updated 12/17/2004 2:07:16 PM ET 2004-12-17T19:07:16

Guest: Roger Cressey, Charles Gasparino, John D. Hutson, Andrew Zimbalist

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Bernie Kerik day seven.  We know about his love nest, his lovers, his conflicts and his Tasers.  But what about the nanny which was supposed to be the reason he withdrew from homeland security?  Who is she?  Is there any evidence she even exists? 

The latest bin Laden evidence is on audiotape.  If it is him, it is less than 10 days old.  The speaker references the attack on the American consulate in Saudi Arabia, December 6th

The latest from the TSA.  TSA—they‘re stealing a lot.  Airport screeners who can‘t find test bombs, but can rip off your luggage.

And the saddest holiday image of all: Hospitalized children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every day he asks, am I going to be home for Christmas, and what if I‘m not, how will Santa know where I‘m at? 

OLBERMANN:  Well, Santa has got a new helper.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  Who‘s your nanny?  On a day when criticism suggested that another of President Bush‘s cabinet nominees may be in for a rough ride.  That nominee who fell all the way off the rollercoaster today again bounced back up into view, like the ducks at a county fair shooting gallery.

Our No. 5 story on the COUNTDOWN, Bernard Kerik again, this time the nanny whose tax history and immigration status were supposedly the only reasons the administration soured on him.  “The New York Times” reporting that amid the cascade of ugly truths from the past of the former homeland security secretary designate, almost nothing has been learned of the nanny.  Maybe we should call that the alleged nanny.  There seems to be reason to question whether or not she really exists. 

“The Times” quotes a neighbor of the Keriks in New Jersey as saying that until a few weeks ago, she would periodically see a young olive-skinned woman playing ball in the backyard with the Kerik children.  But the witness told the paper she only believed that the woman she saw was the nanny.  They never actually met.  The witness somehow did know, however, that the ball-playing woman did not drive an automobile. 

Meanwhile, said a neighbor of Kerik‘s mother-in-law, “they never came around here with a nanny, I never saw any nanny.  This is the first time I heard about a nanny.”  “The Times” even reports that, quote, “Mr. Kerik was told that skeptics in city government circles were questioning the very existence of the nanny, and he was pressed to provide any kind of evidence to document that she was real.”  But after taking the time to consider the request, Mr. Kerik again decided to remain silent on the subject. 

Maybe he had a nanny, maybe he don‘t.  Maybe he has a strong legal advocate, maybe he don‘t.  Someone who could media appearances on his behalf to contain the damage, if not completely sweep away any of the hints of impropriety.  A lawyer like Joseph Tacopina, a familiar face here at MSNBC, who could respond, should say, Katie Couric ask if Mr. Kerik has done anything illegal or unethical. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, NBC NEWS:  Are you saying that Bernard Kerik did nothing illegal or unethical in terms of all these allegations?

JOSEPH TACOPINA, ATTORNEY:  He absolutely did nothing illegal.  That is without question.

COURIC:  And unethical? 

TACOPINA:  You know, unethical, I mean, there are certain questions out there as to what was right and what wasn‘t right, and I think we‘ll leave that to, you know, others to determine whether he did everything ethically or not. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  With that comment coming from Mr. Kerik‘s attorney, it will not surprise you to learn that even his top supporter, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is now telling his close friend and employee, you‘ve got some explaining to do. 

Mr. Giuliani, describing his scolding of Kerik to “The New York Daily News,” quote, “I told him directly, there are some significant mistakes you made here, even granted that only some of this is true.”  Giuliani then telling the paper, quote, “this is an aspect of Bernie‘s personality that needs to be changed.  In this area, being careful, he is challenged, really challenged.” 

Yet His Honor stopped short of saying he was angry with Kerik;

Giuliani insisting he would keep Kerik as an employee of his consulting company, with “The Daily News” noting that for some reason, Giuliani‘s company holiday party scheduled for last night was canceled. 

“Newsweek‘s” senior writer, Charles Gasparino, has been covering the Kerik implosion, joins us now.  Mr. Gasparino, good evening.

CHARLES GASPARINO, NEWSWEEK:  Thanks for having me.  I‘m not his nanny, by the way. 

OLBERMANN:  Good.  OK.  And we think the nanny is not in Iraq with the WMD.  Let‘s cut right to the chase.  Is Mr. Kerik now, or has he ever been the employer of a nanny, illegal or otherwise? 

GASPARINO:  You know, it almost doesn‘t matter.  I mean, I don‘t know, but it almost doesn‘t matter, because this nanny story is not the reason why he is not going to be homeland security chief.  Bernie Kerik had a lot of questionable business dealings, and that is why he is not going to be in the Bush cabinet. 

Whether—the nanny is a smoke screen.  Everybody knows that. 

Everybody that is covering this story knows the nanny is a smoke screen.

It is kind of funny that he doesn‘t have a nanny, because even the smoke screen doesn‘t make sense.

But the bottom line is, Bernie Kerik is not working for George Bush because he has questionable business dealings.  That‘s it. 

OLBERMANN:  How long ago did they know about this?  Was this—are they—are the two statements that were made by the Bush administration correct on this, that, A, that he withdrew after they found new information about him, but B, that they knew all the rest of that stuff well in advance of nominating him? 

GASPARINO:  I think they knew some of this stuff.  Listen, you can do do a Google search on Bernie Kerik and you can find all this questionable business activity.  Like I said, I don‘t know if it‘s illegal.  It‘s clearly questionable.  It involves conflicts of interest.  It involves his engagement with suspicious people.  But let me tell you something, the Bush administration knows how to use Google, and I guarantee you they used Google on Bernie Kerik. 

OLBERMANN:  But alternatively, it‘s as possible that this gaudy scandal, if Rudy Giuliani could have honestly missed some or all of the Bernie Kerik story, isn‘t it possible that the White House could have honestly missed it, too? 

GASPARINO:  Yeah, I guess it‘s possible.  Listen, I happen to really like Rudy Giuliani, but I believe he has a blind spot for friends, because the bottom line is, Bernie Kerik‘s associations with certain people, it‘s just not good.  It is not becoming of a police commissioner.  It‘s certainly not becoming of a person that works theoretically for this white-shoe organization, Giuliani Partners.  And I think Rudy Giuliani is slowly coming to that realization right now.

Now, it is possible that the Bush administration missed all of this. 

I don‘t know how they did that.  I personally think, and this is my belief,

that they were throwing Rudy a bone.  I mean, Rudy did a lot of good stuff

for President Bush over the past year in the campaign, and I think they

kind of gave him one on this, and my belief is that they tried to slip one

by. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, if they threw him a bone, it bounced off Rudy‘s forehead and hit somebody in the throat.

GASPARINO:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  Charles Gasparino, senior writer with “Newsweek” magazine,

great thanks for your time, sir

GASPARINO:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  And mark your 2005 new cabinetry calendars.  The Alberto Gonzales confirmation hearing begins in less than three weeks, January 5th.  It is shaping up to be a doozy.  Military lawyers and Senate Democrats now speaking about his appointment as attorney general. 

First, the lawyers.  Several former high-ranking military attorneys telling “The New York Times” that they are looking for ways to oppose the Gonzales nomination, opposed they say because of the poor legal judgment he showed as White House counsel in his supervision of memos that appeared to condone the harsh treatment, if not torture, of military detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Senate Democrats already putting the White House on notice that Judge Gonzales should expect hard questions about those memos.  Among the politicos, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democratic on the Judiciary Committee, has sent several letters to Gonzales, the most recent one reading in part, quote, “You will be asked to describe your role in both the interpretation of the law and the development of policies that led to what I and many others consider to have been a disregard for the rule of law at Abu Ghraib and related to the interrogation and treatment of foreign prisoners.” 

Before he retired, Rear Admiral John D. Hutson served as the Navy‘s judge advocate general, from 1997 to 2000.  These days he is the dean and president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire.  And he joins us tonight to discuss his opposition to the Gonzales nomination. 

Admiral Hutson, thank you for your time.  Good evening.

REAR ADM. JOHN D. HUTSON (RET.), U.S. NAVY:  You‘re welcome.  I‘m glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Explain to us laymen the essence of your argument that his legal judgment is not sufficiently sound? 

HUTSON:  Well, Keith, I think it really has two angles to it.  One of them is process, and one of them is substance. 

The process angle, is that if you look at these—the memo that he authored and the other memos that he looked at and were part of the administration, it appears as though they have been reverse-engineered.  They looked at the—they came to a conclusion, they knew what the conclusion was going to be, and then they had to figure out the legal analysis in order to justify that conclusion. 

You know, they started out with the last paragraph, which said the Geneva Conventions do not apply, and then they figured out how to achieve that end. 

That to me is not the sort of analysis and depth of legal thinking that you would expect from the attorney general of the United States. 

The other aspect to it is the substance aspect, which is simply that the United States, for decades and decades and decades, has stood for the rule of law and advocated on behalf of human rights.  To at this point say that the Geneva Conventions don‘t apply is very situational.  It‘s looking at what is the issue right now at this moment in time, at this moment—at this place in space, and not looking over the horizon.  Not thinking—significantly, not thinking about the needs and protection of U.S. troops now and in the future.

Because, you know, remember, you know, back in the wake of World War II, when we were first looking at the Geneva Conventions, Eisenhower and Marshall and Truman weren‘t looking at them as a way to protect the enemy from American forces.  They were looking at them as a way to protect American forces from the enemy.  So that to now call them quaint and obsolete doesn‘t—doesn‘t get the big picture, I don‘t think, in a way that is good for the United States and certainly not good for troops.  You know, we‘ve advocated for the rule of law for all these years.  And it‘s not a rule of if you only apply it when it‘s convenient.  And I think that that is sort of what happened here. 

OLBERMANN:  When other cabinet nominees fall by the wayside because of links to companies that are suspected to being mobbed up or because of conflicts of interest, is it a poor view of the future legal playing field the kind issue that is likely to come up in Judge Gonzalez‘s confirmation hearing?  I mean, is there a reasonable chance that the Senate would not approve him because of something like that?   

HUTSON:  Well, I don‘t know if there‘s a reasonable—reasonable chance or not.  I know that since the article came out in “The New York Times” this morning, I‘ve gotten untold e-mails and phone calls from people who were, you know, saying essentially right on.  And, you know, is that the beginning of stopping a train or perhaps a train wreck, I don‘t know.  I guess only time will tell. 

OLBERMANN:  The retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, also dean of Franklin Pierce Law Center, we thank you greatly for your time tonight, sir.

HUTSON:  Well, my pleasure.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  You get the idea also we‘ll be having a discussion about secretary designate of defense sooner or later.  Two more Republican senators have now blasted Donald Rumsfeld. 

One of them saying he should be replaced in the next year or so, so said Mississippi‘s Trent Lott in a breakfast address to the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce. “I‘m not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld, he says.  “I don‘t think he listens enough to his uniformed officers.”  Lott adding, “I‘m not calling for his resignation but I think we do need a change at some point in the next year or so.”

And then there is Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine.  “My prediction, she says, is that the secretary will face tougher questioning when he comes before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”  She should know, she is on it.  “It‘s obviously the president‘s call on whether Secretary goes or stays.  And it looks like the president wants him to stay, at least for now,” she says. 

While we are on the subject of votes, two updates tonight out of the Ohio recount.  The legal bid to overturn the election there has been thrown out of court on a technicality.  Ohio‘s chief justice, Thomas Moyer, says the bid by Cliff Arnebeck of the Alliance for Democracy, on the right of your screen there, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, challenged the outcomes of two races in Ohio.  And Ohio law allows only one race to be challenged per lawsuit.  Arnebeck says they will write and refile, perhaps as early as tomorrow. 

And the assistant prosecutor in Hocking County, Ohio says that evidence tape has been placed around a computer vote tabulator there.  The counties deputy director of elections swear she saw an employee of the machine‘s manufacturer, the Triad Company, manipulating that machine last week.  Congressman John Conyers of Michigan asked the county prosecutor and the FBI to examine.  The county says it is taking his request seriously.

Says assistant county prosecutor David Sam‘s, “There is a board meeting Monday morning with representative of the secretary of states office, as well as with Triad.  Everyone‘s been invited and if there‘s a problem, there‘s a problem.  And if not, this matter will be put to rest.  We‘re going to have this employee show us exactly what he did.  I hope nothing improper was done.  It‘s likely to be a case of no harm, no foul.  Hopefully at the end of day Keith can crumble this story up like one of his papers and through it out.”

Amen and thank you for visiting COUNTDOWN. 

Also tonight, bin Laden again.  No videotape this time but much more frequent communications lately from al Qaeda, what does that mean? 

And the dream of baseball‘s return to D.C. seems to have been exactly that, a dream.   It‘s amazing how touchy the commissioner of baseball gets when you refuse to give him a $100 million dollars of tax payer money for free. 

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Another Osama bin Laden tape.  Is it a queue for more attacks or a swing of focus towards Saudi Arabia or both?  A former member of the national security council staff breaks it all down for us next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was disturbing enough to see bin Laden, alive and five days before the presidential election.  His venue, what appeared to be a well-lit ordinary looking TV studio was just that much more alarming.  Now the terrorist surprise is his turn around time. 

Our number four story on the COUNTDOWN, an audio tape, apparently, of bin Laden that cannot be more than 10 days old. 

Former national security council staffer, Roger Cressey joins me in a moment. 

First the reaction from the State Department and our correspondent,  Andrea Mitchell. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s the first time Osama bin Laden has sent an audiotape directly to the Internet, instead of of delivering it by courier, mailing or having it played over the telephone.  It was delivered by Internet. 

The message is current, he praises the gunman who killed five non-American employees of the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 10 days ago. 

Saying “God bless the Mujahedeen who stormed the American consulate in Jeddah.” 

Colin Powell said, no one should be surprised. 

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  He‘s a terrorist.  hat‘s what terrorists do.  He is a criminal.  He‘s a terrorists.  He‘s a murderer. 

MITCHELL:  Today‘s message is the fifth in only three months from either bin Laden or his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.  The most frequent threats from the top al Qaeda leaders since immediately after 9/11. 

ROGER CRESSEY, COUNTER-TERRORISM EXPERT:  He‘s certainly sticking a finger in the eye of the U.S. administration, of the Saudis and the rest of our allies by saying, one, I‘m still around.  I‘m still relevant.  Two, I can communicate not just with my followers but with a broader audience. 

MITCHELL:  Bin Laden directs his followers to attack the Saudi Royal Family and their oil. 

He urges them to “Get between them and the oil.  Concentrate your operations on it, especially in Iraq and the Gulf.”  Experts say his aim is to show that the Saudi‘s are vulnerable.  The Saudi government says it is not worried. 

NAIL AL JUBEIR, SAUDI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN:  He‘s trying to rally the support that he thinks he has in the country, which he doesn‘t have. 

MITCHELL:  a State department report on the Jeddah attack, says bin Laden and his followers are becoming increasingly bold.  The attackers case the entrance and on this tape can be heard as the approach.

They are shouting, “We will invade you, you can‘t not invade us.”

(on camera):  Bin Laden also threatened other regimes.  And tonight, the U.S. is shoring up defenses in Saudi Arabia, and telling Americans in Kuwait to be on high alert. 

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And as I mentioned, joining me now, counter-terrorism expert, former director on the National Security Council staff, Roger Cressey.  Roger, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

CRESSEY:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So, this appears to be the second message in bin Laden in 7 weeks.  Al Zawahiri has also sent 3 audio or video messages since the 9th of September.  And as Andrea Mitchell just pointed out, they had not been that communicative since the fall of 2001.  Is that necessarily a bad sign, is that necessarily a sign of something?

CRESSEY:  Well, it is certainly noteworthy.  We have seen 2 attacks within that 5 message span.  The attack in Taba in Egypt.  And then the attack that Andrea talks about in Jeddah just a few days ago. 

So, the real question of course is, does this presage another attack?  Is it an attack against U.S. interests or is it an attack against Saudi oil interests, some of the facilities like Ras Tanura and others, major production/distribution facilities, which is one of the things bin Laden calls for in his tape. 

And the tape emphasizes the oil reserves, the Saudi royal family, trying to drive up the price of gas in the U.S. and the international market.  Are there, in fact, individual targets revealed there or is this something that should be viewed as a totality? 

CRESSEY:  Oh, definitely as a totality.  I mean, we could be talking about targets on the Arabian Peninsula.  But he could also be talking about Iraqi oil. 

I think al-Qaeda learned a very important lesson from 9/11 which is the economic impact of their attack I think far exceeded their expectations.  And you see it in bin Laden‘s statements over and over again.  Go after America from an economic perspective as well.  Really hurt us in our pocketbook.  And anything he can do to drive up the price of oil is going to impact us.  It‘s going to Hurt our economy, it‘s also going to hurt our national security.  That‘s part and parcel of his overall approach and his overall message. 

OLBERMANN:  You and I both mentioned this tape refers to Jeddah, the attack there December 6, 10 days ago.  What does the turn around time mean?  That is pretty quick for him, is it not? 

CRESSEY:  Yeah, it is pretty impressive.  Now, the fact that it was posted on an Internet Web site is significant maybe because he doesn‘t have as much confidence in his carrier system.  Maybe he thinks there‘s a security breach.  Or, probably more likely, he wanted to get out there as quickly as possible.  And putting it on a Web site is very simple to do.  You film it, you put it in a zip file, you punch it out there.  This doesn‘t take much technology, or much expertise. 

OLBERMANN:  Well whatever—the next thing will be a blog.  But lastly with the Pakistanis saying the trail has gone cold on catching him, does this do anything to warm it up? 

CRESSEY:  Well, they had to say that because they are withdrawing their troops. 

Good question.  I tend to think the answer is no.  There wasn‘t anything in there that would be an obvious tip-off.  The conventional wisdom is still the same, he‘s somewhere on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border or may be hiding in a major metropolitan area.  But we still don‘t have any further clues.  And I think there is tremendous levels frustration, not just in Washington, but in Islamabad and elsewhere, that we really can‘t find these guys. 

OLBERMANN: Yeah.  Look for some place that has broadband access. 

CRESSEY:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Counter-terrorism expert Roger Cressey.  As always, great thanks for your time tonight, sir. 

CRESSEY:  My pleasure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  From the war on terror to the state of Washington, no landslide in the governor‘s race.  But, we can bring you this.  “Oddball” ensues. 

And it‘s that time of year for the pilgrimage to the mall for the St.  Nick show with kids.  But what happens when your children might be too sick to go see Santa?  Good news about that.  We‘ll show it to you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you and pause the COUNTDOWN for our nightly desert course, course of news.  As usual, we serve desert right in the middle of dinner.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

We begin at Jaws Beach in Maui where dangerous 60-foot waves generated by a big storm in the Pacific slamming into the coast of Hawaii, which of course, means surf‘s up, dude. 

Whenever this happens, the world‘s top surfers close-up the gas station early and race to Maui for an impromptu tournament on those once in a lifetime wave.  Sure they are putting their lives in extreme danger, but it is really neat watch as noble gets hurt.  As long as nobody gets hurts, and no one did you get hurt as far as you know. 

Kayaking, there is a safe and peaceful recreational activity.  And there‘s no more beautiful place to glide along the—nature with—than the Sultan River in Washington State. 

This group took a video camera along on their trip to record the tranquility.  Oh boy.  Oh boy.  The group was actually trapped there by the landslide, forced to hike up a 30-foot embankment and through the woods to get home.  And we can guess how that turned out.  Anybody here remember the movie “Deliverance?” 

Final to El Paso where we check in on continuing saga of Nubby, the Chihuahua no arms but who warmed America‘s heart.  And that‘s heart warm, not heart worm.  At least he‘s had his shots.

And I know, no dog ever has had arms.  The phrase, this Chihuahua has no arms is supposedly funnier than the phrase, this Chihuahua has no front legs. 

Since his story first came out in August, Nubby has been a pet calendar cover dog and the grand marble of the enchilada festival parade in Los Cruces.  Now the celebrity is giving back to his community as a therapy dog at a Texas rehabilitation center, inspiring patients and carrying a message of hope.  And in this holiday season, I dare say we all should hear that message and look to release the little Nubby in all of us.

Hop on, little fellow.  Hop on. 

If you build it, they will come and if you don‘t, they will go somewhere else.  Not Washington D.C. as it turns out, a baseball disaster but did the Capitol just avoid financial catastrophe.

And later, embarrassing news for airport screeners: fake bombs go undetected, them stealing stuff from your luggage goes detected.  Those stories ahead.

Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘S top 3 Newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, Timothy Hynd and Robert Harper of Oklahoma City, arrested while driving a truck full of coffins.  Turned out the coffins were filled with 610 pounds of marijuana.  Coffin with an F?  Coffin with a ugh, it‘s the same to me man.

No. 2 Ken Jennings of Salt Lake City—no, not the “Jeopardy” guy, the Ken Jennings who owns the Hart Sign company.  The phone calls from charities, from reporters for the other Ken Jennings were bad enough.  Then came the call that started, hi, Ken, it‘s dad.  The father of the “Jeopardy” winner called the wrong Ken Jennings. 

And, No. 1, Heidi Grossman, a television reporter in Peru.  She was arrested for handing that country‘s president, Alejandro Toledo, a fake bomb, a soccer ball painted black with a fuse coming out of it.  Why?  Because when asked in a poll what gift they most wanted for Christmas, a majority of Peruvians said for the president to explode.  His approval rating is 9 percent. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Remember all the bell ringing and the congratulations when Washington, D.C. got Major League Baseball back?  Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

The Washington Nationals lasted exactly 78 days.  The deal to move the team there from Montreal is all but dead after the D.C. City Council said it would not pay more than $142 million for a new downtown stadium, the price tag of which ranged from $280 million to as much as $535 mill.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, DOA in D.C. and the larger issue of how badly taxpayers get ripped off when a city decides to build a ballpark and if Washington made the right move after all.  It was only September 29 when baseball and Washington‘s mayor, Anthony Williams, giddily announced the teal to move the hapless Montreal Expos back to the capital, which has not had a team since 1971. 

But that move required the city—that‘s the taxpayers—to provide 80 percent of the financing for a new stadium.  That agreement cost three city council members reelection last month.  And Tuesday night, the council chairwoman, Linda Cropp, led efforts to amend the deal limiting the city‘s financial liability. 

Baseball has given D.C. until New Year‘s Eve to pony up.  It is not likely to.  In the interim, it has suspended all operations of the Washington team, ticket sales, player signings, even the scheduled unveiling of the team‘s new uniforms.  And four other cities have already contacted the baseball moguls bidding for the nomad franchise, Las Vegas, Portland, Norfolk, Virginia, and Monterey in Mexico.

For baseball fans and politicians in the district, this is something like getting left at the alter after a 33-year engagement.  They were so sure this time, as you might recall from the night we interview television‘s Maury Povich, himself the son of the city‘s most legendary baseball writer and sports editor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAURY POVICH, HOST, “THE MAURY SHOW”:  Well, this is sky-high country right now.  I mean, I wasn‘t really scheduled to be here in Washington and kind of the stars are in line and my father is applauding from heaven.  And this is a great moment.  And I can tell you this.  In Washington, D.C., where they use politics as ground chuck every day, that will be on page two tomorrow, the day of the great debate, and baseball coming to Washington will be page one. 

OLBERMANN:  Are you sure this one is not going to fall through?  Is this signed, sealed and delivered?

POVICH:  It better not.  I mean, it better not. 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  That was September 29.  I asked him that because baseball has been Washington‘s runaway bride all over again.  This is the second time since 1973 that the city thought it had a team only to find out it did not. 

Then it was the San Diego Padres of the National League headed East to avoid bankruptcy.  The Topps baseball card people even made the necessary adjustments for its 1974 series, Washington National League.  But late in 1973, the Washington Padres vanished as quickly as the Washington Nationals just did, when McDonald‘s owner Ray Kroc stepped in and spent the cash to keep them in San Diego. 

One thing about that version of hopes dashed.  That time, at least, the Washington team got—that never was at least got as far as unveiling its new uniforms. 

Back to this issue of stadium financing.  It is not just the controversy of the moment in D.C. and wherever baseball moves the Expos next.  There is also a similar fight in New York City over a combined Olympic and football stadium.  The New York Jets, who play their games as the 21 century business of sports world would seem to demand, not in New York, but in New Jersey, say they will pay $800 million out of a $1.4 billion development. 

A poll last month indicated that 55 percent of adults in New York oppose the thing primarily because of the public expense.  But when asked how they would feel if the project generated enough money to repay the public investment, 57 percent said they would support it.  Ay, there‘s the rub.  In any of the new publicly financed stadia of the last decade, two in Baltimore, the two in Pittsburgh, the one outside Washington, the ones in Detroit and Seattle and Phoenix and Cincinnati and half-a-dozen other cities, if any of them have generated enough revenue to repay the hundreds of millions in taxpayers dollars spent to build them, that news has been kept a complete secret. 

As it was once summarized neatly by an economist, you do not have to be an economist to understand the basic economic principle here.  If building ballparks made money for anybody, then the sports owners would build them themselves and keep the money.  That‘s what owners are for. 

To go into this in greater depth, I‘m joined by Andrew Zimbalist, author of “May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy.”  He‘s an economics professional at Smith College and expert on the subjects of baseball and the economy, when they merge.

Mr. Zimbalist, good evening.  Thanks for your time. 

ANDREW ZIMBALIST, AUTHOR, “MAY THE BEST TEAM WIN”:  Good evening. 

Nice to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  Cities and counties and states always argue the same thing.  New ballpark means new jobs, new spending, new money.  Is any of that true or is it really just one big con job? 

ZIMBALIST:  It‘s a loaded question is what it is.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

ZIMBALIST:  No.  All the evidence that we have from all the independent studies that have been done over the course of about 10 years, looking back to experiences as far as 1960, suggest that a city should not count on any economic benefits from building a stadium or an arena, depending on the sport. 

Quite simply, it is not something you should do as an economic investment.  If you want to do it for cultural reasons or social reasons, perhaps it makes some sense, but as an economic investment, it doesn‘t seem to pay off. 

OLBERMANN:  Can you explain to people who are not economists the loopholes, the processes that allow cities to continue to float these multimillion dollar bond issues to build sports stadiums that will at least neutralize, if not actually lose taxpayer dollars? 

ZIMBALIST:  I think two things are going on. 

The first thing is that to say that it doesn‘t benefit an entire city doesn‘t mean that it doesn‘t benefit particular individual economic interests in the city.  Clearly, the construction firms that are involved in building a ballpark benefit.  Clearly, the unions that are working for the construction companies and the contractors, they benefit as well.

Some architectural firms might benefit.  The investment bankers that float the bond, they are going to benefit.  The lawyers who are working for these different organizations, they are going to benefit.  The team owner, who is usually a very prominent figure in the local political scene, he or she is going to benefit.  They go to the politicians.  They line up the politicians.  And they push it through. 

Again, to say that it is going to benefit certain interests doesn‘t mean that it benefits the whole city.  And then, secondly, you have in professional sports an infatuation in this country.  People love their sports.  And because it‘s popular, it is easier to make the arguments and let the arguments go through the political process.  So I think those two things come together to allow this experience to repeat itself over and over again. 

But there has been a trend towards greater public—excuse me, greater private financing and less public financing for these stadiums. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, let‘s look at how this applies directly to this Washington situation.  The city council chair, Ms. Cropp, has already gotten death threats and insults.  Did she actually do her constituency a favor in this case? 

ZIMBALIST:  You know, first of all, one has to know a lot more, I think, than what has been in the newspapers about what her communications were with Mayor Williams over the last several months. 

But I think, substantively speaking, what she did at the council meeting a few days ago was the right thing to do.  There was a deal on the table that was very, very concessionary.  Washington, D.C. is the eighth largest media market in the country.  It‘s the fourth largest market for hosting large corporations.  It‘s the nation‘s capital.  They should have some bargaining leverage.  They should be able to get a deal similar to a deal that was struck—will be struck in New York City for the New York Yankees or similar to what Peter McGowan had to do in San Francisco.

He tried through four different referendums to get public financing for a new ballpark for the Giants.  He couldn‘t do it.  He built it himself.  That‘s because you have in the Bay area a wonderful economic area for hosting a ball team.  And New York City the same way.  Washington, D.C., the same way.  There is some leverage there, if Mayor Williams would have used it.  He didn‘t use it. 

The plan was fundamentally to have 100 percent public financing.  Cropp has put something on the table where half of the 280 that it would take to build the ballpark would come from private sources.  That‘s $140 million.  But the whole project, including infrastructure and land, is going to come in somewhere probably between $500 and $600 million.  So you with talking about, in Cropp‘s vision, maybe a 25 or 30 percent private component.

And that is relatively low in this day and age, even though you have a city that should have significant bargaining leverage. 

OLBERMANN:  So, now they take that show on the road and try it out in Portland or Vegas or wherever else they can get people to sit long enough to listen. 

ZIMBALIST:  I‘m not so sure...

OLBERMANN:  You‘re not sure?

ZIMBALIST:  .. not so sure about that. 

Well, I think that the Washington market remains by far and away the best market, that Portland has shown no inclination to put forward a great deal of public financing.  Even Las Vegas, Mayor Goodman is making a lot of noise, but he hasn‘t put forward a plan for 100 percent financing.  So, I think Washington is still the best market.  They are going to have to bargain their way through this. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, they‘re on life support, so they‘ll appreciate your support.  But just think.  If they go to Vegas, they could make Pete Rose the commissioner and it will all work out nicely. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Andrew Zimbalist, the professor of economics at Smith College, author of two great works on baseball and the stadium thing, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

ZIMBALIST:  My pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  And just to remind you that sports is not merely about corporations ripping off taxpayers one city at a time, from Fort Lauderdale, some good old-fashioned thievery.  Police there have accused a janitor at the International Swimming Hall of Fame of stealing more than 100 Olympic medals and other memorabilia. 

Part of the haul of Paul Christow, you saw there 1924 Olympics medal awarded to swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who later played Tarzan in the movies, and a medal from one of the ancient Olympics in Greece more than 2,000 years ago.  They say he sold some of the items to collectors over the Internet, then got caught in a sting when he tried to sell some more of them. 

Speaking of sting, hidden cameras catching an airport baggage screener helping himself to some passenger‘s belongings.  Who can secure your stuff against security workers? 

And from taking to giving, Santa going all high tech to reach out to some very special kids. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Airport insecurity.  What happens when the people who are supposed to look for bombs and stuff instead are looking for your stuff to take home?

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s a tradition.  Give your bag to somebody else and start worrying that that somebody else will try to take stuff out of it.  It was the fear on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach to Cheyenne in 1882.  It will be the fear at LAX and McCarron and Lambert Field in 2005. 

Our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, there is good reason for the fear.  Complaints about airport employees stealing luggage or things in luggage have increased exponentially in the year since airport luggage screening increased exponentially here.  It might not be that bad if the employees of the Transportation Safety Administration could also remove what they are supposed to remove, like the fake bomb planted in luggage by supervisors running a test just this week at Newark Airport. 

Not only couldn‘t the bag screeners find it.  The supervisors couldn‘t find it either.  The thing wound up being recovered yesterday in Amsterdam, where it had flown undetected by the increased security. 

And, as our correspondent Tom Costello reports, some of these screeners are not there to help travelers.  They are there who help themselves. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The surveillance video, disturbing, a TSA worker at JFK airport in New York allegedly rifling through a bag planted by police, removing jewels and money. 

The suspect charged with larceny and possession of stolen property.  Theft has been a problem for as long as travelers have been checking their bags.  But now the TSA is keeping track.  Since taking control of baggage screening nearly two years ago, it has received more than 28,000 complaints of damage, lost or stolen items.  The total value, nearly $36 million.  But no one knows how many of those are false claims. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everything was in the luggage when we left from here. 

COSTELLO:  Randy Rutland (ph) of Louisiana claims it happened to him.  While flying out of New Orleans, his luggage was checked, then secured with blue tags to indicate they had been hand-searched by the TSA.  But when he got his bags, a brand new digital camera and his daughter‘s compact discs were missing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think somebody went through our bags, saw a nice camera and some C.D.s, and they took them. 

COSTELLO:  The value, $1,600.  So far, the TSA has settled some 19,000 claims totaling $2.5 million, including $152,000 worth of claims at LAX, $111,000 at JFK, followed by Seattle, Las Vegas, and Oakland.

And the TSA is now adding surveillance cameras in baggage handling and secure areas to watch for theft. 

TSA administrator Admiral David Stone:

DAVID STONE, TSA ADMINISTRATOR:  In issues of theft, there is a zero tolerance.  And we need it make sure that we root that out of our organization, because it gets to the very core of who we are and that trust and confidence bond with the American people. 

COSTELLO (on camera):  Only 66 TSA employees out of 60,000 employees past and present have been arrested for theft.  And the TSA points out that, for every bag a TSA employee touches, four airline employees touch bags.  Still, the TSA recommends that, before you travel, take your watches, your jewelry and your money and pack it in your carry-on bag. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, at La Guardia Airport in New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  We segue now to our nightly roundup of the celebrity and entertainment news. 

And when his manager announced last week that James Brown would undergo surgery for prostate cancer, the lack of details left many fans of the godfather of soul worried, indeed.  More hopeful news tonight—quoting—“We expect a full recovery,” said the urologist who performed the surgery.  “With proper follow-up and care, we can also expect a full cure.”  Dr. James Bennett also said the 71-year-old Brown will need three weeks of recuperation and might then still be able to start a planned tour of Asia and Australia.

Upon his return to the stage, Mr. Brown may find himself challenged by an up-and-coming young musical virtuoso, a prodigy of sorts.  No, it‘s not “Meet the Press,” but meet the piccolo.  Our own NBC Washington bureau chief, Mr. News his own self, Tim Russert, guest conducting last night at the annual corporate fund-raiser by the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops.  It is difficult to tell from the level at which we are playing the music that Tim is conducting or from the reaction of the audience or the musicians, but what he is leading them in is “Sleigh Ride.” 

I could have sworn it sounded more like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

And our No. 1 story tonight, what happens when hospitalized kids are too sick to see Santa?  The best use of high tech you will see today. 

Stand by. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With Christmas nine days off and the other holidays in full swing, emotions run high, but not just good ones.  Perhaps nothing can more quickly pull at the heartstrings than one simple really that it is true in every city and every town in this country, the image of a sick child at Christmastime. 

But, in our No. 1 story tonight, another positive weapon against that saddest of prospects.  And without mixing too many religions, it‘s based on the old line about the mountain coming to Muhammad. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny joins us now with the good news. 

Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.

It‘s not unusual this time of year to see long lines of children at the mall waiting anxiously to get a few moments on Santa‘s lap.  But for those little ones spending more time as patients than as kids, those who are unable to visit Santa in person, now there is an alternative. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, Larry.

LARRY SKAMARYCZ, 5 YEARS OLD:  Hi.

LAWRENCE SKAMARYCZ, FATHER:  Every day, he asks, am I going to be home for Christmas and what if I‘m not and how will Santa know where I‘m at?

NOVOTNY:  Five-year-old Larry Skamarycz is spending the holidays here in the cardiac unit of Boston‘s Children‘s Hospital. 

DR. PETER LANG, CARDIOLOGIST:  His heart and lung function is not very good and he is getting worse and he needs a heart transplant. 

NOVOTNY:  But while he‘s waiting, Larry is getting one early present.  He may not be able to stand in line at the mall, but he can go online to the North Pole for a virtual visit with Santa Claus, because, this year, Santa is on speed-dial. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is that cool?  Yes. 

NOVOTNY:  Larry and many other young patients here are too sick to have visitors, but they can celebrate the season with a little high-tech help, a phone, a laptop, a high-speed Web connection and, with one touch, each child can make an Internet-enabled video call to Kris Kringle. 

LARRY SKAMARYCZ:  A computer attached to a telephone, how crazy is that? 

NOVOTNY:  The equipment, sanitized between visits, rolls from one room to the next. 

LAWRENCE SKAMARYCZ:  You want to talk to Santa Claus?

NOVOTNY:  And for children well enough to leave their rooms, a break from the reality of hospital life and a germ-free seat on Santa‘s cyberlap. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m at the North Pole. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is it cold there? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I made a very special present for you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I love you very, very much, OK?  You‘re very special to Santa. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I love you, too, Santa.

NOVOTNY:  The benefits for a patient like Larry are obvious. 

JAMIE SMART, NURSE:  He is like bouncing off the walls right now.  So, yes, it definitely boosted his morale, absolutely.

NOVOTNY:  And for the family, it can mean:

LAWRENCE SKAMARYCZ:  The world.  That‘s all he talks about is Santa. 

Seeing him like that, that happy, it just—it touches right here. 

LANG:  What did you ask for?

LARRY SKAMARYCZ:  A SpongeBob SquarePants.  And guess what?  He said:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve got a SpongeBob in here with your name on it.  I just checked it yesterday with one of my elves.  And it said on there Larry, just for you. 

LARRY SKAMARYCZ:  Really? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  The idea for these virtual visits from Santa comes from the people at the technology company Cisco Systems.  They partnered with two children‘s hospitals, one in San Diego and this one in Boston.  They say it worked out so well that they plan to do it again next year Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Boy, I sure hope they do. 

Monica Novotny, with a very nice way to end an hour of news, many thanks. 

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

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