Guests: Keith Olbermann, David Shuster, Lisa Myers, Kevin Tibbles, Richard
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The president gets a tie in polling about his response to the disaster
48 percent approve, 48 percent don‘t. But in polling about him, 40 percent approve.
And the Mississippi mud splatters up on Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff.
And the Orleans Levee Board, who managed to buy this. Yes, it‘s a fountain. What‘s it look like?
The board also helped some casinos, which takes us to the Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We are rolling the dice with you, Judge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Day three of the Roberts hearings.
What you‘ll be hearing for fundraising for Katrina victims will be painful. Blackmailing kids into donating by playing the same song again and again, while in North Dakota, if you ante up for the charity, these kids will let you rip off their chest hairs.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
While the next hurricane made itself known in North Carolina and three New Orleans suburbs reopened to their residents, albeit under tight control, the stories from on the ground of the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina were again to some degree overshadowed today by events in Washington.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, a plan to establish an independent investigation into the government response to the disaster was killed off along party lines in the Senate, while a memo surfaced indicating the secretary of Homeland Security failed to follow his own rules for designating Katrina an Incident of National Significance.
Michael Chertoff thus delayed federal response by 36 hours.
New Orleans tonight slowly beginning to recover, with over 40 pumping stations now working, draining the city by about 9 billion gallons of water a day, some areas completely dried up, prompting the mayor to say that the downtown business district and the French Quarter could be reopened as early as Monday. There is some skepticism about that. We‘ll get to it in a moment.
But neighborhoods to the northeast of the city remain underwater, and search and rescue teams are still scouring homes for victims of the flood.
While in Washington, Congress started the search for answers, the Senate Homeland Security Committee opening an inquiry into the slow government response to the disaster, but the full Senate rejecting a proposal from Senator Clinton to establish an independent commission along the lines of the 9/11 board to investigate the failures.
And Knight-Ridder newspapers reporting that much of the blame for the poor response may have been misplaced on the ex-FEMA chief, Michael Brown. According to federal documents reviewed by the news service, it was the Homeland Security secretary, Mr. Chertoff, who had the power to order federal agencies into action, or to delegate that authority to the head of FEMA. And he did not do either until late on Tuesday, August 30, 36 hours after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Meanwhile, on the state level tonight, it seem that the claiming responsibility trend started by the president yesterday has become contagious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: We know that there were failure at every level of government, state, federal, and local. At the state level, we must take a careful look at what went wrong, and make sure it never happens again.
The buck stops here. And as your governor, I take full responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: There‘s also another new set of poll numbers, this one containing, a day in advance of his speech from Louisiana, a glimmer of hope for President Bush, the NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” survey conducted from last Friday through this past Monday showing a tie, 48 percent saying they approved of the way he has handled the aftermath of the hurricane, 48 percent saying they disapprove. This is significantly better for the president than all previous national polling.
The next number is not. Overall job approval for Mr. Bush, down to 40 percent, a new low. It was 6 points higher two months ago. Disapproval up to 55 percent, a new high.
And FEMA gets whacked, 50 percent giving it somewhat negative or very negative grades, 27 percent somewhat positive or very positive.
And three more state-of-the-American-pulse questions. The White House won‘t like the answer to the one about how respondents would pay for the Katrina relief recovery and rebuilding. Respondents were asked to pick one or two ways from a list. First place, the choice of 45 percent of them, reduce spending on the war in Iraq. Twenty-seven percent say repeal the new tax cuts. Fifteen percent say keep the estate tax in place.
And a question about how many American families actually felt the impact of the storm. Do you have any close personal friends or relatives who were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina? Twenty-five percent said yes. If that number is accurate, that‘s about 73 million of us, who have been touched by all this.
Which leads to one last fascinating poll result. People in the poll were questioned, Which statement comes closer to their point of view about the folks who had to be rescued in New Orleans—These people not leaving as a result of poor planning and their failure to heed warnings about the hurricane, or, These people were caught up in circumstances beyond their control, and they did not have the resources necessary to get out of the city?
Two-thirds of us think they were caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Another 14 percent say a little of both. Only 19 percent said they failed to heed warnings.
To sort these NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” numbers out, let me call on John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”
Good evening, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:
Hey, Keith, how are you?
OLBERMANN: Not bad. And yourself?
HARWOOD: Pretty good.
OLBERMANN: There‘s one, that one happy number in there for the White House, Mr. Bush‘s overall handling, personal handling of Katrina, 48-48. The Gallup poll that had closed Sunday had it 54-43 negative. But even that 48-48 number has a sting in its tail. There was another question about satisfaction with the federal government‘s handling of the crisis. What was the response there?
HARWOOD: Well, the response was, 58 percent said they were dissatisfied with the Bush administration‘s response, only 38 percent satisfied. What I think that tells us, Keith, is that the American people look at Mr. Bush and his team and say, They didn‘t do such a good job on this evening. But they don‘t focus all that blame on the president personally. That‘s good news for him.
But as you mentioned, there‘s a lot of troubling stuff for the president in this poll, in particular, the record low job approval that he has, and the increased pressure on the commitment to Iraq, which is the most significant thing the president is trying to get done in his second term.
OLBERMANN: And additionally, we didn‘t go through these individual numbers, but approval on the war on terrorism dropped for him, on economy, on Iraq, on the direction question, which direction is the direction, the correct direction of the country that‘s heading in. Is the inference here from that, relative to this storm, that even some sort of strong rebound for the president about the hurricane, even that acknowledgment of responsibility yesterday, that‘s not going to do much for his overall approval number at this point?
HARWOOD: Well, you know, I was talking to one of the Bush advisers this afternoon who was saying, Bush can come back somewhat from this. But the problem is, he‘s getting well into his second term now. And so it‘s really kind of the—not quite the fourth quarter, but let‘s say late in the third quarter for the president. And he doesn‘t have all that much time to get stuff done.
So even if you have a bit of a rebound, there‘s some bounds on what he can do. Forty percent, that really indicates that that core of supporters, a lot of moderate Republicans, people who voted for him, who have consistently stuck with him even through things like the Abu Ghraib scandal, which was the previous low point for his presidency, some of those people are peeling off right now.
OLBERMANN: John, what are they planning for this speech tomorrow night from Louisiana? Do they think he needs to hit one out of the ballpark?
HARWOOD: Well, you know, any presidential piece of rhetoric at this point with somebody who is as well known as George W. Bush and well branded with the American public is limited in its impact. But they‘re trying, over the long haul, not just this speech, but the week after and the week after that, to try to show the American people he‘s on top of it, he‘s going to get New Orleans rebuilt.
It looks like, from White House aides, he‘s not going to announce some massive czar of the rebuilding effort tomorrow. Some people have talked about a Rudy Giuliani, a Jack Welch, a Colin Powell, somebody like that. That doesn‘t look it‘s in the cards for tomorrow. But he‘s going to show that he‘s concerned, and that he‘s got a plan to get money down to state and local officials, let them take the lead, but try to guide the rebuilding effort.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll just skip on the Jack Welch reference.
But lastly, that question number 22a that I cited, has nothing to do with the president, nothing to do with FEMA, nothing to do with Ray Nagin. I think it has to do with the overall goodness of the people in this country, and I think it merits a second mention. Sixty-six percent said that the people who did not evacuate New Orleans were victims of circumstances and poverty, in essence. Another 14 percent said that was at least part of the equation.
To a large degree, that‘s a rebuke to those public figures, commentators, some politicians who came out immediately in the aftermath of this and said, This is these people‘s fault, is it not?
HARWOOD: I really think, Keith, those views were overwhelmed by the pictures the American people saw. Remember, the American people have been more exposed to this story than anything else in a very, very long time. They‘ve seen it very up-close and personal, very vivid pictures of the condition of the people in New Orleans.
And I think they‘ve gotten the fact that these were not people who had credit cards where they could go charge a plane ticket or even a bus ticket, in many cases. They were people who were there because they didn‘t have alternatives.
OLBERMANN: The national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal,” John Harwood. As always, John, great thanks.
Let‘s turn now to New Orleans itself, and our correspondent David Shuster. David, good evening.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
OLBERMANN: The mayor‘s assertion that we just mentioned, that the French Quarter and the business district could open up next week, has there really been sufficient improvement in the city‘s condition to merit that? Or is there some caveat we‘re not aware of?
SHUSTER: It is a little misleading. There is power now in some parts of the French Quarter and the downtown business district. They expect to have, perhaps, the sewage and water systems up as well. But you‘re only talking about a couple of blocks, maybe to service a few hotels.
The problem that they have, Keith, is that even on a symbolic gesture, even if they‘re able to say, Yes, the French Quarter is open, even if they‘re able to say hotels are open, the problem is that the neighborhoods where people could actually live are uptown by Tulane University.
And as one person just pointed out to us a few moments ago, where are you going to put the service workers? They are not the sort of people who can afford to live in the neighborhood that might also be open a few miles from here. The service workers have got to have someplace to live. And the question is, are the businesses that are being invited to take advantage of the power, the water, the sewage that may come to a couple of blocks next week, where are they going to put their employees?
And that‘s a big question that remains unanswered.
OLBERMANN: Boy, that‘s a great point.
The other story, obviously, that‘s carrying over from yesterday, the Louisiana district attorney and the 34 negligent homicide accounts at St. Rita‘s, now promising today to investigate every hospital and nursing home death case for the possibility of negligence of some sort. Is there evidence that there‘s anything wide—more widespread than what happened at St. Rita‘s?
SHUSTER: No. I mean, at the Memorial Hospital, there‘s every indication, Keith, that they simply—they lost power. It soared to 110 degrees there. They had a number of patients who are in critical care. They had to try to hand-ventilate some of them, and some of them just didn‘t make it. Furthermore, some of them also died in transport when they were trying to get them up to the roof where the helicopters would try to rescue them.
So there‘s no evidence that the Memorial Hospital did anything wrong. They clearly had doctors and nurses who were working literally for four or five days without their own sort of food and water to try to keep these patient alive.
And already, Keith, the Louisiana attorney general is now facing some criticism in Baton Rouge and by people across the state who say, You know, this is not the time to be using state resources to just essentially go on what some people are calling a fishing expedition to try to figure out if there was negligence on the behalf of just anywhere you see it.
People say the state resources, especially in the attorney general‘s office, yes, they should be used for cases like the nursing home. But people suggest that the situation at Memorial Hospital is a waste of time.
OLBERMANN: And the governor‘s comments, Governor Blanco‘s comments that occurred about 7:30 Eastern Time, any explanation as to what prompted her to succeed the president in the, I‘m accepting responsibility derby?
SHUSTER: It seems, Keith, that that is a separate issue. There‘s been a lot of talk in some of the radio stations, a lot of people calling in and complaining that Governor Blanco is something of a lightweight, and that she also seemed to panic in the early days of the crisis and had her own communication failures, not only with the federal government, but also with her own representatives in places like New Orleans and some of the nearby parishes.
So this one was also in the works, it would appear. And maybe, you know, maybe she figured that, well, if it worked for the president, she would give it a shot. But a lot of people also, as angry as they are at the president, and clearly there is a lot of resentment and anger, there‘s also plenty of resentment and anger at the governor as well.
OLBERMANN: David Shuster reporting from New Orleans for us again tonight. Great thanks, David.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: In retrospect, it may have been the moment the rest of us realized just how hard the Gulf Coast had been hit. An unlikely image to begin with, unlikelier still as a symbol, but dolphins in the swimming pool. The Biloxi Aquarium had managed to evacuate some of its marine mammals to local hotel pools before the hurricane hit, but time ran out. Eight of their dolphins had to be left behind.
Katrina totally destroyed the aquarium in Biloxi. The animals were swept out of their protective pool, and aquarium workers were fearing the worst until four days after the storm, when all eight of the dolphins were spotted together in the waters off the Gulfport coast.
Now, how to get them out of the hurricane-polluted bay? Three of the dolphins have never been in the wild before. Handlers are, as you see, hand-feeding them fish and antibiotics to build up their strength before a rescue attempt in the next few days. Plans include teaching the dolphins to jump onto a float and then towing the float to shore.
Keep teaching them. They might be able to learn to run FEMA.
Also tonight, a breach of trust. Did the New Orleans board in charge of the levee system waste critical funds? An NBC News investigation, and...
And what‘s next for the victims of Katrina? Well, what do you get on and in the walls when there‘s standing water in your basement, say, for two weeks? Yep.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: In the strictest sense of the term, the destruction in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi from Hurricane Katrina is a natural disaster. The flooding in New Orleans is not. The levees broke. The levees are manmade, and nature busting up something manmade on the ground really is not that much different than, say, lightning hitting a plane in midflight.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, thus inevitably comes the realization that whatever Hurricane Katrina did to the levees, man could have somehow prevented it with better construction, although practically speaking, that better construction could theoretically have cost billions.
In any event, if you‘re now talking about construction being at the heart of the disaster, there will then inevitably be questions about whether or not the construction process was legal, ethical, technically correct, or if in some way the process failed, even before the levees did.
Our chief investigative correspondent is Lisa Myers.
LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is call the Mardi Gras Fountain. And its unveiling was the celebrated this year in typical New Orleans style.
The cost, $2.4 million, paid for by the Orleans Levee Board, the agency whose main job is to protect the levees surrounding New Orleans, the same levees that failed after Katrina hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They misspent the money. So any dollar they wasted was a dollar that would have went to levees.
MYERS: Billy Nugesser (ph), a former top Republican official, was once president of the levee board and says he lost his job because he targeted wasteful spending.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s (INAUDIBLE) politics. That‘s all it was, provide jobs for people. State senators, and you know, contracts, giving out contracts.
MYERS: In fact, NBC News has uncovered a pattern of what critics call questionable spending practices by the levee board, a board which, at one point, was accused by a state inspector general of “a long-standing and continuing disregard of the public interest.”
Beyond the fountain, there‘s $15 million spent on two overpasses that helped gamblers get to the Bally‘s Riverboat Casino. Critics tried and failed to put some of that money into flood protection.
Forty-five thousand dollars for private investigators to dig up dirt on this radio host and board critic. Then another $45,000 to settle after he sued.
ROBERT NAMER, LOCAL RADIO SHOW: They had a private eye for nine months to find something to make me look wacko, so they make me look crazy or bad.
MYERS: Critics charge, for years, the board has paid more attention to marinas, gambling, and business than to maintaining the levees. Example, of 11 construction projects now on the board‘s Web site, only two are related to flood control.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will assure you that you will find that all of our money was appropriately expended.
MYERS: Levee board president Jim Huey (ph) says money for the levees comes from a different account than money for business activities, and that part of the board‘s job is providing recreational opportunities. And despite the catastrophic flooding, Huey says...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as the overall flood protection system, it‘s intact, it‘s there today, it worked. In 239 miles of levees, 152 floodgates, canals, throughout this entire city, there was only two areas.
MYERS: But those two critical areas were major canals, and their collapse contributed to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: For some context on the million or millions evidently misspent, the cost of the nationwide high-tech system of levees, floodgates, and seawalls protecting the Netherlands, $8 billion.
Your home does not have to be in the same Mapquest grid as one of those levee breaches to get the rest of this equation. Buildings plus standing water plus 15 days equals mold.
When New Orleans dries out, it may become the city of mold.
As our correspondent Kevin Tibbles reports, even now, it is already well on the way.
KEVIN TIBBLES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hopping and slopping through what was a new kitchen, contractor Chad Umbach battles the green creeping menace slowly engulfing Katrina-ravaged territory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘ll grow all the way up the wall.
TIBBLES: Mold is growing everywhere, on carpets, walls, ceilings, in closets, even on a child‘s shoe left behind when the family fled.
And if left unchecked...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, this is approximately two weeks. In two more weeks, it‘ll probably be close to the ceiling.
TIBBLES (on camera): The toxic, rancid water now starts to give way to what they call nature‘s recycling, as the mold moves into damp, dark spaces, feeding off of decaying material. It is very hard to clean, and is a serious health hazard.
DR. STEPHEN REDO, RESPIRATORY HEALTH EXPERT: With the degree of exposure that‘s possible in some of these buildings, it could actually trigger the development of allergies to mold. And for people who are already allergic to mold, it could trigger symptoms like hay fever or skin rashes or asthma attacks.
TIBBLES: Outside the French Quarter‘s historic Hotel du Prix (ph), owner Patrick Quinn can‘t even think of reopening until the mold‘s gone.
PATRICK QUINN, OWNER, HOTEL DU PRIX: We‘re going to make sure that they‘ve been completely tested and retested.
TIBBLES: Upstairs where the roof gave way to the storm, the growth forms wherever it can. It‘s restoration contractor Wade Miller‘s job to remove it.
WADE MILLER, RESTORATION CONTRACTOR: It‘s a living organism to keep on growing if you don‘t take care of it.
TIBBLES: With no electricity, there is no air conditioning. And the 100 percent humidity has left New Orleans air damp and dangerous.
REDO: People who enter buildings need to wear that respiratory protection.
REDO: Workers salvaging this restaurant keep their masks on. The carpets are covered, so they‘ve got to be thrown out.
DANA CURTIS, FCS CONSTRUCTION: It is just a breeding—it‘s a breeding ground for mold.
REDO: As Katrina‘s waters recede, Mother Nature‘s next challenge, a green growth that could take months to beat back.
Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, New Orleans.
OLBERMANN: And we have now a new next potential home for mold, a slow-moving hurricane, Ophelia, hitting the Carolina coast. We‘ll go there for two reports.
And an extremely bloody day in Iraq, Al Qaeda declaring war, and a dozen attacks there killed 120.
OLBERMANN: More than two weeks after Katrina hit, Americans now turning to bizarre, even painful ways to raise money for the victims. More on that ahead.
And the other big headlines of this day, Hurricane Ophelia hitting North Carolina as a category one. The flooding and the storm surge could be a big problem for residents along those coasts.
In Baghdad, the deadliest attacks since the start of the war. Hundreds of people lured with promises of jobs, in fact, only being drawn closer to a 500-pound car bomb. Al Qaeda in Iraq, pledging to spark civil war.
And in Washington, as senators grill the next potential chief justice of the United States, why is the nominee‘s wife having trouble keeping her eyes open?
And what‘s with all the (INAUDIBLE) baseball references?
All that ahead, here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: If President Bush is going to the United Nations in hope of finding some support for Iraq, you know he knows about those bad poll numbers.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, politics, from not saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school to the continuing Roberts confirmation hearings, to Mr. Bush‘s trip to the U.N., the president thanking the 115 nations which offered assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And though the president yesterday admitted some responsibilities for the failures in that area here, most of his speech to the international body today presented familiar and expansive policy statements on terrorism and Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terrorism fed by anger and despair has come to Tunisia, to Indonesia, to Kenya, to Tanzania, to Morocco, to Israel, to Saudi Arabia, to the United States, to Turkey, to Spain, to Russia, to Egypt, to Iraq, and the United Kingdom.
We must send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsor terror and pursue weapons of mass murder, you will not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world.
The whole world has a vital interest in the success of a free Iraq. And no civilized nation has an interest in seeing a new terror state emerge in that country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Depending on your viewpoint, it might be a little late on that one, sir.
The U.N. today could not even agree on a definition of terrorism. And al Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility for a dozen apparently coordinated attacks there today.
Though the attacks brought carnage, as our correspondent Richard Engel reports, the coordination brought fear.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Witnesses say there had been excitement in the air.
Just after daybreak, a driver was promising dozens of construction jobs to day laborers thronged around his car in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. But it was really a ploy to draw them closer to a 500-pound car bomb. Iraq‘s Interior Ministry said 112 people were killed in Baghdad‘s deadliest attack since the war began.
“These were just poor people with nothing but God‘s grace to survive on.”
Survivors rallied to help the nearly 200 wounded and cart away the dead. And this was just one attack today. There were at least 11 other car bombings and six motor attacks killing, in all, more than 160.
(on camera): The force of just one of these explosions was enough to destroy this car and flip over this minivan. Iraqi police say it was taking children to school. There were 18 Iraqi kids inside of here. All of them died.
(voice-over): Claiming responsibility, al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In a new, still unauthenticated audio statement on the Internet, Zarqawi said the attacks were vengeance for a joint U.S.-Iraqi offensive this month in the city of Tal Afar. But why now?
A senior U.S. commander told NBC News, the attacks were timed to embarrass the Iraqi government while its leaders are in the United States and to put Zarqawi back in the media spotlight after almost nonstop coverage of Hurricane Katrina. And Zarqawi used that spotlight to declare war on all Shiites in Iraq, his clearest call yet for a civil war.
Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: That horror and other news events of the day could be found seeping into, if not shaping, day three of John Roberts confirmation hearing. The only problem, we mainly learned what any given member of the Judiciary Committee thinks about the issues facing this country. The nominee for the chief justice of the United States, not so much.
Many a senator largely skipping the questioning portion of today‘s proceedings, instead expounding on his or her opinions. And when Roberts did get a chance to talk, what he was willing to say was, at best, limited. But, in the course of about eight hours, we did manage to deduce a few more things about the judge‘s knowledge of the law, including whether Congress is the Supreme Court‘s equal and if a government is within its rights in trying to prevent the media from reporting from New Orleans post-Katrina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: The media comes and says, “Look, the government screwed up. We‘re trying to get in there to take pictures to show how they screwed up and they say, ‘You can‘t come in. ‘” How would you analyze a claim like that?
JOHN G. ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: I think it was Justice Brandeis who talked about, you know, sunlight being the best disinfectant.
And I think that‘s a lot of what the framers had in mind in guaranteeing freedom of speech and the other rights that go along with it. They appreciated the benefits that would come from public awareness.
That‘s an important principle.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: Were you proud to work for Ronald Reagan?
ROBERTS: Very much, Senator, yes.
GRAHAM: During your time of working with Ronald Reagan, were you ever asked to take a legal position that you thought was unethical or not solid?
ROBERTS: No, Senator, I was not.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA: Do we have your commitment that you won‘t characterize your method of reasoning as superior to ours?
ROBERTS: I don‘t think it‘s appropriate...
SPECTER: In your particular case, maybe yours is, but...
ROBERTS: No, no.
Well, I don‘t think the court should be taskmaster of Congress. I think the Constitution is the court‘s taskmaster, and it‘s Congress‘s taskmaster as well.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Why this room should be some kind of a cone of silence is beyond me.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK ®, KANSAS: I want to compliment you on the number of areas that you answered.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: That wasn‘t my question.
ROBERTS: I‘m sorry.
FEINSTEIN: I‘m trying to see your feelings as a man.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH: I have never seen anybody who has done a better job of explaining himself than you have.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Without any knowledge of your understanding of the law, because you will not share it with us, we are rolling the dice with you, Judge.
Look, it‘s kind of interesting, this Kabuki dance we have in these hearings here, as if the public doesn‘t have a right to know what you think about fundamental issues facing them.
ROBERTS: I‘m not standing for election. And it is contrary to the role of judges in our society to say that, “This judge should go on the bench because these are his or her positions and those are the positions they‘re going to apply.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank now requesting combat pay from his employers for having made it through today‘s session without losing his mind.
Welcome back, Dana.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
OLBERMANN: Based on that smorgasbord we just heard, did you notice whether, while you were there, the Democrats and the Republicans were at the same hearings? Was there a screen separating them and Judge Roberts just went back and forth between the two sides or something?
MILBANK: Well, it is not fair that he did not say anything. He did disclose that his favorite movies were “Doctor Zhivago” and “West By Northwest.”
OLBERMANN: “North By Northwest” is an excellent choice, by the way.
MILBANK: Let‘s give him a little bit of credit.
But, you know, the one thing that unified the Democrats and the Republicans is that Democrats were asking him questions he wouldn‘t or couldn‘t answer. The Republicans didn‘t want to ask him any questions. But both of them were very happy, as you pointed out, to fill up the airtime.
I took a stopwatch to it. For every three words that the Democrats or the Republicans were able to utter, that Robert really could only come up with one. So, they really got about 75 percent of the possession of the game ball.
OLBERMANN: Potentially, the one intriguing answer—and we just played it there—Senator Graham—on whether or not the John Roberts of the Reagan administration ever had to represent a position of which he was ashamed or he thought was legally shaky, was that a kind of sideways way of saying, you weren‘t just an advocate for position X or position Y?
MILBANK: Well, I look at it a little differently.
I think some of the conservatives have reason to be worried that, while Roberts, by all accounts, is going to sail through, it looks like he may be doing so because he is projecting an image of a very moderate, easygoing fellow who doesn‘t want to change the court, when in fact the conservatives want a guy who is a real conservative who is going to change the court, and what Roberts very well may be.
They don‘t want him to look to the public to be another Kennedy or another Souter. They want to show the public that, yes, we want the public to endorse a real conservative. So, they‘re trying to pull him back to the right.
OLBERMANN: But in the interim, Senator Biden has an interesting point on the purpose of these hearings, if you really can‘t get any answers. And, maybe more importantly, are future candidates going to start to withdraw their names from consideration out of fear that they or their loved ones might begin to nod off on national television?
MILBANK: Well, it is a concern, of course, but, as you well know, that lawyers have been putting their spouses to sleep virtually every day for years. The problem could get worse, in fact. Roberts was asked quite a bit about having cameras in the Supreme Court. And he seems to be somewhat open to that. So, we could be seeing all of these proceedings on Supreme Court. And goodness knows, there could be dozens of people completely flat out.
OLBERMANN: There she goes on the left. She fought it off bravely.
She did her absolute best.
And, now, is that—possibly, is this connected to your piece in “The Post” tomorrow that we will also highlight the—excuse me—the number of baseball references during these hearings? Was she—was that what was making her kind of antsy there, kind of sleepy? Was it this nonstop baseball talk?
MILBANK: It certainly was making me antsy, I will tell you.
MILBANK: They mentioned abortion, I counted, 51 times. They mentioned the umpire 30 times. So, it seems that Roberts is indeed trying to get a job over at RFK Stadium here.
But it was going on and on. Biden says, you hit a home run. Schumer says, he‘s throwing softballs. Cornyn says it is really playing dodgeball. And then the nominee himself says—he changes the whole metaphor and says, look, the ball is in Congress‘ court.
OLBERMANN: Yes, a different, other sport.
But it does all explain all this, as your piece will no doubt note in the morning. This is why Major League Baseball kept a team from moving back to Washington for 33 years, to prevent analogy overload.
Congratulations on surviving it, “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank. Thank you, sir.
MILBANK: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: If Judge Roberts is confirmed, he will be on the bench in plenty of time to hear a case that has Supreme Court written all over it, a federal judge in Sacramento today ruling that having the school districts, the public school districts, lead students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance there is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton said that the pledge‘s reference
to one nation under God violated the schoolchildren‘s rights to be—quote
“free from coercive requirement to affirm God.” Right now, the ruling only applies there. If it is affirmed, as expected, by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it would then apply to nine Western states.
Also tonight, Hurricane Ophelia is unleashing a torrent of wind and rain on the Carolina coast. And we will introduce to you one family who survived Katrina, only to find themselves at the eye of the next storm on the schedule.
And extreme measures to raise funds for Katrina relief, playing the same song over and over again over a high school P.A. system until the students pony up $3,000. We will name that tune ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: After lurking offshore for days on end, Hurricane Ophelia is hitting tonight. We will go live to North Carolina for the latest and introduce you, when we do, to one family which made it out of Katrina alive and got stuck in this latest hurricane.
OLBERMANN: For the literary minded, Ophelia is a bad, bad name for a hurricane. You don‘t have to know much about Shakespeare to know that she was Hamlet‘s fiancee or girlfriend. He winds up killing her father and dueling with her brother and she kills herself by drowning.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, here we go again, Hurricane Ophelia not terrifyingly strong, but startlingly durable. Wind and rain already started lashing the Carolina coast and could continue to do so for the next two days.
Our correspondent in Wilmington, North Carolina, is Mark Potter.
Good evening, Mark.
MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: And good evening to you, Keith.
She was also a major headache to weather forecasters, who had to deal with her offshore for about a week. Finally, she did come in. We have had wind and rain here in the Wilmington area all day today. But it feels like, despite this little gust we‘re having right now, that things are starting to dissipate.
The weather was not all that severe here as far as hurricanes go. We did have some hurricane-level gusts, but no real sustained hurricane-force wins. The damage is reported to be relatively light in this area. And, as we drove around, that seemed to be the case to us, too, trees and limbs down, power lines down, some scattered outages, some flooding, but ,most importantly, no deaths or serious injuries reported at this time.
The bad news about this storm is that it is slow-moving. And so, it has been here all day. It will be up the road a little bit all day tomorrow, before going out to sea. The good news is that, so far, most of the worst of the rain and the winds have been offshore.
Now, we did spend some time today with an interesting family who has a relative—a rather sad story. For them, this storm, Ophelia, is a second strike.
POTTER (voice-over): For one family in Wilmington, North Carolina, Hurricane Ophelia brought in a lot more than just heavy surf, gusting winds and torrential rains. It also ignited traumatic memories.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a weird feeling, to be in this again, with all this rain and the wind blowing.
POTTER: Sitting without power, Geraldine Sanders (ph) couldn‘t help but think of what she had already been through just two-and-a-half weeks ago.
Right before the levees broke and flooded their neighborhoods, Sanders and most of her extended family fled New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina and headed for North Carolina, only to run into Ophelia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After coming out of one storm and going into another one, you really—it gets you all upset.
POTTER: Four generations of the family came to Wilmington, where Sanders‘ son, Allan (ph), had offered to take all 18 of them in.
(on camera): But while the Sanders family feels relatively safe from Hurricane Ophelia, they are all burdened by sadness. One of them was left behind and can‘t be found.
(voice-over): Fifty-year-old Warren Sanders (ph), Geraldine‘s oldest son, hasn‘t been heard from since Katrina hit. His mother said he just wouldn‘t leave.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m just hoping and praying that he is not in the house, where he then drowned. And this keeps me—this keeps me worrying about him.
POTTER: Surrounding herself with family and weathering yet another storm, she waits for the call that Warren has finally been seen and is safe.
POTTER: Now, unfortunately, Keith, that call still has not come. Meanwhile, the storm continues to move on. It is heading northeast toward the Outer Banks, where weather forecasters tell us that the effects there will likely be stronger than we felt here today in Wilmington—back to you.
OLBERMANN: Twenty-five percent of the country says it has a friend or family touched directly by the storm. The Sanders family will have to do for the other 75 percent of us.
Mark Potter in Wilmington, North Carolina, two reports in one. Great thanks, sir.
Also in the aftermath of Katrina, the generosity of Americans breaking records in response to the tragedy, the phrase give until it hurts taking on a whole new meaning. We will introduce you to a group of college guys, these guys, who are really taking the saying to heart, or at least taking it to chest.
But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three Katrina-related nominees for the title of worst person in the world.
At the bronze level, Jason De Wing (ph) of Niles, Indiana, had a nice little scam going. He was dressed up like a National Guardsman. He had a car full of boxes made up to look like receptacles for donations for Katrina relief. He was going to place them in stores throughout Indiana. The problem? Police say, on the otherwise well-prepared fraudulent donation boxes, Mr. Wing had misspelled Louisiana. He is under arrest.
Also, the secretary of labor, Elaine Chao. Today, she defended the suspension of a law that requires laborers on Katrina repair projects to be paid their regular set hourly wages. She says the suspension will limit administrative red tape. She did not mention the million it will save the firms that already got the no-bid contracts to do the rebuilding, like Bechtel and Halliburton.
But your winner, Kiley Rollins (ph), spokesperson for the Family Dollar Store chain. The Thursday after the storm, the third in command at Family Dollar in Spring Hill, Tennessee, Colloni Simms (ph), left for Long Beach, Mississippi, to try to find her teenage brother and sister, who were lost in the storm. She found them. They had been treading water in their attic.
Ms. Simms then went home to go back to work at the Family Dollar Store. She was back by Tuesday, which is when the Family Dollar Store fired her for having left work early that Thursday. Spokesperson Kiley Rollins says, “We really have made every effort to support our associates and give them the time off.”
Kiley Rollins of the Family Dollar Store, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: The journal “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” says that donations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have now topped $833 million, well over half of that from private citizens. Now comes the hard part.
Our number one story, keeping the tap flowing, and at least two Americans doing it in bizarre, even painful ways. Bake sales and lemonade stands, it ain‘t. At Delone Catholic High School in Mcsherrystown, Pennsylvania, it is Hanson and the bang‘s song “Mmm Bop.”
OLBERMANN: Students are playing that over and over on the school‘s public address system. They said they will not stop until teachers and fellow classmates either run screaming from the building or pony up donations totaling $3,000. They are currently only $700 away from the goal. Check to see if there‘s blood coming out their ears.
And they may be the only charity that begins with paying runners-up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN”)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Ready?
STEVE CARELL, ACTOR: Yes.
CARELL: (SPEAKING SPANISH) Kelly Clarkson! I hate you.
Stop smiling, you jerk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Inspired by the movie “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” five members of the University of North Dakota‘s Booster Club came up with a simple plan. Increase donations by decreasing their chest hair.
Saturday, at the Events Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, people making donations get to wax and rip the hair off the chests of Dave Wedin, who you see in the front, and, behind him, Peter Stengen (ph), Adam Driscoll, Ryan Hofer (ph) and Mike Cook.
And they join me now from Grand Forks, the city itself evacuated after horrific flooding in 1997.
Gentlemen, good evening.
Dave, we‘re going to make you the primary spokesperson for the group.
So, let me ask by starting you, what were you thinking?
DAVE WEDIN, WAXING CHEST HAIR FOR KATRINA FUND-RAISER: Well, it all kind of started as a joke after we saw the movie.
And we kind of talked about it. I talked with it with some of my roommates. And next thing I know, before we could do anything, our P.R. director for the whole group had it all set in stone. And we were ready to go. And we couldn‘t back out.
OLBERMANN: So, what‘s the going rate here for this? How much are you going to ask people to donate?
WEDIN: Well, the sky‘s the limit. We are going to see what we can get and how much we can get for it. The more money we raise, the better. It‘s for a good cause.
OLBERMANN: And do you have a target amount? Is there some—at some point, are you going to stop if you raise a certain amount of money, or is this going to be judged by when all the hair is gone?
WEDIN: We will keep going. We have legs. We have arms.
OLBERMANN: Are you surprised that this has gotten as much attention as it has? I mean, obviously, we have got you in a television studio. That‘s a lot of attention just by itself.
WEDIN: Yes, I‘m very surprised.
Yesterday, we were on the front page of the local paper. And this morning, I got the phone call wanting to be on here. And I couldn‘t believe it. These guys thought I was kidding. And now we‘re here.
OLBERMANN: Did you at any point, in thinking about raising money for this obviously very worthwhile cause, think of a more traditional route, like, you know, the bake sale idea or, you know, playing a Hanson song on the P.A. system for days at a time?
WEDIN: No, it‘s something we had to give. And it‘s a way to do it that no one else could think of. And look where we are now.
OLBERMANN: All right.
Well, then, that, of course, raises the question, who is—and I‘m going to throw this out to the group—have any of you ever been through this process? Have you ever been waxed and ripped before? Anybody?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have, actually.
OLBERMANN: And you‘re still there to do it again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. It wasn‘t too bad.
OLBERMANN: And are you the hairiest? Who is the hairiest?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I don‘t know.
OLBERMANN: Who is going to suffer the most?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These two aren‘t that hairy.
OLBERMANN: We‘re not going to get anything raised this way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He‘s not that hairy.
OLBERMANN: All right.
WEDIN: I might compete a little bit.
WEDIN: But I think he has it when you throw in the back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here.
OLBERMANN: Well, all right. So, there is some serious funds that are going to be raised here. And if any of you survive, maybe we will have you on next week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
OLBERMANN: Dave Wedin and the masterminds behind the victims—and masterminds behind Operation Southern Comfort, good luck with the waxing. Remember, it will grow back eventually.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
Our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues now with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT” from New Orleans.
Good evening, Rita.
RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”: Good evening, Keith.
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