updated 7/22/2008 11:07:57 AM ET 2008-07-22T15:07:57

Guest: Howard Fineman, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Kofinis, Michael Musto

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Nothing lost in translation.  Obama on the ground in Iraq; that nation‘s vice president makes it clear and precise, “Iraq wants U.S. troops out by the end of 2010” and occur at the Obama timeline.

And Obama meets with Prime Minister Maliki -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have a very constructive discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  While the Bush administration and the McCain campaign keep trying to spin Mr. Maliki‘s discussion with the German magazine, the facts now seem incontrovertible—Iraq wants us out and wants Obama‘s plan executed.

The Obama world tour in short from his perspective from way downtown - bang; from the Republican point of view, a lot of egg on a lot of faces.

And Senator McCain helped.  It‘s Obama‘s trip, but he made the first gaffe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s a very hard struggle particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Afghanistan/Pakistan border—Afghanistan.  Where is Joe “The walking correction” Lieberman when you need him?

Out of gas.  The latest McCain ad—we wouldn‘t be having an energy crisis if we could just drill here at home.  $4.50 gasoline—that‘s Obama‘s fault.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Or maybe it really started with this—nipple gate.  A federal appeal‘s court throws out the FCC $500,000 against CBS for the exposure of Janet Jackson‘s breast.  A look back at Super Bowl XXXVIII.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The ceremonial coin toss conducted by football legend Y.A.  Tittle, soon to be the question on everyone‘s lips—why a Tittle?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And, by the way, I am not and never have been mistranslated by “Der Spiegel.”

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening from Los Angeles.  This is Monday, July 21st, 106 days until the 2008 presidential election.

There is no mistaking now that Iraqi Prime Minister al Maliki meant every word when he backed Senator Barack Obama‘s plan for withdrawing U.S.  troops from that country within 16 months of his taking office.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Despite the White House‘s attempt to make it seem as if al Maliki had: (A), been misinterpreted, and/or (B), have reconsidered his position, perhaps under some pressure to do so—those efforts nullified today when after a meeting with Senator Obama in Baghdad, al Maliki spokesman telling in reporters in English, that all American troops should be out of Iraq by the end of 2010.

The leader of the purportedly sovereign nation and the presumptive Democratic nominee sitting down this morning in Baghdad where, apparently, the Illinois Democrat‘s troop withdrawal plan did not come up in their conversation.  But after the meeting, Senator Obama deeming their talk, quote, “constructive,” the prime minister‘s spokesman giving reporters an end date for when he would like to see American troops come home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI AL-DABAGH, AL-MALIKI‘S SPOKESMAN:  We are not talking about the timetable which has been used for the election.  We are talking on the real timetable which Iraqis set.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  What is that timetable?

AL-DABAGH:  Up to 2010, to the end of the 2010.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Sunni vice president of Iraq, meanwhile, is expressing a similar position today after his meeting with Senator Obama in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TARIQ AL-HASHIMI, IRAQ‘S VICE PRESIDENT:  I‘d be happy if I reach an agreement to say, for instance, the 31st of December 20010 (2010) would be the last time whereby the last American unit leaving Iraq.  I‘ll be happy for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Both Iraqi officials only enforcing what Prime Minister Maliki had said in an interview over the weekend, telling the German magazine, “Der Spiegel,” in response to a question about when most of the U.S. troops will finally leave Iraq, quote, “As soon as possible, as far as we‘re concerned.  U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months.  That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal with the possibility of slight changes.”

Asked further by the magazine if that would amount to an endorsement of Senator Obama‘s candidacy, al-Maliki adding, quote, “Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement.  Who they choose as their president is the Americans‘ business.  But it‘s the business of Iraqis to say what they want.  And that‘s where the people and the government are in general agreement.  The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.”

The “New York Times” doing its own translation of that al-Maliki interview from an audio recording of the interview that “Der Spiegel” provided to the “New York Times,” confirming that the German magazine‘s translation was accurate and was done by al-Maliki‘s translator, nobody else‘s.

Over the weekend, Senator Obama also visiting the other front, Afghanistan, telling Lara Logan of CBS News why he has long believed U.S.  troop levels there need to increase.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS/”FACE THE NATION”)

OBAMA:  The situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan, and I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front on our battle against terrorism.  And I think one of the biggest mistakes we made, strategically, after 9/11, was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here.  We got distracted by Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Needless to say, lots to talk about with our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In terms of al-Maliki, in terms of withdrawal from Iraq, in terms of what happened over there in this monumental weekend, is there any misunderstanding left in this equation?

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s much, at least, politically.

What Barack Obama‘s doing on this trip, what‘s happening in the Middle East region now is Barack Obama‘s attempt to play the presidential contest out on John McCain‘s territory.  John McCain is supposed to be the expert on foreign policy and defense in that region of the world.

Barack Obama is coming off like the guy who can see over the horizon, can use his own internal radar.  Obama was the one who was saying more than a year ago that Afghanistan was the place to watch, that it was the central place on the war on terror.  And it was Obama who was pushing the timetable for withdrawal.  Now, both of those seem to be kind of conventional wisdom in many ways, backed up to some extent by the very people on the ground Obama‘s talking to.

OLBERMANN:  But, of course, it‘s no longer his plan for withdrawal relevant, how important is the detail in this—that Obama did not even raise his troop withdrawal plans during his meeting with al-Maliki and vice president al-Hashimi today.  I mean, any talk about the timetables, the year 2010, that came afterwards from Iraqi officials.  They‘re the ones driving this bus now.

FINEMAN:  Well, in talking to some foreign policy people around here this afternoon, they say that‘s crucial because it‘s what the Iraqis want.  That makes Obama‘s plans seem both credible and politically sellable (ph).  If it were just something he was trying to push down their throats, put on the table for them to have to deal with, it would be a different matter and John McCain could argue that Obama was ignoring both the political and military ideas on the ground.

But if it‘s the Iraqi government that we have helped stand up and that we support, who is saying that it‘s going to be time for us to go pretty soon, then those are strong words that we have to listen to, not follow necessarily step-by-step, but that we have to listen to.  So, it was very smart of Obama not to bring it up himself.

OLBERMANN:  And, Howard, earlier this month, when the prime minister said the U.S. should agree to pull out of Iraq or agree to a timetable for pulling out, the Bush administration came back and suggested, “Well, you know what?  He might have been misquoted.  He might have been mistranslated.”  It sounds eerily familiar and then this afternoon Bill Plante of CBS was the floor reporter, he asked President Bush a question about al-Maliki‘s most recent remarks about troop withdrawal and President Bush just ignored the question.

At this point, is that the best that the White House can hope for, that somehow this issue—basically the Iraqis saying, “We do want you to get out and here‘s by when” and it, by the way, happens to coincide with what Obama is saying - is the best the White House has on this now, hoping this problem will go away and be ignored into irrelevance?

FINEMAN:  Well, they don‘t have much choice at this point.  They don‘t want to get an open fight with the government they support in Iraq.

And talking to the McCain people, I think there are some frustrations.  They believe that “no good deed goes unpunished.”  Their point of view was that it was John McCain who pushed the surge when Obama opposed it and the fact that the surge has worked pretty much, ironically, ends up playing into Obama‘s hands because it‘s true, in part because of the surge, al Qaeda is focusing again more on Afghanistan.  It is because of the surge that the Maliki government feels stronger and more embolden about telling Americans when they can leave.

But that doesn‘t help John McCain politically.  Ironically, his supporting of the surge earlier and he keeps pounding the table about it, actually has played politically and diplomatically into Barack Obama‘s hands.

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary set of developments.  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—as always, Howard, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The official line from the McCain campaign on Maliki‘s endorsement of Obama‘s withdrawal plan is that Maliki is actually agreeing with McCain on condition-based withdrawal only.  The unofficial line is e-mailed to Mark Ambinder of “The Atlantic” by a GOP strategist who occasionally advises McCain simply read quote, “We‘re F‘ed,”

Camp McCain is sent scrambling to try and rest attention away from the Iraq trip they pushed Senator Obama to take, seizing on any hint of disagreement with his plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX/”FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX HOST:  If I were to say to you, “Let‘s set a timeline of getting all of our combat troops out within two years,” what do you think will be the consequences of setting that kind of timeline?

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, CHAIRMAN OF U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard.  I am convinced at this point in time that making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The McCain campaign promptly releasing a statement after that highlighting that the Joint Chiefs of Staff believes Obama‘s demand to, quote, “get all U.S. forces out of Iraq within 16 months” regardless of the conditions on the ground is, quote, “very dangerous,” even though Obama has never said he would ignore conditions or commanders on the ground and even though Admiral Mullen only said it could be very dangerous.

Senator McCain is trying damage control by appearing on all three network morning shows this morning only to make a classic foreign policy gaffe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ABC)

DIANE SAWYER, ABC HOST:  Do you agree the situation in Afghanistan is precarious and urgent?

MCCAIN:  Well, I think it‘s very serious.  I think it‘s a serious situation.

SAWYER:  Not precarious and urgent?

MCCAIN:  Oh, I don‘t know exactly—run through the vocabulary.  But it‘s a very serious situation.  But there‘s a lot of things we need to do.  We have a lot of work to do and I‘m afraid that it‘s a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Iraq/Afghanistan border—that would be Afghanistan that shares the border with Pakistan, not Iraq.  Iraq is over—see, look at here on the map—Iraq is over 750 miles away.

Joining us now, the Washington editor for “The Nation” magazine, Chris Hayes.  Thanks for your time tonight, Chris.

CHRIS HAYES, WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE NATION:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to overstate this, it‘s not election night, but did Senator McCain just lose the majority of his foreign policy credibility, his supposed strength based on what‘s happened over the weekend and today with Obama and Iraq?

HAYES:  I think it‘s seriously eroded.  I mean, you can make the argument that he sees borders that others don‘t, and that‘s part of his maverick appeal.  But, I think, ultimately, that, you know, there is an overstatement to begin with.  I mean, the fundamental problem, right, was that his tremendous and courageous service in Vietnam provided this kind of aura of expertise around his foreign policy that wasn‘t necessarily there.

I mean, there are people in the Senate on both parties who are really are real foreign policy ones and understand foreign policy at a grander level.  John McCain was never that.  And so, there‘s been—in some senses, his kind of expert and his knowledge has been over-hyped and the more that he‘s exposed to the press, the more that‘s being exposed.

OLBERMANN:  So, McCain‘s position on this is also kind of, I don‘t see where he goes from this—this new position would be: the U.S. government should not listen.  The United States should not listen to what the Iraqi government wants, just what he says they want.

How does that work?

HAYES:  It doesn‘t work.  I mean, the fundamental problem here is we have this sort of crisis, this democratic crisis, right?  You have two ostensible democratic nations, United States and Iraq.  You have two paladins, Democratic majorities that want the U.S. to move towards withdrawal and yet there‘s been no movement towards withdrawal.  What you‘ve seen in this country is a lot of frustration and now what you‘re seeing in Iraq among Iraqi politicians and the Iraqi populous is a lot of frustration.

The problem for John McCain and George Bush is this—they have defined leaving as losing.  Therefore, ergo, we cannot ever leave.  It‘s always tomorrow or some time on the horizon that we have to leave and at a certain points it starts to feel like “Waiting for Godot.”  You know, no matter what they say, right, the stage directions keep saying they do not move.  Well, people want them to move, both in Iraq and the U.S.

OLBERMANN:  This is why until the term was used last week, there had never been in physics anything identified as a time horizon, because it‘s actually physically impossible.  All right, take it away from physics—explain this political element to me.

How can the surge be a success as John McCain claims and is adamant about, if you saw him on THE TODAY SHOW, he repeated it as if by saying it that many times, everything else that happened in the last few days could go away—how can the surge be a success if U.S. troops still can‘t start withdrawing, which was the original purpose, even as laid out by President Bush, of the surge?

HAYES:  Yes, that‘s the ultimate paradox of the heart of this.  I mean, the point, the big difference in the campaign and it cannot be stated enough, right?  The difference between these two candidates is that for Barack Obama the strategic objective is to leave; and for John McCain and George Bush, the strategic objective is to stay, right?  That‘s the difference.

So, the surge, you know, might have brought down the violence, and, in fact, there‘s a lot of other factors, right?  We have the Sunni awakening, you know, we have Muqtada al-Sadr sort of telling his people to chill out.

So, there‘s a lot of things that happened aside from the increase in U.S. troops, but that aside, the problem is that the fundamental vision that‘s underlying what John McCain and George Bush want to do in Iraq, involves a decades-long, generation-long robust military presence in the region and that‘s fundamentally unacceptable to the Iraqi people

OLBERMANN:  Right, we have been invited to leave.  The thing does not even make it to the end of the first decade at the end of 2010.

Last point, Chris, the “New York Times” says it rejected an op-ed that Senator McCain wrote about Iraq because and maybe this is symbolism here in its finest form, because he refused in this to give any concrete definition of victory in Iraq or to give some sort of clear articulation of his plan to achieve whatever victory is.

Suddenly, is this in great relief in our understanding of what McCain‘s campaign problem is regarding Iraq—that there is basically a chant of “USA, USA” in this and no specifics whatsoever.  There is no definition of victory there; therefore, there cannot possibly be victory?

HAYES:  Yes, that‘s exactly.  The whole conditions-based withdrawal has been a smoke screen from the very beginning.  In fact, we‘ve been hearing that at seven years in.  This war has gone on longer than World War II.  And we‘ve kept being told about condition-based withdrawal.  Well, when conditions got worse, we had to stay to make them get better; and once they get better, we had to stay to make sure they never got worse.

So, at the certain point, people are on this hassle, right?  People want to see both in the U.S. and in Iraq, want to see U.S. troops begin the process of a responsible redeployment, and no matter what John McCain says about the success of the surge is irrelevant to the ultimate strategic objective, which is an end to the war and the occupation.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  Used to be called time horizon or it‘s now called “time horizon” and used to be in my use known as “kick the can down the road.”

Chris Hayes, the Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine—thank you, Chris.

HAYES: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Obama campaign might wish it could pack up and come home after the unexpected success of the foreign tour so far.  Rachel Maddow joins us to talk about the big picture emerging from Obama overseas so far.

And McCain and the economy, he tries to pin high gas prices on—you‘re not going to believe it who he tries to pin it on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Obama‘s overseas tour has yet to have the slightest problem.  Perversely, does that increase the pressure for him to have a perfect trip the rest of the week?

John McCain excoriated in the “New York Times” of his grasp or lack thereof the economy.

And our long national nightmare is over—nipple-gate.  What we hope is the ultimate final chapter in the Janet Jackson Super Bowl saga that began four years ago.

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Whatever his success may owe to judgment, careful planning, fortunate timing—plain, dumb luck.  Barack Obama might very well want to quit now while in the area of trying to make himself look like a commander-in-chief, he is ahead.

And our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The senator taking a position on which other key players agree, it‘s starting to look like a trend.  Perhaps the Bush administration and the campaign of Senator McCain should have read the tea leaves from a basketball shot when Obama kicked off his foreign tour with a stop at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.  After the aw-shucks disclaimer, I may not make the first one.  There it is.  Right downtown—bang.

Senator Obama‘s meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Saturday, has given unseemingly unintentional support from General David Petraeus, who acknowledged in the verbal equivalent of a long three-pointer interview, that al Qaeda may be shifting its focus back to Afghanistan and Pakistan; and, of course, the agreement between Senator Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki on Iraq‘s future—provided a huge exclamation point by the White House‘s befuddled attempts to tamp it down.

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow, who hosts her own show on Air America Radio, and occasionally, this one.

Rachel, good evening.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The politics in a moment of this, but are we missing the real headline here?  The Iraqi government is saying, “Get out,” and President Bush swore, you know, “Some day if they say ‘get out,‘ we‘ll get out.”

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  May 2007 in the Rose Garden, Bush said—and I went back and checked the quote directly so I could be sure to directly quote him—“If they were to say leave, we would leave.”  Also, for what it‘s worth, in April of 2004, John McCain at the Council on Foreign Relation said, “It is obvious we would have to leave if they asked to us leave.”

I mean, they told us that the point of invading Iraq was to topple Saddam Hussein.  Saddam Hussein was toppled; they told us that the point of staying there after, was to set up a sovereign Iraqi government.  Well now, the sovereign Iraqi government is standing up on its hind legs enough to tell us to leave, and we‘re left with this situation where they need another explanation of why we can‘t leave.  That‘s the real headline here.

I mean, I think that Chris Hayes got it exactly right.  They have defined winning as staying.  They need a new explanation, though, for why it is that we‘re staying.

OLBERMANN:  The purpose of the war in Iraq is to maintain a war in Iraq.

Listen, Kuwait, Afghanistan, now these developments in Iraq with the assist from the White House and from Senator McCain, this Obama trip very risky, very potentially disastrous for him if the wrong notes were hit.  Instead, they‘re already at the kind of critical mass, I imagine, their advisors could have only dreamed.  Can it get better from here or can it only get worse?

MADDOW:  You will understand the impulse at this point for them to

just say, “OK, trip‘s over.  Let‘s quit while we‘re ahead.”  Even if -

OLBERMANN:  Check, please.

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.  We‘re about going to wrap this one up.

I mean, you can imagine them at Obama headquarters sort of making a best-case scenario and worse-case scenario list for things that could happen on this trip.  And I don‘t think that I can imagine them ever being optimistic enough to put war ends on Obama‘s terms in the best-case scenario column for this trip.  I mean, short of Zawahiri and bin Laden throwing themselves on his feet for mercy, I‘m not sure what else they are looking for here.

OLBERMANN:  But could there be a backlash politically on this?  Because, even Obama said, “Remember, one president at a time.”  Here, the Iraqis do make the biggest policy statement in their government, this government‘s history, they make it to Obama.  Could there be some blowback on the political end that he‘s essentially usurp, not McCain, but President Bush?

MADDOW:  Well, it was interesting that Obama started this trip on that note of humility.  As you said, he said, “There can only be one president at a time.  I am traveling there as a United States senator.”  He didn‘t make any public comments for the start of his trip and he has approached it with that humility.

But, I think, you‘re right, we are seeing a little bit of backlash.  It‘s just important politically to note that the only backlash against this has been in Washington.  In Iraq, the Iraqi people have long wanted us to - wanted us to leave.  Looking down at the prospect of provincial elections happening this fall or maybe they‘re getting pushed back to this winter, Iraqi politicians are eager to side with the Iraqi people and tell the U.S.  troops to go home.

Right now, we‘ve got the Iraqi people, the American people, the Iraqi government, the man who is most likely to be the next United States president and, honestly, the U.S. military, all saying that we either should or need to leave or at least drastically scale back very soon.  The only people on the other side of the equation right now: John McCain, George W. Bush, and the Cheney family.

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s the last question about how they reacted to this in sort of isolation, Bush and McCain both.  How did they think they would get away with blaming all this on bad translation by a German magazine when the translator didn‘t work for the magazine, but he worked for Prime Minister Maliki?

MADDOW:  It‘s such an interesting point about how all this unfolded.  Because remember, just a few weeks ago when Maliki first announced—just a couple of weeks ago, when he first announced that he wanted a definite timetable and the response from the State Department‘s spokesman was—maybe he was mistranslated - well, of course, he wasn‘t.

John McCain‘s reaction to that initial statement from Maliki about wanting a timetable was that somehow, perhaps the media has had gotten this wrong and they didn‘t.

But now, we‘re seeing this again.  There must have been some translation error.  They released the audio of it, so we know there wasn‘t an error.  It seems like kind of a sad approach of trying to make this go away rather than just saying they disagree with it.

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.

Rachel Maddow, we‘ll do this differently this time.  I‘ll be back tomorrow from here, but right now, I have to get back to this convention of TV critics and answer more questions about your eye shadow choices.  So, congrats.  You get promoted from guest to host.  Take it from here.

MADDOW:  All right.  Thank you, Keith.  Sorry about the eye shadow questions.

All right.  Still ahead of us tonight on COUNTDOWN, a diner turned instant drive thru.  If the coffee won‘t perk you up, the out of control careening SUV should do the trick.  It‘s your Oddball traffic report.

And: John McCain loses his brain on economic issues.  He may have also lost his lunch after reading an op-ed in the “New York Times” that slammed his, quote, “stupidity” about the economy.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On this date in 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial ended.  High school biology teacher John Scopes was found guilty of breaking state law for teaching Darwin‘s theory of evolution that humans evolved from apes.  Scopes was fined 500 dollars, although that fine would later be overturned on a technicality.  Of course, all this mess could have been avoided if the defense could have just gotten their hands on this video of a monkey smoking a Pall Mall.  I rest my case, your honor.  Let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We begin at a diner in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where last week regular Kenneth Anderson got a seat next to the grill, the grill of an out of control SUV.  Check, please.  Keep an eye on Anderson, bottom right of your screen.  Sipping coffee, reading the paper as the truck plows through the diner.  Anderson was shoved into the counter but somehow escaped serious injury.  The driver of the SUV said she blacked out before the collision.  Damaged to the restaurant are estimated to cost 20 grand.  The diner says Anderson is guaranteed a free meal every time he comes back to the diner, which he can pick up at their convenient new drive-through window. 

Over to Wacho (ph), Peru for their third annual Guinea Pig Festival.  Here you can see some entrants in the best-dressed guinea pig contest, but there were more big ways for these cuddly rodents to win big.  Besides best dressed guinea pig, there was an award for biggest guinea pig.  One for fastest guinea pig.  And an award for the tastiest guinea pig.  Yes, that‘s right, in America guinea pigs are one step up from the hamster at the pet store.  In Peru, they‘re one step up from the ham steak on the grill.  It‘s not clear if costume winners get a bye in the tastiest guinea pig contest, but I see a few outfits that could spark ethical and culinary confusion, I‘m talking to you police piggy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator McCain surveying his vast deep nuanced economic understanding, looking for the cause for record-high gas prices in America.  His answer?  Barack Obama.  Really? 

And news about a very, very, very famous chest area thingy unexpectedly popping out of its housing and thrusting itself at a live television camera.  Those stories ahead, but first, the headlines breaking in the administration 50 running scandals, Bushed. 

Number three, lame duck-gate.  President Bush has hired a new deputy chief of staff, presidential adviser on par with National Security Adviser.  Who he found to fill the shoes of 52-year-old Joe Hagan, a logistics expert with three decades experience in D.C., who also served in the first Bush administration and is now leaving to become a CEO.  It‘s Blake Gottesman, Jenna‘s high school boyfriend, who is now 28 years old.  His most important previous job was carrying Mr. Bush‘s coat, literally.  He was the kid who physically carried the president‘s coat.  He also occasionally carried Barney, the famously ill-tempered Bush family dog.  Now that kid is deputy chief of staff.  Sleep easy, America. 

Number two, small government-gate.  The next time you hear Karl Rove or some other media hair cut refer to America as a center right nation, a country that thinks government is a problem and not the solution to any problem, we here at COUNTDOWN invite you to cite a new “Time Magazine”/Rockefeller Foundation poll.  It turns out Americans have high expectations and high hopes for what America can do for our country.  More than two thirds of Americans want the government to improve child care and paid family leave.  More than three-quarters of Americans want the government to expand access to quality health care.  More than four fifths of Americans want the government to start major initiatives to improve energy efficiency and to start the kind of major public works project FDR used to start jobs and pull the country out of the Depression. 

Center right/Schmenter right; Americans want a government that works.  And that‘s just not a right-wing idea any more. 

Number one, justice delayed-gate.  America‘s first military war crimes trial since World War II begins today.  The defendant Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden‘s chauffeur.  In that small windowless court room in Cuba today, the ideals of American justice that are on display for the world to know, the rules of the court give deference to the prosecution.  The jury is all military officers.  Only two-thirds have to vote for conviction.  That‘s considered a hung jury in a non-kangaroo court.  Hearsay is admissible.  And if Hamdan is somehow found not guilty of all charges, he‘ll stay locked up at Gitmo anyway, for we must consider that we shall be as a City Upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If any one event epitomizes John McCain‘s grasp of the economy, the wisdom of his approach to it, the precision of his timing on it, the accuracy of his attacks on Obama about it, it might just be this, our number three story.  Tonight, Senator McCain launches a new attack ad against Barack Obama, blaming Illinois‘ junior senator for the high price of gas, an interesting attribution of power, given McCain‘s constant belittling of Obama, and also a curious bit of timing, considering today is the first business day since, well, why don‘t we all enjoy the ad first. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Gas prices four dollars, five dollars, no end in sight.  Because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil.  Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?  One man knows we must now drill more in America and rescue our family budgets.  Don‘t hope for more energy, vote for it.  McCain. 

MCCAIN:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Even the Bush administration admits offshore drilling won‘t impact gas prices for years, if at all.  But even if it would drop gas prices tomorrow, Obama is not alone in having opposed it in the past.  McCain voted against offshore drilling in 2003.  McCain‘s claim of no end in sight to gas prices?  Last week saw the steepest fall in crude oil prices ever, with some stations already reporting a ripple effect on pump prices.  Apparently, gas prices can come down without new drilling. 

Just as Obama predicted, when he warned speculators that he would block the market manipulation that even some Republicans blame for the run-up in prices by undoing the deregulation created by, you guessed it, McCain economic adviser Phil Gramm, who also deregulated the mortgage industry, thank you very much, who slinked down from his role as McCain‘s campaign co-chair late in the day on Friday, in the wake of him telling America that economic pain is all in our heads and we‘ve become a nation of whiners. 

Meanwhile, McCain‘s big idea for lowering gas prices is suspending or eliminating the 18 cent a gallon gas tax.  Obama warned that oil companies would bump up the price accordingly and the loss of federal highway trust fund tax revenue would cripple the government‘s ability to repair and maintain our roads and bridges.  Because of high prices, drivers have been buying fewer gallons all year.  And now today‘s “L.A. Times” reports that the federal highway fund will fall short by more than three billion dollars next year.  And that‘s without the McCain gas tax gimmick. 

Let‘s bring in Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, former communication director for the Edwards campaign.  Thanks for joining us tonight, Chris. 

CHRIS KOFINIS, FMR. EDWARDS CAMPAIGN COMM. DIR:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  OK, blaming Barack Obama for high gas prices.  McCain himself, perhaps, drilling here for the lowest information voters known to man? 

KOFINIS:  I think you have to suspend all reality.  I think, the one thing missing from this ad is those medical disclaimers that basically is going to warn anyone who watches this ad is going to lose their cognitive abilities.  It just doesn‘t pass the laugh test.  I mean, I‘m not sure the McCain campaign got the memo, but John McCain has been in Washington for almost three decades.  His energy policies revolve around a gas tax holiday and voting against alternative fuels funding.  So, it just doesn‘t—it is really laughable. 

Here‘s the part that I find almost hysterical.  The one thing that John McCain did do recently, actually, a few years ago, he actually voted against legislation that if there was drilling in Anwar, all that oil would be for American consumers.  He voted against that.  He actually wanted drilling to be done and then the oil to go out to anyone but American consumers.  I mean, this is—this is a bizarre, bizarre ad. 

MADDOW:  Well, Chris, as a campaign vet yourself, do you think the McCain campaign is taking a real shot at making voters blame Obama for high gas prices?  Or is this just a generic transitive property guilt thing, picture aggravating gas pump, picture Obama, hope that Obama aggravates people like gas pump does?  Is it literal or is it figurative?  

KOFINIS:  I actually think—and this is going to be stunning.  I actually think they try to do a genuine attempt to reach voters here.  The problem here is, once again, with execution.  The McCain campaign is becoming the Harlem Globe Trotters of presidential politics.  This is ridiculous.  If you are going to do a hard-hitting ad, and the logic here, let‘s be frank, was to basically hit Obama on the economy, on gas prices while he was overseas.  But if you‘re going to do a hard-hitting ad, here‘s a very simple lesson.  It has to be factual.  It has to be logical.  This was neither. 

No one is going to buy the fact that somehow Senator Obama is responsible for high gas prices.  That is ridiculous.  It is obvious what is responsible for high gas prices: our dependence on oil.  This is the major mistake the McCain campaign continues to make.  I‘m glad they keep making it, but it‘s something that they have to change, if they have any chance of winning this thing.  And I hope they don‘t change it, to be honest. 

MADDOW:  Chris, Frank Rich‘s column in the “New York Times” yesterday, devastating summary of McCain‘s economic weaknesses, not only his proposals but his basic understanding of the issues, his advisers.  Give McCain some straight-up advice here, even though we know your sympathies.  Is there  anywhere safe for McCain to go on economics now?  If economic are going to be the most important issue in the election, and they might be, where should he go? 

KOFINIS:  Rachel, I‘ll put my Republican strategist on.  And I don‘t put it on very often and it doesn‘t fit very well.  The unfortunate thing, there‘s not much of a place for John McCain to go.  Listen, in 2000, he had a very powerful narrative.  The narrative of a candidate is probably one of the most significant things you have in an election, especially a presidential one.  He destroyed that by flip-flopping on these issues, in particular the Bush tax cuts.  That‘s something he can‘t get back.  And unfortunately it is going to haunt him right to the election. 

It‘s a really damaging position he‘s taken.  I don‘t think he can recover no matter what anybody recommends. 

MADDOW:  Tough advice for the McCain campaign.  They‘ll consider the source, Democratic strategist and former Edwards‘ campaign communications director Chris Kofinis.  It‘s great to have you with us.  Thanks for joining us tonight. 

KOFINIS:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Coming up next, biggest weekend ever.  “Batman” kills “Spiderman” at the box office.  And it was the half second of nudity that cost CBS half a million bucks.  Now a judge has come to the network‘s rescue.  That‘s ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A “Dark Knight‘s” highest honor, biggest opening weekend ever.  On our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, keeping tabs, that latest Batman tail kicking bat butt.  Ticket sales for the “Dark Knight” grossing 158 million dollars from Friday to Saturday, according to final estimates from its distributor.  That beats the previous record holder “Spiderman 3.”  The Batman sequel also broke seven other box office records, including best midnight gross, best i-Max opening, and biggest single day gross in box office history, with 67 million dollars on Friday alone. 

Against all that, the other major weekend release wasn‘t too shabby, “Mamma Mia,” singing its way to an Abba loving 27 million dollars. 

Did you know John McCain loves Abba?  I think of him whenever I hear “Dancing Queen,” not “Waterloo.”  You can dance it.  Does your mother now.  It all makes me think of John McCain. 

Another happy business outcome for actor Vern Troyer and for all of civilization, frankly.  Troyer‘s sex tapes will remain under wraps.  The actor has reportedly dropped his 20 million dollar lawsuit against celebrity sex tape broker Kevin Blatt (ph), and Sugar DVD.  Under the terms of the settlement, filed in federal court, Mr. Blatt and the distributor are barred from selling the video without permission from Mr. Troyer and his ex-girlfriend.  Troyer‘s lawyer, Edwin McPherson, says we got what we wanted, a permanent injunction.  Troyer also dropped his lawsuit against the website TMZ.com, which had posted clips of the video.  In short—sorry, mighty mini me maneuvering has muffled a mortifying mucky mess. 

Also, flasher flashback.  Why Janet Jackson‘s wardrobe malfunction at the Superbowl four and a half years ago is suddenly back in the news.  That is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  My fellow Americans, our four-year national nightmare is over.  Nipple-gate is no more.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, even if you were not one of the 91 million viewers watching the Superbowl on February 1st, 2004, you certainly have memory of Janet Jackson‘s soft chest part exposed by Justin Timberlake during the half-time show. 

The decency police didn‘t buy the wardrobe malfunction excuse, slapping CBS with a 550,000 dollar fine, all for a moment that lasted 0.09 of a second.  That fine was tossed by the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals today.  It is now history.  Alas there is no better way to commemorate this final chapter than by looking back at COUNTDOWN‘s original coverage of this Earth shattering story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  No one would have believed in the first years of the 21st century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man‘s and yet as mortal of his own.  Yet across the Gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as hours are to those of the beast that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. 

And early in the 21st century came the great disillusion.  The awful night had begun with the omen the whole world missed, the ceremonial coin toss conducted by football legend YA Tittle, soon to be the question on everyone‘s list; why A. Tittle?  Unaware of the cataclysm that awaited him, Timberlake was initially proud.  And then the others got loud. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Dirty pillows. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “THE VILLAGE VOICE:  It‘s not like it was a real one. 

This apparently was made up of Michael Jackson‘s old noses. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the oldest booby that Justin Timberlake has ever seen.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIR:  That‘s not exactly an he usual phenomenon for me. 

OLBERMANN:  Soon the breast seemed to have taken on a life and publicity agent of its own. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, hey, hey.  That half-time show was OK. 

CONAN O‘BRIEN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  Yes, it was. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, hey, hey, my areola was on full display. 

OLBERMANN:  And then the good times ended from halftime half open to 100 percent backlash. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Offensive, embarrassing and inappropriate. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Received thousands of complaints. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think it was an accident what happened at the Superbowl. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was very calculated. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Somebody had knowledge. 

OLBERMANN:  Think of the children.  Would somebody think of the children. 

Though the universe seemed aligned against her very being, Janet would ultimately realize that when you are a Jackson, you are not alone. 

(SINGING)

OLBERMANN:  And one of those intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic who withdraw from this lonely planet, what think they of us now? 

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  To the “Village Voice” newspaper, he is the super scribe of “La Dolce Musto.”  to us at COUNTDOWN, he‘s our resident scholar on nipple-gate.  Hi, Michael Musto. 

MUSTO:  I‘m so honored, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Let‘s hearken back to the moment when it happened.  Like the landing on the moon, the O.J. freeway chase, do you remember where you were, what you were feeling at the time? 

MUSTO:  Yes, I was watching “Golden Girls” reruns.  I don‘t watch sports even when there is entertainment involved.  I certainly got the call, Rachel.  I was booked on TV more from this than when Cher removed her rib, or even when she removed a bagel boy.  This was the biggest orb since men walked on Latoya. 

MADDOW:  Back in ‘04 the amount of attention this got was obviously disproportionate to its value importance.  Silly as this is, there‘s legitimate questions here about government overreach, legislative morality.  What message does the appeals court send by throwing out this find today? 

MUSTO:  I think a breast, however surgerized, does not harm anybody.  At the time, parents were outraged, you‘ll remember, that this breast was going to corrupt their children.  Meanwhile, the parents are eating beef jerky, selling crack out of their privates, cheating on each other.  They‘re total hypocrites.  And the breasts did not hurt anyone, even gay men. 

MADDOW:  In the big picture, does this further tarnish the George W. Bush presidential legacy? 

MUSTO:  I don‘t know.  I think lying about Iraq was enough of a bad legacy for him.  We don‘t have to throw Janet‘s breast on this plate of international genocide.  What the hell, let‘s blame for this too. 

MADDOW:  Stupidity sometimes sticks when it comes to politicians.  But with celebrities, do you think this scandal actually helped advance the careers of Janet Jackson and Mr. Timberlake? 

MUSTO:  It helped Justin because he distanced himself from it, as you‘ll remember.  He said Janet betrayed him.  He developed this fake class.  He then went on to do a part in “Love Guru.”  In the case of poor Janet, it did hurt her.  It‘s still hovering over her.  This breast keeps smashing into her career like a pinata, and no pretty toys come out. 

MADDOW:  Wow, what an image. 

MUSTO:  Thank you, I‘m proud of that myself. 

MADDOW:  That‘s thrown me off my game here for a second.  One other story getting a second life in the news today, Michael, Shannon Doherty reprising her role as Brenda Walsh in “Beverly Hills 90210,” the ten year high school reunion.  She and Jenny Garth and Tori Spelling coming back as themselves only older.  Does this mean big numbers for the CW, which has been teetering on the brink of it? 

MUSTO:  It‘s big news for the C-word.  No, no, I‘m very excited about this.  It‘s so major, Rachel, that Luke Perry said, you know what, I‘ll pass.  But still Shannon, Tori, Jennie, these three titans back at the Peach Pit.  You can‘t lose with this.  Not since the actor studio brought Chekhov to London has there been something so awful. 

MADDOW:  Michael Musto of the “Village Voice,” it is always a pleasure and always somehow shocking to have you here.  Thank you. 

MUSTO:  That‘s what I‘m going for, thank you. 

MADDOW:  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,909th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Rachel Maddow in for Keith Olbermann.  He‘ll be back tomorrow night.  You can catch me 6:00 p.m.  Eastern time on Air America Radio, except when I‘m here.  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.

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