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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 11

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Dana Milbank, Maria Milito

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

The campaign of change: Change changes into the economy.  As the Dems head west, Governor Napolitano of Arizona endorses Obama.  Clinton starts talking interest rates and recessions and starts walking door to door.

Trying to walk back through a controversy with his state‘s primary

coming up in 18 days.  Congressman Clyburn of South Carolina had vowed not

to endorse anyone, then, got mad when Martin Luther King got dragged into

it.  And President Clinton used the phrase: “Fairy Tale.”  So, President

Clinton goes on Al Sharpton‘s radio show


BILL CLINTON, FMR. UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  First of all, it‘s not true.  I have given hundreds of speeches on Hillary‘s behalf in this campaign.  I don‘t believe I given a single one where I didn‘t applaud Senator Obama and his candidacy.  It‘s not a fairy tale, he might win.


OLBERMANN:  The fairy tale Mr. Clinton had said was Obama‘s superior judgment on the war in Iraq.

Recount in New Hampshire because Senator Clinton won in area‘s using electronically-scanned ballots, but Senator Obama won in area‘s using hand-counted ballots.  Then, as Kucinich pushes for it, but Obama himself seems underwhelmed.

Nothing to recount for St. Rudy of 9/11: Cash wise.


RUDY GIULIANI, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes, we‘ve got plenty of money.


OLBERMANN:  Not enough to pay any of his senior campaign staffers this month.  What plenty of money?  Or he‘s formed a catastrophe advisory committee.

Speaking of catastrophes: Why President Bush thinks before the year ends, his poll numbers will rocket up to 45 percent approval?

Equally popular: O.J. Simpson.  Violating (ph) the terms of his bail: Do not pass go, do not go at your old memorabilia, go directly to jail.

And that certainly is an option if the FOX rumor is true: Paul Abdul to sing live at the Super Bowl.


PAULA ABDUL, CELEBRITY ARTIST:  Any publicity is good publicity. 

You got to learn, eat it up (ph).


OLBERMANN:  Wardrobe malfunction, how about brain malfunction?  Better have a tranquilizer gun trained (ph) on her, on second thought, maybe no tranquilizers.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

ABDUL (voice over):  It‘s a wild party where you are.

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening, this is Friday, January 11th, 298 days until the 2008 presidential election.  In a campaign for change that changed the campaign.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Going into New Hampshire was all about change where as Americans used to call it reform.  Going into Nevada and South Carolina, it is the economy again, stupid.  That issue named by voter in New Hampshire as the most important facing the country.  And with the fight for the Democratic nomination heading west, the always evolving Senator Clinton pouncing on the theme that won her husband the White House.  And speaking of the former President Clinton, the man some have called the first black president of the United States was doing all he could to keep Mrs. Clinton‘s campaign from heading south in the wake of comments both have made on race..  We begin tonight with Mrs.  Clinton.  And it‘s Friday, it must be Southern California and the aptly (ph) named: City of commerce, where Senator Clinton seemed to be aiming for a campaign stuff trifecta, unveil a new economic stimulus plan, criticize the current administration‘s with the state of the economy, get credit free everything I did yesterday.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I was in Las Vegas yesterday going door-to-door and I met wonderful, hard working families.  I also met construction workers who‘ve been laid off.  I met workers who have lost their health care.  You know, this economy may be working for some people, but it sure isn‘t working for everybody.  And part of what we‘ve got to decide is whether we‘re just going to allow this economy to slip into recession.  You know, the economist can argue about it, you can see him on TV, some say, yes, it‘s going there.  Some say, not yet, some say, oh, no.  But the statistics are one thing.  The stories are something all together different.


OLBERMANN:  The story of her apparent main rival for the nomination, Senator Obama continues to get endorsements.  Today, the Illinois Democrat picked up the support of Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano.  Tonight: The two to appear together at a political rally in Las Vegas.  That‘s not what you‘re seeing there.  Earlier today though, the governor explaining what she said was a difficult decision - a choice between Senators Clinton and Obama.


GOV. JANET NAPOLITANO, (D) ARIZONA:  It wasn‘t about gender nor was it about race.  To me, this election is fundamentally about change.  And it‘s about a new vision in Washington DC, it‘s about bringing people of different area‘s of the country together, people of different parties together, people of different ages together and to me, Senator Obama is evidence of that change that we need.


OLBERMANN:  Time to call in our own Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  The economy?  What happened to new blood which was last week or the war on Iraq which was two weeks ago?

FINEMAN:  Well, what‘s happening is that most people think we‘re headed into if not already in a recession that has real world consequences that has the candidates scrambling to show that they understand what‘s going on in the real world, not just in campaign world.  That‘s why Hillary was talking about the stories of people, going to door-to-door, that‘s why she unveiled a $70 billion program of the aid of the states to try to alleviate problems in the economy.  That‘s why Obama is talking the way he is right now that all racing to that because that‘s where the voters are, especially as shown in New Hampshire the other day.

OLBERMANN:  I know the way I phrased that sounded as dismissive of people facing financial issues as a Republican sounds, what it says, the economy is doing well, meaning the investment economy.  But the real world economy, if it has been and it has been obviously a burning issue for 12 months, 18 months, maybe longer that for so many Americans.  Where were the Democrats particularly on this?  Did they not anticipate that this would come to the floor?  Does Edwards suddenly get a bounce of the fact that he‘s been there for quite awhile?

FINEMAN:  No, John Edwards deserves credit for the fact that he is being on this for a long time.  That he is the son of a mill worker and who‘s talked about this consistently as his number went (ph) issue for a year.  The problem he has now, Keith, is converting that and ironically, it‘s because of money.  He might not have enough and he doesn‘t get enough attention these days to necessarily be the guy.  He set the agenda, what‘s happening now is that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are trying to gobble up his space, use his language try to help themselves in these upcoming primaries.  Will they be able to crowd him out?  Unfortunately for him, maybe so.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama is picking up endorsements: Governor Napolitano today.  Senator Clinton is picking potential voters door-by-door, now, if she has to, stressing this new found accessibility in this stump speech today.  Who gets the greater benefit?  Have we yet assessed where the endorsement stands in American politics 2008?

FINEMAN:  Well, ironically, Keith, I think they‘re going to each other‘s style in a way.  Obama is going for endorsements.  He‘s the outsider, but yet, he‘s going for endorsements.  He‘s the insurgent now getting endorsements.  Whereas: Hillary is going for the street.  She‘s saying, no, I‘m the one who understands the reality of the streets.  Forget about my endorsements.  Look at me go door-to-door.  So, they‘re approaching at each other‘s territory here.  It just shows you, what a long and tough race this potentially is for the Democratic nomination.

OLBERMANN:  Might Senator Clinton‘s tactical move the other one here to become more accessible to media be fought (ph) with some perils, specifically, her consenting to go to full hour with Tim Russert this Sunday on MEET THE PRESS, I mean, given the Clinton‘s well-documented battles with the media, especially with some of the accusations from last week.  Is this a minefield as opposed to some sort of new access?

FINEMAN:  Well, Tim is a human minefield on the air if you‘re a politician.  I guess it‘s an expression of confidence on Hillary‘s part.  I‘m not sure it‘s the first thing I would do if I were she.  Just go out there and enjoy your victory before you go face Tim.  On the other hand, if she can do well in that hour, if she can last the hour with him in his brilliant approach to questioning political leaders, then, I think she‘s got the kind of, you know, she‘s got the asbestos pantsuit on now for probably the rest of the campaign if she can say, look, I survived Tim Russert.  There‘s nothing else you can do to me.  So, that‘s what she‘s after.  Coming to him at a high point in her campaign, it‘s probably a smart gamble on her part.

OLBERMANN:  Is it not true that every success truly that she has had in this campaign, for the last year and it‘s been the year and basically since she announced.  Almost every of these successes has been something that she did that went against the conventional wisdom as presented to her.  Whether it was to be you know, more open, to bring even things of a tonal qualities during speeches where instead of making a projective speech, she can very quiet and made people listen the way Ronald Reagan used to.  Really, every time she tries something new and it works, shouldn‘t she try it again?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think she should.  And I think she‘s getting away from the cocoon that her handlers put her in.  That almost sort of paranoid fence that they‘ve build around here and I think it‘s help her when she showed emotion, it‘s help her when she‘s told her own stories, it‘s help her when she‘s gotten outside of that web of campaign people and there‘s no further outside you can go than an hour live with Tim Russert.  That‘s what she‘s going to do this weekend.

OBLERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  We‘ll see you at the next wall-to-wall coverage.

FINEMAN:  Next stop.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir.

FINEMAN:  And thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A woman and an African-American now leading the fight to the Democratic nomination.  Perhaps, it was only a matter time before the race becomes charged with matters of race and ethnic origin.  The candidates now fighting for the Hispanic vote out west, especially now that New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson is out of the running as of yesterday.  Hillary Clinton canvassing for votes if not for dinner in a Mexican restaurant in a working class neighborhood of Las Vegas yesterday afternoon.  Earlier, she had gone door-to-door.  But the highest ranking African-American in Congress, South Carolina‘s James Clyburn is said to be rethinking now his neutral stance on the campaign.  This in the wake of Senator Clinton‘s comments about Martin Luther King having needed President Johnson to achieve his legacy.  Mr. Clyburn, also voicing frustrations to the “New York Times” over President Clinton having described Mr. Obama‘s campaign narrative as a fairy tale last week.  But is that what Mr. Clinton really said?


B. CLINTON:  It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years and never got asked one time, not once.  Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004, you didn‘t know how you would have voted on a resolution?  You said in 2004, there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech now running on off your Web site in 2004.  And there‘s no difference in your voting record and Hillary‘s ever since.  Give me a break.  This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I‘ve ever seen.


OLBERMANN:  The only part of that sound bite most Americans have heard in the last four days was the very last sentence.  President Clinton explaining by that fairy tale, he was not referring to Senator Obama‘s designs on the White House only to his stance on the Iraq war as that TV clearly suggests.  He reiterated this on Al Sharpton‘s radio show this afternoon.


B. CLINTON:  First of all, it‘s not true.  I have given hundreds of speeches in Hillary‘s behalf in this campaign.  I don‘t believe I‘ve given a single one where I did not applaud Senator Obama in his candidacy.  It‘s not a fairy tale, he might win.  I think he‘s a very impressive man and he run a great campaign.


OLBERMANN:  That fire tapped down if not extinguished, there might now be the need for more damage control in the matter of race from the Clinton campaign.  An anonymous Clinton aide having allegedly told the British newspaper, “The Guardian,” quote, “If you have a social need, you‘re with Hillary.  If want Obama to be your imaginary hip black friend and you‘re young and you have no social needs, then, he is cool.”  The sum of their remarks and those of others leaving Obama spokeswoman, Candice Tolliver, who wonder (ph) aloud to quote, “There‘s a ground swell reactions to these comment, folks are beginning to wonder, is this really an isolated situation or is there something bigger behind all of this.”  To help us answer that question, let‘s turn to columnist, Eugene Robinson, also associate editor of the “Washington post.”  Gene, good evening.

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  Keith, good to see you.

OLBERMANN:  Is part of the problem here pattern that there‘s not one event that really stands up as an issue but you add it all up and what‘s already, a very highly charged dynamic in a very highly charged race becomes magnified over and over again?

ROBINSON:  You know, pattern is part of it.  I think the real problem is this is a really close, tough race.  It‘s going to be hotly contested and it‘s a situation that nobody‘s been in before.  There is an African-American who has a legitimate shot at winning the presidency and so, how do the Clintons talk about him?  If you know, what Bill Clinton said on Al Sharpton‘s show will sound to some ears almost patronizing.  Yet, if he‘s too sharp, it will sound as if you know, if he goes back to fairy tale, it sounds as if he‘s dismissing the very idea of an African[American president and you know, I realize this is not an easy thing for the Clintons to negotiate, but you know, they knew the job was tough when they took it.

OLBERMANN:  The issue particularly with Congressman Clyburn, you can‘t possibly have timed that more importantly with the South Carolina Democratic primary is just ahead.  Is he going to endorse somebody?  Is he going get off the endorsement neutrality fence here?

ROBINSON:  Boy, that was a tantalizing hint, wasn‘t it?  He decided very early on not to endorse because he really wanted—he wanted this early primary, he wanted all the candidates to participate.  He wanted to you know, kind of showcase South Carolina, bring the attention and you know, and the money that‘s such a big event brings into the state.  And so, he said he was going to be neutral.  But clearly, he was more irked (ph) by - look, you don‘t lecture, even if you‘re Bill and Hillary Clinton.  You don‘t lecture black America on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  You just don‘t do that and you certainly, don‘t do it a week before the South Carolina primary.  That‘s just not a wise thing to do.

OLBERMANN:  Is there more scrutiny of the Clinton‘s?  Is there certain irony to this talked about sort of reverse patronizing almost as if is there more criticism, more analysis of what they‘re saying because they‘ve had such strong support over the years among African-Americans?

ROBINSON:  That‘s one way of looking at it.  I guess, you know, I was thinking about this earlier.  This is the first campaign in which you know, a Clinton won‘t be the blackest candidate in the race.  I mean the candidate with the strongest organic ties to black America.  They‘re used to being in that position and they‘re not this time.  And I think it‘s difficult for them to adjust to essentially being outsiders rather than insiders.  Outsiders asking for the votes of black America and asking for the black America not to vote for black America and I think that‘s very different for them and disorienting.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  As somebody who grew up in South Carolina, somebody who knows the state very well, how do you see the primary breaking down?  Is it labor, is it income?  Is the media going to overdue the race issue?  What do you see playing out?

ROBINSON:  The race issue, I think will be important.  You know, it‘s not labor.  Labor unions are not a big factor in South Carolina.  The economy is a really big issue.  It‘s going to be at least the dynamic right now, is number one—the excitement that it‘s likely that a Democrat will be elected in 2008.  Who‘s on the Democratic side?  South Carolina Democrats are ready for that.  And number two, Clinton versus Obama.  Both very popular in the state.  Obama‘s numbers have been rising even before Iowa.  My guess is he takes the state.

OLBERMANN:  Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC. 

Thanks, Gene, have a good weekend.

ROBINSON:  Same to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  New Hampshire may or may not need to recount its Democratic primary but the distrust of optical scanning voting machines is as strong as ever after it.  Be afraid, be very afraid.

And if it seem to you like Rudy Giuliani‘s campaign was being run like it was a hobby, you are right.  No money to pay key senior staffers.  And looking ahead to the Republicans in Florida, we will debut a new polling statistic that might help.  The Keith number.  Your are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  It looks like there‘s an excellent chance of a recount in the New Hampshire Democratic primary.  The issue is as it was in 2004 as it was 2000 as for all we know I will be again in November: Electronic voting machines.  The explanation for New Hampshire maybe much more prosaic.  But what about November?

Later: Republican presidential polling in a new Keith number and in Worst: The presidential candidate who does not know if the Iranian navy is made up of suicide bombers versus Bill O‘Reilly‘s newest illusion of grandeur that he should be on the Supreme Court.  All that ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  You still wake up in cold sweating, remembering the chad debacle of 2000 and the touch screen voting debacle of 2004, brace yourself.  Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The first recount of 2008.  According to Citizens for a Legitimate Government: 81 percent of New Hampshire ballots were cast and counted on an optical scanning machine, not just one, 19 percent of votes were counted by hand.  They produced different results.  In the machines scan precincts: Hillary Clinton got 40 percent of the vote, in the hand count, she got 35 percent.  Whereas:

Barack Obama in machines districts got 36 percent compared to 39 percent on the hand counted paper ballots.  Several bloggers pointing out however that most of the machines were in cities where Hillary Clinton had scored highly in pre-voting polling.  Whereas: The hand counting was in mostly in rural areas where Barack Obama had polled high and it needs to be noted the geographical pattern seemed to hold.  Clinton won on areas closest to Boston for the most part, Obama won the Connecticut river valley for most part.  But Dennis Kucinich who only got one percent of the vote wants to be absolutely certain the vote count was correct.  He‘s paid $2000 to start a recount process.  He‘s campaign says today it may fundraised to pay any additional expenses.  Kucinich saying in a letter, he does not expect his tally to change much, but he wants a recount in the interest of quote, “Public confidence in the integrity of the election process.”  Then New Hampshire Secretary of State granting his request with quote, “Every confidence that the vote is accurate.”  Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey is sponsoring legislation to fix voting machine problems before the 2008 general election.  He‘s been good enough to join us tonight.  Thank you for your time, Congressman.

REP. RUSH HOLT, (D) NEW JERSEY:  Keith, good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  Because New Hampshire used optical scanning machines, do they have - they actually have these paper ballots as evidence to recount on Congressman‘s Kucinich‘s behalf?  But more than 69,000 precincts across the country are using paperless electronic voting machines.  What happens if and when there is some evidence or at least seeming discrepancy in one of those elections on one of those 69,000 precincts?

HOLT:  Sure.  Well, you hit on the good news there, Keith.  There may or may not have been irregularities in New Hampshire, but there are voter-verified paper ballots that can be counted.  And so, it‘s possible to do a recount, it‘s possible to do an audit, but, if you‘re a voter from say, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia or even my home state of New Jersey, you‘ll go into the primary with unverifiable election.  In other words, electronic count for which there is no voter-verified record.  And therefore, you can‘t do an audit, you can‘t do a recount.  And a recount is meaningless because it just whatever is in the electronic memory, is in the electronic memory and that‘s what you‘ll get over and over again.  So, you can‘t really look at voter‘s intentions.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead, sir.

HOLT:  So, well, anything of value should be auditable.  And we know votes are valuable.  Certainly, campaigns spend many dollars for the vote they‘d hope to get.  There have been occasions in history where votes have been bought and sold.  So, to give voters the confidence that they deserved, that their votes will be counted as they intended, there should be paper ballots and in every election, there should be an audit.  Maybe not a full recount, but at least an audit to determine whether there‘s any systemic problem.

OLBERMANN:  As you have proposed in legislation which calls for money to allow states and precincts to switch back to paper ballots in time for November of this year.  Is that the best bet or is there instead some sort of methodology of establishing of a national election standard?

HOLT:  Well, of course, the key is to have on it and states can do that on their own.  Now, many of us, in fact, almost the majority of us in the House of Representatives that have legislation pending for a year or two that would mandate standards for voter-verified paper ballots.  Unfortunately, for various reasons, internal and external politics, probably take too long to go into for the time we have, that‘s not going to be in place by November.  So, next week, I‘m going to introduce legislation that would be an opt in (ph) system.  So that any county that does the right thing, that implements voter-verified paper ballots and audits by November will be reimbursed for that.  And that might provide enough incentive along with citizens who are demanding this sort of thing that many states will do it.  Some states have already done it on their own and of the 20 states that in whole or in part have unverifiable voting systems, maybe some of them or we would hope, many of them will opt in under this system.  I hope we‘ll be able to pass it quickly.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  All right.  Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey.  Great thanks for coming in to spend your time (ph).

HOLT:  Great to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  And have a good weekend, sir.

Not a likely thing to happen for O.J. Simpson, a good weekend. 

Ops, he violated his terms of bail.  So, he‘s butt is going to jail.

And speaking of butts, the sport stadium‘s stripper (ph) who eluded the cops but not the mascot entering stage left.

But first: The latest in the administration‘s 50 other scandals—


Number three: Fox is guarding the hen house-gate.  The president had it by appointing the person most unethical to government oversight in-charge of government oversight.  It was it‘s a dozy (ph), Richard Stickler, the former Bethlehem Steel lumpy (ph), thrice rejected by the Senate as head of mine safety.  Mr. Bush has gotten him anyway as a recess appointment.  Now that that‘s expired, he‘s made him acting head of mine safety.

Number two: Grammar-gate.  The continuing to wash the president‘s seventh grade grasp of English.  During a technical glitch with an earphone in Jerusalem, Mr. Bush said, quote, “I ain‘t got it yet.”  The White House transcript claims Mr. Bush said, I haven‘t got it yet.

And number one: Legacy-gate.  The president‘s naked attempt to rewrite history so, he doesn‘t look like President Buchanan, or Benedict Arnold (ph), his people telling “U.S. News,” they expect this to be such a good year in the Middle East and in the economy but they believe his approval number will bounce back to 45 percent by next January.  They‘re probably wrong about how good a year it will in the Middle East and in the economy.  On the other hand, his approval rate probably will rise because people will be so happy he‘s leaving.


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  201 years ago today, Ezra Cornell was born.  He began a carpenter in upstate New York and he perfected the means of stringing wires on wooden poles just as the telegraph and, later, the telephone came into being.  He made umpteen two billion dollars.  And he decided to open a university with it where he said anyone could study almost anything.  A friend supposedly said, “Ezra, you‘ll be overrun, millions will try to attend it.”  He said supposedly replied, “Yes, but wait until you see where I put it.”  Which is why Cornell University in Ithaca, New York—it‘s five hours from everywhere.  Let‘s play “Oddball”.

30 years ago and I‘m still bitter about that.  We begin on the soccer pitch, site of the most popular and boring sport also, the preferred venue now for the modern streaker.  Boy, have we got an excellent streak for you.  From Lancashire, in England, home of the Burnley Football Club, a naked guy sprinting across the pitch, dodging security, avoiding capture.  There was one thing this fleet-footed flasher couldn‘t outrun—right there!  Bertie the Burnley Bee, the team mascot.  Out of nowhere, with a three-point takedown.  Bertie then feeling it from the crowd, doing the worm.  Go ahead, you‘ve earned it, pal.  We spent a lot of dough pixelating this guy‘s stinger.  So, let‘s look at it again in slow mo—and, bang, he got stung.

Anyway, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and in advance of next week‘s GOP primary, artists have created a Mt. Rushmore Republican candidates out of sand.  OK, it‘s not like you need me to make the obvious joke here.  47 truckloads of beach dirt, used to make the kind of likenesses.  This first here is either Mitt Romney or Guy Smiley from Sesame Street.  Here‘s Rudy Giuliani who look a lot like Jimmy Carter and, finally, there‘s the smiling helmet who was Darth Vader from Return of the Jedi which may or may not also be Fred Thompson.  The real story here, this eight-foot wall of sculpture actually serves a purpose, not only as decent attempt at art, but the structure will also slow down illegal immigrants trying to get in because we haven‘t built that 1,000-foot tall sea wall to keep them from coming here. 

For the last $47, Rudy Giuliani‘s campaign has, they wasted on a TV ad with me in it?  Financial woes for St. Rudy of 9/11.  This woe in general after another in-public meltdown.

Paula Abdul to sing?  At the Super Bowl?  Maria Malido returns to her department.  These stories ahead.  But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World”.  Number three, best comeback: as of Monday, Britain‘s ITV network is bringing back the favorite newscast around this office, “News at 10:00” and, bringing back with it from partial retirement, the impeccable anchorman, Sir Trevor McDonald.  Although, why they let a part- time sports reporter also do the news—oh, yes, right.  Sorry. 

Number two, best toy: Mr. Potato Head.  The beloved Christmas present received by Luis the Octopus at the Blue Whip Aquarium, in Cornwall, in England.  Luis cuddled the toy, figured out to the dig out the food hidden in the secret box in its back, and he attacks every time aquarium staffers try to take Mr. Potato Head away from him.  Who‘s going to argue with a giant octopus?

Number one, best reason for an annulment: the unnamed couple in Great Britain wins the trifecta(ph) tonight.  They met.  They fell in love.  They felt as if they‘d known each other all their lives.  And, after the wedding, they found out why.  They were each adopted and that they had exactly the same birthday was not a co-incidence.  They were, in fact, non-identical twins separated at birth. 

(Singing):  We are family.  I‘ve got all my sisters and me...


OLBERMANN:  Eight years ago, Republicans ran with straight faces as the party of national defense and fiscal prudence.  Eight years later, we have Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, but we do not have the World Trade Center where thousands of Americans lost their hand in Iraq(ph) ever again.  We do, however, have a national debt exceeding $9 trillion, almost double what it was the day before President Bush‘s inauguration.  In our third story tonight, the GOP‘s disputed front-runner Rudolph Giuliani unveiled his master plan for the economy on Wednesday.  One week, we learned today, after his master plan for his own campaign‘s economy created a situation whereby he could no longer pay a dozen of his top staffers.  In the last three months of 2007, the man who says his tax cut—the biggest in human history—would increase tax revenues, actually spent almost $5 million more than he took in, apparently seeking to prove his fitness to pick up where Mr. Bush leaves off in spending beyond our means.   With just $7 million on hand to buy TV ads from some of the nation‘s most expensive media markets, starting with Florida, Giuliani has also pulled most of his paid staffers out of Michigan and South Carolina, making Florida even more central to his strategy.  No one, apparently, having told Sen. John McCain who took the lead in the most recent Florida poll -- 27 to 19 -- over Giuliani, with Willard Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee, right at his heels with 17 each, and the Keith number here is 9.5.  What, you ask is the ‘Keith number‘?  This is the margin of error plus the percentage of undecided—in this case, four-and-a-half margin of error plus five percent undecided.  I thought of it so, I named it after myself.  You think of a better caveat for polls from now on and we‘ll name it after you. 

Back to the Republicans, Giuliani yesterday went after Florida‘s soft spot: hurricanes.  Forming the aptly named Catastrophe Advisory Committee, packing it with Floridians but, possibly, not reassuring the state with his choice of its chairman, Mr. Bush‘s first FEMA Director Joe Alba, the man who saw the downgrading of the FEMA and the upgrading of—heck of a job - - brownie.  Sleep easy, Florida. 

Joining me now, “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank, my co-star in Mr. Giuliani‘s ‘don‘t forget me Florida‘ TV ad and, also, author of “Homo Politicus: the Strange and Scary Tribes that Run Our Government”.  Dana, great thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN:  Three words, softball straight line for you: Catastrophe Advisory Committee.  Go.

MILBANK:  Well, I think now that you and I cut this pro bono ad for Rudy,  we should, in fact, be appointed to this Catastrophe Advisory Committee.  And, I would say for one, I would—if seeking to maximize catastrophe—I would essentially advise Rudy to do exactly what he‘s been doing.  He had the sex scandal; had that situation with the dodgie-shake-who-likes-the-terrorist; he skipped Iowa and New Hampshire; now he‘s got the cash crisis and, just as it‘s getting very expensive, he has stopped paying his staffers.  I think, he‘s right on course there.  That would be my advice. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, you mentioned doing this ad pro bono.  Apparently, everybody who works for him does everything pro bono at this point.  How...

MILBANK:  We were just early on it. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes but, if your strategy is to wait to try to win in Florida, how do you run out of money before you get to Florida?

MILBANK:  It is a bit of a problem there.  I guess, in Rudy‘s defense or standing on his side of things here, when you‘re competing in states like California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, the cost—it‘s going to cost way too much nor anybody—in this race.  So, they might as well all be broke because nobody is going to have enough money to saturate this market.  So, I guess, it‘s the best way of looking at it for him. 

OLBERMANN:  With the years of the tax cuts now yielding fear of recession just sort of generally across the land, is there any impression at this point that voters are starting to get skeptical of plans like Mr.  Giuliani‘s multi-trillion-dollar proposal with tax cuts?

MILBANK:  Well, voters are always saying they want tax cuts and, certainly, the current president wanted tax cuts in good seasons and in bad.  The interesting thing is the president has stopped talking about tax cuts, pretty much everybody has, except for Rudy.  So, it gives him some sort of a retro-feel to his candidacy right now and all the talk of Reagan, as well, I suspect next week, he may come out with some plan to reduce nuclear stockpiles and some sore of a deal with the Soviet Union. 

OLBERMANN:  Isn‘t it Fred Thompson‘s area of expertise—the Soviet Union?  In fairness to Giuliani, though, McCain staffers went months without pay.  I mean, he was carrying his own luggage at several points there. Thompson cut his staff‘s salaries this week.  Romney had do drop his ads in South Carolina, in Florida.  Everybody except the guy that they call fiscally irresponsible, Mike Huckabee, seems to have trouble handling money.  How does this party plausibly sell itself as capable of saving us from a fiscal mess with not so very many ways around us?  It created it.

MILBANK:  Well, Huckabee is only doing OK on the money because he had no staffers in the first place.  But, you know, it‘s very interesting.  And, if you look at Mitt Romney, here is actually a very successful businessman who actually is good with money in contrast to the current president who also had a Harvard MBA, but ran as a successful businessman.  Yet, even he is unable to be an effective political figure.  That may suggest that those who are, in fact, the best at managing money are not, in fact, the most likable candidates which would raise the possibility that we‘ll never actually get a president who is, in fact, capable of being fiscally responsible. 

OLBERMANN:  There you go.  Dana Milbank of MSNBC, “Washington Post”, and a Rudy Giuliani ad coming to a television near you.  Thanks, have a good weekend, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well, if you think justice delayed is justice denied, consider O. J. Simpson.  Tonight, behind bars.  And, if the old commercial went  -- do you ever think that some people just stop trying?  Senator Fred Thompson can‘t tell the difference between suicide bombers and the Iranian Navy.  Battling it out with Bill O‘Reilly, a supreme court justice in “Worst” and on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  O. J. Simpson in jail?  Paula Abdul in Super Bowl broadcast.  Bill O. and Sen. Fred Thompson in “Worst”.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  Well, if you‘ve been waiting for this for, say, 13-and-a-half years, sit back and enjoy it: O. J. Simpson leaves off “Keeping Tabs” tonight because he is behind bars.  Simpson arrested in Florida today for violating his bail, the terms of which were don‘t leave the country and don‘t contact anybody involved in your armed kidnapping-burglary-and-assault trial.  Apparently, he understood the don‘t-leave-the-country part  The prosecutors say, he left an obscenely laced tirade on his bail bondsman‘s voice mail, telling him to relay a message to a co-defendant and so, there goes $125 grand from Bascone bail bonds. 

Then, to an athlete whose dream of being an Olympic champ since she was nine, the rudest of awakenings today.  Former Olympic hero Marion Jones, sentenced to six months in prison for lying about her long-term use of steroids and her knowledge of a check fraud scheme.  The judge giving her the max is a message, she said, to athletes who abuse drugs and who lie to prosecutors. Jones crying in court, then telling reporters she hopes others learn from her mistakes.  Not only was Marion Jones stripped of her Sidney 2000 medals, but pictures like this one have been taken down at the track-and-field Hall of Honor at the University of North Carolina where she was revered.  The former coach saying he loves her but, she made some bad choices, yes, of course, nobody besides her had anything to do with this nor had anybody else profit from those bad choices.

Speaking of which, Paula Abdul in trouble and on the Super Bowl telecast?  Sounds like a job for American Idol Princess Maria Milito!  That‘s ahead but, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World”. 

The bronze to Florida Highway Patrol.  Wednesday on Interstate Four near Lakeland, at least one of its troopers had a field day handing out ticket after ticket to drivers, mostly for careless driving.  It was like shooting fish in a barrel since most of their cars were either damaged or gridlocked because of the 70-vehicle crash in front of them.  The one featuring the big rigs and the fog and the smoke from the wild fires and the four dead people. 

The runner up, Bill O.  Telling the supreme court how to do decide this case in which Indiana is demanding that even poor people go to the county seat for a photo I. D. card before they can vote, quoting, “if I‘m on the Supreme Court, as I should be, I say what is the downside of having somebody prove who they are?”  Oh, now, you have a law degree?  Actually, if the Frank Burns of news were to become the Frank Burns of the Supreme Court, his ruling wouldn‘t matter anyway because, at that point, there‘d be nobody willing to live in this country anymore. 

But our winner, Sen. Fred Thompson.  Asked about the supposed confrontation between Iranian speedboats and three U. S. war ships in the Gulf of Hormuz, Thompson, who last year said we couldn‘t count on the Soviet Union to help us in Iran in the future, pulled another wafer, quote:

“I think one more step and they would have been introduced to those virgins that they are looking forward to seeing.” 

As the crowds cheered and Thompson gave that look he used in “Hunt for the Red October” when he wanted to seem tough, somebody at the debate probably realized that it‘s terrorists and suicide bombers who have believed the crap about the 72 virgins, not the guys in the Iranian navy.  Too bad this somebody wasn‘t Fred Thompson.  But, every week that goes by, the odds seem to grow that one night he‘s going to stop in the middle of a speech or debate and somebody shouted at his supporters, “”Ha-ha, I‘m not really running.  Smile, you‘re on candid camera.”  Sen. Fred ‘Paying Attention is Over-rated‘ Thompson: today‘s “Worst Person in the World”. 


OLBERMANN:  Simmering under the surface of the singing game show that is “American Idol” is this fact: one of its judges is herself a singer or at least she once managed to make money with recordings that actually featured her voice.  But, in our number one story in our COUNTDOWN, with “Idol” season 7 set to begin next week, Paula Abdul is reportedly going to sing again in public for the first time in years and years and years.  But, wait!  “Idol” producers probably don‘t want nothing to do with that.  So, Ms. Abdul may be welcome to the show that doesn‘t know how to say no to a train wreck.  Half-time at the Super Bowl, she‘s in talks to perform for Super Bowl XLII—that according to a TV guide tipster close to Abdul‘s so-called inner circle. And no, I have no desire to get anywhere near Paula Abdul‘s inner circle.  If true, this could place her in the same half-time show as Tom Petty—that‘d be a match made in heaven.  Or, maybe, the producers will ask her to butcher the “Star-Spangled Banner”—we‘re not sure.  And, our Super Bowl producers are aware of this latest reported flame-out, the one at the L. A. airport, a source saying, one minute she was hyperventilating, the next, she was yelling into her cell phone in this deep, rage-filled poltergeist voice.  At this point, let‘s bring in COUNTDOWN‘s very own “American Idol” princess, also the mid-day host of New York‘s classic rock station, Q104.3, Maria Milito.

MARIA MILITO, AMERICAN IDOL PRINCESS AND Q104.3 DJ:  Good to see you already.

OLBERMANN:  Happy new year.

MILITO: Happy new year.  It‘s fine.

OLBERMANN:  Over at the Super Bowl, is she going to be singing in this poltergeist voice?

MILITO:  Well, actually, they said—a source there said—it was more like Linda Blair‘s voice from the “Exorcist”.  So, I thought, that would really be cool.  If her head spun and she spit out pea soup, that would...

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sure, she‘s capable of that.

MILITO:  That‘s entertainment to me.

OLBERMANN:  OK, I‘ll play for that!  If you‘re the producer of a live big event like this, how can you just possibly run the risk that it might be one of her off days?

MILITO:  Well, I would think for her—medicate her.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, good.

MILITO:  Good, right?

OLBERMANN:  Good, what a brilliant suggestion that is!  That‘s what‘s cause all the problems so far!

MILITO:  They probably do that on “Idol”—medicate her, put her up there.

OLBERMANN:  Are you suggesting that they—like they shoot her up before they bring her in to get her in that condition?

MILITO:  Well, she‘s kind of loopy sometimes, right?


MILITO:  So, think about it.  Think about last year, if you had seen that radio satellite show, right?


MILITO:  On a different show and she was like, “I‘m a dancer!”  She was all over the place?  She does come across like she‘s very medicated.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you‘re saying—this is all very much like a Barry Bonds-Roger Clemens kind of thing...

MILITO:  I know.  But, maybe, they‘ve been doing this before

OLBERMANN:  ... That they‘re doing this deliberately?

MILITO:  Well, I would...

OLBERMANN:  These performance-enhancing loopy drugs?

MILITO:  Why do we keeping putting her out there?  If we put the other guys out?  So, you know, it‘s pure entertainment.

OLBERMANN:  This is not necessarily half-time, all right?  That part—

I remember, because when I was with Fox...

MILITO:  Right, not necessarily...

OLBERMANN:  ... We did the Super Bowl in 1999 and the pre-game show started like two—I think the Munros performed live at 2:30, right?

MILITO:  Oh, of course, you love those guys!

OLBERMANN:  I mean, she could be on earlier, right? 

MILITO:  She could be pre-game, yes.  She could be post-game.  She could also be Tom Petty‘s water girl. 


MILITO:  I was thinking of that. Because he‘s performing—Tom Petty. 

She could bring him a glass of water and then, it‘s up to him.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, good!

MILITO:  That‘s interesting, right?

OLBERMANN:  Stumbling up the stairs and spilling the water on him and, perhaps, some electrical fires as a result of that...shock...high voltage...

MILITO:  See that?  See that?

OLBERMANN:  I hope, you‘re writing this down because this is all non-scripted entertainment...

MILITO:  Exhilarating!

OLBERMANN:  So Fox could really use this...

MILITO:  Of course, they can.

OLBERMANN:  So, what is this?  This sits here on this piece of paper in front of you?  A duet?  And a video with Randy Jackson is also planned?

MILITO:  Yes, he has...

OLBERMANN:  Are they going to watch it or are they just going to make one?

MILITO:  No, no.  He‘s actually doing an album of duets...

OLBERMANN:  Oh, great.

MILITO:  And I think it could be maybe like people who need their career-boosting.  Like the Munros may want to be on this album. You know, Katharine McPhee should now be on it, too, because now she doesn‘t have a record deal anymore.

OLBERMANN:  Well, to that point, she‘s been dropped...


OLBERMANN: ... And after Taylor Hicks and...

MILITO:  ... And after Ruby, uhuh...They didn‘t sell any album

OLBERMANN:  Are you going to suggest that there‘s a shelf-life to “American Idol”?

MILITO:  No, I think, with Katharine McPhee, know what it is—your fianc’ and your manager shouldn‘t be the same person, unless you‘re Celine Dion.

OLBERMANN:  But, the...

MILITO:  Seriously


MILITO:  Because, you need someone to do your career, not go home to. 

Except, of course, for Celine Dion.  But, she‘s an exception...

OLBERMANN.  She can tell you, you stink...

MILITO:  You stink, yes.  For fianc’‘s music, harden your marble(ph)?

OLBERMANN:  Do you know anything else about this supposed meltdown—getting back to Paula Abdul—do we know any of the details about what had happened?

MILITO:  Do you know what they say, that she‘s emotional—there was something to do with Simon Cowell—he said everyday, everyday on the set she was always emotional.  She cries at everything.  She‘s bipolar or something.


MILITO:  That‘ s Paula Abdul!

OLBERMANN:  Wasn‘t that the reality show she was on and she was...

MILITO:  Oh, yes, that‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  ... She was crying over a story and somebody was talking in the background and then, she starts yelling at someone because they‘re interrupting her really teary story?

MILITO:  Yes, that‘s her.  She cries at the drop of anything.

OLBERMANN:  So, this is the career path for women of a certain level of experience in this industry?  Is that...

MILITO:  No, I think it‘s just the career path of Paula Abdul.  Think about it.  I mean, she‘s a choreographer.  Now, suddenly, she‘s a judge on “American Idol” and she has a reality show and it works for her.  You go, girl!  I mean, what can I say?

OLBERMANN:  And with this strike it will be on seven nights a week.

MILITO:  I know.  How cool is that?

OLBERMANN:  Quick shot at me here—just one quick shot, come on. 

Boom!  Maria Milito of New York‘s Q104.3 and our “American Idol” princess. 

MILITO:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Great thanks and great start for the new year, already.

MILITO:  Absolutely.  Happy new year.

OLBERMANN:  Boom!  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,717th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann.  I won‘t see you this weekend.  I have one off for the first time since August.  Good night and good luck.



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