Guests: Craig Crawford, Paul Eaton, Jack Spadaro, Rachel Maddow, Michael Musto
ALISON STEWART, MSNBC GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? After rejecting comparisons in the past, now the president turns to Vietnam to sell Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America‘s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: The cherry picking of lessons learned, what did the commander in chief leave out when making his argument? Craig Crawford on the politics of comparison.
And Major General Paul Eaton gives us a military reality check on it all.
Where did that White House plan for a post-war Iraq get to? Don‘t know. But we have right here a manual for how to deal with war protestors so the president never sees them. We wish we were kidding. It exits. And it has a plan for everything, including rally squad to drown out shouters.
He wants to do what? Reopen the mine?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MURRAY, OWNER, CRANDALL CANYON MINE: There are reserves in an entirely different direction that will not have the same seismic activities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Mine owner Bob Murray explaining other areas of the troubled mountain are safe for mining. The families of the loss in Utah are upset. State officials are mad and even federal officials are incredulous. Now Murray is trying to deny he ever said it.
The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, two years later. Where the politicians have failed, maybe a movie star can succeed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRAD PITT, ACTOR: Katrina was a man-made disaster. Decades and decades of erroneous engineering moves. Really, really bad, irresponsible moves that I believe the government has the responsibility to make right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: And the luck of Lindsay. Her excuse that it really was not her coke might actually wash with prosecutors. And she‘s allegedly getting lucky in rehab.
Down on her luck? Fellow pop tart, Britney Spears, turning her back on opportunities to jump start her career and defending her mama-hood.
All that and more, now on “Countdown.”
(on camera): Good evening, I am Alison Stewart. Keith has the night off. To quote the president on the state of the war, quote, “The confused nature of this conflict cannot mask the fact that it is the new face of an old enemy. The contest is part of a wider pattern of aggressive purposes.” Those words coming from President Lyndon Johnson, another Texan from another party about another war, Vietnam, in April 1965. In our fifth story in the “Countdown,” the current president, George W. Bush, expressed some of the same sentiments in a speech linking the Iraq war to the conflict in Vietnam. It all comes full circle.
Today, before the hottest ticket around, the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Mr. Bush suggested friendly Iraqis could lose their lives if the U.S. pulled out, just as he says that the Vietnamese were executed a generation ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America‘s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agony would add to our vocabulary new terms like boatpeople, re-education camps, and killing fields.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: With his appearance in Missouri, it seems the president‘s years of rejecting any Vietnam Iraq comparisons are over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: How do you answer the Vietnam comparison?
BUSH: I think that the analogy is false. I also happen to think that the analogy sends the wrong message to our troops. It sends the wrong message to the enemy. Look, this is hard work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: That was from April of 2004. At the end of today‘s Bush speech, more hard work, he had to do some cheerleading in response to criticism from U.S. politicians. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki lashed out this morning saying no one has the right to create timetables for his government, that his country, quote, “can find friends elsewhere.” The president attempted to undo the damage by having appeared to distance himself from the Iraqi leader.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Prime Minister Maliki‘s a good guy, a good man, with a difficult job and I support him. And it is not up to the politicians in Washington D.C. to say whether he will remain in his position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Time now to call in our Craig Crawford, columnist for the “Congressional Quarterly.”
Nice to see you, Craig.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, COLUMNIST, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”: Good to see you, Alison.
STEWART: Former Nixon Advisor David Gergen said today, “By invoking Vietnam, Mr. Bush opened the door to a really obviously question. Gergen said that historians would ask, quote, “Well, if you have learn so much from history Mr. President, how did you ever give us involved in another quagmire,” end quote. What does Mr. Bush gain from this comparison?
CRAWFORD: I can‘t even begin to imagine, Alison. Speaking as one who has been yelled at by this White House for making a much milder comparison a couple of years ago, it is incredulous to me. I will tease out one political purpose. They are preparing at the White House for a big showdown on Capitol Hill next month over war funding and the surge. And they are sending talking-points messages out there to the conservatives who still support the president and the war and the radio talk shows and elsewhere. This is an argument that they‘re putting out there.
There is a lot of revisionism amongst conservatives about Vietnam that we could have won it if we had stayed, this is. It‘s only because liberals in the media snookered the country into being against the war. This is a popular theory among conservatives and he is touching on that. He‘s giving them some fodder that they might use in this coming debate on Capitol Hill.
STEWART: There is another comparison that leads to a question. Why would the president point out that Iraqi civilians could be harmed if U.S. troops withdraw considering the thousands upon thousands who have already been killed in this conflict?
CRAWFORD: There is the argument, these other folks, this president and his team, who predicted all sorts of things about the response to the invasion that were wrong—why are we to suddenly believe that they are right on predicting what would happen if we would leave? That void left behind is going to be a tough challenge for Democrats to come up with their alternative. How would they deal with that problem? There is a big difference between Iraq and Vietnam is, at least in Vietnam, we did not have a national resource like oil at stake in Vietnam. In some ways, Iraq is an even bigger strategic site and problem for the United States than Vietnam was.
STEWART: Mr. Bush painted a withdrawal in terms of black and white—either we stay at the current troop levels or we leave completely. Why is it to his advantage to paint it has black or white rather than go for the gray, maybe a partial pull back, which some people are advocating?
CRAWFORD: The president is not fond of gray areas any more than he is about to be admitting mistakes or saying he was sorry. He‘s very John Wayne in that way. That is one way he has sustained a lot of support, enough support to get his way through what is now going to be, next month, the fifth wave of voting since the Democrats took control of Congress over the war. And they are preparing by getting their talking points and messages and slogans out there, trying to get enough conservative voters in Republican-held districts to hold with the president. If the president can keep them with these kinds of arguments, he can probably sustain a veto effort on Capitol Hill. Right now, I think he still has those votes. I think that the Democrats can‘t get enough to override his vetoes. And he‘ll come out of this debate next month with the war pretty much in tact, in his hands.
STEWART: Before I let you go, we have to talk about the dustup with Prime Minister al Maliki. Did Bush do enough to put out that fire?
CRAWFORD: I am beginning to wonder about this. If a change in government there is something that the president and his team might want welcome because anything that is a new beginning, whether it‘s hiring a new general or getting a new strategy, and with all this talk about the government, they‘re not being effective, something that I suspect that we may see as an effort to get a new team in the government there and say here is another reason to get the war going. Now we‘ve really got new people who are really going to figure things out.
STEWART: To be continued. Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly.” Have a great night, Craig.
CRAWFORD: Good to be here.
STEWART: For more on how this is playing among veterans, I am joined by retired Major General Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004. He‘s now a senior advisor to votevets.org.
Thank you so much for your time tonight, General.
PAUL EATON, MAJOR GENERAL & SENIOR ADVISOR, VOTEVETS.ORG: Alison, great to be with you.
STEWART: Let‘s start with the basic message of the president‘s speech, that retreating from Iraq could cause the same by the reaction that happened in Vietnam after the U.S. troops pulled out. Do you think that the president‘s comparisons today where accurate?
EATON: Alison, it is a very unfortunate trip back into history. It reveals a couple of things. It reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Vietnam War was about. Our enemy there was the North Vietnamese army and their proxy forces, the Viet Cong. The issue in Iraq is a religious-based civil war with al Qaeda thrown in to complicate the affair. Drawing an analogy is unfortunate. It is further unfortunate for this president because there are untidy parallels between the behaviors of civilian leadership, senior civilian leadership in Vietnam entering the Vietnam conflict and during this Iraq conflict.
STEWART: What untidy parallels?
EATON: We figured out things on the ground in Vietnam. When Creighton Abrams took command in the summer of ‘68, he got things turned around pretty well militarily. And we were on a path that made more sense than it did under the previous commander. We are seeing a similar shift militarily right now with the Petraeus command. The failure on the part of the civilian leaders of the United States to have a clearly laid out strategic vision for the Vietnam War led to its unfortunate conclusion. We have a similar failure on the part of this administration to truly understand what this counter insurgency, what this religious civil war is about and getting after a diplomatic search that will help the American soldier in Iraq during this so-called military surge.
STEWART: One thing Mr. Bush did, somehow he wove in 9/11 attacks even into this, although al Qaeda had nothing to do with the Iraq war initially. Still he made the point that Osama bin Laden Zawahiri had mentioned the U.S. leaving Vietnam as a sign of weakness. Is that a reason to hold firm, not to give al Qaeda‘s leadership fuel for recruitment.
EATON: It is not a reason. It stills begs the question—where is the State Department? Where is the diplomatic surge to put this thing in a regional context and to un-weight the American soldier? We cannot conduct a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. This had got to be a very gradual affair, drawing down forces, taking them out of the direct line of fire. Yet, we retaining forces to fight al Qaeda and to support the Iraqi security forces but, all the while, getting regional actors involved so that we can solve this problem, which everybody recognizes is not a purely military dilemma.
STEWART: General, this is a little bit of a personal question—I hope you do not mind—but as a veteran, what did he think when you heard the president was going to go down this road, giving this speech to this audience? Aren‘t there other issues out there he might have addressed?
EATON: My father‘s name is engraved on the Vietnam War memorial. He was killed in action after missing in action for 38 years. I thought it was a bad idea to start going down this link to Vietnam during the speech. It did not serve the country well. It does not serve the American fighting men and women in Iraq well. And it certainly does not serve the veterans well.
STEWART: Retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, a veteran of the Iraq War. Thank you for your time tonight and for your service, sir.
EATON: Thank you, Alison.
STEWART: So you want to protest the war and you want the president to know how you feel. Good luck with that. The Bush administration has a manual on how to keep protesters out of the sights of the commander in chief.
A new outrage aimed at Utah mine owner, Bob Murray. He says he wants to open up other areas of the Crandall Canyon mine before all the victims are found or laid to rest.
You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.
STEWART: Two weeks after a deadly cave in, you think it might be too early to talk about reopening a mine were six miners remain entombed? You think? Our fourth story on the “Countdown” tonight, the mercurial and contradictory statements of Crandall Canyon Mine owner, Bob Murray, whose comments continue to ratchet up the pain of the families of the lost minors.
Only on Monday a reporter asked Murray about plans to reopen the mine again and whether it was safe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The United Mine Workers of America today put out a very sharply worded statement basically saying that this mine now is unstable and that it would not be prudent or practical to ever mine in this particular mine every again.
MURRAY: They are incorrect. The mine is unstable where this seismic event occurred. I have already volunteered to the federal Mine Health Administration and directed to my management some time ago that we would abandon any effort to mine in this mine where we have been mining. But there are reserves in an entirely different direction that would not have these same seismic activities. So United Mine Workers is incorrect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: When that statement hit the news, the action was bitter for some of the grieving families. Today, Mr. Murray‘s story changed. Here is again, earlier today, asked why he‘s planning to reopen part of the mine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: That is not true. That was a statement made by the United Mine Workers of America. I never said that. I told MSHA, when I came out tonight with the blood on my hands from the recovery, that is an evil mountain. It‘s alive. And I will never go back in there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Strange, because a spokesman at the Mine Safety and Health Administration also heard something about reopening the mine, telling the “New York Times,” quote, we were shocked that the subject was even brought out. MSHA remains 100 percent focused on the rescue effort.
Then there are the official documents the “Salt Lake Tribune” says it found contradicting Murray, showing his company repeatedly petitioned mine safety officials to remove coal from the thick walls left in place to support the mine roof, permission he got on June 15th, three weeks before the fatal collapse.
Jack Spadaro is a former director of the government academy that trains mine safety inspectors. He held that job under the Clinton administration.
Mr. Spadaro, that you for your time tonight.
JACK SPADARO, FORMER DIRECTOR, MINE HEALTH AND SAFETY ACADEMY: Thank you for having me.
STEWART: You‘ve been watching Bob Murray since all of this began. I understand that you have even encountered Mr. Murray. And we saw those statements, the two statements we just played for our viewers. What are your observations about how he runs his business?
SPADARO: I think that Mr. Murray has been completely irresponsible in the way he runs his businesses, the way he operates his mine in particular, particularly the mine in Crandall Canyon. He knew, from previous reports, that the mining of the barrier pillars would be dangerous. The company that had the mine before had refused—had decided not to mine the barrier pillars because it was too dangerous. I find it outrageous that he wants to continue to mine in that area and also that he sought approval from the Mine Safety and Health administration to begin mining the barrier pillars in the first place.
STEWART: Apparently, he received permission to go ahead with the mining of those barriers. How can he receive that permission from the organization that is supposed to uphold mine safety?
SPADARO: I am appalled. The district manager, Alan (ph)) Davis, should be held accountable for approving that plan. It is my understanding and understanding of many people in the agency that there were people within the agency who objected to the issuance of the approval to mind the pillars. And Alan (ph) Davis should be held accountable, as well as people higher up in the agency, Richard Stickler in particular, for allowing these kinds of policies to—allow these kinds of things to happen. Mining the barrier pillars...
STEWART: I‘m sorry. Continue, sir.
SPADARO: Richard Stickler, who is the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
STEWART: Yeah, I want to follow up on that a little bit more. Tell us his history in that position. Stickler became a face that we all got to know during these press conferences.
SPADARO: Mr. Stickler was a recess appointee by the Bush administration. He was the second appointee to the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The first was Mr. Lariskie, who began implementing the policies and procedures that led us to this condition. From everything that I‘ve seen, Mr. Stickler is continuing these policies and procedures. He allowed the rescuers to work in extremely unsafe conditions, which as we all know, resulted in the death of three very fine people who were trying to save the six trapped miners. Mr. Stickler should have never approved allowing the rescue workers to work under those conditions. He should also be held accountable for that.
He came out of the mining industry with a long history I the industry of not always following the rules and running mines that, by statistic anyway, were not the safest mines.
STEWART: He was actually an executive in the coal industry himself?
SPADARO: Yes, in Pennsylvania. Yes.
STEWART: The government figures show mine deaths decreasing all through the 20th century and then climbing again in the 21st century. Is there a clear explanation or are there just more miners out there, is it greedier companies or it there more technologies that take these miners to dangerous places?
SPADARO: No. We have seen seven disasters in the past seven years since the Bush administration took over the enforcement of the Mine Health and Safety laws. I put this at the foot of the Bush administration—changes in policies and procedures, the weakening of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The people within the agency that want to do the work are good, hard-working people but they have been overrun by managers appointed by the Bush administration that have implemented procedures such as this procedure that allowed the unsafe roof-control plan. The eight years preceding 2001, there were no mine disasters. There have been seven in the past seven years.
STEWART: Jack Spadaro, former director of the Mine Safety and Health Academy. Thank you for your time.
In less than an hour, mine owner Bob Murray will be right here on MSNBC. He‘ll be one of Dan Abrams‘ guests tonight on “Live with Dan Abrams.” It‘s a 9:00 p.m. eastern time here on MSNBC.
Brad Pitt tries to turn around the desperation in New Orleans‘ Lower Ninth Ward. How he is using his star status to breath new hope to a neighborhood that has been forgotten?
This cow has put up with a lot of teasing in the pasture. This can only signal one thing—“Oddball” is coming your way next on “Countdown.”
STEWART: On this day in 1963, a future pop star was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His career skyrocketed in the ‘80s, singling alongside his siblings. In 1984, he married into another musical family. Although the marriage did not work out, we have him to think for these immortal lyrics—“To the beat of the rhythm of the night, dance until the morning light.” Happy birthday, James DeBarge.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin, where else, but Norway where apparently unicorns do exist. They mate with unsuspecting cows, then ditch town, leaving behind the evidence. This little guy just wants to be loved. Is that wrong? Except that the third horn is kind of socially inconvenient. His owner says he wasn‘t born this way. Horned number three started growing just in time for that awkward development stage. The other cows might laugh and point, but this little guy is a hit with a mob of delighted cast members from the “Sound of Music II.”
To New Zealand, land of many sheep and these guys, the Maoris, the Iwi natives. And they sure like to party. Not just any party, it‘s the coronation for their new king. Apparently, now that he‘s official, he gets to wear to wear a shirt. During the ceremonies, the warriors chanted challengers to outsiders in his honor. What exactly those challenges were, they did not share. Some of the bored looking people hanging around, probably just sticking around for the beverages.
Finally tonight, to Taiwan; behold the croc whisperer. This trainer keeps his crocs in line by hypnotizing them. Stay. But when the crocs are not safely under his spell, he just loves providing dental care for them, like on this 2,700 pound fellow.
The trainer said he would be embarrassed if the croc bit him. That is one word for it.
Not to be outdone, when these croc whisperers in Mexico answered this house call, they found no less than 98 crocs hanging out in somebody‘s backyard. Just relaxing.
STEWART: So we always hear how much the president loves freedom, but freedom of speech, apparently not when he‘s around. There is a White House how to book on how to keep protesters out of Mr. Bush‘s view.
And Lindsay Lohan getting lucky. Literally, is the freckled one getting it on in rehab? In the court of law, she is getting lucky and escaping drug charges, perhaps.
Details and analysis with Michael Musto ahead. But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. Number three, a very hungry dog in Conoford (ph), Colorado. Its owners, Devin Shay Calhoon (ph), left his plate of food unattended, so the dog took the opportunity to chow down. Calhoon not happy, took the dog to a nearby meadow and shot it.
Calhoon‘s own family called police and turned him in. Calhoon spent four days behind bars before posting bond. The dog, guess what, he lived and his name is lucky.
Luck our theme tonight; number two, Joy Horton of New York. The 73-year old woman was busy cooking in her kitchen, when god dang it, she dropped her spoon. Rather than grab another spoon from the drawer, she bent over to pick it up off the floor. Smart move, it saved her life.
While Horton was picking up the spoon, her house blowed up around her. Officials say the sink and the kitchen counter protected her from flaming falling debris.
Number one, Lucas Aider (ph) and Chrstoph Kurtz (ph), two Swiss students enjoying a vacation in Budapest. They were swimming in the Danube and found something circular with which to play frisbee with. Cool, right? Not cool; they start throwing it around the beach. The lifeguard freaks out. The police freak out. Not because you‘re not supposed to play on the beach, but because it is not good to throw around live land mines.
They found an old Soviet era land mine. I mean, somebody could lose an eye.
STEWART: The Bush administration has a detailed plan on how to deal with protesters. It is a manual, in fact, and apparently it is quite handy. Public awareness that there are written instructions distributed to staffers describing clever ways to make the bad dissenters go away surfaced as the result of a lawsuit filed by two protesters who had been arrested. In our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the ABC‘s of marginalizing those pesky protesters courtesy of the administration.
The document is dated October 2002. So it obviously predates the most vocal protests against this president and the Iraq war. But even back then, the White House manual was specific and closely held. Titled, “Presidential Advance Manual,” it was stamped sensitive, do not copy. It offers guidelines for staffers and volunteers at presidential public events. For example, “those invited near the stage must be extremely supportive of the administration.”
“Screen the crowd as they come in looking for signs, especially folded cloth signs.”
“Create really squads of volunteers with large signs of favorable messages, placed in strategic locations, looking for demonstrators.”
“The really squads‘ task is to shield the demonstrators from the main press platform. If demonstrators yell, rally squads should chant, USA, USA, USA.”
“As a last resort, security may remove demonstrators from event site.”
Enter Jeffrey and Nicole Rank (ph) who wore these t-shirts at a Charleston, West Virginia event in July of 2004. The staff told them to cover the t-shirts or leave. When they refused, they were arrested. Local authorities later dropped the charges and apologized, but the ACLU sued the federal government on first amendment right infringement on the couples behalf.
That is when the manual was made public under a subpoena. Joining me now, the host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Miss Rachel Maddow herself. Hi Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”: Hi Allison. Nice to see you.
STEWART: One thing about this administration is it is organized when it comes to things like dealing with protesters. What does it say to you that this action plan existed even before the war started?
MADDOW: Maybe they were worried about people being mad that they hadn‘t caught Osama bin Laden yet. I don‘t know. It may be an historical accident. But this dated, as you mentioned, October of 2002? What is the other big thing that happened in October 2002? Well, that‘s the month that Congress passed and Bush signed the war authorization that he would ultimately use to go to war in Iraq.
Maybe that is what they had in mind when they came up with this detailed plan.
STEWART: Like I said, these are organized people in this administration. The manual says local officials should be encouraged to, quote, designate a protest area, where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event of the motorcade route. It also says protesters not really a big deal if the media can‘t see them. Doesn‘t this just seem to dismiss the very point of legitimately protesting? Is it just to discourage people so they just phone it in?
MADDOW: I have been a protester in a previous life as an activist. I have covered a lot of protests at presidential events. When you decide to make a political public statement, the reason you do it at a big public event that is going to get a lot media coverage is because you want to be heard. Otherwise you would do it in your basement where it is safer.
You do it at these events because you do want to get media coverage. So, yes, it bothers me that our White House, which is in charge of protecting our first amendment rights, and the rest of the rights granted to us by the constitution, that they are trying—they have all these detailed plans to keep protesters from media coverage.
I am more bothered by the stuff you hear about protecting the president from seeing protesters. One of the reasons you choose to protest at an event that‘s being headlined by a politician is because, in part, you want that politician to see you. You want the politician to hear your message. So, there is no justification for shielding the president from protesters views, even if you could come up with one conceivably for shielding them from the media.
STEWART: It seems that the manual—you can read it online for all you Google folks out there; good at Googling. A lot of it is about image. It says put super enthusiastic VIPs right in the media eye line, avoid physical contact with the protesters so that doesn‘t end up on video anywhere, outshout dissenters. I mean, frankly, it‘s a pretty wise strategy.
MADDOW: Yes, I mean, even dictators can tell that it is wise to have your goons not seen physically bum rushing your law abiding citizens, particularly when they‘re protesting against a president who is giving a speech about freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which is the topic of the speech that Bush gave on July 4th, when Jeff and Nicole Rank were arrested for wearing those anti-Bush t-shirts. He was talking about freedom of expression.
So yes, it is wise to avoid being seen doing the physical bum rush. But I do not exactly feel like that is a great bar that they have crossed over, in terms of what we should expect from our White House.
STEWART: Wouldn‘t any administration want to have a way of dealing with protesters, especially at campaign events? There has to be instructions for other commanders in chief, even presidential candidates to be.
MADDOW: To be fair, that is absolutely right. There have to be very intense plans for keeping the president safe and for keeping his events reasonably orderly, so they can keep him safe. That is absolutely the case. But there‘s absolutely no justification for saying that protesters pens need to be set up beyond on the sight line of the motorcade. That is purely about shielding the president‘s own eyes from the protesters, who are saying that they disagree with him.
There is no justification for that whatsoever. It has nothing to do with safety. It doesn‘t even have anything to do with image control. That is simply about shielding the president from those messages. I think that is just pathetic.
STEWART: Air America‘s Rachel Maddow, thanks Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Allison.
STEWART: The government may be slow to help the citizens of New Orleans, but not Brad Pitt. An exclusive interview with the star who is trying to bring hope back to the troubled city.
It was bound to happen, “High School Musical” becomes a mega TV hit and now come all of the mega tabloid headlines. That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.
STEWART: Our number two story tonight, fame, fortune and a few good ideas can be a powerful combination. If you are going to have photographers and TV cameras follow your every move, why not make those moves to help others and raise awareness for a cause? Brad Pitt and baby‘s mother, Angelina Jolie, bought a house in New Orleans last January, because they say they fell in love with the city.
Now they are working to help rebuild healthy homes for the city‘s displaced residents, houses that are also healthy for the environment. NBC‘s Anne Curry met up with Mr. Pitt.
BRAD PITT, ACTOR: This house here looks like a standard construction site, but it is dedicated to the quality of life of the family that will live here. It is about fairness. It is about dignity.
ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: When Brad Pitt looks around New Orleans, he sees a series of wrongs, but he also sees an opportunity to make some things right for the displaced poor of the lower 9th ward.
PITT: It‘s a justice issue. What we saw in Katrina is that there is a portion of society that is being overlooked. In the aftermath, we‘re not going to be able to bring back the friends and family that are lost. We‘re not going to be able to bring back their heirlooms and their photographs. But maybe we can provide a better way of life. Maybe we can find some good out of this. And that has to deal with justice and fairness.
CURRY: As we first reported last year, Pitt has teamed with the environmental non-profit group called Global Green to build eco friendly low income housing. A year after completing the design stage, the project is well underway, cutting through bureaucratic and political red tape to provide something tangible for the victims of Katrina.
MATT PETEREN, CEO, GLOBAL GREEN USA: A month after the storm, they are the ones who decided. We found them and started working with them. It was not environmental non-profit leader Brad Pitt that solely made this decision. It was a neighborhood resident.
CURRY: This is a moral position that says it is not OK anymore to say, OK, we‘ll just build cheap houses. You can live there. I‘m not going to live there, but you can liver there.
PITT: You see that FEMA trailer over there, it is rife with Formaldehyde. That trailer that people are having to stay in is poisoning them as we speak. That is not respect for the people.
CURRY: You sound like you‘re speaking not just as somebody who is coming from the outside. You are coming in and you‘re looking at it and saying this is not right. It sounds like you are speaking as a New Orleans resident.
PITT: I care very much for the area. I met a 60-year-old man who, when I first arrived here to look into this. And he said, I did everything right. I got a job. I bought a home. I raised my kids in that home. They did the same. Now one of my kids is in Atlanta. Another one is in Houston. We‘re all split apart and we‘ve been wiped out.
CURRY: Because of the storm.
PITT: What do I do? He‘s right and that‘s unacceptable. So any debate on should we rebuild or not, I will take you on.
CURRY: Because you are looking at that guy‘s face.
PITT: That‘s right.
CURRY: He deserved better.
PITT: That‘s right.
CURRY: So, is enough being discussed on the political level and the presidential level about this topic? What needs to happen?
PITT: I think it will be a topic on the upcoming elections?
CURRY: Hasn‘t been enough of a big topic?
PITT: No, it hasn‘t been enough. But this place here is a small victory in that direction. It doesn‘t feel like much of a victory when you look at the over all problem here. Katrina was a man-made disaster. The misconception is that it was nature. But this is man-made; decades and decades of erroneous engineering moves and really bad, irresponsible moves, that I believe government has a responsibility to make right.
STEWART: Now, if you want to learn more about the project to help victims of Katrina, check out “The Today Show” Thursday morning. Another report from Ann Curry about Pitt and the Global Green project in New Orleans.
We slide into our roundup of celebrity and nightly news, Keeping Tabs. Make sure your tweens leave the room or block their ears for the next 30 seconds. Are you ready? OK. There may not be a “High School Musical 3.”
“Life and Style Magazine” reporting that the stars of the first two movies have locked horns with the movie studio, putting their roles in the third movie in jeopardy. Apparently conflicts over script approval and salary are holding up negotiations. According to the magazine, if it is not resolved soon, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale may not be in the next movie.
If that happens, how will the world continue to rotate on its axis?
Bill Murray, busted; Swedish police nabbed the 56-year-old actor as he drove a golf cart around downtown Stockholm when the officers smelled alcohol on Murray‘s breath. They asked him to take a breathalyzer test. He refused. So police took a blood alcohol test. Even though the results aren‘t even back from the lab, Murray has already signed a document admitting his guilt.
Remember, it just doesn‘t matter, because all the good looking girls will still go out with the guys from Camp Mohawk, because they‘ve got all the money. I love Meatballs.
He has been dead for nearly eight months, and yet the Godfather of Soul is now a father again. Three times, hit me. Three previously unrelated women have all discovered that James Brown is their dad. One of them, Laronda Petite (ph), is a retired flight attendant from Houston. The other two women, one from Florida and one South Carolina, have not been publicly identified.
Since Brown died on Christmas last year, about a dozen DNA samples have been taken from his body to determine paternity. Someone on the phone to Maury.
Lindsay Lohan making waves in rehab, trysts in the bathroom. The smuggling of cell phones and now could she have even escaped drug charges? Is she getting special star treatment? We‘ll give her the Michael Musto treatment after the break.
STEWART: In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Lindsay Lohan is either A, doing great in rehab and really changing her life around, or B, acting out by having relations with a male patient in a bathrooms, or C, some sketchy combo of the two, if that‘s possible. But one thing is for sure, her lawyer has his act together, because there is word that Lohan will not face any felony charges for her recent transgressions.
So called sources from law enforcement telling TMZ.com the Los Angeles District Attorney‘s office is leaning towards passing on three possible felonies, including cocaine charges stemming from two different DUI arrests. Maybe the police are actually buying Lohan‘s claim that the cocaine belonged to a friend.
A reported plea deal would leave Lohan with two misdemeanor DUI charges, for which she could serve a few days in jail. That is, when she gets out of rehab.
“In Touch Weekly” reporting that Lohan was caught in a compromising position, shall we say, with a male patient in the bathroom of the rehab. Rumors spreading that they had been having sex.
Let‘s bring in the “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto. Good evening, Michael.
MICHAEL MUSTO, “THE VILLAGE VOICE”: Hello, Allison.
STEWART: Let‘s get right into this “In Touch Weekly” story. The publication doesn‘t claim to know if Lohan was just making out or something more in the bathroom. But when you are 12 stepping it, does it really matter how compromising this compromising position was?
MUSTO: It‘s a non-issue Allison. It is absurd that you can‘t have sex in rehab. What‘s the problem? You‘re not detoxing from sex. And besides, Lindsay has been cleaning up the bathroom, why not let her use it for something stimulating? She can always clean it up again after the sex.
STEWART: “In Touch” also saying Lohan has broken other rules at rehab, smuggling in a cell phone, leaving the premises to get a tan at a tanning salon, one time to go to Gold‘s Gym. Based on the latest track record, do you think there is any truth to these scurrilous claims?
MUSTO: Yes, yes and yes. How are you going to call our for drugs if you don‘t have a cell phone. The woman is tan-orexic. If she is not a lovely shade of Burnt sienna, how was she going to get action in the loo? As for going to the gym, well, we‘ve all left the steam room, at times, a little happier, let‘s say. That‘s where she is. She is insatiable.
STEWART: You just ticked those all right off. All right, let‘s talk about Lindsay Lohan‘s mother and her brother and sister; visit her on family day and they say she is doing terrific. Now we know this is Lohan‘s third rehab, three times is a charm, maybe.
MUSTO: No, the esteemed Danny Bonaduce says that only one of 24 trips to works. So Lindsay has 21 more times, OK. But—
STEWART: What is it with these red headed child stars?
MUSTO: It started with Hailey Mills (ph). But look, between the cell phone and the trips to the gym and the drugs, she probably wants to go 100 more times. Rehab is the new Disneyland and there are no lines, except for lines of coke.
STEWART: You are not a lawyer, but I know that you are as smart as one.
MUSTO: I play one on TV.
STEWART: What is the possibility of her getting off on all of the possible cocaine charges?
MUSTO: Pretty good. I guess they believed her that the coke belonged to somebody else. It flew in her pocket by poltergeist and she was playing bumper cars on the freeway because of an energy drink. I don‘t get it, Allison. Nobody believes her in “I Know Who Killed Me,” or any movie, but suddenly she is the world‘s most convincing actress when she says, cocaine, what cocaine? It was Splenda.
STEWART: We‘re going to switch gears a little bit. Somebody who maybe should be in rehab, Britney Spears; the fight between her and her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, continues with the latest subpoena from his attorney reportedly going to a Britney gal pal, who is rumored to be her sort of librarian friend, if you know what I mean. What does your radar say about this?
MUSTO: OK, her librarian friend. I doubt she used her to take out any books. I think they‘re doing it. Let‘s face it. This is like going back to the Gloria Vanderbilt mother case, when she was, quote, smeared for being a lesbian, and she lost custody. Of course, now Gloria‘s son is a lesbian.
This is absurd. I‘m just going to keep talking. Britney are Lindsay are recreational lesbians. OK, they turn to people like each other because the men are away, and when they are around, they are awful. They should not be penalized.
STEWART: They did not get to go to college, so they couldn‘t get be lesbians until graduation. Right?
MUSTO: They went to college on a match book.
STEWART: Britney Spears is on the offensive when it comes to her mother skills, telling “Life and Style Magazine,” quote, my baby‘s are my life—that‘s my inflection. But that same article noted that Britney was in L.A. club to the wee hours of Sunday morning. Can she pull off the whole Carol Brady, June Cleaver, Claire Huxtable act and keep up her party girl ways?
MUSTO: I don‘t think June Cleaver ever showed her privates in public. Let‘s not have any “Leave it to Beaver” jokes, Allison. I think Britney is trying. She would have brought the kids to the club, but she was afraid they would be carded. So she is kind of like June Cleaver meets Heidi Fleiss. She‘s like yo mamma of the year.
STEWART: OK, before I let you go; “New York Post” reporting that Britney was handed a comeback song with Justin Timberlake, her ex, and he set aside a week to work it out. But she canceled.
MUSTO: Well, he‘s cheating on Jessica Biel, so he‘s going to have a reunion duet with her pretty soon. Britney‘s last duet was with Madonna. That was so awful I think it caused 9/11. She is smart to avoid duets at this point. Though I do thing, Allison, that the inevitable one with K-Fed, “You Don‘t Bring Me Jerky Anymore,” is going to be very hot.
STEWART: We shall see. The one, the only Michael Musto. Thanks again for joining us.
MUSTO: Thank you.
STEWART: That‘s going to do it for this Wednesday addition of COUNTDOWN. A programming note, in case you missed all the visual cues we dropped all along the way tonight, in the corner, COUNTDOWN will be on the network this Sunday at 7:00 eastern, 6:00 central time. Sunday, COUNTDOWN night in America, this Sunday anyway. I‘m Allison Stewart. Thank you so much for watching.
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