updated 11/19/2004 11:16:03 AM ET 2004-11-19T16:16:03

Guest: John Harris, Rob Sobhani, Juliette Kayyem, Bob Peters

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC ANCHOR (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Shhh...  It is the Clinton library dedication.  Get a good seat?  Try to stay dry. 

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Welcome to my rainy library dedication. 

STEWART:  Braving the elements.  It‘s the Clinton book barn extravaganza. 

A nuclear threat, an assertion from the State Department today that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program and is a threat to the region and to the United States.  A look inside what could be a gathering nuclear threat from another member of the so-called axis of evil. 

The Vioxx fiasco.  Parent company Merck and the FDA faced a congressional firing squad today.  How did the pill that may have caused tens of thousands of strokes and heart attacks stay on the market for so long?  Could that happen again? 

And the towel foul day three.  Never mind the naked lady.  What about the possible racial stereo type in the desperate publicity stunt?  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  It is the most exclusive club in the country.  And it held a meeting today in Little Rock, Arkansas.  America‘s ex-presidents gathered to absolute one of their own at the dedication of the Clinton library.  And about 30,000 movers and shakers joined them.  Let‘s just say President Bush hasn‘t been surrounded by this many Democrats since the state of the union. 

Our number five story on the COUNTDOWN, bipartisanpalooza.  They were not there to bury Clinton but to praise and Bubba pretty much said right back at you.  The compliments were pouring down about as much as the rain was.  Even the man who lost to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election couldn‘t say enough nice things about a fellow member of the club. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One time political adversaries have the tendency to become friends, and I feel such is certainly the case between president Clinton and me.  There‘s an inescapable bond that binds together all those who have lived in the White House.  Though we hail from different ideologies and backgrounds, we‘re singularly unique, even eternally bound by our common devotion and service to this wonderful country. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In the White House, the whole nation witnessed his brilliance and his mastery of detail, his persuasive power and his persistence.  The president is not the kind to give up a fight.  His staffers were known to say, if Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would sink. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  The building is like my husband.  It is open, it is expansive, it is welcoming, it is filled with light.  And the exhibits tell a story of someone who loves his fellow man.  Who cares deeply about the future of all of our children.  Who recognizes our common humanity. 

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Am I the only person in the entire United States of America who likes both George W. Bush and John Kerry?  Who believes they‘re both good people?  Who believe they both love our country and they just see the world differently?  The choices and decisions leaders make affect the lives of million of Americans and people all across the world.  I want young people to want to see not only what I did with my life, but to see what they could do with their lives. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Even Senator John Kerry was in the house, nearing the end of a very long month for him although he did receive a standing ovation at one point during the post-dedication luncheon.  His defeat, and his party‘s future, no doubt, was the talk over chicken, beef or fish entree.  Probably pasta, too.  Here to help us figure out what‘s next for the party that is currently quite blue “Washington Post” national political reporter John Harris, whose book about president Clinton will be released next spring.  He joins us tonight from Little Rock.  John, today, aside from the dedication of the library, did today offer the Dems a chance for a election post mortem? 

JOHN HARRIS, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, most of that was taking place in a lot of informal conversations among Democrats.  They had very much a feel of a class reunion.  Lots of people who, from the Clinton years, who hadn‘t seen each other in years back together.  A lot of Democrats looking back at the elections saying what went wrong and obviously looking forward.  How do we get out of this fix?

STEWART:  For the Democrats, there seemed to be a certain nostalgia from the good old days of the Clinton administration.  Did they ever think they would actually say that?  Is it wise for the Dems to live in the past?  Or do they need to look to a leader beyond Clinton? 

HARRIS:  I think everybody would uniformly agree, don‘t live in the past.  But there is clearly as you point an appreciation for Clinton.  He was able to do something that not many national Democrats have done and that is win.  He had the right formula.  The question is the way to emulate the Clinton formula, isn‘t necessarily somebody whose last name is Clinton.  There was a lot of attention here today, and there will be for the next four years on Hillary Clinton and whether she can pick up the Clinton mantle.  She‘s quite different in terms of her personal profile.  In terms of her geography, coming from New York.  So there are some who say they ought to be looking for somebody who is more like Clinton in terms of his background, even though Hillary Clinton has the name. 

STEWART:  So you bring up the Hillary Clinton for president idea.  Is John Kerry‘s loss a good thing for Hillary?  Should she want to be president and run for president? 

HARRIS:  I honestly don‘t believe, and some colleagues would say I‘m naive about this, that she had her fingers crossed and was secretly hoping for a Kerry loss because it opens up an opportunity for her.  That said, Kerry‘s loss does indeed open an opportunity for her to pursue the presidency if she chooses to do.  I think most of us who have been watching her over time feel that that‘s something that‘s very much on her mind.  So yes, it opens up that opportunity.  But it also create an obstacle for people who say look, the way that we avoid what happened to John Kerry is not by turning to someone who‘s from the northeast, not by turning to somebody, who in Hillary‘s case, fairly or unfairly, has a somewhat liberal profile.  And is without dispute, a polarizing figure in national politics. 

STEWART:  At the same time today, it was really remarkable to notice all these Democrats, and Republicans, in the same place, saying the nicest thing about each other.  Is this some kind of warrior code?  I may hate you, and what you stand for, but I really respect you as a politician, you as a warrior. 

HARRIS:  There‘s a ritualistic aspect of this.  It is usually the case at presidential dedications.  President Clinton certainly said nice things about President Bush 41 at that dedication in 1997.  That‘s—I‘m not saying that it is phony.  I think there is and you pointed out rather shrewdly, this is an elite fraternity.  And there‘s not many people who have been president.  Only half (UNINTELLIGIBLE) living presidents.  And I think there is a kind of a code that because of the shared experience, that in fact it does tend to bring out fairly charitable sentiments when they talk about each other. 

STEWART:  John Harris, we look forward to your book on president Clinton this spring.  Keep working hard at the “Washington Post.”  We appreciate it. 

So what are these presidential library things anyway?  What is in them?  More importantly, what is in them for me?  Is there a good gift shop?  That‘s why it helps to have someone like COUNTDOWN correspondent Monica Novotny right in-house.  Someone who can do the digging around and find out for you.  Monica joins us now.

Alison, good evening.  We didn‘t do any shopping for you but we did do a little research.  The presidential library system is made up of, as of today, 11 presidential libraries.  Each is built with private funds.  Once completed, the keys are handed over to the government and the operations federally subsidized.  Last year, their upkeep cost $42 million.  If you tried to visit them all, you could count more than half a million artifacts deemed important.  But as you‘re about to see, some items are more historic than others. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  They are part museum, part archive, and a major dose of presidential pride. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you think about the finished product? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A little bit of an ego trip but absolutely fantastic. 

NOVOTNY:  From the humble beginnings of FDR‘s first official presidential library, now a grand political tradition, freeing the past into the present, giving the presidents the last word. 

CLINTON:  The thing I want most is for people to come to this library, whether they‘re Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, to see that public service is noble and important. 

NOVOTNY:  The commanders in chief play a large role, planning unique architectural legacies.  But what is inside is often the same.  The requisite Oval Office.  Campaign memorabilia, and always, the good book. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s the Bible on which I took the oath of office after president Roosevelt died. 

NOVOTNY:  But it‘s not all documents and duplicates.  The presidents, a bit like pack rats, seem to save everything making it tough to tell what is artifact or just knick knack.  In Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman hand picked many of the 27,000 items still found in his library today.  From a broken White House beam...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was then I felt we had better repair the White House. 

NOVOTNY:  To a glorified gardening tool. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is the trowel with which I laid the cornerstone for the United Nations building in New York. 

NOVOTNY:  In Hyde Park, New York, FDR‘s 1936 custom Ford with brake and accelerator hand levers for the wheelchair bound president.

In Boston, at the Kennedy museum, a coconut on which JFK scrolled a message that led to his rescue after the sinking of his P.T. boat during World War II.

In Austin, Texas, an animatronic LBJ welcomes you to the Johnson library. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My little town of Johnson City, and the school board...

NOVOTNY:  But forget that wax figure of his daughter in her wedding dress.  She is no longer on display. 

In Michigan, Gerald Ford saved that presidential pardon.  His contract for the pro football path not taken.  And the gun that almost killed him during Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromm‘s 1975 assassination attempt. 

In California, another gun at Nixon‘s unofficial museum.  This one a gift, from Elvis. 

Historic but not highlighted, impeachment.  Here or here. 

In College Point, Texas, George H.W. Bush keep a four-leaf clover. 

G.H.W. BUSH:  I had it in my wallet out of the Navy. 

NOVOTNY:  And the all important presidential sneakers and fishing pole. 

Which details are truly significant?  Only time will tell.  But one thing is clear: Laying out a legacy is not easy, nor is it always original. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s like the best ideas from us (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  We mentioned the Nixon library in the piece.  The library itself is not yet officially part of the system, because the Nixon records were seized by the government in 1974.  But in January of this year, Congress gave permission for the Nixon records to be released, which means that library will finally be an official, government-operated part of the system sometime in 2006. 

STEWART:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny.  And we thank you.  And I geekily admit to having been to two of those libraries.  One on my birthday.  How lame is that? 

Someday, George W. Bush will build his own presidential library, but how much attention it will devote to his 2000 Florida recount?  Debatable.  If Ralph Nader had his own library, the New Hampshire recount would probably take up the whole wing.  That‘s right, today they began counting ballots by hand today in Concord, at Mr. Nader‘s request. 

It has taken a lot longer than expected.  They could still be at it next week. 

Now in Washington state, it is official: An automatic recount in the closest governor‘s race in state history will begin on Wednesday.  Republican Dino Rossi is confident of holding on to the lead, now just 261 votes.  Democrat Christine Gregoire says the election is far from over. 

Brand new election irregularities to tell you about.  Guess where?   Ohio.  In Sandusky County, 2,600 votes were counted twice.  Probably because of worker error.  That‘s right.  Blame the workers.  And elsewhere in Ohio, some people voted twice.  At least 20 double dippers have been caught thus far.  Prosecutors are trying to decide whether to press charges. 

Senator Arlen Specter will not be asking for a recount of his fellow members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Today, they gave the Pennsylvania Republican the support he needs to take over the chairmanship of the committee.  Senator Specter supports abortion rights.  That‘s why abortion opponents lobbied hard to block him.  But his committee colleagues voted to support him today, after Specter delivered a very carefully worded statement, assuring them all of the president‘s judicial nominees will get quick committee hearings and votes. 

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the dangers of Vioxx were the issue of the day.  Congress asking whether something could have been done sooner to save more lives. 

And from risks in your medicine cabinet to risks overseas.  New headlines about Iran‘s alleged nuclear program.  Stand by, people.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  A government official says his warnings were stifled.  His superiors say the government did nothing wrong, that there weren‘t missed opportunities.  And after at least 20 million people have taken a drug that was supposed to help them but may have done grave harm, a congressional hearing tries to establish who knew what and when. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the arthritis drug Vioxx and the thousands of deaths it may have caused.  Dr. David Graham reviewed FDA drug safety and found that Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes.  But Dr. Graham says FDA officials suppressed his August presentation.  And Merck, the maker of Vioxx, did not pull the drug until September 30th of this year. 

Our correspondent Chip Reid reports on today‘s congressional hearings and the search for what went wrong. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Vioxx caused more than 100,000 heart attacks or strokes since 1999 and may have killed nearly 28,000 people before it was pulled from the market in September.  That according to a government scientist who has studied Vioxx extensively and illustrated how many lives that is by comparing it to crashes of commercial airliners. 

DR. DAVID GRAHAM, FDA:  This translates to two to four aircraft every week, week in, week out, for the past five years. 

REID:  Graham and two other medical researchers told a Senate committee today that for years, there were red flags.  Studies suggesting that Vioxx increased cardiovascular risk. 

GRAHAM:  Only the positive studies, only the studies that show what the company wants are the ones that get published.  All the other studies get buried. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The pain of osteoarthritis. 

REID:  Despite those studies, they said pharmaceutical giant Merck continued to aggressively market the drug with endorsements from celebrities like Dorothy Hamill. 

RAYMOND GILMARTIN, CEO, MERCK:  Merck puts patients first. 

REID:  But the head of Merck told Congress today, the company relentlessly pursued research on the safety of Vioxx, but insisted there was no definitive data until recently. 

GILMARTIN:  I believed wholeheartedly in Vioxx.  In fact, my wife was taking Vioxx, using Vioxx, up until the day we withdrew it from the market. 

REID:  The Food and Drug Administration, which approved Vioxx, also defended its research. 

DR. SANDRA KWEDER, FDA ADMINISTRATOR:  The cardiovascular risk was examined with a fine tooth comb.  There was no suggestions of cardiovascular risk in those data. 

REID:  But some senators said the FDA shares the blame. 

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA:  One of my concerns is that the FDA has a relationship with drug companies that is far too cozy. 

REID (on camera):  The central witness of today‘s hearing, David Graham, said there are five other popular drugs now on the market with serious safety concerns.  And he added that the FDA, which he works for, is, quote, “incapable of protecting America from another Vioxx.”

Chip Reid, NBC News, the Capitol.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  And another case where the FDA may have acted too slowly, this time it‘s the flu vaccine.  Documents provided by the FDA show inspectors found contamination at Chiron‘s vaccine manufacturing plant back in June of 2003, including bacteria concentrations 1,000 times the accepted level.  Eew.

But the FDA did not reinspect the plant until after similar problems surfaced last month.  Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas joined Democrats today in questioning the FDA‘s response to this information. 

But acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford said the 2003 problems and this year‘s tainted vaccine were unrelated.  Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman shot back saying the FDA acted slowly all along.  Even after August 25th, when Chiron told the agency that several million doses of the vaccine had been contaminated.  Waxman said that, quote, “the agency ignored glaring problem at the facility and missed repeated opportunities to correct them.”  End quote.

The race to be bigger and better even hits the holidays.  A mansion of a ginger bread house tops “Oddball.”  And tough news for sleepy travelers.  You have to get your shut-eye without a pillow.  Now, if they start taking the sky mall catalogue, things could get ugly.  Some pillow talk is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, filling the extra large shoes of Keith Olbermann, and it‘s time now to pause the COUNTDOWN for our nightly trip into the weird, the strange, and the just plain goofy.  I say we play “Oddball.”

We begin in Jefferson, Texas, where the holiday merry making is poised to get under way with the world‘s biggest ginger bread house.  OK, we don‘t know if it is the world‘s biggest, but it is pretty darn big.  The life size house where Santa will live was built inside a coffee house using over 100 pounds of cinnamon, 500 eggs, 400 pounds of flour, and half a ton of asbestos insulation.  Families will be able to take the children to visit Santa during the Christmas season, after which the giant ginger bread house will be taken down in one big sweet controlled implosion. 

To China and the 2000 world toilet summit.  Potty experts from around the world have gathered for the event to help further the cause of environmentally friendly toilets and to help the country improve their facilities in time for the 2008 Olympics.  There‘s some concern about the public restrooms in Beijing, which in most cases are little more than a hole in the ground and you‘re on your own, pal.  Still, some of the new technologies of dry flushing are nonetheless creepy. 

Are you disturbed?  Because I am. 

Finally, a happy birthday to Emma Tillman from North Carolina.  Emma turned 111 years old yesterday and celebrated in fine style at the Foxwood Indian Casino in Connecticut.  The lady likes the slots.  Tillman is one of 23 children in her family, seven of whom lived to be over 100.  She credits her longevity to a life free of smoking, drinking, and except for the compulsive gambling part, otherwise clean living. 

The casino threw the party for Emma.  No word if they threw in a roll of quarters.  We sure hope so. 

The “Desperate Housewives” debate.  Another day, another apology. 

This time from the player in the promo.  Anew allegations of racism. 

And the U.S. says Iran is working on its nuclear program, but the rest of the world isn‘t listening that it‘s time to crack down.  Those stories are ahead. 

Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day. 

No. 3, the South Australian Brewing Company.  Every year, workers set up a nativity scene outside the brewery for the holiday season, but this week security cameras caught a man scaling the fence and swiping the baby Jesus from the manger.  The company has offered a reward of safe return of Jesus, six cases of brew. 

No. 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In an event to promote his planned $100 million hydrogen highway in California, the Governator showed up at a filling station in his shiny blue hydrogen-powered Hummer.  After the photos and the speeches were done, the Associated Press reports, Arnold jumped into a regular gas-powered SUV, which gets about 15 miles per gallon, and he drove away. 

And No. 1, George Rich (ph) of Milford, Connecticut.  He‘s been arrested there for filing a false police report.  Officers say he faked a burglary at his own home, stole his own fiance‘s diamond ring, then sold the ring at a pawn shop called Hock It To Me.  No word if the wedding is on.  Hock It To Me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  And welcome back to COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann, who is still on vacation. 

Russia wants bigger ones.  Iran wants mobile ones, and al Qaeda just wants them, period.  Our third story tonight on the COUNTDOWN, the nuclear threat.  In a moment, the extent of the danger and how the administration plans to protect America, first, the politics of world security.  Not even a week after President Bush and Tony Blair met in Washington to reiterate that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power, the leader of France suggested that the war in Iraq is actually helping terrorists. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACQUES CHIRAC, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator):  There‘s no doubt there has been an increase in terrorism, and one of the origins of that, the situation in Iraq.  I‘m not at all sure that one can say that the world is safer. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  That comment which made during an awkward meeting today between Chirac and Tony Blair, both leaders taking pains to emphasize that Iraq is the only major foreign policy disagreement between them. 

The two countries are working together on the problem of Iran, which agreed to curb production enriched uranium production last weekend.  However, it newly declassified material suggest the country is still trying to make a nuclear weapon, despite repeated denials from the Iranian government. 

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Iran is trying to adapt its missiles to carry nuclear warheads, according to recent highly classified intelligence, confirmed for NBC News after Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters, “I‘m aware of information that suggests they were working hard as to how to put the two together,” in other words, how the put nuclear warheads on their missiles. 

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL SECURITY:  If you‘re going to put a nuclear warhead on it, you have to be able to miniaturize the nuclear warhead to fit. 

MITCHELL:  Iran‘s missiles have a range of 1,000 miles and can easily reach Israel, as well as U.S. troops in the region.  Only on Monday, Iran promised to stop producing nuclear fuel that can be used for bombs.  But the Bush administration is leery of Iran‘s promises.  Last week, Powell told CNBC‘s Maria Bartiromo:

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Every civilized nation in Europe, the United Nations and everywhere else ought to be concerned that Iran is moving in the direction of acquiring nuclear weapons technology. 

MITCHELL:  In Paris yesterday, Iranian exiles showed aerial photos of what they claim is Iran‘s secret facilities. 

MOHAMMAD MOHADDESSIN, IRANIAN OPPOSITION GROUP:  This information is 100 percent correct. 

MITCHELL:  If true, it would mean that, despite the denials, Iran is working on several fronts to build a bomb and find a way to deliver it.  

JOE CIRINCIONE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT:  Militarily, it means that they‘re working hard to master this very difficult step of taking a very large nuclear bomb and shrinking it down to a size that they could actually put on one of their missiles. 

MITCHELL (on camera):  The U.S. has had a hard time persuading the rest of the world to crack down on Iran, especially after the administration‘s bad intelligence about Saddam Hussein‘s alleged nuclear weapons. 

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, at the State Department. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  And then there‘s Russia, Vladimir Putin telling his generals this week that Russia is working on a nuclear weapon that other powers—quote—“do not and will not have”—end quote. 

He didn‘t go into details.  But Russian news reports have speculated that a next-generation missile weighing four tons and capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads, well, that‘s currently in development.  Other possibilities include a mobile version of Topol-M missile with a range of about 6,000 miles. 

Earlier this month, Russia‘s defense minister said they expect to fire a test version this year and start production next year. 

For some perspective on the nuclear proliferation problem, I‘m joined now by Rob Sobhani, an adjunct professor with Georgetown University and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

Professor Sobhani, thanks for joining us tonight. 

ROB SOBHANI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY:  Thank you, Alison.

STEWART:  Let‘s start with Iran.  Can you put it into perspective for us?  How serious is the nuclear threat posed by that country? 

SOBHANI:  Well, there‘s no doubt that not just Iran, but the whole Middle East, if it becomes a warehouse of mass destruction, it could be grave for the world‘s economy, because 70 percent of the world‘s oil and gas is in the Persian Gulf.  And Iran is the largest country in the Persian Gulf.  A nuclear Iran is very dangerous politically, militarily and economically. 

STEWART:  Well, for people who are sitting home in their living rooms, how much of a danger to the U.S. is an Iranian warhead? 

SOBHANI:  I‘m not sure that would necessarily be a direct threat to the United States, so much as it would be the government of Iran flexing its muscle within the region, maybe blackmailing some of its smaller neighbors. 

However, I don‘t think that the government of Iran would want to pick a fight with the United States at this time. 

STEWART:  Well, as long as we‘re talking about flexing muscles, how about Vladimir Putin‘s announcement that they‘ll have this unique nuclear capability in the coming years?  Why the announcement now with so little detail? 

SOBHANI:  I think it is a signal from Russia that Russia will not stand alone and allow the United States to dictate to the world economy, to the world policy.  And I think it is one way for Russia to tell the world that we, Russia, do count.  And I think one of the ways that they‘ve been able to do that in the past has been with nuclear weapons.  And this is no different from the pattern of the past. 

STEWART:  And for the past two years, more than two years, global powers, including the U.S., have been trying to persuade North Korea to drop its nuclear program.  We haven‘t so much about this lately.  Has Iran usurped it as the pressing nuclear problem? 

SOBHANI:  Well, the reason why Iran, the government of Iran, poses a major problem is because of the location of Iran.  It is in the heart of the Persian Gulf.  As I mentioned earlier, 70 percent of the world‘s oil and gas sits in the Persian Gulf.  It is a very grave danger for the world economy if the government of Iran gets its hands on those nuclear weapons. 

STEWART:  Location, location, location. 

SOBHANI:  Absolutely. 

STEWART:  Professor Rob Sobhani of Georgetown University, many thanks for your time and your thoughts tonight. 

SOBHANI:  Thanks a lot. 

STEWART:  Nations like Iran and North Korea aren‘t the only organizations looking for possible nuclear proliferation.  There‘s new evidence that al Qaeda is also pursuing the ultimate weapon. 

Mike Scheuer, a former CIA agent who was in charge of tracking Osama bin Laden‘s movements in the late ‘90s, says his old nemesis now has permission from a Saudi sheik to use a nuclear weapon against the U.S.  And several al Qaeda operatives have offered an inkling of just how he might get weapons to our shores. 

“TIME” magazine reporting that Sharif al-Masri, an operative arrested in Pakistan, told interrogators that al Qaeda has considered plans to smuggle nuclear material into Mexico and then carry it into the United States.  Other detainees have hinted that Mexico might become a staging area for some kind of nuclear, biological or chemical attack.  While those accounts are still unproven, Homeland Security and Mexican authorities are now keeping a closer eye on the heavy truck traffic across that border. 

Keeping a close eye on that and all other matters of national security, the president‘s new National Security Council.  Condoleezza Rice is moving to the secretary of state role, while her deputy, Stephen Hadley, takes her job as national security adviser. 

For a look at how he and his new team will handle the threats facing America, I‘m joined by Juliette Kayyem, the head of the national security program at Harvard University‘s Kennedy School of Government. 

Juliette, nice to see you. 

JULIETTE KAYYEM, NBC ANALYST:  Good evening. 

STEWART:  Hadley is a Cheney acolyte from way back.  They have a long working relationship.  How will this shape his tenure? 

KAYYEM:  I mean, he is a loyalist to this administration.  He is a loyalist to Cheney.  I don‘t think you‘re going to see tremendous changes within the national security staff, even with had Hadley in charge.  He has a different personality than Condi Rice.  He is viewed in more of the mold of Brent Scowcroft, rather than Henry Kissinger. 

He tries to accept diverse opinions.  But in terms of the overall policy, you are not see going to significant change.  The truth is that it‘s all about Iraq.  There‘s not going to be—there‘s not a lot of options here right now.  This administration has to deal with Iraq on a variety of levels.  And that‘s going to be the main focus in the short and I think in the long term. 

STEWART:  But you can‘t turn a blind eye to the Iran affair.

KAYYEM:  Yes. 

STEWART:  Sounding a lot like Iraq, hidden intentions, developing weapons, dissident groups saying they have intelligence on the bomb building factories.  Will this team eventually have to consider perhaps a military approach to Iran? 

KAYYEM:  Well, my personal feeling and I think a lot of people‘s feeling is, we really probably couldn‘t do that right now.  Just technically, we couldn‘t do it.  It would be almost impossible.  And so the options are limited to diplomacy, which is, according to this administration, sort of off the table, or trying to get other countries to have sanctions against Iran. 

Germany, Britain and France are against that.  They want to sign deals with Iran.  And so we‘re sort of at this pivotal point right now about where Iran is going to be in terms of our relationship with them in the future.  Once again, though, this leads back to Iraq.  Iran is a key player in postwar Iraq reconstruction.  We can‘t abandon Iran, because they‘re Iraq‘s neighbor.  They will have a lot of influence in Iraq. 

And so we sort of have to have this balancing act between how far we‘re going to go on diplomacy and making sure Iran doesn‘t make too much of a mess in Iraq. 

STEWART:  Before I let you go, I want to look at the bigger picture. 

KAYYEM:  Yes. 

STEWART:  How will the new national security team deal with the nuclear threat, both from al Qaeda, as well as other entities? 

KAYYEM:  With the nonstate entities, it is just much harder. 

You‘ve heard the reports that Mexico is now the border of choice.  I think that‘s very true.  I think it is probably pretty easy for all sorts of materials, including drugs, to get through Mexico.  But what we don‘t know about this new intelligence is to sort of how realistic it is and whether it‘s new.  I wouldn‘t get too worried about it right now.  But I think, with the nonstate actors, it is going to do probably more of the same until there‘s much more credible intelligence that this is actually a realistic threat. 

STEWART:  Your thoughts are always appreciated, national security expert Juliette Kayyem.

KAYYEM:  Thank you. 

STEWART:  In Iraq, U.S. troops believe they have uncovered the former headquarters of Iraq‘s top terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a complex of house and bunkers in Fallujah with rockets, mortars, anti-aircraft weapons and computers, on one wall, the logo al Qaeda organization.  Troops also found a stolen SUV with Texas license plates, of all things, that terrorists were turning into a car bomb. 

And a chilling warning tonight from another group of insurgents, Sunni Muslim militants releasing a statement threatening to kill all election organizers and observers, as well as any Iraqi who votes in the January election. 

Outrage in the skies.  No pillow for you.  No frill flying is starting to get a little bit ridiculous.  And the outrage grows over the “Desperate Housewives” stunt.  First, it was just inappropriate.  Now it might be racist, too.  We‘ll debate that.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST:  Have you seen this new reality soap opera they‘ve been shooting in Washington.  Have you seen that?  Let‘s show a clip. 

ANNOUNCER:  Next, on “As the White House Turns,” is President Bush getting more frisky in his second term?  Is that why he‘s asking all the men to leave?  Is Laura worried?  Is Condoleezza Rice the new woman in his life?  Or is Margaret Spellings the one? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Simply put, he was a natural.  And he made it look too easy.  And, oh, how I hated him for that.  Bill Clinton enjoyed the debates too much for my taste.  I‘m going to be very frank with you now.  I hated debates. 

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ARKANSAS:  Hello?  I need to speak to the lord, please.  God, could you just answer me a question, if you would.  Just who was in charge of the weather here today in Little Rock?  Who? 

Jerry Falwell? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Coming up, the great pig pillow fight in the sky and the great big morality fight right here on the ground.  Desperate measures for “Desperate Housewives” has just about everybody talking.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

STEWART:  On-time arrival?  If you‘re lucky.  Good food?  Not really. 

Spacious seat?  If your bum is this big. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, now the airline industry wants to take away your pillow.  All right, not the entire industry.  But today could mark the beginning of the end for that creature comfort, American Airlines announced that pillows will be removed permanently from its MD-80s, all 334 of them.  Pillows will remain on American‘s other aircraft, however. 

But as Grant Stinchfield of our Dallas station reports, a pillowless flight leaves an impression. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRANT STINCHFIELD, REPORTER (voice-over):  For weary travelers who

like to sleep on the plane

(on camera):  Were their pillows on your flight? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  They said they weren‘t using them anymore. 

STINCHFIELD (voice-over):  There‘s no way to cushion the blow. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All they had was like a flew blankets.  So I just laid on my jacket. 

STINCHFIELD:  The pillows on American MD-80 flights have already been snatched away. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why are they doing away with them?  They think somebody is going to smother somebody? 

(LAUGHTER)

STINCHFIELD:  No, it‘s the latest effort to cut costs and streamline the operation.  The theory is, maintenance workers will no longer spend time searching for those elusive pillows, which should improve the turnaround time for departure. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I carry my own pillow. 

STINCHFIELD:  But for those who aren‘t so lucky? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ll try to figure out how to sleep with my head straight back.  And then knock my neck out of joint. 

STINCHFIELD:  Takeoff means the start of an uncomfortable situation. 

(on camera):  Well, the good news is, they‘re keeping the blankets. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I would rather keep the pillows than the blankets, because I‘m always too hot. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I say keep the pillows and give the customers a little extra comfort. 

STINCHFIELD (voice-over):  American, look out.  Pillow-loving travelers are rallying support. 

(on camera):  Do you use pillow? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, I don‘t.  But I‘m an advocate for those who might. 

(on camera):  All right. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  With that, we make a transition to the entertainment stories of “Keeping Tabs.”  And good news for fans of the TV show “Seinfeld” who can‘t get enough of the show, even though it airs 16 times a day in syndication. 

Just in time for the holidays, the first three seasons of the show are being released on DVD.  Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus all reunited at the famed Rainbow Room in New York City last night for the big party.  No sign of Jason Alexander, who apparently wasn‘t invited by the Drake.  I hate the Drake. 

The DVD will feature all episodes from the first three years, plus, the show‘s pilot, deleted scenes, of course, those bloopers and commentary from the stars.  It hits stores November 23. 

“Desperate Housewives” meet “Monday Night Football.”  And the furor is far from over.  Critics say the stunt was outrageous.  Critics of the critics say, hello, have you seen pro football lately? 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Hey, do you happen to know the score of Monday night‘s Eagles-Cowboys game?  How about who won?  No?  Perhaps that‘s because our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the continued towel snapping over ABC‘s promotion of its hit series “Desperate Housewives” on “Monday Night Football.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL”)

NICOLETTE SHERIDAN, ACTRESS:  Terrell, wait.

TERRELL OWENS, NFL PLAYER:  Oh, hell.  Team‘s going to have to win this one without me. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Oh, my God.  Who watches this trash?    

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Join the long list of mea culpas and my bads was one of the stars of the now infamous marketing ploy, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRELL OWENS, NFL PLAYER:  I felt like it was clean.  The organization thought it was a clean skit.  Personally, I didn‘t think it would have offended anyone.  And if it did, we apologize.  I thought it was a fun skit, you know?  And that was it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Fun was not how one of the NFL‘s five African-American head coaches described the opening number. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY DUNGY, HEAD COACH, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS:  I thought it hit at a lot of stereotypes towards athletes, black athletes in particular. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Coach Dungy going on to say that he was in fact personally hurt by what he perceived to be the promotion‘s racial insensitivity. 

Joining me now to discuss the continuing, unebbing towel tide is  Bob Peters, the president of Morality in Media, a nonprofit focusing on broadcasting indecency. 

Mr. Peters, thanks for being with us. 

BOB PETERS, PRESIDENT, MORALITY IN MEDIA:  Thanks for having me. 

STEWART:  And Roland Martin, a national syndicated columnist and executive editor of the nation‘s only black daily newspaper, “The Chicago Defender.” 

Mr. Martin, thanks for taking the time. 

ROLAND MARTIN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Not a problem, Alison.

STEWART:  Mr. Martin, do you agree with Coach Dungy that this promotion was racially insensitively? 

MARTIN:  Oh, no.  I mean, race had nothing to do with it.  This is not 1950 or 1960.  I think we have gotten used to black men being with white women, especially athletes. 

Tony has played in the NFL.  He has coached in the NFL, so if he hasn‘t seen African-American ballplayers with white women, he‘s probably been blind the last 20 years. 

STEWART:  Mr. Peters, another point the coach made was that ABC might not have used a white player for this part, and that‘s part of the controversy, this interracial element.  Is that fair? 

PETERS:  Well, I think coach Dungy‘s points were well taken.

And I didn‘t get the sense that he was talking about the interracial aspect.  He was just saying that, why didn‘t they have a white coach?  Why is it a black male that portrays this easily sexual guy.  And then another point he made is that it just reinforces the stereotype that African-American males are overly sexual. 

And I think that stereotype...

MARTIN:  Alison.

PETERS:  Wait.  It goes back to slavery.  Now, he didn‘t criticize the interracial aspect of the ad, and I don‘t think that‘s why most people were offended by it. 

STEWART:  Mr. Martin, you want to jump in here.  Go ahead. 

PETERS:  If this were the Chicago Bears in the days of Jim McMahon, you could bet Jim McMahon probably would have been that athlete. 

Terrell Owens is probably one of the most brash, loud, notorious athletes in the NFL right now.  The Eagles were playing the Cowboys.  They weren‘t really exciting guys on the Cowboys‘ side.  He probably is the most exciting, craziest guy on the Eagles side.  That‘s why he was chosen.  So I‘m not going to buy this crap about, well, they should have put a white coach or white athlete.  He was the prime guy they were focusing on, on the game.  That‘s why they chose him.  It‘s not race.  It‘s because of who he is. 

(CROSSTALK)

PETERS:  Well, I wouldn‘t, at one level, disagree with you, that there‘s certainly no prove that there was some racial motivation in selecting... 

MARTIN:  There is none. 

PETERS:  Right. 

Well, but the point is still that maybe it would have better had they taken one of the coaches, and, instead of going out and coaching the game, he‘s going to have sex with the harlot from “Desperate Housewives.”  Instead, they chose an African-American male.  Maybe they would have chosen Mr. McMahon. 

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  OK.  Did you actually watch the game?  They don‘t really put a lot of attention on the coach.  Terrell Owens is the one who does the celebration in the end zone, the one who talks trash and stuff on the sidelines.  He is the story. 

So you take the two hottest products, the athlete, as well as the hottest show with ABC, and that‘s why you do the skit.  So there‘s no racial overtones to this.  This is just nonsense.  That‘s all it is.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  Well, let‘s move on from race to racy.  Let‘s move on from race to racy.  We‘ve got the race thing covered. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  Mr. Peters, the NFL distanced itself pretty quickly, but you still have all those cheerleaders. 

MARTIN:  Oh, yes, the hot pants Dallas Cowboys. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  Well, there‘s no question in my mind that, at one level, the NFL is trying to walk both sides of the street.  At one level, it‘s trying to maintain football as the No. 1 sport in America, a sport that you can feel comfortable with your family watching.

On the other hand, either in the marketing or with some of the owners, they think that the MTV, “Sex and the City,” the Vince McMahon, you know, the low road.  Take football, make it more vulgar, make it more sexual, make it more violent.  I‘m glad Mr. McMahon struck out with his Extreme Football.  And I‘ll tell you, in my opinion, if football goes the way of professional wrestling, professional football is going to stink up America just as much as professional wrestling does. 

STEWART:  Mr. Martin, jump on in there. 

MARTIN:  Alison, you know what‘s interesting?  Two big-time Christians in the NFL, Tex Schram and Tom Landry, they created the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders in the white hot pants and the low-cut blue tops.  They created them.

What‘s also interesting, the biggest commercial you see in the NFL, the commercial, and twins, the Coors Beers commercial, that‘s run by the Coors family, extremely conservative family.  I guess, when it comes to money, they don‘t really mind using sex to do it.  So don‘t try to say it‘s the NFL.  Again...

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  And, gentlemen, I think we‘re going to have to end it there, unfortunately.

(CROSSTALK)

PETERS:  Before you go to a stadium, you can‘t see down—you can‘t see it but you can see it on television. 

MARTIN:  Well, but they got the cutaways, Bob.

STEWART:  Bob Peters, Roland Martin, we thank you for your perspective.  You guys can talk amongst yourselves, should you like. 

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  No problem, Alison.  Thanks a lot. 

STEWART:  Thank you for being with us. 

Philly 49-21, by the way.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for watching.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  I‘m in for Keith Olbermann.  I will see you back here tomorrow.  I‘m going to try this, because...

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

END   

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