updated 12/3/2004 2:08:37 PM ET 2004-12-03T19:08:37

Guest: Jennifer Berman, Tom Verducci, Howard Fineman

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

The ball wasn‘t juiced, Jason Giambi was.  Grand jury testimony obtained by “The San Francisco Chronicle” in which the star admits he used steroids, injected himself with testosterone and human growth hormone and got some of these drugs from Barry Bonds‘ weight trainer. 

Elections—the one in Iraq must go on, says the president.  Investigating the one in Ohio will produce a different winner, says the attorney for a citizens group with Jesse Jackson standing at his side. 

Don‘t anybody stand too close to anybody else.  How your tax dollars are being used to teach kids that touching another person‘s private parts can result in pregnancy or that you can get AIDS from sweat and tears. 

Any of these stories stress you out?  Just breathe.  Apparently, it‘s not as easy as it looks.  And do not try this at home without professional supervision. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In so thinking, Jesus Christ, no, can‘t do that. 

OLBERMANN:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now will you join me in the COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  When eight Chicago White Sox baseball players were indicted on charges that under the influence of gamblers, they deliberately lost the 1919, there was born one of America‘s most enduring apocryphal stories.  It told of the legendary White Sox “Shoeless” Joe Jackson making his way down the courthouse steps, the silence interrupted only with a young boy cried out, “Say it ain‘t so, Joe.  Say it ain‘t so.”

That never happen nor did any similar heart rending story of childhood trust broken happen that the day current baseball star Jason Giambi made his way down courthouse steps, having confessed to a grand jury that he used performance-enhancing steroids and human growth hormones. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, say it ain‘t so, Jason.  Baseball steroid scandal busting wide open today with the revelation of Giambi‘s testimony one year ago this month.  A transcript of that testimony by the New York Yankee Star on December 11 of last year was quoted in today‘s edition of “The San Francisco Chronicle.” In it Giambi told the grand jury he had been promised immunity from the prosecution as long as he told the truth.  But he faced perjury charge it‘s he lied.  He explained he had been using steroids since at least 2001.  And in 2003 had begun to inject himself in the stomach with human growth hormone and in the buttocks with testosterone. 

That revelation extends the scandal outwards because of where Giambi said he got many of those drugs in 2003, from the weight trainer of Barry Bonds, who holds baseball‘s all-time record for home runs in one season, and is closing in on the record for most home runs in a career.  Speaking of weight trainer Greg Anderson, Giambi told the grand jury, “You know I assumed because he‘s Barry‘s trainer, you know, Barry—but he never said one time, ‘This is what Barry‘s taking.  This is hat Barry‘s doing.‘  He never gave up a another name that he was dealing with or doing anything with.

No comment from Bonds.  The trainer Anderson nor Giambi, who missed most of the last baseball season with a series of illnesses and injuries which limited him to 80 games and batting average of .208.  Publicly Giambi previously repeatedly denied using steroids, growth hormones or other illegal or banned performance-enhancing drugs.  But his body‘s evolution has always been one of the most popular topics in baseball‘s off the record conversations. 

In 1991 Giambi was a slender third baseman weighing under 190 pounds with the U.S. National Baseball team at the Pan Am Games and a year later at the Olympics.  by 2001, he was the 235-pound most valuable player in the American League.  And after that season he signed a seven-year, $120 million contract with the New York Yankees. 

A contract that the Yankees may now claim was signed under false pretenses.  By spring training of last year, Giambi had visibly lost much of the weight in his face and appeared generally slimmer.  But he was also treated for a benign tumor during the season, reportedly in the pituitary gland and was at one point tested for an illness transmitted by parasites. 

Two months ago former National League most valuable player Ken Caminiti died of a sudden heart attack apparently after drug use.  In May 2002, Caminiti told “Sports Illustrated” that during his MVP season, he used steroids.  He estimated half the players in baseball did.  He later lowered that estimate. 

The reporter to whom he made those revelations was “Sports Illustrated‘s” Tom Verducci, who joins us now. 

Tom, good evening. 

TOM VERDUCCI, “SPORTS ILLUSTRATED”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  What is your sense of the impact of this Giambi story? 

Will it indeed blow the roof off the issue of steroids or will nobody care?   

I mean, do dominoes actually start following here? 

VERDUCCI:  I think the federal courtroom will tell us that key.  In terms of Giambi‘s personal case, I don‘t think it changes all that much.  I mean, what—all we have done now is put an actual name, face and more importantly a body to a trend that been going on in baseball for 12 years. 

Now, what happens is once we get into that courtroom, that‘s when dominoes will fall, if they do.  Because let‘s face it, baseball has really never done anything about its biggest problems until the federal government gets involved, going back to the Black Sox scandals, back to the cocaine in Pittsburgh in the 1980‘s and now steroids in the 1990‘s. 

OLBERMANN:  Specifically when Mark McGwire admitted to using the steroid precursor in 1998 baseball, not only in essence did nothing, it literally did nothing.  And it was a drug that you can‘t even get with a prescription in most countries in the world.  What does baseball do about this story, even if it is being inspired by the courts, besides the obvious, letting the Yankees in essence fire Jason Giambi? 

VERDUCCI:  We‘ll, you will hear from Major League Baseball and Bud Selig, in particular, talking about how this underscores the need to get a strict testing program in the game, similar to the one that‘s in the minor leagues right now, where players are actually suspended upon the first offense and there is more than one random test taken during the season.  The players association, on the other hand, has a completely different view of this.  Listen, this Balco case broke a year ago and we‘ve heard the rhetoric for more than a year from both sides saying, yes, we need stricter testing and still nothing has happened in that year. 

Hopefully this Giambi case will speed up the process, but like a lot of things in baseball, Keith, as you know, this has been glacial. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly Giambi‘s testimony touched on Barry Bonds, who just won his fourth consecutive MVP award, seventh in his career, who is now 53 home runs shy of the all-time record.  Because of that extension through his weight trainer, will this touch Barry Bonds or once again will nobody really care as long as he keeps putting baseballs into the seats? 

VERDUCCI:  I think it‘s already touched him, Keith.  Maybe not in a legal sense, but certainly in terms of what his reputation is.  I think he is a tainted ball player as far as today goes and as far as history goes.  He will be associated with this era and use of performance-enhancing drugs.  Whether he likes it or not and whether or not it is proven in actual court of law, which I don‘t think will happen.  If anything, Bonds may be at risk for perjury if in fact he did not tell the truth to the grand jury.  The fact is I don‘t think they are going after him for use or possession of steroid.  But I think the fan of the game, some I realize do not care what these people do to their bodies, but the fan who truly understands and appreciates the game and its records, will have to look at Barry Bonds completely differently now and forever. 

OLBERMANN:  Tom Verducci, senior writer with “Sports Illustrated.” Unfortunately a senior writer who is back on the steroid beat.  Tom, many thanks. 

VERDUCCI:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  This has not been a good year for sports.  Steroid admissions in baseball, following basketball‘s nauseating brawl, among the players and fans at the Indiana Pacers/Detroit Pistons game two weeks ago tomorrow night. 

Hockey‘s lockout.  The season has not begun on time, it may never.  The league could literally drop off the face of the sports map in the interim. 

And football‘s twin P.R. disasters, the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl in February and “Monday Night Football” towel drop incident from two weeks ago.  It‘s a long, dismal tide of embarrassment and controversy. 

Earlier this evening I talked to the man who was probably the foremost commentator in sports on this country, my friend and NBC colleague Bob Costas. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Bob, thank you for your time tonight.  Big picture first.  If you had a child just becoming aware of sports after today‘s Giambi story, after the basketball mess, after the controversy over the “Monday Night Football” opening segment, after the Super Bowl and after the hockey lockout, right now, would you try to keep your child away from pro sports? 

BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS:  No, because it would be futile to try to do that.  And there‘s too much still legit my appeal to sports, if it‘s kept in some kind of perspective.  So, I would just try to temper his or her enthusiasm with some reasonable facts and with some perspective and let them enjoy it from there. 

OLBERMANN:  As I said when the media went nuts over that basketball fight in Detroit, every six months or so something happens in sports that causes somebody to say it is the end of sports civilization as we know it.  But does this story about Jason Giambi and his steroid admission have the potential to really turn people off the games in big numbers? 

COSTAS:  Well, I think—and I‘m into the jumping to any conclusion here—but outside New York, although Giambi had been an MVP in Oakland, outside New York, he is not nearly the national figure that somebody like Barry Bonds is.  If Barry Bonds, single season home run record holder, soon to be all-time home run record holder, arguably as you know, Keith, as a student of the game in the last three to four years, that‘s arguably the greatest stretch any player, including Babe Ruth has ever had.  If it turns out the Barry Bonds, beyond any doubt, is implicated in the Balco scandal.  If Barry Bonds is a steroid user and that is proven, rather than speculated about, I think that would be very damaging.

OLBERMANN: Of course, the Giambi stuff, even the stuff that came out today, reaches directly, or indirectly, I should say, back to Barry Bonds via Bonds‘ strength trainer. 

COSTAS:  Yes.  Greg Anderson. 

OLBERMANN:  Mark McGwire had androstene dion in his locker in 1998.  Will this era—could this era in baseball be dismissed historically.  And if Bonds indeed breaks the home run record, could he be dismissed historically?

COSTAS:  If not dismissed, diminished.  None of this is a light going off in my head or yours today, Keith.  We have been watching baseball for a long time.  Many of the players who had tremendous seasons beginning in the mid 90‘s and continuing to the last couple of years, many of them were in the major leagues in the late 1980‘s, and the early 1990‘s, they achieved all-star status and none of them, none of them put up the numbers like they began putting up beginning in the mid 1990‘s. 

Were there other factors?  Yes, there were other factors.  But take a look in the changes in the body types.  What does common sense tell you?  Now we are beginning to get specific names, specific testimony, perhaps convictions in some cases.  Finally, baseball has some sort of tepid drug testing policy.  It has to be strengthened. 

But anyone who is even minimally observant knew that something was fishy for a long, long time.  And the records that have been set will be looked at at least with some exceptism, I think, by informed people. 

OLBERMANN:  Owners will judge these things, as they do in all things, in terms of the bottom line.  But is there any getting through to players in baseball or any or other sport about the potential for damage, personally or damage to their business, if they are making huge sums in terms of salary one way or another, and that‘s going to continue for the foreseeable future? 

COSTAS:  Well, it would be helpful if their leadership, in this case Don Fehr and Gene Orza return to this planet on this issue.  For whatever their successes and logic of their arguments on other issues, they are so off base on this.  Their position is indefensible. 

It is not a civil liberties issue.  It could be, obviously, if some of the testing procedures were used punitively.  But as long as it‘s administered in a reasonable way, it‘s not a civil liberties issue.  It‘s a legitimate integrity of the game issue. 

And perhaps the leadership of the players association, if they came to their senses, could convey to the players what I think a number of them have figured out for themselves—one, it hurts the integrity of the game.  But two, it puts the players themselves in a very difficult position.  Either they use to keep up competitively and then run whatever health risks there may be, plus whatever they have to deal with in terms of their own consciences, or they decide not to and they fall behind competitively. 

So forget about the owners, forget about the media, forget about the fans, if Fehr and Orza really were looking at the enlightened interests of their own constituency, their players, they would be front and center in trying to eradicate this from baseball. 

OLBERMANN:  The other side of it, lastly, once again we put you hypothetically in a moment many of your admirers really which you occupied, you‘re commissioner of baseball, what do you do right now? 

COSTAS:  Well, luckily I am not and will not be.  But I think what Bud Selig is trying to do, even though there is a collective bargaining agreement in place for the next few years, he is pushing for some kind of reopening of the area in the agreement that deals with testing for performance-enhancing drugs. 

And Don Fehr has indicated over the past year the players association is at least willing to consider that.  And I believe there have been conversations going on out of the public eye, even before the Giambi revelations this week. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s hope they are fruitful.  Bob Costas of NBC Sports, the Olympics, of course, HBO‘s Inside the NFL.  As always my friend, great thanks for your time. 

COSTAS:  Thank you, Keith. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Other commissioners tonight—turns out Tom Ridge‘s successor at Homeland Security is not going to be a bureaucrat after all.  He‘s going to be a former safety pro, the police commissioner of the city of New York. 

Now the man so controversially pardoned by President Clinton in the last hours of his presidency now stands accused of helping Saddam Hussein defraud the Oil-for-Food Program.  This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When the name Bernard Kerik was floated earlier this week as a perspective successor to outgoing Homeland Security director Tom Ridge, there were some doubts.  The president wants an administrator, they said, not a policeman.  Our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN, apparently not. 

NBC News has learned that the former New York police commissioner will be nominated to replace Ridge as Homeland Security secretary.  The official announcement coming as early as tomorrow. 

Kerik is known for his loyalty, first to his former boss, ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and then to his current one.  He spent 4 months in Iraq for the Bush administration, training the local police force and later appearing during the campaign for the president.  And it is thought that Giuliani was pushing hard for Kerik to get the Homeland Security post. 

Here to help us contextualize the Kerik news is “Newsweek” magazine‘s chief political correspondent and MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman.  Good evening, Howard. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Should we have seen this coming, Bernie Kerik on the campaign trail, Bernie Kerik representing the president‘s attempt to rebuild the Iraqi police force?  How do we miss this one? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think because of the reason you said.  People thought this job of Homeland Security required the bureaucratic touch.  I think Tom Ridge may have helped do that.  And I think the president decided he wants a cop on the beat. 

The other part of the bureaucratic story here, Keith, is I think that this indicates that the president is fully expecting to get that new national intelligence director in place.  And that super spy, who is going to have all of the intel resources of the FBI, CIA and the Pentagon at his disposal, is going to be the one really with the big overview and Bernie Kerik is going to be the cop on the beat. 

OLBERMANN:  And so the national intelligence director would then be the administration end of the deal? 

FINEMAN:  I think so.  I think so. 

And I also think that Tom Ridge did a fairly good job of at least beginning the effort to weld together these 20 different disparate agencies.  And I also think that Kerik, having been New York City police commissioner, having survived the media wars in New York, not just 9/11, but the media, is going to be a more public presence.

Tom Ridge was skilled behind the scenes guy, who once told me that his job was the most thankless in Washington because nobody would ever pay attention to him unless something bad happened.  Kerik is used to bad news, dealing with bad news every minute of the day.  That‘s what he did on 9/11. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it felt that Bernie Kerik did the job in Iraq?  That Iraqi police force is certainly not up to standing on its own at this point. 

FINEMAN:  No, it‘s not.  And I think that will be looked at.  I think that Kerik is not going to have much trouble getting confirmed.  It took Hillary Clinton a New York minute late today to come out with a statement of support for Kerik.  But people will look at exactly what the role of Giuliani and partners was in Iraq.  Kerik was over there as part of a consultant to Giuliani‘s firm and people will look at that.  And I think they will look at it closely.  But I think this nomination will have a lot of juice behind it. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, the second term appointments thus far, his longtime legal sidekick as attorney general, Condoleezza Rice at state, the second-level guy‘s out at the CIA and now Kerik at homeland.  Is there a fine line between having an administration where everybody‘s on the same page and having an administration where it‘s just a bunch of yes guys? 

FINEMAN:  I think it is.  And I have asked them that question.  They say they argue with each other all the time behind closed doors.  But they have all been breathing the same political oxygen for years, and Rudy Giuliani , I think, would have been Bush‘s first choice for this job but it was kind of, if we can‘t get Rudy, let‘s get somebody like Rudy.  That makes Rudy Giuliani very much part of the inner circle here.  I don‘t know how much dissent you will hear internally .  But Kerik strikes me as a guy who is willing to speak truth to power. 

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  Great thanks for the contextualization. 

FINEMAN:  Any time. 

OLBERMANN:  More second administration news.  President Bush also nominating Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns as the next agriculture secretary.  It occurred in the Roosevelt room this morning.  500 points to anybody who can name the current agriculture secretary.  Time‘s up.  That would be Ann Veneman. 

There will soon be another U.N. ambassador to try to name.  The current one John Danforth resigning today after being on that job less than six months.  The announcement coming as a major surprise to the White House.  Officials off the record here saying they were blindsided.  At one point Danforth was being mentioned as a possible replacement for Colin Powell at state or John Ashcroft at justice.  Danforth says he wants to return home to St. Louis. 

We return to the land down under to check in with one of our “Oddball” freaks of nature—this guy.  The man who cycled across the continent wearing a Sherlock Holmes outfit.  And then back to the States to meet the people willing to pay $250 to learn how to breathe. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We are back.  It is time once again to pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news to check in on the day‘s cereal news.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”  And if you‘ve read any thing about this show lately, you know we don‘t give up on a story.  That‘s why we are happy to report that Lloyd Scott, the 43-year-old British guy in the Sherlock Holmes outfit, has completed his 2,700 mile journey across Australia on an old tiny penny farthing bicycle.  The leukemia survivor who once ran the London marathon in a deep sea diver‘s suit waded into the surf at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bondi Beach (ph) in Sydney 50 days after he left Perth, Australia.  Careful, buddy, you will rust the chain on that thing.  Mr. Scott did say he wanted to remind all people everywhere that these penny farthing bicycles do not have chains. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gentlemen, start your engines!

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that was Donald Trump in Times Square today waving the green flag and the orange hair.  10 stock car drivers were on hand for a ceremonial lap through the city of New York on the way to NASCAR headquarters on Park Avenue.  The annual champions week celebration award banquet.  Unfortunately the drivers were not exactly able to get up to full speed.  In fact as soon as they pulled away from the curb they immediately got stuck in midtown traffic.  The cars eventually reached their destination but the drivers missed the opportunity to find out what a two-foot pothole feels like at 180 miles an hour. 

Finally, a tragic update to last night‘s number one story regarding the mass kidnappings of giant inflatable SpongeBob SquarePantses from Burger King roofs around the country.  Today investigators found one of the spongenapping victims in Mobile, Alabama.  They were too late.  Warning, the Halloween crime scene images may be disturbing.  The deflated body of SpongeBob SquarePants recovered early this morning from a local backyard in Mobile.  It apparently had been dumped there some time during the night.  Police have not been able to determine yet from which Burger King roof he had been abducted as there are two such restaurants in the area and both are missing their SpongeBob.  Authorities have issued this artist sketch of the suspect in the crime spree, the Hamburglar, who is to be considered armed and extremely self-promoting. 

No laughing in Iraq.  The news was bad enough but to find out on the news how U.S. troops learned of the military plans for their extended tour.  And a lesson for teacher Debra LaFade, if you‘re accused of sleeping with your student, don‘t talk to him about it on the phone.  Those stories ahead now.  Here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. 

Number three, Nancy Zerg.  You may remember her.  She was the woman who beat Ken Jennings on “Jeopardy!” ending his 74-game streak.  Last night her streak ended at one.  She came in third place with $2. 

Number two, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce already under fire for having accidentally faxed customers‘ financial information to a U.S.  scrapyard.  It has now had to apologize again after one of its ATM machine‘s started to dispense fake money.  Instead of 20 dollar bills the machine in New Brunswick spat out colorful tire bucks, coupons from a chain of Canadian hardware stores.  Tomorrow their ATM‘s will guess your weight. 

Number one, Charisse Stephenson of Hazelton, Idaho.  Her family escaped harm, one of those home fires you really can‘t do much to prevent.  It started when an 18-wheeler traveling on the nearby highway lost a wheel, the wheel rolled off the highway, down an embankment, across a frontage road, through the front door of the house, down the stairs, stopping only in the basement where it ignited a fire that eventually burned down the entire place.  One would suspect she will go to court, or at least to her insurance agency, and somebody there will dispense her some tire bucks. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Whether or not there‘s been any new light thrown on the vote in Ohio is up for debate, but there has been plenty new heat today from the war of words. 

And in Iraq, where it is a war of war, despite plenty of heat to postpone the voting there, the president remains adamant.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, election and aftermaths. 

The Iraqi balloting on January 30 first.  And in the Oval Office this morning, Mr. Bush insisted in his strongest language yet that the election clock is ticking and it will not be reset. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The elections should not be postponed.  It‘s time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls, and that‘s why we are very firm on the January 30 date. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Trying to safeguard those elections will require an additional 12,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, 10,500 of them soldiers already there, now ordered to stay there for an additional two months, many of them first learning of the extension from us. 

Our correspondent in Baghdad Richard Engel reporting that not only is the extra service time a clear disappointment to the troops because it breaks the promise that they would only be in Iraq for one year, but some officers are always saying they were especially annoyed that they first learned the extended tours in the media. 

A new target has surfaced in the growing scandal over widespread abuse by Iraq in the United Nations‘ oil-for-food program.  Actually, it‘s an old target, one well associated with scandal.  The name, Marc rich.  ABC News reporting that the former American fugitive was the middleman for several of Saddam Hussein‘s fishy oil deals in February 2001, just a month after President Clinton had granted Rich his controversial pardon. 

The report says a federal investigation has been opened into whether or not Mr. Rich made illegal payments to Iraq in order to obtain lucrative oil contracts.  Rich, it seems, is just a sideshow in the ballooning scandal. 

The U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, accused of looking the other way as Hussein allegedly skimmed $21 billion from the program that had been intended to feed Iraqis during economic sanctions.  Annan is also under fire because his son Kojo was, until recently, on the payroll of a Swiss company that was being investigated for fraud in the food-for-oil scandal, critics calling his employment a conflict of interests. 

Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who is leading congressional investigations of the scandal, has called for Kofi Annan to resign. 

The last public opinion poll taken on the subject suggests that one in five Americans believes there was some kind of scandal associated with this year‘s election.  If they are right or if those saying there were merely unacceptable levels of simple inaccuracy, landfall for the hurricane is Ohio. 

News from there today on provisional ballots, a lawsuit filed against the secretary of state, another lawsuit not filed at all.  All 88 counties in the Buckeye State have now finished certifying their votes in the race for president, finally taking every last second until the December 1 deadline to do so.  And all of those pesky provisional ballots that needed to be verified and counted, it turns out election officials accepted 121,000 of them, about 77 percent across the state.  The president‘s election night margin in Ohio was more than 136,000 votes. 

No statewide count of the provisionals yet, though results reported by one county, Franklin—that‘s Columbus—indicated Senator Kerry that had gotten nearly 7,700 of the more than 12,000 provisional votes that were accepted.  As the count finishes, the recount looms.  While a federal judge plans a hearing for tomorrow on Delaware County‘s bid to stop the second tally there, the Green and Libertarian parties today filed federal suit against this man, Kenneth Blackwell, accused him of stalling the recount and abusing his authority. 

That suit asks that the recount may begin immediately, since the Electoral College is scheduled to meet just 11 days from now.  But Ohio law requires that the vote must be certified before a candidate can even ask for a recount.  Secretary Blackwell does not plan to certify until next Monday. 

Another legal action seemingly stalled under the weight of its own paperwork, the Alliance For Democracy not quite done with its election challenge yet.  Lawyer Cliff Arnebeck, with Jesse Jackson by his side there today on the steps of the Ohio Supreme Court, said that the group hopes to file its election challenge tomorrow, but it is not guaranteeing anything.  It‘s asking one high court justice to set the election results aside, pending a full investigation and hearing.  Arnebeck also said he believes that if all ballots were counted in what he calls a traditional context, the race would swing dramatically in Kerry‘s favor, from 130,000 votes down to 130,000 ahead. 

And if the voting irregularity story sometimes seems a little austere to you, a little impersonal, not to worry.  There are always Reverend Jackson and the secretary of state, Mr. Blackwell.  You may recall that in a syndicated op-ed column earlier this week, Jesse Jackson wrote the Ohio rote count was—quote—“marred by intolerable, often partisan irregularities and discrepancies,” adding that “U.S. citizens have as much reason as those in Kiev to be concerned that the fix was in.”

Today, Secretary Blackwell‘s media secretary was firing back, calling the column blatantly inaccurate—quote—“We expect someone writing an op-ed and a syndicate distributing that op-ed would fact-check information and have a responsibility to the facts.”

Blackwell has written his own op-ed column in response.  It was made available to newspapers today.  And even CNN noticed this story, Jesse Jackson appearing on their broadcast this evening.  Somehow, I‘m thinking it was a good idea that Blackwell and Jackson appeared on consecutive nights on this program earlier this week and not on the same one. 

And though Senator Kerry has stayed almost aloof from the business of Ohio, not so in Washington state.  The Democratic presidential nominee today wiring $250,000 of unspent campaign funds to the local Democratic Party, a substantial chunk of what the party needs to launch a hand recount in the governor‘s race there. 

But, according to officials, it‘s not nearly enough.  As you have no doubt heard by now, Republican Dino Rossi won the race by 42 votes over the Democrat, Christine Gregoire, the narrowest margin in a governor‘s race in American history.  The Democrats have until 5:00 p.m. tomorrow to post all the money needed to begin a second statewide recount. 

Party chairman Paul Berendt putting the estimate for that at $1 million or more.  With Kerry‘s funds, Berendt they are now halfway there—quote—“We are working to move heaven and earth to get all of the money we need.”

Are you stressed and depressed by all of this?  Turns out it is still better for you than is commuting to work.  But help might just be a breath away.  And doing hard time at Camp Cupcake, Martha Stewart to participate in the prisoners‘ Christmas decorating contest.  Who‘s the betting favorite in that, do you suppose?  That‘s next. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, hey, ho, ho, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) got to go. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I say this to Governor Schwarzenegger.  Stop being a girly girl for the hospital industry!               

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now I‘ve always wanted to do this.  I wanted to see if Barney could get into the shot.  This is the important dog.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  OK, now we will see if Barney will really come in.

(CROSSTALK)

L. BUSH:  Barney, want to come in?  Come on. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Barney, we don‘t have a lot of time left here. 

(LAUGHTER)

L. BUSH:  Barney is not that well behaved, as you can see.  Here he comes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Barney only comes when the president calls. 

L. BUSH:  Here he comes.  That‘s right. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now, will you join me in the countdown?  Five, four, three, two, one.               

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Two cliches apparently coming true tonight:  Living is breathing and money can‘t buy you happiness—next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  What cures stress? 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, the answer might be breathing.  The answer is probably not commuting.  The answer is definitely not winning $315 million in the Powerball lottery. 

For at least the fifth time, Jack Whittaker of Scott Depot, West Virginia, has visited with the police.  He spent the night in jail Tuesday charged with DUI, carrying an unlicensed, dangerous weapon—no, not his wallet, a pistol he kept in his boot.  He also had just totaled his Hummer on the West Virginia turnpike.  This is Whittaker‘s second DUI arrest this year, third arrest overall.  He‘s also being sued by two people.  And he is suing a third.

The West Virginia Police report he was carrying $117,000 in cash, a little low for him considering that in August 2003, $545,000 was stolen from his car while it was parked outside a Nevada strip club and he was parked inside. 

Yet, winning the lottery is nothing compared to the stress of getting to the office or raising children.  A new study funded by Hewlett-Packard finds that commuters actually suffer more physical stress, higher blood pressure, faster pulse rates, than do fighter pilots or policemen. 

The study‘s author spent five years studying British workers and concluded that they even suffer from commuter amnesia, blocking out parts of their journey because of the strain. 

And another research group discovered an even more perturbing side effect of stress.  It actually causes aging on the basic cellular level.  According to the University of California team, the pressure of caring for a sick child can add 10 years or more that the biological age of a woman‘s cells.  And one final research conclusion just released tonight from the University of COUNTDOWN.  Stress causes aging.  Aging causes death. 

How to stave that one off, how to reduce stress.  Ever heard somebody just tell you just breathe and you just wanted to smack them? 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny joins me now with the news that perhaps, perhaps, they were right. 

Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.

It‘s called the Art of Living, a course designed to teach people how to breathe.  And though the group was founded 22 years ago by a spiritual guru, the class is not about religion and it is not about meditation.  It is simply about students inhaling and exhaling and potentially healing themselves in the process. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POONAM TANDON, ART OF LIVING INSTRUCTOR:  The very first act in life that we did is took a breath in.  And the very last thing we‘re going to do before we go is to take a breath out. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  But everything in between may just be blowing hot air.  So Poonam Tandon teaches the art of breathing to heal the sick and the stressed. 

TANDON:  When we‘re having certain emotions like anger or depression, anxiety, it affects our breath, right?  So we can actually turn the relationship around and use the breath to affect the emotions. 

Breathe in and continue. 

NOVOTNY:  A $250 20-hour course using the ins and outs of respiration as a weapon against illness. 

DR. RICHARD BROWN, PSYCHIATRIST:  And as the stress systems become active, a lot of hormones, inflammatory chemicals are released in the body.  And they tear up your heart.  They tear up your blood vessels.  They tear up your brain. 

NOVOTNY:  Dr. Richard Brown, a psychiatrist specializing in depression, spent years prescribing traditional medications.  Now he joins many of his patients here. 

BROWN:  And I said, feel transformed.  And a lot of them were able to reduce their medicines and in some cases go off their medicines, after years of being on medicine. 

NOVOTNY:  The core of the course, a yoga breathing technique regulating the energy in the nervous system taught in three levels.  The first two—but the last, called Sudarshan Kriya, they will not let us show you, because they say, if you tried it without an instructor, you could hurt yourself, something Dr. Brown saw with one uninformed 18-year-old. 

BROWN:  And he started doing it for a couple of hours for the next three days.  He didn‘t tell anybody.  He started thinking he was Jesus Christ.  No, you can‘t do that. 

NOVOTNY:  In 2000, a study by doctors at the National Institute of Mental and Neuroscientists in India found that daily practice of Sudarshan Kriya was as effective as an antidepressant for treating patients with depression. 

TANDON:  Elbows as high as you can get them. 

NOVOTNY:  Believers see it as a low-cost treatment for disease with worldwide potential.

(on camera):  There are only about 50 students in this class, but around the world in 146 different countries, they say more than six million people have taken this course. 

(voice-over):  But even some students have to breathe it to believe it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I started to laugh.  I had to like hold back.  I felt funny. 

SABINE SINGH, ACTRESS:  For the past 10 years, I was suffering with depression.  I came here completely skeptical. 

NOVOTNY:  And now, after learning how to breathe at home 20 minutes each day?

SINGH:  I‘m on no medication at all.  I don‘t see any of my psychiatrists.  I sleep like a baby. 

TANDON:  It‘s life.  It‘s about the art of living. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Volunteers from the Art of Living Foundation have taught this course around the world, recently in Baghdad to a group of women and children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder there. 

Now, they say studies say this practice is not only therapeutic for stress and depression.  It may also benefit the immune system, reduce cholesterol, enhance brain function and improve overall health and well-being.  And there‘s more information on our Web site at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.

OLBERMANN:  Can I smoke while I do it? 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny.  Out with the bad interviews and in with the good interviews.  Many thanks.

Speaking of out and in, our celebrity segment, “Keeping Tabs,” tonight begins with Martha Stewart, who wants to get out, but while she‘s still in is acting almost as a ringer in a prison talent contest, a decorating contest. 

ABC News reporting that in the so-called Camp Cupcake federal facility at Alderson, West Virginia, authorities conduct an annual Christmastime competition to see who can dress up their space their base.  The high doyen of household hints, whose financial portfolio has increased by $200 million since her incarceration, by the way, is the early favorite to win.  And if she doesn‘t, whoever does ought to get their own TV show and magazine, too. 

And sad but hopeful tonight news for fans of “Law & Order” and the Broadway stage.  The actor Jerry Orbach has prostate cancer.  His manager tells “New York Daily News,” “We expect he‘ll be fine,” says his client has been playing golf, shooting new episodes of his new series, “Law & Order:

Trial By Jury.”  Orbach was diagnosed in April and began treatment at that time.  He is 69 years old. 

Health issues of a different nature, the abstinence campaigns that tell kids they can get pregnant just by touching someone else‘s private parts.  This might not be a good thing. 

Stand by. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sex shouldn‘t be taught in the schools, began a cynical joke from my youth.  Kids should find out the way their parents did, on the streets. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, that begins to sound like a reasonable option once you hear how a series of government-sponsored abstinence programs have been misleading about the facts, especially once you hear, literally hear about the Florida schoolteacher who decided to take one of her student‘s education on the subject into her own hands. 

Debra Lafave, the Florida woman accused of having sex with one of her 14-year-old students, plans to plead insanity.  So says her attorney.  Today, police released audiotapes of the boy, who, under their coaching, was talking by phone to Ms. Lafave about their relationship.  The child‘s voice has been altered to protect his privacy. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Uh-huh.  Well, I guess I don‘t think we should be going to Ocala anymore.

DEBRA LAFAVE, DEFENDANT:  No.  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But everything went smooth in the portable.

LAFAVE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So whatever.  If we decide to do anything again, then that should probably be our place for now.

LAFAVE:  That‘s true.  Are you OK? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a little worried.

LAFAVE:  Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want you to, like, get pregnant or anything.  I was just thinking about it and I was just thinking if next time now that we‘ve had sex about three times, if I should use a condom or something.

LAFAVE:  Oh, you‘re being weird. 

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  She thinks that‘s weird?  And he thinks a condom would protect them?

One federally funded abstinence-only program taught children that 31 percent of the time, condoms to stopped the transmission of HIV between a man and a woman.  The actual statistic on that is 3 percent of the time.

The congressional staff analysis on the mistakes in 100 such programs detailed in today‘s “Washington Post” includes that one.  Also, abortion can lead to sterility and suicide.  Not true.  HIV can be spread via sweat and tears.  Not true.  Touching a person‘s genitals can result in pregnancy.  Not true. 

Those wildly inaccurate details may make you mad.  This, though, will really get you going.  You paid for that stuff, $900 million of federal funding. 

Joining me now to try to figure this out, Dr. Jennifer Berman of the Female Sexual Medical Center at UCLA, more recently, co-host with her sister of the Discovery Health TV series “Berman & Berman.” 

Dr. Berman, good evening. 

DR. JENNIFER BERMAN, FEMALE SEXUAL MEDICINE CENTER:  Thank you.  Hi.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sure there are parents of preteens and young teens out there who are saying, good.  Teach them they can get pregnant by waving to each other.  More fear is better than less fear.  What is the practical impact of teaching kids the wrong stuff at that age? 

BERMAN:  Well, teaching wrong information is definitely not OK. 

But believing that information is permission is also inaccurate.  We need to as Americans enable and empower our youth to make smart and safe decisions.  And without information and, for that matter, correct information, they‘re not going to be able to do that.  So this is a real problem. 

OLBERMANN:  Trying to separate sex education from morals and religion is a very tough proposition.  But is there any indication that there is—that one of these two ways is more effective than the other, teaching abstinence only or teaching abstinence as among several ways to improve or promote sexual hygiene and birth control? 

BERMAN:  The best way, in my opinion, is to arm women, men, and children, youths, with information, be it abstinence-based information, be it safer sex practices, be it risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. 

Abstinence is an option, but individuals, especially teenagers, should be able to choose with themselves and their families how they want to proceed and not be forced into a situation where they‘re not given information. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me run one or two of these past you just really quickly.  Give me quick yeses or nos on this. 

BERMAN:  OK. 

OLBERMANN:  Women who have abortions are more prone to suicide and 10 percent become sterile. 

BERMAN:  The correct answer would be no. 

However, that being said, there‘s a particle of truth there.  And you could see how this information gets misconstrued.  If an abortion is done improperly or ineffectively, it can lead to infection and pelvic inflammatory disease, which can then lead to sterility.  So it‘s an indirect correlation, but not a direct relationship. 

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s not true 50 percent of gay male teenagers tested positive for HIV? 

BERMAN:  That is not true. 

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.

BERMAN:  Dr. Jennifer Berman of the Female Sexual Medical Center, my apologies.  We‘ve run out of time.  I thank you for yours tonight. 

BERMAN:  That‘s OK.  Thank you. 

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

Just drop—put that anywhere, Ari (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Good night and good luck.

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

END   

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