updated 9/19/2005 11:51:54 AM ET 2005-09-19T15:51:54

Guests: Robert Eckels, Blair Mase

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

Rebuild New Orleans, establish a Gulf opportunity zone, eliminate poverty there, and pay for it by—well, he didn‘t mention that part.

And was the speech the one he should have given last night, or the one he should have given two weeks ago?

If you rebuild it, will they come back?  Surprising results from a poll of evacuees in Houston, many of whom are already on high school football teams there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know what they (INAUDIBLE).  (INAUDIBLE), they is (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  FEMA‘s latest big black eye.  Why FEMA tells refrigerated truck drivers, Hold the ice.  Why its story may not cut any ice.

And the meteorologist who saw it all coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would much rather have been wrong on this one. 

I‘d much rather be talking here taking heat and crying wolf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

It was a moment of deep symbolic triumph, like the four-month anniversary of 9/11, the first one of those days that was not somehow commemorated in New York, like the day they played the third game of the 1989 baseball World Series in San Francisco, 10 days after the second game, 10 days after the Loma Prieta earthquake.

The lights suddenly blazed on in the New Orleans warehouse district last night.  It would be speculative to wonder how many who saw that registered that it was 30 minutes before the president‘s motorcade blew through the stricken city.  It would be a good guess to assume that all who were there two hours later as the president left registered the other symbolism.  That‘s when the lights that had suddenly come back on just as suddenly went back off.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the speech is over, the problems continue in New Orleans.  Eighteen days after Katrina came roaring on shore, rescue workers still plucking people to safety, today, though with some roads now passable, this patient could be loaded onto an ambulance and driven to safety, rather than needing an airlift out.

Elsewhere in this city, the focus is on recovery, rescue workers slowly meandering through soupy streets by boat, checking for the dead, marking each house that they pass.

While they carried out that grim task today, the president attended a national day of prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington, pledging not just to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but also to battle poverty at least in the affected area.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Americans of every race and religion were touched by this storm.  Yet some of the greatest hardship fell upon citizens already facing lives of struggle, the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poor.  And this poverty has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that closed many doors of opportunity.

As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Jackson Square, where the president addressed the nation last night, once again deserted today.  But in the French Quarter, business and bar owners starting to rev up, intending to reopen in the coming weeks.

For the latest in that city, we turn once again to our correspondent David Shuster.  David, good evening.

Any reaction there, the day after, to the president‘s speech?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Keith, as you can imagine, a lot of people the bar, in keeping with some of what we‘ve heard over the last couple of weeks, really didn‘t care at all to talk about the politics.  They just wanted to know when their power‘s gong to come back on, so that they could keep their beer and their booze cold, according to one man.

There was a bartender who suggested that he thought he liked what he heard from the president, simply because it would bring a lot of attention to New Orleans and to the Gulf region.  But then very quickly, the bartender said again, But I‘m just more concerned about learning about the power.  When is the power going to come on?  Can the president do anything about that?  We said, No, the president probably can‘t.  Maybe the local officials can.  And he said, Well, they haven‘t come into this bar for a little while.

So their concern still seems to be very local.

OLBERMANN:  Like Baghdad, like New Orleans.

This report that the lights came on in part of that city for the president‘s motorcade to Jackson Square last night, with which we began this news hour, then, after he left, the lights went out again.  What was that?  Did they take generators in with them?  How did they pull this off, and what was the reaction to the lights going on and off?

SHUSTER:  Well, Keith, last night, after the president‘s speech, when the lights went out, they had a number of journalists, including myself, scurrying to try to find out.  Well, maybe they turned on the power because maybe they needed the power in this part of Jackson Square because of all the lights that they put on the president.

We then found out that, no, they didn‘t need it.  They had a military generator that came in.  Then the question was, Well, maybe the Secret Service wanted the lights on to the extent that that would provide some better security and lighten up the area a little bit for them.  We haven‘t been able to get an answer about that.

But it sort of gets to the idea, Keith, that things certainly were set up in a certain way for this president that don‘t necessarily reflect reality for most of New Orleans.  And even if the president were to walk three or four blocks away from Jackson Square, while it‘s nice and clean here where the president spoke, three or four blocks away, there is still debris, there is still garbage, there are still things that would sort of turn your stomach if you stayed and you smelled them for too long.

So it‘s a very sort of different dose of reality that the president had last night, with where his speech was, with the other parts of this city.

OLBERMANN:  And the reality you and I have spoken about all of this week.  How realistic, again, is it to open up a plan to open up parts of that city within the next few days?  Just this afternoon, in one of the dry neighborhoods, as we‘re showing now, a home burst into flames.  It was fully engulfed by the time the fire crews could reach it.  How reasonable is it to assume we can start reoccupying part of this city?

SHUSTER:  Well, Keith, these fires are one of their main concerns.  We were talking with some of the Louisiana Highway Patrol who are helping out, and they said every time that they try turn on the power, whether it‘s to the French Quarter or the downtown business district, they have to have the fire trucks nearby, because they are afraid of the power surging and the fires that may start.

So they‘re having to go very slowly, very carefully.  And as a result, they‘re now already back away from the time frame that the mayor had said.  He originally said as early as Monday the French Quarter would be open.  Now the French Quarter may be next week, parts of the downtown business district might open in, perhaps, in the next couple of days.

There are some neighborhoods that didn‘t get much damage at all uptown by Tulane University where they‘re hoping to allow people to come back in.  But it‘s a very slow process.  And while there may be some restaurants, some bars, a few hotels that are going to open, huge portions of the French Quarter, for example, are going to be at least a couple of more weeks.

OLBERMANN:  I think we‘re going to be revising those calendars for a couple more weeks, couple more months.  David Shuster in New Orleans for us again tonight, thank you, sir.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Some people intensely dislike opinion polls.  Some people find them useful, some people like me intensely dislike them but find them useful anyway.

But tonight, we have the results of an extraordinary survey, the opinions of enough of those who wound up in the Houston Astrodome to give us a reasonable picture of what the evacuees were and are thinking, “The Washington Post” teaming up with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health to pull 680 of them living in various Houston-area shelters.  Thirty-eight percent had heeded the evacuation warnings, at least to the degree that they got out of their homes before Katrina hit.  But 61 percent did not.

The demographic breakdown, most of the members of both groups are African-Americans earning less than $20,000 a year who do not have any insurance and who did not have a working checking account or credit cards to draw on in such a time of need.

When asked the reasons why they did not evacuate, 35 percent who did not said they had no car nor any other way to get out, 28 percent said they did not think the storm would be so bad, and 10 percent said they just did not want to leave.

As for their top priority right now, 49 percent looking for somewhere to live, 23 percent -- 23 percent—still looking for family and friends, 20 percent looking for a job.

But perhaps most astonishing among the evacuees is where they want to live now.  Forty-three percent want to move back to their home town, 98 out of 100 interviewed were from New Orleans or the outskirts.  But 44 percent of these people want to relocate elsewhere, 12 percent still aren‘t sure what they want to do.  And of the 44 percent who said they wanted to live somewhere else, nearly two-thirds of those want to stay in Houston.  Another 12 percent want to stay somewhere elsewhere in Texas, 11 percent want to go to another state.  Only 4 percent want to move back to other parts of Louisiana.

The math there would be a little complex even for a pollster.  Net result, that‘s just 194 people who actually said they would want to stay permanently in Houston.  But if the people polled are representative of the estimated 125,000 New Orleans evacuees currently in that city, then you are talking about a population boost of about 35,750 people.

Can the city of Houston absorb that many people that quickly?

For some answers, we‘re joined again by Judge Robert Eckels, the man in charge of homeland security and emergency management for Harris County, Texas, which covers the Houston area.

Judge, thank you for your time again.

JUDGE ROBERT ECKELS, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, HOMELAND SECURITY:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  We talked about this the first days that you had anybody from New Orleans in the dome and the other facilities.  Is a population growth for Houston of 35,000 overnight manageable?  Is it similar to a population growth of 35,000 over the course of, say, a year?

ECKELS:  Well, it‘s certainly a faster influx of people than we normally have.  Our region now here, Harris County, is about 3.6 million people.  The city of Houston is about 2 million of that.  The region has about 5 million people.

We grow by about 100,000 people a year in any event.  And so this is not an extraordinarily large number of people coming into our community.  But it is a group that poses some special challenges for us.  And it is a group, too, that is coming all at one time.  We‘re seeing some stress on our housing, particularly in the HUD-qualified housing, and the FEMA grant funds available for the shelter-type housing, the $600-a-month-type apartments.  We‘re seeing a little bit of a shortage of those units.

But we‘re managing, and we will manage with these folks.

OLBERMANN:  Timelines are difficult things, as we discussed the last time you were on the program.  (INAUDIBLE) let‘s to some degree address that regarding the people who are there now.  This morning, the last of the Astrodome residents were moved out of the stadium into the Reliant Center.  How long do you think it will be before they can move from there into more stable facilities?  When are you—in other words, do you have any idea yet when you‘re going to close down the mass facilities and think that you‘ve gotten nearly 100 percent in apartments and the like?

ECKELS:  Well, we‘re pretty close.  We‘ve gotten up to a population of nearly—probably 30,000, close (INAUDIBLE), and 28,000 to 30,000 at the peak.  We‘re now down to less than 3,000 folks we have moved into the smaller arena, the Reliant Arena, on the complex.  It is adjacent to the Astrodome.  The arena now has got an active housing program.  We‘ll move several hundred families each day out.  We should be able to be finished by the end of next week, maybe by Tuesday or Wednesday if the rate continues as it is.

We‘ve had again, a pretty good success with our housing.  We‘re starting to run into some, you know, inspections of the units and making sure that they‘re the proper kinds of places for folks.  But we‘re pretty aggressive on the housing, between the county and the city in finding folks, not just for HUD or Section 8 housing, but also for people who are (INAUDIBLE), people who have jobs and were renting home in Louisiana, who are looking for apartments here as well.

OLBERMANN:  Let me turn this on its head and ask you about one other statistic in this poll.  It‘s not about evacuating New Orleans, but it really does sort of apply in reverse to, if you ever need to evacuate Houston or other parts of Harris County, or you need rescue people in the area, they asked all these evacuees who did not get out originally, and had to be rescued per se, looking back at it, do you think you could have found a way out?  And knowing what they know now, 42 percent of these people still said they could not have found a way out on their own.

What does that number say and do to you, making your own plans for, you know, some disaster of unknown origin and time?

ECKELS:  Well, we could have been, had that hurricane been 200 miles further to the west, in a similar situation.  And we would not have been as badly affected as New Orleans because we‘re not the same geography.  The water tends to run off much more quickly here.

But we could have been faced with trying to evacuate several hundred thousand or a million people.  We have revised our plans, and we found holes, even before the event in New Orleans.  For example, we looked at the nursing homes, and every one has a plan on how to get people out of the nursing homes, but in the end, they all used the same ambulance company.  So there was a big hole.

And so we‘re looking at those kinds of problems now.  I‘m working with Jim Yarborough (ph), the Galveston County judge, John Willy (ph) in Brasoria (ph) County, on how we can make sure that we‘re able to deal with that situation should it arise.

OLBERMANN:  They all use the same ambulance company.  Good grief. 

Goodness that you found out.

ECKELS:  Not anymore.  Not anymore.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I was just going to say, great that you found that out now.  Some bright lining to this.

Judge Robert Eckels, who is in charge of homeland security and emergency management in Harris County, Texas, the Houston area, great thanks, again, for your time, sir.

ECKELS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  For a lot of kids, displaced to Texas or elsewhere, part of the solution, short term, anyway, will be interscholastic sports.  That is a double-edged sword, a tiny island of the familiar in the foreign land for the kids, an opportunity for the ugliness of the sports world to roar forward like the creature in the “Alien” movies.

You may have already heard of college basketball and football coaches trying to poach the student athletes from Tulane and other New Orleans-area colleges.  But as Ron Allen reports from Houston, it‘s also happening at the high school level.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tyrell Gaddies, a defensive back, is six-foot-one, 170 pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

ALLEN:  His twin brother, Tyrell, looks nothing like him.  He‘s six-three, 230, a bruising tight end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

ALLEN:  But that‘s just one unusual thing about these two high school student athletes.  They‘re also evacuees from a poor area of New Orleans, getting their first taste of big-time Texas football.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know what they‘re (INAUDIBLE). 

(INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Aggressive, a lot of smash-mouth.

ALLEN:  It‘s almost as if they‘re stars in a remake of “Friday Night Lights,” the film about a football-mad Texas town and its underdog high school team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You got to get your hand in the game.

ALLEN:  The Gaddies just happened to settle near Eisenhower High, a school that‘s produced pros like Kansas City‘s Dante Hall (ph).  The Gaddies used to be happy if a few hundred fans showed up.  At Eisenhower, crowds of 12,000 pack the stadium.

TYRELL GADDIES, FOOTBALL PLAYER:  You know, they gave us new helmets. 

I got me a new visor to go (INAUDIBLE).  These uniforms are hot.

ALLEN (on camera):  Texas high school football is big business.  And there are probably now about 150 top high school athletes from Louisiana who evacuated here.  Some schools apparently are bending the rules to recruit them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) I‘m coming your way.

(voice-over):  Sportswriter John Lopez says some coaches even have prowled the shelters looking for recruits.

JOHN LOPEZ, SPORTSWRITER:  That‘s just glorified looting, because the waters weren‘t even finished rising yet in New Orleans when guys were on the phone, as I understand it, talking about which players are going where.

ALLEN:  Back at Eisenhower, the twins have another problem.  The team lost its first three games.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wanted (INAUDIBLE) play our 73.

ALLEN:  Both have even bigger dreams.

TYRELL GADDIES:  Me, I want to be a Texas Longhorn.  I love that (INAUDIBLE).

ALLEN:  So much for Louisiana State University‘s Tigers.  The twins hope to make their mark on Texas football‘s big stage.

Ron Allen, NBC News, Houston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the speech went over well.  The financing, there is no information yet available.  Pat Buchanan and Craig Crawford join me for analysis of the presidential address.

And an important commodity for Katrina survivors, ice.  FEMA‘s ordered plenty of it.  But the drivers trying to deliver it are being told, Hold the ice.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If there‘s any doubt about the tardiness of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, it can probably be erased by the hurricane quick response to Hurricane Ophelia.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the latter storm, slow and relatively weak, eliciting massive federal response.  At its strongest, a category 2 hurricane, Ophelia never even made official landfall, coming only as close as 55 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  But FEMA was ready.  More than ready.

Four hundred and seventy FEMA employees in North Carolina as of yesterday, 200 members of the National Guard, five search and rescue teams in place, as well as three disaster medical teams, with 35 doctors and nurses each, and five smaller medical strike teams, a convoy of trucks in the area on standby, carrying water, ice, and 22,000 MREs, meals ready to eat, 50 rescue aircraft ready, and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brian Peterman on the ground.  He would have been in charge of any recovery efforts that might have been needed.  Fortunately, none were.

FEMA‘s acting director, David Paulison, saying the response did not indicate response to the previous criticism of the agency, just, quote, “simple prudence.”

Well, nobody‘s arguing the words “simple” and “FEMA” in the same sentence.

Per Isaac Newton, every action has an equal but opposite reaction.  Philosophically, then, if after the Indian Ocean tsunami, a carload of charity supplies was opened on a devastated beach somewhere and found to be full of winter clothing, then it must follow that after Hurricane Katrina, drivers trying to deliver ice and water for victims would find their cargo unloaded for a week because FEMA explained, Our supply of ice and water is exceeding the demand right now.

Here is chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers.  And no, I don‘t believe it either.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Outside New Orleans, Lauri Rosetti (ph) waited an hour to get ice to preserve food and chill her mother‘s insulin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We just need this to keep coming and do what we have to do, ration till we can‘t ration no more.

MYERS:  Today, NBC News located hundreds of trucks full of ice sitting around the country, in Maryland, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Some had been on trips to nowhere for two weeks.

ELIZABETH PALMER, TRUCK DRIVER:  We really don‘t understand why FEMA is sending us to all these different locations and just putting us in cold storage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ice load going to...

MYERS:  Dan Wessel‘s (ph) ice company has worked with FEMA for years.  He says he‘s never seen anything like it.  Only one third of his trucks have actually unloaded the ice that FEMA ordered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The left hand doesn‘t know what the right hand‘s doing.  The right hand is telling Soviet Union to go to the left hand, and we get to the left hand, they tell us to go back.

MYERS:  Example, one truck of ice left Oshkosh, Wisconsin, September the 6th, went to Louisiana, then was sent by FEMA to Georgia, but rerouted before it got there to South Carolina, then to Cumberland, Maryland, where it‘s been sitting for three days.  Added cost to taxpayers so far, $9,000.  Multiplied by hundreds of trucks, it could mean millions wasted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  From a trucking aspect, I‘m happy.  Keep it coming.  From a taxpayer aspect, it‘s sick.

MYERS (on camera):  A FEMA official says in the rush to respond to Katrina, the agency ordered too much ice.  Rather than let it melt, they sent to it other parts of the country, ready for the next hurricane.

(voice-over):  But Wessel says FEMA just ordered more ice, and rerouted some of his trucks again, to Idaho.

Lisa Myers, NBC News.  Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  On the other hand, FEMA officially opened its first field office in Biloxi, Mississippi, today, just 18 days after Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast city.  The center is in the city‘s western section.  It will be open seven days a week and will be home not only to FEMA but to other agencies offering assistance, such as the Red Cross and the Small Business Administration.  Buses will transport residents from the less affluent East Biloxi.  That section of the city, still without a FEMA operation.

Did the president do what he needed last night to stop his hemorrhaging poll numbers?  Did his advance team do enough to make Jackson Square look like Epcott Center?  Complete reaction and analysis ahead.

And the man who tried to warn the entire country of the disaster imminent along the Gulf Coast.  His prediction of the devastation and the human suffering came true almost to the letter.  We‘ll meet him.  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ahead of us tonight, Hurricane Katrina, the before and the after.  Not only was the predicted landfall of the massive storm correct, but a Louisiana meteorologist forecast almost every other aspect of the resultant disaster.  Why did his dire warning fall on so many deaf ears?

The president‘s address last night certainly not going unnoticed, members of his own party standing up and objecting to the scope of Mr.  Bush‘s reconstruction plan.

Pat Buchanan and Craig Crawford will join me with reaction.

And rescues on the Gulf.  The efforts to save a group of dolphins carried out to sea by Katrina.  Ra speaks.

All that ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  History repeats itself, Clarence Darrow once said with a sour grin.  That‘s one of the problems with history.

For at least two years of his presidency, Bill Clinton had a lingering problem, a borderline phobia about the strength of and depth of his apologies; 24 hours after his successor‘s belated speech about Hurricane Katrina, it might be fair to suggest President Bush has a lingering problem, a borderline phobia about the strength and depths of his apologies. 

Said the former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma Mickey Edwards in the legal of last night‘s address: “He was giving a speech as if the nation were disheartened and worried and had lost its spirit, but that‘s not what people were thinking.  They were thinking, why did the government screw up?”

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, right speech, wrong time?  Or was it a success, as in the totally unprophetic words Ward Hill Lamon attributed to Abraham Lincoln as Lincoln sat down after having given the Gettysburg Address, namely, “Lamon, that speech won‘t scour.”

Last night, Mr. Bush, walking alone in the extraordinary setting of a nearly deserted and blindingly lighted, albeit briefly lighted, New Orleans, attempting to prove to the nation his compassion and his competency, today, in the service of that goal, at least he had company, joining the nation in prayer for Katrina‘s victims, 18 days after the storm hit, compared to the last such gathering at Washington‘s National Cathedral, three days after 9/11. 

The slow response and the response to that response seeping into all aspects of the second-term White House agenda, even into today‘s joint news conference with Russian President Putin. 

And speaking of seeping in, in the rebuilding, here come the political agendas. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There‘s a big role for private sector.

That‘s why I called for economic growth zones, economic enterprise zone.

Look, there‘s not going to be any revenues coming out of that area for a while anyway, so we might as well give them good tax relief in order to get jobs there and investment there.  It makes sense.

The entrepreneurial spirit is what is going to help lift this part of the world up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The reaction to the president‘s plans for the Gulf Coast mixed at best, Democrats saying we need action, not talk, many Republicans Baltimore balking at the price tag. 

But at least one Republican, the leader of the House, saying it needs to be done and we can worry about how to pay for it later. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We have to , first of all, do the rescue work.  We have to rehabilitate and make sure that the people who have been moved from those areas have the education, that they have the ability for temporary housing.  The dollars add up.  And those dollars are—for every dollar we spend on this means a dollar that is going to take a little bit longer to balance the budget. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The price tag of $200 billion and counting also prompting countless comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt‘s New Deal.  But this president is not Roosevelt, this recovery plan already bearing the fingerprints of Bush-style neoconservativism. 

The Heritage Foundation publishing a manifesto of sorts for rebuilding in Katrina‘s wake.  The highlights, waving environmental regulations, handing public schools over to private corporations, eliminating capital gains and estate taxes in the name of the displaced, people who are more than likely to be—have—have been too poor to have had capital gains or estates. 

No surprise that has Democratic leaders in Congress worried.  Senator Harry Reid and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi responding to the Bush plan in a  statement: “The Gulf Coast region does not deserve to be tested as a laboratory for political opportunism or ideological experimentation.”

The Democratic Party getting an assist in its response from the political action group MoveOn.org, calling into question pretty much the entire “we will keep you safer; the other guy will kill you” platform, by which the president won a second term. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: “Four years after the frightening experience of September the 11th, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency.”  Who said that?  George Bush after Hurricane Katrina.  And 9/11 commissioners agreed.  The government has failed to make us safe.  After all the promises, money, reports, restructuring and reviews, we‘re no safer today than we were four years ago.  We‘re not being led.  We‘re being misled. 

MoveOn.org Political Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, there‘s one perspective on last night‘s speech already.  Let‘s get two more, two familiar and welcome faces on this program, Pat Buchanan, speechwriter for President Nixon, himself a presidential candidate, and, of course, an MSNBC analyst.

Good evening, Pat.

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hey, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And Craig Crawford, author of the brand new book “Attack the Messenger,” columnist for “Congressional Quarterly,” and also an MSNBC analyst. 

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thank you, sir.  Thanks to you, selling briskly on Amazon. 

OLBERMANN:  Glad to hear it. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  We will start with the big picture for each of you. 

Pat, go first; 24 hours later, how does this speech sit with you? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, it was not a great speech, but I think it got the job done that the president needed to get done. 

He did in effect say he was responsible.  We all know he‘s been hurt very badly by the slowness of the reaction and the incompetence of it at all levels.  I think this, Keith.  I think the president is getting out front and is getting on top of this.  And I think the people do see a president who is really doing his best to be the rebuilder of New Orleans, even as he was the individual, quite frankly, who didn‘t see it coming. 

OLBERMANN:  Craig, what lingers with you 24 hours after the fact?

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think there‘s almost a metaphor, Keith, in the fact that they were able to run the generators long enough to turn the lights on for the speech, but then the light were gone.  There are so many on the ground in Louisiana.

Rita Cosby last night interviewed several people after the speech on the ground, mostly law enforcement officials.  Almost to a person, I thought it was striking.  They were saying, this is not what‘s happening on the ground.  For one thing, what we keep hearing is that so many contracts are going to out-of-state companies.  That would be a first step, to make sure that Louisiana companies get this money. 

OLBERMANN:  Pat, the observation that I quoted from Congressman Edwards, a great speech, if he had given it two weeks ago, that last night needed to be much more of a mea culpa mixed in with the pep rally and the rebuilding message, do you see some merit in his comment? 

BUCHANAN:  I thought the president of the United States should have gone off and said, look, FEMA—I mean, state, local, federal government all failed.  The failures were serious.  They may have cost lives. 

And full responsibility for what the federal government failed to do rests with me.  And I think, if it would been more forthcoming, I think it would have been better.  If it had been sooner, I think it would have been better. 

But we‘re dealing with George W. Bush.  This is a very, very hard thing for him.  And I think, in that light, I think his two statements have been—in my judgment, been adequate.  I do believe the old cliche it is time to move on from that is probably right. 

CRAWFORD:  You know, Keith, the track record for the president recently on these major speeches is not very good.  He‘s tried a couple on Iraq, countless speeches about his Social Security changes.  And we don‘t see much change in the polls in the attitudes about his personal handling of these problems.  So, I doubt very much this speech is really going to change a lot of minds. 

OLBERMANN:  Pat.

BUCHANAN:  I think what is going to change it is, look, he has got $60 billion and going up to $200 billion. 

That money starts pouring in, those contracts are let, all those jobs.  And we‘re getting positive news.  The lights are coming on.  Hospitals are back in business.  The French Quarter is opening up.  And this positive news I think is going to make a lot of the—what is starting to look like I think almost carping criticism of the president and constant criticism.  He did a lousy job that first week.  There‘s no doubt about it. 

But I don‘t know that the Democrats and those calling racism and all these other things are really helping themselves or their cause or the cause down there. 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  Well, Pat, the spending that they‘re talking about here... 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Let me bring that in.  Pat just brought up the elephant in the room.  It is $200 billion. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  It is sweeping Tennessee Valley Authority-style programs and not a mention yet of how or who pays for it. 

CRAWFORD:  And he is saying that there will not be tax hikes to pay for this.  So, it has to come out of spending cuts. 

The Congress just passed this $250 billion-plus highway bill just full of pork.  It will be interesting to see whether he can provide the leadership to get the Republican-led Congress to go back in and take some of that out to help pay for this relief. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

Pat, the president and the speaker of the House now today, Mr.  Hastert, saying, don‘t worry about the money.  I don‘t mean to throw away nasty phrases, but that sure sounded like tax-and-spend liberals to me. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, the Republican strategy is cut taxes, spend and spend. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  And we picked up—we learned—they learned something. 

But, look, George Bush is a big-government conservative.  He is like his father.  He is not Ronald Reagan in that sense.  And there‘s no doubt about it.  They are going and going to spend this money prodigiously and lavishly.  And there is a real battle inside the Republican Party.  Some of the old conservatives, who do believe in pay as you go, have been unhappy with Bush‘s domestic spending. 

And they‘re going to demand controls over this.  And they‘re going to demand—if you‘re going to spend that kind of money, Keith, you got to have some idea of exactly where it is going, because we‘re going to have a scandal down the road that I think is going to make oil-for-food look like shoplifting. 

CRAWFORD:  Maybe it is about his legacy, Keith.  Maybe the folks in the White House have figured out mostly—historians are mostly liberals.  So, to get a good read in the history books, he has got to end his presidency as a big-spending liberal. 

OLBERMANN:  But also which brings in a social issue in here, Craig, about the pledge about race and poverty.  And he was careful to focus this on the Gulf Coast.  But is this not the sort of thing that could be used by the mayors in other cities with other problems?  I mean, if the mayor of Detroit reads this or any major American city...

CRAWFORD:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  He says, well, you know what?  I have those problems right now.  Only, we‘re not as moist. 

CRAWFORD:  I thought that was a stunning statement, that racism causes poverty, if I have that quoted correctly.  And if other cities around the country—you are right—say, I got poverty caused by racism.  I need part of this action. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, you have to be under water first for that, I think. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess.

BUCHANAN:  But, look, the—look, the president did...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  Well, he didn‘t say the racists under water race cause poverty, though.  That was a very broad statement.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He talked about the residue of segregation. 

But the president of the United States is responding to something.  We all saw the fact that these were all black folks at the Convention Center, almost, and out there at the Superdome.  And the folks in the poor areas of town were the ones who were under water.  And so, I think he touched on that and says, we realize this is partly due to segregation, that these folks are poor. 

And to keep—excuse me, but to keep banging the president, even when he says a nice thing, it seems to me is going little too far.  And I think there is going to be a bit of a backlash.  The Democrats have been nothing but negative and carping.  I mean—and, frankly, the Jackson-Sharpton-Pelosi-Reid team is not that impressive. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, gentlemen, I am out of time.  I thank you for keeping it within the bounds of the cordiality. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, great thanks to you, sir, as always. 

BUCHANAN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Attack the Messenger.”  I have to get the plug in one more time, because I‘m going on vacation.  Great thanks.

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Good weekend, gentlemen.

CRAWFORD:  Pat and I do friendly-fire, not crossfire. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  There go.  Thank—and thank you for doing that. 

CRAWFORD:  All right. 

OLBERMANN:  Late word today that the man sitting down pew from the Bushes at today‘s prayer service, the man a heartbeat away from the presidency, will be undergoing minor surgery next weekend, Vice President Cheney scheduling a procedure to treat an aneurysm, the swelling of blood vessel, in his case, in an artery behind his right knee, that surgery being described as elective, to be performed under local anesthesia, yet requiring a few days hospitalization, Mr. Cheney expected to return to work shortly afterwards. 

Turning to Katrina, we will introduce you to the man who tried to impress upon everybody just how serious that hurricane would be, a prediction even he wishes would have never come true. 

And the race to save a group of aquarium dolphins.  Three of them are, like so many human evacuees, in new quarters tonight in a nearby hotel.  But five more are still in danger out in the Gulf.

COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As we braced for a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina, newsrooms around the country read a warning so dire that, at first glance, it seemed a hoax.  That was no hoax and it was no exaggeration.  We will meet the man who wrote it.  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There are not a lot of famous meteorologists.  Isaac Cline has become comparatively well-known.  He would have preferred not to have been.  He was the National Weather Service forecaster in Galveston, Texas, 105 years ago this month, the one who missed the hurricane that leveled the city and killed 10,000 people, including his own wife. 

But, in our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a meteorologist who might still become famous, or at least who should become famous, because he saw what was coming clearly and distinctly and tried to tell everybody, pulling no punches.  Evidently, in Washington, they did not read what Robert Ricks wrote about Katrina. 

Brian Williams introduces us to him. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR (voice-over):  The storm was still a day away.  Evacuations were under way.  People were just starting to arrive at the Superdome.  At his desk at the National Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana, outside New Orleans, meteorologist Robert Ricks knew he had a job to do.  He knew he probably had one remaining chance to warn an entire region.

And so, using computers, history, and his fellow forecasters, he sat down to write. 

ROBERT RICKS, METEOROLOGIST:  I happened to be on the shift and I had to pull the trigger.  It just happened to be me that day. 

WILLIAMS:  Over the news wires at NBC News New York headquarters and across the country came this document, titled “Urgent.”  It was an extraordinary bulletin. 

It warned of a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength.  It predicted: “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer.  At least one-half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure.  All gabled roofs will fail.  The vast majority of native trees will be snapped or uprooted.  Others will be totally defoliated.” 

Perhaps most remarkably, Ricks‘ document predicted water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.  That was the day before the storm.  This is what happened. 

(on camera):  Did a part of you want to be wrong? 

RICKS:  I would much rather have been wrong on this one.  I would much rather be talking to  you and taking the heat on crying wolf.  And—but our local expertise said otherwise, you know, that, hey, this is—let‘s gear up for the big one.  This is going to be the big one. 

WILLIAMS:  How much of you was in that statement?  What of you was in that wording? 

RICKS:  I also had to validate each of those statements.  And I was—in my mind, I was saying, I am not going to take this out.  It sounds valid.  I am not going to take this part out.  It sounds valid.  And in that process...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS:  So, you went through point by point?

RICKS:  Mainly because—yes, I read each one.  I was trying to find things to actually take out.  And I said, I cannot find it in myself to take these out, because they—they seem very valid for the situation.  And that came from the experience of going through Betsy and Camille myself in Lower Ninth Ward. 

WILLIAMS (voice-over):  But his document was right.  And now this lifelong resident of New Orleans, who grew up in the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward section of the city, is back at work, alongside co-workers who have no homes and are wearing the clothes they wore to work that day. 

(on camera):  If you knew the damage was going to be like this, you did everything in your power to tell people a monster was coming, did the response break your heart? 

RICKS:  Yes, it did, because, you know, always prepare for the big one.  We just didn‘t think it was going to come this soon. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Brian Williams with Robert Ricks. 

To the miracle off the Mississippi coast, eight dolphins flooded out of their home, an aquarium.  Now a group of marine biologists working tirelessly to bring them all back to safety, that‘s ahead.

First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three Katrina-related nominees for the title of worst person in the world. 

Nominated at the bronze level, some of the evacuees.  Yes, I am blaming the victims, at least the ones that our NBC station in Houston is reporting have been using those FEMA and Red Cross debit cards at local strip clubs.  I lost all my clothes.  Now you lose all yours. 

Also, there‘s the U.S. Department of Justice, the newspaper “The Clarion-Ledger” of Jackson, Mississippi has found an e-mail the DOJ sent to the various U.S. attorney‘s offices this week.  It asks for them to contact the department if any of them have defended—quote—“the Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the core work on the levees in New Orleans.”

In other words, the federal government is trying to find out if it can blame the environmental groups for the post-Katrina flooding. 

But your winner, the big giant head, Bill O‘Reilly on his radio show saying, “I just wish Katrina had only hit the United Nations building, nothing else, just had flooded them out.  And I wouldn‘t have rescued them.”

Bill evidently does not realize that, if the U.N. at 48th Street and 1st Avenue in New York City got flooded out by some 50-foot wave, there would be an excellent chance that FOX News at 48th Street and 6th Avenue in New York City would also get flooded out, and only the incredible supply of hot air he keeps in his lungs might keep him above the flooding water. 

If you watch his show, does he get physically dumber as the hour wears on? 

Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  By now, you‘re probably aware of the second band of survivors from Hurricane Katrina, the animals; 5,500 of them have been rescued so far, 600 reunited with their owners, dogs and cats, not surprisingly the majority, some horses, and then the eight survivors we have been following, the past few days, the dolphins, this, their former home, the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, their 30-foot tank destroyed by Katrina.

Much of the Marine life there had been evacuated, except for the eight dolphins who were evacuated the hard way, swept into the Gulf of Mexico.  That could easily have been the end of it for them, but they were found four days later in waters near the Gulfport coast, essentially congregating close to home.  Their handlers and Marine biologists from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fed them until they could be transported here, the Gulfport Holiday Inn, their new digs for now.

Joining me now from that facility, a marine biologist with NOAA Fisheries Service has been helping with the dolphin rescue, Blair Mase. 

Ms. Mase, thanks for your time.  Good evening. 

BLAIR MASE, MARINE BIOLOGIST:  Thank you.  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Congratulations, three of them safe in the pool behind you.  How soon do you think you‘re going to get the other ones out of the water and into that water? 

MASE:  Well, our hopes are, within the next three or four days, to

have all the remaining five animals rescued and have all of them in a good

their final disposition. 

OLBERMANN:  It obviously could not have been dumb luck that they were found after such an ordeal so close to their old home.  What do you think they did to make that happen? 

MASE:  Well, you know, I‘m not quite sure, but I do know that where they ended up seemed to be a deep water dredge.  It seemed to be a comfort zone for them.  And they weren‘t very far from the aquarium itself. 

And the scientists who were out doing surveys happened to run into the animals.  And they, thank goodness, had a trainer on board.  And the animals came right up.  They were very excited to see the trainers, although they also looked a little wary as well. 

OLBERMANN:  I would imagine. 

MASE:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, you can never talk a dolphin without pondering how intelligent they truly are.  Did any of your experiences with them during the recovery, just the fact that they were there perhaps, tell us more about dolphin intelligence?  I would imagine there‘s not a lot of field work about dolphins do in emergencies. 

MASE:  Well, that‘s exactly right. 

And dolphins are very intelligent, but they‘re also very social and very adaptable animals.  And it truly is amazing that they were able to make it through this very challenging experience and stick together in this area.  And we were very fortunate to be able to relocate them.  And, hopefully, we will be able to rescue all of them and bring them safe and sound back to the aquarium some time. 

OLBERMANN:  I know that three of them were born at the facility there and had—had never been in the wild before, truly.  Shouldn‘t those three in particular, or maybe even the group, have been in more trouble than they turned out to be?  I mean, to what degree were you—are you surprised and continue to be surprised by—by the fact that they survived to the point where you could rescue them? 

MASE:  Well, you‘re absolutely right. 

A couple of the animals did sustain a few injuries.  I‘m not quite sure how or where.  We know that some of the pools had a lot of sheet metal, a lot of debris inside them.  But, again, it goes to show how adaptable they are, how social they are.  They definitely stuck together through this experience. 

And, right now, we‘re trying to focus on trying to rescue them in a very safe and expeditious manner, trying to keep the animals safe, as well as the humans.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m going to take a wild guess—a wild guess here.  They‘re not going to live permanently at the Holiday Inn.  What are you going to do after you get all eight? 

MASE:  That‘s exactly right. 

And the Navy has graciously offered some pools that they have in a nearby Naval base, the C.B. base here in Gulfport.  And, so we will be placing all eight animals in these pools until they stabilize, until we run viral tests and medical tests and make sure they‘re good to go to their prospective facility. 

OLBERMANN:  In the interim, they just look like ordinary kids at an ordinary pool in an ordinary hotel anywhere in America. 

Marine biologist Blair Mase, thanks for your time.  And give our best regards to the dolphins.  Take care. 

MASE:  Will do.  Thank you very much.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

Our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues now with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT” from New Orleans. 

Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”:  Good evening.  And thanks a lot, Keith.

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

END   

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