Guest: Dean Yates, Dean Radford, Dan Eggen, Karen Breslau
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which have these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Eleven days after, and still the horror is made fresh by images seen fresh. The tsunami reduced to nature versus one man in Thailand. And nature versus one town with one house left in Indonesia. Full coverage ahead.
And from Washington, history made as the Electoral College vote for president is formally challenged for the first time since 1877. Protesting Democrats, annoyed Republicans.
More of your tax dollars in action. More symbolically than practically. The confirmation hearings begin for attorney general designate Alberto Gonzales.
And warning, warning. The Angle wackiest warning list is out, including this one: “Never remove food or other items from the blades while the product is operating.”
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
In the big picture, it is a statistical irrelevancy. But in the 12 days of the tsunami and the Indian Ocean, it is perhaps the first unequivocally good news. The death toll today went down. India announced it had over counted, that 72 people it thought had been killed had not been. Amen.
Our No. 5 story on the COUNTDOWN, that still leaves the official count at 145,938. And we have lost track of the number of home videos capturing the horror. Tonight, what might be the most telling and the most disturbing of the overviews.
We cannot warn you too strongly about this tape. At the end of it, you are going to see dead bodies.
This is Khao Lak, Thailand, on the morning of December 26. A restaurant owner has been warned by a relative up the coast that the tsunami is coming. He chooses to use the time to set up his video camera.
He said he yelled down to the beach but could not be heard from that distance. That at least one person either never saw the wave come or simply froze. We do not know whether or not that man survived.
One person who did, at least through the initial surge, can be seen clinging to a tree as the sea roiled around the bay with white caps actually breaking away from the beach. Others were killed almost instantly. Their bodies washed out to sea or pushed back on to the shoreline. And we must warn you again, the pictures of those victims on shore, which we‘re about to show are you graphic and very disturbing.
Tourists and locals alike caught up in the wave, left on Khao Lak beach. Mixing with the debris and the detritus of the tsunami. Still dressed in bathing suits and casual trousers. No time to react, no time to escape. In part because Thailand‘s scientists feared a false tsunami warning would hurt tourism.
In an attempt to prevent another such tragedy, representatives of 26 nations meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, today to back the formation of an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system.
Officials also agreed to debt relief for the affected countries and discussed how best to distribute nearly $4 billion in aid pledges.
Eleven hundred miles north of where that summit was held, more evidence surfacing today, showing the extent of damage. This was the village of Gliblak (ph), 30 miles southwest of Banda Aceh in April. This is what it looks like now. Just one of the many communities in that immediate area completely wiped out by the tsunami.
I‘m joined tonight by Dean Yates, deputy bureau chief for Reuters in India. He spent the last eight days in Banda Aceh. Tonight he‘s joining me by phone from Jakarta.
Good morning, Mr. Yates.
DEAN YATES, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, REUTERS: Hi, there, Keith. How are you?
OLBERMANN: We‘re beginning to see from some of the videotape coming back from Banda Aceh, from other parts of Indonesia, of tents going up, of refugee villages being form.
You‘ve just left there. Did you have any sense that some sort of bottleneck had been cleared in term of the delivery of aid to the people on the ground?
YATES: I think there are efforts underway to try to clear this bottleneck. But there still seem to be problems at the airport, both in Banda Aceh and in Medan, which is the capital of North Sumatra, which lies just south of Banda Aceh.
There is so much aid flying in. There are so many aid workers coming in, trying to help that these airports are just finding it very difficult to cope with the volume.
And it seemed, for example, last night when I was trying to leave Banda Aceh, we could not get clearance to land in Medan, and I was flying on a New Zealand C-130 air force transport aircraft. We just couldn‘t get clearance to land in Medan. There were too many planes there.
So this is a problem. Roads are still not fully functional. This is an issue that needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
OLBERMANN: The statesmen at the summit in Jakarta today underscored the prospect of this once again, but there has been very little news reaching the west, in any event, of any widespread health problems: epidemics, water borne illness. Is it being under reported? Or has, in fact, the disease situation been surprisingly good so far?
YATES: I think the problem is that for that entire west coast region, aid officials just do not have a complete picture of what is happening down there. The only access is by helicopter, and most of those helicopters are being used to drop food and other supplies, urgently needed supplies.
So even U.N. officials are finding it difficult to get assessment teams down there to just work out exactly what sort of a problem they are facing. So at this stage, there could be epidemics on that west coast. We just would not know about them.
That said, WHO and other U.N. officials do believe that at this stage, there have been no outbreaks of, say, cholera, for example, or malaria, although there have been a number of reported cases of pneumonia, other respiratory illnesses, and of course, infection is very, very widespread, infection as a result of wounds that people sustained during the initial tsunamis but which were not treated in time.
OLBERMANN: A final question about what might be looking at the wrong end of the telescope. So much of the U.S. relief presence, certainly the coverage of it back here in the states, has been framed with this political subtext that it is an opportunity. It is a—it is a humanitarian effort that‘s being perceived.
Does anything like that perception exist in places like Banda Aceh? Does anybody on the ground really care where the help comes from? Or even really know where it comes from?
YATES: I think it‘s very clear people know that the U.S. is really providing a vital life line, if you like, down this west coast with all these Sea Hawks that they are using. And obviously some people are talking up there about this is a P.R. exercise, if you like, a way of trying to boost the image of the United States some more in terms of what‘s happening in the Middle East and in places like Iraq.
But be that as it may, the fact is that if it were not for all those U.S. Sea Hawks flying these several dozen trips every day down the south, down the west coast, a lot of people probably wouldn‘t be getting the food and medicine that they need. At this stage, the U.S. in Banda Aceh is the only country with the resources to carry this out.
OLBERMANN: Dean Yates, the deputy bureau chief for Reuters in India speaking to us tonight from Jakarta. A great thanks for your time and for joining us.
The number of Americans killed by the tsunami now stands officially at 17. The number of those presumed dead, officially missing, is at 18. The number of Americans potentially still missing is still in the thousands.
When asked why other countries have specific information on how many people of their populace are missing or may be missing while the U.S. does not, the State Department said it will not, quote, “engage in hypotheticals.” But it did offer some insight on why the number of inquiries about missing Americans started around 6,000 but dropped today to 2,500.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM ERELI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: A lot of these inquiries were, you know, my—an acquaintance or a relative who I haven‘t heard from for a long time. Last time I heard from them, they were in the region. And I‘m just concerned that they may still be there and they may be harmed. And so people have responded to that, and we‘ve been able to account for a lot of people that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Some American families are now hiring investigators to hunt down loved ones presumed to be in that region. The television host Oprah Winfrey hired a team of ex-Marines to go look for the friend of one of the contributors of her show.
Others are turning to private companies, which are already providing support and coordination on the ground. International SOS is one of those companies. The vice president of global security and intelligence for that company, Dean Radford, joins us now.
Mr. Radford, thank you for your time.
DEAN RADFORD, VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL SOS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Have you found anybody in these last 12 days? Any missing Americans in the region?
RADFORD: Well, we have indeed. Or at least we‘ve facilitated the efforts to find people in the region. Our most recent success story occurred just today, as a matter of fact, when we found one of our, quote unquote, “missing persons” who was on the north side of a remote island in northern Sumatra and was not even aware that there had been a tsunami issue.
So again, a success story of someone who was not adversely affected and has been found.
OLBERMANN: How is it done? I mean, obviously, it would be phenomenally—even to the layman, it would be phenomenally complicated and overwhelming at first blush. But how do you go and find a person among tens of thousands missing in countries whose infrastructures were weak to begin with and may have been largely wiped out in—in the tsunami?
RADFORD: Well, indeed. It‘s not even a needle in a haystack. It‘s a needle in a thousand haystacks.
The key issue for us, our team is on the ground. I mean, we have the great good fortune that we have a strong worldwide infrastructure: 28 alarm centers around the world and a very strong presence in the Asia region. We were able to deploy teams very quickly to the affected areas and start coordinating with the local authorities on the ground.
We have a long track record of working with the governments in the area, embassies, military, law enforcement organs. So we‘re very quickly able to establish those relationships and facilitate the search for missing individuals.
The information coordination, the on the ground comparison of identifying information, those are the keys to our efforts in facilitating the search and becoming, if you will, a force multiplier for the official organs that are active on the ground.
OLBERMANN: Give me your estimate. That total of Americans who may be missing is at about 2,500, according to the State Department. If it‘s 18 dead, 17 missing, we‘re not going to come back with just 35 dead, are we? How many of these people are not going to return alive to this country, do you suppose?
RADFORD: Well, I think, unfortunately, we have to assume that, in fact, that death toll will rise. I would like to believe that what Secretary Powell has said is correct, that we won‘t see truly significant American deaths.
I would like to think that, of that 2,500 number, which has been coming down rapidly, as you note, in the last few days, I would like to think it will continue to come down fairly significantly. And that ultimately, American casualties will be very low.
There‘s also the unfortunate reality that there may be some people who simply aren‘t accounted for for sometime or perhaps forever.
OLBERMANN: Last question, private—private investigators, additional feet on the ground. We‘ve just heard Dean Yates, who‘s just back from Banda Aceh after eight days there, talking about the logistical log jam of simply getting a plane cleared to land in that area or in any other area.
Are investigations, one person looking for one other person, are those clogging the relief efforts? Are they getting in the way at this point?
RADFORD: Well, you know, I have to empathize. If I had a loved one who was lost in the area, I think my first implication would be to—or first instinct, I should say, would be to get on a plane and go out there or perhaps think about hiring private investigators to go out and look.
But I think what you said at the outset is very true. For private individuals to try to operate in these areas with the level of devastation and damage to the infrastructure, you know, at worst, they could get in the way and hamper the relief efforts. And it seems very unlikely that they could be affected.
Again, we‘re a little bit different in our situation with SOS because we have these longstanding relationships with the local governments, with the militaries and law enforcement authorities, and we can essentially tap into that.
I think private individuals would have a very difficult time gaining similar kind of access.
OLBERMANN: Dean Radford of International SOS. Great thanks for your time this evening.
RADFORD: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And where do you search? What do you search for when the city you are searching in now looks like this?
Also tonight, a day big on history, not so big on suspense. The long rumored challenge to President Bush‘s win in Ohio becomes a reality. But will election reform become a reality?
This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: As the amateur video we showed you at the start of the hour suggested, the cataclysm in the Indian Ocean is still best understood on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.
A hundred and fifty thousand dead across 11 nations is almost inconceivable. One man, frozen in place, unwilling or unable to get off a beach as the wave surmounted him, that is the stuff of our nightmares.
And now, the fourth story on our COUNTDOWN tonight. So, too, is this report from Banda Aceh. The correspondent is John Irvine of our British affiliated network, ITV.
It will not be the first time you hear a story of horror from that country. But it may be the first time you realize which city at which moment in history Banda Aceh is most reminiscent: Hiroshima, 1945.
JOHN IRVINE, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may look like a cinematic image, but it‘s not. It‘s a view of the city center from a window in this, the last house still standing on the way down to the sea.
Between this dwelling of the coast, where before Boxing Day, there was a thriving community, there‘s now just wilderness and decay.
It‘s a huge acreage where the tsunami was at its most thorough. In the last house lived a family of five. The eldest child was a teenage pop fan. The other two have bedrooms side-by-side, pink for a girl, blue for a boy. He was a soccer fan.
We find the family photograph album lying open, a chronicle of three generations. There were wedding pictures. Births had been recorded. As were religious ceremonies.
And perhaps the most poignant was this: a seaside snap.
(on camera) They probably had only a few seconds to decide what to do. From what we can tell, they rushed upstairs to seek refuge in this corner of the house. They were extremely unlucky, for it‘s the only piece of the building that collapsed under the weight of water.
(voice-over) We have no miracle to report. For we find the parents‘ bodies in the rubble, their hands reaching out to each other in death. What happened to the children, we don‘t know, but the way the bodies are stacking up here, the odds must be stacked against them.
Eleven days on and this city is still littered with dead people.
The problem is not the speed of collection. It‘s the enormity of the task.
When you look at the destruction, its enormity, it is incredible that anyone got out alive.
We talked to a boy who was carried more than a mile. And he survived by clamoring on to this balcony. That said, in term of immediate family, the 14-year-old Arees (ph) is now alone in the world. He lost his parents and four siblings.
The house he had scrambled onto belongs to a doctor, a retired G.P. with three children of his own. He has now adopted Arees (ph) as his fourth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is like your son now? The same as the other child. No difference.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No difference.
IRVINE (on camera): He‘s like your son now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
IRVINE (voice-over): Understandably, they‘re trying to keep the boy busy. But often, even during our brief time here, he lapsed into a thousand yard stare as his young mind tried to contemplate what is bereavement beyond belief.
John Irvine, ITV News, Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
OLBERMANN: Once again, we‘d like to remind what you can do from your home to help the millions in need. You can contact the Red Cross by calling 1-800-HELP-NOW. For a list of other organizations, go to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.
We will continue political news, “Oddball,” with silly warning labels.
All that ahead. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: We‘re back, and we pause our COUNTDOWN of the important news of the today for a brief respite of fluff news, general stupidity. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
Beginning in Eagle River, Wisconsin, for the thrilling conclusion of “Oddball‘s” special two-part series on the building of the big annual ice castle there. You may remember last week, we brought you part one: collect the ice from the river and stack it neatly next to a building.
Tonight, part two. Enjoy your new ice castle. It‘s just that simple. The Eagle River Fire Department was responsible for building the 20-foot high structure, using more than 100,000 pounds of ice.
It‘s expected to stand behind the railroad depot until March, longer if they can just figure out how to keep the roof from leaking every time they turn on the heat.
In other ice news, NASA satellites are tracking a huge iceberg that has broken free near Antarctica and is heading for a slow motion collision near with the Drygalski Ice Tongue.
Mmm, Drygalski Ice Tongue.
The 1,200 square mile iceberg is the size of Long Island, New York.
And if you don‘t believe me, there is a NASA animation that proves it.
Hey, I think I can see the Hamptons from here.
The powerful collision should take place in the next couple days. Scientist say there is good that will come from this. New shipping lanes may open up, and it may help local penguins find we food for their young.
Well, then, nothing more to worry about and I will never speak of it again.
Speaking of NASA, today the space agency received delivery of its brand new space shuttle external fuel tank, which was shipped by barge from New Orleans to Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Designed to be safer than the previous model, it is 154 feet tall. It will hold 535,000 gallons of fuel. And it was apparently manufactured by the same people who made the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.
Also, tonight few nominees for attorney general have ever had to explain their views on torture. Today‘s did. But are they really his views in the first place?
Speaking of rare events, Senator Barbara Boxer signs up for a course at the Electoral College that nobody has taken since 1877. Those stories ahead. Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers.
No. 3, Darren Brosseau of Leominster, Massachusetts. Driving his dump truck through town, he perceived flames shooting up from the trash compactor, so he simply drove to the Leominster Fire Department. The world‘s first drive through fire department.
No. 2, Joshua Gowins of Melbourne, Florida, had his license revoked for fleeing from the police, whereupon he left the courtroom, got into his car, promptly started to speed, went from the police, and crashed the car. You said not to drive. You did not say not to crash.
And No. 1, King Tut. The ancient Egyptian pharoah undergoing a CAT SCAN today. No results yet released. Part of the continuing effort to find out if he was murdered and to confirm or deny that he was born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia.
OLBERMANN: Throughout our history, no matter the political divide, presidents generally get who they want in their Cabinet. And not since electric lights were first installed in our cities has any Congress raised even a symbolic challenge to the vote of the Electoral College.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, one of those things changed today. The other appeared to be headed in the direction of not so much.
That one first. The president‘s attorney general-designate, Alberto Gonzales, stuck by his critics with supposed authorship of the memos pooh-poohing the importance of the Geneva accords against torture, got a little psychological disorientation of his own today.
As his confirmation hearings began, the Senate Judiciary Committee‘s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, told Gonzales that because of the redefinition of torture—quote—“America‘s troops and citizens are at greater risk”—unquote.
The nominee, meanwhile, did his best to distance himself from Abu Ghraib.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration, and commit to you today that, if confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Justice aggressively pursues those responsible for such abhorrent actions.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA: Do you approve of torture?
GONZALES: Absolutely not, Senator.
SPECTER: Again, for the record, do you condemn the interrogators‘ techniques at Abu Ghraib shown on the widely publicized photographs?
GONZALES: Let me say, Senator, that, as a human being, I am sickened and outraged by those photos. We had captured some really bad people who we were concerned had information that might prevent the loss of American lives in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Rightly or wrongly, the opponent of Judge Gonzales are using those torture memos as their primary evidence that his legal judgment is shortsighted, even expedient.
But what if the words over his signature weren‘t originally his?
Joining me now is Dan Eggen, national reporter of “The Washington Post,” who addressed this topic in his newspaper yesterday.
Mr. Eggen, Good evening.
DAN EGGEN, NATIONAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Summarize this for me. If the redefinition of torture was not Judge Gonzales‘ work, whose was it?
EGGEN: Well, it was signed by a man named Jay Bybee, who is head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department and was heavily—a lot of it was written by an assistant at the Justice Department named John Yoo.
But the issue of Gonzales comes in because Gonzales requested the memo on behalf of the CIA, at least according to our sources. Judge Gonzales did not answer all this today during the hearing. And he was present during many meetings where it was discussed and certainly played a role in its formation.
OLBERMANN: Is the suggestion that he didn‘t formulate the ideas at the center of the whole issue, does it work in his favor because he did not formulate these ideas? Or does it work against him because he didn‘t formulate ideas, but signed off on them anyway?
EGGEN: Well, I guess it would depend on what side of the political fence you‘re on. He certainly was, in his testimony today, leaning very strongly towards the idea that he did not have a lot to do with the ideas and repeatedly referred to the final opinion being up to the Justice Department.
OLBERMANN: No matter how much the Democrats might be critical of him, nor even some of the legal sources or military sources might be critical of Judge Gonzales, it seems highly improbable he would not be approved. But is there anything in this first day of the confirmation hearings that suggests what kind of prospect he will have for a smooth term as attorney general?
EGGEN: Well, you sort of have two very different messages there. On the one hand, as we‘ve been discussing, there was a great deal of discussion and debate over the torture issue and very—some very strong words from Democrats and a couple of Republicans on that issue.
At the same time, some of the Democrats who have had, shall we say, not the best relationship with the current attorney general, John Ashcroft, said a lot of kind words about how they were hoping for a much better road ahead with Judge Gonzales. So I guess we‘ll have to see.
OLBERMANN: Wise words that always apply.
OLBERMANN: Dan Eggen of “The Washington Post,” great thanks for your time tonight.
OLBERMANN: The other story in Washington today is perhaps best contextualized by this little note. Since the last time it happened, the Senate had confirmed 45 different attorneys general, including seven with the first name William.
The last time anybody stopped the counting of the Electoral College votes for president in order to debate the legitimacy of popular voting in one state had been in 1877 after the disastrous Hayes-Tilden election.
Then came California Senator Barbara Boxer‘s decision to provide the
signature required from her house alongside that of Representative
Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Cleveland, the objectors citing irregularities in
· you guessed it—Ohio, the objection sending the senators back to their half of the Capitol. Both houses then required to engage in separate and full debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS-JONES (D), OHIO: I raise this objection because I am convinced that we as a body must conduct a formal and legitimate debate about election irregularities.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Folks, she has great credibility. And she asked just one senator to take a couple of hours. I hate inconveniencing my friends. But I think it is worth a couple of hours to shine some light on these issues.
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: No explanation for the machines in Mahoning County that recorded Kerry votes for Bush. No explanation of the improper purging in Cuyahoga County.
REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: The purpose of this petition is not justice, but noise.
REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA: But small imperfections here and there do not a mass conspiracy make.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I am absolutely convinced that the president of the United States, George Bush, won this election. This is not an issue in which we are challenging the outcome of the election.
REP. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I agree with John Kerry. I think George W. Bush won Ohio. But I agree with millions of American citizens that no American should have to wait four hours to cast a vote.
REP. MICHAEL OXLEY ®, OHIO: I‘m amazed at how many experts on Ohio election law we have in this chamber. I had no idea.
REP. GEORGE VOINOVICH ®, OHIO: I‘m living proof that Ohioans know to count ballots and, more importantly, we count fairly.
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: More and more of our citizens are growing uneasy. And I hear people on the other side saying, we should forget about it. We should get over it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman‘s time has expired.
LEWIS: How can we can get over it when people die for the right to vote?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The outcome, of course, was not changed, delayed less than three hours, President Bush still elected 286-251. The Republican leaders like Congressman DeLay and Ohio Republican Chair Bob Bennett treated it as if the Capitol had been pillaged by the Visigoths.
To give some perspective on this day, I‘m joined now by “Congressional Quarterly” columnist and MSNBC analyst Craig Crawford.
Long time no talk. How are you?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, good to see you. Yes, that was—the Visigoths was before we had electric lights, too, right.
OLBERMANN: Yes, indeed.
What did this ultimately mean today, if anything?
CRAWFORD: Well, on the congressional level of the way I see things going on Capitol Hill, it told us a few things, which is, there are a lot of Democrats willing to throw if they can. If they don‘t have the sticks and stones of voting power, Keith, they‘re at least going to hurl words and try to make trouble. That‘s all they can do on Capitol Hill, because they don‘t have the votes to really change the way the Congress operates or what legislation is passed. They‘re almost passersby in a way.
So, we see that the Democrats are going to be very intense. We‘re right here at the start of the session and they had this fight just right out of the box.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of which, Barbara Boxer was the only senator to sign the challenge, the only one to vote for it. They got about 30 votes in the House. John Kerry is not even on this continent when this takes place. The Ohio Republican chair, Bob Bennett, issued this really mean statement. He used the word delusional and this phrase: “I seriously doubt these same people would have staged this congressional circus today if John Kerry had won the election.”
Well, geez, you think?
OLBERMANN: If there had been one, it would have been a group of Republicans staging a circus.
CRAWFORD: And I imagine that guy Bennett would be right in the middle of it.
And I know that I have been criticizing the outcome-oriented coverage on this, as you have. But if this was not going to change the outcome, and it took less than three hours, why did both sides treat this like political dynamite?
CRAWFORD: I know.
And the thing about this argument about it won‘t change the outcome, so why should we look at it, it‘s like, why should we look at the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners by our own soldiers, even though it wouldn‘t change the outcome of the war? And in this case, I do think this was an opportunity because it wouldn‘t have changed the outcome for a bipartisan look at these problems, because the presidency itself wasn‘t at stake.
So, it would have been nice if both sides could get on a bipartisan footing and look at these problems. I think Senator Boxer made an excellent point today when she said we‘ve got soldiers abroad dying for democracy and we need to fix our own democracy here at home. And that‘s really what it is about.
OLBERMANN: Are we going to get that, though? Did this actually put any fire under the issue of voting reform? Or is that going to be squelched until and unless the Republicans were to lose the House or the Senate? In other words, what‘s next?
CRAWFORD: I think it is just a partisan spit-fest all the way. Boxer and the congressman from Ohio, they‘re planning to push electoral reform. But, again, the Democrats don‘t have any power.
And this is also a lesson we‘re going to see played over many, many times in this session. We have one-party rule in Washington. There is one party in charge. The Democrats have no power in the House, Senate, the White House, not even the Supreme Court. And so they‘re just left with these sort of protest moments.
And we didn‘t get this look. If we had a more balanced government in Washington—and I would say this if the Democrats were the one party in power. To those who want to accuse me of being biased, I really do think that this is part of the problem with one-party rule, either party. We don‘t get things like this investigated as much as they should be.
And we have got an electoral system out there that doesn‘t work. I told you once before, we spend more on prison food in this country than elections.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Well, we also only have the one Constitution and the reminder that today‘s protester is the one who gets protested against 10 years from now, 20 years from now, whenever.
Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly,” great thanks.
Good to talk to you again, sir.
CRAWFORD: Good to see you.
OLBERMANN: Terminator in the movies, Terminator in the statehouse. Governor Schwarzenegger‘s state of the state address sounding like a cross between Stephanie Jones-Tubbs and Ralph Nader. And Andrea Yates, the woman accused of drowning her kids, getting her conviction thrown out, all because of a television series episode that never was.
OLBERMANN: In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on politics as usual in a huge way could have national implications. And the implications of the weirdest, wackiest product warnings of the year.
OLBERMANN: One hundred and fifty-three seats in the California congressional delegation and the state legislature were on the ballot two months ago, the speaker noted. And not one of them went from one party to the other. What kind of a democracy is that, the speaker then asked?
Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, 90 percent of his audience probably answered to themselves, that‘s the good kind, with plenty of job security. But that was not the speaker‘s answer, because the speaker was Arnold Schwarzenegger, giving California‘s state of the state address. He asked the Democratic-controlled legislature to redraw congressional and legislative districts, to change state employee pension plans, and institute merit pay for teachers. There were a lot of shocked listeners.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA: Political courage is not political suicide. Ignore the lobbyists. Ignore the politics and trust the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: For some perspective, I‘m joined now by Karen Breslau, the San Francisco bureau chief for “Newsweek,” magazine.
Ms. Breslau, thanks for your time. Good evening.
KAREN BRESLAU, “NEWSWEEK”: My pleasure. Hi.
OLBERMANN: Well, he certainly has not been neutered by a year in office, has he?
BRESLAU: Quite the contrary.
OLBERMANN: It‘s an extraordinary kind of statement to make. How did it go over among the legislators?
BRESLAU: Well, I think the redistricting proposal was met by a kind of a thunderous silence. Some of the other proposals, depending on which side of the aisle you were looking at, got a pretty warm reception.
I think, overall, there‘s a great need in California and a recognition that the budget process is out of control. And I think both Democrats and Republicans agree about that. The question is how to fix the—just the yawning deficit that California continually faces.
OLBERMANN: Why is redistricting in California important outside that state?
BRESLAU: Well, first of all, because of the size of the California congressional delegation. It is the largest in the country. There are 55 members. We have—it‘s an overwhelmingly Democratic delegation.
But these are not competitive seats right now. They are safe seats, as Schwarzenegger pointed out last night. Both the legislative seats and the congressional seats are safe. And if you turn the California congressional races competitive, a couple of things happen.
First of all, it sets an example for the rest of the country. And you‘re going to start seeing a shakeup around the country. And second of all, it makes California an incredibly expensive place to run congressional candidates in. In this state, it‘s all about media. And these seats are incredibly expensive.
OLBERMANN: Now, he has threatened the legislature that, if they don‘t lead on this, he will take some of these things to the people with a ballot initiative. Having lived there for 10 years, I can testify that California will have a ballot initiative...
BRESLAU: No shortage of those, right.
OLBERMANN: Yes, on anything that‘s bigger than who gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
OLBERMANN: Is being governor by proposition a route that he would really want to take and would it work?
BRESLAU: It‘s worked for him very well so far.
Let‘s not forget how Arnold got into office, in a special election, in a recall. And if you look at his performance in the first year of office, it was what they call the Costco strategy. Whenever something—he couldn‘t get the legislature to give him what he wanted, whether it was budget or workers compensation or any kind of reform bill, he puts on his bomber jacket and goes out to shopping malls and Costcos and does his citizen Arnold act and starts gathering petition signatures for a ballot initiative that may or may not appear.
So far, the threat has been enough to get his way with the legislature. We‘ll see with this package, because it is overwhelmingly ambitious.
OLBERMANN: Karen Breslau, San Francisco bureau chief of “Newsweek,” great thanks for your insight and for your time tonight.
BRESLAU: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: As originally conceived, the nightly segment “Keeping Tabs” was designed to house, well, tabloid stories. And tonight, it sure fulfills its original mandate.
The capital murder convictions of the woman who drowned her children in a bathtub were overturned today, an appeals court in Houston throwing out the conviction of Andrea Yates, ordering a new trial because the prosecution‘s argument that Yates was not insane, but had planned the whole thing, was based on her having supposedly seen an episode of the NBC series “Law & Order” in which a woman drowned her children, but was acquitted by reason of insanity. It later proved there was no such episode.
And it‘s your entertainment dollars in action, day 416 of the Michael Jackson investigations. The Web site SmokingGun.com reporting details of previously sealed documents from the Jackson child molestation case. According to grandjury testimony and affidavits, the pop star had pet names for his 13-year-old accuser and the accuser‘s younger brother.
They were “Doo-Doo Head” and “Blowhole.” Their inhibitions were weakened purportedly not just by wine, as previously alleged, but also by whiskey, tequila and vodka. According to the documents, the drinking led to sexual talk and then molestation. The older of the brothers alleging that Jackson did not take no for an answer.
Even more legal news. From “Fear Factor” to duh factor, bizarre lawsuits and the even stranger warnings for those people inclined to sue over anything they were not warned about in advance.
OLBERMANN: Warnings have been in the news so much these two weeks, we‘re surrounded by them, except it seems when we really need them. One of the byproducts of this, we now tend to assume everything is safe, nothing is dangerous unless it comes with some sort of cautionary label.
Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the annual contest for the wackiest consumer warning labels of the year as conducted by the group Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. The five winners in a moment.
First, another lawsuit because somebody claims there should have been a warning label on the NBC program “Fear Factor.” With our warning that NBC is a co-owner of this network, a Cleveland paralegal has sued the network for $2.5 million because, he writes, “Watching contestants eat dead rats on the show made him physically sick.” It also caused his blood pressure to rise so high, he claims, that he became dizzy and lightheaded and, when he ran away, he bumped his head on a doorway.
For the record, NBC‘s response: “We believe that the claim is completely without merit.” The four-page lawsuit was handwritten by a Mr. Austin Aitken, who, when asked for comment by the news service Reuters, said—quote—“I‘m not at liberty to discuss the complaint unless it‘s a paid interview situation,” thus leaving open the question, when you saw that the show was about gross stuff, why didn‘t you change channels?
Unless you have got one of those special TVs that only get NBC and doesn‘t even shut off when you pull the plug out of the electrical socket. You know, those did not sell as well as we thought they were going to.
Anyway, back to our overlabeled society. The written warning dates back to, well, probably the Ten Commandments. But they‘ve changed. You‘ll notice that none of the Ten Commandments referred to how you shouldn‘t use toilet brushes to clean anything on your body, nor how you would have to pick a part of your body, and only one, to use that brand-new thermometer.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): The warning, used throughout man‘s history to signal danger to his fellow man; 200 years ago, a pirate might have used this warning flag to say, avast, ye matey. I‘m going to steal thy ship from thee and leave thou for dead.
George Washington, our first president, verbally warned of entangling foreign alliances. And, of course, in the 1960s, there were space robots who warned humans and humanoids alike that invaders from the fifth dimension were coming, not the singers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LOST IN SPACE”)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Danger, Will Robinson, danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, you know, now that I think about it, that was a little too specific unless your name was Will Robinson.
Anyway, today, warnings are often not specific enough. Take the hijacking of the sweet, innocent rainbow for use as our national terror alert system.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: That‘s a system that quite a few people worked on, labored over for months and months.
OLBERMANN: And they will all have to explain that to their maker, Tom.
But warnings have also found their way into more commonplace and mundane aspects of life. Thanks to lawsuits from people who did not intuitively remember to aim fireworks away from face or people who did not realize McDonald‘s served their hot coffee hot, we get warning labels on just about everything.
So, the annual Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch wacky warning label contest, which shows how lawsuits and paranoia about lawsuits have combined to create a need for commonsense warnings on ordinary products. This year‘s winners, warning, these numbers will be in descending order.
At No. 5, 9-by3-inch bag of packing air. The warning, do not use this product as a toy, pillow or flotation device. Well, you can use it as a flotation device if you‘re a caterpillar.
No. 4, a warning from an electric handheld blender that advertises it can blend, whip, chop and dice—quote—“Never remove food or other items from the blades while the product is operating.”
Coming in third, a digital thermometer that warnings, once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally. There‘s nothing else I can say about this warning that‘s either relevant or true.
The second wackiest warning label on the list, one on a popular scooter for children that has this caveat. This product moves when used.
And, at No. 1, a flushable toilet brush that reads, “Do not use for personal hygiene.” And flashing back to warning No. 3, we might add, also do not use as a thermometer of any kind.
OLBERMANN: The toilet brush submission was courtesy a Mr. Ed Gyetvai Oldcastle, Ontario, Canada. He won $500. Runner-up, the one about the children‘s scooter that moves when used. That was Matt Johnson of Naperville, Illinois. He won $250. And, no, Mr. Johnson isn‘t suing the competition because it didn‘t issue a warning that the winner had to be the funniest entry.
That‘s COUNTDOWN. And that joke was not the funniest entry either, was it?
OLBERMANN: Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
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