updated 9/17/2004 11:13:31 AM ET 2004-09-17T15:13:31

Guests: Jim Kosek, Mark Hosenball

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Kerry, 47, Bush 46, the Harris poll.  Bush 46, Kerry 46, the Pew poll.  The same one the president led by 12 points last Friday. 

The Killian memos.  Well, at least we know which Kinko‘s they were faxed from.  That bit of trivia though may point to their source. 

At least 11 dead and billions in damages on Ivan‘s terrible night. 

But all points on the battered map agree it could have been so much worse. 

The forecast for Iraq.  Says the acting director of the CIA, there could be escalating violence, economic instability, political chaos.  And that would be the good news. 

And the zero-gravity flight.  Now you can get on a plane and enjoy the astronaut‘s pleasure, weighing nothing at all. 

This is intentional, right?  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Thursday, September 16.  Forty-seven days until the 2004 presidential election.  The unrelenting campaign has again taken however briefly a backseat to the unrelenting hurricane season.  So punishing, so repetitious that for a period of hours until about 2:30 this afternoon, when Ivan was downgraded to a tropical storm, there were two hurricanes, fighting for airspace like jets backed up over some metropolitan hub. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, exit Ivan, enter Jeanne.  The first one‘s impact was almost fleeting, the sixth most powerful hurricane on record seemed to pull its punches after it hit dry land on Mobile Bay.  The mayor of Mobile telling the media, quote, “we caught a bullet with our teeth.”  Nonetheless, there has been damage, estimates already in the millions.  There have been deaths, varying reports, at least 11, possibly 18 or 20.  The overview from the landfall sight at Gulf Shores, Alabama, and our correspondent Robert Hager—Bob.

ROBERT HAGER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, this is where the powerful center of the storm came in right here last night.  And look at the flood it‘s left back there.  That is supposed to be main road, not water.  All along the Gulf Coast, at least 20 are dead, 1.5 million without power, and though some big cities were spared like New Orleans and Mobile, there are guesses the costs could be $3 to $10 billion. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  4:00 p.m. Wednesday, Ivan is still far offshore but the leading edge of its winds already quips up the coast.  Near Panama City, Florida, the storm spawns a tornado and claims its first U.S. victims killed when their homes are destroyed.  9:00 p.m., darkness falls, and the hurricane builds.  Rain comes in sheets, up to 8 inches of it.  NBC‘s Kerry Sanders is being buffeted in Pensacola Beach. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s about 65 miles an hour right there. 

HAGER:  In downtown Mobile, Alabama, a few lonely souls ride it out. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My house might blow away.  This building won‘t. 

It‘s been here 125 years. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think this is just the safest place to be. 

That‘s why I‘m here. 

HAGER:  2:00 a.m., the eye of the storm makes landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama.  The winds of its inner wall a fearsome 130 miles an hour.  7:00 a.m., daylight.  Now it‘s the back side of the storm, still blowing as the center moves far inland and begins to lose strength.  And in its wake, assessing the toll.  Areas west of the eye have fared better.  New Orleans and Mobile escape major damage.  But to the east, just look at Interstate 10 outside Pensacola, Florida.  Its eastbound lanes sliced in two by storm surge battering its footing where it crosses Escambia Bay.  Elsewhere in Pensacola, flooded streets, a brick church front destroyed. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think this is going to be the most the country has seen in a while.  It‘s going to be pretty major. 

HAGER:  And in hard-hit Gulf Shores where the eye came ashore, high water spills over the highways.  Residents are in shock. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s horrible.  It scared me to death last night.  Wind blowing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know what else to say.  It‘s pretty bad. 

Overwhelming. 

HAGER:  A trailer home upside down.  This is what used to be a pizza parlor.  That used to be a bank.  This was a grocery store.  The whole storm took less than 24 hours.  4:00 p.m. this afternoon, the sun came out.  But for those who live here, the ordeal goes on. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAGER:  One problem with the disrupted bridges and the flooding like this is that they can‘t get relief through to some areas that need it.  For instance there is a whole convoy of National Guardsmen waiting to get in here to begin cleanup.  Tonight they just can‘t get in—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Robert Hager at Gulf Shores, Alabama tonight.  Many thanks.

For once, the 2004 hurricane did not throw itself directly at Florida.  And it made almost no difference.  Forty miles to the east of where Bob was, to Pensacola, where the swathe of destruction was such that officials say it‘s easier to list what isn‘t damaged there.  Kerry Sanders watched from the beach. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  This is Pensacola Beach, the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.  I‘m standing on what used to be a house.  Hurricane Ivan with a huge storm surge came through and knocked out this house.  The losses just on this barrier island will total into the millions upon millions of dollars.  The debris field that you see here, this came from a house that sold 22 months ago.  It sold for $950,000. 

This is where another home once stood.  It‘s gone.  You can see the utility pole that fell down here.  It sounded last night to us like there may have been a tornado here that sort of took this area out.  That is where we rode the hurricane out, inside that really unusual-looking home.  It‘s called a dome home.  It was designed with some assistance by the federal government to actually withstand a hurricane.  Its unusual shape is designed to deflect or sheer the tremendous winds that come ashore with the hurricane.  We rode out that hurricane with the owner, Mark Siegler.

What was it like to ride out the hurricane last night?

MARK SIEGLER, DOME HOME OWNER:  Very apprehensive, the first four, five hours, but as time went on, the house didn‘t shake, the windows didn‘t shake.  There was a lot of howling, but there was zero movement and stuff. 

SANDERS:  For those of us on the NBC News team it was a surprisingly quiet night inside the dome home especially when we came out at first light and saw what had taken place here with Hurricane Ivan.  When the residents do finally get a chance to return to their community here, they will be saddened by what has taken place.  Multimillion dollars in losses and questions whether it really makes sense to rebuild here.  Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Pensacola Beach. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Eighty miles further east, Panama City, Bay County, Florida where a tornado claimed two lives yesterday afternoon, the chief of emergency services for Bay County is Bob Majka who joins us now.  Chief Micah, good evening, thanks for your time. 

CHIEF BOB MAJKA, EMERGENCY SERVICES, BAY COUNTY, FL.:  Thanks, Keith. 

Good evening to you, too. 

OLBERMANN:  Florida spared the direct hit but you sustained severe damage there nonetheless.  What are you dealing with? 

MAJKA:  We‘re looking at approximately $20 million worth of damage here locally on the ground.  Our initial damage assessment, we found this afternoon in the neighborhood of about 200 buildings that have been majorly damaged. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a way to separate that?  Do you know what part of that was the tornado yesterday and the rest was the hurricane per se?  Is there no reason to even bother to try to figure that out? 

MAJKA:  At this point we‘re pretty confident that 100 percent of that was from the tornadoes.  Very, very little damage from the actual hurricane itself when the first feeder bands moved in around 4:00 p.m. yesterday, there was a string of tornadoes that moved through this area and caused most of the damage and the two fatalities we had here locally. 

OLBERMANN:  We heard from Alabama that the major problem right now, is because of flooding, they can‘t get the assistance, material, food, whatever through because all their highways are now suddenly—look like Venice, Italy.  What kind of assistance are you anticipating?  What kind of assistance do you need? 

MAJKA:  Right now, thank goodness, FEMA was on the ground here before the storm, representatives of the state department of emergency management were here before landfall, and really, we have no unmet needs at this point in time.  We were very fortunate.  Our major concern right now is restoration of power.  We still have approximately 50,000 customers without power, and as a result of that, we‘ve got right at 400 people still in shelters who are persons with special medical needs, who are power-dependent who just can‘t go home until we get that power restored. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, sir, I hate to bring up the next hurricane, but can you and your citizens do this again? 

MAJKA:  You know, Keith, this is just part of living in Florida.  We certainly don‘t like to see it.  It is a way of life and you know, part of what we have to do here regularly is prepare for this.  You know, I unfortunately was here in 1995 when we experienced another category three storm head on and certainly would prefer not to have to go through anything like this again in my career.  But it‘s part of living here in the Florida Panhandle. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess indeed it is.  Bob Majka, the chief of emergency services for Bay County, Florida, Panama City and environs.  Great thanks for your time here tonight and all the best in the clean-up. 

MAJKA:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Just as Ivan was being downgraded to a tropical storm, the next hurricane was born so to speak.  Jeanne, so declared at 9:00 Eastern this morning, later downgraded again but expected to be a full-fledged hurricane sooner rather than later.  Looking back, and unfortunately now looking ahead again, from the Accuweather Center, we‘re joined by meteorologist Jim Kosek.  Jim, good evening. 

JIM KOSEK, ACCUWEATHER METEOROLOGIST:  Good evening, Keith.  I just wish it were under different circumstances.  Jeanne is a very formidable feature.  We‘ll get to that in just a little bit.  We want to take a first quick look at Ivan.  This is still a monster here, these feeder bands with some tornadic activity here over parts of Georgia on into the Smokies and east Tennessee over the next 24 hours, worst of the flooding will be in through this area where we are going to have upwards of a foot of rainfall as we swing on into Saturday. 

Meanwhile, Jeanne, the only reason why this is a tropical storm is because it‘s over land in the Dominican Republic on the northeastern flank.  It‘s moving off to the west at about 7, 8 miles per hour. 

Couple things I want to hit on here, Keith.  Where the position of Ivan is going to be, as we head on into this weekend, will tell the tale, as to the strength of our ridge of high pressure system just offshore.  Now, it is the steering flow around high pressure that‘s clock-wise, and that‘s why we honestly believe that Jeanne will be steered in a west-northwest fashion.  That easily brings it to the eastern seaboard. 

Yes, it‘s going to hit home once again, and it will, once it gets away from the land masses here, will come back and probably a category two hurricane when all is said and done with, 96 to 110 miles per hour sustained winds for that feature.  We‘re looking for it in the Bahamas this upcoming weekend.  And if it‘s going to take a path into Florida, perhaps Monday night or Tuesday.  If for some reason this high pressure system weakens, Keith, the door is open for it to come up the road to the Carolinas around the middle part of next week—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Goodness.  AccuWeather‘s Jim Kosek now tracking Jeanne. 

No pause at all for any of us.  Many thanks, Jim. 

COUNTDOWN opening up now with the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan and looking unfortunately ahead to Jeanne.  Up next, tonight‘s number four story docudrama grows.  Now Kinkos is involved for heaven sakes.

And president‘s poll numbers missing, up by twelve in the Pew Poll last Friday, tied in the Pew indeed. 

Later, sometimes you just feel a little goofy.  Wait a minute, that Disney character looks awfully familiar, Goofy the guest shover.  He‘s actually he‘s Tigger field hopper, it‘s a serial cartoon troublemaker. 

Standby.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Up next, the Killian documents.  Several news organizations appear to have outed the alleged source of the documents at the center of the CBS story.  Who is the source, what‘s his connection to the president? 

Standby. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Primary damage American politics in the last 25 years is not the Reagan revolution nor the Clinton comeback or even the general polarization, it‘s the sheer disbelief with which each set of partisans views the other.  It Couldn‘t Possibly be right.  The race couldn‘t possibly be close.  Those might be  the only statements that Kerry and Bush supporters agree on.  Tonight‘s those statements have more fodder for them, John Kerry is back in front in one prominent poll and tied in another. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, the Harris poll on the Web site of the fiercely conservative “Wall Street Journal” has the Democrat one point ahead of the incumbent.  Harris‘ first poll since August has it 48/47, with 2 percent for Ralph Nader and the whole thing subject to a margin of error of 3 percent. 

The margin is wider on the so-called referendum question, asked if they believe George Bush deserves to be re-elected, 51 percent said no, 45 percent said yes.  Pew Research also out today, 46/46 among registered voters, Saturday through Tuesday that was taken.  The Pew poll that closed last Friday had Mr. Bush leading 52-40.  That is a 12-point lead gone in four days. 

John Kerry may be struggling to—failing to connect on the situation in Iraq but a—we something that popped into the teleprompter.  Polls numbers do not come with explanations, only guesses.  Sometimes news cast only come with guesses.  Lord knows how the so-called Killian memos may have impacted those guesses or even if they did so.  The docudrama itself seemed to follow the path of Hurricane Ivan, most significant development today was peripheral, and seemed only to boost awareness of Kinkos copying centers. 

The apparent forgeries, recreations, or aberrational memos attributed to Lt. Col. Jerry Killian were identified by both “New York Times” and “Washington Post” has having been faxed to CBS News from a Kinkos in Abilene, Texas.  This would be the height of trivia were it not for the fact that the only Kinkos in Abilene is 21 miles from the home of Bill Burkett, a retired Texas national guard officer already identified by “Newsweek” magazine as the possible source of the Killian memos.  CBS would not respond to questions about whether Burkett was the source or a source. 

Others interviewed by CBS who were shown copies of the memos by the network, said the papers bore markings showing they were faxed from the Abilene Kinkos.  Well, thank good that‘s settled.  With CBS still standing behind the memos, and witnesses saying they may be truth wrapped in lies.  The issues of substance are up in the air, but are we learning something useful here in tying the name Bill Burkett to the documents? 

A pleasure to be joined now by “Newsweek‘s” investigative correspondent Mark Hosenball.  Thanks for your time tonight, sir. 

MARK HOSENBALL, “NEWSWEEK”:  I got to correct something you said, Keith.  All we reported is that he was a principal source for CBS News‘ story.  We didn‘t specifically report he was a source for the documents.  I don‘t think we are positive of that. 

OLBERMANN:  We appreciate the correction. 

Who is Burkett, and what—what is his relevance? 

HOSENBALL:  Well, Burkett is a former Texas National Guard Officer, I believe he‘s a lieutenant colonel, who was pretty high up in the Texas—the Texas National Guard.  And then was sent off, I believe, to Panama on assignment where he got very ill with a tropical disease and subsequently spent a bunch of times in a hospital and according to “The New York Times” and according to our reporting I believe actually had a mental breakdown at one point or nervous breakdown. 

And subsequently was quoted in various places, including an anti-Bush book as saying, in 1997 he either observed or overheard a bunch of Bush aides, including some fairly famous people, talking about sanitizing—in other words, weeding out potential incriminating materials in Bush‘s national guard record.  An allegation or an incident in which bush people say never occurred. 

And they basically, you know, alleged that this guy is making this stuff up, and that he hates Bush and whatever.  And my understanding is that the guy has certainly behaved irrationally on the occasion, including with some of the people he spoke to in the last 24-48 hours.  He‘s behaved a little bit strangely.  So maybe he‘s not necessarily the best source for this kind of heated allegation to be made in the middle of a presidential campaign. 

OLBERMANN:  That was what I was just going to ask.  It would seem the minimal charge against CBS here, is that they ignored the providence of the documents, if they have any providence.  I don‘t know about your experiences on source stories like those, but mine is if the supposed art, if the documents or whatever supports the statement or story, are weak, that usually means that whoever approved the story anyway thought that the source was overwhelmingly good, incontrovertible.  Could Bill Burkett‘s credentials have been sufficiently dazzling to CBS for them to say, full steam ahead, let‘s put this out there? 

HOSENBALL:  Well, I was personally reluctant, at least initially over the weekend, to make too much of Mr. Burkett as their source, because I didn‘t believe that they could base a significant piece, an allegation in the middle of a presidential campaign, on this guy‘s word, especially as he had been publicly, you know, attacked, discredited by the Bush people. 

Now, that doesn‘t mean that he is a liar, but it does mean there is a higher bar to get over to use this guy as a source for anything.  Of course they haven‘t admittedly publicly that he is the source in the first place. 

But now it does really appear that this guy had some significant role in this story, and I find that kind of disturbing. 

OLBERMANN:  In the middle of all this, let me switch the focus on the microscope here from looking up real close at font size and the history of this man to the really big picture.  Harris Poll, Kerry 47, Bush 46.  Pew Poll goes from 52-40 Bush last Friday to 46-46 now.  Mark, do you know what the hell is going on here? 

HOSENBALL:  Well, what I think is going on, and I think maybe you

might agree with me on this, is that maybe the American public is smart

enough to have begun to tune out some of this noise from the Vietnam area -

·         era, and all these smears about personal attack and ad hominem attacks by Bush and Kerry supporters on each other, and are beginning to think about, like, the issues in the campaign, like the war in Iraq and Medicare, or whatever.  I think maybe people are getting fed up with some of this historical and rather scurrilous mud-slinging and they‘re beginning to tune it out.  And maybe that is a good development. 

OLBERMANN:  Every night I pray that the voters are smarter than the politicians and the media combined.  Mark Hosenball of “Newsweek,” great thanks for your insight on this story and your perspective on the poll numbers. 

HOSENBALL:  Thanks. 

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, news, kind of, in a story that has been attached to, kind of, the Killian memos, the outing of the CIA wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.  One of the sources has identified himself to authorities.  A “Washington Post” report says the confidential source who briefed its correspondent, Walter Pincus, has revealed his or her identity to the special prosecutor in the Wilson-Plame leak case, although we do not know the name of that source.  Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, is still trying to determine if laws were violated, and if so by whom, when the wife of the former ambassador and governmental envoy was exposed as a covert CIA operative, or not, thus ending her spying career and imperiling the lives of her contacts. 

COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story.  Up next, a break from the serious news of the day for a look at the news of the weird.  “Oddball” is next.  This man is coming to a state capital near you, on a horse. 

And later, it was reserved for astronauts, but now you, too, can enjoy the gastrointestinal thrill that is zero gravity. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back.  And we pause the COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news, because sometimes we just have to have a bit of a laugh at the world‘s strange news.  And when I say sometimes, of course I mean every night.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

Meet Gene Glasscock, though he calls himself the Long Rider.  Why does he do that?  Well, obviously any name is better than Mr. Glasscock. 

However, there is a reason for that Long Rider business.  He is on a cross-country trek to visit every state capital in the lower 48.  In two years on the trail, he‘d made it through 33 of them, and he‘s doing it for charity, to help kids in Paraguay come to America for college.  But he admits he‘s living the good life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have got the fullest life of any man I know. 

Just beautiful life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And a nice hat.  One might think the horse who has carried Glasscock across 33 states might not think life is so rosy, but in the ‘80s Gene rode a horse from the Arctic to the equator, and he knows how to take care of the animals he loves.  In fact, he periodically switches places, and Gene will carry the horse for a while.  So here is to you, Gene Glasscock, and the horse you rode in on. 

To jolly old England, the British House of Commons, where every day security is breached in a brand new way.  This was the scene as rioting erupted during Parliament‘s vote to ban fox hunting yesterday.  The crowd is against the ban.  Some protesters got past police lines and actually inside Parliament, where they made one last effort to preserve their right to kill.  Who are we supposed to kill if we can‘t kill the bloody foxes now that you‘ve given the empire away? 

Today, an undercover reporter for the London tabloid newspaper “The Sun,” apparently trying to drive home this point, successfully smuggled a fake bomb-making kit into the House of Commons. 

Finally, to California, where the Monterey Bay Aquarium is celebrating its newest resident, a great white shark.  The 60-pound youngster was accidentally caught in a commercial fishing net, brought to the aquarium, to be put on display as part of a shark research project, marking the first time in history that a great white shark has ever been kept in captivity, unless you count the movie “Jaws III.”  But that all ended well, if I recall correctly. 

Several tape decks were ruined. 

That will do it for “Oddball.”  Up next, the No. 3 story, the grim assessment about Iraq‘s future and the U.S. future in Iraq, from the administration‘s own intelligence chief. 

And later, mother versus mother.  Police drag away in handcuffs a woman who lost her soldier son in Iraq and who heckled the first lady.  These stories, and first your COUNTDOWN “Top 3 Newsmakers of the Day.” 

No. 3, Ronald McDonald—actually, hundreds and hundreds of Ronald McDonald‘s dolls, which were found by passersby in a road in Feneche (ph), Iowa early Wednesday morning.  Five hundred of them, say witnesses, nearly arranged in rows.  No explanation yet, but police are seeking 500 Hamburglars.

No. 2, an unidentified man who was walking down a street in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, where he saw a truck pass him driven by a black labrador retriever.  Police say the dog managed to throw the vehicle in gear, and the truck coasted down a nearby hill.  Nobody was injured.

No. 1, the Sri Lankan Olympic handball team, they are missing, all 23 of them.  It may not be what it sounds like, though.  Sri Lanka, you see, does not have an Olympic handball team.  These were apparently 23 ordinary people who walked into the German Embassy in Sri Lanka and talked them into giving them visas so they could get the hell out of Sri Lanka. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There is a bitter epigram about 21st century geopolitics.  If you want to be the world‘s policemen, better be prepared to also be the world‘s landlord.  And if you want to be the world‘s landlord, be prepared to get the call in the middle of the night when the tenant‘s toilet overflows. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, safety in Iraq continues to spiral downwards to the point where almost under the radar the administration wants to switch $3 billion of the rebuilding money to security measures, and the president has been given the national intelligence estimate that says this may be as good as it gets in Iraq, and that‘s providing there is no civil war. 

The budgetary redirection first.  The president yesterday requested that nearly one-sixth of the $18.4 billion Congress approved last November for reconstruction be shifted instead to security.  Even some of the administration‘s Republican colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are interpreting that as a sign of serious trouble. 

Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska saying the shift in funds—quote—

“does not add up, in my opinion, to a pretty picture, to a picture that shows that we are winning.”

So far, only about 6 percent of the reconstruction money approved by Congress has actually been spent.  About that, Hagel adds: “It‘s beyond pitiful.  It‘s beyond embarrassing.  It‘s now in the zone of dangerous.”

On the ground in Iraq, more danger, less winning.  Two Americans kidnapped from their Baghdad home, along with a British colleague.  The three men hauled away at gunpoint in an early-morning raid in the wealthy Al Mansour neighborhood of the city, where many foreigners have been staying.  The Americans, identified as Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, they have been in Iraq for about seven months working for a private construction company. 

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy says, the government is using all available means to find them.  Hundreds of foreigners have been abducted in Iraq.  At least 26 of them have been murdered. 

And then there is the prospect that the best any American president may be able to hope for next year is a situation in Iraq that is only this bad.  The acting director of the CIA has sent Mr. Bush a classified national intelligence estimate that suggests the only mission accomplished for 2005 may be staving off actual, literal civil war. 

Our Pentagon correspondent is Jim Miklaszewski. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Along with a recent spike in deadly violence in Iraq, a classified U.S. government report paints a bleak picture of Iraq‘s immediate future. 

As first reported by “The New York Times,‘ the 50-page report called a national intelligence estimate prepared by the CIA‘s in-house think tank warns that the worst-case scenario over next year is that Iraq could collapse into civil war. 

NBC News has learned that, specifically, the reports says there‘s still a danger longstanding rivalries between Sunnis and Shiites could erupt into civil war, that continued attacks on oil pipelines and infrastructure seriously threaten any chance for economic improvement absolutely critical to Iraq‘s success. 

The report also points out shortcomings in the Iraqi government itself, that the lack of experience in representative government is hampering efforts to create an Iraqi democracy and that any long-term political solution, free of religious involvement, will be difficult. 

(on camera):  Administration officials say they are fully aware of the danger and are working with the Iraqi government to overcome them. 

(voice-over):  But some lawmakers accuse the administration of glossing over the threats. 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  I‘m not going to be any part anymore of remaining silent while misleading assertions about the state of affairs in Iraq continue to persist. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  But this latest government report predicts that even the best-case scenario for Iraq isn‘t that good, another year of instability at about the same level of violence seen today. 

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And, necessarily, the man who wants to replace the current president was this afternoon supposed to hit Mr. Bush and hit him hard on that national intelligence.  But if a microcosm of Senator Kerry‘s campaign problem is needed, he provided it at the National Guard Convention in Las Vegas. 

I will read what his press office released in advance of the appearance as his prepared remarks.  Then we will play you the tape of what he actually said: “You deserve a president who will not play politics with national security.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You deserve a president who isn‘t going to gild that truth or gild our national security with politics. 

Mr. Kerry‘s script then read: “who will not ignore his own intelligence while living in a fantasy world of spin.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  Who is not going to ignore his own intelligence, who isn‘t going to live in a different world of spin, who will give the American people the truth, not a fantasy world of spin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The senator was supposed to finish the thrust thusly: “and who will give the American people the truth about the challenges our brave men and women face on the front lines.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  Not a fantasy world of spin, but a world where we challenge our brave men and women to be able to meet the test of our times. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The line was, “play politics with national security” and he did not say it.  If the situation is a political mess, more importantly, if it is a danger for this country and our service personnel, why isn‘t the challenger pounding the president?  Why is his message not seeming to get through? 

We‘re joined again by MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell. 

Always a pleasure, sir.  Thanks for your time. 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Did that straying from that tight series of jabs in Las Vegas today summarize Mr. Kerry‘s problem?  Is there somebody screaming at him right now, read the speech, don‘t say gild? 

O‘DONNELL:  Keith, you should have a neurologist on for this segment, because really what you are watching is an exhausted human brain. 

What you just demonstrated was proof of the exhaustion level that candidates in runs like Kerry‘s that is now in its third year, the point they get to at this stage of the game.  If you recall, the night the Republican Convention closed and Kerry was sent out at midnight with a hard-hitting speech against the president, in the new hard-hitting paragraphs, he had his head down and he was reading it word for word because it was new material and he wanted to get it word for word.  He wanted it to go out on the wires in that way. 

This was one of those situations where he wasn‘t able to read it word for word, so he is not going to be able to match the text.  If they continue to use it, if that becomes the boiler plate, then this exhausted, close to brain-exhausted candidate in a couple of days will have that stuff down word for word.  But that‘s really what this is.  It‘s just physical fatigue. 

OLBERMANN:  Goodness. 

Mr. Bush‘s campaign strategy through the convention regarding Iraq seemed fairly intelligible, fairly logical, wave the flag, point to the reconstruction, ask them where all Saddam Hussein is now.  But now with this intelligence estimate, a Reuters correspondent noted that the president from saying last Friday that Iraqi national elections will be held in January to having said today, national elections in Iraq are scheduled for January. 

Is Mr. Bush going to be forced to stop the flag-waving that soothes all ills? 

O‘DONNELL:  Not one minute before midnight on November 2, Keith. 

He will go back.  And now that that little phrasing adjustment has been pointed out, I promise you, within the next 24 hours, he will correct the tense to the definitive future tense.  He will say that they will have the elections.  The Bush message is very simple.  And they craft simple, short sentences for President Bush, which is very smart.  It‘s smart for any politician, because they are easier to remember and easier to handle. 

And that‘s one of the reasons why Bush‘s performance now on the stump is very, very sharp for a Bush performance, which is always an exercise in making an issue simpler than it is.  Kerry‘s speech usually includes some kind of acknowledgment of at least the beginnings of the complexity of the subject and then frequently he can lose an audience in that complexity. 

OLBERMANN:  Events presumably dictate, as you suggest—they have dictated the president‘s political approach to Iraq in these next 47 days. 

But what about John Kerry at this point?  Those Harris and Pew polls today show that, no matter what malaise is perceived in that campaign, no matter how tired he might be, he is at worst still close and that bump just vanished.  He may be ahead.  Can he hit a couple of three-pointers about Iraq and pull away?  And, if so, how does he do it?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, he has to hit the three-pointers in the debate.  That‘s the spot where he has the chance to get the attention when he is doing it. 

Iraq is almost an impossible political position for Kerry, for the following reason.  A slight majority of Kerry supporters, about 52 percent, 54 percent, believe that Kerry should be talking about withdrawing the troops now.  Another third of Kerry‘s supporters believe that Kerry should be declaring that he wants to fight this war and win it and take it all the way to the endpoint that President Bush is talking about. 

So which one of those audiences do you speak to in a Kerry speech? 

And what you‘re seeing is that he tries to speak to both of them. 

OLBERMANN:  No wonder they are talking about Vietnam.  That was less complicated than this.

All right, we will see the debates.  Debate No. 1 in two weeks, which really hasn‘t gotten a lot of attention yet, but will in the next two weeks. 

And I hope we get the chance to talk to Lawrence O‘Donnell again before then. 

As always, sir, great thanks for your time. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  If the speech in Las Vegas was self-gilding, Senator Kerry wasn‘t the only political figure with a tough day. 

A political disaster in Hamilton, New Jersey, for Laura Bush, her speech interrupted by a heckler who had to be handcuffed and dragged out of the premises by police, a heckler who turned out to be the grieving mother of a soldier killed in Iraq.  Arresting what used to be called a gold-star mother, never good politics. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUE NIEDERER, MOTHER OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER:  Why aren‘t the senators, the legislators, the congressman, our children serving in this war, if this war is a war that they agree with, there are three...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You have—no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You need to come with us, ma‘am.

NIEDERER:  You want to arrest me? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I really don‘t want to arrest you, ma‘am.

(CROSSTALK)

NIEDERER:  Go ahead.  Come on.  Arrest me, right here in front of everybody.  Go ahead. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She has a ticket.

NIEDERER:  I have a ticket. 

(CROSSTALK)

NIEDERER:  Not, it is not.  This was open to the public. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sorry, ma‘am.  I asked you to leave nicely and please step away.

(CROSSTALK)

NIEDERER:  No, absolutely, positively not. 

(CROSSTALK)

NIEDERER:  Excuse me.  What are you charging me with?  Excuse me. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... Miranda rights.  You have tell her what you‘re charging her with.

NIEDERER:  Tell me what my rights are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And that was outside the hall.  Sue Niederer of Hopewell, New Jersey, was the mother of Army 1st Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, 24 years old when he was killed in February trying to disarm a bomb.  She says she was charged with defiant trespass and wearing a T-shirt reading: “President Bush, you killed my son.”  Ms. Niederer got in one last swipe at him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIEDERER:  My ex-husband and I both sent him letters upon the killing of our son, to which we received no response.  What we did receive was, would you like to make a contribution to the Bush campaign?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead here on COUNTDOWN, defending a costumed client.  First, he was Tigger in trouble.  Now the same man is accused of being a little too goofy. 

And later, the lengths one businessman has gone to in hopes of catching the 700th home run ball for baseball‘s Barry Bonds. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRIETTA HOLSMAN FORE, DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES MINT:  And now, the time has come for the future, one nickel at a time.  America, there is change in your change. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN”)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST:  Do you think it will be over once you get out of jail? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, yes, Conan.

O‘BRIEN:  Yes, but you will always have the stigma of having to gone to jail. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I said I will be fine. 

O‘BRIEN:  Yes, but you will always be a convicted felon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I said I will be fine, Conan.

O‘BRIEN:  Yes, but for the rest of your life, Martha, you‘ll be a convicted felon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Silence, you ignorant worm!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Seems like if we‘re willing to extend legal liability to these health centers, we ought to be extending legal liability to private clinics and hospitals as well, so OB/GYNs can...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Too many OB-GYNs aren‘t able to practice their love with women all across this country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  So OB/GYNs can—can do their job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Next, call it deja vu for one Florida lawyer, same client, only he‘s in a different costume.

And a reminder, tomorrow, the day I answer your quiz questions on the news.  Just e-mail them to COUNTDOWN@MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You may remember this scene, one of the more bizarre courtroom tableaus.  Defense attorney tries on Tigger costume.

And last month, this provided a slam dunk for lawyer Jeffrey Kaufman, who said, if the paw fits, you must acquit, and convinced jurors easily that his client, Michael Chartrand, could not have intentionally groped a 13-year-old girl because Disney World‘s Tigger costume didn‘t allow its wearer to feel anything anyway. 

But in the No. 2 story on tonight‘s COUNTDOWN, it turns out trouble follows Mr. Chartrand the way dust followed Pigpen or Winnie the Pooh followed honey.  Disney World reinstated Chartrand, but changed his role from Tigger to Goofy.  Now, again, he has been suspended.  This time, Chartrand is accused of shoving people. 

Two photographers who also work in the park say Chartrand as Goofy came up to them a pushed them in the chest real hard.  The same intrepid defense attorney, Mr. Kaufman, is back and says, of course, he was goofing around because he was Goofy.  He also says the two photographers pushed Chartrand right back as part of a bit to entertain the crowds and that Disney has now targeted Chartrand and will use any excuse to try to fire him.  Of course, it all could be worse.  They could try to make him play Donald Duck‘s cousin, Pantsless Pete. 

That‘s not really his name. 

For once, the segue from our No. 2 story to tonight‘s roundup of celebrity news and gossip seems simple and direct.  “Keeping Tabs” again begins tonight by urging you to pull up a chair and spend a part of your evening with us at the old ball yard.  I said, pull up a chair, damn it. 

The Monday incident in which Texas Rangers relief pitcher Frank Francisco hit the wife of heckler Craig Bueno continues in the news.  That night, Texas Ranger owner—slam—Texas Ranger owner Tom Hicks said the conduct was indefensible.  Now he says the team is not responsible.  Mr.  Bueno said this all began when he said he yelled into the Texas Bullpen, “So, who‘s going to take the loss tonight?” whereupon Rangers reliever Francisco Cordero—quote—“said something about my mother.”

The Buenos‘ attorney, Gary Gwilliam, said today that: “What the Texas Rangers did is wrong.  It‘s like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.  It all starts at the top.”  Just stop it.  It‘s not like Abu Ghraib.  Stop it. 

Can we just get baseball back to what it‘s supposed to be about, about turning a player‘s accomplishment into a fan‘s financial profit?  With Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants at 699 home runs through today.  Michael Mahan of Los Angeles has bought a few tickets for the Giants season-ending series at Dodger stadium first week of October, 6,458 tickets, in fact, all of them in right field, where Bonds hits most of his home runs.

Mahan wants the ball that Bonds hits for his 700th homer.  But unless Bonds gets hurt or goes without a home run for two weeks, he‘ll hit No. 700 somewhere else.  So Mahan has now been selling these tickets to others, as much as $15 apiece, four times what he paid for them.  And he‘s still requiring anybody who buys them to sign a contract that gives him half the rights to the sale of any Bonds home run ball they may catch, no matter what number it is.  Ah, sports. 

Still ahead on COUNTDOWN, losing gravity and possibly your lunch.  The vomit comet is now boarding. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Do you want to feel better, lighter, as if you‘re floating on air?  Do you want to feel like a million bucks?  Well, 3,000 bucks, anyway?

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, you can achieve all that with space-age technology that will make you feel years younger, pounds lighter and slightly nauseous. 

Our correspondent Tom Costello now aboard what NASA called before it was made available to you, Joe Public, the vomit comet. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEIL ARMSTRONG, NASA ASTRONAUT:  That‘s one small step for man. 

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  If you have dreamed of floating in the footsteps of Apollo‘s heroes, it‘s a dream come true. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re about to enter the airspace that the FAA has dedicated for us. 

(voice-over):  A specially outfitted 727 cargo plane, a climb to 32,000 feet. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re pulling 1.8 G‘s.  This is about twice your body weight. 

COSTELLO:  And suddenly zero gravity. 

It‘s the public‘s fist chance to experience what astronauts have gone through for 40 years. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How was that? 

(on camera):  It‘s a heck of a ride. 

COSTELLO (voice-over):  It‘s the dream child of Peter Diamandis.  He has wanted to travel in space since he was 9.  Now, for just under $3,000, his company, Zero G, will take you for the ride of your life. 

(on camera):  Do you ever get tired of this? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No way, man.  This is fantastic. 

COSTELLO:  They do it through a series of steep climbs and dives called parabolas, the same technique used to train NASA astronauts. 

(on camera):  This isn‘t as easy as you might think it would be, because you‘re so used to being on the ground. 

(voice-over):  For less than a minute, between the climb and the pushover, everything inside goes weightless.  It‘s how they got those incredible scenes in the movie “Apollo 13.”  On every flight, a former NASA astronaut. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Martian one!

COSTELLO:  The first parabolas offer the gravity of Mars, where pushups are a breeze. 

(on camera):  If only I was this good in high school. 

(voice-over):  The next set, lunar gravity, and finally, zero G‘s. 

(on camera):  You might wall this the world‘s biggest roller-coaster, an 8,000-foot freefall that will send your breakfast free-floating.  The secret is to eat light. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The same that Jacques Cousteau opened up the oceans for scuba divers to explore, we want to open up weightlessness and space for the public. 

COSTELLO (voice-over):  And Diamandis is betting weightlessness will be big business, he‘s betting. 

ADEO RESSI, INVESTOR:  I touched my feet off the ground and started floating through space.  I‘m still on a high.  It‘s amazing. 

COSTELLO:  Already, they‘re sold out for weeks, the newest extreme sport and the world‘s fastest weight loss program all rolled into one. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, somewhere up there. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Big deal.  It‘s like that here every night. 

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

Good night and good luck.  

END   

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