updated 1/3/2005 3:45:48 PM ET 2005-01-03T20:45:48

Guest: Barry Neild, Eric Bellman, Peter Goodman, Michael Neuman, David Mackett, Maria Milito

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Now it is more than 125,000 dead.  And that number may still underestimate the mortality of the Christmas tsunami.  And Indonesian ambassador, saying parts of Aceh province show no signs of life.  There may be 400,000 more dead there.  And the captured images of horror continue.  Those children survived.  As did the man seen in this videotape from Thailand.  Now we‘ll hear his story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was stretching out my arm to get a hold of him but the railing and the concrete just broke down so I didn‘t have a chance.

OLBERMANN:  The day‘s other news.  Lasers aim at pilot to blind them?  It is supposed to be on the al Qaeda wish list.  It has now happened.  At least once.  Maybe twice this week.

And a formal challenge to the Ohio votes in the Electoral College.  Congressman Conyers of Michigan announces he will file the first challenge since the process was established in 1887.  Now he‘s looking for a senator to join him.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  It now impossible to believe that this was true.  Three days ago at this hour, the official death toll from the Christmas tsunami in the Indian Ocean stood at 24,000.  Tonight, that count is at 125,282.  And according to Indonesia‘s ambassador to Malaysia, three days from now, we may find an equally impossible to believe this number was so low.  He estimates the dead just in the Aceh province of his homeland, at 400,000.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, as if the exponential growth of the number of fatalities were not mind numbering enough, there are images from Thailand that beggar description.  Not because they show horrific destruction, but because they show this.  Western tourists, mostly Australian and British, back on the beaches around Phuket, Thailand.

The Australian newspaper, “The Adelaide Advertisers” reports that vacationers were seen on Patang (ph) Beach where at least 120 people died on Sunday morning.  And at Surin (ph) Beach where at least 10 other people perished.  At least some were new arrivals.  “Our friends think we‘re mad,” the newspaper quotes Paul Cunliff (ph) Manchester, England.  “The only risk we face, I think, is if there‘s another quake.  We love the place that much and we thought we would take the risk.”  Thousands of tourists, including at least 2,000 Americans, are still missing in the region.

It will prove that those beach areas in Thailand were virtually spared the enormity of the nightmare.  There are 4,500 dead in the entire country and its islands.  But not so Indonesia.  Even the current initial figure, just under 80,000, may be phenomenally low.  The Malaysian state news agency Bernama, quotes Indonesia‘s ambassador to Malaysia as saying today, that three large communities in the province appear to have been totally destroyed.  But are as yet inaccessible.  Aerial surveillance found the town of Malabo (ph) completely destroyed with only one building standing, said ambassador Drs H. Rusdihardjo.  Malabo had 150,000 residents.  The ambassador also says there are no signs of life in Pulau Sileuelue.  It had a population of 76,000.

Access to these areas if only to see if anybody is still alive there, has been cut off due to the destruction of roads and rapidly depleting fuel supplies.  Ambassador Rusdihardjo concluding that the death toll in Aceh province in Indonesia could exceed 400,000.  As more and more contemporaneous videotape becomes available from the region, it becomes increasingly unbelievable that anyone near any coastline survived.  We warn you, these next images are deeply disturbing but amazingly all the children that you see in them survived.  This is from Penang Island, in Malaysia.

Those children, apparently able to flee to safety from this.  Only one of the initial smaller waves of the tsunami.  The much stronger subsequent wave literally wiped out everything in its path, surprising the vacationers at this resort in Phuket in Thailand.  Thai officials confirmed more than 2,000 foreigners dead.  There may be as many as 6,000 of them still missing.  That is essentially all we can report from here.  Tonight, we want to take to you Thailand, to Sri Lanka, and first to Indonesia, for first person accounts.  We‘re joined now by Barry Neild, the deputy bureau chief for the Agence France Press in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Great thanks for your time, sir.

BARRY NEILD, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE:  Hi.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re at the receiving end of reports from your staff around that country.  Simply put, summarize for me.  Tell me what it is like there now.

NEILD:  As you mentioned, I‘m in contact every day with our staff in Aceh, the most badly affected area by this.  They‘re sending in horrific accounts of what it is like there.  Just terrible descriptions of bodies lying in the streets.  Decaying corpses floating down rivers.  There just seems to be death and destruction all around.  Grotesque images we‘re seeing on the screens.  And from what they‘re telling me, it is appalling to be there on the ground.

OLBERMANN:  The Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia who we just quoted, talking about Aceh, that there are the three large towns or cities essentially cut off from even the recovery efforts.  Foremost of them Malabo.  Showing no signs of life.  And his estimate being there could be 400,000 dead there.  Could that be true?  The figure seems beyond comprehension.  Is it reasonable?

NEILD:  It‘s a staggering figure.  But given that the level of description that we‘ve seen, it is entirely possible.  The government estimates so far have been very conservative.  Of course, if you track the figure from yesterday, we saw the death toll rise almost double in the space of a few hours.  It went from 45,000 to almost 80,000.  And that was just as reports come in from these cut off areas.  As we get contact with these places, which have been completely obliterated from the extent of the destruction, it‘s going to become more apparent and the extent of the death toll is going to have to rise.  I can see it possibly going as high as he suggests.

OLBERMANN:  Five days in.  In Indonesia.  Five days in anywhere after a calamity of this kind of scale.  That seems to be the point where epidemic disease becomes a tangible threat.  Is that the major crisis right now?  Or are we still keeling fundamentally with food and water?

NEILD:  I think the most pressing concern is getting food to the people who are trapped in isolated sections of the coastline.  That‘s running out.  People are starving.  There are reports of people scrambling through mud just to get anything to eat.  There are survivors on stretchers, of course, that have absolutely nothing.  And to make matters worse, there‘s no way of getting to them, other than dropping things out of the sky.  Disease obviously is a threat.  It‘s not just from the decaying bodies, but from contaminated water supplies, which have been completely obliterated by these tsunamis.  With that, you obviously get the risk of diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and dengue fever which is also a killer in the area.  It is a tropical area.  So these are all going to be made worse by that.  And there‘s lots of help on the way but it is tricky to get it there.  It is just going to go on and on.  And it doesn‘t look like there is ever be a happy ending in sight to it.

OLBERMANN:  Barry Neild of Agence France Presse in Jakarta.  Great thanks.  And now to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Eric Bellman has been covering for the “Wall Street Journal” since Tuesday.  He joins us now.  Mr. Bellman, good evening to you.  Thanks for your time.

ERIC BELLMAN, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hello.

OLBERMANN:  Give us the word picture of the state of things as you see them see in Sri Lanka.

BELLMAN:  I‘m in Colombo right now, which is relatively unaffected but not too long ago, a couple days ago I was down south, in an area, a tourist area where a lot of European backpackers mostly like to go and relax this time of year.  And it was just incredible devastation.  Again, bodies in the streets.  Bodies stuck in trees.  All these resorts, not all but a good percentage.  More than half just wiped off the beach.  Tourists walking around, trying to figure out how to get to Colombo so they can get to flights home or get to a phone so they can tell their parents they‘re still alive.  I think the situation is improving now.  The roads are getting cleared.  Aid is starting to arrive from the Red Cross, from the U.S., from India.  And being distributed.  But still, again, it just hard to imagine the devastation.

OLBERMANN:  I just asked Barry Neild of Agence France Presse in Indonesia about this five day mark.  And the fear that medical professionals have that about that point is when, if there are to be epidemics, especially water-borne diseases like cholera, they would start seeing signs.  Are there signs of that now in Sri Lanka?

BELLMAN:  I was just there looking around for signs of that yesterday.  And talked to some people in sort of the makeshift clinic on the water and I think what we used to be a fishing village outside Colombo, again, it was totally wiped away.  And the doctors there were saying in the beginning, they were just sort of taking care of fractures and the survivors.  Fractures and scratches and stitches.  Helping people replace their heart medicine or their diabetes medicine that had been washed away.

But as of yesterday, they were starting to get reports of these stomach problems and that was a real bad sign.  Two days ago, there was nothing.  Yesterday it was between 10 and 15 percent.  And they expect to get a lot worse.  Colombo and Sri Lanka in general actually, this area, the area I said that was affected, has better access to clean water than a lot of places that have been hit in Asia but there are already problem here.

OLBERMANN:  So much of this is so international in scope.  Tell the story, if you would, but the young man in the city of Galle who you met, who had to find the bodies of his mother and father and his siblings and what he had to do with those bodies.

BELLMAN:  Galle in the south of the area that is very popular with tourists, very hard hit, there is a young man there about 23 that I met, he had a big bandage over his face.  And I asked him about what had happened.  And he told the authorities about how he had lost his whole family.  And he sort of very calmly explained, now because everybody has been affected, he couldn‘t ask for any help.  The government isn‘t there, the police weren‘t doing anything, and even your neighbors are busy with the same sort of tragedies.  So he had to walk around town and find the bodies of his mother embracing his sister and father, his brother in a tree and his father at the edge of a field, carried them himself, dig a five foot grave and put them all in there and bury them.  Even say prayers.  He can‘t wait for a Buddhist monk to do the proper rituals.  At least his family had him to look after them.  There was a group of 20 local picnickers that were also in his town that they had found.  They don‘t know who they are.  Nobody knows who they are.  They just know they were there to picnic on Sunday.  But the bodies were starting to smell.  And they had to dig a hole and put them in it.  And they don‘t know who they were.

OLBERMANN:  Goodness!  Eric Bellman South Asian correspondent with the “wall street journal” at Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Many thanks for your time, sir.  Last night Peter Goodman from the “Washington Post” from Phuket, Thailand, was good enough to give us a few minutes of his time.  And he‘s doing so again tonight.  Peter, good evening.

PETER GOODMAN, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  In the last 24 hours there, has the situation in Thailand gotten better, gotten worse?  Has it stayed the same?  How would you characterize it?

GOODMAN:  I would say it stayed about the same.  The one thing that is striking as you drive around is that the bodies keep coming.  You go back to the same morgues.  These are makeshift morgues.  Usually in hospitals or in many cases, Buddhist temples.  Where bodies are lying.  Some wrapped in sheeting.  Some just out in the open for lack of enough sheeting.  And day after day, you go back and see the area where the bodies are lying has expanded.  There are that many more people coming.  Some people, tourists, Thais alike, photos of people missing, passports, identity cards, driver‘s licenses, just pleading with anyone they can find to help them locate loved ones who are gone.

OLBERMANN:  On the other extreme of this, the scenes we‘ve shown earlier in the newscasts of tourists, either freshly arrived or just returning to the beaches to sun themselves, even the new western tourists, arriving in Phuket are these isolated cases or is tourism, which is obviously so vital to the Thai economy, is it for better or worse back up on its feet?

GOODMAN:  Well, I think the more isolated cases than not, tourism is not back on it‘s feet.  There are some hotels that have been wiped off the map that tourism, in the aggregate, tourism is definitely down.  The airport is crowded on the way out and not all that crowded on the way in.  That said, there is this kind of surreal divide between the dominant thing that‘s happening here in Phuket, where I‘m sitting, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia, and the reality of still tens of thousand of people going about their lives, playing rounds of golf and sitting on beaches, and sitting in open air restaurants, doing what people usual people usually on beach resorts .  There are whole areas unaffected.  Hear in the Patong Beach, which is the most developed beach in Phuket, if you walk along this road that fronts the beach, the devastation is just incredible.  There are still rescue crews pulling bodies out of underground garages and collapsed buildings.

You walk three blocks away from the beach and it is as if nothing happened and there are the same people sitting in their batik shirts and drinking beer and I‘m sure discussing what‘s going on around them.  Not oblivious, by any stretch, but yes.  On vacation.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask you.  Lastly, we spoke briefly at night, at the unconfirmed report that the Thai government had made a decision not to issue a tsunami warning on Sunday morning to protect the tourism industry to some degree, or possibly for other reasons.  Has anything further developed on that story?

GOODMAN:  Well, nobody has really had a chance to check out that report outside of people in Bangkok.  People out in the field are mostly looking at what remains of a rescue effort, which is really an effort to look for bodies.  One thing that has happened, though, is there are all these reports.  Sometimes government warnings, statements just panic on beaches where people will all of a sudden say there‘s been a tsunami warning and you don‘t really have time to get to the bottom of it.  And yesterday there was a small earthquake centered somewhere off of Aceh province in Indonesia and there was actually what turned out to be a false report of a tsunami headed for India.  But the Indian government called the warning.

The next thing I knew, I was getting a text message from a colleague, “Get high.  There‘s a tsunami warning for the next 10 minutes.”  And pulled over and waited to try to figure out what was going on.  The day before, I had been in a village where 2,000 families lost their homes and about 600 people, maybe more, died.  And I was standing at a reconstruction site where there was a report that there was a live woman at the bottom of the rubble of her house.  And 100 or so people were looking on.  And all of a sudden, there was is this eerie squealing and it turned out there was a pig alive down there.  An actually, people started giggling down there and it was a giggling that said, we‘re alive.  This is bizarre but we‘re alive.

And then the next minute, somebody called out there was a wave coming in.  And 200 people went charging at full speed of this narrow road.  This village was pinned in by hills on both sides.  And the only route of escape was this narrow road.  And there were emergency vehicles still coming down the road.  In the opposite direction.  And there was a very panicked traffic jam.  And that was a false report.  But the looks of terror on the faces of the people around me said, well, we survived this once and we know that people hesitated didn‘t.  We‘re not sticking around to find out what‘s real and what‘s not.

OLBERMANN:  And there is the psychological advantage and impact that we almost never talk about.  Peter Goodman reporting from Thailand for the “Washington Post” and the last few nights, good enough to join us.  Thank you for doing so again, sir.

GOODMAN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, a series of bureaucratic bungles meant there was no warning at all last Sunday.  Then as Peter Goodman just mentioned, a false tsunami alert today based on information that one official ended up calling hogwash that sent survivors panicking in at least two nations.  And five million of the survivors still desperately needing help.  Donations pouring in but getting the supplies to the people on the ground has been a logistical nightmare.  We‘ll ask a veteran aid worker if there is some solution.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Four days after the tsunami and aid is still three days away from reaching some of the five million survivors afflicted.  What‘s being done and what still needs to be done?  And the man in the Thailand hotel video tells us his own story.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Before relief workers can physically reach them, survivors of the Christmas tsunami could endure another two or three days of what can only be described as living hell.  Our fourth story tonight, the logistical nightmare aid workers in reaching the most isolated and therefore the most desperate of the victims with roads flooded, bridges out and ports that are no longer in existence.  The Sumatra region is one of those.  Pilots getting their first glimpse of the area with the complete destruction they are seeing and the signs of life they are not.  Even some of the near relief say they‘ve seen no sign of that relief.  At the airport in Indonesia, a planes loaded with supplies have arrived.  But there is no fuel for the trucks that would move that fuel or those supplies, rather, and no relief workers to distribute them.

They, the workers, are still busy recovering bodies.  Or if they were on the Indian coast, they‘re busy panicking, along with the populace.  That happened when a computer consultant from Oregon issued a warning of an impending second major earthquake today and possible tsunami.  A warning publicly relayed to India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.  It caused major panic in each country.  This video is from Thailand.

Larry Park of Terra Research and Consulting Services in Manning, Oregon, who is not a certified seismologist, sent the warning to the Indian Ministry of Science claiming his sensors which turn out to be electronic equipment in a truck, depicted energy bursts in his terms, which he said came from the area of the Indian ocean.  Thailand set off the warning sirens that are part of its membership in the Pacific tsunami system with the resulting chaos.  There has been no second earthquake.

Meantime, in the Andaman Islands off the Indian coast, people who until this week were in essence separate for most of civilization, heard the same report of a second destructive wave, panic ensued in the local marketplace and streets, as you see.  No reports or further injuries in the Andamans.  The jitters only adding to the problems of getting aid to survivors.  A false alarm caused police in India‘s Tamil-Nadu state to order hundred of vehicles, bringing relief supplies and rescue workers, to not enter one of the hardest hit town there.  After a slow start, the elements vital to recovery are getting to the affected nations.  But are they getting to the affected people?  Michael Neuman has considerable experience facing that question.  He is a program director of Doctors Without Borders and he join us now.  Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

MICHAEL NEUMAN, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  You‘ve been in touch with a lot of these relief groups on the ground.  Are the victims getting what they need?

NEUMAN:  Well, it will take time before the population is covered.  We are talking about a huge area.  About eight countries.  We have managed to send teams actually to different places to Sri Lanka, to Aceh, Indonesia, to India.  And they are now trying to assess the needs of those people to make sure that the aid is being delivered.  It will definitely take a couple days before the relief efforts reach the people.  We should not make believe to the donors, the people that help us providing relief, that it will happen overnight.  We need to bring the team in.  We need to bring the supplies in.  We need to assess the needs and that will, that takes definitely a day to three days.

OLBERMANN:  How much worse is this situation because of the breakdown of the infrastructure, there‘s so many pieces of videotape showing destroyed roads, destroyed access.  Is that the complicating factor, the thing that is putting such a time drag on all of these supplies getting to where they need to go?

NEUMAN:  I think it plays a major role.  You mentioned the logistical nightmare.  I think that is very right.  The roads and bridges are down.  Areas are flooded.  So to get to the people, to get to these areas, we need to use helicopters, planes, you mentioned also that there are fuel shortages.  And that is very difficult for us.  There are not too many airports in the area that we can use.  So we need find other help.  Logistics is definitely going to be the big piece of the operation.

OLBERMANN:  Sri Lanka, the report we had earlier.  They‘re beginning to see stomach problems in the makeshift hospitals.  At five days, is it in fact make or break now about stopping epidemics of waterborne disease?  Is this the critical time for those things?

NEUMAN:  Well, I think water is the priority.  Water sources were contaminated by the salty water coming from the sea.  So this is something that we have to be very careful about.  At the same time, we have to remember that during the Mitch hurricane, for instance, most of the patients that we had seen then suffered from respiratory infections because it is cold at night.  And priorities should be also covering primary health care, injured people, etc.

OLBERMANN:  Michael Neuman, program director of Doctors Without Borders.  Great thanks for your insight tonight, sir.

NEUMAN:  You are welcome.

OLBERMANN:  You cannot always get doctors or materiel to such locations, but no matter century or the country, it seems like we can always airlift politicians.  The president this afternoon announcing that Secretary of State Colin Powell and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida will travel to the Indian ocean region on Florida to assess the need for further U.S. assistance which is currently peg at $15 million in emergency aid.  $20 million in the line of credit.  And an unspecified amount in transportation provided by the Pentagon.  The World Bank has pledged of $250 million.  The European Union, $53 million.

Nor are private donations counted.  A reminder about such personal contributions.  The number at the American Red Cross the 1-800 HELP-NOW.  Or you can go to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.COM for a complete list of the aid agencies and their phone numbers.  This remains perhaps the most harrowing videotape yet seen of the tsunami.  An elderly couple desperately hanging on as the wall of water hits Phuket Beach in Thailand.  We will hear from the man who tried to save them both next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ordinarily, we pause the COUNTDOWN at this point to bring you the day‘s most extraordinary or amusing videotape.

But, tonight, we instead reprise the most extraordinary images of the week, perhaps of the year.  And we hear from the man depicted in it.  On Tuesday night, we became the first North American news outlet to bring you what remains the single most overwhelming video of the Christmas tsunami, shot by an undercover Swedish policeman on vacation in Phuket, Thailand.

Today, we spoke with his friend, Frederic Bornesand, who you will see in the tape trying to rescue a British couple, inundated as the tsunami swamped the second floor of their hotel. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDERIC BORNESAND, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR:  Me and my girlfriend Sarah (ph) was swimming in the pool at the hotel, when suddenly a man, a Thai man came, running from the beach screaming.  Get up.  Get up from the pool.  Get up. rMDNM_ And me and my girlfriend and lots of other people started to fetch things together and went into the hotel, without knowing what was happening. 

I thought maybe it was a terrorist attack or something.  And then, when we came up into the hotel and went up hone floor and saw lots of water coming in from the beach, and covered the pool and covered the garden and the first floor.  Then, after a few minutes, the water went away.  And I took my shoes on and went down to the garden and to the pool area to see if there were any people who was in need of help. 

And down in the garden, I met an older couple who I just told to just get up from the bottom.  It was one level, one floor below the pool area, under sea level.  But when I was two meters from them, they started screaming again, get up, get up.  Another wave is coming. 

And they just, the older couple was handing on to the railings.  And the water pressure was so very strong.  Stretching out my arm to get ahold of them, but the railing of the concrete just broke down, so I didn‘t have a chance. 

And then I just had to struggle to get away from there, because all the furniture and everything, it was coming towards me with all the waves and pushing me to the wall and to the windows, and the windows were just crashing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the lobby was filled with water.  It was like 30 centimeters left to the roof.  And I swam through the lobby and I got taken by the waves again and they took me like 100 meters.  And then I grabbed on to a tree, a treetop.  And I climbed it up.  And I was waiting there for the water level to sink down again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Frederic Bornesand later found that man he had been trying to save.  The man was badly injured.  His wife is still missing.  Mr.  Bornesand and his girlfriend both survived.  They are back home now in their native Sweden. 

Back here, disturbing news from the pilots of three aircraft, at least three, maybe as many as five.  Someone pointed powerful lasers into their cockpits while they were in flight.  Was it terrorism? 

And John Conyers has made up his mind.  He will formally challenge the Electoral College vote from Ohio and has asked a senator or more than one to join him.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Congressman John Conyers late this afternoon officially declared he would sign a formal challenge to the Electoral College vote from Ohio.  And he wrote to all 100 members of the Senate asking each of them to join him. 

In the letter, Conyers decried—quote—“numerous unexplained irregularities in the Ohio presidential vote, many of which appear to violate both federal and state law.”  He added he and a number of House members are planning to object to the counting of the Ohio votes.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles is the only other member to

have publicly indicated willingness to challenge.  The Conyers letter to

the senators was addressed to California Democrat Barbara Boxer.  If a

senator agrees to join Conyers in the challenge, the counting of the

Electoral College votes would be suspended and, according to law, debated

by each body separately until—quote—“disposed of.”

Politics merging into counterterrorism tonight, the politics of fingerprinting foreigners. Shades of Big Brother aside, it seems like a good idea, if only federal officials would stop bickering over how many fingers they should actually fingerprint. 

A new internal report at the Justice Department makes it clear no statute has yet been arrived at because the FBI does it one way, a full-court press of all 10 digits on both hands.  But Homeland Security and State favor just the two index fingers, and they use a different technique to do it.  That means 99 percent of foreign visitors to this country cannot and do not have their fingerprints checked against the FBI criminal database. 

“As a result,” according to the Justice Department official who wrote the report, “critical aliens, including many who committed violent crimes that threaten public safety, are not identified and prevented from entering the United States.”

So, while we‘re trying to guess how many fingers our counterterrorist experts are holding up, they‘re also dealing with what might be the realization of their fear that terrorists could try to down aircraft by blinding their pilots with laser beams.  Among them, a commercial jetliner was 8,500 feet above and some 15 miles from Cleveland‘s Hopkins Airport on Monday when a laser beam was directed into its cockpit, appearing to track the plane for several seconds. 

In Colorado Springs also Monday, two pilots reported that laser lights of the green pulsating variety were shining into their cockpits.  Other incidents this week, in Houston; Teterboro, New Jersey; Medford, Oregon.  All plane in all incidents landing safely.  At least some investigators believe it is no coincidence that these things have occurred around Christmas, when many gizmos from laser pointers to lasers used in construction would have been given as gifts. 

As for more powerful military-grade lasers, federal officials said earlier this month there‘s no evidence terrorist groups have managed to obtain them. 

Joining me now on this topic, Captain David Mackett, who, when he not serving as president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, can be found in the cockpit of a Boeing 737. 

Captain Mackett, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

DAVID MACKETT, PRESIDENT, AIRLINE PILOTS SECURITY ALLIANCE:  Good evening.  Thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Do you buy this argument that this is some sort of malicious mischief around the holidays? 

MACKETT:  Well, there are several factors that distinguish these incidents from others that we‘ve encountered. 

We know about the threat of lasers to an airline pilot‘s eyes as inadvertently flash across the cockpit.  But what distinguishes these instances is, first, there‘s been a dramatic uptake in the number of them.  Second, they come on the heels of a bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security towards air crews suggesting that terrorists have an interest of some type in this technology. 

But, most importantly, the level of sophistication required of a laser that can successfully target and then track an aircraft at 8,500 feet is far beyond anything you could find in a Christmas gift laser pointer that I‘ve heard suggested, that little kids are doing this.  The ability to track an airplane with such a laser would require tracking software, possibly a computer, possibly a mount. 

So, we‘re not talking about a laser pointer.  We‘re talking about something very sophisticated.  And the concern is that these do seem to be deliberate. 

OLBERMANN:  What‘s the size of the equipment that you would need to actually damage a pilot‘s vision?  How big would this be?  Could you keep it in a car?  Would it not be detectable to other people on the ground? 

MACKETT:  If—in the right hands with the right level of preparation, it would be something that could be mounted on the back of a cargo van.  And the danger there is that it presents no evidence. 

If it were flashed at the pilot during a critical phase of flight, it would leave virtually no evidence of what caused the catastrophe.  The beam could be expanded to the size of the cockpit, so it can lase both pilots simultaneously.  And, at that point, the pilots are blind.  And, so, yes, that is a very great concern.

Now, we have no evidence to suggest that that is what is happening here.  But I think it is very dismissive to call this a prank.  I think—

I would be very surprised if the FBI wasn‘t taking this one very, very seriously. 

This airplane was traveling at 300 miles an hour.  And it was 15 miles from the airport, 8,500 feet high.  So a laser that can track it and target it is something much more than you‘re talking about as a prank. 

OLBERMANN:  Captain David Mackett, the president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, great thanks for joining us. 

MACKETT:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  And for your insight, sir.

Moving from homeland security to homeland gentility, a new manner movement looking to turn 2005 into the year of pleasant social intercourse. 

And looking for a new look in the new year?  How about hair products that would give you that bright orange comb-over effect?  Coming up soon, Trump in a can. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A Herculean task for one New Yorker, singlehandedly trying to bring courtesy back to this country.  And another Herculean task for me, the news quiz approaches, the year-in-review news quiz.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If somehow you lost your calendar, Saturday marks the start of 2005.  Everybody either makes New Year‘s resolutions or is encouraged to do so, but seldom do they have any practical effect on society.

However, in our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, next year might change all that, simply because of one little remark by one rock ‘n‘ roll host on a New York City radio station.  Especially at the holiday season, but in fact, throughout the year, courtesy in public has been decreasing steadily, not just recently, probably since about the year 1660. 

But, as the country gets ever more crowded, it seems it has also gotten ever more snotty.  You know, like when you hold the door open for somebody in the mall or somewhere and they just walk right past you like they were the queen of England?  But, tonight as part of our conspiracy to improve America, perhaps a solution. 

I‘m joined now by Maria Milito, the gifted midday music professional at WAXQ Radio in New York, or Q104.3, if you prefer, who dreamed this up as her New Year‘s resolution. 

OLBERMANN:  Hi, Maria.

MARIA MILITO, WAXQ:  Hi, Keith.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m not bad.  How are you? 

MILITO:  Oh, just darling and ducky. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, explain this.  You hold the door open for a stranger. 

MILITO:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  They say nothing.  And you do what as your New Year‘s resolution? 

MILITO:  For my New Year‘s resolution, I say, you‘re welcome and call them on it. 

(LAUGHTER)

MILITO:  I‘ve been doing it. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

MILITO:  Well, actually, I‘ve been doing it for a few months.  But I noticed, with the holiday season, people should be more tolerant and they should be nicer, but it seemed like it would increase to be worse over the past couple of weeks. 

So, I decided that‘s my New Year‘s resolution, to call people on it from now on.  And I told all my listeners to do the exact same thing. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, having done this yourself, has it worked?  Have any of the listeners found that it works or... 

MILITO:  Oh, no, because most people and the reaction I‘ve gotten—and the listeners have gotten the same reaction—most people either ignore it or they kind of just look at you a little sheepishly and walk away.  So, it hasn‘t worked yet.  But I‘m going to keep doing it. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, but you have no tests now.  You don‘t know what happens the next time.  They may say thank you. 

MILITO:  They might, right. 

OLBERMANN:  You may have the impact the next time around.

MILITO:  Maybe the next time. 

OLBERMANN:  So you‘re schooling people.

But, now, can anybody just start doing this?  Would you advise people just walking up to somebody in the street and going, thank you, or should you mutter it first, you‘re welcome, or do you stare daggers at them first?  What?

MILITO:  Well, no. 

I think—because some people me they have a problem being that indignant and be like, you‘re welcome.  I said, well, do it slow, like low to yourself at first.  And then, as you get more empowered, then just say you‘re welcome with attitude. 

(LAUGHTER)

MILITO:  And at least you‘ll feel satisfied, because people have a sense of entitlement that, if I‘m holding the door open for you, say thank you.  That‘s all.  Nod at me.  Wave, anything.  Just acknowledge it.  So maybe you‘re welcome, maybe it will help.  I don‘t know. 

OLBERMANN:  But you should start doing this, you‘re welcome, like that.  That‘s the...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Now, the other way around, the corollary to this, if you do hold the door open and somebody does say thank you, you should say...

MILITO:  You‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  ... as distinctly to them, you‘re welcome?

MILITO:  Absolutely. 

OLBERMANN:  And as pleasantly you‘re welcome? 

MILITO:  Oh, absolutely, very pleasant.  You‘re welcome.  Well, yes, acknowledge it, you‘re welcome, or nod or smile.  It‘s just, you know, common courtesy. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, yes.  But...

MILITO:  Yes, I know. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this, do you suppose—I‘m just going to guess here—we‘re both native New Yorkers. 

MILITO:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you think this is a New York thing or are people just as lunkheaded and impolite in Wichita Falls, Texas? 

MILITO:  Well, I hate to dis my city, but I think, Keith, it is a New York City thing, I think.  But I haven‘t been out of the city in the past few months that I‘ve noticed it.  So maybe it is wrong of me to say that.  But I think it is a New York City thing.  It is definitely a New York City thing.  I hate to say it.  I‘m sorry. 

OLBERMANN:  I can testify for Los Angeles after 10 years of living there that it was done there quite frequently.

MILITO:  OK.  OK.

OLBERMANN:  That people just blow past you like you were the doorman. 

MILITO:  So maybe it is a coastal thing. 

And that‘s another thing you can say.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

MILITO:  I‘m not your doorman.  But I like you‘re welcome better. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I‘m not your doorman requires too much practicing... 

(CROSSTALK)

MILITO:  Too many words. 

OLBERMANN:  You have to stand in front of the mirror and say that, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MILITO:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  You have got to really practice that.  You really have to be sure the other person is not armed before you say... 

MILITO:  Well, that‘s true.  That‘s true.  I know.

OLBERMANN:  You don‘t want to start bloodshed on the streets of Manhattan.  We don‘t need more of that.

MILITO:  No.  We have enough.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  

MILITO:  Right.  We have enough.

OLBERMANN:  My friend Maria Milito, who does such a nice job on Q104.3 in New York from 9:00 to 2:00 every day. 

Happy new year, Maria. 

MILITO:  Thank you.  Happy new year. 

OLBERMANN:  And thank you. 

MILITO:  Thank you.  You‘re welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  From the new catchphrase you‘re welcome to the author of an all-too-familiar one.  You‘re fired.  Thus, we start our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news.

Donald Trump, having Already launched a line of fragrances, is now reportedly moving into hair care products.  “In Touch Weekly” said he is ready to lend his name to shampoos, conditioners and hair-styling equipment for men over the age of 40.  No idea of pricing, though, presumably, if a man with hair that looks like that wants you to use what he uses, he will have to pay you plenty. 

And this news did not even make the front pages of the sports sections, but one of the most important personalities in baseball history has died, Rod Kanehl, an obscure utility player from the original 1962 New York Mets.  In the team‘s first month of existence, it reeled off nine wins in 12 games.  Kanehl, then a 28-year-old rookie, scored the tying or winning run in seven of Those victories, six times as a pinch-runner.  He was immediately christened Hot Rod by Mets fans.  And he became the first hero of the fans of the brand new “Amazin‘ Mets,” beloved ever since by those fans, even though, after his streak, they won only 31 more games all that season. 

Rod Kanehl had suffered a heart attack earlier this month.  He was 70 years old. 

The weekly news quiz, the year-end edition.  What have we learned over the last 365 days?  Oh, I hope there aren‘t any sports questions in it.

Stand by.  COUNTDOWN continues on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ordinarily, we save you and me the ordeal of our weekly news quiz until Friday nights.  But tomorrow night is New Year‘s Eve and we will be bringing you our year-end special “COUNTDOWN‘s Favorite Things of 2004,” so tonight becomes our year-end quiz.

Thus, the test to see if I‘ve paying attention can be drawn from the events of the first 365 days of the year.  Oh, perfect.

Preamble complete.  Time for another edition of:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?”

OLBERMANN:  And now over to our wit mistress of ceremonies for “What Have We Learned?” this year, Monica Novotny.

Madam Novotini,  good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening.  Time to retire that one to 2004.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Start with the slap to the jaw.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  We‘ll start by reminding viewers, if you‘d like to take a official year-end MSNBC news quiz, go to our Web site at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.  Now, if you want the watch the boss attempt this one, we‘ll put two minutes on the clock.  Mr. anchorman must answer at least half correctly to win the prize.  If he fails, a series of unfortunate events will be unleashed upon him.

Sir, are you ready? 

OLBERMANN:  Has it ever mattered?

NOVOTNY:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Wait.  Let me just remove the—yes, OK.

NOVOTNY:  Oh, quit stalling.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

NOVOTNY:  Two minutes on the clock and here we go. 

No. 1, from Richard, what is the meaning of life? 

OLBERMANN:  The meaning of life is 42, except it is—all right, 42, that is enough.

NOVOTNY:  All right.  And from Marie (ph).  No. 2, what was the name of the song William Hung performed on “American Idol” and subsequently here on COUNTDOWN?

OLBERMANN:  “She Bangs.”

NOVOTNY:  That‘s the one.

No. 3, you offered to buy tapes, assuming there were tapes, of conversations between Bill O‘Reilly and Andrea Mackris.

OLBERMANN:  I did? 

NOVOTNY:  Who accused him of sexual harassment.  Then our viewers chimed in, started their own fund-raiser to contribute to the save the tapes fund. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

NOVOTNY:  Approximately how much was pledged by COUNTDOWN viewers, plus-or-minus $10,000? 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  It came in at about 100, about 100.

NOVOTNY:  One hundred seventy-three thousand.  You were wrong, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  No, that was with the 95.  That was with the 95.  OK, whatever.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Why would I know that? 

NOVOTNY:  From Annette (ph), name the four hurricanes that made landfall in Florida this hurricane season.

OLBERMANN:  Say that again.

NOVOTNY:  The four hurricanes? 

OLBERMANN:  The four hurricanes.  Yes, see, this is where I would get trapped, by being just another hurricane, like they felt, just another hurricane. 

NOVOTNY:  I‘ll give you a hint.  They go in alphabetical order. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s true.  Izzy, Denis, Rich and Gray (ph). 

NOVOTNY:  All staffers, not hurricanes. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, no.  Those are the senior producers of COUNTDOWN.

NOVOTNY:  No, no.

OLBERMANN:  Oh well.

NOVOTNY:  Name the only team in Major League Baseball history to lose a best-of-seven playoff series after winning the first three games, just because we want to hear you say it.

OLBERMANN:  The New York Yankees lost that, I believe. 

NOVOTNY:  That‘s the one.  Give or take 10 games, the total number...

OLBERMANN:  But it wasn‘t my fault. 

NOVOTNY:  Well, so you say. 

OLBERMANN:  I wasn‘t here.

NOVOTNY:  Give or take 10 games, the total number of suspensions handed down by the NBA after the Ron Artest incident. 

OLBERMANN:  Total number of games with all the players involved. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes.  Yes, nine players. 

OLBERMANN:  One hundred and sixty. 

NOVOTNY:  One hundred thirty-three. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  No more math.

NOVOTNY:  Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards held one debate during the campaign.  Where was it, sir?

OLBERMANN:  That, oh, the debate was in Saint Louis, Missouri. 

NOVOTNY:  Oh, no.  Cleveland. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s not the same place?

NOVOTNY:  Elecia Battle, who earlier this year claimed she lost the winning $162 lottery ticket, ultimately pleading guilty of filing a false police report, in exchange, what was her punishment? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  She had to come on COUNTDOWN.  It was community service and a $1,000 fine. 

NOVOTNY:  No, $6,700 in fines, plus 50 hours of community service. 

And I think you lost, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  I did.

NOVOTNY:  Three correct out of eight, not quite half.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you asked those tough ones about the hurricanes.

NOVOTNY:  And so, because you lost, from our friends at The Smoking Gun, the Bill O‘Reilly-approved loofah.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  You have it upside down, by the way.

NOVOTNY:  Or is it a falafel? 

OLBERMANN:  I mean, I don‘t know.  I‘m showing no expertise on this whatsoever.  I hope it brings me as much...

NOVOTNY:  I don‘t know.  The poster of him on your wall looks like that, upside down.

OLBERMANN:  There is no poster of him on my wall.  You saw that at the post office, where you saw the poster of him.  But that‘s another story altogether.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m just hoping it will bring me as much pleasure as it brought him. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Thank you, Monica. 

Thank you, viewers who sent in questions.  It will take me a while, but I will get every last one of you. 

Tune in next time when we add an exciting new element in the new year. 

I‘ll be fined for every question I miss.  All that when next we play:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?”

OLBERMANN:  Before we sign off, a quick reminder, our year-end special, “COUNTDOWN‘s Favorite Things of 2004,” tomorrow night at 8:00, 11:00 and midnight Eastern, 5:00, 8:00 and 9:00 Pacific.  Be there.  Aloha.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good—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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