starts filming later this week in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the father of four is pretty much the opposite of birth control.  This season, the characters on “One Tree Hill” will age four years from last season.  Not sure how they will pull that off.  K-Fed isn‘t worried.  His own new found maturity speaks for itself. 

We are wondering, is Ryan Seacrest the only employee at Fox Television Network?  First we hear that the “American Idol” host will be the master of ceremonies at the Super Bowl.  Now he‘s getting the Emmy Awards.  Seacrest in.  He will host the 59th prime-time Emmy Awards next month on what else, Fox.  Network executives hope that Seacrest he will be a, quote, magnet for young viewers.  Good luck with that.  Since last year‘s show, hosted by Conan O‘Brien, was the second lowest rated Emmy Awards since 1991. 

Part of the problem was NBC Broadcasting put the program during the dog days of August.  Fox is looking for an uptick of viewers when Seacrest does his thing, whatever that is, on September 16th.

And maybe a case of trying to have it both ways when it comes to selling the O.J. Simpson book “If I Did It.”  Barnes and Nobles says it will not sell the books in its stores, but it will sell it online.  Barnes and Noble will also special order the book for any customer requesting it.  The company claims the decision is based on its belief the book will not sell very well. 

The book has been called Simpson‘s confession by the Goldman family, which won the rights to the book.  Borders Book Store will sell the book in its stores, but will not promote or market it. 

Come on, this is your chance to be the cool kid in class 20 years later.  We‘ll get you up to speed on the record-breaking pop culture phenomenon known as “High School Musical,” and its follow-up HSM2.  That‘s it.  Who knew you could make good clean fun and make so much money?  That‘s next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Our number one on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Zac Efron is dreamy.  That‘s a little cougar of me, considering America‘s teenage heart throb was born when I was a junior in college.  Efron, as any 12 year old will tell you, is one of the stars of the now record-breaking “High School Musical” franchise.  The most recent installment of “High School Musical,” which premiered this past weekend became the most watched basic cable program ever—ever. 

What is all the fuss about the Disney Channel‘s made-for-TV movie series?  Well here‘s the plot, boy likes to sing, girl likes to sing.  boy meets girl.  Boy and girl try out for high school musical and hey gang, let‘s put on a show in the barn.  So it appears kids out there—well, they like a show with no drugs, no sex, not even any serious making out. 

This squeaky clean show from the big mouse channel premiered with an audience of 17 million viewers, breaking that cable viewership record previously held by Monday Night Football on ESPN.  Take that big fellows.  Fans of the original had to wait 18 months to find out what happened to Troy and Gabriella and their friends, who seem to represent all corners of the high school cafeteria, the anti-OC if you will. 

HSM2, as those in the know call it, will be merchandised to the hilt, road show, fashion line.  Oh yes, “High School Musicals” three and four, rumor has it, on the big screen, at least one of them.  “Newsweek” associate editor Ramin Setoodeh joins us to try to figure it all out.  He Ramin.

RAMIN SETOODEH, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, how are you?

STEWART:  I‘m doing well.  OK, even showbiz pros had their doubts. 

Their reviews said it would strike the right chord with the movie mouse club fans, but it has gone past that in a big way.  Why? 

SETOODEH:  It has and they are probably saying OMG right now, because “High School Musical” is the biggest thing in the tween set.  Everybody loves it.  You can sing along to it.  It is wholesome.  It‘s fun.  It‘s entertaining.  You know what, I watched it on Friday night and I kind of had a good time.  I hate to admit it, but it was kind of fun for me, too. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the two main characters, Troy and Gabriella.  They are played by Zac Efron, who, as I said, dreamy, especially if you‘re 12, and Vanessa Hudgens.  What kind of work have they done before?  Have we seen them around? 

SETOODEH:  For the most part they have done small parts on other series.  For the most part they were unknowns.  The teen crowd didn‘t really know them.  The viewership that watched this made-for-TV movie last year that premiered on the Disney Channel did not really know them.  It was the phenomenon that launched them and turned them into household names among 12 and 13-year-olds.  

STEWART:  And it‘s had a little bit of a boomerang effect.  The young man there; he is in “Hair Spray” this summer, isn‘t he? 

SETOODEH:  He is.  Zac Efron‘s career really is on the upswing.  He is “Hair Spray.”  There is talk of him being in a remake of “Foot loose.”  He is going to be the next Michael J. Fox, when Michael J. Fox was a teen heart throb back in the “Back to the Future” days. 

STEWART:  Oh my gosh, he‘s going to have six degrees of Kevin Bacon if he stars in “Foot Loose,” one degree.  So, this is the second highest rated show of the summer for both broadcast and cable.  It‘s up against adult theme shows like a “House” and “The Sopranos.”  Do think this is going to revive interest in family programming in Hollywood? 

SETOODEH:  It could, to an extent.  You have to remember, the number one and number two most watched TV show is “American Idol.”  You can‘t get more family friendly than that.  Hollywood definitely is paying attention to the fact that it is good to target your TV shows to kids.  It is also during the summer, when “House” is in reruns and every other show is in reruns.  So “High School Musical” did have the advantage there. 

STEWART:  The first “High School Musical” was an unexpected hit.  We should say that.  But it has led to some serious merchandising this time around.  Tell us what we are going to see with “High School Musical” all over it. 

SETOODEH:  Believe it or not, there is now this thing called “High School Musical” on Ice.  After that, we can expect “High School Musical 3.”  Disney is scrambling to get everyone back together.  And this one is going to actually make it into theaters, they are hoping.  So this isn‘t going to be just a made for TV movie.  It‘s going to sell tickets and popcorn and millions and millions of dollars. 

STEWART:  So for people who are still scratching their heads at home, thinking, I still do not get it.  Can you give a comparison for another generation, what this might be like for the kids out there that are so devoted to “High School Musical?”

SETOODEH:  It is sort of like a “Grease” meet “American Idol.”  It is karaoke young teenagers in high school, sort (INAUDIBLE) -- takes place during the summer at a country club.  They‘re singing.  They‘re in love.  They fight and then they all get back together again.  It is a happy ending and they are dancing and boogying.  It is a good time for everyone. 

STEWART:  So just to be clear, no angst in “High School Musical 2?” 

No tension?

SETOODEH:  No, there is a little.  There is a little.  There is a break up.  There is a song that sort of resembles a little Justin Timberlake for the 12 year old set.  So there is just a little.  But it is pretty wholesome when it comes down to it. 

STEWART:  All right, a little wee bit of edge, got to throw in there.  Ramin Setoodeh from “Newsweek” Magazine, thanks for explaining it all to us. 

SETOODEH:  Sure, thanks for having me.

STEWART:  That does it for this Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  Have you heard?  There is going to be a Sunday edition of COUNTDOWN, at least for this week anyway, and it‘s not going to be on MSNBC.  Keith is getting called up to the big leagues.  Keith, COUNTDOWN Sunday NBC 7:00 p.m.  Eastern.  It will be live and there will be a test. 

I‘m Allison Stewart.  Thank you so much for watching.

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

END   

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