updated 4/1/2008 5:50:22 PM ET 2008-04-01T21:50:22

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Dana Milbank, Chuck Hagel

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

The blowback: Senator Clinton says she‘s staying in TFN.  Other leading Democrats answer, give her the hook.  Politico, quote, “A top Democratic strategist supporting Clinton, the big question is: does she walk to the door, or is she shown to the door?”

Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota endorses:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) MINNESOTA:  Between Barack and a hard place, I chose Barack.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, that‘s a new one.  She says Senator Clinton should continue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  I‘m not applying for the job of broker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Is he applying for the job of comprised candidate on his birthday?  A British newspaper claims ex-staffers insist, there is still chance the Democrats will turn to Al Gore if the nomination is unsettled.

A president unsettled?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  The president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But wait, there‘s more.  To avoid the controversy, they did not have him throw that first pitch to a guy named at the “steroids” report.  Did they know the ironic political truth about the guy to whom he did wind up throwing it?

The truce in Iraq: It‘s working other than the bullets in Basra and the rockets in the Green Zone in Baghdad.  “If in fact the surge has calmed things,” says Senator Chuck Hagel, “why then is the administration talking about keeping more American troops in Iraq for the remainder of this year than before the surge?”

Our special guest: Senator Hagel.

Worst: He might as well be on the payroll of FOX News.  He just endorsed them.

And: Wal-Mart battered again.

And: The fifth anniversary of COUNTDOWN.  We begin our retrospect with the first Special Comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The man who sees absolutes where other men see nuances and shades of meaning is either a prophet or a quack.  Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Monday, March 31st, 218 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Happy anniversary.

It may happen exactly as Senator Clinton has predicted.  Party leaders, superdelegates, not the pledged kind selected by the voters rearing up and taking command of the Democrat Party, determining that one potential presidential nominee can succeed and the other cannot.  That one can lead them to the White House and the other can lead them only to friction and even fracture, and saying to one of them, in the name of God, go.

Only in, our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, they may not wind doing that to Senator Obama, they may instead do it to her.  Politico.com today reporting that Democratic Party elders are clearly tilting against Clinton‘s hopes for keeping the nomination contest open indefinitely, looking for a way to end the bitter nominating contest before the convention in August.

A top Democratic strategist Politico identified only as supporting

Clinton, telling the Web site, “There‘s a little bit of a deathwatch going

on.  Instead of, ‘Who‘s going to win?‘ the chatter is, ‘How‘s it going to

unfold?‘”

The strategist adding, “There is general panic among Democrats.  The big question is: does she walk to the door, or is she shown to the door?”

Much of what is happening unfolding publicly is what Politico calls a virtual convention and the modern equivalent of a smoke-filled room.  Obama backers like Senator Leahy getting ahead of their candidate by bluntly stating that Senator Clinton should get out now.

Party officials like Howard Dean, is urging superdelegates to decide by the 1st of July.  And superdelegates like Senator Amy Klobuchar deciding to endorse and endorse now and not endorse Senator Clinton.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KLOBUCHAR:  For me, I had really, after our caucuses had started to know which way I was headed.  But out of respect for both candidates, because I like them so much, I had delayed that and had waited to see, in part, to see if there was a time I could come in, when I could bring our party together and as time went on if finally decided that I wasn‘t going to stay silent.

It was not an easy place to be - uncommitted - it was something of a hard place.  And between Barack and a hard place, I chose Barack.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  She spent all that time dreaming up that joke.  Senator Clinton, herself, taking the extraordinary step of calling up two reporters for a major newspaper over the weekend, to inform them that she will be staying in the race until the end.

One topic of conversation she‘d probably would not initiate herself, the state of her campaign‘s finances.  Reports are emerging over the weekend that campaign bills, both large and small have been going unpaid.

Today, it emerged as irony syringe (ph) drawn across the lab (ph) that she had not been paying the health care insurance premiums for her campaign staff.  That they made her plan for universal health care and insurance and health care itself, central to her campaign, Senator Clinton‘s organization is letting nearly $300,000 in health insurance premiums go unpaid according to another report by Politico.com.

Clinton campaign spokesman, Jay Carson insisting that this month, all outstanding bills to insurance providers were paid off and that health insurance to employees or their families and partners did not lag as a result of the lag in payments.

While on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania today, Senator Obama is stressing it‘s the quality, not the quantity of a campaign donation that counts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What has been remarkable about this campaign though is the 1 million-plus donors that we‘ve created, mostly online, are able to sustain our campaign, I think, indefinitely through $25 and $50 and $100 contributions.  It‘s a lot easier to, you know, maintain a budget when you‘ve got a million small donors who are there with you and believe in what you are doing compared to if you are raising $2300 checks from people who at some point tap out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time to call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That scenario that Senator Clinton clearly has been envisioning and striving for, seeming to be reported to be folding or unfolding or is folding her tent, but unfolding against her, was it ever, do we know in the Clinton camp thought it was a possibility that if they raise this specter of the party elders getting together and deciding this with or without agreement of the elected delegates, the pledged delegates, that it may somehow still go against her?  Was that even a possibility in their minds?

WOLFFE:  Well, no, the real strategy here was that the party would come out for Hillary Clinton.  And, in fact, early on they did, but not in enough numbers.  So, her pledged delegates in some ways were always outweighed by the superdelegates and that superdelegate number has stayed the same.  He is the real problem at the heart of the Clinton strategy.

Inevitability was their strongest argument.  When that biggest one, the most consisting thing, when that fell apart with one loss after another and over the internal fighting and the superdelegates not moving to her in big numbers, then, inevitability fell apart, too.  And that‘s where were at.  That‘s why we‘re seeing a steady trickle, even a steady flow going for Obama and really just a small handful going for Hillary Clinton since February 5th.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  We have the Leahy statement last week which, obviously, the Obama people were actually not happy with because it was much farther than their position had gone and Senator Obama said over the weekend, if she wants to stay in, she has the perfect right to, she‘s on the ballot.

Klobuchar‘s endorsement today, not exactly the biggest thing that ever happened, there is a report of North Carolina‘s entire seating Democratic Congress base en masse endorsing him before the primary.  Are we seeing actually drip by drip kind of evolution of this process that Politico described or are they off on the edge of things?  Is it, in fact, the way that their describing it, that there seems to be a mood building if you want to have this decided by us, it‘s not going to work against you, is that valid?

WOLFFE:  Well, there‘s no question that party insiders are looking at the side of John McCain being out there, rebuilding, raising his own money and having nobody arguing against him or at least the candidates with only half an eye on him, and they‘re worried and they are moving towards making a decision much earlier than some of them ever thought they would.

I mean, Senator Casey in Pennsylvania is a casing point here.  That movement is actually happening.  It‘s a steady process, but, of course, the math is the math.

And the problem for Senator Clinton is Barack Obama only needs about 1/3 of the uncommitted superdelegates, she needs about 2/3.  That means he can reach the number if this steady flow keeps going, he can actually reach that number by June.  She, obviously, needs to increase the momentum for her amongst those party insiders, the people who are supposed to know her best.

OLBERMANN:  Did she precipitate whatever is going on by this interview with “Washington Post” and having it made clear that she requested this interview, wasn‘t something that was asked of her?

WOLFFE:  Well, talk about between a rock and a hard place, I mean, you know, she had very little choice now, to actually address this question head on.  And the fact of the matter is, the Clinton campaign has found much easier to run against the media than it has against the Obama campaign.  And he was a case where the story, in the Clinton folks‘ opinions, has really been pushed by the media, they had to work with the media to try and stop it.

But look at what a turnaround that is, a campaign that really shunned the media to begin with now reaching out.  And people can sense that the strength arguments have been weakened.

OLBERMANN:  That reaching out to FOX News and Richard Mellon Scaife, it would truly (inaudible) a storm.  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” as always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OBLERMANN:  There is another name in consideration for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.  It is that of former Vice President Al Gore.  Some Democrats are still believing that the man who used to be the next president of the United States, would be a perfect consensus candidate if there really is no way to resolve this peaceably.

Two former Gore campaign officials reportedly telling the British newspaper, “The Telegraph,” that a scenario first mapped out by members of Gore‘s inner circles last May now has a, quote, “sporting chance of coming true.”

Amid that scenario, if neither Clinton nor Obama has the required of 2025 delegates needed for the nomination by the time the convention starts, a group 100 superdelegates would sit out the first ballot preventing either candidate from winning outright, so the nomination could then be offered to Al Gore.  Another scenario paints Mr. Gore not as spoiler but as healer, the party elder who would help to push of the candidates gently out of the race.

Last night on “60 Minutes,” Mr. Gore telling Lesley Stahl that he is not interested in that job, though apparently, he does feel the candidates‘ calls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE:  They both call and I appreciate that fact.

LESLEY STAHL, TV HOST:  And what about the idea of the honest broker who goes to the two candidates and helps push one or the other of them?

GORE:  Kind of a modern Boss Tweed?

STAHL:  Except his name would be Al Gore.

GORE:  Well, I‘m not applying for the job of a broker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to our Dana Milbank, national political reporter for the “Washington Post.”  Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, he‘s not applying for this job and we have spent hour upon hour parsing the exact job interest and the exact language that Al Gore uses to explain his relative interest in any position.  We‘ve been doing that for many years.

But in saying that he‘s not applying to be a modern Boss Tweed, and that‘s his analogy, not ours, Boss Tweed might be the wrong name to invoke here, does that mean he wouldn‘t do it if it got so dire of the Democrats needed three wise men to come in and sort it out?

MILBANK:  Well, even in this state, I think, Gore is safely (ph) has to add 10 or 15 pounds until his in a Boss Tweed category here but he clearly didn‘t rule it out and his people say as much.  A larger question is: why on earth would he want to do this?

He spent so much time finally rising from the muck of politics.  He‘s seen as above partisan politics.  He‘s extremely wealthy.  He‘s respected around the world.

As soon us you get back involved in this brokering game, there‘s immediately going to be mud all around you.  And if—you know, why get in the middle of some sort of a mud wrestling battle here, it‘s going to bring down his reputation.  That‘s why he‘s reluctant to do it, but not ruling it out entirely.

OLBERMANN:  Now, the thing in the British newspaper has predicated to some degree and something Joe Klein wrote in “Time” so we can take that for what it‘s worth, whether this is speculation or it‘s actually former members of Mr. Gore‘s campaign from 2000 are actually spreading this possibility.

But, you know, everybody has asked over the last two years: is Gore going to run for president, and my answer was always kind of facetiously, I don‘t think he wants to run, but if everybody would agree to vote for him and sort of just writing in by unanimous consent, he‘s be happy to do it.

Is there any prospect that under those circumstances of the divided saying, the only way we can figure how to heal this is to select none of the above and you are none of the above, will he still respond in this context?

MILBANK:  Of course, he will do that but the chance of that sort of thing occurring is just—it‘s outlandish.  And the Gore people say as much themselves that it would be just predicated on the Obama side surrendering, on the Clinton side surrendering, and somehow unifying behind this man, realizing that the second they do that, of course, he‘s back in the squabble all over again.  So, yes, he would do it, no, it‘s not going to happen.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ve seen a lot of things we didn‘t think were going to happen, they had happen, and they continue to happen and will continue to happen (INAUDIBLE).

All right.  So, what I‘m saying to you is: if you got—if Al Gore got the consent of one group, either the Clinton supporters, the majority of the Clinton supporters and could pressure the Obama people into supporting or some of the Obama people might say, well, better him than her and vice versa, if they got enough of the Obama people to say that, is it not structurally possible?

You can subtract Gore from the equation.  Is it structurally possible for the outcome of this to be none of the above?

MILBANK:  Well, yes, sure, it is structurally possible.  And, you know, it‘s true.  There‘s a lot of Democrats think that the presidency was stolen from Al Gore, so there‘d be a certain rough justice in him stealing it from somebody else who had won the delegates there.  But there‘s all kinds of arrangements that could be made so that the delegates could vote any which way they want as long as they are released by the candidates, again, if this goes beyond any sort of long-shot possibility.

OLBERMANN:  And it involves the use of a lot of duct tape on the candidates as well.  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post,” speculating with us tonight.  Great thanks, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  John McCain, Iraq expert says he‘s surprised the Maliki government trying to bust Muqtada al-Sadr.  Then, gets it wrong over who offered the newest truce in Iraq and winds up crediting al-Sadr with a victory there.  Is it good news or just good spin?

Senator Chuck Hagel joins us.

And the bad news for President Bush, first new baseball only stadium in Washington in 107 years, he throws out the first pitch and he is still booed him.

Worst news for President Bush: The man who threw the first pitch to, well, he‘s - I‘ll explain it later.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Iraq, all quiet on the western and eastern fronts unless you count the rockets and the guns.  Senator Chuck Hagel joins us on that and the whispers about who might want him as vice president.

And: Wal-Mart is still silent on the Debby Shank case.  Well, Governor Rendell probably should have been silent before he went to today promo about the fairness of a FOX News network that still suggests his candidate, Senator Clinton might have had something to do with the death of Vince Foster.

Worst Persons: later on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  How bad are things in Iraq?  Nearly a week ago, Prime Minister Maliki said the assault in Basra would be definitive, but his aides say, resistance has been tougher than expected and critics see a political motive for going into Basra which deluded the focus against al Qaeda.   The Basra assault has destabilized the region, weakening Maliki, bolstering his enemies, giving new influence to Iran.

In our fourth story tonight: Things are so bad, Iraq may now have its own Iraq.  In keeping with that precedent, after calling Sunday cease-fire a victory, Maliki‘s government was hit again today with rockets in the Green Zone and continued fighting in Basra.

And today, McCain said he was surprised despite the fact that U.S. has pushed for crackdown on Muqtada al-Sadr‘s militias there, despite the fact that McCain was in Iraq and spoke with Maliki the day before the assault was launch.

Now, that Sadr‘s cease-fire seems to have boosted Sadr‘s standing, McCain was asked whether this all had backfired on Maliki, quoting him, “Apparently, it was Sadr who asked for the cease-fire, declared a cease-fire.  It wasn‘t Maliki.  Very rarely do I see the winning side declaring a cease-fire.”

Except the McClatchy newspapers reported last night that Sadr had only called the cease-fire after members of Maliki‘s government asked Sadr to do so during a secret trip to meet with Sadr in Iran, making McCain wrong about the facts on his signature, making Sadr, not Maliki the victor in this conflict by McCain‘s own reasoning and making Iran, and not McCain, not the U.S., the mediator of choice for Iraq‘s two top Shiite factions: the Maliki government and the Sadrists.

With us tonight on this vital issue, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, a decorated veteran of Vietnam, and author now of the new book, “America: Our Next Chapter.”  Senator, great thanks for your time tonight. 

HAGEL:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  General Petraeus reports to the Senate next week.  What new questions do these events in Basra put in your mind to ask him? 

HAGEL:  Well, first, Keith, we need some strategic context from him as to what he is going to recommend to the president as to the next steps on our policy for the remainder of this year.  Where are we going?  I don‘t believe we have ever had a strategic context here.  I think we have further destabilized the Middle East, and undermined our own interests there, aside from doing great damage to our military, our structure, our system.

This issue on Basra, Keith, is one that we‘ve essentially deferred for the last couple of years.  Many of us have been very aware—our intelligence people have—that the Shia warlords have been in charge down there, and we‘ve essentially been paying them tribute for access to the port.  And what Maliki was thinking, I have no idea.  But the whole bizarre cycle that you have just recounted here, using Iran as a good example—we won‘t talk to Iran, we won‘t engage Iran, we threaten Iran, but the Iranian president is in Baghdad recently, most of the Maliki government are exiles from Iran.  We go—we being Maliki, our guy—goes to Iran to try to get Iran to help with the problem in Basra.  I mean, this is “Alice in Wonderland” over there.  What‘s up is down; down is up. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you know, does anybody know if President Bush is doing enough or anything to ensure that the surge is not buying Maliki time and firepower not in order to bring about political reconciliation, but time and firepower to cement his own political position? 

HAGEL:  Well, I don‘t know about that, but I will tell you this: When Crocker and Petraeus were before our Senate Foreign Relations Committee last fall, we asked a number of these questions.  I asked specifically what is the purpose of the surge?  Now, I was told—the president has said—it was to buy more time for the Iraqis so that they could move to some high ground, trying to accomplish some political accommodation leading to political reconciliation. 

That‘s not been done.  We‘ve essentially squandered precious American resources and lives.  And we‘ve lost time.  We have deepened our involvement there, where we truly are in a quagmire.  It is going to be very, very difficult now to unravel all of this and start working out of this in a responsible way.

What‘s astounding to me, Keith, is that the administration keeps spinning this in some bizarre Orwellian way that things are going better with all of this violence; this shows that Maliki and the Iraqis can stand on their own—even though they have had to call us in on a number of occasions the last three days. 

So that‘s the kind of question that will be, and that series of questions will be asked of General Petraeus when he‘s before our committee next week. 

OLBERMANN:  As you pointed out, if it‘s getting better, why do we have more troops—will we have more troops post-surge than we did pre-surge.

But let me ask you one other issue that is related somewhat to this.  In your book, in “America: Our Next Chapter” you have written—let me quote it exactly—“A bipartisan unity ticket with the president from one party and vice president from the other could be appealing to Americans.”

Would you yourself consider being involved in that option this year, and have—as rumors have been going around in various cities—feelers gone out to or from your people to that of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, who is co-sponsor with you on counter-proliferation?

HAGEL:  No.  When I wrote that chapter and wrote the book, it had nothing to do with me and my political future.  My point there was, Keith, this, and I think most Americans are so frustrated with our system, that we are locked in a political paralysis, state of paralysis in Washington.  The next president is going to have to govern with a consensus.  That means that next president is going to have to reach out.  I think a bipartisan cabinet.  The possibility of maybe a bipartisan ticket.  I‘m not predicting that, I‘m not suggesting that.  But we are living through one of the great transformations in American politics in the world.  And that means that we are forcing ourselves into a reorientation to be relevant.  That‘s what politics is about.  Are we relevant or not?  Are we fixing America‘s problems or not?  Are we leading or not? 

We are not.  Both parties have failed here.  We have squandered the last eight years, and that is going to propel a whole new dynamic in American politics as every watershed election has. 

OLBERMANN:  I think a lot of Democrats would agree with you on that.  A bipartisan cabinet worked for FDR.  It worked for Lincoln and many others.  Perhaps they‘ll listen to you.  Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.  The book is “America: Our Next Chapter.”  Tough questions, straight answers.  Thank you for some of them tonight, Senator. 

HAGEL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  It is our fifth anniversary.  We‘ll salute one of the men who made them possible: Former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the first Special Comment.

Do you like those car crash shows?  There‘s a corner of our planet where it‘s nothing but car crashes and it‘s next.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals - Bushed.

Number three: Iraq and 9/11-gate.  Former Gitmo detainee Murat Kurnaz, repeating in an interview what he had told his attorney three years ago while still being held by the U.S., that when he was originally picked up and stored in Afghanistan for two months, interrogators hung him by his arms from the ceiling of a freezing aircraft hangar for five days with doctors coming by periodically to assure his captors it was OK to keep on hanging him there.

Kurnaz says his interrogators demanded he admit he was an operative of and associate of Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 plotter.  The torture sadly is old news, the news is Kurnaz was from Germany.

So?  Remember the attempt to link 9/11 to Iraq by way of Mohammed Atta and some apocryphal meeting he was supposed to have with the Iraqi intelligence service in Prague on April 2001?  Get some German-born Muslim to admit he know Atta and you‘re halfway home to putting Atta at a meeting with Iraqi agents, even if it never happened.

Number two: Mortgage-gate.  Mr. Bush‘s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alfonso Jackson under criminal investigation has resigned.  The top Bush guy on homes quits in the middle of the homes crisis.  Mr.  Conner (ph) says to Jack Nicholson in the movie “Chinatown,” middle of a drought, the water commissioner drowns.  Only in L.A.

And number one: Mukasey said what-gate?  Almost ignored in the coverage of his speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco pleading for telecom immunity, Attorney General Michael Mukasey also said, quote, “Before 9/11, that‘s the call that we didn‘t know about.  We knew there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan, and we knew that it came to the United States, we didn‘t know precisely where it went.”

What?  The government knew about some call from the safe house in Afghanistan into the U.S. about 9/11, before 9/11, and even though it had the same FISA courts and the same right to act against international targets in 2001 as it has does now, they didn‘t do anything about it?

Well, this would seem to leave only two options, either the attorney general just admitted that the government for he works is guilty of malfeasance complicity of the 9/11 attacks or he‘s lying.

I‘m betting on lying.  If not, somebody in Congress better put that man under oath right quick.  You could send them to Gitmo I suppose.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1596, Rene Descartes was born in France, mathematician and philosopher, perhaps best remembered for what is translated into English as a five word maxim about life.  He expressed it first in Latin, Cogitu Ergo Sum (ph).  In English it‘s usually rendered as “I think, therefore I am.”  That‘s an over-simplification.  It proves that Descartes was trying to establish what in the universe we could be certain was truly there and what we just believed was there.  He came down to Cogitu Ergo Sum, more fully translated as, I think, so at least I can prove I exist.  I don‘t know about the rest of you. 

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.  If it doesn‘t exist, I assume the screen will just go blank for you right now. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Tada.  We begin in Wimbledon, England with proof of the existence of life, home of the famous tennis championships and the only slightly less famous figure eight banger championship.  Beaten up old cars, bangers as the Brits call them, racing in the rain crossing tracks and crashing into each other with gustto, smashy, smashy. 

Dozens of bangers got swiped, nudged, rolled out of the competition.  One poor guy getting even stuck in the middle of the eight and having to run for his life.  The race only ending when a lucky banger eventually emerged as the last one unscathed, 37 hours later. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of sports, The booing for the president‘s ceremonial first pitch in Washington was only part of the story.  Who he wound up throwing that pitch to, just to avoid controversy a minor controversy, is amazing. 

And he said some dumb things before, but Governor Rendell let one go this morning, stupid enough to earn him a place in the Worst Persons Hall of Fame.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best discount.  Her friends plane was late, so Terri Patsalide spent much more time drinking coffee at the Giraffe Juice Bar in Heathrow in London than she expected.  Her bill was 715,000 dollars.  Appropriately, Miss Patsalides blanched at the extraordinary price for four cappuccinos.  The server promptly corrected it to 24 dollars.  Appropriately, Miss Patsalides blanched at the extraordinary price of four cappuccinos. 

Number two, the second dumbest criminal, an unnamed 16 year old who saw an elderly man carrying two grocery bags down a street in Santa Rosa, California, and promptly produced and announced, old man, give me your wallet or I‘ll cut you.  The victim responded, I‘m an 84-year-old ex-Marine.  I‘ve been in three wars.  I‘ve been threatened with bayonets.  Step any closer, son, and you‘ll be sorry. 

The kid stepped closer.  The 84 year old ex-Marine promptly kicked him in the groin.  He then picked up his groceries and went home, leaving the boy doubled over on the street.  He may still be there for all we know. 

Number one, the best dumb criminal, Lisa Ann Martini of Sparks, Nevada.  She was arrested at her home on a charge of having received 1,300 dollars worth of botox injections in her face at a clinic, then announcing she had to have make a phone call and simply driving off without paying, a new variation on dine and dash.  Police are not confirming this, but we understand Miss Martini, shown here, was arrested because when they went to ask her a series of questions to determine if she was the botox and bolt bandit, she just couldn‘t stop smiling. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For a president of the United States, there is nothing quite like experiencing the barometer public opinion in person from a crowd that had not been vetted for your affection.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, President Bush, who even his fiercest critics acknowledge is a pretty good baseball fan, threw out the first pitch on the deliriously happy occasion of the grand opening of the first new baseball only stadium in Washington, D.C. since 1901, and they still booed him. 

Just before the game in which he was set to throw out the first pitch, a couple of the visiting Atlanta, Braves gave the president a team jersey and suggested he wear it while throwing out the first pitch.  The president laughed, the prospect of possibility getting booed while wearing the opponents‘ jersey; Mr. Bush said of that, quote, “I‘m not going to give them any excuses.” 

Evidently, among the more than 40,000 people at brand new Nationals Park, no additional excuse was necessary.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president of the United States—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Now be fair, that would be a strike in the American League.  He had practiced, reportedly, on the south lawn of the White House.  As for the catcher, it would have been the Nationals‘ new starting catcher of Paul Loduca, but he was named in the recent Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball and it was the president who had been touched on the issues of steroids in sports in the 2004 State of the Union.

So evidently, to save the president the embarrassment, the Nationals had not their catcher catch Mr. Bush‘s first pitch, but their manager, their manager Manny Acta, a lovely and decent man, who holds no political grudges, but does like to spend his road trips happily arguing with one of his coaches, an arch conservative, manager Manny Acta, who himself says he watches this newscast every chance he gets. 

He likes the special comments, he says. 

Speaking of which, this is our fifth birthday.  We signed on March 31, 2003.  We begin a week of reminiscence by bringing you the first special comment, the moral and intellectual confusion of Donald L. Rumsfeld. 

Speaking of which, Fixed News is actually questioning whether the presidential candidate this man supports might freak out, quote, from PMS, unquote, during a national emergency.  And today, he said their coverage of her has been balanced.  Worst persons next.  This is COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Anniversary week here on COUNTDOWN, and we will celebrate five years to the day of the first newscast in this series by returning to a date slightly more recent, August 30th, 2006, the first special comment.  That‘s next.  But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s Worst Persons in the World.

The bronze, as it will go nightly until they do the right thing, Wal-Mart, still silent about the story of Debbie Shank, it‘s former employee in Missouri.  Her health and life ruined by a tractor trailer truck in 2000.  Her medical expenses paid for her by her Wal-Mart health care plan with her long term 24 hour a day care to be paid for by a small settlement from the trucking company, a settlement for which Wal-Mart sued Mrs. Shank.

She never knew that the health care plan allowed Wal-Mart to get back any money it paid her, so she was left with 417,000 dollars for a lifetime of care.  Wal-Mart sued her for and won from her 470,000.  It is so bad for Mrs. Shank that husband divorced her because she could get a slightly larger Medicaid pay out as a single women.  A brain injury left her incapable of remembering that her son was killed in Iraq last September, so she has to find out about it every day as if it were the first time.  Today, the “Miami Herald” joined the chorus of news outlets denouncing Wal-Mart.  Pleas ask your local newspapers and radio and TV stations to do the same. 

The runner up, Judge Richard Burnat (ph) of the Municipal Court of Hamilton County, Ohio.  I understand the dilemma here, but Draco of Athens would be appalled.  Gary Weaver was arrested in 1990 for paying for 22 dollars in merchandise at a store with rolls of dimes that actually turned out to have mostly pennies in them.  Weaver never appeared in court for the theft.  The warrant was out standing.  So when Weaver was arrested for disorderly conduct last week, bond was set at one million dollars.  One million dollars because 18 years ago, he told the clerk he was giving him 22 bucks when he actually gave him only 6.16.  Hey Victor Hugo, we‘ve got a Les Miserables sequel for you. 

But our winner, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, the man who was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee when it lost the White House to George Bush in 2000.  He went on Fixed News this morning and first said, “during this entire primary coverage, starting in Iowa and up to the present, Fox has done the fairest job, has remained the most objective of all of the cable networks.  You hate both our candidates.  No, I‘m only kidding.” 

Unfortunately, he didn‘t stop at I‘m only kidding.  Going on to tell the Fox Noise people, quote, “you actually have done a very balanced job of reporting the news.” 

Governor, seriously, if you think the network that still brings up Vince Foster as if his death was Senator Clinton‘s fault has been balanced towards your candidate, if you think the network on which Dick Morris regularly says Senator Clinton completely fabricated a story about her daughter and 9/11 has been balanced, and if you think the network whose commentators speculate whether Senator Clinton as president would be subject to, quote, “PMS and mood swings” has been balanced to her, if you think the network whose supposed newscaster asked Senator Clinton about Iraq, quote, “why are you so determined to declare defeat,” has been balanced towards her, if you think the network which suggested Senator Clinton‘s moment of emotion in New Hampshire made her likely to break down during a time of national crisis has been balanced toward her, if you really think Fox News, which has done all of that in just the last three months, has been very balanced about reporting the news about Senator Clinton, then Governor Rendell, you are not only no friend of Senator Clinton, but you are also an idiot. 

Governor Ed Rendell and Fox News, today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is an astounding observation and powerfully expressed; our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear, kept us in a continuous stamped of patriotic fervor, with the cry of grave national emergency.  Always, there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not rally behind it. 

It sounds like who?  Noam Chomsky?  Katrina Vanden Heuvel?  H.L.  Mencken?  General Douglas MacArthur, you know, old soldiers never die, let‘s nuke China MacArthur, in 1957. 

Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, each American generation since at least the 1880s has been warned by its own government that it was facing unprecedented peril, and if enough time had gone by between these Machiavellian bursts of hyperbole, each American generation has forgotten that it can be manipulated just as easily, just as pointlessly into surrendering judgment, surrendering political power, surrendering freedom.

We begin our week long commemoration of COUNTDOWN‘s fifth anniversary by noting that you and I had not been fully asleep before August 30, 2006, but we had been too drowsy for too long.  Then the secretary of defense ended our lingering and foolish reveries. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The man who sees absolutes where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning is either a profit or a quack.  Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a profit.  We end the COUNTDOWN where we began, our Number one story with a special comment on Mr. Rumsfeld‘s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday.  It demands the deep analysis and the sober contemplation of every American, for it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence, indeed the loyalty of the majority of Americans who impose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land.

Worse still, it credits those same transient occupants, our employees, with a total omniscience, a total omniscience which neither commonsense nor this administration‘s track record, at home or abroad, suggest they deserve it.  Dissent and disagreement with government is the life‘s blood of human freedom and not merely because it the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of his troops still fight this very evening in Iraq.  It is also essential, because just every once in a while, it is right and the power to which it speaks is wrong.

In a small irony however, Mr. Rumsfeld speech writer was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis for in their time, there was another government faced with true peril with a growing evil, powerful, and remorseless.  That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld‘s, had a monopoly on all the facts.  It too had the secret information, it alone had the true picture of the threat.  It too, dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld‘s.  Questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England‘s in the 1930.  It knew Hitler posed in true threat to Europe, let alone to England.  It knew Germany was not re-arming in violation of all treaties and accords.  It knew that the hard evidence it had received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions, its own omniscient, needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.  Most relevant of all, it knew that its staunchest critics need to be marginalized and isolated, in fact it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty warmonger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.  That critic‘s name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly we have no Winston Churchill‘s evidence among this evening, we have only Donald Rumsfeld‘s demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.  History and 163 million pounds of bombs over England have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty and his own confusion, a confusion that suggested that the office cannot only make the man, but that the office can make the facts.

Thus did Mr. Rums make an apt historical analogy accepting the fact he has the battery plugged in backwards.  His government absolute and exclusive in his knowledge is not the version of please one that stood up to the Nazis it is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today‘s omniscient ones, that about what Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this, this is a democracy, still, sometimes just barely and as such, all voices count, not just his.  Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience, about Osama bin Laden‘s plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein‘s weapons four year, ago, about Hurricane Katrina‘s impact one year ago, we all might be able to swallow hard and except their omniscience as a bearable, even useful recipe of fact plus ego.

But to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance and its own hubris.  Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his standing in this matter.  From Iraq to Katrina, to flu vaccine shortages to the entire fog of fear which continues to envelopes our nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and their cronies have inadvertently or intentionally profited and benefited, both personally and politically.

And yet he can stand up in public and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just the receipt for the emperor new clothes.

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised?  As a child at whose heroism did he read?  On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight?  With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion, we as its citizens must now address, is stark and forbidding.  But variations of it have faced our forefathers when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag.

Note, with hope in your heart, that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light and we can too.  The confusion is about whether this secretary of defense and this administration are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek, the destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld‘s other main assertion of that this country faces a new type of fascism as he was correct to remind us that a government that knew everything could get everything wrong.  So too was he right when he said that.  Though probably not in the way he thought he meant.  This country faces a new type of fascism, indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign off each night in feeble tribute, I have no utterly no claims to the words of the exemplary journalist, Edward R. Murrow.  But never in the trial of 1,000 years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other polarities thought they and they alone knew everything and branded those who disagreed confused or immoral.

Thus forgive me for reading Murrow in full.

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty” he said in 1954, “We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.  We will not walk in fear one of another.  We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who fear to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.  And so, goodnight and good luck.”

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

END   

Copy: 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.

transcript

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,