updated 9/19/2007 2:06:28 PM ET 2007-09-19T18:06:28

Guest: Rachel Maddow, Jim Moret, Richard Wolffe, Joel McHale

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

The stakes in the O.J. Simpson saga raised dramatically tonight.  Simpson charged with seven felonies including kidnapping after the bazaar Vegas room break-in.  He now faces life behind bars if convicted.  We will have all of the latest developments on the ground from Las Vegas and legal analysis of what it all means.           

The war in Iraq continues as a tale of two vastly different realities. 

General Petraeus today in London:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ:  The overall number of security incidents in Iraq has now declined. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Then there is a new Pentagon assessment.  It says there’s been a turn for the worst. 

Still, the president somehow managed to find a friendly crowd on the South Lawn. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And I ask the United States Congress to support the troop levels and the strategies I have embraced.

(APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Not as friendly on Capitol Hill.  Democrats aren’t buying what the commander in chief is selling. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRAT:  We are pushing our military to the limit. 

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRAT:  There’s no real change on the ground.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  A college student shouts wildly at Senator John Kerry.  The scene ends with the man being tasered into submission.  Did campus police go too far?                 

In the $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit against former basketball great-turned executive Isiah Thomas, he explains his personal code that comes to using slurs about women. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you find it also offensive for a black male to call a black woman a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? 

ISIAH THOMAS, HEAD COACH, NEW YORK KNICKS:  Not as much.  And I’m sorry to say.  I do make a distinction. 

STEWART:  You do, do you?          

And Pluto gone berserk.  Kids step on his tail, kick him in his plushy nuts. We’re not sure, but that’s one mad fake dog. 

All that and more now on “Countdown.”       

STEWART (on camera):  Good evening, everybody.  I’m Alison Stewart sitting in for Keith Olbermann, who is rapidly recovering from his emergency surgery.

Our fifth story tonight, O.J. Simpson facing the actual possibility of life in prison after some severe charges were levied against him today, seven felonies in all.  We will get the details live from Vegas in a moment. 

But the story has a whole other layer today, we need to look at day two, lockup Simpson style.  He’s still in prison and time is really flying.  I mean, literally.  Simpson’s Rolex watch may soon be in the hands of the Goldman family.  A judge ruled it to be so.  Putting the squeeze in the juice on those personal items, spied in photos on a web site.  Some of the pricey items were ones Simpson claims were stolen from him and that’s why we went to that Vegas hotel. 

The family of Ron Goldman asking a judge to order an appraisal of the items and rule soon on whether they should go toward the $33 million Simpson was ordered to pay the family in a wrongful death judgment. 

When we last heard O.J. Simpson, he was insulting somebody and their mother after bursting into that motel room.  Well, today, what do you know?  There’s more of that tape.  Let’s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER & ACTOR: Don’t let anybody out of here.

Any you—I trust you, man.

UNIDENTIFIED:  I just...

UNIDENTIFIED:  Bag this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.

UNIDENTIFIED:  Bag this (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

SIMPSON:  where’s you get all my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) personal (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

UNIDENTIFIED:  I bought it from Mike.

UNIDENTIFIED:  Mike sold it all, man.  I know.

SIMPSON:  Bag this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.  Bag it.  Bag it.

UNIDENTIFIED:  What did you bring the guns in, man?

UNIDENTIFIED:  They said they were friends of yours.

UNIDENTIFIED:  What did you bring it in?

SIMPSON:  (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  And we got to hear one of O.J.’s co-defendants, a golf buddy named Walter Alexander, who says somebody set up Simpson. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER ALEXANDER, FRIEND OF O.J. SIMPSON:  Well, because the whole thing was recorded.  You know, Richie was acting as if he was O.J.’s friend and was trying to do him a favor.  And all of a sudden we find out he was recording the whole thing.  And sounds like a set-up to me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  And last but not least, we got a glimpse of O.J.’s behind-bars lifestyle.  Notice the stylish orange slippers from the Clark County detention facility designer collection.  The day begins with breakfast in this cozy one-bedroom with all of the necessities.  Actually, only the necessities.  Notice the gleaming stainless steel toilet and sink combo.  A Manhattan realtor would suggest that could double as a cafe table.  The other half of the cell, a sleek bunk for lounging before he heads out to the workroom—I mean, yard.  A three-hour limit for him. 

Let’s get the latest from Vegas. 

NBC’s George Lewis on those unexpectedly stiff charges against Simpson and the three others. 

George, can you lay out the charges for us? 

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yeah, Alison.  It’s quite a list. 

It starts with armed robbery.  That was one of the original counts.  Now they’ve used kidnap with use of a deadly weapon, also burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, coercion with the use of a deadly weapon and conspiracy charges.  It doesn’t—it doesn’t matter that O.J. wasn’t holding the gun as long as he was part of the conspiracy and someone had a gun.  That makes him liable.  So he’s looking at very hard jail time, Alison. 

STEWART:  These were a lot more serious than I think anybody really expected.  We don’t even know about his legal team yet.  Any word when they’ll show up? 

LEWIS:  Well, his main attorney, Yale Galanter, is en route to Las Vegas.  He’s Miami-based.  He was in the air when these charges were posted, adding the kidnap charge.  So we haven’t had any reaction from him yet.  Earlier he was saying he was hoping to get Simpson out on bail tomorrow. 

STEWART:  We also understand the police are releasing other photos.  We’ve been concentrating on O.J. Simpson, but there are three other people involved in the case, correct? 

LEWIS:  Yeah, there are three other people who have been named.  Walter Alexander, Clarence Stewart and now a third man who’s just been taken into custody, Michael McClinton.  They’ve released photos of two white males.  One of them can be seen hauling off a box of the loot.  Those photos captured by hotel surveillance cameras, Alison. 

STEWART:  So we’re talking kidnapping, burglary, robbery, coercion, all having the words deadly weapon attached.  What are we talking about in terms of possible penalties here? 

LEWIS:  Well, the maximum penalty on all of those charges would be life in prison.  Remember, O.J. Simpson is 60 years old.  Any prison time will make him a very old man if he—when he gets out if they decide to throw the book at him and if he’s found guilty by a jury here. 

STEWART:  What about bail?  It’s supposed to be set tomorrow, and I say supposed to because he might not get bail, right? 

LEWIS:  Well, the first judge who reviewed the documents in the case decided that O.J. would not be eligible for bail because he termed him a flight risk with no known ties to the Las Vegas community.  It will be up to another judge to decide whether or not to grant bail.  That may be postponed.  The lawyers may have to argue that at a separate hearing.  Tomorrow’s hearing is expected to be very brief, a laying out the charges. 

STEWART:  All right.  George Lewis in Las Vegas.  Thanks for laying out the facts for us, George. 

LEWIS:  OK.

STEWART:  Also in Nevada is Jim Moret, attorney and chief correspondent for “Inside Edition.”

Good evening, Jim. 

JIM MORET:  Hi, Alison. 

STEWART:  So this kidnapping charge really sort of surprised everyone around the newsroom here.  Let’s be clear.  What constitutes kidnapping in Vegas?  So far we don’t think O.J. took anybody out of the room and held them against their will. 

MORET:  Well, actually that’s not true.  He may not have taken them out of the room, but there is a question about whether they were held against their will. 

STEWART:  Got you. 

MORET:  Everybody up against the wall, nobody moves.  They’re basically being told they don’t have their freedom anymore.  They can’t leave.  They’re being held on the threat of force.  And that basically is kidnapping. 

STEWART:  So location doesn’t matter.  Just because they went into the room and said, you can’t leave, now it’s kidnapping? 

MORET:  Well, let’s say you have a car-jacker who takes a car and there’s somebody in the car, they can be charged with kidnapping in that situation, too, even if you take them half a block and then let them out. 

This was a situation where you arguably have people, the memorabilia dealers held under the threat of force, drawn weapons.  That would constitute kidnapping. 

I’ll tell you why this is important.  This is a situation where you’ve got multiple defendants.  And it’s not unlike the Michael Vick case, if you think about it.  You’ve got a big fish, O.J. Simpson, that the government wants to get in this case.  The police.  You’ve got multiple defendants, each of them may be given all of these charges in hopes that they’ll flip and turn against O.J. Simpson. 

STEWART:  So that’s the key, to pressure one of these guys who might not be able to have access to a legal team like O.J. Simpson might? 

MORET:  Absolutely.  And I think that that pressure is going to be very effective.  Remember, in the ‘94 case, he basically had O.J. Simpson.  The only defendant.  And the jury determined there was not sufficient evidence to find him guilty.  Here you’ve got other people and they’ve got their own interests and they don’t want to take the fall for O.J. Simpson if they feel that they’ve been set up unfairly. 

STEWART:  So, Jim, the audio tapes are certainly sensational, but can you tell me how important they are in terms of this case? 

MORET:  I think they’re very important.  What they do is they establish a state of mind of O.J. Simpson at the time of this alleged robbery.  You hear O.J. Simpson in his own words.  He sounds very upset, very angry and very stern.  Don’t move.  What the hell are you doing?  This is my stuff.  You have his state of mind.  And it also establishes that there was a plan to go up there.  This wasn’t something that O.J. happened to be in the room and says, hey, what’s this stuff?  There was a plan for the men to go up to that room and take that stuff that O.J. said was his. 

STEWART:  Let me get your take on what’s going to happen tomorrow. 

Will we be able to see what’s going on in the courtroom? 

MORET:  It’s my understanding you will because there’s going to be one pool camera in the courtroom and it’s also my understanding that that camera, there are multiple cameras in the courtroom, so there should be various feeds coming out.  We’ll all be seeing the same thing, of course.  But it’s my understanding and certainly everyone’s hope that we’re going to see what happens inside that courtroom tomorrow. 

STEWART:  We did get to see a little bit today how O.J. Simpson is spending his days, a very detailed description of his digs.  Police released all kinds of information from the food, the decor.  In your opinion, is he receiving standard treatment at this detention center? 

MORET:  Well, you have to understand he’s a high-profile individual.  So it’s not unusual for a high-profile individual to be kept separate from the general population.  That’s for his own safety.  I think he’s being treated as every other inmate.  I don’t think he’s getting special treatment, but I don’t think he’s being treated any worse, either. 

STEWART:  He did have visitors, including a minister who gave him a copy of the Bible and a copy of “The Purpose Driven Life.”  And he asked for reading glasses.  Some of his family was not permitted.  His sister and girlfriend did not get to visit him.  Is that unusual? 

MORET:  You know, it’s hard to say.  They were here quite late, so it’s possible that they’re very stringent about their visiting hours and they’re going to hold firm to them and not give him special treatment.  I think that he will be entitled to visitation.  Clearly he’ll be able to see his attorney.  Attorneys get expanded visiting hours and they’ll see him and opportunities to see him before the hearing and after that hearing. 

And it’s going to be interesting to see.  You talk about whether he’s going to be given bail.  It may be so high that for all intents and purposes, there is no bail. 

STEWART:  And before I let you go, have we missed anything obvious about this with these new charges that you think is worth mentioning? 

MORET:  I think that the one thing to pay close attention to is the fact that the game has been ratcheted up quite a bit and that indicates to me that there’s going to be added pressure on those other defendants to turn evidence so that the authorities can this time get O.J. Simpson.  Because I think that’s what law enforcement has been after. 

You know, this isn’t a situation where he just happened to be in a—in a place—at the wrong place at the wrong time.  He brought himself to this location.  And cops are saying what he did was a crime and he should pay for that. 

STEWART:  Jim Moret, chief correspondent for “Inside Edition.”  Thanks for your legal analysis.  We appreciate it. 

MORET:  Sure, Alison.  Thank you.                

STEWART:  Another question of justice making headlines.  A student shouts out questions at Senator John Kerry and he just won’t quit.  Campus police bring the man to submission using a taser.  The free speech debate erupts once again.            

And drawing the line in Iraq.  As the president asks Congress to approve his plans for Iraq, the Democrats in a Pentagon report call into question the rosy picture.  You’re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  A disturbance on a Florida campus is making headlines.  There’s a taser, the kids on the ground, and police go too far or should the student have stopped when he was asked?  Difficult questions about freedom of speech in America.  That’s next.  This is “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Once you’ve seen it, you have to ask yourself, what the heck happened here?  During the question and answer portion of Senator John Kerry’s appearance at the University of Florida yesterday a student, who may have barged to the front of the line, asked several aggressive questions of the Senator?  Senator Kerry was clearly willing to answer.  But university police intervened.  And within two minutes of the police action, the student was tasered. 

In our fourth story on the “Countdown,” did a vocal, even angry student deserve to be shocked with 50,000 volts when he was surrounded by six campus police officers? 

This is 21-year-old Andrew Meyer just as police are approaching him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MEYER, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA STUDENT:  Why are you arresting me?  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  [Inaudible].

Ow.  Ow.  Ow.  You’re tasing me.  No.  Are you kidding?  You’re arresting me?  What have I done?  What have I done?  Get away from me, man.  Get away from me.  Get off of me.  What did I do?  What did I do?  Help me. 

Help. They’re arresting me.  You’ll be tased.  I’ll walk out of here. 

Don’t tase me, bro.  Don’t tase me.  I didn’t do anything.  Uw. Ow.

Ow. Ow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Mr. Meyer was arrested on a felony charge of resisting on officer but was released today on his own recognizance at the urging of prosecutors. 

The University of Florida is now conducting a formal investigation and two of those officers are on paid administrative leave in the interim.  The Florida Division of Law Enforcement will also investigate the arrest. 

Let’s call in the host of the Rachel Maddow Shadow, which airs week nights on Air America radio. 

Hi, Rachel.  Thanks for stopping by tonight. 

RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO SHOW HOST, AIR AMERICA:  Hi, Alison. 

STEWART:  On your first watch of this video, did you think, overzealous campus police that went too far or loud-mouth activist looking to make trouble who was dealt with? 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Both of those things. 

STEWART:  I’m with you on that one. 

MADDOW:  Yeah.  Obviously, you know, police have to worry about people resisting arrest and they have to reduce threats as best they can.  I want to give police a lot of leeway in terms of assessing threats and dealing with them as best they can.  I don’t think that’s an unusual take on it. 

However, this guy is a loud-mouth activist and activists are by definition loud-mouth.  And these are campus police.  And if anybody should have good training on how to de-escalate a situation that involves a loud-mouth activist, it’s campus police.  And I just felt like this shouldn’t have come as such a shock to them.  The fact that it escalated to a shock from a taser gun is—I think that’s why it’s getting so much attention today.  It’s almost unbelievable.

STEWART:  You spent a lot of time on the political scene.  You know that passions often flare at political and public events.  From your experience, how can police recognize the difference between that and someone who is posing a genuine threat or disturbance?  Shouldn’t they be trained? 

MADDOW:  Yeah, they should be trained.  And that’s why being a police officer is a professional job.  And you’d hope they’d be able to de-escalate a situation like this more—with more effectiveness. 

The thing that struck me is that, yeah, the guy was obviously agitated in his vocal presentation when he was asking those questions.  He’d barged to the front of the line.  He’d been asking aggressive questions.  Knowing that, knowing the guy was very keyed up, you should have training to deal with how to de-escalate a situation like that. 

All activism doesn’t seem threatening, just because people are excited.  People are going to be disruptive.  It’s part of what activism is.  This is not something that should have been a shock to them. 

STEWART:  Interesting, you look at Mr. Meyer.  He has a bit of a whole philosophy going on.  He’s got this Face Book page that says don’t taser me, bro.  He’s also got a website and referred to himself as the Andrew Meyer.  And he’s kind of into breaking rules, pushing boundaries, exploring surroundings.  Maybe he was just looking for the confrontation? 

MADDOW:  I think he was looking for the confrontation.  Absolutely. 

It doesn’t mean that he should have been tasered. 

And, you know, this is an issue that we’re talking about tonight and people are talking about all over cable news and all over the blog world because it is a—he was asking a political question.  It was a political atmosphere and a political environment in which this took place.  And so it immediately raises those free speech questions for us. 

But there is a broader issue about law enforcement here.  As police get less lethal techniques to use against people, what tends to happen is that it widens the net of people against whom—against whom force is used.  So when tasers were introduced in the law enforcement community, they said this will reduce the number of people getting shot.  It didn’t.  It just introduced this whole new group of people who got tasered by police.  It widens the net of people subjected to force and at the—not necessarily the free speech issue.  It’s the law enforcement issue.  But I think it’s important. 

STEWART: Let me ask you a question.  Senator John Kerry released a statement about this.  Purely opinion question, not from experience.  Just from your gut.  Senator Kerry released a statement about this and said in 37 years of public service, he’d never seen a dialogue end in this way.  He said, “I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption.” 

He said he wasn’t aware that the student was tasered until after the event and he did not know something else had transpired other than the student barged in light or something like that.  Now, should Senator Kerry have said something else, something else about this free speech issue, about the ability to have discourse and disagree with one another? 

MADDOW:  Well, the one surreal thing about the video, about the YouTube clips that everybody saw today is that at times you can hear this measured John Kerry speech tone over the—in the background.  And it does seem like he doesn’t quite know what’s going on.  But he is an experienced politician.  And politicians, like comedians or performers, they can deal with hecklers and with aggressive questioners.  So I think Kerry was right to say that he shouldn’t have—the kid shouldn’t have been tasered and that he could have handled it himself.  I think we all think that.

STEWART:  Rachel Maddow of Air America.  Nice to see you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  You, too, Alison.         

STEWART:  No taser involved in this video, but if Pluto packed that type of heat, we’re betting he would have used it on the kid.  Another guy in a big cute animal costume goes crazy. 

And speaking of animal epidemics, there’s another bear in a tree, everybody.  How will they ever get him down?  I hope the ranger guys watch “Oddball.” 

That and more ahead on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It was a quarter of a century ago today that Professor Scott Fellman discovered a new way of communicating.  The good professor says he was the first to use three key strokes in a computer message to express emotion via to keyboard.  It was a colon followed by a hyphen, known otherwise as the horizontal smiley face.  Happy birthday to the emoticon. 

With that, let’s play “Oddball.”  LOL. 

In Reno, Nevada, where we rush to the scene of another bear in the tree situation, watch closely.  This team of experts assess the problems.  Should we secure the bear with a net?  A trampoline?  Let’s get lots of boxes.  That will catch the bear.  Just make sure he doesn’t—well, whoops.  Apparently, the tranquilizers kicked in too quickly.  The bear was examined and released back into the wild where his friends will be sure to make fun of him for days.     

To Japan.  An epidemic of lethargy is running rampant through Tokyo.  Enter the dog oxygen bar.  Puppy uppers the natural way.  What better way to tell Fido I love you, than to seal him in a cylinder and then locking the door.  Next, set your timers.  Your pup will be blasted with pure O2 for 30 minutes.  Customers say their dogs just love that extra pick-me-up of air.  One treatment will set you back 2,100 yen, which converts to roughly a lifetime of puppy therapy for being locked in a cylinder.          

And finally tonight, to India.  It’s not the running of the bulls, but the running of the buffalo into each other.  Just like Pamplona, wherever there is danger and several large horned animals running around, there’s sure to be a crowd of curious idiots—I mean, onlookers gathered.  Believe it or not, this tango duet is helping to ring in the harvest season.  Unfortunately, their five-hour-long headlock, not enough to impress the crowd apparently.  Lost interest. 

President Bush was impressing the crowd assembled on the South Lawn today as he pushed his vision for Iraq.  One crowd not impressed.  The folks a mile or so away on Capitol Hill.  The looming face-off over the war.     

And another day, even more bad news for Britney.  After all of the trips to rehab and the allegations of substance abuse, the judge steps in to get to the reality on the ground and the life of La Spears.  Details ahead.

But first, time for “Countdown’s” top three newsmakers of this day. 

Number three, a dumb criminal in Turkey accused of a late-night robbery at an ATM.  He got through a crack in a window to get to the machine, but he couldn’t break the code to get in.  He tried and tried and tried to the point of exhaustion and literally fell asleep during his own robbery attempt.  The cleaning lady caught him catching some Z’s the next morning.  She called the cops. 

Number two, Carlos Camejo of Venezuela.  He woke up at just the right moment.  Unfortunately in very excruciating pain.  Actually fortunately in pain.  He felt a cut to his face, a cut to his face that was really the start of an autopsy.  Authorities thought Camejo was dead after a car crash.  Doctors said, hmm, he really didn’t bleed like a corpse should bleed.  Not. 

And number one, no one is asleep at the switch in the Seattle neighborhood of South Lake Union.  Some quick-thinking city officials realized they couldn’t call their new local train a trolley.  They decided to call it a street car instead.  Why does that matter to you?  Imagine the conductor shouting all aboard the South Lake Union Trolley, everybody.  All aboard the SLUT.  It’s cheap and easy.  Everybody likes to ride. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In the wake of the president’s speech on Iraq, not to mention the progress report on the surge delivered by General Petraeus, there’s one thing that has not surged, and that is public view of the war.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, despite the administration’s PR campaign, most Americans still want the troops to start coming home.  And despite the testimony of General Petraeus, a new report from the Pentagon says that security has taken a, quote, turn for the worst especially in southern Iraq. 

In last Thursday’s televised address, President Bush spoke of America’s long-term commitment in Iraq.  And the crowd says, eh.  According to a new poll from the folks at CBS News, a time frame of more than two years does not fly with most Americans.  A combined 72 percent want the troops home within two years.  Only 22 percent would accept a military presence beyond that.  And 68 percent of those Americans surveyed believe troop levels in Iraq should either be reduced or that all troops should be removed.  Similar numbers to before Mr. Bush’s speech. 

Meanwhile, despite the charts and other graphics General Petraeus used to bolster his claim that security has improved in Iraq as a result of the surge, a new report released by the Pentagon last night would seem to disagree with his assessment.  The latest quarterly report reveals that security took a turn for the worse in southern Iraq during August because of a rival Shiite militias fighting each other for power in the region after having relocating there from Baghdad to escape the escalated U.S.  military presence. 

That doesn’t mean things are hunky dory in Baghdad, either.  The report says Baghdad remains the most violent part of Iraq.  Now, General Petraeus went to the UK on his visit to London to give his report there.  He said that progress in Iraq has been, quote, uneven.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR MULTI NATIONAL FORCES-IRAQ:  Coalition and Iraqi security forces have in recent months in particular, and particularly since the so-called surge of offensives that started in mid-June, achieved progress in the security arena.  Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq, through this past Friday, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has now declined in ten of the past 13 weeks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  There was nothing uneven about the audience President Bush surrounded himself with at the White House today.  Members of military support groups were invited to picnic on the south lawn where Mr. Bush referred to himself in the third person and delivered a message to Congress. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The commander in chief wants to succeed.  And the commander in chief takes seriously the recommendations of our military commanders.  General Petraeus came back to the United States to deliver the recommendations he made to me.  Inherent in his recommendations is one, his belief that we’re succeeding, his belief we will succeed.  And I ask the United States Congress to support the troop levels and the strategies I have embraced. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The Senate, which is scheduled to debate this week on anti-war legislation, had a few messages of its own. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  When President Bush promises that a year from now we’re going to still have 130,000 troops in Iraq, we have to be very sensitive to the fact that we are pushing our military to the limit. 

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  It remains unfortunately and terribly clear that President Bush, after prematurely declaring victory, is determined to maintain our present failing course in Iraq.  That’s the problem here.  There’s no real change in the ground. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek.”  Hi, Richard. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good to see you, Allison. 

STEWART:  All right, the Pentagon’s own quarterly report shows that violence has taken a turn for the worse in southern Iraq.  Baghdad remains very violent.  Now, do critics who believe the Petraeus report was not as independent as maybe it should have been, do the critics have new fuel for their fire? 

WOLFFE:  Well, anyone who thought that General Petraeus was going to be independent, that the hand-picked general by President Bush, may have been a little bit naive or even a lot partisan.  You know, looking back at his comments and having been looking at all of the coverage of Alan Greenspan’s book, there may have been a similarity here between the old Fed chairman used to say things and people would interpret it the way they taunt. 

But beyond the spin here, outside of the political use of what Petraeus has said, this Pentagon report is pretty stark.  And the key phrase, I think, in the report is that improvements in security are not enough to win the counter insurgency.  You need political improvement and that has, in the words of this report, stalled. 

STEWART:  Now, public opinion over the war is pretty clear according to the polls that we mentioned.  The president’s speech and the general’s testimony really did not seem to sway the nation one way or the other.  My question to you is was that really the goal?  Was the White House expecting to change the minds of the American public or was there something else going on here? 

WOLFFE:  Well, they have spent a lot of time trying to move the needle here.  And it’s a surprise in one sense that things haven’t changed over the last month or so.  But if you look over the course of the year, there has been a steady movement of Republicans going home to daddy.  And on the crucial questions of is America making progress against the insurgents, the number of Republicans who believe that has gone from 50 percent, half the party, to 2/3.  And that’s really what’s helped the president and the White House hold the Republican block together in Congress and give them that veto-proof minority.  That’s all they’re looking to do here. 

STEWART:  Let’s talk about some options here.  The Webb-Hagel proposal, that would require troops to have as much time home between deployments as they are now spending in Iraq.  Today moderate Democrat Ken Salazar said he was considering a measure that would require American troops to be pulled back from a primary combat role by next spring.  Are we seeing a shift towards Congress gearing up for another war debate? 

WOLFFE:  They are gearing up for the war debate.  They’re digging themselves in, as you heard from those clips before.  But is this some kind of shift?  No, it’s not.  The only thing that could really make a difference is Democrats to say, we’re not going to vote for funding unless there’s a time table attached.  They’re just not prepared to cross that line.  They don’t want to have the stories out there of troops being denied bullets and ammunition and protection in the field. 

So I don’t think we’re going to see any kind of different outcome, any kind of different debate.  But, yes, there’s going to be another debate.  It is going to be the same mess and I’m afraid it looks like the same result. 

STEWART:  Now, in another developing story, the Iraqi government says it will revoke the license of a private contractor, Blackwater USA.  A lot of people have heard about them.  There was an incident over the weekend in which at least eight Iraqi civilians were killed during a fire fight.  What problems does this pose for the administration, both politically and practically? 

WOLFFE:  There have been stories about these contractors being trigger-happy and cavalier with civilian life for many, many years.  I want to be contrarian here actually.  I actually think it’s a good thing that the Iraqi government has finally stood up and said, enough is enough.  Rather than turning a blind eye to this simply because these contractors are protecting American facilities. 

So in a sense, it’s good that the Iraqis have found their voice here. 

But it’s sad that so many Iraqi civilians have suffered the consequences. 

STEWART:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  Thanks to you, Richard. 

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Allison. 

STEWART:  Isaiah Thomas, the former pro basketball star turned executive, is in a whole heap of trouble.  Somehow that sexual harassment lawsuit against him has now turned into a how-to guide of using slurs against women. 

And the ladies of “The View,” a discussion of evolution just goes all wacky.  You have to hear it to believe it.  And then probably rewind your Tivo to make sure you heard it correctly.  That’s next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Aretha Franklin had it right.  She sang about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  But apparently lady soul is not on the ipod of at least one big NBA executive.  Our number two story, New York Knicks head coach and president Isaiah Thomas, now the subject of a 10 million dollar sex harassment lawsuit.  His innocents or guilt is still to be decided.  However, Thomas may not have helped himself on the stand when he explained his philosophy about who can call a woman that word that rhymes with witch and why skin color determines its level of offensiveness.  I kid you not.  Here’s Tim Mitton’s (ph) report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIM MITTON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Isaiah Thomas came to court anticipating the cross examination of his accuser.  And it was the day’s story, until her attorneys changed the subject. 

ISAIAH THOMAS, NEW YORK KNICKS HEAD COACH:  I could have said I’ll F-ing handle it or I could have sworn, but never at her. 

MITTON:  Most prominent in her version, that Thomas repeatedly addressed her using the B word.  On video, the basketball boss tells his questioner he would have a big problem if a white man used that B word to a black woman. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you find it also offensive for a black male to call a black woman a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? 

THOMAS:  Not as much, and I’m sorry to say.  I do make a distinction. 

MITTON:  Minutes later, with the jury gone and proceedings over for the day, Thomas huddled with his lawyers for almost an hour before emerging with something new on camera. 

THOMAS:  Please don’t mischaracterize the video that was shown in court today.  I don’t think it’s right for any man to ever call a woman a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  I didn’t do it, and I wouldn’t do it.  Thank you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  All right.  From a guy who allegedly gave an unwanted loving feeling to the guy who wrote the song, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.”  Phil Spector did not lose in court, but he did not win.  A split jury in the Phil Specter murder trial, leading off our nightly round of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  Jurors unable to reach a unanimous decision, came back four times with a vote of 7-5.  They did not disclose whether they were in favor of conviction or acquittal. 

The judge immediately dismissed a motion to declare a mistrial in the case and ordered the jury to return to court on Wednesday to perhaps consider a lesser charge of manslaughter.  The legendary record producer turned coif freak show had faced 15 years to life if convicted in the murder and shooting of actress Lana Clarkson (ph) in his L.A. home in February of ‘03. 

And fall-out from the Britney Spears/Kevin Felderline custody battle.  Late news, the judge has handed down on order in the case and he thinks Britney has a problem.  The judge found that, quote, there is a habitual frequent use of controlled substances and alcohol by Britney, and ordered Spears to undergo random drug and alcohol testing twice a week.  The judge also directed both talent-challenged parents to play nice with each other, decreeing each party is restrained from making derogatory remarks about the other, either directly or indirectly, to the minor children.

The custody arrangement of Jaden James and Sean Preston remains the same, a 50/50 split. 

And breaking news from the set of “The View.”  They’ve run out of things to argue about.  This morning it was newly-minted co-host Sherry Shepherd getting into it with the girls, first about whether or not she believed in evolution, and then they rolled the bickering all the way back to 1492 and Miss Shepherd cast her doubts on whether or not you can drive a boat off the end of the Earth.  Oh, let’s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, “THE VIEW”:  That does not mean that you don’t believe in god.  But it does believe that you do believe in evolution.  But you don’t believe in it. 

SHERRI SHEPHERD, “THE VIEW”:  No.  And, you know, I’m going to disagree with you anyway because I don’t believe in evolution, period. 

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, “THE VIEW”:  Is the world flat? 

SHEPHERD:  Is the world flat? 

GOLDBERG:  Yes. 

SHEPHERD:  I don’t know. 

GOLDBERG:  What do you think? 

SHEPHERD:  I never thought about it, Whoopi.  Is the world flat?  I never thought about it. 

WALTERS:  You never thought about whether the world was round or flat? 

SHEPHERD:  I’ll tell you what I’ve thought about, how I’m going to feed my child, how I’m going to take care of my family.  Is the world flat has never entered into—that has not been an important thing to me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  I can’t believe I didn’t audition for that show. 

The verdict is on Madonna’s child rearing abilities, just perfect and she bakes cookies.  All related to her adoption of little David from the African nation of Malawi.  The social services officer from that country, Simon Chisale (ph), has completed his 72-hour visit with Madonna and family in their London home.  According to “The Mirror,” he said Madonna looked like the perfect mom.  She baked cookies, even wore an apron.  Even better, she is teaching all three of her children David’s native language. 

And there is a zoo room in the house dedicated to educating the children about David’s continent.  There was also evidence of domestic stability, reportedly, despite rumors that Madonna and her husband, Guy Richie, had gone through a rough patch.  As for Madonna’s carpets, they were, quote, like walking on live sheep.  Do what you want with that one. 

And is the parent of this boy going to be accused of being a good mother?  Don’t adjust your sets.  You’re watching an angry Pluto chase a little kid.  We’ll get to the bottom of the shocking video with Joel McHale of “The Soup” next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Every dog has his day or at least his breaking point.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Disney’s Pluto has achieved web stardom for losing his plushy temper.  Let’s get right to that videotape. 

Yes, another edition of when animals attack of the COUNTDOWN variety, anyway.  We can’t be sure when this ugly incident happened.  We assume the kid did something to provoke Pluto.  One website claims the little bugger kicked Pluto in his planets.  Otherwise, what could explain that big old dog just chasing the kid around and around?  Who is that heroic woman?  The kid’s mother or just a vigilante?  You know, all brave one style? 

Anyway, Mr. Pluto sure does back off.  Don’t look at me.  I didn’t do nothing.  Did you do see that kid?  Did you see him?  And sadly, this is not an isolated incident of people who wear furry costumes going a little agro.  Remember this Tiger hitting the kid at Disney World in January?  You could argue that incident was playful and harmless.  But are some of these furry creatures just getting a bad rap, while others pose a true menace to society?

To help us sort through of all this, we call on the host of E!

Entertainment network’s “The Soup.”  It’s Mr. Joel McHale.  Hi, Joel. 

JOEL MCHALE, “THE SOUP”:  Hi, Allison. 

STEWART:  All right.  I want to dissect this Pluto incident first.  Do you get the idea that even if the kid didn’t kick Pluto you know where, he probably did something to get the whole thing started? 

MCHALE:  Oh, yes.  The kid definitely started it.  The kid was actually hoarding a bunch of O.J. memorabilia that had originally belonged to Pluto. 

STEWART:  Exactly, if we really turned up that tape, we would have heard mother mumbling all through the tape, I think. 

MCHALE:  Oh, yes. 

STEWART:  Now the woman intervenes.  Pluto falls to the ground, maybe setting up a lawsuit?   

MCHALE:  Well, I think what happened was Pluto mistook that woman for Michael Vick, and he fell to the ground out of fear.  That poor guy. 

STEWART:  Exactly.  If he didn’t fight, it was going to be trouble. 

MCHALE:  Oh, yes.  It was going to be big trouble.  And Michael Vick has really let himself go if that’s what he looks like. 

STEWART:  Exactly.  He’s a middle-aged white woman now.  We don’t know what became of this particular Pluto.  But I’m thinking this goes one of two ways.  Either he gives all Plutos a bad name or he goes into folk hero status.  What do you think? 

MCHALE:  Folk hero, Allison?  Hardly.  As Bob Barker said at the end of every “Price Is Right,” always have your—always spay or neuter your 19-year-old’s community college drop-out who’s dressed up as a cartoon dog. 

STEWART:  That guy just wanted to do Shakespeare, you know? 

MCHALE:  Yes, that poor guy.  He’s in a union, though. 

STEWART:  True.  It’s hard out there for a felt-covered adult. 

Remember Tiger who slapped that kid at Disney World.  In terms of Tiger, was that a playful tap or pent-up rage finally finding its outlet? 

MCHALE:  Well, that guy was a serious actor, the guy in that suit.  And he was trying to get into his role.  Let’s face it, Allison, Tiger is a loose canon. 

STEWART:  Always has been.  You know?  I know there was always little tension between him and Pooh. 

MCHALE:  Yes, Pooh never knew what was going to happen.  Very unpredictable.  Also, Tiger was mad at him, because that kid was way too old to be getting a picture with him. 

STEWART:  That’s probably right.  That kid has acne. 

MCHALE:  Yes.  He needs to kiss a girl. 

STEWART:  There was a different Tiger incident as well.  This one, Tiger, was accused of touching a teenage girl’s breast.  The Tiger was found not guilty after the jury deliberated for about a whole hour.  The defense said that someone with such big, furry hands wouldn’t be able to tell what he was touching.  What do you think? 

MCHALE:  I need more information.  How big were the girl’s breasts?  Was there a picture you could show me, perhaps a courtroom drawing of some sort? 

STEWART:  No, but I can show you a big Tiger guy, in a suit in front of a judge.  That doesn’t do it for you? 

MCHALE:  That’s our legal system hard at work. 

STEWART:  There’s even more incidents regarding costume characters on Hollywood Boulevard.  You had a Chewbacca head-butting somebody recently.  What’s going on, Joel? 

MCHALE:  Well, look, these poor guys out there, I got to admit, when I go to Hollywood Boulevard and dress up like Ryan Seacrest, I become very irritated, sometimes even violent, because people always mistake me for Frodo. 

STEWART:  Joel McHale of “The Soup,” thanks for joining us. 

MCHALE:  Thank you, Allison. 

STEWART:  That’s it for COUNTDOWN.  Dan Abrams is up next live.

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

END   

Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user’s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.’s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,