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updated 4/23/2004 12:17:25 PM ET 2004-04-23T16:17:25

Guests: P.J. Crowley, Ryan Allen, Harvey Levin, Patrice Confer, Claudia Jensen

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The Uneasiness Index: Half of all Americans worry the terrorists might be winning.  More than half think we‘ve made terror here, more likely by going into Iraq.  Two-thirds believe we are likely to be hit before the elections.  We are worried.

Another human face on the carnage in Iraq: Patrice Confer wants the Army to send her son home from the battlefield, she needs to see him.  She is dying of cancer.  The Army has said “No.” 

Michael Jackson indicted: How the grand jury‘s action reshaped the case, and late breaking developments as reported by Harvey Levin of “Celebrity Justice.”

To what length would you go if your child suffered from attention deficit disorder?  Would you treat him with marijuana? 

And he‘s only in serious condition now, which seems pretty lucky considering he forgot the little rule about not smoking at the gas station. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  The temperature humidity index and the misery index have been perfected by statisticians and politicians but in this, the third year of the modern terror, we may need something new: An Uneasiness Index. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight: the president tells us this is a very hard country to protect.  A poll suggests two-thirds of the populace expect an attack before the election.  Congress is dusting off its emergency plans in the event the Capitol is hit.  And oh by the way, a couple parts of a radioactive fuel rod are missing from a nuclear plant in Vermont.  Uneasiness index?  It‘s high. 

We‘ll start at the top with the table setter to that ineffable feeling of discomfort, the president‘s remarks to the executives of 1,500 newspapers affiliated with the wire service, the “Associated Press.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I can understand why they think we‘re going to get hit again.  They saw what happened in Madrid, this is a hard country to defend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Two-thirds of this country evidently agrees with him, might even go beyond that and say it‘s too hard a country to defend.  An “Associated Press” poll suggesting 67 percent believe it is likely that terrorists would strike in this country prior to the November elections, 50 percent are concerned that in the war on terror, the terrorists might be winning, 20 percent feel strongly that we are behind, 33 percent say they have less face—faith than before in this government‘s ability to protect them, another 25 percent say there‘s at least a little truth to that statement. 

And when asked if going to war in Iraq increased the long-term risk of terrorism in this country, 54 percent said it had.  Four months ago that figure was only 40 percent. 

They do not record the names of who answers what in public opinion polls, but it would be interesting to see if the “Associated Press” asked any members of the Congress any of those questions. 

If you did not already agree with me about the Uneasiness Index, Pete Williams may convince you from Washington, where he reports the representatives were discussing contingency plans for special elections in the event that 100 or more of them get killed at the same time. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  What if flight 93 had been on time on 9/11 and those onboard had not learned of the other hijackings and didn‘t storm the cockpit, causing it to crash?  It could have hit the U.S. Capitol, killing so many that Congress would be unable to act.  Or what if an attack came during a State of the Union Message?

BUSH:  Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney...

WILLIAMS:  With the president, vice president, speaker and most of the cabinet vulnerable, how best, in other words, to avoid the kind of confusion after President Reagan was shot? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As of now, I am in control here in the White House. 

WILLIAMS:  Two-and-a-half years after the terror of 9/11, Congress today, took the first step toward providing for such a doomsday. 

REP. DOC HASTINGS ®, WASHINGTON:  We simply must make it possible for the people to reconstitute the People‘s House as quickly as possible if a large portion of this body is suddenly deceased. 

The House today approved giving states just 45 days to hold elections for replacing House members killed in an attack.  Its supporters said the House has always been elected, but some asked why not let governors appoint House replacements immediately as they can in the Senate. 

REP. BRIAN BAIRD (D), WASHINGTON:  The bill before us answers that question with the word “chaos” and uncertainty. 

WILLIAMS (on camera):  But many in Washington, scholars and former public servants, say Congress is way behind in planning for a catastrophic attack on the Capitol. 

(voice-over):  What if, for example, hundreds in Congress were seriously hurt, but not killed?  It would still be incapacitated, unable to provide money for the military, elect a new House speaker if necessary, second in line to succeed the president, or even confirm a vice president if needed. 

ALEXANDER HAIG, FMR. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  We don‘t want to contemplate the prospect, after a disaster, of having nobody in charge, or a dictatorship for a period of months, where you don‘t have any of those checks and balances. 

WILLIAMS:  A problem that should be solved now, advocates say, because waiting till doomsday will be too late. 

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That was not Alexander Haig that was Norm Orenstein.  Two problems on the ground ratcheting up the concept of the Uneasiness Index:  firstly, one piece is roughly the size of a pencil, the other piece has the same girth but is 17 inches long.  Each is radioactive.  Each is missing from a Vermont nuclear reactor.  The Vermont Yankee facility in Montpelier, to be precise. 

What‘s missing are two parts of a spent radioactive fuel rod that had been removed 25 years ago.  In a recent inventory, they showed up nowhere to be found.  The great probability, says a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman, is that the pieces are still somewhere inside a pool at Vermont Yankee built to house such things, or they‘re in South Carolina, or in Washington state, or in a testing facility run by G.E., or—well, they would be fatal if handled and presumably fatal if handled by terrorists who wanted to use them to mix up the so-called dirty bomb, but don‘t worry, the nuclear folks said they were looking for them.  What more do you want? 

The Uneasiness Index scavenger hunt in New Jersey is for something much bigger, a gasoline tanker.  It has been missing for two weeks now, stolen evidently from the T.K. Transport Terminal in Pennsauken.  They know this much, there was no gasoline in it when it disappeared, but in this climate, even an empty gas tanker is a potential terrorist tool. 

For a closer read on whether the Uneasiness Index should say sunny today, leave your body armor at home, or clouds brewing, bring your best gas mask and decontamination gear, we‘re joined by P.J. Crowley, director of National Defense and Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress and a former special assistant for national security affairs to President Clinton. 

Mr. Crowley, thank you for joining us again. 

P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Hello, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  What do those “Associated Press” numbers tell you about anxiety levels in the country, as we‘ve dubbed it the Uneasiness Index?  Are we worried?  Are we right to be worried? 

CROWLEY:  I think the American people have got it about right.  We are facing a terrorist threat that is morphing greatly.  It‘s been electrified by Iraq.  We used to worry about just al-Qaeda, now we‘re worried about al-Qaedists—franchise terrorists that are much less predictable, they‘re homegrown, and they‘re out there in places like Madrid.  Yesterday in Riyadh, and I think the American people have a right to think that there‘s a good possibility we could be attacked between now and November. 

OLBERMANN:  The last time you were with us, we discussed Tom Ridge‘s comments about Homeland Security and how his department cannot cover every contingency, but those polls say that about 6 in 10 of us to some degree have less confidence now than we did in the recent past that the government can protect us. 

Is the government, not being political here, but the government as a whole, out of touch with how Americans feel about this?  Is it not prioritizing the way the public would want it to? 

CROWLEY:  Well, I think the administration wants to say—you know, in order to win the war on terrorism, we have to play offense, but as you know, in Homeland Security, we also have to play defense, and right now there‘s a great concern that Iraq is starting to eat its way into the available resources.  You know, we are—we‘re rightfully training Iraqi policemen for security purposes in Baghdad, but we‘re laying off policemen here at home that are foot soldiers when it comes to our defense.  So, I think that we have to really take a serious look at the amount of resources that we‘re devoting to Homeland Security.  We‘ve got some very tough decisions—you know, as the 9/11 Commission told us, we weren‘t on a war footing before 9/11, we‘re really not on a war footing right now.  The administration says keep your duct tape ready, but so far they just tell us to go and shop. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, about the anxiety footing, are the politicians—are leaders sensitive enough about just that subject?  I mean, the president says it‘s a hard country to defend, the House is voting on preparations for what happens if there are triple digit losses inside Congress.  Is there anybody contemplating the psychological impact and damage that this does to people who are just trying to get on with their lives every day? 

CROWLEY:  Well, I think if we see terrorism, and it‘s horrible enough when we see what happened on September 11, but if we move down to the retail level, something like the Israelis have been dealing with for years, it‘s going to change us dramatically psychologically, and I‘m not sure that we‘re ready for that.  I think we have to get past some of this demagoguery that has been surrounding the patriot act, for example.  We have some very tough decisions.  We‘ve got to identify immigration policy that allows us to preserve that sense of community—you know, keep ourselves competitive by attracting the best and brightest from the world—you know, but also enhance our security.  We‘ve got to look at things like I.D.  cards.  We‘ve got to think about a domestic security service, that‘s not something that Americans like to think about, but there are tough decisions ahead that we have to grasp in order to make sure that we have the Homeland Security that we want. 

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  P.J.  Crowley, the Center for American Progress. 

Many thanks, sir. 

CROWLEY:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And to add to our proverbial Uneasiness Index, haunting echoes from 9/11 itself, that the hijackers and organizers had in many cases forged U.S.  documents is a concept we can all accept on an abstract level.  Then what happened to a 19-year-old named Ryan Allen of Kansas City happens and the shoulders we feel are not abstract at all, but rather very realistic.  Allen walked into the Van Chevrolet dealership in Kansas City to buy a Cavalier.  He filled out the credit applications, presented his I.D.  and waited for 90 minutes.  That‘s when a manager came in and asked him if he had ever been to Yemen.  When entered into a credit checking system, Allen‘s social security number produced not his I.D.  But rather that of Ramsey bin al Shibh, suspected coordinator of the 9/11 hijackings, the man who was arrested two years ago in Pakistan.  Presumably bin al-Shibh he was using forged documents that happened to have a social security number on them that was, identical to Ryan Allen‘s. 

Mr. Allen joins us now from Kansas City.  Good evening, sir. 

RYAN ALLEN, CONFUSED WITH 9/11 PLOTTER:  Good evening.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m guessing here you did not get the car and you did not get a good explanation. 

ALLEN:  You‘re right.  You‘re right.  It all started—all I wanted was a simple Cavalier, a car to get me from pointed A to point B, and it turned into this. 

OLBERMANN:  Is anybody doing this—anything about this on your behalf?  Are you going to have to spend the rest of your life proving that you are not an al-Qaeda coordinator? 

ALLEN:  I haven‘t been able to get a hold of anybody that actually—you know, has any answers.  Everybody kind of steps back, says “wow, that‘s a strange story, tell me how that goes.”  As far as trying to get to the bureaucracy of the government, it‘s like walking into a cat fight and trying to get a hold of one of them.  I‘m not getting any straight answers and nobody seems to know what to do. 

OLBERMANN:  If this were not weird enough, when‘s your birthday? 

ALLEN:  Weird enough, it‘s 9/11. 

OLBERMANN:  How is that possible? 

ALLEN:  That‘s the strangest part of this entire story.  I can‘t help but think there‘s got to be some sort of connection, and if not, what in the world are the odds, number one.  My identity gets mixed up with Ramsey‘s, and No. 2, that my birthday is 9/11. 

OLBERMANN:  The Treasury Department offered one explanation for all of this about similarities between your name and this guy, al-Shidh, because both first names start with an “R” and both last ones start with “A” and “L,” that would be a lot of Ron Allens and Rick Alberts in trouble, aren‘t they?

ALLEN:  There‘s going to be a lot of people in trouble if the answer I was given holds any water, whatsoever.  You know, I‘ve said it before and I‘ll say it again.  I really think that Little Bo Peep has a closer name than I do to Ramsey bin al-Shibh. 

OLBERMANN:  What do you do now?  You‘re essentially in limbo regarding this and your credit history and your I.D.  and social security number comes up for something else important as it might in the next, I don‘t know, two days or week? 

ALLEN:  Yeah, that‘s exactly where I am.  I‘m in a limbo, I mean, everybody points fingers to somebody else.  Everybody says I need to talk to the Treasury Department, when I talk to them, they pretty much give me that answer and they can‘t give me any idea whether this will happen again, whether he has used it, whether he‘s going to continue to use it.  Nobody has an answer. 

OLBERMANN:  So you‘re on the inside of this and we‘re talking about whether or not people are worried in the country about Homeland Security.  Are you worried about Homeland Security when something like this happened to you? 

ALLEN:  When they—it‘s one of those, if it can happen to you, it can happen to anybody.  Just little ol‘ me, just going throughout my day and trying to buy a car, and I get mixed up in all this, it really homes your eyes, it certainly does.  You know, it‘s something I‘m going to pay a lot more attention to and frankly, I‘m worried about. 

OLBERMANN:  Ryan Allen who is not the al-Qaeda operative, Ramsey bin al-Shibh.  Thanks for your time, sir, and good luck with this. 

ALLEN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN opening tonight with terror worries here in the U.S., including some that would border on the farcical otherwise. 

Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The Michael Jackson incitements.  Harvey Levin of “Celebrity Justice” will join us with news of a possible major development in this case against Jackson, a surprise to say the least. 

Later, your kids and ADD:  Forget Ritalin.  One doctor says she has the answer to calming your kids down:  Pot.  She‘s not kidding. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Michael Jackson incitements, the actual charges remain a mystery, but Harvey Levin of “Celebrity Justice” joins us next to announce exclusive and surprising details about the grand jury proceedings.  Flash news on the Jackson case, coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with the COUNTDOWN and the fourth story on it tonight:  Your entertainment dollars in action, day 157 of the Michael Jackson investigation and tonight in the wake of the sealed indictments against Jackson handed up yesterday by a grand jury in Santa Barbara, another wave of developments that actually merit the adjective newsworthy.  It‘s a story reported exclusively by our colleague, Harvey Levin, creator and executive producer of the syndicated TV series “Celebrity Justice.” 

Harvey, good evening. 

HARVEY LEVIN, “CELEBRITY JUSTICE”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Could this best be described by the two words “cold feet?” 

LEVIN:  Yeah, I think cold feet‘s a pretty good way of describing it, but really what happened here is during the grand jury, after the accuser and his mother testified, they were emotionally distraught.  I am told by sources they were so upset that this wanted to wash their hands of this and walk away from it all, they were that upset after testifying.  We know from sources that Tom Sneddon tried to get them back onboard, but could not.  This is a really serious development, right in the middle of the grand jury.  The person who saved the day, we‘re told, his attorney Larry Feldman who has done legal work for this family, that he sat them down, calmed them down and got them recommitted, but right in the middle of the grand jury, this case was in danger of falling apart. 

OLBERMANN:  Did the family respond positively?  Was the sealing of the deal here of them not backing out in the wake of these indictments yesterday, or the news about the indictments, at least? 

LEVIN:  Yeah, and I think this is probably testament to what Feldman probably convinced them of.  I am told that their reaction was, quote, “elated” over the indictment, and Feldman would not comment about this but we‘ve confirmed through friends and colleagues of his that he feels vindicated, I mean, that‘s the word apparently that he‘s used, as a result of these indictments, because he‘s the one who first brought this to the attention of authorities. 

OLBERMANN:  So Harvey, are they solid now, or is the potential for being wobbly still there? 

LEVIN:  Well, you know, on the one hand they‘re saying they‘re related so that‘s an indication that they‘re solid.  On the other, I mean, this is going to be a rocky road nor them, and I‘m sure that Tom Sneddon is probably breathing a sigh of relief that there wasn‘t a preliminary hearing because then they could have been cross-examined and it could have gotten really hot.  Here you probably only have one trial event, the actual trial where mother and son will testify, and the die will be cast, if you will— you know, once that starts and finishes and then it‘s up to the jury to decide. 

OLBERMANN:  Now about that, if the relatively sedate environment of a grand jury scared them to the point of possibly backing out, is anybody in Sneddon‘s office worried that they might be really freaked out at trial? 

LEVIN:  Well look, you‘re dealing—and Keith, you know this here, you‘re dealing with human beings here, fragile human beings, from what I understand, certainly the mother.  I‘m told that the mother may have been more emotionally distraught, even, than the boy, but—you know, a lot happens between now and the time of trial, and if there are news reports that come out—you know, I‘m sure it‘s very tough on them when they hear negative news reports, and—you know, there‘s a lot of heat.  We know that the family got a car not too long ago, and the step dad, Jay Jackson, who‘s living with them, we‘re told that—you know, the car got keyed in the garage shortly after it was purchased, and they feel like it might have been Jackson‘s people.  There‘s absolutely nothing to support that, but that‘s kind of the psyche that they‘re dealing with, and they have to manage this stress from now until the time of trial, and I would assume it‘s got to concern Sneddon a little bit. 

OLBERMANN:  A lot of us didn‘t understand, laymen certainly, why the D.A.  Was going to go to a grand jury if he‘d already filed nine counts against Jackson, we all went through that.  Could this whole scenario have been why, that he feared that the family would get cold feet or back out, that he needed to essentially test them on a kind of courtroom dry run? 

LEVIN:  Well, that‘s what you get when go before the grand jury, and I‘m sure that was one of the issues.  Another issue is they don‘t have to play their hand fully in front of the defense, but yeah, again you‘re dealing with a kid, and you‘re dealing with a mother—you know, who by all accounts and has—you know, is fragile, and—you know, when you‘re dealing with human beings like this, yeah, you think about what it would have been like in a preliminary hearing—you know, even if the judge would have taken steps to protect a child, it would have been more traumatic. 

OLBERMANN:  Even with the indictments and the changed laws in California regarding prosecutions of this sort, would it be possible if they go soft on him again, if they get wobbly, is it possible for Tom Sneddon to continue this case without this witness‘s full cooperation? 

LEVIN:  You know, it‘s real hard to do that in a case like this.  Is it possible?  Yes.  Is it almost impossibly difficult?  I think so.  I mean, you need a living, breathing human being that the jury can connect with, especially when you‘re putting a major celebrity on trial and potentially taking away his freedom for many, many years.  So, I think as a practical matter, you need an alleged victim in a case like this and they need this boy.  I am told they‘re back on board, though, and I think you‘re right, I think—you know, a lot changes between now and whenever this trial eventually happens. 

OLBERMANN:  Harvey Levin the creator and executive producer of TV‘s “Celebrity Justice.”  Thanks for sharing with us.  Great work as always, and pleasure to have you on the show, as always, sir. 

LEVIN:  Thanks Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  To recap it briefly, “Celebrity Justice” reporting exclusively that after testifying before the grand jury in the Michael Jackson case, the alleged victim and his mother were so traumatized that they for a time backed out of cooperating with the prosecution, told the Santa Barbara D.A., Tom Sneddon, essentially “we‘re out” and that only after the indictments were returned yesterday did the family finally fully resolve to continue involvement in the case against Michael Jackson. 

COUNTDOWN resuming in a moment, including one of our personal favorite segments, every night.  We can‘t give it a number because it‘s not important but it sure is weird.  “Odball” is up next—you‘re on—sir, you‘re in Fuego, sir. 

And later the former head of Enron, Jeff Skilling, facing fraud and conspiracy charges for his time with the company, but the government says Skilling came up with a bizarre conspiracy theory of his own when he was out at bar one night.  Details coming up and you will, I promise, not wish to miss this at all. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you now, and we promptly pause the COUNTDOWN to make way for news of the weird, the stupid, and bizarre.  Last night it was animals, tonight‘s theme:  A special home and garden edition.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

“Oddball” offers us many simple rules about life.  This one is in your dentist‘s office is in his garage, cancel that appointment.  Police in West Palm Beach, Florida have arrested a Jairo Herrera they claim he was—he had confessed to having made more than a hundred grand last year without so much as a dental license. 

Police say Herrera he spent the year pulling teeth, making crowns, and moldings, administering anesthetics, doing oil changes, building small bird houses.  You know you‘re in trouble when go in for a routine cleaning and the dentist reaches for a leaf blower. 

Meanwhile, due west in Santaville (ph), Florida, the dangers were not a dentist amongst the lawn equipment, but a 10 foot alligator in the garden.  Seventy-year-old Jane Kieffer was tending to her flowerbed, you know it is begonia season in Florida, when the 10-foot gator attacked her.  The giant lizard sunk his teeth into Ms. Kieffer‘s leg, then the arm, then began to dragged the woman to a nearby lake, but Mr. Kieffer came to the rescue and freed his wife from the jaws of the beast just in time. 

She is now recovering in the hospital.  The offending soon-to-be handbag was caught by fish and wildlife authorities, using as bait, a cow‘s lung at the end of a long cord.  And, thanks for sharing that litlle piece of gator fishing trivia. 

And a Washington, D.C. gardener had to worry, not about an alligator, but about a senator‘s wife.  The wife of a Montana‘s Max Baucus got into an argument over mulch—mulch with another woman, unidentified, at the D.C.  garden center. 

Wanda Baucus was apparently upset that none of the employees there were helping her load mulch into her car, whereas they were helping the other lady load her mulch.  So Mrs. Baucus, who is on the right, dragged a bag of the mulch into place behind the other woman‘s car and left it there preventing the other customer from leaving, then they yelled at eachother, the Mrs. Baucus allegedly hit the women several times.  Ooh, cool man, a couple of horticulturalists going at it.  Mrs. Baucus has been charged with misdemeanor civil assault.

And, finally, another “Oddball” safety tip we all thought was obvious.  Apparently, we were wrong.  So here it is again.  Do not light up a cigarette at a gas station.  On the left of your screen is Elvis Radbeer (ph) of Queens, New York City, actually will wind up only in serious condition after this, where he became a hunk-a, hunk-a burning love. 

Just after he filled a portable generator with gasoline, he got back in the cab of his truck.  He lit a cigarette, lit himself ablaze.  Luckily, two New York City police officers happened to be at the gas station and rushed to Elvis‘ rescue.  Elvis has left the building.  The moral of the story is obvious, but I think my colleague Contessa Brewer put it best earlier today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONTESSA BREWER, NBC ANCHOR:  Let‘s just say this was probably the wrong time to light up a cigarette.  He was pumping gas.  Hello. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Contessa, thanks for stopping by. 

Still ahead of us here on COUNTDOWN, tonight‘s No. 3 story, a mother‘s plea to the Army.  Newly diagnosed with terminal cancer, she wants them to send her son home from Iraq.  That has not happened yet.  She‘ll join us after the break. 

Also, the emotionally charged debate over images of war, photos the Pentagon did not want you to see, but images like this ended up getting a contractor in Kuwait fired.  The controversy coming up.  These stories ahead. 

First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s three newsmakers of this day.  No. 3, John Costello.  He owns the Clan Alpine frat house at Alfred University in Upstate New York.  He owns it because, while he was at a frat party there two years ago, he was shoved off a porch on to a concrete walk and injured, and then dragged back inside by several frat members.  Costello sued and won its only asset, the frat house. 

No. 2, Dave Alsop of London.  He and some friends were driving through the West Midland Safari Park when they spotted Sharka, the two-ton rhino, mating with his partner, Trixie (ph).  They decided to take photos.  Sharka decided to forget about Trixie and try to mate instead with their Renault Laguna sedan.  It‘s an ad campaign in the making right here, the Renault Laguna, Sharka the rhino can‘t be wrong. 

And No. 1, Hai Nguyen, living in Berlin, who intercepted a purse snatcher on the street by hitting the fleeing man with—anybody got a guess?  Guess?  Yes, Nguyen hit the purse snatcher with his wok.  And, remember, wok, don‘t run. 

Thank you.  Thank you very much.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As the fighting has intensified in Iraq, so too has the talk of deadlines.  There are deadlines for everything from the handover of weapons to the handover of sovereignty.  But the time is not just running out in Iraq. 

Our No. 3 story tonight, one Wisconsin mother is now pleading with the Army to get her son home from Tikrit.  Her plea is distinguished from the wishes of thousands of other mothers by the fact that two weeks ago she was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.  It is terminal.  Patrice Confer has not seen her son, Private Joseph Wagner, in nearly five months.  He asked for leave to come home, but the Red Cross was notified Monday that his request had been turned down. 

As efforts continue, Patrice Confer joins us now from her home in Altoona, Wisconsin. 

Ms. Confer, thanks for some of your time tonight. 

PATRICE CONFER, WANTS SON BACK FROM IRAQ:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  I gather that as more and more people have found out about your plight, this has been a busy day.  Are you optimistic that this is going to be reversed and you‘ll be seeing your son soon? 

CONFER:  Yes.  And it hasn‘t been just a busy day.  It‘s been a busy week, but I was reassured by Senator Ron Kind that hopefully by tomorrow, he‘ll have some definite news for me that they can confirm that he will be coming home. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, they couldn‘t get him probably to your doorstep tomorrow morning, but how much would it help you to know, if you knew it was going to be Saturday, Monday, May 1, whatever date they could give you? 

CONFER:  Oh, that would be great, because then we‘re not sitting here constantly wondering if he‘s going to walk through the door or, you know, just a definite date would be great. 

OLBERMANN:  And he‘s got some R&R due him next month anyway, so you‘re anticipating that he will be allowed home at the latest sometime in May? 

CONFER:  That‘s the way we understand it, yes. 

OLBERMANN:  You were able to speak to him today, is that correct? 

CONFER:  Yes.  He did call this morning and wanted to know how everybody was doing and if everybody was—you know, who was taking care of me and his brothers and his sister and his stepdad, and worrying about things a 19-year-old shouldn‘t have to worry about. 

OLBERMANN:  And how is he holding up?  What sort of assessment did you get about how this news and how this last week of trying to get himself home has affected him? 

CONFER:  I‘m not quite sure he‘s aware of everything that has gone on to try to get him home.  As far as how he‘s feeling about getting home, he was getting kind of emotional.  He does a lot of worrying while he‘s there, so he just wants to get home and see his family. 

OLBERMANN:  Have you gotten any kind of reasonable explanation as to why the Army said no, or have you gotten any sense that they are finally beginning to understand the urgency of this situation? 

CONFER:  I guess the way we see it is that maybe they didn‘t quite understand at first how urgent it was, because we really don‘t know what their reasoning was.  We didn‘t hear anything directly from them.  So it‘s kind of—it‘s basically unclear. 

OLBERMANN:  But do you have a sense of whether or not they‘re getting the point now? 

CONFER:  Oh, definitely, definitely, just from what my son says, and just from the different media and senators and Congress people that have called.  So I think they got the point. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s hope so. 

Patrice Confer, our very best wishes to you and to your son.  And if you don‘t mind, we‘d like to update our viewers every night on this until the Army gets your son home. 

CONFER:  OK.  That would be great. 

OLBERMANN:  That would be.  Many thanks again for being with us tonight. 

CONFER:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Another all-too-grim and all-too-human face to war.  In 13 months of conflict in Iraq, we have seen unprecedented pictures from the front lines, but while we have been able to witness combat up close, we‘ve seen very little of its most grave and inevitable consequence.  For the first time this week, pictures of flag-draped coffins are emerging from this war.

And as our correspondent James Hattori reports, they‘re reigniting the debate about what she should and should not be seeing. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES HATTORI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As casualties mount of U.S. troops in Iraq, this haunting image published in Sunday‘s edition of “The Seattle Times,” an image the Pentagon does not want the public to see.  The newspaper obtained it from Tami Silicio, an airline cargo worker in Kuwait, where the caskets were being shipped home. 

MICHAEL FANCHER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, “THE SEATTLE TIMES”:  And it was a very compelling image of coffins.  And it was just such a touching photo that we felt compelled to run it. 

HATTORI:  Three days later, Silicio‘s employer, Maytag Aircraft, fired her and her co-worker husband.

But that wasn‘t the end of it.  Today, hundreds more photos of flag-draped coffins began appearing on an Internet Web site, photos that the Web site‘s creator had legally forced the Air Force to release.  The Web site at times was jammed with visitors. 

In earlier administrations, presidents were shown paying their respects.  But, in 1991, the Pentagon imposed an informal ban on media coverage and in March of last year, clamped down again. 

(on camera):  “The Seattle Times” printed the photo despite the ban, which the Pentagon says is to prevent undue harm and grief out of respect to the families. 

LEONA SILICIO, MOTHER OF TAMI:  And it was not a statement against the war.  It was just a way to show families the dignity and respect that these boys are given. 

HATTORI (voice-over):  Tami Silicio‘s former employer issued a statement saying, “Maytag deeply regrets these actions and fully concurs with the Pentagon‘s policy.”

MAX BOOT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  This is a war of images and a war of ideas, and I think the administration and the Pentagon are reluctant to give the other side what they wanted. 

HATTORI:  “The Seattle Times” says public reaction to the photo has been mostly favorable. 

FANCHER:  Because they saw this as honoring these soldiers, not in any way trying to intrude on the families‘ grief. 

HATTORI:  Tonight, the Pentagon insists its policy is what the families want, that it‘s not an attempt to hide the human toll of war. 

James Hattori, NBC News, Seattle. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, the simple, searing reality of war and the efforts to cover them up. 

Coming up, tonight‘s No. 2 story.  Enron‘s former head Jeff Skilling may be in even more legal hot water with the government.  These pictures have nothing to do with that story.  Later, a bizarre prescription for what may be ailing your ADD kid.  A little marijuana will calm your child right down.  That‘s what a prominent doctor is saying. 

First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Before I start going on too long about mother earth, I do want to recognize my mother on earth.  Thanks for coming, mom. 

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH:  Hope you‘re up the road making my bed. 

(LAUGHTER)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Someone gave me a copy of this thing and here is this woman with a wonderful voice singing my press conference. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  As we know, there are known knowns.

RUMSFELD:  Now, if that doesn‘t tell you something about the state of the world. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  There are things we know.  There are known knowns.  There are known unknowns. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Up next, what does a former Enron executive who faces conspiracy charges do when he‘s had a little too much to drink?  Start searching for FBI wiretaps under the clothing of passersby.  The Jeff Skilling saga next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was a sight that we natives no longer get very worked up about, a drunken yuppie running around a New York City cigar bar, his connection to reality becoming ever more tenuous by the moment until ultimately he is screaming at passersby that they‘re ratting him out to the feds and inevitably his adventure will end with a clumsy advance on an innocent woman. 

We get these people by the dozens here in New York.  They‘re usually from Minnesota or Canada.  However, in our No. 2 story of the night, the cavorter who made his way through the Upper East Side like a well-dressed bull in a china shop on 9 April was no ordinary out-of-towner.  He was, federal prosecutors report, no less a figure than the disgraced and indicted former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. 

Beginning at the Four Seasons Hotel, say authorities, Mr. Skilling, awaiting trial on 35 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading, branched out in a more direct troubling interaction with the public.  He had run up a $171 bar tab at that cigar place when the lid blew off.  Prosecutors confirmed today at the former Enron exec was indeed intoxicated, his blood alcohol level nearly two times most states‘ legal limits. 

But even that does not begin to explain what came next.  Skilling apparently grew hostile, accusing random patrons of being FBI agents.  By 3:30 in the a.m., he and his wife had been kicked out of the bar.  Out on the street, things would get worse, Mr. Skilling demanding proof of identity from two of his drinking buddies, and then tearing off a license plate from one of their cars. 

“The Houston Chronicle” even says, Skilling eventually screamed up into the sky, asking if the feds were watching him from that vantage point, but his alcohol infused paranoia hit the climax when he tried to lift a woman‘s shirt to see if she was wearing a wire.  He should know the FBI gave up that little trick while Jack Kennedy was still president. 

Skilling may face additional charges now or have his bail changed.  In conclusion, after the debauchery and paranoia, you wonder, gee, whiz, why did things go so wrong at Enron?

Now to segue out of the news of the merely entertaining to news of entertainers, although the subject of the leading item in “Keeping Tabs” tonight would recoil at the description.

Veteran ABC News anchor Ted Koppel told the Hollywood Radio and Television Society that the mix of news and entertainment is a dangerous thing and has been ever since they let Edward R. Murrow host both “See It Now” and the celebrity interview show “Person to Person.”  Noting that young people rarely watch TV news and are more often than ever getting information from comedy programs, Koppel said—quote—“I have no problem whatsoever with entertainers and comedians pretending to be journalists.  My problem is with journalists pretending to be entertainers.”  Fortunately, Mr. Koppel has never been accused of being entertaining. 

A big giant boat, now, that‘s entertaining.  This would be the much heralded arrival in New York of the world‘s largest cruise ship, the Queen Mary II.  Completing her maiden crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, the 1,100-foot-long, 21-story-tall behemoth clearing the bottom of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by just 12 feet and a wait for low tide to do this. 

She‘s now docked about six blocks from my place.  And she has tacky 183 grafitti written on her side in spray paint. 

COUNTDOWN is in the home stretch now.  Your preview of our No. 1 story, the war on drugs meets the war to get your kids‘ attention.  Just say no to ADD and give your kid pot?  A doctor explains next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They are a diagnoses at near epidemic proportions for kids in this country, ADD and ADHD, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Fair or not, they are so common as to become part of the vernacular referring to our collective short attention span and inability to focus.  Don‘t mind him, he‘s got ADD.

According to a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, when our nation‘s doctors encounter a patient with one of these disorders, they go to right to one drug, methylphenidate.  You may know it better as Ritalin.  But there is a lesser known treatment, one that may in fact be more effective with fewer side effects, cannabis.  You may know that better as weed, reefer, Mary Jane, marijuana. 

Dr. Claudia Jensen is a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California and a practicing pediatrician who advocates the use of medicinal marijuana for the treatment of ADD and ADHD.

Dr. Jensen, good evening.

DR. CLAUDIA JENSEN, MEDICAL MARIJUANA ADVOCATE:  Hi.  Hello.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  This is something you feel strongly about.  You even testified before Congress a few weeks ago an the use of medical marijuana.  What led you to the conclusion that this is a viable treatment for this disorder? 

JENSEN:  Well, that is what patients reported to me, so I listened to them.  And I started paying attention and asking more questions when I did patient interviews.  It seems to be rather consistent.  They keep saying it over and over again. 

OLBERMANN:  There are parents who are no doubt thinking, as they watch

this, without any kind of analysis or any kind of medical explanation or

the expert testimony of a doctor who has listened to patients, that this is

·         that it makes no senses to them, the idea that they are fighting on one front the influence, the pernicious influence of marijuana in a teenager‘s life, a kid‘s life, and yet you are here saying that this can be of enormous value in treating this rampant and life-constricting disease. 

How do you respond to people who have the knee-jerk reaction, how could this possibly be any good? 

JENSEN:  Well, first of all, you‘re right.  This is a potentially life-debilitating condition for a lot of children and adolescents.  They become very angry. 

And I think the answer to that question is that it needs to be evaluated by a physician before it‘s recommended to a child or an adolescent.  And the truth is that one of the reasons that adolescents have an increasing use of cannabis, marijuana, in this country is because they‘ve been lied to.  They‘ve been told that this is a very dangerous drug and that it has no benefit.  And, unfortunately, that‘s not what they experience in the streets. 

And I think it‘s more appropriate to bring it up out of the streets and into the doctor‘s offices, so that children and adolescents and parents can learn the truth, get some of the data, and look at this drug not with a reefer madness perspective, but more with a scientific and factual perspective. 

OLBERMANN:  How would you administer this to children, at what age?  And I‘m presuming that the means of dispensing would be primarily those other than smoking it, am I correct? 

JENSEN:  That‘s what I primarily recommend, particularly with ADD and ADHD, because smoking marijuana has such a short duration.  It only lasts an hour and a half to two hours.  Plus, there‘s the stigma of the child smoking anything.  But smoking pot is a difficult social issue to deal with. 

When they ingest those cannabinoids or cannabis compounds, for example, marijuana, it lasts a lot longer.  They can get all the way through the day with a single cannabis cookie or piece of toast with cannabis peanut butter in the morning before school.  They don‘t have to get stoned.  It‘s dose-related.  But they do get the benefit of being able to focus and pay attention, not be impulsive, not be angry, be peaceful and relaxed and pay attention in school, which helps them get better grades, which is the important issue. 

OLBERMANN:  Anything would work. 

Dr. Claudia Jensen from USC, many thanks for your time tonight. 

JENSEN:  Thank you.  Thank you for your time. 

OLBERMANN:  Certainly. 

Before we leave tonight‘s No. 1 story, one more thing you should know about it.  According to Dr. Richard Gorman, the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ Committee on Drugs, one of most prescribed drugs for children is amoxicillin, one in four children taking it each year.  This is an antibiotic commonly used to treat ear infections. 

Before we go, let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow. 

No. 5, terror worries, a new poll saying two-thirds of Americans think there could be another terrorist strike here before the election.  Four, the Michael Jackson case, Harvey Levin of “Celebrity Justice” reporting, the accuser and the mother wanted to back out of this case while the grand jury hearings were going on, but they are reportedly back on board with news of the indictments.  Harvey describes his source as quoting them saying they‘re elated over them. 

Three, a mother‘s plea.  Patrice Confer finds out she has terminal cancer.  She is begging the military to send her son home from Tikrit in Iraq.  She was told no at first.  Now it seems her son could be home in weeks on R&R.  Anyway, we will keep you posted on this story nightly. 

Two, Jeff Skilling‘s wild, drunken evening.  He accused passersby of being FBI agents trying to spy on him, checked them for wires, one by lifting her blouse.  And, No. 1, a proposed new treatment for ADD.  One doctor says, forget the Ritalin.  Medicinal marijuana may fix your child‘s attention problems.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. 

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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