Guests: Jonathan Turley, Richard Wolffe
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Throw another log on the fire. The Jack Abramoff White House visitor logs have been released, showing the wayward lobbyist‘s many visits there. Both of them. The official record shows two visits. Even the press secretary had said there were more than two visits. Something missing in the logs? You don‘t think something might be being covered up, do you?
Comparing the family Bush to the family Soprano. To break into the inner circle, do you have to break the law? Friday, Porter Goss quits in haste as CIA chief. Wednesday, Porter Goss gets the Congressional Distinguished Service Award. Months and years ago, General Michael Hayden dreams up the warrantless wiretap. Monday, General Michael Hayden becomes CIA chief.
Jonathan Turley, on making your bones at the Bush bada-bing.
Nation‘s fury, again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
OLBERMANN: And again, it‘s in Texas. This time, tornado northeast of Dallas.
Britney Spears breaking news my producers are forcing me to cover again. Talking about being pregnant one night, talking about getting divorced the next.
And invention. The shoes that grow as your kids‘ feet do. The tricycle lawn mower. The beer belly that‘s actually a beer cooler.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it a girl or a boy?
OLBERMANN: And the toilet that doesn‘t use water, it uses fire, from the inventor who‘s doubtless flush with pride.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody wants to fool with this (INAUDIBLE).
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
It might well be the most forthcoming statement that Scott McClellan ever made as White House press secretary, cautioning reporters at last Tuesday‘s briefing, from viewing the Secret Service logs, documenting Jack Abramoff‘s visits to the White House as all-inclusive, quoting, “I just wouldn‘t view it as a complete historical record.”
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, you think?
The White House today finally releasing those logs, both of them, the record suggesting that the disgraced Republican lobbyist made only two visits to the White House. Judicial Watch, the public interest group that fought for the release of the logs, not alone in feeling they are perhaps incomplete.
Not only is information like who Mr. Abramoff visited and what room he was heading to left off the report, but more importantly, Mr. McClellan himself had said that Jack Abramoff had made more than just two visits to the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I‘ve already indicated to you a general description of any contacts that were there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you be more specific about the contacts with the senior staff? You said you were going to get back to us on that. Can you give us names?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I did check. There were a few staff-level meetings. As I indicated, there were—I think I previously indicated that he attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House. It is actually only two Hanukkah receptions that he attended.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A few staff-level meetings and two Hanukkah receptions, meaning we already know our logs of just two visits are short by at least 50 percent, Hanukkah definitely not falling on January 20, 2004, the date noted on the newly released log for the second of Mr. Abramoff‘s visits, the first cited as March 6, 2001. And no Hanukkah on that day either.
Beyond the date, the report also showing Abramoff‘s name, the time of his visit, the badge number he was issued, the post at which he presumably checked in, and that he indeed entered and exited the building. No mention of where he went.
That kind of detail, though, was included in Secret Service logs provided to Judicial Watch when it was hound-dogging the Clinton administration. For instance, in this one page from the many Clinton documents, the report also listing the visitee in the top line of that log, that person being, in this case, POTUS, acronym for president of the United States, also, who requested the visit, someone in this case named Spangler, and all the way to the right, the room that the guest visited, in this case, Residen, presumably the residence.
Time now to call in our correspondent on the scandal beat, David Shuster in Washington.
Greetings yet again, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A nice bit of foreshadowing there from Scott McClellan last week, since the White House failed to tell us. What do we know about Jack Abramoff‘s visitees? Who are the likely candidates on that list?
SHUSTER: Well, we know the president was there for the January 2004 visit, working on State of the Union materials. And we know the president was not there in the March 2001 visit, because he was in Chicago.
But if you connect the dots with who Jack Abramoff was friends with, the picture that emerges is of somebody who we‘ve been speaking about before, and that is one Karl Rove. Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff have been friends for a good 15 years. When Karl Rove was working for then-Governor George W. Bush, Abramoff was lobbying the state of Texas in the governor‘s mansion on some educational issues, and they have remained friends. The White House has acknowledged that much.
Furthermore, the woman who used to be the personal assistant to Jack Abramoff, Susan Ralston, she is still the personal assistant for Karl Rove, and she has been the personal assistant for Karl Rove since January 2001.
So that seems to be the connection.
OLBERMANN: Any idea how many other visits by Abramoff there might have been in total? I mean, we already know that there are photographs that we have yet to see.
SHUSTER: Right, there are an estimated at least a half a dozen meetings between the president and Jack Abramoff, and visits, perhaps, to the White House, because, again, as you mentioned, the two Hanukkah parties, those were not the dates of the two visits the White House released today. We know of at least another one in May of 2001 where there‘s an actual picture. This is from the old Executive Office Building, the president meeting a member of the Indian tribe, and there‘s Jack Abramoff over in the corner.
And then there‘ve been White House suggestions from officials that, in fact, Jack Abramoff and the president met on other occasions. And people who have seen the other pictures of Jack Abramoff and the president, the pictures that have not been released, say that those photographs are not from Hanukkah parties, that they must be from other occasions. So presumably those are other White House meetings, or possible fundraisers around Washington, where Jack Abramoff said that the president‘s memory was strong enough to ask Jack Abramoff about his children.
OLBERMANN: So why are there only two visits in the logs? In the other cases, did Mr. Abramoff come in over the transom or something? Or did he use the old LBJ secret tunnel in and out of the White House?
SHUSTER: And that‘s the big mystery. It does appear that the Secret Service changed the way they kept these logs after 9/11, but that still wouldn‘t explain why there‘s no indication of what room Abramoff visited or who cleared him in. For example, when press members go into the White House to attend briefings and whatnot, it‘s clear that you‘re cleared in by the press office. That indication should have been on these logs, and it‘s not clear why they were not.
OLBERMANN: Have we heard the last of the logs? Is there going to be more information forthcoming, or would the administration rather just leave the presumption hanging out there that for the rest of us, you‘ll get nothing, and you‘ll like it?
SHUSTER: Well, unfortunately for the White House, they‘re dealing with this group Judicial Watch, which hounded the Clinton administration, as you mentioned, and they‘re like the ugly little dog that bites at your ankle and doesn‘t let go. At first you think, Oh, there‘s not much damage. But then you bleed to death.
They will file lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit, until they get the documents they want. The judges have traditionally been fairly friendly to their requests. And so they‘ll keep going after the White House on this.
OLBERMANN: Last point. Some news in the Duke Cunningham probe now?
The scope of the investigation might be even bigger than we‘d imagined? (INAUDIBLE), how many continents will it involve? Bring us up to speed here, if you could.
SHUSTER: Well, Duke Cunningham, of course, is already in jail for bribery, and he was the member of Congress who allegedly attended those poker parties that involved prostitutes and defense contracts and phony deals.
An investigator who has been asking Duke Cunningham to continue participating in the investigation, which Duke Cunningham agreed to, says that Duke Cunningham is suddenly not talking. The investigator, Rick Wynn (ph), was quoted in a San Diego newspaper as saying, in addition to Cunningham not talking, this is much bigger and wider than just Randy Duke Cunningham, a lot that has just not come out yet.
But it won‘t be much longer, and then you will know just how widespread this is. Those quotes are the first quotes from any investigator associated with the Duke Cunningham case, and it does at least suggest that perhaps more members of Congress have reason to worry about the Cunningham investigation, and that there may be other problems for defense contractors and people who are getting contracts at the Pentagon, the types of contracts that have now been under the spotlight in regards to Duke Cunningham.
SHUSTER: We‘re going to have to start a new “White House in Crisis” show. We‘re just going to.
David Shuster, as always, great thanks.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome.
OLBERMANN: The Bush administration is nothing if not counterintuitive. With disapproval numbers now rivaling Richard Nixon‘s, Mr. Bush still nominated for his new CIA chief a man almost guaranteed to draw a confirmation fight, General Michael Hayden, creator of the domestic eavesdropping program. Mr. Bush says General Hayden is perfect for this CIA, and perhaps he was chosen for elevation despite or because of a characteristic that is normally seen as a liability, his arguable willingness to thumb his nose at constitutional law.
That notion has been suggested by the noted professor in that subject, Jonathan Turley, who will join us presently. Mr. Turley likens the Bush team, in fact, to the Sopranos at the end of his piece, get criminal and get made. He cites other administration officials whose criminal acts, or potentially criminal behavior, have posed no barrier to advancement, like Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who, as White House counsel, may well have been the architect of the kinds of torture, at least the legalese for the torture, that led to the Abu Ghraib abuses.
As promised, we‘re joined now the professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley.
Thanks again for your time, sir.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Your joke about the Sopranos in “The Chicago Tribune” piece, timely, telling. It‘ll fire up everybody on both sides. But the argument beneath it is dead serious. From the point of the view of the Constitution, the point of view of the law of the land, what are you seeing here?
TURLEY: Well, you know, this is a pretty impressive rogue‘s gallery. You know, from his very first term, Bush shocked many people by reaching out to officials who had either been convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and others who many felt should have been indicted.
They included people like Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to three crimes. They were misdemeanors. John Poindexter, who was convicted of three crimes. Those were thrown out on a mere technicality later. You had Otto Reich, who was accused of a domestic surveillance—propaganda program.
You have a very long list of people. And what emerged through the two terms was that people who seemed to be accused of violating the law had a rapid ascent in this administration. And one has to wonder whether this is suddenly a criteria, that the president likes people who are willing to go to the edge of the law and beyond it to achieve what he believes is a worthy purpose.
OLBERMANN: If it‘s personnel decisions, or if it‘s a president signing a statement relating to a law that basically says, I‘m not going to obey this law if I don‘t feel like it, or if it‘s something larger, more aggressive, domestic surveillance or any of these other things, where are the constitutional checks? Is that machinery still present? Is it still working? Is it rusted? Or is it not working at all?
TURLEY: Well, it‘s not working very well. Many federal judges have, in fact, really brought the Bush administration, I, up to the bar of the court, and they have, in fact, rejected many of the arguments, including the Supreme Court of the United States.
But the real check and balance for this type of thing but would rest with Congress. And Congress has done nothing. Do you realize that Congress has not even held a substantive investigation of the NSA operation, an operation that most of us believe was criminal, that the federal law defines quite clearly as a federal crime?
Now, instead of investigating that, the Congress actually gave the president a standing ovation during the State of the Union speech when he promised to continue to violate that law. When he continued—he said he would continue this program.
And the people who are responsible for passing the law that he was violating gave him a standing ovation. It was the most bizarre thing I‘ve ever seen in my life.
But now, we have the architect of that program, who‘s been nominated to head the CIA. Now, that was not a natural choice, because if you look at his record, it was actually fairly mixed. We‘re talking about General Hayden. General Hayden‘s accused of wasting as much as $2 billion when he was at the NSA on a program called Trailblazer, almost $2 billion. Normally, that would be an impediment to advancement.
OLBERMANN: I‘m surprised he didn‘t get secretary of the Treasury. The wartime argument that always comes back in these kind of debates about presidential powers, what‘s the history on that in terms of the Constitution and the presidents? Have presidents who have been seen, seemed to have stretched the Constitution, have they been investigated in wartime, even under the much stricter definitions of wartime we used to have?
TURLEY: Well, first of all, this president‘s theory of his power is now, I think, so extreme that it‘s unprecedented. He believes that he has the inherent authority to violate federal law. He has said that. Not just in the signing statements, in the infamous torture memo, I, that Alberto Gonzalez signed, it was stated that he could, in some circumstances, order federal officials to violate federal law.
And this is consistent across the board with this president. Frankly, I‘m not too sure what he thought he was swearing to when he took the oath of office to uphold the Constitution and our laws. I‘ve never seen a president who‘s so uncomfortable in his constitutional skin.
OLBERMANN: All of this, Jonathan, has been likened to the swing of a pendulum, that this is Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, harkening back to their days as rookies in the Ford administration, watching the fallout of presidential powers being cut back after the abuses of Richard Nixon. If that‘s true, if it is a pendulum, does the pendulum swing back? Can it? Will it?
TURLEY: Well, unfortunately, civil liberties don‘t swing back like other issues. I, civil liberties is a very precious commodity. When you lose them, it tends to run out of your hand like sand, and it‘s hard to get it back. And that‘s one of the dangers here, that presidents, when they acquire power, rarely return it to the people.
And so we have to be very concerned. This country is changing in a very significant way, and it‘s something that citizens have to think about, because if there is a war on terror, and I believe that we must fight terror, obviously, but we‘re trying to defend that Constitution.
And we‘re really at a point where the president is arguing about his own presidential power in ways that are and—the antithesis of that Constitution and the values that it contains.
OLBERMANN: Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley. As always, sir, thanks for your time. Thanks for joining us.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If we can compare the White House to the Sopranos, can we rate the president against, say, Tom Cruise? Who‘s got the lower approval rating? Place your bets.
And as another round of terrifying weather hits the South and Southwest, how one man‘s act of goodwill at the height of a tornado ended up saving his own life.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The most telling indicator yet of the state of the Bush presidency, poll numbers so awful they have not just entered Nixonian territory, they have sunk below those of Tom Cruise.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, with his present not all that he had hoped, President Bush starts looking towards the future. Here‘s the head-to-head matchup. Got to be seen to be believed. Mr. Bush‘s approval rating at 31 percent in the latest Gallup poll, that of Tom Cruise at 35 percent, also from Gallup.
Perhaps that‘s why the president seems now to be pinning his hopes upon his brother, the president telling reporters in Florida that Jeb Bush has been an excellent governor in that state and would make, quote, “a great president.” “I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that‘s his intention or not,” adding that his brother‘s political future is very bright if he chooses to have a political future.
Governor Bush himself, somewhat coy in his response, telling our NBC station in Miami that he has a nice brother, but no interest in the White House. Both the governor and his mother have previously said Jeb is not running in ‘08, 2016, 2024, they didn‘t mention.
And, by the way, Dick Cheney was only going to be the chairman of the vice presidential search committee.
Time now to call in “Newsweek”‘s senior White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe.
Richard, welcome back.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Before we get to Jeb Bush and other juicy items out of Washington, I want to ask you about this juiciest Bush news of all, the release of the Secret Service Abramoff logs, such as they are. You were in many of those news briefings. You heard Scott McClellan describe Abramoff attending the two Hanukah receptions, a few staff-level meetings. Does just two visits in the log sound right to you?
WOLFFE: No, it doesn‘t. And it‘s kind of troubling for those of us who have to go through Secret Service security every time we go into the White House, because either the logs are incomplete, and that security isn‘t great, or Jack Abramoff had special access to the White House, and neither of those are very comforting explanations for this administration.
OLBERMANN: Well, he just went in as a guest of Jeff Gannon. That‘s one of the theories that‘s floating around here now.
You, by the way, just, as I understand it, came back from Mr. McClellan‘s going-away diner. Was this more like a wake, or for him, was it more like a mortgage-burning, or an escape party?
WOLFFE: Yes, I had to wrench myself away from the all-night rave. Scott McClellan, you can pick him out of a crowd now of White House officials, because he‘s the one who‘s smiling, ridiculously happy. He‘s hitting the speaking circuit a week on Monday, which I guess is one reason to be happy.
He did—he was very generous. He did thank the White House for, in his words, holding public officials accountable. I think that‘s the kind of thing you say after you leave the job, not while you‘re at the podium. He didn‘t seem very happy about us holding him accountable on the CIA leak investigation, for instance.
OLBERMANN: Indeed. Let‘s turn to the future, not McClellan‘s, but the one that the president seems to have turned to. There was a time when Jeb Bush was thought to be the Bush brother most likely to follow his father into the White House. He already said he won‘t be running in 2008. Is it, is, are, were, was groundwork laid here for a 2012 campaign? Or what happened here?
WOLFFE: Well, maybe the brothers aren‘t talking too closely. But, you know, there are better presents for a brother than a 30 percent approval rating. You know, a number of Republicans say, Look, the best thing Jeb Bush has going for him is his name recognition, and the worst thing going for him is his name recognition.
So I don‘t think there‘s a grand scheme here. But, you know, it, the president has made it much, much harder for any Bush to get elected, whether it‘s Jorge or Jeb.
OLBERMANN: And the other issue here, as luck and the calendar would have it, Porter Goss and Vice President Cheney were together on Capitol Hill, each of them picking up the Congressional Distinguished Service Award. It relates to the House of Representatives. But the timing of it, given Goss‘s ouster last week, or exit last week, (INAUDIBLE) who‘s next, does Duke Cunningham get one next week, or what?
WOLFFE: Everyone gets a medal. It‘s Washington. No, look, you know, if George Tenet can get a PRESIDENTIAL medal for his slam-dunk in Iraq, I guess Porter Goss can too. It‘s one of those things where everyone pats everyone else on the back, and a medal just seems to be one of those things you put up on the wall like a presidential handshake photo.
OLBERMANN: Yes, it‘s like—well, that‘s Mr. Abramoff‘s department. Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” magazine, as always, sir, our great thanks for your time and for wrenching yourself away from that rave, as you put it.
WOLFFE: It was tough. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And the one thing on Japanese television that they seem to have endless amounts of is time. First, the lizard versus girls with pork chops on their head, happy smile, fun, wish hour, now a sneak peek of the next season of must-see of Japan TV.
And a close intellectual second, the genius behind the fake beer belly. There is genius here, because it‘s in what you can keep inside your fake beer belly.
Best or worst inventions ever, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It‘s the birthday of one of the iconic figures of American television, May 10, 1955, Homer J. Simpson. Of course, given that he is a fictional character, it should come as no surprise that his birth date has also been given as March 20, 1955, and May 12, 1956, to say nothing of something called 1723, 1956.
Homer and his creator, Matt Granig (ph), are not only inspirations to COUNTDOWN‘s vast Oddball‘s operations center, but Homer is also their intellectual superior there.
On that note, let‘s play Oddball.
And we begin with another installment of the award-winning series, 575 Reasons Why Japanese TV Is Better Than Ours. Number 126, a walrus doing sit-ups. Look at him go. Come on. Elbows to the knee, you fat bastard. Actually, for a guy who has no elbows and no knees, his form is not half bad. We‘ll check back with Wally here periodically as he gets in shape for his next big event. He‘s boxing Tonya Harding on June 16. He‘s in better shape than she is.
No word if it was boxing or wrestling which caused this mess, but it was not people screwing with them. All wildlife officials in Kirkland (ph), Ohio, know is that they‘ve got five squirrels with their tails tied together. I hate when that happens. Don‘t you hate when that happens?
Apparently it was roughhousing and other tomfoolery in the mother‘s nest that got the five baby rodents all tangled together. But they spent weeks like that before they were surgically untied. Like an iPod. The quintet survived and will be released back into the wild. But if you happen to see them, try not to stare at the—at where their tails used to be.
Also today, when the tornado comes, do you stay protected in your home, or do you run to warn a neighbor? The extraordinary tale of a man who chose to warn the neighbor, and was thus not in his home when it was leveled.
And Howard Stern just left terrestrial radio. Is there enough money in the world to entice him back?
But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, the president of the United States, at a prescription drug benefit rally at Broward Community College in Florida. Mr. Bush gave handshakes and hugs to some of the seniors in attendance who rose to greet him upon his arrival, as you‘re supposed to do when the president shows up. To one who remained seated, he said, quote, “You look mighty comfortable.”
The man was in a wheelchair.
OK, number two, traffic reporters in Stockholm, who got to warn drivers of highway congestion in the suburbs caused by a truck-elephant accident. An elephant van with four of the big guys that belonged to the National Circus turned over when its brakes locked. Only one elephant sustained even minor injuries.
And No. 1, the executive editor of the newspaper the “Tampa Tribune,” Janet Weaver, showing that she had—would never expect any staffer to do anything she would not do. She phoned in a scoop to her paper at about 2:00 in the morning to make sure the “Trib” would get the story ahead of its rival, the “St. Petersburg Times.” The story that Janet Weaver broke, the arrest of “Tampa Tribune” executive editor, Janet Weaver, on a drunk driving charge. And that‘s 30 for today.
OLBERMANN: Has Mother Nature gotten meaner over the last few decades or with the inventions of first home video and then digital photography is not the destruction that‘s increased, but merely our ability to capture it?
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, even as we gape of the images of the chaos that has enveloped them, the people of Texas and Florida do not have time for that debate just now. Spring twisters in Texas in a moment, first Florida, where residents are seeing what Texans have seen this year, or not seen—fires and smoke. At least 100 fires in Florida that have already consumed 25,000 acres and blinded much of the area. The smoke is so bad it is causing traffic accidents in the central part of Florida, prompting the Highway Department to close some of the busiest thoroughfares for safety. This is in Hillsborough County, the Tampa area, the West Coast. There have also been problems in West Palm Beach on the East Coast. Firefighters blame the recent spate of hurricanes for the intensity of flame, saying all the debris left on the forest floor for the past few years is now fueling these fires. Several homes have already been destroyed and residents within reach of the burning flames are now hosing down their homes hoping that they have enough time to save them.
There is no such warning for the residents of north Texas. There tornadoes have cut a swath through neighborhoods 45 miles from Dallas. At least three are dead there, 10 or more injured, dozens of homes destroyed. Our correspondent, Jim Cummins, is in Colin County, Texas, monitoring the situation for us—Jim.
JIM CUMMINS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hello Keith, that‘s right, the experts say this was an F-3 tornado, meaning it had top speeds of 206 miles-per-hour when it cut through this Texas countryside. As you said, three people were killed, 10 injured, all of them hospitalized. Twenty-six homes were damaged, about half of them totally destroyed. Those are the numbers. But when you cover weather stories, what‘s always amazing are the individual stories, the human stories, the people who lose one home and tell their stories. Take the case of Dennis Lea. This pile of rubble behind me here used to be his house. And we came out here this morning and he told me his story.
CUMMINS: Where were you last night when the twister came through? Tell me what happened.
DENNIS LEA, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Well, when the twister came through I‘d got a call previous, about five minutes before the twister, to alert the neighbors down below me, because they couldn‘t be reached by phone, that there was a twister in the area. So I went down there and alerted the people there—people in—had them get in the interior of the house. And I went outside and the twister was right there. I went—myself, I went back into the interior of the house and stayed until it was over with.
CUMMINS: So fortuitously, you left here to help somebody else and you would have been in the middle of this wreckage, had you been here.
LEA: Five minutes later I would have, yes. I got very lucky and got a call to warn some other people and I was out of the house at the time.
CUMMINS: What did it sound like?
LEA: Jet turbines starting up, a real low, loud whine and it just kept getting louder.
CUMMINS: And did you see the debris flying through the air then, or were you inside the house by then?
LEA: I was inside the house by then.
CUMMINS: What do you do now?
LEA: Clean up, push up, push in the pile and start all over again.
CUMMINS: Sometimes it does pay to be a good Samaritan. And that‘s what people are doing around here tonight. They are cleaning up—Keith.
OLBERMANN: Jim, he mentioned that he had gotten a phone call suggesting that he needed to warn people down the neighborhood, down the street from him. Were there warnings from this—from any local agencies?
CUMMINS: There were not warnings. There is a town nearby here, Keith. And a lot of these homes that were destroyed, in particular, and where people died, are out in the country, and there were no sirens here in this immediate area. There is what‘s called a reverse 911 system here, where the authorities will, when there‘s a tornado warning, be able to just blanket the area with phone calls warning people to get out of their homes. But the authorities here said they just didn‘t have time to get that system up and running, that this tornado just hit too quickly—Keith.
OLBERMANN: Extraordinary. Jim Cummins in Colin County, Texas. Great thanks, Jim.
From real calamities to the ones we humans invent for ourselves. As rumors swirl that Prince William of England is about to pop the question, more rumors that queen Elizabeth is symbolically about to pop him or maybe his girlfriend in the mouth.
And they already drove me nuts with the Britney Spears pregnancy announcement. What devil tree do my producers have now her planned about her possible d-i-v-o-r-c-e-? And I‘m spelling that so that Federline doesn‘t understand what I‘m saying. Details ahead, but first, here are the first COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Illegal immigration is occurring from the northern border.
JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW” (voice-over): To protect Derby from this threat, Ron joined the local minutemen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The minutemen protect our borders by simply being there. We sit in our chairs, and when we see any sign of activity, primarily illegal activity, we call the authorities. Border patrol, this is minuteman station alpha.
STEWART: So you do this 24/7.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up here we don‘t to 24/7.
DAVID LETTERMAN, “LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”: This is Mary Cheney reading her book, “Now it‘s My Turn.”
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My plan was to wrap things up at home and then met them in Washington and them—ah! Damn its, dad, that almost hit me. I‘m trying to read my book here, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prom night is certainly a highlight for some teenagers. For senior, Erica Eckert though, things are not going quite her way. Her school did a background check on her boyfriend, 19-year-old Russ Robie and he‘s been banned from the big dance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s her senior prom; he‘s not going for this great big important job.
OLBERMANN: Prince William about to pick his future queen. A pregnant Britney Spears contemplating life as a single mother about to pick off the husband. And you may have your pick of toilets in the future. Do you prefer the water one or the fire one? That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It‘s the classic fairy tale cliche that every girl dreams of marrying her handsome prince. But in reality being a princess isn‘t all happily ever after especially in the British royal family. Never mind the tragedy of Princess Diana, just ask Fergie or even Princess Margaret because, as Dawna Friesen explains in our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN, you don‘t end up merely marrying Prince William or Prince Harry, you also, in effect, marry their grandmother.
DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There were wedding bells this past weekend, but Princes William and Harry were there as guests, not grooms. And for the first time at a family wedding, William brought his girlfriend, camera-shy, Kate Middleton, careful not to upstage the bride. It was the marriage of Laura Parker Bowels, daughter of Camilla. But all eyes were on Kate and William. You can‘t escape rumors he‘s close to popping the question himself.
RICHARD FITZWILLIAM, ROYAL COMMENTATOR: Royalty is the ultimate celebrity. William, one day, will be at the top of that pyramid, so clearly the choice he makes is absolutely pivotal.
FRIESEN: The couple spent a week frolicking in the Caribbean. Twenty-four-year-old Kate met William at university where she studied art history. She‘s a middle class girl, commoner, as the British say, said to be down to earth. And throughout their three-year relationship she‘s kept a low profile, but the public already like her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think she seems like very dignified. She hasn‘t gone out and, you know, made a big fuss of being Prince William‘s girlfriend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think she‘s very modern. I think she‘s gives an essence of glamour to the royal family.
FRIESEN: But was this trip a prelude to an engagement? Unlikely say royal watchers.
FITZWILLIAM: When it comes to choosing the right girl, he‘s at the moment found the right one for this time in his life.
FRIESEN: He‘s only 23 and is said he doesn‘t intend to marry until he‘s older. Last week Harry was snapped skydiving with his girlfriend, 20-year-old Zimbabwe-born, Chelsea Davie. She‘s from a wealthy, but not royal background, and has dated Harry for two years. They‘re known to love to party.
EVE POLLARD, ROYAL COMMENTATOR: I think he‘s quite serious about Chelsea at the moment. He‘s a very young boy. I think there will be a lot of other women in his life later.
FRIESEN (on camera): One of the big tests of any potential fiancee is whether the queen approves. William‘s girlfriend, Kate, has apparently won her over, but Harry‘s girlfriend, she‘s accepted as part of his private life, but hasn‘t been seen at any public royal functions.
(voice-over): It will be 25 years this summer since Charles and Diana were wed, hardly the model of a successful marriage. Choosing a partner is tough enough. What the princes face is choosing a woman who one day may be queen.
Dawna Friesen, NBC, London.
OLBERMANN: Birth order, of course, already means that Prince William will be the heir to the throne. Prince Harry, well unless something happens like did 60 years ago, he‘s the spare. But can birth order affect any family regardless of how much royal blood you have? Lisa Daniels now with the theory of and the last shall be first.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am the oldest in my family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was the youngest.
LISA DANIELS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether you‘re the favorite first-born.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you ever hear dad introduced us to people? This is our daughter, Dotty. This is our other daughter, Dotty‘s sister.
DANIELS: Or the forgotten and jealous middle child.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.
DANIELS: Some say birth order is destiny. I‘m the youngest of two siblings, and my brother—I don‘t want to say a lot more successful than me, but slightly more successful and it does put some pressure on a child to live up to the expectations of the older sibling.
DANIELS: Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both first-borns. They made it to the White House. Younger siblings Billy Carter and Roger Clinton took a slightly different path. And what about the Jan Bradys of the world? Well, Bill Gates certainly didn‘t suffer from lack of attention.
(on camera): The power of birth order is the focus of several recent scientific studies. Experts are trying to figure out just how accurately it can predict future behavior.
AARON WICHMAN, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: I think there‘s an allure of looking at birth order as something we don‘t have. It doesn‘t change.
DANIELS (voice-over): Ohio State University psychologist, Dr. Aaron Wichman, studied the effect of birth order on intelligence.
WICHMAN: All the previous studies based on cross-sectional data have claimed that birth order affects intelligence. When you look within the family to see if that effect is really there, it simply is not.
DANIELS: Still, another study from Lafayette college found kids with older siblings are significantly more likely to smoke and drink and have sex.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you‘re the baby, you kind of rely on the older child and the middle child and you don‘t have to have that much responsibility.
DANIELS: Birth order is still an evolving field of research giving the youngest, oldest, and middle child in every family just one more thing to fight about.
Lisa Daniels, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: And from the princes of Wales, we segue to the trailer park royalty. Britney Spears and Kevin Federline leading up the entertainment stories that constitute “Keeping Tabs.” And Tuesday we informed you the family was growing to four. Now word comes that the Mrs. may be working to shrink it back to three. And it‘s not the two little babies she‘d be cutting loose. Where‘s the animation for breaking news? It would be the other dependent, K-Fed, “Life & Style” magazine reporting a source tells them Britney is planning a surprise divorce for Federline just as soon as the Spears family gets a plan together. Gee, I hope Mr. Federline doesn‘t read “Life & Style” magazine. That would be silly, he can‘t read.
And for those of you hoping Howard Stern would suddenly reappear on Terrestrial Radio airwaves, you‘ve had your bubbles burst. Stern put that idea to rest on his satellite radio show noting a couple of reason. He hates the FCC and, oh yeah, there‘s that half a billion dollar deal with Sirius satellite radio. Stearns‘s rivals at XM Statellite, the “Opie and Anthony Show” recently began simulcasting on free FM radio, at least part of their show, leaving speculation that Stern would receive similar offers. But quoting him, “I would throw up if I had to go back,” Stern said today. And don‘t forget, Howard, throwing up without FCC approval, that‘s a bad paddelin‘.
Apparently Whoopi Goldberg has an iron stomach and not just because she‘s been a regular COUNTDOWN viewer since we signed on. No, it‘s because she‘s got no problem with Terrestrial Radio, as evidenced by the fact that the actress and comedienne has just signed to do a syndicated morning radio show, “Wake up with Whoopi.” Goldberg says, quote, I‘m going to talk to people, I‘m going to be singing and dancing in my chair. I‘m going to wake people up!” Just don‘t play the Dixie Chicks and you‘ll be fine.
Well, you wake up to Whoopi, how about you wake up to a waterless toilet? Never have to worry about it overflowing because it doesn‘t use water, it uses fire. What could possibly go wrong there? That‘s ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees of “Worst Person in the World.”
The bronze—in an update to yesterday‘s worst, Dusty Tucker, spokesperson for HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, to a Dallas newspaper, she first repeated her contention that the story Secretary Jackson told of having revoked a government contract after the bidder had criticized the president was true. Later in the same day she told a business journal it was a metaphor that it never really happened. The department says Ms. Tucker is now on leave.
Runners up, Harry Lee Keek (ph) and Bradley William Parem (ph), two seniors at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Arkansas, they‘re accused of trying to pay back a teacher they didn‘t like by mixing laxatives with their tea. Two teenagers wound up drinking it, suffered severe cramps. But our winners make Harry and Bradley look like pikers (ph).
Julie Hunt of New Portland, Maine, she and her daughter decided to make cookies for one of the daughter‘s teachers. Mom taught her daughter how to lovingly crush the box full of laxatives into the cookie batter. The teacher, of course, shared the cookies with the class and four seventh and eight graders got sick. Mom‘s been charged. The excuse that it was a nice mother-daughter bonding moment apparently proved unconvincing to police. Julie Hunt, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”
OLBERMANN: Two-hundred and fifty-four years ago Benjamin Franklin learned the first law of inventing stuff. We all grew up hearing the story about how he went out in a Philadelphia thunderstorm flying a kite and thus producing electricity. The detail they always leave out is that 35 days earlier, 254 years ago today, a French inventor did the same thing using a lighting rod instead of a kite. Not only did Franklin get beaten to the electrical punch by this Thomas France (ph) Dalibar (ph), but Dalibar had been inspired to try it because he had read a scientific paper suggesting the experiment. A paper published two years earlier. A paper written by Benjamin Franklin.
Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN, the first law of inventing stuff, don‘t tell anybody until you‘ve done it yourself.
Several examples now of that including a complete reconceptualization of your toilet, to say nothing of your stomach. We start with our correspondent, Kevin Tibbles, in Chicago.
KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Many probably thought Leonardo da Vinci was off his rocker with his flying machines and other inventions, but hey, he was just ahead of his time. Almost everyone‘s had one of those light bulb moments.
TED VANCLEAVE, AUTHOR, “TOTALLY ABSURD INVENTIONS”: Every inventor thinks that their idea is the very best idea in the world.
TIBBLES: What parent wouldn‘t want a shoe that grows along with their child‘s feet? Or the safety pin, a special code for your ATM that alerts police if you‘re being held up. But while thousands of new inventions are patented each year, only a few make it to a store near you. Are big companies stifrlinge the little guy? Hogwash, says marketing expert, Tom Kuczmarski.
TOM KUCZMARSKI, KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT: There‘s no corporate conspiracy here in terms of putting down individual or inventors‘ ideas.
TIBBLES: Just bad marketing.
VANCLEAVE: When you come up with an idea and you‘re very passionate about it, but it doesn‘t mean it‘s a good, viable, marketable product.
TIBBLES: And lets be honest, some ideas are just patently bad. Take the Birdman of Alcatraz, for birdwatchers who want a closer look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow.
TIBBLES: Now, we know someone who could have used one of those—or the tricycle lawnmower for kids with energy to burn.
VANCLEAVE: The problem is if a kid fell of the back, they would just be scalped.
TIBBLES: But every once in a while.
ANNOUNCER: With everybody is in a hurry to get home for supper.
TIBBLES: Sheer genius wins the day. This guy is actually proud of his beer belly.
KEITH THESING, CO-INVENTOR, THE BEER BELLY: You‘ve got a beverage in there.
TIBBLES: A plastic bladder filed with your favorite beverage that hides under your shirt. Yes, when you‘ve got a mean thirst for something new, necessity is the mother...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it a girl or a boy?
THESING: Well, it‘s a beer.
TIBBLES: Of adventure. Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.
And if you‘re going to build a better means of bringing drink and food with you, you‘re probably going to need a better toilet. And if you‘re going to build a better toilet, you might as well design one that doesn‘t flush the waste away, it burns it. You heard me. Please stand well back from the machine, as correspondent Wes Sarginson of our Atlanta station WXiA gives us the latest poop.
WES SARGINSON, WXiA CORRESPONDENT: I saw the first crude eliminator Jim invented more than 20 years ago. It was scary.
JIM WEST, WATERLESS TOILET BUILDER: Nobody wants to fool with this stuff.
It‘s so filthy.
SARGINSON: Finally he says the idea is perfected and it works. But engineers need to get with him and eliminate the noise and perfect the burn chamber. You see, Jim‘s device separates the liquids from the solids. It chops up the solids and burns them.
WEST: If you don‘t break the waste up, then you can‘t get a fast burn.
SARGINSON: A fast burn means the lid of The Eliminator must be latched for three minutes.
WEST: We‘ve got it figured down now from 75 cents per flush to about 15 cents.
SARGINSON: This is enough to prove that it works.
SARGINSON: Georgia tech engineer, Paul Ware, has been giving Jim advice on this unit for sometime. He thinks the RV industry and boats and FEMA house trailers, after hurricanes, need this device right now. But it needs to be taken from protype to mass production.
PAUL WARE, ENGINEER: Jim‘s done it all alone, and I just think of what he could really do if he had a little technical expertise backing him up.
WEST: Well, these are different, intricate parts.
SARGINSON: Big companies have offered to pay him big bucks for his patens, but Jim says they would take it overseas. He wants it manufactured in the U.S., with U.S. employees. He is passionate about The Eliminator.
WEST: It‘s got to be the dirtiest thing that I‘ve ever done in my life, but I couldn‘t turn it loose, it had a hold of me, and I had to master it.
OLBERMANN: Our correspondent, Mr. Sarginson, adds that the inventor, and yes Robert Conrad fan, his name is Jim West. Jim West says that the last bug that needs to be worked out is sealing the burn chamber. If he fails, all he will have invented is a replacement for burning people at the stake.
That‘s COUNTDOWN, for this, the 1,105th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose and other parts, too. Good night, and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with the view from “Scarborough Country.”
Joe, good evening.
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