updated 9/10/2004 12:38:02 PM ET 2004-09-10T16:38:02

Guests: Joe Trippi, Dana Milbank, Jim Kosek, Jimmy Weekley, Steven Brill, Joe Jesselli

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Bush by 14 in Missouri. 

Kerry by eight in Washington. 

Bush by eight in Ohio. 

Kerry by one in Pennsylvania. 

The Democrats say, these polls were conducted too soon after the Republican convention.

And why is Kerry pulling advertising money out of Missouri? 

A different kind of battlefield report. 

Al Qaeda‘s Zawahiri says his people have routed the U.S. in Afghanistan. 

Round three.  Hurricane Ivan heads for the Florida Keys.  Winds at 160 miles an hour.  Landfall perhaps on Sunday. 

And vanity stamps.  You can put anybody‘s picture on real U.S.  postage.  Anybody‘s.  Anybody‘s!

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Thursday, September 9.  Fifty-four days until the 2004 presidential election.  President Bush is pulling big in two of the three biggest swing states.  The Kerry campaign says the number don‘t matter.  On the other hand, they also say they are spending their television in the critical state of Missouri. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the political color purple.  If current polling trends hold, you may be seeing a lot less of it during the campaign‘s final stretch.  The latest results from the “USA Today”/Gallup polls indicating a giant 14-point margin for Mr. Bush in Missouri.  The statistical 4-point margin of error no longer a factor.

The president, also holding an eight-point lead in Ohio, a state that no Republican has ever won the White House without.  Same margin of error there.  And in two states just as important to the Democratic challenger‘s would-be victory, John Kerry by just one in Pennsylvania, 48-47 well within the margin of error. 

Eight points in Washington state though, 52-44.  But since a smaller pool of likely voters was surveyed, a greater 5 percent range in which those numbers could vary. 

Not surprisingly, how to interpret those numbers depends entirely on whom you ask.  The chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign, Matthew Dowd, saying that more and more states that voted for the Republican ticket in 2000 are being taken off the table.  Good news obviously from his perspective. 

But Kerry pollster Mark Mehlman as should also be expected had a different spin as should also be expected.  He says it is still too soon after the Republican convention.  Quote, “there‘s no poll worth looking at for another week or so.”

So, if as the Democrats assert, the polls indicate premature extrapolation, why is the Kerry campaign taking its TV money out of Missouri and Colorado and Arizona and several southern states?  They have still reserved ad time in Missouri, the two other western states and Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina but none of that time has been paid for.  And as Kerry strategist Tad Devine says, we‘re at the point of the campaign where we had to make an honest first cut. 

It‘s not like the Kerry network is signing off the air.  Time has been bought and paid for on stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio, in Florida, in Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Oregon, New Hampshire and West Virginia. 

To the viewers though, there may be very little tangible difference.  Kerry campaign ads may no longer appear in Missouri, Democratic National Committee ads saying the same thing could pop up in their stead.  And who knows where the ads from the Texans For Truth will appear?

So are the polls and the campaign voting with its advertising dollars meaningful, nuanced or irrelevant?  For an explanation I‘m joined from Los Angeles by my MSNBC colleague Joe Trippi, formerly manager of Howard Dean‘s campaign.

Joe, good evening. 

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Great to be here, Keith.  How are you doing?

OLBERMANN:  Is Mark Mehlman right about these Gallup statewide polls where they put in the field too soon to measure Missouri and Ohio and Pennsylvania accurately? 

TRIPPI:  Any time you take a poll right after an event, the poll numbers overshoot reality.  They‘re going to drift back a little.  But I think, you know, they‘re not going to drift—Missouri is going to drift into maybe 11 points when it all comes back.  When Mehlman says let‘s look next week, my guess is Missouri might be 10, nine, 11.  But it‘s clearly outside the margin of error regardless of how things come back into play. 

OLBERMANN:  So despite what they‘re saying, we can infer from the Kerry campaign decision about not spending television advertising money, especially in Missouri, that they don‘t really expect to be able to make up that difference between now and November? 

TRIPPI:  Well, I think they can make it up.  I think they‘ve got to look at a couple of things here.  They‘ve got all these other states that are closer.  Pennsylvania, obviously.  Ohio is much more important.  And that‘s also closer than Missouri. 

So you‘re going to start—both campaigns have exactly $75 million each at least within their control.  Obviously the 527s and other committees will be doing things.  But what I think—there are three factors going in here.  One, they may be hoarding their money so that they can outspin Bush down the home stretch which is not a dumb thing to do, particularly with the campaign this volatile.  Second, watch, wait a week, take a look at the polls and reconsider again. 

OLBERMANN:  There was one sentence in the Associated Press report on all this today that leapt out at me.  Kerry‘s campaign has determined that voters in some of his targeted states will react to ads that criticize Bush late in the campaign.  Thus, they‘ll get money late if ever.  It isn‘t attributed to anybody.  It seems like quite a profound statement and it seems almost to be an invitation to Moveon and Texans for Truth and anybody else out there in 527 land to come on down.  Do you think it is? 

TRIPPI:  I think you‘re right about that.  I think what you see is, you can‘t pick up the phone and call those organizations.  That would be coordination.  But you can certainly talk to them through the press.  And encourage, invite them to enter states that you‘re going to pull out of for a small amount of time.  They could fully intend to come in and take a hammer to Bush in Missouri.  I would not at this stage write any of these states off.  They‘re all very much in play.  But also, like I said, to not look at this trend and understand that—I think Mehlman is right.  These numbers will pull back in a week.  But 14 points, nine points, all these numbers are outside the margin of error.  They‘re not going to pull within it without the Kerry campaign doing something. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you have any ideas as to why two polls would have come out today, one from ABC that shows Bush ahead 52-43 and another that closed yesterday that has Bush ahead 47-45.  That‘s from Fox News.  Is the bump gone?  Is the ability to poll gone?  Do these guys ever talk to each other in between these polls?  Why such a margin of error from poll to poll?

TRIPPI:  Well, you have different methodologies, different screening questions that a pollster will use to try to get to who really is going to vote.  That‘s what these polls are doing.  They‘re trying to find likely voters.  And a pollster, when he asks, they ask like three or four questions at the very top of the poll.  Did you vote last time?  Do you intend to vote this time?  How much attention are you paying to this election?  And by looking at a matrix of the answers, they determine who is likely to vote.  Well, one pollster may not have the same screening questions that another pollster has. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.  I guess we‘ll just continue to sort the numbers out as they come in.  MSNBC analyst, one of the stalwarts of hardblogger.MSNBC.com, Joe Trippi.  Many thanks, Joe. 

TRIPPI:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile out on the trail when the going gets tough, the tough get heckled.  Yesterday it was John Kerry in Cincinnati by a low level Republican politician from across the river in Kentucky.  Today it was a triple play for Mr. Bush, heckled in three separate incidents by at least four separate hecklers during his opening remarks at a factory in suburban Philadelphia.

First up, a young woman with long hair.  That hair became useful unfortunately as a means of forcibly escorting the young man out, excuse me.  He was followed by a young African-American woman who had trouble making sure her heckle was heard.  Perhaps that‘s why the two women who followed had signs that appeared for more money for AIDS. 

The president was described by the Associated Press as having smiled tightly through the delays.  The protesters were charged with disorderly conduct.  The louder heckling continued today over the vice president‘s remarks Tuesday in Iowa that this country ran the risk of a devastating terror attack if the wrong choice was made on election day.  Mr. Cheney was not on the campaign trail yesterday.  Today he was.  In Cincinnati, avoiding direct amplification on those remarks but a nonetheless familiar theme.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT:  This is an important election because we‘ve got choices to make about who we want to have as our commander-in-chief for the next four years, what kind of basic fundamental policy, institution, strategy we want to put in place and the kind of world basically that we want to pass on to our kids and grandkids. 

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Two people were loudly criticized yesterday for not expanding on Mr. Cheney‘s remarks not just the vice president but also Senator Kerry.  It was John Edwards making the national headlines, two days in a row calling those remarks unAmerican.  It turned out Senator Kerry did address them last night in Minnesota in an interview with a local TV station which he said, quote, “It is outrageous and shameful to make the war on terror an instrument of their politics.  I defended this country when I was a young man and they chose not to and I will defend this country as president of the United States.”

He also echoed Mr. Edwards‘ comment saying the Republicans will say anything and do anything in order to get elected.

That is the first time the candidate has ever directly contrasted his military background to that of the president‘s and the remarks come as Bush‘s Vietnam air service or nonservice in the National Guard is coming under renewed scrutiny. 

According to memos made public yesterday, Lieutenant Bush failed to carry out a direct order from his superiors in the National—Air National Guard of Texas, neglecting to undergo a medical examination that was necessary for him to retain his flight status as a qualified pilot.  Lieutenant Bush was suspended as a result. 

As for how he got into the Air National Guard in the first place, the former Texas House speaker and Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, said he helped arrange appointment at the request of a Bush family friend.  Mr. Bush has denied he received special treatment.  The White House attributes the remarks to political motives.  And Mr. Barnes is an advisor to Senator Kerry‘s campaign. 

Here help us to try sorting out these comments, these memo‘s and their significance, is Dana Millbank, White House correspondent of “The Washington Post.”  He was on the campaign trail with president in Pennsylvania and is not back in “The Post” newsroom. 

Good evening, thanks for your time.

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Are there new absolutely defined, measurable, relevant facts in these stories or does this just add to the general fuzz around the president‘s military service? 

MILBANK:  Fuzz is a very good word.  It is like “Groundhog Day” here, it just keeps happening over and over again.  We‘ve been through this story several time now, earlier in the 2000 campaign, and it was revived in this campaign.  It is back again.  Just like John Kerry‘s Vietnam record keeps popping up. 

What we have this time, if true, these documents are potentially serious, because they would indicate, as you just mentioned, that he defied a direct order, which has never been suggested before.  But now we have some doubt being cast on that.  Some experts are questioning the authenticity of these documents.  The White House didn‘t seem to have any problem with them when they put them out.  But certainly, the doubt being raised today are blunting the story a little bit. 

OLBERMANN:  The memos are from Colonel Jerry Killian who has been dead for 20 years.  In one sentence in one memo, that Killian was supposedly wrote to his own file seems like it just opened up a whole avenue of investigations and no doubt television commercials.  He‘s speaking of Lieutenant Bush‘s desire to move from the Texas squadron to the one in Alabama.  And colonel Killian noted, “I told him I have to have written acceptance before he would be transferred, but think he‘s also talking to someone upstairs.” Well, that of course, now drags in the senior Mr. Bush, because in the Bush-Dukakis election 16-years-ago, the Republicans accused the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Lloyd Benson of pulling strings to get Lloyd Benson son into the Texas National Guard.  Never mind “Groundhogs Day,” we have Groundhogs Decade. 

MILBANK:  It goes on and on.  You know, here‘s the situation here, there is—it‘s hard to know the exact facts here.  But American tend to believe that obviously, the current President Bush was, had a very privileged upbringing.  And like other privileged people of their wealthy Ivy League background of his age, had a leg up in getting into the national guard or getting deferments. 

So, it doesn‘t come as any surprise particularly.  These allegations really just serve to reinforce the popular perception already that Bush was treated pretty leniently, and pretty favorably for the very fact that he was, he wasn‘t reporting for duty for a period of time in the Alabama National Guard, but still got his honorable discharge.  People already have that baked into the cake.  That understanding that the president, the current president probably got some lenient treatment. 

OLBERMANN:  When or if this dust settles, is the headline out of this week going to be that John Kerry may have managed, at least in small letters, to not only refresh the questions about the president‘s service, but he also kind of twist tied it on to the who can lead debate with this remark in Minnesota about I served, I can lead, where were you? 

MILBANK:  As we‘ve seen already, John Kerry beating the Vietnam drum really hasn‘t worked for him.  People are now seeing that as a tactical mistake coming out of the convention.  What this story is doing is helping John Kerry reverse this really quite deep slide he‘s had throughout August.  The whole campaign is made from news cycle to news cycle.  So, if John Kerry can win a news cycle or two, take the momentum back from President Bush, he could build on that.  Nobody really expects this particular story, the story line about what Bush did in the national guard to really change the election.  But could it change the momentum and allow Kerry to regain some of the footing he‘s lost, which as you‘ve been noting, depending on the poll, he is down quite considerably. 

OLBERMANN:  So, we get more polls that disagree with each other and have something to talk about next week.  Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post,” very inciteful, thanks sir. 

MILBANK:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  One last political item in our number 5 story for those of you worried about another fall semester at the electoral college, move to Hong Kong.  The legislative elections there this Sunday are expect to be close, possibly even resulting in direct numerical ties.  So election officials in Hong Kong have announced, that in case they get one, and they got a tie in 1999, the winner will be decided by that I know ping pong balls.  Numbered, chosen just like a lotto drawing, high number wins.  Talking about ping pong diplomacy.

Of course, mixing ping pong balls and politics can be dangerous, as we learned during last year‘s California recall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Turning as always to our trusty bingo drum—forget it. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Might get a few more of these out.  You know, what would you think about taking a commercial right now? 

Yes.  I think we should take a break. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  An excellent suggestion, Keith of the past.  For those of you staying with us, here‘s some of the rest of the menu. 

Up next, the war on terror.  Osama bin Laden‘s number two issuing a dire prediction.  It does not seem to be too accurate about U.S. prospects in the war. 

And later, the fury Of Ivan.  Ninety percent of the home on Grenada have been destroyed, and now Florida awaits this ferocious hurricane.  This is not a recording, it‘s a new one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After the symbolic and grim plateau was passed this week, a 1,000 dead American fighters in Iraq.  The Defense Secretary, Mr.  Rumsfeld, insisted that regardless the war is being effectively waged. 

Tonight, it appears the opposition does not feel quite the same way.  The fourth story in tonight‘s COUNTDOWN, Osama bin Laden‘s right-hand man says U.S. forces are on the brink of defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In a professionally produced tape aired by the al-Jazeera Arabic network, Iman al Zawahiri says the U.S. forces have been driven into the trenches and that southern and eastern Afghanistan are now a quote, “open field for al Qaeda fighters.” 

None of Afghan‘s provincial governments, however, appear in jeopardy of collapse and elections are on target for one month from today.  That is his opinion. 

But in Iraq, there is some hard data suggesting things are getting worse for personnel still on the ground.  The Washington Post notes that since the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government on June 28, 148 Americans have died, compared to 138 in approximately the same span of time in March and April of 2003.  The so-called war itself. 

The peace has been bloodier than the war, Army reservist Captain Russell Bergos (ph) told the newspaper.  Bergos (ph) even compared his part of the U.S. experience in Iraq to Israel‘s 18-year occupation of parts of Southern Lebanon. 

The premise of the story, the premise of the Zawahiri tape is that it is getting worse for the U.S., especially to the safety of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

To address that, I‘m joined by retired U.S. Army General Montgomery Meigs.  Now an MSNBC military analyst.  General, always a pleasure. 

GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS (RET), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The big picture here in Afghanistan, in Iraq, is it indeed getting worse at a time when almost everybody thought, well by then it will be getting better?

MEIGS:  Well, I don‘t think it is getting any worse.  I think the initial expectations that were fostered by the administration as the war was ending were wrong.  They‘ve admitted that they miscalculated. 

I think this is a very tough fight.  And I think we have to look beyond just Iraq to the nations that are really involved in this: 

Pakistani, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi. 

OLBERMANN:  Is the greatest problem in Iraq still the apparent lack, or the real lack of a coherent strategy to supervise that country post Saddam Hussein?  Do we have, or have we developed, are we developing that effective strategy? 

MEIGS:  I think we have a strategy for attaining a safe and secure environment in Iraq for buttressing the growth of a post nation government that can handle a relatively stable situation and for trying to get an election successfully accomplished in January.  What covers that up, what makes that a little murky is that we will back away from fighting in order to make post nation officials like Sistani and Allawi take charge and make decisions that are going to count. 

OLBERMANN:  I think having seen some of this, that you can take that Zawahiri tape and record, I Love Lucy reruns over it.  But one thing he said about the Americans huddled in their trenches, he may have been, I suppose by accident, to some degree correct about that.  Are we, if not huddled down and hunkered down in Iraq especially, do we have any idea how long our people are going to be in the position you just described, of being there in a quasi adviser, quasi actor role? 

MEIGS:  Well, look.  There‘s nothing hunkered down about the soldiers and the Marines who were taking the al Sadr militia to task in Najaf.  And there‘s nothing hunkered down about the 1st Cavalry Division units that are doing the same thing in Sadr City outside of Baghdad.  And there‘s nothing hunkered down about the civil affairs folks that are going out and making the projects work.  And the people that are on patrol every day.  They are not hunkered down in their trenches. 

But you have got to expect, when you take a force of around 130,000 people and distribute them the way they‘re distributed in Iraq, that it will be a lot easier for the enemy to make us take casualties.  That is their game. 

OLBERMANN:  General Montgomery Meigs, the battle professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs near my old neck of the woods, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.  General as always, thanks for you time.

MEIGS:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN now past the No. 4 story, time for a quick respite from the serious news of the day.  “Oddball” is around the corner.  And have you seen this man or his pitchfork? 

And later a new campaign launched today to make sure Americans are ready if disaster, in the form of terrorism, strikes.  Do you have your ready kit? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Man bites dog, the advertisement for this program began.   That‘s news.  Man bites dog, gets book contract.  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Let the bidding begin.

Time to pause the news per se to bring you the stories of gun toting puppies in their television sanctuary.  That‘s play “Oddball.” 

Puppies: cute, adorable, three-month old shepherd mixes, not unlike these puppies other than the breed and then perhaps the color.  Seven of them, and Jerry Allan Bradford of Pensacola literally could not give them away, so according to the cops, he decided to shoot them. 

He had one in his arms, the other in his left hand.  The arm in which he was holding the pistol, when the puppy in his left hand wriggled and put his paw on the trigger.  Mr. Bradford is under arrest, felony animal cruelty.  And he is hospitalized, having been shot by a puppy. 

Hooray, puppy! 

More on conventional crime.  New details on the pitchfork bank robber. 

We told but you about him here last night.  Police in Aiken, South Carolina now say this man, who held up the Security Federal Bank armed with the rusty implement had help fleeing with an undisclosed amount of cash.  Bloodhounds tracked the man through nearby woods to a parking garage where the dog shot him.  No sorry! 

They say the Pitchfork Bandit escaped in a white van driven by a female accomplice.  Officials have released this sketch of the suspects.  And are asking citizens with any information to contact the Aiken police department or Mr. Wood.

Finally, to Cape Jerido in Missouri, where hundreds have gathered along the water‘s edge to watch the partial demonstration of the Old Mississippi River—partial?  It‘s supposed to be partial?  You said partial?  I thought you said—you mean, oops!  Just say oops and get out. 

Engineers for the Missouri Department of Transportation meant to bring down just the one part of the span, but the rest of the thing, the Missouri River Bridge buckled and fell with the strength of the explosion.  The new Mississippi River bridge will be closed until it can be determined that it suffered no damage.  So those pilgrims making the trek to see the boyhood home of Rush Limbaugh will have to find something else to do for a while.  May we suggest visiting the world‘s biggest ball of twine?  It is just five short hours away in Branson.  And it is a religious experience.

“Oddball” can now be safely put away in the COUNTDOWN time capsule.

Up next, the Ivan waiting game.  After back-to-back hurricanes, Florida residents preparing for a third straight storm.  And this one is at the moment the biggest of them all.  And later, it sounded like a good idea.  Put almost anybody‘s picture on a valid postage stamp.  Then came our friends at SmokingGun.com.  These stories ahead.

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

No. 3, fathers in Great Bit—Britain—Great Bitain—in English, Great Britain.  A survey by “Mother & Baby” magazine indicates that when they hear their infants crying, 52 percent of fathers either remain asleep or pretend to.  Only 52 percent? 

No. 2, the University of Arizona.  It has canceled its university-wide commencement ceremony for undergrads this December, because, says the student body president, the school is tired of the commencement traditions in which all the students fling tortillas into the air. 

And, No. 1, an unnamed Taco Bell overnight employee in Houston.  Spotting the Burger King next door being robbed, the Taco Bell man, showing the highest kind of solidarity, called the cops.  And soon he could look his fast-food brethren in the face and say of the burglars, they‘re nacho problem anymore. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It has been exactly four decades since even the prospect of such an occurrence, three hurricanes in one season hitting Florida. 

Tonight, our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, the likelihood that this drought sadly is over.  Hurricane Ivan, now a Category 5 storm, tearing through the Caribbean, leveling the island of Grenada, essentially, now headed for Jamaica and Cuba on a path that forecasters say very likely takes aim at South Florida.  The Keys have already begun mandatory evacuations in anticipation of a Sunday night-Monday morning hit.  We‘ll talk to the mayor of Key West in a moment. 

First to Grenada, already dealing with the storm‘s devastation, destruction characterized by that nation‘s prime minister as—quote—

“beyond any imagination.”

Our correspondent is Peter Alexander. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There is what a direct hit looks like from Ivan.  The most dangerous hurricane to hit the Caribbean in a decade raged through Grenada on Tuesday, a Category 5, with 160-mile-and-hour winds. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is total devastation.  It is like a tornado came through Grenada and flattened everything.  Imagine your worst nightmare and this is it. 

ALEXANDER:  At least 20 are dead and the toll is expected to go higher.  There is widespread flooding.  Most roads are impassable.  And both power and phone lines have been knocked out, nine out of 10 homes damaged.  Even Prime Minister Keith Mitchell‘s own home leveled. 

KEITH MITCHELL, PRIME MINISTER OF GRENADA:  We have really got a tremendous hit in every respect, so you‘re talking hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. 

ALEXANDER:  In the capital of Saint George‘s, every school and church was destroyed, as well as the police headquarters.  Security is described as grave, with severe looting.  The 100,000 people on this tiny island make their living primarily from the spice trade and tourism.  Most spice plantations have been flattened.  And one resort was described as falling into the sea. 

In Jamaica, where Ivan is supposed to hit tomorrow, a last-minute rush for batteries, lanterns and plywood.  But there is no plywood in Cuba, just masking tape on windows in Havana, where Ivan is due to strike over the weekend. 

(on camera):  Nearly four weeks ago, as Hurricane Charley roared through, Cuba‘s crops were decimated.  Only 5 percent of the banana harvest survived.  And now with food already in short supply in Havana markets, the worry now is what Ivan will do here. 

(voice-over):  Hurricane Charley left waist-high water in Alberto Chiveko (ph) and his wife Ida‘s (ph) apartment.  Tonight, they aren‘t taking any chances as Cuba braces for Ivan. 

Peter Alexander, NBC News, Havana. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Cuba‘s pounding seem inevitable.  After that, the geographic and atmospheric variables return. 

We go now to  AccuWeather meteorologist Jim Kosek for the where and the when probably on Ivan—Jim, good evening.

JIM KOSEK, ACCUWEATHER METEOROLOGIST:  Well, Keith, if there‘s any good news, I‘m going to get to it in just a little bit.  And I keep my finger crossed that it comes through. 

AccuWeather Hurricane Center has been tracking this storm system since its inception.  Here‘s the latest on it, still a Category 4 hurricane, top winds, 150 sustained.  Category 5 starts at 156.  It is moving west-northwest at 13 miles per hour.  Take a look at the size of the storm.  It is a lot smaller and I mean a lot smaller than what Frances and Charley were.  It is a very compact storm system. 

Here‘s Jamaica, by the way.  Hurricane-force winds with the storm, Keith, only go out to 35 miles from the center.  So if it could possibly pass to the south and west of Jamaica, that could spare part of the island with only tropical-storm force winds.  That‘s why I keep my fingers crossed.  If it goes right over Kingston and Jamaica, this could be devastating and it may take years to rebuild. 

All right, so far, the storm system has been steered by its subtropical high-pressure system in an east-to-west fashion.  But now, as that high change and weakens a little bit, it is going to push the storm northwest across western and central Cuba.  And the end result, the eastern Gulf of Mexico up right after that.  Now, that time frame would be early next week, Keith.  And it should gradually weaken by that point.  We‘re probably looking at a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, maybe on the order of about 135, 140 miles an hour.  That would most certainly be a lot. 

And if it tracks up the west side of Florida, toward the Panhandle by Tuesday, you‘re looking at a tremendous amount of damage from the wind and of course the rain, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I wish we could say we were getting used to this, Jim, but we‘re not.  Jim Kosek of AccuWeather, many thanks, sir.

As we said, not since 1964 and Cleo, Dora and Isabel has Florida been hit three times.  It looks like it will be hit three times starting in three separate areas.  Charley came in from the Gulf and crushed Punta Gorda.  Frances arrived via Vero Beach.  Ivan is headed for Key West, where tourists were urged to leave this morning, mobile home residents tonight and everybody else tomorrow. 

Jimmy Weekley is the city‘s mayor.  And he joins us now from there.

Mayor Weekley, thanks for your time. 

JIMMY WEEKLEY, MAYOR OF KEY WEST:  Oh, sure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Having seen Charley and Frances, are your residents and your guests already convinced, get out and get out now? 

WEEKLEY:  We gave the evacuation to the nonresidents this morning at 9:00.  And they took heed.  They started leaving.  US-1, the traffic is quite heavy on there.  Some of the local residents started leaving about the same time as well.  We have a mandatory evacuation for all residents starting tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. 

OLBERMANN:  A lot of people who have never been there would probably say, wait a minute.  The storm arrives Sunday.  They‘re evacuating now?  Explain the infrastructure.  Explain the road situation, why you have to do this now. 

WEEKLEY::  The population of the county is about 86,000 people.  And the county is 125 miles long.  We‘re joined together with 67 different bridges.  And so it‘s only a two-lane highway.  US-1 is just two lanes. 

So we have to start evacuations earlier.  And we do it in phases.  Key West and the lower Keys will start tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. and go to about noon.  Then the middle Keys will start around noon, and the upper Keys probably like around 4:00.  It takes while to get the population out. 

OLBERMANN:  Mayor, you have been told, and we have heard the same thing, this could be the biggest one ever in the Keys.  That‘s a lot saying about the Florida Keys.  Is this potentially worse than Labor Day of 1935?  And a lot of people outside of Florida wouldn‘t have heard about that, but 200-mile-an-hour winds.  The railroad link was washed out, 18-foot waves, 500 dead.  Is it potential to be that destructive, if not that deadly? 

WEEKLEY::  It really does.  And I think that‘s why so many of our residents are taking heed to the warning about evacuation and to get out.  They have seen the damage from the other two storms that has caused the state.

And they recognize that for their own safety and the safety of their families, they need to follow that evacuation order and to leave our city. 

OLBERMANN:  Mayor Jimmy WEEKLEY: of Key West, Florida, obviously a very busy night for you.  And we‘ll let you go with our thanks.  Thank you, sir.

WEEKLEY::  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Up next here on COUNTDOWN, a major drive to prepare Americans for a different kind of catastrophe, another terrorist attack.  Steven Brill will join us next to explain the ready kit.  And later, why you can now put anyone—and we mean anyone—on a stamp. 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead, promoting preparation, the new national drive to get America ready for the next terror attack, our second story on the COUNTDOWN—coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  That it has not been the dominant story of this week is one of those tiny incremental hopeful signs, like the crocuses in the flower beds in early spring.  Saturday is the third anniversary of 9/11. 

But in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, with the intermittent healing that the low-key anniversary may represent comes some danger, apathy.  Today, the America Prepared Campaign began, a nonprofit, nonpartisan program to help the citizens of this prepare themselves for a future event, principally, with the ready kit to be sold at prices of $30 or less and contain those home preparedness supplies suggested by the Department of Homeland Security, all the stuff you will need, but will not be able to buy if there‘s a problem. 

I‘m joined now by the chairman of the America Prepared Campaign, Steven Brill. 

Steve, good evening. 

STEVEN BRILL, CHAIRMAN, AMERICA PREPARED CAMPAIGN:  Hey, Keith.  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  Before I ask you what‘s in the kit, do you expect resistance even when it is this simple?  I say this because when I lived in Southern California, I looked into opening up an earthquake preparedness place, a one-stop-shopping place, survival kits, wrenches for the gas pipe, the whole thing.  I thought, financial empire.  What I discovered was people wouldn‘t come near it. 

Part of the psychological survival of the fear of earthquakes was to ignore the preparation process.  Do you worry about that here? 

BRILL:  Well, thank God you didn‘t do it.  Television would have been that much poorer for it. 

(LAUGHTER)

BRILL:  There is that barrier.  And what we are trying to do with a series of advertisements that we‘ve created, with a series of messages that we‘re giving out in the schools is to convince people that this is just basic common sense. 

And one of the first things we did when we formed America Prepared is we did some focus groups.  And what we found out was that one of the barriers to getting this kind of ready kit was that the list was sort of complicated and it took a lot of work.  And people thought, gee, I would have to walk around to four or five different stores.  So we removed one of the excuses beginning today, by having this all-in-one inexpensive kit available at every major retailer in the country. 

Now, this isn‘t something we sell.  We don‘t make any money on this.  But, basically, we cajoled all the retailers and the wholesalers into doing this.  And they‘ve come on and really come on strong.  So there are barriers.  But what we‘re trying to do is remove them one by one.  And one of them is the work and the inconvenience and the cost of buying all this stuff piece by piece. 

OLBERMANN:  Without going piece by piece, give me the highlights of what‘s in it. 

BRILL:  What‘s in it is common sense.  Whether it‘s a hurricane or an earthquake or a terrorist attack, every home ought to have a flashlight.  Every home ought to have a battery-powered radio, so you can communicate, I mean, get instructions from the media if necessary.  Every home ought to have a certain amount of water and food in case you have to shelter in place or in case you have to get going and go somewhere and shelter. 

There‘s a little wrench in there in case you have to turn off the gas utility.  It‘s basic, commonsense stuff, the kind of stuff that people may have around the house.  And if they want, they can go and get the list of ingredients.  If they walk into any Starbucks, for example, they can get a family communications plan and a list of all these ingredients and they can gather the stuff themselves.  Or they can save themselves the trouble and just buy this thing.  It is very inexpensive.  And they have it and they know they have it. 

OLBERMANN:  And buying it, to use an analogy that I heard once, when you build hospitals, that does not mean that more people get injured or get sick.  It just allows you to be prepared. 

BRILL:  No, it means you‘re just taking over a little bit of piece of power of your life. 

OLBERMANN:  Right. 

BRILL:  By just being prepared.

OLBERMANN:  A little sense of control in a situation that‘s largely uncontrollable. 

BRILL:  Exactly right. 

OLBERMANN:  Steven Brill of the America Prepared Campaign, thanks for your time tonight, sir.

BRILL:  Thank you, Keith.  Good to see you. 

OLBERMANN:  Good to see you.

Two other things about tonight‘s No. 2 story.  The folks at America Prepared have a quiz you can take to see if you are ready in the event of another attack.  You can find that by going to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.

And a program note.  Please join Lisa Myers this story at 6:00 p.m.  here on MSNBC for a special hour at 6:00 Eastern, an hour spent looking at the 12 ways to make America safer. 

We segue from realistic days to happy days, our gossip and celebrity segment, “Keeping Tabs,” opening tonight with a revival for the show that brought us the Fonz, Laverne and Shirley, and jumping the shark.  “Happy Days 30,” a two-hour reunion of the entire original cast, will make it on to ABC‘s air probably by November.  Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, all the rest, will all appear.  And Richie Cunningham‘s long-lost brother Chuck will reappear.  In fact, both of the actors who played Chuck will be in the same show.  How they are going to explain that should make Fonz jumping the shark look like “Hamlet.” 

And then there‘s Heidi Klum and her million-dollar legs.  The electric razor company Braun says it is taking no chances after the model signed to do commercials for its latest hair-removal product  And they plan to insure her legs just in case there‘s some sort of crazy electric shaver mishap.  A London auction house did the valuation and arrived at the figure of $1.96 million for the pair of legs. 

Insurance expert John Souglides said—quote—“Having valued static objects for 15 years, it makes a refreshing change to be asked to value something living, and I certainly admired the exquisite lines of this piece.”  No word if his face was ensured for a good slapping.

Still ahead, neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor Slobodan will stop your letter getting delivered.  Take a good look at that stamp before you lick it—next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was one of the classic and most risque of “Saturday Night Live” jokes.  The Post Office was going to issue a stamp commemorating prostitution, wrote funny man Alan Zweibel.  The stamp would cost 10 cents, but a quarter if you wanted to lick it. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, today, the stamps are self-adhesive.  And for a small fee, you can put anybody on them.  It used to be just Elvis.  Now it can be, say, Linda Tripp.  Yes, the insurrectionists at the Web site TheSmokingGun.com did it again, this time taking advantage of a pilot program implemented by the United States Postal Service in order to boost interest in old-fashioned mail. 

Run by Los Angeles-based firm Stamps.com, it allows anyone to go to their site, upload a photo and a mere seven to 10 business days, get a personalized stamp, one with a bright, shiny face, possibly yours, possibly that of, say, Slobodan Milosevic.  And in another few days, bang, your slowly delivered letter with Slobodan‘s picture on it is in grandma‘s mailbox. 

The policy had been that only photos that would be prevented from becoming stamps, rather, would be those of explicit nudity or violence.  They‘ve changed that, thanks to the hard work of our next guest and his cronies, Joe Jesselli of TheSmokingGun.com. 

Joe, welcome back to the show.

JOE JESSELLI, THE SMOKINGGUN.COM:  Glad to be here.

So let‘s start this in two parts.  Who did you originally try to get onto these vanity stamps and get rejected? 

JESSELLI:  Well, we knew that we should not try like Hitler or bin Laden. 

So we tried took it down a notch and tried Ted Kaczynski, looking very scruffy and Unabombery, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.  We expected Gravano to get through.  And we were surprised that all three were rejected.  So we had to take it down another notch and we came up with the set that we have now for your viewing pleasure on TheSmokingGun.com. 

And we‘ll show some of them here.  With those rejected, you go down a

tier in terms of infamy.  Who did you get them to make

(CROSSTALK)

JESSELLI:  ... stamps of there.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  OK, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, this is probably my favorite.  And some people actually think that they‘re worthy of having a stamp. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  But the irony of them appearing on a United States stamp at any point in the next millennium after how they were treated or how they treated the country, depending on your point of view, is extraordinary. 

JESSELLI:  Precisely.  And that‘s exactly the criteria we used, was the irony of these things appearing on a set, who would not want—who would the Postal Service not want to see on a stamp?  They would not want to see Monica Lewinsky‘s dress on a stamp. 

OLBERMANN:  Very good.

JESSELLI:  And they wouldn‘t want to see Golan Cipel and New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey on a stamp. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

JESSELLI:  We were surprised that one got through. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

JESSELLI:  Nicolae Ceausescu, not a very nice man, met a very sad end. 

OLBERMANN:  But that was very subtle.  That would be very subtle, wouldn‘t it?  Most people would say, what is Ross Perot doing on a U.S.  stamp? 

JESSELLI:  Yes, he looks like somebody‘s Uncle Irvin, which is how I think we submitted him.   

OLBERMANN:  So other than just generally being troublemakers every day of your lives, why did do you this? 

JESSELLI:  Well, I was kind of surprised that the government could resort to doing such a thing to make money.

Putting images on a stamp is usually reserved for Third World countries like Mongolia putting Jerry Garcia on a postage stamp.  So we thought, OK, we‘re going to test their vetting process and see how stringent their guidelines really are.  And we think that being on a postage stamp should be reserved for the truly great people and truly great Americans, like dead presidents and Allan Wolf (ph) and Dizzy Dean. 

OLBERMANN:  Dizzy Dean. 

JESSELLI:  He‘s on a stamp, you know. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I know.  He doesn‘t really deserve to be.  If there‘s a baseball stamp, he doesn‘t deserve to be on it.  But that‘s a whole different situation.  And maybe we can cooperate and we can get Dizzy Dean off the baseball stamp. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Because he wasn‘t that great a player.

JESSELLI:  And when you think about how hard it was to get Elvis on a stamp and the decision for fat Elvis or—now you just pay a fee. 

OLBERMANN:  Just pay a fee.

JESSELLI:  What‘s next, $10 for a $5 bill with your picture on it? 

OLBERMANN:  I would do that. 

Joe Jesselli of SmokingGun.com, remember, please affix stamp here.  Post Office will not deliver mail without sufficient postage.  Thank you for your time, sir. 

(CROSSTALK)

JESSELLI:  You‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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