updated 7/8/2008 11:14:55 AM ET 2008-07-08T15:14:55

Guest: Dana Milbank, Chris Kofinis, Paul F. Tompkins, Richard Wolffe

RACHEL MADDOW, GUEST HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

“It‘s the economy, stupid,” the ‘08 version.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  All of us know what‘s happening to the economy.  It‘s slowing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Slowing, senator?  Try grinding to a halt.  But don‘t worry, Senator McCain says he can balance the budget by saving all sorts of money when he wins the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Never mind that McCain‘s idea of winning in Iraq keeps American troops there for 100 more years.

Winning the “Spin Awards.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have not equivocated on that position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Barack Obama spends his holiday weekend trying to defuse the right wing fireworks over his alleged flip-flop on Iraq.  We‘ll give that allegation a much-needed fact check.

It‘s summer attack ad season from the RNC -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Barack Obama, just the party line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  From Vets for Freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the change we can believe in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The Obama camp response, essentially, “Bring it on.”  More attacks mean more donations.

Obama will go outdoors to accept his party‘s nomination in a setting fit for the “Rolling Stones.”  Can the Republican convention stagecraft begin to compete?

Swing and a miss amid rumors of an affair with Madonna, A-Rod‘s wife files for divorce, claiming he plays more than just the field.

And breaking news from the world of sports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Sunday night is football night on ABC.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This fall it will also be reunion night, 11 years in the making.  Big Keith news to tell you about, and we‘ve got an exclusive statement.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  I‘m Rachel Maddow in for Keith Olbermann. 

This is Monday, July 7th, 120 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Of the many claims made today by Senator McCain about the economy, my vote for the most “laugh out loud, double take, wait a minute, what” moment was the part where Senator McCain said he will have balanced the budget by the end of his first term, because of all the money he would have saved winning the war in Iraq.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: If you believe that, then there‘s this bridge in Brooklyn I would love to talk with you about—I‘ll get you an awesome deal.  Both of the presidential candidates unveiled economic fix-it plans today.  I‘m using that term fix-it loosely.

Senator McCain did not mention the Iraq war “cash cow” part of his economic plan at a town hall meeting in Denver today.  He did say, however, the U.S. economy is slowing, just slowing.  That‘s how alarmed he is by an economy that had over 400,000 more jobs six months ago than it does today.  But what the job market taketh away may be a suspension of the gas tax would giveth back?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  You know, some economists don‘t think much of my gas tax holiday.  But the American people like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  OK, if by some economists you mean the 300 conservative economists who‘ve endorsed your economic plan.  Even those McCain endorsers don‘t think much of the gas tax holiday thing, nor do they take seriously McCain‘s promise to balance the budget by the end of his first term.  Now, speaking of gas -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  We will begin by producing more of our own oil and gas, increasing our own supply will send a message to the market and result in lower prices for oil and gas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  How is producing more of our own oil and gas even possible when American refineries are already running at or near capacity?  And it was only two weeks ago that Senator McCain let it slip that the true impact of his energy policy would be psychological, “We wouldn‘t be any less disastrously dependent on Middle Eastern oil, we would just feel better about that disastrous dependency.”  It‘s kind of a psychic energy policy in a new age.

Of course, if that doesn‘t float your boat, a Republican can always promise to lower your taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  The choice in this election is stark and simple.  Senator Obama will raise your taxes, I won‘t.  I will cut them where I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If you happen to make over $227,000 a year, then, yes, McCain is correct.  You can probably expect Senator Obama to raise your taxes.  And if you make a lot more than $227,000 a year, you can probably expect Senator Obama to raise your taxes by a lot.

But if you‘re among the 95 percent of Americans who make significantly less than $250,000 a year, under a President Obama, you will actually take home significantly more than you do now.

For a time today, it was an open question as to how Senator Obama would get home tonight.  His campaign plane was diverted to St. Louis this morning after taking off from Chicago because of a maintenance issue.

At the airport, the Illinois Democrat did some math on his opponent‘s claims that he would balance the budget.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Every independent observer who‘s looked at John McCain‘s plan says that his plan would add $200 billion to $300 billion a year in deficit spending.  I do not make a promise that we can reduce it by 2013 because I think it is important for us to make some critical investments right now in America‘s families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Dana Milbank, also national political reporter for the “Washington Post.”

Hi, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  He‘s going to cut taxes for the rich, cut taxes on the corporations they own, balance the budget in four years, and pay for it all with the “pot of gold” you get when you reach the highest level in the Iraq and Afghanistan video games.  Is anyone out there saying, “Now, this sounds like a realistic economic plan we can all believe in”?

MILBANK:  Well, I think most of the point is John McCain does not seem to be saying that.  In February he said, well, OK, he can balance the budget.  Then in April he said, “Nope, it doesn‘t look that way.”  Now we‘re in July and actually the economy has deteriorated substantially but he‘s back to saying, “Well, I think we can get the budget balanced.”

The most important thing here is that he‘s left out Medicare and Social Security, which are, obviously, the largest most significant factors going forward in the budget.  So, whatever you do, you know, it‘s easy to balance a budget, I suppose, if you leave out all the things that are draining the money from.

MADDOW:  And on the specific issue of the Iraq war, on the pushback on Senator McCain‘s 100 years in Iraq comment, his campaign, Republican Party, the conservative said that what he meant to say, the appropriate context was that us staying in 100 years was contingent on American troops not getting shot at.  In other words, if we win the war, we get the opportunity to stay there for 100 years.

So, if he‘s saying we can pay for balancing the budget with all of the money we‘ll save by winning the war in Iraq, I‘m left to wonder what that “100 years in Iraq” comment really meant and we‘re all left to wonder whether anybody other than John McCain really believes the math on this balanced budget proposal actually adds up.

MILBANK:  No, I don‘t believe so.  I mean, the suggestion there is that the peace dividend implies that there was a balance budget in the first place, which certainly wasn‘t the case.

Now, some McCain advisors have in the past said, well, this should be accompanied by substantial slashing of discretionary spending.  Well, that‘s possible.  Or on the other hand, you need one heck of a magic asterisk in terms of this sort of explosive economic growth that nobody has forecast.  But if you look at sort of the range of expectations of what everybody has, then this is, unfortunately, something in the realm of fantasy.

MADDOW:  After eight years of economic policies that McCain helped to pass or now supports, do you think that Americans trust McCain on the issue of the economy to even really care about the details of what he‘s proposing?  I mean, how does this align with President Bush problem go away with this as his economic proposal?

MILBANK:  Well, I mean, the best thing for John McCain is for the campaign not to be about the economy.  So, he‘s starting at a disadvantage here.

The latest “Washington Post” Poll shows that he has a 16-point disadvantage, 52 to 36, in terms of whether people trust him or Obama more on the economy.  He is never going to close that gap, and, of course, with each economic report, whether it‘s housing or gas prices or jobs, that numbers are going to deteriorate further.

MADDOW:  In the big picture on the economy, Dana, up until this year, McCain thought most Americans were doing just fine, thank you very much.  He‘s sort of downplayed problems in the economy.

Senator Obama has been far on the other side of that.  He criticized even Bill Clinton for growing economic disparity that has millions of working Americans worried about health care and education and retirement costs.

As bad as things are now, do you see, and do you think voters see a fundamental difference between the two candidates on economic issues?  Are they really coming at it from totally different world views?

MILBANK:  Well, yes, certainly, they are.  And although, I think, what happened more recently as a matter of tone rather than substance, now John McCain has, as you noted in the introduction, more than 400,000 good reasons to take a dimmer view of the economy now.  It was in his interest to talk up the economy since he would be seen as the, essentially, the incumbent, the incumbent party here.  But Americans are taking the job question more seriously than anything else, of course.

MADDOW:  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and “Washington Post,” as always, thanks.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The holiday weekend produced a lot of lame fireworks over Senator Obama‘s statement on Thursday that he would continue to refine his policy on Iraq based on conditions on the ground there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘ve always said that I would listen to commanders on the ground.  I‘ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability.  That assessment has not changed and when I go to Iraq and I have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I‘m sure I‘ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, the McCain campaign is calling that a flip-flop for Senator Obama.  And the media has been running and running and running with that story.  Even though, the position stated by the presumptive Democratic nominee on Thursday, which you just heard, exactly echoed what he said at the MSNBC debate in New Hampshire in September when neither he nor Senator Clinton nor Senator Edwards would commit to absolutely having troops out of Iraq by 2013.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We don‘t know what contingency will be out there.  What I can promise is that if there are still troops in Iraq when I take office—which it appears there may be unless we can get some of our Republican colleagues to change their mind and cut off funding without a timetable, if there‘s no timetable—then I will drastically reduce our presence there to the mission of protecting our embassy, protecting our civilians and making sure that we‘re carrying out counterterrorism activities there.

I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013.  But I don‘t want to make promises not knowing what the situation is going to be three or four years out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Essentially, exactly what he said this past Thursday, but, wait, there‘s more.  Senator Obama also told Steve Kroft at an interview on “60 Minutes” in February that he would not pull out of Iraq according to a timetable regardless of the situation, quote, “I always reserve, as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation,” end quote.

Lots to talk about with Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Hi, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  You were at Thursday Obama news conference.  You even asked the question about Iraq.  So, let me ask you now, what is not working here for Senator Obama?  Plenty of videotape exists of him being consistent in his statements on Iraq.  Then he explains and re-explains those positions and the consistency.

But the McCain charges flip-flop and this cycle was set for the entire holiday weekend, to borrow from another frequent COUNTDOWN guest, E.J.  Dionne of the “Washington Post” on this, when a candidate has to call a second news conference to say the same thing he thought he said at the first news conference, does that candidate have a problem?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  I guess I got to admit two rounds of guilt.  First of all, for asking the question in the first place, and secondly, because I didn‘t actually think his response was any different from anything he said for the last 18 months.  Of course, the tone is slightly different here now that he‘s trying to appear all sort of pseudo-presidential—but the substance of it is just what he said in those debates in Cleveland, in that debate.

Even when he announced his position on Iraq in the 16-month timetable, he talked about having to move troops out of the more stable areas and maybe leaving them at the more volatile areas at the early stages.

So, this has always been caveats out there that other candidates and debate moderators have gone after him for.  I actually thought the only real flip-flop last Thursday was the reversal on his long-held position of holding one press conference a day.  He had two.

MADDOW:  Well, how does he get stuck then with four days, essentially, of the flip-flop story?  How did he get stuck with that, if it wasn‘t actually a flip-flop, and how does he begin to fix it now?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think there are two narratives that are being put out there.  One has been propagated by the Republican Party and the McCain campaign, which is essentially to run this as if it‘s 2004 again.  So the flip-flop charge worked in 2004 with John Kerry and must work again with Barack Obama.  That‘s the thinking.  And in fact, we saw this play out in 2006 when Kerry had a botched joke and everybody said, “Oh, no, it‘s 2004 again.”  And times have changed; the politics have changed.  So, that‘s one issue.

The second thing is that the media has glommed on to a narrative that this is a candidate who‘s moving to the center and he certainly has tacked away on his position on FISA, but, actually, again, not just on Iraq, but also on things like the death penalty for rapist of children, these are positions that he held all along but people tuned them out whether they didn‘t hear him in the first place or they chose to set them aside.

So, you know, there‘s a lot of sloppy reporting going on.

MADDOW:  And the one thing that has surprised me in this whole discussion with Senator Obama saying yesterday that he was surprised by the media response, essentially surprised by the sloppy reporting.  Do you think he‘s making the same mistake that other Democrats have made in giving the mainstream media, at least giving TV too much credit, assuming that they will do the minimum research, assuming that nuance can and will be processed, does he need to make it easier for people to process the facts about him?

WOLFFE:  Yes, I don‘t even think it‘s just TV here, but, clearly, there‘s a lack of institutional memory to put it mildly.  You‘ve got a number of new reporters coming into the campaign at this point—people who didn‘t cover him throughout the primaries and maybe have a caricature of what his positions were.  And certainly, the campaign can be much more aggressive and upfront about restating those positions as oppose to just putting the candidate out there and doing it for himself.

MADDOW:  But also help everybody, I guess, just to have a reminder that just because a candidate‘s opponent said something that‘s true about that candidate, doesn‘t necessarily mean you should lead with it, right?

WOLFFE:  Quite right.

MADDOW:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, thank you for joining us.

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Barack Obama will deliver his nomination acceptance speech in a huge outdoor venue.  If you‘re the John McCain campaign, what on earth do you plan for your convention to try to follow that?  The RNC has an attack ad out against Obama which some Democrats are welcoming, saying it will lead to a backlash against the GOP and more donations for Obama.

And, big breaking Keith news today.  We‘ve got an exclusive response to one exciting announcement involving Mr. Olbermann.  We‘re coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The Democrats make it official.  Barack Obama‘s acceptance speech will be outdoors with space to accommodate nearly 80,000 people.  The last politician to go big at the convention was JFK.

That whole Madonna/A-Rod thing has triggered one divorce proceeding so far and Pringles.  Pringles aren‘t 100 percent potato.  They‘re not even 50 percent potato.  They‘re more non-potato than potato.  I love non-potato.  Details after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A rumored change of venue has, indeed, come to pass.  The Democrats make a change of their convention.  That‘s not only a stagecraft decision, not only a tactical decision, but a symbolic decision about a campaign that‘s supposed to represent a new kind of politics, and a new kind of politician.  The Republicans, perhaps predictably, have responded with cynical snark.

On our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The small “d,” democratization of an acceptance speech.  The original plan was scrapped on August 28th, instead of an audience of 20,000 inside Denver‘s Pepsi Center, Obama will, instead, address upwards of 75,000 people at INVESCO Field, where the Broncos play.  Filling the room probably won‘t be a problem, considering an unanticipated turnout of 80,000 for Obama back in May.

If at this point in -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If by this point in election season, or in my introduction for that matter, the notion of a “rockstar” hasn‘t come to mind, then what about when we get to the part about backstage passes.  The Denver event will be free to attend, but the Obama campaign says donating $5 to the campaign gives you the chance to be one of 10 lucky winners.  The prize, if you want to guess—air fare, two days and nights at the convention, meet Obama backstage and watch the speech, quote, “in person.”

Let‘s turn now to political reporter Chris Cillizza from the WashingtonPost.com.  Hi, Chris.  Thanks for taking your time to join us.  Appreciate it.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  Starting with the “backstage pass contest,” does Obama actually raise some significant money by doing this and is the use of the word backstage making the “rockstar” analogy too literal?

CILLIZZA:  Well, let‘s take question one first, yes, he probably does.  I think they did this smartly, Rachel, because you just mentioned it.  It‘s not the people who give the most money who are most likely to get backstage.  You can give more than $5.  It‘s really smart.  It continues to broaden out his small dollar Internet fundraising base which we already know is 1 million-plus donors.

And, does it have a risk?  Yes, I think it does.  Only in that, Barack Obama‘s greatest gift is his speaking ability and his ability to draw big crowds, but Republicans can use that against him and say, “This guy is a lot of talk; he is not all that much action; he‘s the head of a movement but what does that movement stand for?”  At the same time, 70,000-plus people, the millions, I assume, he will raise in advance of this, it probably makes up for any of those worries.

MADDOW:  Well, we heard from the Republican side, we heard from McCain‘s campaign today saying exactly what you‘re saying.  McCain aide, Mark Salter told the “New York Times” that McCain isn‘t trying to pass himself off as a “larger than life” figure on stage.  They‘re trying to make that a virtue of that contrast with Obama.

Today, another McCain aide sniffed that the boy band ‘N Sync sold out INVESCO stadium twice.  I get that these are digs at Obama.  But is the impact of those digs bigger or smaller than the impact of Obama‘s impressiveness in front of the crowd?  My sense here is still that it‘s advantage Obama.

CILLIZZA:  Well, first of all, I had no idea ‘N Sync was that popular.

Putting that aside, look, it‘s a strategy born of necessity, Rachel.  The McCain campaign knows that John McCain—no matter how much he practices, no matter what the background color is behind him, no matter what color shirt he wears—is not going to be Barack Obama as a speaker.  They‘re not going to be able to match that and they‘re probably not going to be able to match the enthusiasm in the Democratic base that George Bush has largely created and Barack Obama has capitalized on.

So, they have to try and turn this and use Barack Obama‘s speaking ability, his sort of “rockstar” status against him and say, again, “This is a guy who is a tremendous speaker.”  You hear John McCain say that almost every speech he gives.  But what is he really done?  What‘s behind the rhetoric?  It‘s really the strategy that they have, not the strategy that they want.

MADDOW:  A new “AP” Poll, Chris, says, the first words that come to voters‘ minds about Obama, are: outsider and change.  And for McCain the first word that comes to mind is: old.  In the context of this story, Obama‘s speech venue and McCain‘s reaction, as a political reporter, Chris, does it seem to you like the campaigns are tacking in the right direction to take those impressions, those very generic, general impressions in the direction they need to go?

CILLIZZA:  Well, for the Obama campaign, yes.  I think they are trying to balance the fact that, yes, he has this “rockstar” appeal with the fact that he needs to be able to connect with voters on the economy; he‘s basically focused only on the economy since winning the nomination.

For McCain, no.  But I will say that I think his change of senior staff Steve Schmidt coming in, Mike DuHaime coming in, will help.  What they need to do is use old and turn it to say, “Deep resume experienced and ready to lead,” draw that contrast with Obama.  If he can‘t do that, he‘s not going to win.

MADDOW:  Chris Cillizza, author of “The Fix,” on WashingtonPost.com, thanks for joining us.

CILLIZZA:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  First in Oddball, normally we bring you nice cuddly panda footage—but, tonight, what may well be the world‘s first gross out panda pictures.

And, a COUNTDOWN world exclusive: Keith Olbermann part of an exciting announcement today.  We‘ve got an exclusive statement.  Did I mention it‘s exclusive?  Exclusively.

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

Number three: Timetable-gate.  The U.N. mandate for the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq expires at the end of this year and Iraq is not hot to renew that.  So, if that U.N. mandate expires, what‘s the new legal basis for U.S. troops staying in Iraq?  Well, the White House wants a long-term country-to-country agreement between us and the Iraqis.

The Iraqis, so far, are also not so hot on that idea.  And today, the Iraqi prime minister went one step further.  Mr. Bush for years had told us that Democrats would help the terrorists by setting a timetable for U.S.  withdrawal from Iraq.  But the Iraqi prime minister today said Iraq is, quote, “looking at the necessity of terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands,” end quote.

He said, “I heard the U.S. should agree to depart from Iraq or should agree to a timetable by which we will agree to depart.”  Remember last May when our president said if the Iraqis ask us to leave, we‘ll leave.  Can we hold him to that?

Number two: Injustice-gate.  The Department of Justice‘s Office of Professional Responsibility has the job of policing the Justice Department‘s 10,000 lawyers.  Under Janet Reno, Justice began releasing the revoke of that office‘s internal investigations, exonerating some prosecutors, revealing when others cross the line.

The “Los Angeles Times” has investigated how the Office of Professional Responsibility has done its job during a time of wall-to-wall controversy, when federal prosecutors have been involved in interrogation policy, wiretapping policy, allegations of political prosecutions and more.  They found that unlike the Reno years, the “Gonzales-Mukasey Justice Departments” won‘t say whether a single prosecutor did anything out of bounds in any of those scandals.

In fact, it was only last month that the office released its mandatory annual public report for 2005.

And number one: Slow learner-gate.  During the Clinton/Bush presidential transition, Mr. Clinton and his top aides told Mr. Bush and his top aides that al Qaeda would be and should be priority number one.  Mr. Bush ignored them, to our bottomless regret.

Now, Mr. Bush has weighed in on his successor‘s big problem, not Iraq, but Pakistan.  Pakistan—home of al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda now back to its pre-9/11 strengths, plotting its next attacks in a Pakistani safe haven that was created in a stunning act of appeasement, approved and defended by President Bush.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  July 7th is a big date in music history.  It was on this date in 1940 that Beatle Ringo Starr was born.  It was on this date in 1954 that an Elvis Presley song was first broadcast on radio.  Exactly seven years between those two events was the birth of singer David Hodo in 1947.  David Hodo is better known as the construction worker from the Village People.  Oh, yes.  To Mr. Hodo we say, 61 is still young man.  There‘s no need to feel down.  Let‘s play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We begin in Szechuan Province in China for the first ever non-cute, non-cuddly panda bear video.  That was a panda cub being born.  Guo Guo is the mom.  She had twin cubs.  The first cub was taken to be monitored by zoo staff.  The second, born 30 minutes later, was monitored in Guo Guo‘s mouth.  The panda cubs are the first born since China‘s devastating May earthquake.  Zoo officials say thus far both cubs are healthy and, apparently, delicious. 

Finally to Finland, where we join their annual wife carrying contest, already in progress.  Forty eight couples from 13 countries competed this year.  The rules are simple, a man carries a woman over his back over ridiculous obstacles.  The winner gets his wife‘s weight in beer.  The wife gets to reclaim her dignity in some other lifetime. 

As you can see, some couples do better than others.  The race is said to be derived from a time many years ago when inter-tribal wife stealing was all the rage.  Oh, that means in this race, the wife you carry doesn‘t necessarily have to be your own.  This year a couple from Estonia took first place, with Alex Rodriguez carrying Madonna finishing second. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A-Rod might be looking for volunteers to carry after his wife filed for divorce today.  The fallout from the Madonna/A-Rod late-night visits to a New York City apartment excitement.  Before we go there, the attack ads in the presidential campaign.  The RNC goes after Obama for towing the Democratic party line.  Wouldn‘t that be kind of a good thing in a year when voters identify with Democrats more than the Republicans by a double-digit margin?  That‘s next. 

But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top best three persons in the world.  Number three, an actual best person, Tony Odierno, who was asked by the New York Yankees to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at their home game this past Fourth of July.  Odierno fittingly got the call on our nation‘s birthday not because he works for the Yankees as an intern, but because he was also a lieutenant in the U.S. Army when he lost an arm to a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq four years ago. 

After his pitch, Odierno was roundly cheered by the stadium faithful, before presumably walking one of the least traveled paths in baseball from pitching mound back to the desk marked intern. 

Number two, best non-American hero, Robert P. Farnam of Wacashaw (ph), Wisconsin, was sent to the hospital last week complaining of a heart attack after dining at an Applebee‘s restaurant.  At the hospital, Farnam was seen by a doctor who then called the police.  According to the doctor, Farnam had been in the emergency room several times in the past months, each trip was the result of a fake heart attack to get out of restaurant bills, cab fares and one time to skip out on his tab at a strip club.  Farnam now faces fraud charges, possible jail time and a really hard time persuading the emergency room staff he‘s serious if he ever really needs medical help. 

Number one, best non-potato chip.  Procter & Gamble, the maker of Pringles, has successfully argued in a British court that their product is not a potato chip.  Pringles are also officially now not even potato sticks, potato puffs or similar products made from the potato.  Why is that a win for Proctor and Gamble?  A ruling otherwise would result in Pringles being heavily taxed.  Proctor and Gamble‘s lawyer proudly argued to the court that their product had a shape not found in nature, and pointed out that a typical Pringle contains less than 50 percent potato.  We‘re not sure what makes up the other half of a Pringle besides potato, but we‘re hoping it has nothing do with the giant mustache of the Pringles dude on the can. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Remember the fuss over Barack Obama not taking public financing for his campaign?  Remember Obama‘s argument for why he made that decision?  He said the system was broken, that even though John McCain was still participating in public financing, Obama predicted that McCain could still have third party groups do his dirty works for him with unlimited funds.  In our third story tonight, ding, ding, ding, you were correct, sir.  Two attack ads, both supposedly, officially at arm‘s length from McCain himself.  First one from the Republican National Committee. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Record gas prices, a climate in crisis.  John McCain Says solve it now with a balanced plan, alternative energy, conservation, suspending the gas tax and more production here at home.  He‘s pushing his own party to face climate change.  But Barack Obama for conservation, but he just says no to lower gas taxes, no to nuclear, no to more production, no new solutions.  Barack Obama, just the party line. 

The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The ad fails to mention that one of the articles it uses as a source quotes the White House spokeswoman saying it would be disingenuous for anyone to try to convince Americans that a gas tax holiday would have any impact on gas prices.  Reportedly McCain had nothing to do with the ad.  But a June 25th web ad from John McCain was almost point-for-point identical, right down to the falsehoods, including the fact that Obama has not said no to nuclear energy, he just prefers renewables. 

Then there is the new ostensibly non-partisan ad from a pro-war veterans group. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We changed strategy in Iraq and the surge worked. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, that‘s change we can believe in. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  No coordination with the McCain campaign required when the candidate himself has already so publicly revealed his partiality for that turn on Obama‘s phrase. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  That‘s not change we can believe in.  That‘s not change we can believe in. 

(END VIDEO CLIP

MADDOW:  Let‘s bring in Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, former communications director for the John Edwards campaign.  Mr. Kofinis, thank you for joining us. 

CHRIS KOFINIS, FMR. EDWARDS CAMPAIGN COMM. DIR:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  First question and it‘s the big one; was Obama right about the public financing issue?  McCain‘s public financing doesn‘t exactly clean up the dialogue in the campaign, does it? 

KOFINIS:  No, I mean, he was absolutely right.  The reality here is that the Republicans were going to play the same game they‘ve always played.  They were going to use independent groups, independent expenditures to hit Senator Obama as hard as they can.  What you‘ve been seeing over the last few days is just the tip of the iceberg of what‘s coming.  The Obama campaign knew that, and they were smart to do what they did. 

The reality is why would you cede any advantage to the Republicans, especially in a climate when you know they‘re not going to talk about the issues.  What they‘re going to do is what they always do, which is attack and distract.  So, I mean, it was a smart decision and it‘s going to be even smarter come the fall. 

MADDOW:  The big procedural issue here is about coordination between the campaign and these outside groups or in the national party.  Does McCain need to overtly coordinate with these third parties when they can see just like anyone can see McCain‘s chosen themes and his phrases and his talking points? 

KOFINIS:  This is—the nomenclature is you can‘t coordinate because of legal reasons.  But the reality is you can coordinate because you see what the McCain campaign is doing in terms of their message, how they‘re attacking Senator Obama.  You can go to his website and literally copy the text and use it in your ad.  So, it‘s kind of—you know, it‘s kind of an easy angle of attack.  These independent groups are going to be doing this non-stop.  They really are going to become, I think, the bulwark for Senator McCain‘s Campaign.  He is going to use them to basically attack Senator Obama non-stop, basically make him as punch drunk as possible and then McCain will stand up there and feign, I have nothing to do with this. 

He does have something to do with it.  He could have done exactly what Senator Obama said, which was to disavow these groups and tell them to stop.  He‘s chosen not to. 

MADDOW:  Right.  Chris, on the energy issue, McCain has—forgive me here, but he has changed position on so many energy policies with such frequency that it‘s possible to consider using McCain‘s spin as a renewable energy source.  But does McCain face a risk of drawing attention to that, to his own policy reversals, when he tries to run on the environment, when he tries to run as a pro-environment candidate? 

KOFINIS:  The John McCain of 2008 doesn‘t have any problem changing positions.  My joke is that John McCain of 2000 wouldn‘t vote for the John McCain of 2008, and I think it holds true when you talk about energy policy.  I mean, the notion that somehow one day he opposed drilling off shore and now he supports it.  I mean, what I find even more disturbing is he talks about global warming and how serious a threat it is, but then when you look at his energy policy, not only did he oppose any type of funding for biofuels and alternative energy, he‘s supporting more drilling. 

Does anyone actually think in the next four to eight years it will do anything to solve our gas prices or gas crisis?  It is not.  It‘s the same type of bone headed solution that got us into this mess to begin with.  Unfortunately, he‘s playing politics.  I‘ll say one thing; this is one of those issues that I have to say I‘m concerned about, because the Republicans are going to really hammer on this notion that drilling is the solution to solving people‘s problems at the pump, and it‘s not.  But it‘s one thing I think Democrats have to be really aggressive about pushing back on. 

MADDOW:  It‘s one of those things that even if they got everything they wanted, we would still be dependent on foreign oil and have a huge looming crisis.  And losing sight of that is losing the war, even if you win the battle.  Chris Kofinis, thank you for joining us.  I really appreciate it. 

KOFINIS:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Chris Kofinis, former communications director for the John Edwards campaign. 

Big news for Keith fans from the Sportcenter days.  Sunday night is reunion night in America, big news coming up. 

And although there are denials all around that nothing is going on between Yankee Alex Rodriguez and Madonna, one of the celebrity marriages is already headed to divorce court.  That is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Yes, it is breaking news.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Keeping Tabs.  Reunited and it feels so good.  COUNTDOWN‘s very own Keith Olbermann will once again be teaming up with Dan Patrick.  Patrick will join Football Night in America on NBC this coming fall.  He and Keith will share NFL highlight duties, 11 years after they last teamed up on TV on ESPN‘s Sportscenter, which literally redefined sports highlight shows.  Dan Patrick‘s currently a columnist at “Sports Illustrated.”  He said, quote, “I will be doing the highlights for the red states and Keith will be doing the highlights for the blue states.”

And Keith noted that, quote, “when we work together, we are as good as any five people in the business.”  Keith has also issued this exclusive statement to COUNTDOWN, did I mention it‘s exclusive.  I can‘t really do Keith‘s voice, so we‘re hoping this will help.  “Since we couldn‘t get Brett Favre or CC Sabathia, I‘m delighted Dan was available.  He has already volunteered to join us on COUNTDOWN for the next interesting sports story, presuming there is one.  Now leave me alone.  I‘m on vacation.” 

For a reunion about the reunion, tune in to Dan‘s radio show tomorrow. 

Keith will be joining him in the 11:00 a.m. hour. 

And the seasonal swimsuit eruption on America‘s beaches has taken a particularly ugly turn.  Yes, this is Jim Carey sporting a one-piece in Malibu last Friday, bringing a whole new meaning to the already uncomfortable phrase, bikini wax.  There he is with girlfriend Jenny McCarthy.  They were just enjoying a loving private moment, actually none too private.  Serious points to them for goofing on the paparazzi. 

Just hours before, McCarthy had been wearing the same swimsuit.  The twosome apparently share a sense of humor, and what‘s that saying about the couple who sashays together?  Not swapping swimsuits any time soon, New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez and his wife.  Instead, Mrs. A-Rod is sending him divorce papers.  The Madonna affair rumors proving to be the proverbial last straw.  Paul F. Tompkins, son of a rumor mill worker, will help us sort it out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Alex Rodriguez‘s wife makes it official and files for divorce.  According to one of the lawyers for Cynthia Rodriguez, A-Rod‘s affair with Madonna was the final straw.  And Madonna celebrates the fact that she‘s still capable of being the final straw.  OK, totally kidding about Madonna celebrating any of this. 

Cynthia Rodriguez, of course, is definitely not kidding.  In divorce papers filed today in Miami, she claims that, quote, the marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken because of the husband‘s extra marital affairs and other marital misconduct.  The petitioner, Mrs. A-Rod, escaped the Madonna revelation media frenzy by jetting to Paris to visit the home of, wait for it, Lenny Kravitz, who says they‘re just friends.  Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, we wait with bated breath to find out how the Eurythmics and the C&C Music Factory fit into this sordid tail. 

For the record, Madonna tells “People Magazine” she is, quote, not romantically involved in any way with Alex Rodriguez.  Her brother, Christopher Ciccone, has, in the mean time, written a tell-all book with details about things like Madonna smooching actress Gwyneth Paltrow at a fancy party in 1991.  Earth shattering?  Hardly.  That said, it does raise a personal flashback for me, because the one time Fox News ever asked me to be a guest on any of their programs ever was when Madonna made news for kissing another famous female, Britney Spears, at the MTV Music Video Awards in 2003.  They asked, they thought I had expertise, maybe.  I said, no, duh. 

Let‘s bring in comedian Paul F. Tompkins, also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Hello, Paul. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH-1:  Hello, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Divorce is one thing.  A potentially Madonna-inspired divorce is quite another.  Madonna is not named in the divorce papers.  Madonna insists she and A-Rod are just friends, telling “People Magazine” she has been to a Yankees‘ game, no big deal.  What do you make of this? 

TOMPKINS:  If she‘s not named in the divorce papers, it does seem that she couldn‘t be responsible for the break up.  But then it makes you think, if she is responsible—if she‘s part of the break up, but she‘s not named in the divorce papers, what horrible things were going on in this marriage that she doesn‘t even make a mention in the papers, as if the lawyers are saying, I know that everyone thinks you had an affair and there‘s a bunch of pictures of them together, but we‘re good.  I think the cannibalism puts us over the top. 

MADDOW:  The lawyer for Mrs. Rodriguez assesses the A-Rod/Madonna relationship as not a sexual infidelity but rather an affair of the heart.  Is that how Madonna might wreck a marriage circa 2008? 

TOMPKINS:  What is amazing about this is it‘s taking the old, I have sex with her; I make love with you cliche, and completely turning it around and turning it on the man.  This has never been done before.  I don‘t know if it can be called a legal precedent, but it is certainly an Earth precedent. 

MADDOW:  It gets murkier with Rodriguez‘s former trainer, Dodd Ramiro, saying that Madonna has quote/unquote brainwashed A-Rod, and got him hooked on Kabbala.  The trainer says A-Rod all of a sudden sat and listened to a lot of Madonna‘s music and stuff like that, which he called a red flag.  Is that a red flag, Paul? 

TOMPKINS:  Yes, listening to a Madonna CD is a red flag, but it‘s usually a red flag for a college freshman who doesn‘t understand why her best male friend won‘t put the moves on her, even though they get along so well, and he likes to help her pick out outfits and they both love Madonna. 

MADDOW:  Amazingly, the trainer also says that something has pulled A-Rod away from his strong family values.  What‘s more or less likely, that Madonna brainwashed A-Rod or that he ever had strong family values? 

TOMPKINS:  I don‘t know either of these people personally, and perhaps Madonna is completely different in private than her public persona.  If you have any sense of family values at all, then you know that your wife doesn‘t want you hanging around alone in a hotel room with Madonna. 

MADDOW:  Then, of course, there‘s Madonna‘s pesky brother problem.  He and Madonna used to be close, not any more.  He writes a tell-all.  Think he‘s just cashing in? 

TOMPKINS:  If he is, I think he is going about it in a very classy way that indicates a strong family bond.  He‘s saying, OK, yes, I am going to write a book that exploits my celebrity sister, but you know what?  As a sign of decency, I will wait until nobody cares. 

MADDOW:  And put a pretty picture of her on the cover.  Comedian Paul F. Tompkins, contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” thanks for joining us. 

TOMPKINS:  Nice to virtually meet you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this 1,895th day since the declaration of mission accomplished.  I‘m Rachel Maddow in for Keith.  You can catch me every night on Air America radio.  Thanks for watching.

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

END   

Content and programming copyright 2008 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC 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 ASC LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,