updated 1/18/2008 2:48:21 PM ET 2008-01-18T19:48:21

Guests: Charles Swift, Maria Milito

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

Place your bets.  Place your bets.  A judge permits the so-called

casino caucuses.  Workers on the Vegas Strip, get to vote on the Vegas

Strip.  It‘s expected to be a boost to Obama with Senator Leahy‘s

endorsement and his comparison to Bobby Kennedy a boost to the senator from

the Illinois.  But, is this stealth comparison a boost?  Pick a president

who affected change and you pick -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in the way that you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I can promise you this, this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Among those who always used Ronald Reagan: Huckabee posed with Rick “man-on-dog” Santorum and Mitt Romney gets into a smiling knock down, smiling dragout, smiling verbal, smiling brawl with the reporter from the Associated Press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t have lobbyists

running my campaign.  I don‘t have lobbyists that are tied to my -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That is not true.  Ron (INAUDIBLE) is a lobbyist.

ROMNEY:  He‘s not running my -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Keep smiling.  We should not be smiling.  One of our allies is warning its own diplomats they could be tortured by this country.  Which ally issued the warning?  You will not believe it.

And what do you know?  American Idol may have jumped the ratings shark.  The content of shark?  Well, they‘re on shark number 437.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m not much of a talker, so I guess that I‘ll just stalk her.  I‘ll stalk her if she were a doggie.  I would walk her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now, on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON COWELL, AMERICAN IDOL JUDGE:  What the bloody hell was that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening, this is Thursday, January 17th, 292 days until the 2008 presidential election.  For Senator Pat Leahy, the correct Barack Obama presidential analogy is from 1968 when he, Leahy, supported Bobby Kennedy over Lyndon Johnson.  But it was the president to whom Obama himself compared himself and as the heads of Democrats and not a few Republicans swimming.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Two days until the Nevada caucuses:  a huge court ruling about them and the tale of two presidents passed.

We begin with the endorsement.  Senator Leahy, formally throwing his support to the Obama campaign today in the conference call with reporters and supporters likening his endorsement of Senator Obama now to his support of then, New York senator, Robert Kennedy against sitting Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson.  Although Johnson had great experience in Leahy‘s words and although this did not come up, although Kennedy ran after Senator Eugene McCarthy have startled the party by merely defeating LBJ in the New Hampshire primary.  Leahy also came out strongly against that lawsuit in Nevada in which the state teachers‘ union tried to shut down special caucus locations on the Vegas Strip.  Mr. Leahy‘s opinion matching that of a federal judge who today said, he will allow Nevada‘s Democratic Party to conduct those caucuses in casino hotels.  The at large caucus sites in the Las Vegas Strip had been approved by the Nevada Democratic Party in March of last year.  A lawsuit, however, not filed for another 10 months, late last week, two days after the culinary workers union had endorsed Senator Obama.  When asked about the timing by a San Francisco TV reporter yesterday, President Clinton bristling at the question and suggesting that the arching map (ph) of the Nevada caucuses would give the Strip caucus sites too much influence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  So, when you ask me that question, your position is that you think the culinary workers votes should count.  Anything should be.  It should be easier for them to vote?  And for any else in Nevada (INAUDIBLE) that‘s your personal reason (ph).  Second, when they do vote, their votes should count as much as everybody else, that‘s what the teachers suppressed (ph).  So, if that‘s your position, you have it.  Get on your television station and say it.  I don‘t care about the home mortgage crisis.  I all care about is making sure that some voters have it easier than others.  And when they do vote, when its already easier for them, their vote should count five times as much as anyone else‘s.  That is your position.  If you want to take that position, get on the television and say it.  (INAUDIBLE).  Some people in Nevada are old fashioned, they think the rules should be the same for everybody.  And everybody‘s should count the same.  I had nothing to do with that lawsuit and you know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OBLERMANN:  The “Las Vegas Sun News” had seen that reports of the influence of the at-large caucus sites has been greatly exaggerated.  Senator Obama saying in the wake of today‘s decision that believes his influence upon the Nevada caucuses had been greatly underestimated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Some of the people who set up the rules apparently didn‘t think that we‘d be as competitive as we were and tried to change them last minute.  But you know, I think the judge was clear that you can‘t change the rules six days before caucus.  And that any alteration would have disenfranchised maids, dishwashers, bellhops work on the Strips.  So, in terms of politics, we are confident of our organization on the ground.  But, in terms of policy, I think it‘s the right decision to make sure that as many people in caucus participate as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to our own Jonathan Alter, also of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.  Good evening, Jon.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m behind the curve on President Clinton‘s logic.  What was that about polling places or it is about mortgage crisis or was it about exhaustion?

ALTER:  I think it was about lowering expectations for Nevada.  But he is having some problems controlling his temper and controlling himself.  And there‘s a lot of questions being raised by a lot of Democrats who are unaffiliated and even some of support Senator Clinton about the role that he‘s playing.  It‘s pretty much unprecedented for a former president to get so involved in his parties primaries.  Look back to 2000 when George W.  Bush was crushed by John McCain in New Hampshire.  You didn‘t see his father and his brother as many bad things that they did in that campaign, you didn‘t see them jump in and start pummeling John McCain the way Bill Clinton is now doing to Barack Obama.  So, it‘s quite unorthodox, but it might be working because it‘s raising some doubts about Obama.  He‘s got a very large megaphone and a lot of people tend to believe him even when he doesn‘t have the facts necessarily on his side as on this case.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you mean by that - President Clinton, not Senator Obama?

ALTER:  Yes, he is (ph), president Clinton.

OLBERMANN:  The Obama-Clinton analogy from Senator Leahy, Kennedy-Johnson, LBJ‘s great experience, I have the greatest respect for Senator Leahy, I have the greatest possible respect for the memory of Robert Kennedy.  But Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency on the 16th of March 1968, President Johnson withdrew from the Democratic race on the 31st of March 1968.  There was not a great choosing of sides there, that was a two week period.  Was Leahy sort retroactively adding a little punch to the whole thing?

ALTER:  The division was between Gene McCarthy and LBJ and Bobby Kennedy was a latecomer to that.  But what he was trying to do there was very political.  He was trying to say, look, Obama is Bobby Kennedy.  Hillary Clinton by her own description is LBJ.  I was with Bobby Kennedy, I‘m with Obama now.  But what‘s interesting is that when quite a number of endorsements for Obama lately in the Senate, the most important one probably being Claire McCaskill, the senator from Missouri.  Then among governors, you have Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona endorsed him in the last week and those might even be more important than as John Kerry‘s endorsement.

OLBERMANN:  What are we hearing about these Nevada caucuses of one time voters, first time caucusers (ph).  Is the system going to work?  Do we know what‘s going to happen and why choose a caucus in the 21st century?

ALTER:  Well, you know, that‘s what basically what Bill Clinton was saying in that clip.  The kind of crazy map (ph) of the caucus he was talking about in Nevada.  It applies to all caucuses, in Iowa and all the rest of them.  In that sense, you know, some people in these other caucus states might have some quibbles with his (ph) comments.  It isn‘t one person to one vote in the caucuses.  And I personally favor the primary system.  Nobody knows what‘s going to happen.  And I talked to pollsters from all the candidates and nobody really has a clue.  There‘s too many moving parts in a caucus.  Part of what makes it fun for us.  I don‘t think the Obama team has done a good job of keeping expectations in check.  And this is very important part, the selling part, an important of the process and the Clinton folks have been better at holding down expectations.

OLBERMANN:  One other story.  The president of change that Senator Obama reference we‘ll get to in a moment.  But this other thing, I wanted to get to with you.  The BET founder, Bob Johnson apologized for the illusion that was thought to be towards the senator‘s drug use in his teenage years.  The one that he originally claimed he had never made it in the first place.  I‘m missing something again here.

ALTER:  Well, his original claim that he wasn‘t talking about drug use was ridiculous on its face and pummel for it so he had to back off but you know, the larger question here Keith, is you now had four different Clinton surrogates including her chief strategist who raised these drug issues.  And you can sort of excuse it when it happens once or twice.  But when four surrogates are doing this, you start to see a little bit of a pattern.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” thanks for coming in on a rainy night, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama meanwhile coming at his argument of change in a way that many might find alarming.  Senator Obama making a case in his infamous interview with the editorial board of the “Reno Gazette Journal” newspaper that President Reagan fundamentally changed the direction of the country in a way that President Clinton‘s style of incremental change did not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that you know, Richard Nixon did not.  And in a way that Bill Clinton did not.  He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.  I think they felt like you know, with all the excesses of the ‘60s and ‘70s and you know, government had grown and grown.  But there was much sense of accountability in terms of how it‘s operating.  And I think people just tapped in.  He tapped into what people were already feeling which is we want clarity, we want optimism.  We want you know, a return to that sense of dynamism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In other words, it might not be morning in America yet, but Senator Obama can see the dawn.  If Senator Clinton was the candidate to punch on the remarks that Senator Obama had made about his big picture hands-off management style and that same interview, make note that Senator Edwards today became the first to capitalize of an unexpected choice by any Democrat of Ronald Reagan as a personification of anything but retrenchment and reversal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS:  I would never use Ronald Reagan—whoever it was danced to the union.  (INAUDIBLE)  Damage to the middle class, to attack civil suit (ph).  (INAUDIBLE) and the biggest corporations in America or the incredible devastation to the environment while he was president of the United States.  I can promise you this, this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s use the mind of Huffington Post contributor, MSNBC analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Lawrence, good evening.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is it to Senator Obama‘s credit that he can see Ronald Reagan as agent of see change or is it to his discredit that he didn‘t see as a man who‘s change was rolling back as much of liberal America as he could in eight years?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think, at this point, Keith, it depends on what state you‘re in.  In the state of California, which is in play on February 5th, it was probably a smart move.  Independents in California can vote on the Democratic side in that February 5th primary.  Independents in California are very pro-Reagan, obviously, the California is a Reagan state.  We‘re far enough away from both the Reagan presidency and the Reagan funeral that he has become, Reagan, has become a non-controversial figure in most of the country.  Only in John Edwards side of the Democratic party would you feel comfortable condemning him as John Edwards is.  And so, but John Edwards is not a factor in these races coming up, except possibly Nevada.  And so, Obama could be showing you here Keith, the seeds of his California strategy for February 5th.  California will have the most delegates at stake that day.  New York is going to be very tough with Hillary Clinton obviously sending off any challenges there.  New Jersey will be tough even though Obama has Bill Bradley on his side for New Jersey, it‘s going to be tough for him.  California might be the place where he can score his biggest win on that day.  Positive mentions of Reagan here and there between now and then could help.

OLBERMANN:  But about Nevada, he just got a huge labor endorsement there that maybe critical to deciding that caucus series on Saturday.  And of course, Ronald Reagan busted the air traffic controllers to the point where it affected air travel for about a year while they trained new guys on the job.  Do we expect here something of a clarification by Senator Obama at least for the benefit of the culinary workers?

O‘DONNELL:  I think possibly, but I don‘t think those workers are

going to be all that sharp on the Reagan relationship to labor.  I mean,

look, Reagan‘s last presence in this country was in a week long funeral in

which he was absolutely glorified on this network.  There wasn‘t a negative

said about him on this network for a week and on every network that was

covering that.  He‘s not in a controversial place as I say, except for the

real left side of the Democratic Party.  And most of the, you know, you

have to look at the demographics of that union and the age group of that

union.  I think people under 40 aren‘t going to be that sharp about exactly

where Ronald Reagan was.  And that was what Obama was saying.  I also take

it Keith to be an extension of his comment about not looking at himself as

a chief operating officer.  Reagan certainly wasn‘t that.  Reagan didn‘t

put in a long work day in the White House, but he did created a Republican

vision of where this country should go and he pushed for tax cuts right

away for example and became the real leader of the Republican Party in a

way that no one in the Republican Party has forgotten.  I mean, he is the

FDR as he were (ph) of that party.  And so, you know, it‘s a very positive

reference for probably more than 50 percent of this country, significantly

more than 50 percent of this country at this point.

OLBERMANN:  And you like this for Obama if he gets the nomination in terms of the general election?

O‘DONNELL:  I think in a general election, it could be more useful.  He better not say it in a general election debate, but that just sets up John McCain on the Republican to say, I knew Ronald Reagan and you know Ronald Reagan but he definitely use it probably more effectively and very sparingly in a general election.  It is tricky as you point out with the culinary workers union.  It‘s very tricky to be using references like that at this stage in Democratic primaries.  But this is a candidacy that operates on principals we haven‘t really seen in play before in Democratic primaries.

OLBERMANN:  Lawrence O‘Donnell, contributor to the Huffington Post and we‘re very fortunate is here.  Many thanks, sir.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What will happen with the Democrats in Nevada?  Voters caucus there on Saturday and both parties also in South Carolina, the GOP primary. We will have all the results on Saturday night, right here on MSNBC.  Join us please as our primetime coverage begins at 6:00 eastern and 3:00 pacific.

We are not expecting an endorsement of Governor Romney by the Associated Press.  An unexpected and unexpectedly video taped war of words with a reporter who calls the governor on a fib.  You have got to see this.

And you may not believe this.  An American ally telling its diplomats to intervene in behalf of their country‘s citizens in American hands to look for signs of torture by Americans.  The name of this country will stun you.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Mitt Romney smiles all the way as an Associated Press reporter says he is not telling the truth about whether lobbyists help run his campaign.  Romney even confronts the reporter even as he‘s own press pack tries to break it up and it‘s all on tape.

Later: If you‘re not happy with America in 2008 blame President Delano Roosevelt.  That‘s the claim of an entrant in tonight‘s Worst Persons.  They‘ll be ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s rare enough to hear a presidential candidate interrupted and criticized to his face, where it still to have it come from a member of the mainstream media but rarest of all to see that candidate resume the battle while camera‘s roll.  But on our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: This is all exactly what happened to Willard Mitt Romney today.  Governor Romney speaking at the staple store in Columbia, South Carolina when an Associate Press reporter, Glen Johnson, called BS (ph) on a claimed that he‘s not tied to Washington nor lobbyists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I don‘t have lobbyists running my campaign.  I don‘t have

lobbyists -

GLENN JOHNSON, AP REPORTER:  That is not true.  That is not true. 

Ron (INAUDIBLE) is a lobbyist.

ROMNEY:  Did you hear what I said, Glen?

JOHNSON:  You said you don‘t have lobbyists running your campaign.

ROMNEY:  I said I don‘t have lobbyists running my campaign and he‘s not running my campaign.

JOHNSON:  He is one of your advisor.

ROMNEY:  He‘s an advisor and the person who runs my campaign is Beth Meyers (ph) and I have a whole staff, a deputy campaign managers.

JOHNSON:  And is Beth Meyers been on the plane with you?

ROMNEY:  Beth Meyers has been on the plane with me and Beth Meyers is running my campaign, absolutely.

JOHNSON:  Ron is just there to a window dressing?  He‘s (INAUDIBLE).

ROMNEY:  Ron is a wonderful friend and advisor.  He‘s not paid.  He‘s an advisor like many others.  But I do not have lobbyists running my campaign.  Glen, I appreciate you think it‘s funny but Ron (INAUDIBLE) has not even in a senior strategy meetings of our campaign.

JOHNSON:  Who does have lobbyists running their campaign?

ROMNEY:  Excuse me Glen; he‘s not on our senior strategy meetings of our campaign.

JOHNSON:  Was he in debate sessions at all, anytime?

ROMNEY:  (INAUDIBLE) has ever been gone to a debate session?  Sure.

JOHNSON:  Is that a strategic?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  One more question.

ROMNEY:  Let me go back and complete the point I was making.  My campaign is not based on Washington lobbyists.  I haven‘t been in Washington.  I don‘t have lobbyist elbows, that are arguing for one industry or another industry.  And I do not have favors I have to repay to people who‘ve been in Washington for years nor scores I have to settle.  And I‘m going to Washington to make things happen.  And somebody doesn‘t put the kind of financial resources that I put into this campaign and personal resources I put into this campaign in order to do favors for lobbyists.  I‘m going to Washington to help the American people and that‘s what the campaign is all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s when Eric Finnstrom, Romney‘s communications director called an abrupt halt to the event.  But wait, there‘s more.  It seems the candidate wanted to pursue it a little further.  Instead of leaving he turnaround and confront Mr. Johnson, getting visibly angry, but smiley before his press guy weighed in again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON:  Ron Kaufman.  He‘s a lobbyist -

ROMNEY:  He‘s not running my campaign.

JOHNSON:  He is helping you make you make strategic decisions about your campaign.

ROMNEY:  Glen.  Glen.

JOHNSON:  There‘s another lobbyist involved in your senior management too.

ROMNEY:  Listen to my words.  Alright?  Listen to my words.  I said

-

       

JOHNSON:  But that‘s semantics, though.  Running your campaign and giving you advice?  He‘s on the plane.

ERIC FEHRNSTROM:  Hey, Glen.  Save your argument.

JOHNSON:  He approached me Eric, OK?

ROMNEY:  Let‘s talk.  Let‘s you and I talk.]

JOHNSON:  I‘d be glad to talk.  Anytime.

FEHRNSTROM:  Glen, you should act a little more professionally instead of being argumentative with the candidate.

JOHNSON:  No, he shouldn‘t stand there and tell total falsehoods.

FEHRNSTROM:  So, now, what he‘s telling is total falsehoods?  Save your opinions.  Save your opinion.

JOHNSON:  It‘s not an opinion, it‘s a documentable fact.  A senior advisor is a registered lobbyist.

FEHRNSTROM:  Don‘t be argumentative with candidate.

BYSTANDER:  No you‘re not, you‘re very rude.  I‘m not with the campaign, I‘m just a bystander by , but I think you‘re rude and ugly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE)  Charming.  About an hour later, onboard the campaign plane, we understand that Mr. Romney walked back to the press section and still smiling told Mr. Johnson, quote, “A little later come on up.”  I‘m sure that went well.  Mr. Johnson‘s claims of a Romney campaign contends that Ron Kaufman is just an advisor, NBC news character rises him as a senior strategist who often travels with the governor and advises before debates.  Kaufman also lobbies for Datco Worldwide (ph), one of the biggest lobbying firms.  He‘s not the only lobbyist aiding team Romney, Barbara Comstock who lobbied for Blankroom (ph) and spearheaded a Scooter Libby defense panel is always a senior Romney campaign advisor.  Lesson, when it staples smile, buy some postage (ph) and get out.

Speaking of Washington ties, Senator McCain is dropping hints that Senator Joe Lieberman may be more than just a good friend and campaign trail buddy.  He could be his running mate because you know, that work so well for Al Gore.  While, Lieberman has not said whether or not he‘s interested in the position, he said he‘s not in fact, his continued presence next to McCain in Michigan and New Hampshire had already sparked rumors of a vice presidential possibility.  Rumors McCain told supporters at a South Carolina steakhouse that quote, “He‘d be a great partner in any endeavor including joining America together.”  Great, nowhere near a frontrunner and already we‘re hearing about vips (ph).

Governor Huckabee meantime sticks to the tried and true Republican trick of equating gay marriage to (INAUDIBLE) and pedophilia.  Playing a dogs leg on the (INAUDIBLE) worst persons in the world tonight.

And: You, you in Rome.  You dropped your ball.  Ironically, this happens the same day the co-founder of the company brought us Superbowls passes away.  All that ahead but first the latest in the administration‘s 50 scandals - Bushed.  Number three: Three rewriting history-gate.  Karl Rove addressing the Republican National committee winter meeting in Washington.  Lambasting the Democrats, playing the terror card, the usual crap, 3,200 words in his speech, not one was the name Bush.

Number two: Surge-gate.  Even more evidence that the claims the surge has worked militarily and politically are other nonsense.  Even the “Wall Street Journal” knows the manpower strain the surge caused to the entire U.S. military quoting the army chief of staff, General George Stacey (ph) who says the surge has sucked all the flexibility out of the system and we need to find a way of getting back into balance.

And number one: Veterans-gate.  We‘ve already seen how the administration treated Iraq and Afghanistan that‘s at Walter Reid.  Now, from Ft. Carson‘s third brigade combat team from Colorado, an e-mail from the team surgeon that quote, “We have been having issues reaching deployable strength and thus have been taking along some borderline soldiers who we would have otherwise had left behind for continued treatment.  Specifically, a master sergeant named Danny Nelson (ph), who‘s leg and foot was so injured that at home, he was issued a permit for a handicapped parking space who‘s doctor said he was not permitted to carry more than 20 pounds he was sent back to service in Kuwait.  Unlike Danny Nelson or the heroes, the men who ordered them back in the military and outside of it are the ones who accused those who criticized them of aiding the troops of being anti-American.  And frankly, those politicians, those commentators and those senior officers can go to hell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  On this date in 1929, Jake the Snake was born in Quebec.  Jacques Plante, most innovative of hockey‘s goaltenders, he made leaving the goal crease, wearing a mask, even demonstrably celebrating a regular game victory, all made him familiar part of the sport.  But, perhaps, most intriguingly, while starring for Montreal in the ‘50s, he claimed to be allergic to Toronto.  Evidently, this cleared up because he played for Toronto‘s Maple Leafs for three seasons in the ‘70s.  On that note, let‘s play “Oddball”. 

We begin in Rome where a bunch of balls are storming the city.  Weeeee!  Hundreds of thousands of SuperBalls were released atop the city‘s famous Spanish Steps, one of the approaches by a group unsatisfied with the current state of politics in Italy—the current state of politics that apparently hates super balls.  Police and sanitation workers spent an entire morning cleaning up the mess, although some of the balls did escape capture and were later seen visiting the Colosseum and attending mass at the Vatican. 

In an aquarium in Hungary, an immaculate shark conception: 7-year-old whitetip reef shark gave birth to a baby shark without ever having come in contact with a male shark in her life.  Aquarium staff first thought the baby shark was placed in the tank as a joke then they questioned Carl the night janitor and, finally, they arrived at a scientific explanation called parthenogenesis where an egg divides without being fertilized.  Scientists say instances of the non-sexy time reproduction are extremely rare.  It has now become the leading theory on how we got a Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes offspring.

Finally, in the English city of Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire where the scarecrow from the “Wizard of Oz” has really let himself go.  This “Blair Witch Project”-looking guy is actually called the Straw Bear.  The headliner in the town‘s Straw Bear Festival which has been held each January since 1980.  The bear leads a pagan procession featuring a bear-handler and several dance troupes through the town streets.  Along the route, the bear traditionally gets friendly with some of the ladies, bear-hugging them, as it were, to the ground and only releasing them if they kiss the bear.  This woman started her own tradition of taking the bear and the jimmies—we don‘t have tape of that. 

What kind of shape is this country actually in if an ally of ours or one of its diplomats says we might torture its citizens?  You might not believe which country has done this but there is hope.  For the first time ever, the premier of the “American Idol” drew fewer viewers than in previous years for their Percival-headed jeeha (ph).  Those stories ahead but, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World”.

Number three, best ante: Janine Decoff of Ewing, New Jersey, who got out of a jam caused by her dangerously crowded garage by selling the object which was taking up the most space in it, drew an animal-control officer.  The object duly leaving store in the garage was a cow.  The officer bought it, took it to his farm.  Ms. Decoff says, in violation of the law and the admonition don‘t have a cowman, she got the cow by winning it in a card game. 

Number two, best indication you‘ve arrived: Quarterback Eli Manning of New York Giants.  He says his favorite way to relax is to watch reruns of “Seinfeld”.  The TV station in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in which Manning will play Green Bay‘s Packers Sunday for a berth in the Super Bowl, usually runs “Seinfeld” on Saturday afternoon.  It says it will pre-empt Seinfeld, though, to deny Manning his means of relaxation.  If they are that desperate to throw Eli Manning, Eli Manning has arrived.

And, number one, best life lived well: Richard Knerr has died, co-founder of Wham-O, the toy company.  He and his best friend Spud Melin who said they loved goofing off and having fun, saw and marketed the Hula Hoop and the SuperBall and the Frisbee.  Mr. Knerr suffered a stroke and died suddenly at 82 years old.  No truth to rumors that his remains will be cremated, formed into a disc, and then accidentally tossed off onto a neighbor‘s roof where nobody will find them until next play.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sometimes, a nation‘s descent into moral depravity is marked by a sudden event --  a coup, for instance.  Other times, the sign poster smaller, subtler increments.  Such as the third story on our COUNTDOWN tonight.  CTV in Canada has obtained a list that Canadian government has given to its diplomats, instructing them how to deal with Canadian prisoners in countries that use torture—countries, the list says, that include Syria, Iran, and the United States of America.  The list was generated after the U. S. seized the Canadian Maher Arar in New York in 2002 and sent him to Syria where he was tortured for a year, based on false information.  Also in 2002, a 15-year-old Canadian, Omar Khadr was taken to the Guantanamo Bay which is also included in the Canadian torture list.  His lawyers say he, too, has been tortured—something the U. S. denies.  Putting aside the fact, America has held that teenager captive without a trial and that no country has held anyone younger than 18 responsible for war crimes ever before.  Still, we are left to confront the fact that we now live in a world where diplomats are instructed on how to detect whether their citizens in our custody have been tortured, specifically, subjected to forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation, among other things.  Diplomats from Canada.  Let‘s turn now to Charles Swift, formerly of the Navy‘s JAG Corps where he served as defense counsel in the landmark U. S.  versus Hamdan case.  Commander Swift, once again, thanks for your time tonight. 

LT. COMMANDER CHARLES SWIFT (RET.), U. S. NAVY JAG CORPS:  Thank you for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What‘s the significance of this list, especially given that it‘s Canada‘s list and, especially if other countries follow suit in creating lists like this with us on it?

SWIFT:  The biggest significance right now is it‘s visible evidence of something that former Secretary of State Colin Powell had warned of, the current secretary of state has warned of, the secretary of defense has warned of.  That Guantanamo Bay and our interrogation practices are making it hard for them to do their jobs.  When they go into a diplomatic meeting, they have to deal with this.  It becomes the first thing on the agenda.  And it starts to jeopardize cooperation in intelligence-gathering, police work, and ultimately, potentially, extradition and other issues.  So what it is, is it‘s showing the visible evidence that what Colin Powell told the country when he said we need to close Guantanamo Bay today is accurate because, if Canada is putting us on the list, one of our closest allies with whom we‘ve always shared a common heritage, we‘re in trouble diplomatically and they are not kidding around.  And the longer we persist, the worse things get. 

OLBERMANN:  The U. S., obviously, the administration has denied torturing Omar Khadr or anybody else.  Do you have an answer to this?  Why don‘t those denials hold water with the Canadians?

SWIFT:  Well, in the world community, it‘s starting to become like Iran denying they have a nuclear weapons program.  The question always is, well, let us inspect it.  Let us take a look at it.  The country replies, no, no, that‘s national security.  We‘re not going to do that and people become suspect.  Of course, we have reports that are credible that waterboarding, that forced nudity, and prolonged isolation are what we‘re doing.  And, while we may parse this legally, they are not parsing it legally in Europe; they‘re not parsing it legally in Canada; they‘re not parsing it legally in Great Britain and our other allies.  They call it for what it is: torture.  And, this debate, which for us, seems to continue politically in Congress is over in Europe.  It‘s over in Canada.  We‘re losing it there, it‘s done. 

OLBERMANN:  Commander, in case anybody hasn‘t got the message yet, morality aside, purely on the basis of effectiveness, why shouldn‘t the U. S.  use torture in interrogations?

SWIFT:  Well, two reasons.  One, it doesn‘t work.  For all those who say, “Well, I got information.”  You have no idea as to its credibility.  You forced the information, now, you have no idea whether it was true or not.  Number two is  when you use these tactics, you lose your friends.  And friends are what‘s essential in combating a problem like terrorism.  The United States doesn‘t want to be the only nation left with combating terrorism and be on the outside.  We have to have our friends and Canada is one of our closest.  The Norwellian(ph) bomber came from Canada?  We share a common border.  We need cooperation.  It‘s a common problem that we have to work together on.  And, if they are placed in a position where politically Canada cannot work with us, we‘re in much more danger than we were before. 

OLBERMANN:  This week, we heard from Congress that the CIA‘s Clandestine Operation Director Jose Rodriguez had been told, “Don‘t destroy the Bangkok station chief‘s tapes,” in which two of the suspected Al-Qaeda members, including Abu Zubaida, were subjected to waterboarding.  Rodriguez denies that claim.  All of these reportedly, at least in part, to prevent the world from actually seeing Americans torturing captive men.  Does destroying our tapes mitigate how we‘re seen overseas or does it push us farther into the realm of the rogue nations status?

SWIFT:  I think it pushes us further into the realm.  This is a case where the crime is worse than the cover up.  But, in the worst part, we‘re not going to regain credibility.  I think, the timing of that particular species, when one gets down to Guantanamo and the trials, the tapes were destroyed weeks after the D. C. circuit, cleared commission‘s three start.  Now, the Supreme Court took the case and stopped the commissions eventually.  But, there was real concern in the CIA that the tapes would eventually be shown down and the commissions and be ruled as torture.  So, one of the problems that continues to this whole part, is that we can‘t come clean.  And, as long as we can‘t come clean, the worst will be thought of us. 

OLBERMANN:  Charles Swift, former Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, now law professor at Emery University.  Professor, great thanks for your time again. 

SWIFT:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Once again, there‘s Britney Spears this police there arrests, she‘s still free.

And, what a brave warrior, back from the hospital and only complaining about it every hour.  He‘s now placed the blame for his ordeal and everything else in this country on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  “Worst Persons” next on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Mass arrests, involving Britney Spears, following four arrests.  With almost all its competition on strike, what does it mean that the first episode of “American Idol” lost 11 percent of its audience from last year?  And the Minnesota congresswoman who actually thinks it‘s good so many of  her constituents have to work two jobs to survive versus Glenn “FDR ruined this country” Beck and Mike Huckabee—oh word, what now?  “Worst Persons” next on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our nightly look at celebrity and entertainment begins with Britney Spears stumbling on a new concept: a hybrid cop show, half dragnet, half we know 911.  A worker on a night shift, when he spotted a white Mercedes surrounded by a phalanx of LAPD‘s finest—they stopped Spears and a swarm of paparazzi recklessly pursuing her at high speed, she said she thought one of them tried to run her off the road.  I told her just the taxman.  Four of the photographic perpetrators were booked and charged with reckless driving and not leaving Britney alone, you bastards!  Spears slowly, carefully driving away from the cops, without turning on her headlights, “Bye, officers!”

It was nice while it lasted but the organization we‘ll call FOOJ—Friends of O. J.—has done it again.  They sprang him from jail.  Five of Simpson‘s buddies, managing to raise enough cash to bail him out in Vegas after a five-day stay, spawned his problems again after arriving back home today after he was hustled to Nevada for trying to contact his co-defendant in his armed robbery trial, one of his overly generous friends telling reporters he was really happy he got out, and Simpson, for the first time ever, asked him to pray for him.  Yes, that ship probably sailed. 

With the writers‘ strike, there‘s nothing on TV and “American Idol” first show of the new season down 11 percent!  That‘s ahead but, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World”.  The bronze to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachman, finally doing a Republican economic stimulus plan that gives tax breaks to corporations.  Hey, it worked for Herbert Hoover.  But listen to Ms. Bachman: “I‘m so proud to be from the state of Minnesota.  We‘re the workingest state in the country and the reason why we are what we are is that we have more people that are working longer hours.  We have people that are working two jobs.”  Our slave labor produces better pyramids than the slave labor in any other state in the Union.

The runner-up: Glenn Beck.  Now insisting that the national debt and healthcare issues can be laid at the feet of President Franklin Roosevelt.  “I love my grandfather,” he said, “but I just want to slap him across the face for liking FDR.  I think that was one evil son of a bitch.  He was the first one to go in and say, hey, let‘s nationalize healthcare and energy and everything else.”  How about that Second World War had not turn out for you, he loses that Second World War and, you know what?  You lose your phony analogy about Muslims and a Third World War.  Plus, that nightmare hospital stay you‘ve milked for some publicity?  That was not because of nationalized healthcare, that was because of some lousy hospital.  Seriously, they were glad you were recovering.  And, it‘s nice to see that the part of your body you had work on is back to 100 percent.

But our winner, Gov. Mike Huckabee.  First, he wanted the Constitution revised to line up with the Bible, a construction so bizarre that even an interviewer with beliefnet.com said, quote, “some people would consider that a kind of dangerous undertaking, particularly, given the variety of biblical interpretations.”  To which the huckster answered, he doesn‘t get any radical, quote, “the radical view is to say that we‘re going to change the definition of marriage so that it could mean two men, two women, a man and three women, a man and a child, a man and an animal”—here we go—

“two men getting married is the same as pedophilia or bestiality.”  The same blinkered irrationality that got Rick Santoro running out of the Senate!   But, a man and three women?  Nice try by-swipe at the Romney family tree!  Governor Mike Huckabee, today‘s “worst person in the world”!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Despite the requisite encouragement of misfits, freaks, and maniacs, including a would-be stalker, “American Idol” premiered this week to ratings markedly decreased from the year before.  The first time that has happened in the show‘s history and it reflects the kind of “Idol” or even TV fatigue that might prompt producers to take more drastic measures like encouraging Paul Abdul to actually mount a trapeze.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the show not dead yet, still got plenty of eyeballs -- more than 33 million people tuned in for the “Idol” opener, making it easily the most watched telecast for this season—but it was an 11 percent decline from last season‘s premier and a 13 percent drop in the treasured demographic of younger viewers.  The definitive highlight, the dude who rendered a song especially for Paula Abdul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN IDOL CONTESTANT 1 (singing):  I‘m not much of a talker, so I guess that I‘ll just stalk her.  And I‘ll stalk her if she were a doggie, I would walk her.  If she were a blackboard, I would chalk her.  If I were Columbo, I‘d Peter Falk her...

RANDY JACKSON:  Oh, come on!

CONTESTANT:  So, I‘ll just stalk her...

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  While Ms. Abdul laughed, Mr. Cowell asked that the gentleman be escorted out.  Another contestant, this one obsessed with Mr.  Cowell himself, also wrote his own little ditty.

UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN IDOL CONTESTANT 2 (singing):  Brothers till the end of time, together forever till the end of time.  I am your brother, your best friend forever, singing the songs, the music that you love.  The brothers to the end of time; together or not you‘re always in my heart. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  You need to hear that much of that?  Still among the dwindling faithful, the midday host of New York‘s classic rock station, Q104.3, our “American Idol” princess, Maria Milito.  Hi. 

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3 RADIO SHOW HOST:  Come on, that‘s funny television. 

That‘s hysterical.

OLBERMANN:  This could be last year‘s and I wouldn‘t have any idea that it wasn‘t last year‘s stuff. 

MILITO:  I know.  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  Are we now in that shark, “American Idol”?

MILITO:  Stop it!  No! 

OLBERMANN:  Explain why that is. 

MILITO:  Everybody‘s talking about the ratings are lower.  It‘s like a billionaire losing a $100,000 bet.  You‘re still a billionaire.  They still did really well. 

OLBERMANN:  But there‘s nobody else at the table.  My point is, there‘s a TV writers‘ strike. 

MILITO:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Cable news ratings are way up. 

MILITO:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  People are desperate for entertainment. 

MILITO:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And their ratings are down 11 percent against where they could have been with the number of viewers who are not watching other things.  Is somebody there in the producer‘s office going, I don‘t know?

MILITO:  I don‘t think so.  I don‘t think so.  In fact, I read some interview with the president of Fox Entertainment or something, but he says they think it‘s phenomenal.  They call “American Idol” a phenomenon.  They said it was the highest ratings for a season opener compared to other—

OLBERMANN:  It‘s their show!  Of course, they‘ll call it a phenomenon!  I call COUNTDOWN a phenomenon.  You call your show a phenomenon. 

MILITO:  Of course, my show‘s a phenomenon.  It still did very well.  It had, like, an 18 percent rating with all the other networks together.  It‘s true.  I don‘t think it‘s anything to worry about. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s one other clip I wanted to play here.  This is number four, if you‘re scoring there in the control room.  To another hopeful whose words may prove prophetic. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED AMERICAN IDOL CONTESTANT 3:  I think the judges will think my voice is unique.   (SINGING UNINTELLIGIBLY)

OLBERMANN:  A masculine ____?  What was that?

MILITO:  That‘s like “Idol” greatness.  That‘s hysterical. 

OLBERMANN:  Because he had a fairly interesting-sounding voice. 

MILITO:  Fairly interesting—Yo-O-O --           he‘s been practicing all day.  I think, he was very funny.  I laughed so hard, I cried.  I don‘t do that on the show.  The judges were covering their faces, they were trying so hard not to laugh.  There was nothing wrong with him, he just didn‘t sing well. 

OLBERMANN:  This was his choice.  Like Tiny Tim. 

MILITO:  His friends told him.  He‘s a tour guide in Philadelphia and his friends told him, “You should audition for ‘Idol‘.” 

OLBERMANN (singing):  Let my people go...

MILITO:  Come on, that‘s funny.  Come on, Keith, you could do that. 

OLBERMANN:  And I wouldn‘t.  I can, but I wouldn‘t.  Look, if there is any kind of sag in reality TV, does this mean the writers‘ strike is going to come to a conclusion quickly because the TV network‘s going to go, “AAAAAH!”?

MILITO:  Oh,        sure.  So you mean the network is going to have a meeting with the writers‘ guild and show them “American Idol” and say, “because of this, we need to solve it.” 

OLBERMANN:  The writers are going to say, “You‘re going to put this crap on every night?”

MILITO:  It‘s the first week!  It‘s on only two nights! 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s already down 11 percent. 

MILITO:  Compared to everything else, it still did well.  You know what?  We still have months and months of this show.  You have to get over it and accept it.  OK?  I‘m sorry to tell you.

OLBERMANN:  Maria Melito of New York‘s Q104.3.  By the way, in the introduction, it said you‘re a classic “rick station”.

MILITO:  Oh!

OLBERMANN:   Three things...

MILITO:  Because I‘m rickety!  What does that mean?

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know.  This is COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,723rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, rickety indeed!  Good night and good luck!

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

END   

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