updated 12/29/2004 12:23:40 PM ET 2004-12-29T17:23:40

Guest: Alfred Ironside, David Field, Elecia Battle

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  59,186 dead, at least.  The horror continues to unfold at the edges of the Indian Ocean.  Tonight the fear that disease could kill just as many as the tsunamis did.  A prediction after Luggagegate, U.S. Air has six months, maybe a little less, maybe a little more.  Similar grim forecasts for the Department of Homeland Security.  Its just departed inspector general says the airports and seaports simply are not secure.  And a year ago you heard of this woman claim she had bought and then lost a lottery ticket worth $162 million.  Tonight you will hear her claim she can kick another woman‘s butt.  We will be joined by Elecia Battle, brand-new professional boxer.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  “No man is an island entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  Each man‘s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind, therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  Our fifth story tonight with additions reported from Sri Lanka, the number of fatalities at the Christmas Sri Lanka stands at 63,414 and John Donne‘s 17th century work, “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions” is again all too pertinent and meaningful.

As are late breaking experts in Thailand failed to warn of the possible tsunami out of fear of damaging tourism there, in case they were wrong.  And the most extraordinary home video of the tsunami‘s impact yet shown in this country.  Both those stories in a moment.  First there are now evocations of our own tragedies around Phuket, Thailand in the airport, on the streets, the missing posters are being seen, the same kind that haunted the streets of New York City in the weeks and months after 9/11.  As we told you last night, the more than doubling of yesterday‘s reported death toll around the Indian Ocean was anticipated after the vice president of Indonesia had said that despite early official data that 5,000 had been killed there, he knew of 20,000 dead in just one of Indonesia‘s provinces, Aceh.  That brings the total number dead to 27,000 in that country.

In Thailand, the official death toll is just above 1,500, that number is expected to rise as reports come in of rescue workers pulling hundreds of bodies out of popular hotels.  And there‘s more evidence of just how unprepared residents and tourists were for the strength of the waves.  This amateur video showing people standing on the beach watching the deadly surf as it approached the Thailand shore.

Another film shot from a hotel balcony in Sri Lanka, showing people and furniture swept up by the incoming wave and pushed yards inland.  21,715 people died in that country, in Sri Lanka, including nearly 1,000 passengers onboard a commuter train that was pushed off the tracks by the tsunami.  And in India, survivors desperately swimming to shore after it swept them to the sea.  The death toll in India, 4,400 and rising.

Tonight, a developing and disturbing story that suggests in Thailand at least the scientific authorities had at least some idea what was coming but chose to delay issuing a warning out of fear of hurting their nation‘s tourism industry.  Bangkok‘s newspaper “The Nation” reporting that Thailand‘s meteorological department was conducting a seminar at the hour the earthquake struck, told the Richter measurement was 8.2 and a member of the department concluded there would be no tsunami, at least none that would not affect Thailand because a 2002 earthquake in Sumatra, the same area measured 7.6 and had produced no tsunami, the newspaper “The Scotsman” from the United Kingdom quotes Thailand‘s seismological bureau director Sulamee Prachuab as saying, “Five years ago, the Meteorological Department issued a warning of a possible tidal wave after an earthquake occurred in Papua New Guinea, but the tourism authority complained that such a warning would hurt tourism.”

That 1999 tsunami never occurred.  Officials are saying tourism was never a factor in whether or not they issued a warning in Thailand over this past weekend, but one of the unnamed sources of the Bangkok paper disagreed.  He was at the meeting and said, quote, “The very important factor in making the decision was that it‘s high [tourist] season and hotel rooms were nearly 100-percent full.  If we issued a warning, which would have led to evacuation, and if nothing happened, what would happen then?  We could go under if the tsunami didn‘t come.”

Thailand‘s information and technology minister says an investigation will be conducted into the warning or non-warning.  At least 1,516 are dead there.  1,500 other Swedish tourists are still reported missing.  A group of tourists in Phuket in Thailand, have compelled the most compelling videotape here of the full impact of the tsunami.  For the sense of the monster coming up out of nowhere of nightmares vanquishing the daydreams of tropical island nothing exceeds what is two Swedish policeman and Norwegian friend saw from the Kambala (ph) Hotel in Phuket.  Courtesy of the Norwegian newspaper, “Dagbla,” we‘ll show it to you the tape in its entirety, nearly two and half minutes worth, and without narration.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s coming again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s coming again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, it‘s coming again.  It‘s coming in your way. 

It‘s coming again.  Watch out!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (SWEDISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (SPEAKING SWEDISH)

(END VIDEO TAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The two Swedish policemen and the Norwegian survived.  The couple you saw in the middle of that tape fighting off the direct impact of the tsunami were British.  The husband has been hospitalized.  His exact injuries are unknown.  His wife is still missing.

Last night here a Red Cross spokesman said the most pressing issue for survivors would be drinkable water but that the most perilous one would be water-borne disease.  Today the World Health Organization says that disease could kill as many as the tsunami itself has.  In broad and grim strokes, Dr. David Nabarro, the WHO‘s head of crisis operations said in Geneva today that epidemics of cholera and malaria were possible and quoting him, “the initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities.”  To explain the risk I‘m joined by Alfred Ironside, a spokesman from UNICEF, which is helping send aid and relief to the affected countries.

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

ALFRED IRONSIDE, UNICEF:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is a chance of epidemics, of further widespread death dependent on how quickly those who are already dead are buried?

IRONSIDE:  It is partly dependent on that although dead bodies are not the biggest problem.  The problem, the challenge that they pose is really if they get into the water system, if they‘re decomposing somewhere near a water system that can contaminate the water.  So that is the big challenge with dead bodies that are still out in the open.  They don‘t in themselves present a threat, but anything that contaminates the water is going to provide the kind of threat to health that Dr. Nabarro was talking about earlier.

OLBERMANN:  Last night here the gentleman from the Red Cross said perhaps the least publicized aspect of something like this is the degree to which the infrastructures of sanitation and sewage removal in 11 countries are crippled or in some cases are even wiped out.  That that‘s the impactful thing here.  Do you agree with that assessment?

IRONSIDE:  We totally agree.  In fact, in disasters like this it oftentimes is always the water that is the main concern.  In this case the sea water came in, as we saw in that incredible video, and I have to tell you my heart is racing from watching that.

OLBERMANN:  Mine, too.

IRONSIDE:  When that water rushes in and it goes far, far inland from what we saw in the pictures, it‘s invading the water system.  It‘s bringing saltwater in.  It‘s bringing sewage, it‘s bringing mud.  It‘s bringing debris.  And so any possibility of getting fresh water out of the system again is gone.  And so where do people get fresh water?  That‘s the crisis that we‘re facing right now in these thousands and thousands of miles of coastline where people live.  How to get them fresh water quickly, today.  And so, of course they‘re not going to have clean water everywhere and they‘re going to drink unclean water and that‘s when we have the threat of disease.

OLBERMANN:  How long could that be a problem?  Could we be dealing in terms of months or even years in terms of how much infrastructure was destroyed?

IRONSIDE:  Well, I think we won‘t have life-threatening problems for months or years, but certainly we‘re going to have a threat to life for many, many weeks to come.  It‘s urgent right now.  It means today and tomorrow.  Where are people going to get fresh water and food?  And that will continue for several weeks.  It‘s going to be a real challenge logistically to reach all these communities, as I said, around thousands of miles of coastline.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Ironside, sum this up for me, what now will make the biggest difference later about death by disease?  Is it money, is it how many hospitals were spared, what is it?

IRONSIDE:  A number of things, really.  Money will make a difference in contributions to aid organizations and it will be very important to enable us to do what needs doing.  I think coordination among all the different agencies in each country is also crucial.  You can have too much at one time.  That doesn‘t help.  You can have too little.  That doesn‘t help.  So making sure that we do what the system will bear at any given moment and try and reach the most number of people is crucial.

But I have to tell you one kind of off-the-wall thing we don‘t think about that will help in the long run is to get schools back open, believe it or not.  If you can get kids back into some kind of positive, constructive environment where their minds are occupied and their parents are freed up, then, to do the work of rebuilding, that has a huge impact on a community and on the spirits within a community.  So we will be looking in the next few weeks at how we get schools back open again.

OLBERMANN:  Any trace of normality.  Alfred Ironside, spokesman for UNICEF.  Great thanks for your time tonight and good luck in that pursuit, sir.

IRONSIDE:  My pleasure.  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Money will be, of course, in all things the key.  It became the centerpiece of a spat.  A United Nations relief coordinator first called the West, including the U.S., stingy in its initial financial response to the calamity.  Then Secretary of State Powell bristled at that remark and then the UN man retracted his statement, apologized for it and then the U.S. Agency for International Development threw another $20 million in the relief pot in the form of a line of credit.

Total U.S. commitment currently at $35 million, expected to rise to much, much more than that.  And those figures do not include private contributions.  If you are moved to add to those, the number at the American Red Cross is 1-800-HELP-NOW.  If you can‘t write that down right now you can log on to countdown.msnbc.com for a complete list of aid agencies and phone numbers.  One of the developing aspects of Christmas tsunami is the international nature of the victims.

As we mentioned last night, the father of satellite communications and co-creator of the movie “2001” Sir Arthur C. Clark lives in Sri Lanka and reported to his brother by email said he was safe but did not know if his research staff was.  Because of the holiday, the Indian Ocean was filled with vacationers from many nations, some political and entertainment figures.

The action movie actor Jet Li was on the Maldive Islands when the waves hit.  He suffered no less than a foot injury while rescuing his 4-year-old daughter as the furniture in his hotel began to float.  Former chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl was evacuated today by helicopter from a hotel in Southern Sri Lanka, unhurt himself.

Fashion model Petra Nemcova who appeared on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue in 2003 was swept away along with her photographer boyfriend in Thailand.  She was found, has a shattered hip and pelvis.  He has not been located.

And Ingemar Stenmark, the Swedish skiing superstar who won two gold medals at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, outran the tsunami as it hit the beach at Ko Kloi (ph), Thailand.  If the ratio of dead to injured just in Indonesia proves to be correct throughout the afflicted region, there are at least 218,00 injured.  No one can guess how many more escaped the freight trains of water without physical trauma.  But as our correspondent Bob Faw now reports, very few of their stories of survival will not include at least psychological scars.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BOB FAW, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Slowly as the waters receded, tales emerged of sorrow and survival.  In the wreckage of what had been his motel room, 75 year old Brian Nickel (ph) is amazed to find he‘s still alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As the water gets through, it filled the room with water and I was almost drowned and I just stood there.  And prayed.

FAW:  Today American tourist Susan Sweat (ph) was thankful.  She was on part of the island Phi-Phi that wasn‘t flooded.

SUSAN SWEAT, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR:  If I had been on the beach in any other resort in the area, I would be dead right now.

FAW:  Everything once dependent on the bountiful earth and sea swept aside in their wrath, scenes one simple now surreal, still making British tourist, Tom Barnacle (ph) tremble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Quite mad, really, in complete paradise, best holiday of our time and everything is absolutely normal and the next minute the ocean is trying to beat you up.

FAW:  What it did devour was children, up to one third of the dead by some estimates.  Some were spared on the east coast of Sri Lanka.  35 orphans at the Samaritan Boys and Girls home saved when director Day Allen Sanders (ph) hustled them under a boat before the orphanage collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They pretty much had 22 seconds from seeing the wave and getting everybody in the boat and getting out of there.

FAW:  And on Phuket a Swedish toddler, 20 month old Hans Bergstrom and his mother swept away was rescued, bruised on a hilltop by American tourist Rebecca Bedow (ph) and Ron Reuben(ph).

UNIDENITIFED MALE:   It was just a miracle getting them to the hospital from up in the jungle like we got a ride.  How did that happen?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was a miracle.

FAW:  How, indeed, as monster waters subsided, acts of goodness, bravery and sheer dumb luck.  In paradise lost.  Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, pre-election violence rocking Iraq yet again, post election make goods to minority parties might also do damage there.  And the Christmas debacle with U.S. Airways could be the last time that airline gets to disappoint travelers on any holiday.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The loser in the Ukrainian elections says he‘ll go to work tomorrow regardless.  So the winner tells his supporters to barricade the loser‘s office.  Voting in Kiev, in Iraq and in Ohio, when COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It  would have been implausible a year ago today to predict as 2004 ended today mountain earns would be talking about elections in Iraq, Ukraine and Ohio.  Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, news of all three votes starting in Dubai where the Zarqawi terrorism group claimed it was behind the attempt to kill Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Azziz al-Hakim yesterday.  Al-Hakim survived the car bombing; 13 others did not.  Fifty-three people were injured.

Across the Sunni triangle, pre-election violence continued to intensify today.  Car bombs and assassination attacks on police stations, insurgents today killing at least 25 people.  Near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein‘s hometown, gunmen stormed a police station, killed a dozen Iraqi policemen inside, then blew the building up.

Near Ramadi, the deputy governor of Anbar province, Moya Hardan al Assawi (ph) was shot and killed.  His body found with a note beside it reading, this is the fate of everyone who deals with the American troops.

While, Iraq‘s interim national assembly was decrying the terrorism and said the elections should be held a month from Thursday, there was a different message from the country‘s ambassador to the United Nations.  Samir Sumaida‘ie writing in the opinion pages of “The Washington Post” acknowledged that insurgents would see a delay as a victory but also wrote, quoting here, “. to hold elections under current circumstances, when a sizeable part of the country is not secure, just for the sake of voting, would produce a disproportionate and non-representative national assembly.  Far from stabilizing the country,” he went on, “this could be a recipe for greater rebellion.”

Ambassador Sumaida‘ie suggested the solution was not to postpone the vote but to postpone the new government‘s ability to produce a permanent new constitution until such time as the percentage of people voting in each province had reach someday kind of minimum figure.  Another potential tweak has engendered controversy in Iraq, here and around the world, the possibility that the vote should be democracy with an asterisk, giving the Sunni minority, which is largely boycotting the elections, a guaranteed foothold in the governmental structure, no matter how the voting actually turns out.  On “The Today Show” this morning, Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked what to do about the Sunnis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  What we want is a government that is representative.  We know that it will have a Shi‘ia majority, that‘s the majority of the population.  One would expect that.  But the transitional administrative law that was written provides protections for the minorities, the Sunnis and the Kurds and others.  The smaller segments of the populations, that they will have a chance to participate in the national assembly, the transitional national assembly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile in Ukraine the final preliminary count is in, challenger Viktor Yuschenko defeating the incumbent Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich by 52 percent to 44 percent.  No, the math is not wrong.  About 4 percent of voters chose not in favor of either.  But yes, it is true.  There will be another challenge.  Yanukovich received more than 5,000 complaints and that 4.8 million people had not been able to cast ballots.  That‘s more than twice Yuschenko‘s margin of victory.

Yanukovich is not conceding and plans to go back to work as prime minister tomorrow so Yuschenko has told his orange guard supporters to strengthen a blockade of the government building tomorrow from early in the morning.  There should not be any meeting tomorrow in the building he told the tens of thousands on the streets in Kiev.  An honest government should take over there.

Meantime one of the members of the old government is dead, apparently by his own hand.  Transport minister Heorhiy Kirpa was found shot dead inside his home outside Kiev yesterday.  Police today issuing preliminary finding of suicide.  Why does this matter?  Well, a key ally of President-elect Yuschenko says it was Kirpa, as transport manager that allocated trains that carried Yanukovich‘s supporters to vote early and vote often at multiple polling sites in the first ballot November 21st.

The Yuschenko man said it is possible Kirpa was, quote “coerced to commit suicide,” unquote.  And in this country, one of the great nonevents of the year, the Ohio recount is complete.  Those who doubt the integrity of the election there will not care because they‘re continuing legal action and hoping to get the electoral vote challenged by Congress next Thursday.  Those who don‘t doubt the integrity of the election don‘t care because they think the whole thing was a waste of time and expense.  Adding up each of the 88 county recounts, the associated press says the president‘s margin of victory was narrowed by 285 net votes, a total of 118,457.

Green Party observers say, however, in 86 of the 88 counties, state laws about which precincts were to be recounted by hand were broken.  They, the Libertarians and the Kerry-Edwards campaign have sued to preserve the evidence of the recount and have it examined in federal court and another skirmish erupted when Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell sued.  He is in court seeking a restraining order preventing a voter‘s group that is suing to overturn the election from interviewing him under oath.

Secretary Blackwell claims his deposition is not necessary and his challenge to the election is quote, “frivolous conduct,” unquote.  From the serious news to the seriously strange news, ice castles and the men who love them.  This is our next edition of “Oddball.”

And it‘s a winter wonderland as in his neighbors are wondering when this is going to land him in jail.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back and we pause the COUNTDOWN to instead step forage in the deep woods of the weird where the pond is either too frozen or not frozen enough.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”  We begin in Eagle River, Wisconsin, where it‘s time to start building the annual ice castle in part 1 of our special two-part “Oddball” series tonight, we show uh-oh they collect the ice to construct the palace and then neatly stack it next to a building.  In part 2 hopefully someone will take pictures of what it looks like when finished and we‘ll show you that as well.  Otherwise, no part 2.  Volunteers have gathered every year give or take since the 1920s at this local lake to cut thousands of ice bricks to build the 20-foot tall structure.  Boy, is this boring.  It is the top tourist attraction in Eagle River this winter, and incidentally, it is the only place in town where you can get a decent sno-cone.

Not enough Mr. Freeze at Manchester, Connecticut.  Beyond Hartford, this is, where nothing sinks like a Deere.  The driver of this tractor was clearing snow from a frozen local pond, so that all the kiddies could play hockey.  And, apparently, they didn‘t get the word there is no hockey this year.  They had a lockout.  The water, fortunately, was only waist deep, so rescuers were able to pull out not just the uninjured driver, but also the John Deere tractor. 

As for all the little kiddies, it‘s back to winter tetherball for them.

And then to Pinehurst, North Carolina, where we find John Brookfield, who bills himself as the strongest man in the world.  Look at him break those tires.  He and his friend John Rooney (ph), the second strongest man in the world—oh, man—together, they have become a traveling act.  They rip apart tennis balls.  They flip giant weight-lifting plates around. 

It makes a heck of a noise, too.

And our favorite, they blow up hot water bottles until they explode, all this done with a simple message to kids.  You don‘t need steroids to achieve your dream of balancing five sledgehammers on your head.  No.  But, you do, however, need five sledgehammers.  Lovely.  Mr. Brookfield is not looking for notoriety.  He prefers to be left alone to twist giant chunks of metal into artwork. 

And if you‘re looking me to review “Samson‘s Harp” here, forget it. 

Back to reality.  Luggage-gate, it may claim U.S. Air.  So, what do you do if you have frequent flier miles with U.S. Air?  We‘ll ask an expert.  And why is Clark Kent saying bad things about the Department of Homeland Security?  Because this Clark Kent used to work there.  He says it has not made anything nearly secure enough. 

Those stories ahead.  Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, Ali Joho, a loser in a local political election in Kenya.  He says his opponent won by sewing up the eyes of three cows and drowning them in the sea, thus casting a spell on voters.  You know, I think that group ACORN tried that in Colorado, too.

No. 2, Dr. Kenneth Burnley, CEO of the public schools in Detroit.  He needed to fire 374 teachers, so he sent off layoff notices last Thursday and most of the teachers got them last Friday, Christmas Eve.  As Rodney said, call me some time when you got no class. 

And, No. 1, an unidentified individual in Sydney, Australia, who had to be saved from a charity clothing bin, got wedged in there head-first while donating old clothes for Christmas.  It was embarrassing, because the good samaritan was wearing a miniskirt.  It was especially embarrassing because the good samaritan in the miniskirt was a guy. 

Police said initially they thought it was a woman, but somehow they determined otherwise. 

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The bad news is, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation says the events of this last weekend show that the aviation system is under some strain.  The worst news is, the former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security says it is—quote—“a huge dysfunctional bureaucracy.”

The cynic‘s idea of good news is, well, at least if there are no flights or no baggage, there won‘t be any screeners neglecting to notice anything evil. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, two separate governmental agencies looking like one big mess.  To the ailing airline industry first, where, today, finally, travelers could reach both their destinations and their luggage with few problems.  Delta‘s regional carrier, Comair, listing only eight of its flights delayed after a computer system failure forced it to cancel all 1,100 of them on Saturday. 

And bankrupt U.S. Air also nearly back to normal, having reunited travelers with nearly 10,000 pieces of luggage that had been misplaced or mishandled or both over the holiday weekend.  The airline blamed all that on a sick-out by baggage handlers, but if it was some kind of labor action, they may have cut off their collective noses to spite their collective faces. 

U.S. Air is now widely assumed to be unlikely to survive long into

2005.  In addition to handlers, nearly three times the amount of flight

attendants called out sick over the holiday weekend, but the unions deny an

organized effort in response to pay and benefit cuts.  However, a warning

may have come from an industry Web site three days before the chaos, the

Associated Press reporting a posting to USaviation.com, cautioning—quote

·         “I would not fly through Philadelphia this weekend.”

David Field is a bit more than a casual observer.  He is the Americas editor with “Airline Business” magazine.

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

DAVID FIELD, “AIRLINE BUSINESS”:  Hey, it‘s a pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m trying to understand the motivations of the baggage handlers or anybody else at U.S. Air.  If you want to hurt your employer, it‘s one thing.  But if you make your customers say, I can never trust this airline again, didn‘t you just kill your own paycheck? 

FIELD:  Yes, but you have to look at some of the emotions that have been involved. 

These are folks who are on the third year of pay cuts.  They‘re looking at deeper pay cuts and losing their pensions.  And, you know, the relationship between the employer and the employee is a little bit like a marriage.  When you get into deep distrust, bitter hatred, decisions are not always rational, particularly individual decisions, which is why I really want to stress, Keith, if I could, please, from what we can gather, union leadership had nothing to do with this sick-out. 

These are individual actions by individuals.  Union leaders aren‘t that dumb.  They would never endorse something like this.  They wouldn‘t even wink at it.  But it was very clearly organized by a number of individuals. 

OLBERMANN:  If it‘s a marriage analogy, this one, though, sounds more like a suicide pact, rather than some sort of—any kind of just irrational conduct. 

But how long after something like this does the airline have?  And if the viewer is at home sitting on a bunch of frequent flier miles from U.S.  Airways, frankly, what do you do with them? 

FIELD:  U.S. Airways has a couple of deadlines coming up within a few weeks, deadlines set by its lenders, the U.S. government and General Electric.  There is a January 4 and—a January 14 deadline, by which it has to have cost cuts in place with all of its unions.  It‘s got all but one.  The one it doesn‘t have is the machinists, which represents the baggage handlers. 

It‘s also got to have a number of other cost cuts in place.  And even then, there‘s no guarantee of survival, particularly considering the fact that its revenue is drying up.  And looking at this action of the past weekend, it‘s going to chase a number of passengers away from U.S. Airways and hurt the revenue even more. 

They may survive perhaps past January 14, but there‘s real skepticism within the industry that they‘ll make it into the spring. 

OLBERMANN:  And cash in the frequent flier miles if you have them? 

FIELD:  If you have them, go to the Web site.  What you should do is look for not a U.S. Airways flight, but a flight on one of U.S. Airways‘ partners in the Star Alliance, Lufthansa, one of the other carriers, even United, which is a member.

And if you can use your miles on a flight on them, they‘ll still be around.  Get a paper ticket, not an electronic ticket.  There‘s also a Web site called Points.com, which will do a commercial trade-in.  You can also donate your miles and you can use them to buy merchandise.  The little catalog that you see in the seat pocket, you can use points to get that stuff. 

OLBERMANN:  David Field of “Airline Business” magazine, thanks greatly for your time and your insight, sir.

FIELD:  It‘s my pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Assuming that there is an airline industry left in the new year, will it be safe to fly?  According to Clark Kent Ervin, not so much, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, until his term was allowed to expire on the 8th of this month. 

Ervin, in an interview last week, called his former employer agency—quote—“chaotic and disorganized, ignoring security gaps potentially vulnerable to terrorist access.”  Among the bureaucratic inadequacies reported by Ervin during his year-long tenure, undercover investigators able to sneak explosives past security at 15 different airports, federal air marshals literally asleep on the job, testing positive for drugs or alcohol, customs agents hampered by a lack of gas money for their vehicles. 

If Clark Ervin was purged at Homeland Security, as some suggest, he has a lot of people from Central Intelligence who knows just how he feels, more than a dozen senior officers leaving CIA since Porter Goss took over as director.  Today, add to that list the agency‘s top analyst.

NBC News learning that Deputy Director Jamie Misik (ph) has quit, telling her 1,000-member analytical staff this afternoon she‘ll be stepping down in February, an insider saying—quote—“It‘s not exactly her decision.”

Coming up on COUNTDOWN, we showed you this extraordinary video from a hotel in Phuket, Thailand.  We‘re going to show it to you again in full.  Stand by for that. 

And this guy‘s neighbors wish he would resign from somewhere, the holiday decorator so over the top that he could wind up hanging mistletoe in prison. 

And if you will remember the woman who had claimed she had lost the $162 million lottery ticket, she may soon be able to claim she won a boxing match.  She will join us live. 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Neither threat of fine, nor possibility of imprisonment can steal the Christmas spirit from an Arizona man.  The holiday face-off that could put a judge in the position of Grinch.  But, depending on your point of view, perhaps he‘s a neighborhood‘s savior.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I was about 10 when the thought first crossed my mind.  The people who turned their neighborhood into a glowing, pulsating, nearly bright as day collection of every Christmas decoration known to mankind, why do they want the rest of us to drive through their neighborhood, park in front of their homes every night? 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, an answer to that question from outside Phoenix.  They don‘t. 

Our correspondent Mark Mullen with the story of a holiday happy disc jockey whose neighbors are not exactly supportive of what has been described as Las Vegas without the buffet. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Nobody in Scottsdale doubts Chris Birkett‘s holiday spirit. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We think it‘s fantastic.  It‘s very creative. 

MULLEN:  Our his ability to draw a crowd.  The holiday display at his home is fueled by 150,000 lights, seven snow machines and four bubble makers. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Magic bubbles. 

MULLEN:  All choreographed to whimsical music carrying on four hours every night. 

(MUSIC)

MULLEN:  Birkett says, despite the expense and trouble, it‘s worth it. 

CHRIS BIRKETT, ARIZONA RESIDENT:  The happiness is definitely here at winter wonderland.  So there‘s a lot of pleasure in that. 

MULLEN:  But some neighbors think Birkett‘s display, which will run through New Year‘s Eve and bring thousands of spectators, is one big holiday buzz kill. 

COLLEEN FORGUS, ARIZONA RESIDENT:  No one is opposed to Christmas. 

But we‘re opposed to bringing all these extra people into our neighborhood. 

We‘ve had things stolen from our house.  It‘s just not right. 

MULLEN:  Neighbors have complained before.  Birkett‘s Halloween display was so loud, he now faces criminal charges that could land him in jail up to six months if convicted.  Still, Birkett says, bah humbug.  His holiday show will go on. 

BIRKETT:  We have freedom of assembly here in the United States, the last time I looked. 

MULLEN:  Many support the display.  Some put up signs in their yards, while others say critics should get to work themselves. 

LAUREN BORTOLOTTI, ARIZONA RESIDENT:  If you think this is loud, maybe you should look into insulation for your own home. 

MULLEN:  But for neighbors who long for a silent night, hopes are hanging on an upcoming court date that might force Birkett to tone it down.  He‘s said to be considering a “Gilligan‘s Island” theme next year. 

Mark Mullen, NBC News. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And as we segue to our “Keeping Tabs” segment, we return to one of the big little stories of 2004.  A Mega Millions lottery ticket worth $162 million was purchased at an Ohio convenience store.  One woman handed the ticket to authorities.  Another, Elecia Battle, claimed she had bought that ticket and then lost it. 

We‘re told American life offers no second acts, but don‘t tell that to Elecia.  In one of the great traditions of this country, she‘s launching a second career.  As Dr. Sam Sheppard and Andy Kaufman went into wrestling and Tonya Harding and Dennis Rodman went into boxing, she‘s going to fight, too.  Her name will be Mega Battle. 

Ms. Battle was convicted in April, having filed a false police report, a misdemeanor, and ordered to pay more than $6,000 in fines.  Certainly, much of the drama leading up to that played out on this show, with Ms.  Battle appearing as our guest, her lawyer by her side. 

Elecia Battle joins us once again, having from moved from a news story to a sports story. 

Ms. Battle, good evening.  Thanks for your time. 

ELECIA BATTLE, BOXER:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Did you wake up one morning and say, I want to be a boxer? 

How did this happen? 

BATTLE:  No, I always had it in me.  I‘m very athletic.  I‘ve been, like, training in Tae Kwon Do for like 14 years and two years of kickboxing.  And boxing is just a passion I have. 

OLBERMANN:  When is the first fight going to be?  When are you going to go actually in the ring? 

BATTLE:  Well, I have a manager who is in Florida.  He‘s actually trying to get me a fight in Houston, Texas, and in February in Atlanta, Georgia.  So, basically, in my—I‘m going to have a pro debut in my hometown, Cleveland, probably the first week of March.  I‘m not going to actually confirm the dates. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BATTLE:  But—go ahead. 

OLBERMANN:  Are you experiencing that people are recognizing you from that business with the lottery ticket?  Is that going to be part of the draw? 

(CROSSTALK)

BATTLE:  Yes.  Actually, people they acknowledge who I am.  They‘re very supportive here in Cleveland.  I have a big fan base.  My family is supportive.  My children are supportive. 

I mean, yes, I‘m very well known all over the world, not just home.  I mean, I have to take care of my family.  And I‘m not going to let anyone decide what I can do.  And I know what I can do.  I‘m not going to let society say, hey, you can‘t do this because of your age.  Why should I limit what I do because I get a birthday every year?  The impossible is nothing. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Are you—is there kind of a straight line between your going into boxing and the business with the lottery ticket?  I mean, if there had not been all that, would you still wind up becoming a boxer now, do you think? 

BATTLE:  Actually, I can‘t even answer that.  I really can‘t.  I‘m not going to answer that, because I don‘t know. 

But I do know now I‘m here and I‘m still standing. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, what is the ultimate goal of a boxing career?  Is it fighting Muhammad Ali‘s daughter?  Is it fighting Tonya Harding?  Is it making a living?  Which...

BATTLE:  Well, No. 1, Tonya Harding is not in my weight category.  And definitely Laila Ali, absolutely.  I would definitely like to fight Laila. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you think you can make a living off this?  Do you think, knowing from your training and from the people who are handling you, that this can be a professional career? 

BATTLE:  I‘m not going to let anyone decide what I can‘t do, like I stated.  I‘m not going to let society tell me I can‘t do this and I can‘t be successful, because I am going to be successful in the boxing profession, because there‘s enough room out there for me. 

And female boxing is on the rise.  And I‘m going to show a lot of the females that, hey, it doesn‘t matter what you are, where you come from or what happened in the past.  You can still be successful. 

OLBERMANN:  And whose idea—lastly, whose idea was the nickname, Mega Battle? 

BATTLE:  My sisters.  They actually gave me that name.  They did. 

OLBERMANN:  So, kind of tongue-in-cheek, but you‘re going to go with it, huh? 

BATTLE:  Hey, I‘m not going to let anybody stop me.  Like I said, I have support.  I have a big fan base.  And I‘m back. 

OLBERMANN:  Apparently, you are.  And I‘m going to stay out of the ring. 

Elecia Battle, all the best in your career.  Thanks for your time and thanks for being a good sport. 

BATTLE:  Thank you.  Bye-bye. 

OLBERMANN:  One title not in doubt for Ms. Battle.  She‘s already been selected as one of COUNTDOWN‘s favorite things of 2004.  For a retrospective on her and the many others we chose, join us this Friday at 8:00, 11:00 and midnight.  That‘s this Friday, New Year‘s Eve.  Be there.  Aloha.

And more, immediately, I‘m on “The Tonight Show” tonight.  Yes, it‘s a rerun, but it‘s a good rerun.  Tune in to “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on your local NBC station.  I think I‘m wearing the same suit.  And see also for yourselves what was funny last October 18.

Coming up, as promised, we‘ll replay in its entirety the extraordinary video of the Christmas tsunami that we brought you here first earlier on COUNTDOWN. 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally tonight, we end where we began. 

Until now, the videotape coming from the nations of the Indian Ocean have been extraordinarily chilling, terrifying, but still somewhat removed, somewhat at a distance from the unbelievable Christmas tsunami that has now killed 63,114 people in 11 nations, according to the count from the news service Reuters. 

That all changed tonight.  We showed you this in its entirety without narration earlier in this news hour.  We felt compelled to do so again as our No. 1 story tonight.  Two Swedish policemen on vacation and a friend from Norway on what appears to be the second floor of a hotel in the Thai resort city of Phuket.  And what they captured on their video camera giving us a horrifying sense of being there. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is coming again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is coming again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  It is coming again. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It coming in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  It‘s coming again. 

Watch (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  That video came to us from the Norwegian newspaper “Dagbla.”  And we thank them for it. 

The two Swedes and the Norwegian are OK.  The photographer himself is still in Phuket, Thailand.  The couple you saw about a minute ago swept away by that tsunami is British.  The husband has been reported hospitalized.  His wife has not been found. 

A reminder here about donations to relief efforts.  The number at the American Red Cross is 1-800-HELP-NOW.  Or you can log on to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com for a complete list of aid agencies and their phone numbers.

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   

Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House, Inc, eMediaMillWorks, Inc.) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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