Just one of the many tasty dishes currently on offer during the 2008 Olympics. But not for long...
Craig to Resign: If his arrest on charges of lewd conduct in a public restroom did not prove to be the undoing of Republican Senator Larry Craig. Perhaps the renewed allegation that -- 25 years ago -- he had sex with a teenage Congressional page did. Our fifth story on the Countdown: Breaking news tonight: Senator Craig's office saying this afternoon he will address his future tomorrow. And The Associated Press reporting that that future is the past. That Senator Craig will announce his resignation at a Saturday morning news conference in Idaho. The Idaho Statesman newspaper with its own report that the Senator will end the week-long turmoil by leaving office. NBC News now confirming the reports that Senator Craig will announce his resignation tomorrow morning, in Boise.
WH Week That Was: Turdblossom has already gone...Fredo and Tony Snow are soon to follow. And the breaking news tonight, the Associated Press reporting Senator Larry Craig leaves tomorrow morning. John Dean joins us to assess the sudden loneliness at the G-O-P top - next on Countdown.
ODDBALL: Sprinklers during a rundown, stone pelting, and the restaurant of the future.
Decision 2008: They were only in Iraq for twenty four hours. But as Republican Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Mel Martinez of Florida, accompanied by Democratic congressman Bud Cramer of Alabama were leaving Baghdad in their military plane last night, they were nearly hit by what were believed to be Rocket Propelled Grenades fired from the ground 6,000 feet below them. And yet according to those three Repuiblican Senators and the President, the security situation in Iraq is improving, thanks to the surge.
English Rose: In our number two story tonight...keeping tabs....and ten years after her death in Paris... Diana, "the people's princess".. is still a formidable presence.
WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD: Holly Schnobrich of Lafayette Indiana, whoever is censoring the military internet in Baghdad, And the exterminator, Tom Delay fight for top honors tonight.
Encore: Dragnet: Larry Craig starring the Countdown Players...an encore.
***UPDATE**** Craig will resign...the AP says:
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig will announce Saturday he will resign from the Senate amid a furor over his arrest and guilty plea in a police sex sting in an airport men's room, Republican officials said Friday.
Tomorrow morning (yes, on the Saturday of labor day weekend...the slowest news Saturday of the year) Senator Larry Craig will make some kind of announcement. Will he remind us he's not gay? Will he officially wish us a happy Labor Day? Will he endorse the Countdown Dragnet re-enactment?
Interestingly...the AP reports that the Idaho governor has already determined a replacement for the Senator should he resign.
The Bathroom Tape: As resonant and visceral as the arrest of Republican Senator Larry Craig after alleged lewd advances towards another man in a Minneapolis airport public bathroom might be...As much of a firestorm, and a collective Republican butt-covering, that might have been provoked... There seemed to be no way for the panoramically bizarre saga to have gotten worse. Unless, perhaps, there was audio tape of Senator Craig's post-arrest interview with the police -- and unless, perhaps, that tape were to become public. Our fifth story on the Countdown: ta da! There is a tape. It has been released. We will play it for you -- with captions. First, the other Larry Craig In The Toilet Headlines.
Pre-Emptive Strike: The battle of the war reports. The GAO has a stinging draft assessment of Iraq... It is leaked -- presumably so we can compare it to the watered down version after the military and the White House get to influence it. That and disarray at the Pentagon... there will be no one recommendation of the way forward to the president... because no one can decide on the way forward. General Wesley Clark joins us.
ODDBALL: Nake beer stealers, tooth train puller and Karl Rove gets punk'd
Decision 2008: Politics and comedy have this much in common. Your timing had better be good lest you put the audience to sleep. With that in mind, Fred Thompson supporters can wake up now. Your candidate is almost ready to deliver his punchline. Our third story tonight, the latest in the countdown to 2008..
Diana, 10 Years Later: Ten years after her death, even remembering Princess Diana's life is causing controversy. Her husband's new wife, who Diana detested, was originally scheduled to sit by Prince Charles' side throughout tomorrow's official memorial service. But on Sunday, someone changed her mind for her. So now, in our number two story on the Countdown, the Duchess of Cornwall is reportedly royally miffed - and planning a Caribbean vacation without her husband. While he, and his two sons... remember Princess Diana..
WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD: MLB, Faux News and a congressman who thinks we should stay in Iraq to keep the oil prices down.
Baby Got Back: Normally when a headline screams that a celebrity "bares all" - we expect a heart-warming, tear-jerking confessional. Of course, in our number one story on the Countdown, when that celebrity is Britney Spears - we know to expect something more along the lines of nudity, partial nudity, or mental nudity.
"You solicited me" - Senator Larry Craig (R) of Idaho to Investigative Sergeant Dave Karsnia at the Minneapolis Airport on June 11. We now have the full audio of his police interview so expect PLENTY more on this on Countdown tonight.
Two Years Later: President Bush, who did not even mention Hurricane Katrina in his most recent State of the Union address this past January, today declaring in a visit to New Orleans that "better days are ahead" for that city. Given that independent studies reveal that only about a fifth of the money supposed to be spent on levees, has been spent (just a third of the money supposedly already spent on homes), it is notable the President did not say how many years or decades ahead those "better days" are.
More Money: He got $120 billion for Iraq on the promise that Iraq would fulfill political promises. It didn't. Now President Bush is back, with another reckoning. $50 billion, or else.
ODDBALL: La Tomatina time, and the fastest fan in the CFL.
"I am not Gay": Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig last night endured a fate politically worse than becoming a convict. He became a punch line. But while Senator Craig became a household name overnight, in the same time span, among his fellow Republicans, he became better known as "Senator Who From the What Now?"
Going to the Dog: On the anniversary of the Katrina disaster, let it be noted that the late Leona Helmsley once gave $5 million to hurricane relief and will end up giving billions more to charity. That pretty much sums up the good stuff. The woman who famously said "only the little people pay taxes," decided that a little dog gets the largest single bequest from her inheritance.
WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD: Glenn Beck squares off against the MSHA and Fidel Castro for top honors.
Dragnet: Larry Craig: When the magazine Roll Call broke the news Monday night that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig had pleaded guilty two weeks ago to a misdemeanor, what captured the public, and political, attention, was not so much the charge of disorderly conduct itself. No, as the old saying goes, God is in the details. And the details are divine. We offer a dramatization, utilizing the actual, unaltered text of the Craig incident report. Embellished only with a Dragnet-style introduction and wrap-up.
A British artist made this image of George W. Bush out of clippings from porno magazines. It's actually on DISPLAY in London.
**Clarification** (thanks bloggers). The above image is, of course, heavily blurred as befitting a family website such as ourselves. The real portrait reveals far more naughty bits. If you really want to see it, as the President would say, use "the google".
Craig's Denial: Eleven months ago today... Congressman Mark Foley became an infamous man... eventually, most Republican leaders believe, helping their party lose control of Congress. Tonight, in the fifth story on our Countdown, Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig taking a step some Republican insiders have suggested to NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert, could start him, and them, down the same path -- Not just belligerently denying he did anything wrong in a Minneapolis airport men's room despite his own guilty plea which he kept secret...but also angrily picking a fight with his own state's leading newspaper.
Going 'Nucular': "Nuclear weapons"... "the shadow of nuclear holocaust"... Authorization to "confront... murderous activities." It is language like that, which cost President George Walker Bush, so much of his irreplacable credibility. So why did he use those very words, today, about Iran... in a speech to members of the American Legion...
ODDBALL: We got toilets on fire and a couple of jerks doing the stupidest thing you can ever do while driving a car.
Who's Next?: When the 68th Attorney General of the United States, Richard Kleindienst, resigned at the height of the Watergate investigate, then President Nixon was so hard pressed to get any successor confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, that he not only had to nominate perhaps the most liberal man in his administration, Defense Secretary Elliott Richardson. But both he and the Attorney General Designate, had to agree with Senate demands that Richardson would appoint a Special Watergate Prosecutor. Our third story on the Countdown: with a justice department in tatters, and an administration in disarray, you might think President Bush would also have to bend over backwards to get a replacement for Alberto Gonzales confirmed. Instead it looks like the only thing the President plans to bend backwards are three fingers and a thumb.
Redemption Geography: Even in the gritty, dark world of beauty paegants, it was one for the ages. Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina. Who long ago made the right choice. The contests with the tiaras. In lieu of, say, the national geography bee.
WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD: America's Mayor, the people of Fox News.com and one of the hosts at that website's sister cable network vie for top honors this Tuesday.
Help Me NASA, You're Our Only Hope!: The next space shuttle launch, in October, will take to the International Space Station, an Italian-built multi-port node named "Harmony". But in our number one story on the Countdown, far more easily grasped is the shuttle's other payload. A light-saber! Not just any old, run of the mill light saber. But the one actually wielded by Luke Skywalker in his successful quest to defeat the Empire!
According to published reports today, President Bush is considering nominating Clay Johnson to replace Michael Chertoff as Secretary of Homeland Security.
Mr. Johnson has no experience in law enforcement, the law, the military, counter-terrorism or intelligence. His current job involves oversight of management throughout the executive branch. Prior to that, he served during the Bush/Cheney transition by helping Mr. Bush to staff thousands of federal positions.
He served much the same role when Mr. Bush became governor, and then served as Mr. Bush's chief of staff. You can read his official government bio here.
Mr. Johnson does not appear to have any blemishes of ethics or competence on his public record. (That line was written before we stumbled upon this.) Privately, he has worked as an executive in the mail-order catalogue business, as well as for Pepsico. Specifically, Frito-Lay, a maker of fine snack chips.
To his credit, Frito-Lay has suffered not a single attack by al Qaeda.
His relationship with Mr. Bush is almost unique in Washington. The two men have been friends since they were 15 and met at Andover.
He recalls discussing Vietnam with Mr. Bush. Not the morality of it. That was "almost moot," he told the Associated Press. Their concern was getting out of the draft.
More to come, we suspect. Post your own links on Mr. Johnson's golden oldies. His role as personnel chief for Bush over the years could yield some interesting connections.
Fredo's Farewell: It was Alberto Gonzales who enabled the firing of nine US attorneys with no cause beyond naked political retribution. It was Alberto Gonzales who misled Congress about the administration's domestic spying activities. It was Alberto Gonzales who drafted the infamous torture memo that helped lead to the physical abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the Constitutional ones at Guantanamo Bay. Yet somehow -- in our fifth story on the Countdown -- the reason cited by President Bush today for the Attorney General's downfall: Congress has been unfairly attacking Mister Gonzales for political reasons.
Gonzo & Sen. Craig: As critics gently remind Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales not to let the White House screen door hit them in the butts on the way out... Is President Bush out of old, unqualified cronies, to stick into the most important jobs in the government? And a Republican senator arrested after a lewd conduct investigation in a men's room...
ODDBALL: Even more nekkid news...and the hurdler that didn't hurdle.
Vick, as in Sick: The crimes for which football star Michael Vick agreed to a plea bargain obviously constitute the over-arching horror in the story. But on Friday, Vick somehow managed to make it a little worse. While accepting a prison sentence of up to eighteen months, and acknowledging he bankrolled the entirety of an illegal dog-fighting operation, the document he signed stated specifically that he personally did not gamble on dog fights, personally did not receive proceeds from dog fights, and personally "did not kill any dogs." Suddenly, on top of the crime, here was an admission of guilt, that seemed to admit, very little guilt. Our third story on the Countdown: over the weekend, the sports world seemed to collectively demand something more contrite from Michael Vick. And this morning, to the surprise of many he apparently delivered.
Britney & Child Abuse: The latest custody battle between Britney Spears and Kevin Fedderline may have taken an ugly turn. Our number two story on the Countdown -- Keeping Tabs. Now there is a possible element of child abuse.
WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD: US Military civilian relations department in Afghanistan, Sean Hannity and Brit Hume vie for top honors.
It's Baaaack!!: You might have thought -- with all evidence on your side -- that "American Idol" had already peaked. Last season's ratings were down from the year before...and that Sanjaya kid nearly hijacked the entire show. But this morning in Philadelphia, there was another "Idol" audition. And in our number one story on the Countdown... the wanna bees numbered 17,000...which might make it the largest audition in "Idol" history. Happily... Countdown's very own "American Idol" Princess was there.
"My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall," Karsnia stated in his report. "From my seated position, I could observe the shoes and ankles of Craig seated to the left of me."
Craig was wearing dress pants with black dress shoes.
"At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area," the report states.
And the response from the Craig camp?
A spokesman for Craig described the incident as a "he said/he said misunderstanding," and said the office would release a fuller statement later Monday afternoon.
Here's the much anticipated statement from Sen. Craig's office...they had months to craft this?
Senator Larry Craig stated, "At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct.
"I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously."
That's right, no question mark after Gonzo. The date must be the Twelfth of Never here at the News Hole, because multiple news organization are reporting that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned. Just picked up the phone on Friday and called the president. Just like that. (Kinda makes sense though that President Bush still never pulled the trigger;
the decision seems to have been Gonzo's and Gonzo's alone.) We haven't felt this way since we woke up the morning after the Midterm Elections to learn that Rummy would soon be departing.
The folks over at U.S. News piqued our interest to this possibility over the weekend, but to be truthful, we've heard these kind of rumors before only to see them never pan out. Here's the part of U.S. News's reporting we still think might not pan out: that Mr. Bush is planning to replace Mr. Gonzales with - wait for it - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
How could the White House expect to get Chertoff's nomination through Congress? We'll look for the answer to that, and other questions, like, oh yeah... WHY NOW?... tonight on Countdown.
The N-hole is well aware this is just a youngster...but the answer this young lady gives during the Miss Teen U.S.A. award show is astoundingly bad.
We didn't announce it...and it's not that big a deal, but we're going to do a real-time live blog for tonight's show. For all you folks on the West Coast, tune into Countdown AFTER the game for the big show.
War More Years: And we're off. Keith did a little explainer at the top to calm the fears of all those folks looking for Dateline NBC...and we're into the first story centering around Sen. Warner's call for troop reduction and the vast response it has gotten.
7:05 Crazy tech pile-up in the control room. The great Howard Fineman is the first guest, but for some reason we couldn't get his IFB (look it up) to work. It was down to the wire...but the great tech staff pulled through. Great effort. Are we using 'great' too much?
7:08 New NBC bug and live bug tonight...you like?
7:10 And we're out of the first block without a hitch...couldn't have gone smoother.
Lightning Rod Candidates: Sen. Clinton and former Mayor Giuliani getting bashed by all comers as Decision 2008 heats up. Dana Milbank makes his NBC Countdown debut.
7:14 "Countdown" snipe promoing the show on MSNBC runs...that was crazy.
7:15 Dana's reference to an errant foul ball being dangerous is surely not lost on Keith.
7:18 "Maliki is the Alberto Gonzales of Iraq"...nice one Dana.
ODDBALL: 7:22 The Plays of the Summer...if you're a fan of Oddball, this is one compilation of stupidity you can't miss.
7:23 Alp Horn convention..Al's Porn Convention. Ha!
7:26 Is there anyone that doesn't love that 'Yakety Sax'?
7:28 Wizard of Oz bump out music...gotta love that too. If I only had a brain!
7:30 3 blocks down and still haven't been pulled off the air...this is great
The Book On Protestors: We brought you guys this story earlier in the week, but it wasn't with Presidential Expert/TV Personality Mo Rocca
7:33 Mo Rocca making is NBC Countdown Debut. Don't tell Jay Leno.
7:35 More nekkid Pooty Poot pics. Again, we'll refer you to those Jeff Gannon/Guckert photos.
7:36 Putin is 5' foot 7" according to Mo Rocca. He knows his stuff.
7:37 Play Ball...HA!
The Summer of the Mug Shot:
7:41 Once, Twice, Three times a lady. (We know we're using the word "lady" loosely -- loosely, get it? -- it's been a long day.)
7:43 Joel McHale of E!'s the Soup. Hey, coulda had soup for dinner...
7:44 From Britney to Michael Vick. You knew Keith would find a way to connect all the dots on Football Night in America...
WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD: 7:48 An upset! Rush Limbaugh beats out Billo (and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell) to become tonight's Worst... Person... in the World... (cue the music)
Football Night in America:
7:51 Keith's day job (which is a night job) and his night job (also a night job) collide in our number one story as he sits down with Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth of NBC Sports to discuss the NFL.
7:52 The "Speagles" - worst name ever for a sports team? Discuss.
7:53 We'd hate to be the NFL official in charge of getting that $22 Million back from Michael Vick. Just try collecting on that...
7:54 Cris is challenging Keith on the selection of Rush Limbaugh as Worst Person in the World! Does the ref like it when you challenge his calls on a play, Cris... does he?
7:57 Start the car. Keith has until halftime to make it across the Hudson to Rockefeller Center for the halftime show of job number two. And no, he will not have to hitchhike. That's why there's New Jersey Transit, people.
7:59 And our little experiment coming to you over the airwaves, versus cable, has come to a close. Thanks for playing (one last sports metaphor!) and we'll join you tomorrow night on MSNBC. Same bat time, same bat channel.
Alison in for Keith tonight...
Change of Pace: When a prominent Republican Senator like John Warner calls on President Bush to start bringing some troops home from Iraq -- that can be damaging enough. Now imagine what can happen when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff advises the president to cut U-S forces there by as much as half. Our fifth story on the Countdown: A published report says we may not have to imagine that scenario for much longer.
Revisionist History: Really perverse. That's what one historian calls the president's speech this week drawing on the lessons of wars past to sell staying in Iraq. He not only says he was misquoted... he says the adminstration is living in a fantasy land.
ODDBALL: A boat that catches its own fish, an update on the Duct Tape bandit, and our introduction to the world of human tetris.
Lust in Space: Going to outer space is pretty impressive, and there is still a very small club of people who have done it. But when astronaut Lisa Nowak went on another kind of trip...a road trip to end all road trips...she secured her place in infamy. And today she was back in court. Our third story on the Countdown: The woman who is accused of stalking a romantic rival, the woman who was a navy pilot who allegedly drove one-thousand miles in a diaper so she wouldn't have to take a bathroom break, today asked for permission to remove her G-P-S monitoring device. Otherwise known as an ankle bracelet.
Crisis of Faith?: Our number two story.. in two weeks, we will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Mother Theresa. The life and words of the legendary nun who dedicated her life to caring for the hopelessly sick and desperately poor remain a reminder of the power of faith. But it turns out even Mother Theresa questioned the strength of that power. Why do we know this? Her writings which were not supposed to see the light of day...have.
82 Minutes: Nicole Richie served 82 minutes of her four-day jail sentence yesterday afternoon. 82 minutes. But her reality show co-star Paris Hilton served 23 days of her own 45-day sentence. There's something not so simple about that math. And in our number one story on the Countdown, Ms. Hilton, of all people, is starting to look like she did hard time. While Ms. Richie -- at only 82 minutes -- has probably had hair appointments that lasted longer. Low lights take time people.
It's double-whammy Friday for the White House. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, is expected to advise President Bush to cut the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in half next year. Now he tells us. Consider it his parting gift. This, one day after Republican John Warner said the Commander in Chief should announce plans to start bringing troops home by this Christmas. Hey, nobody said unilaterally invading another nation would be easy. Oh wait... the Bush administration did say it would it be easy.
Why did this pic get a 13-year-old kid 5 days in the hole (i.e. suspended from school?). Find out after the jump.
Click on the link for video....
Student Suspended For Drawing Gun
5-Day Suspension Cut To 3 Days
POSTED: 3:06 pm PDT August 21, 2007
QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. -- A 13-year-old student who drew a picture of a gun on his homework at Payne Junior High School in Queen Creek was initially suspended for at least five days, but his father was able to slash it to three days.
The Mosteller family moved to Chandler from Colorado Springs only four weeks ago, but it's not the kind of greeting Paula Mosteller said she was expecting.
Her 13-year-old son was suspended from school because he drew a picture of a gun on homework.
"My son is a very good boy," Mosteller said.
"He doesn't get into trouble. There was nothing on the paper that would signify that it was a threat of any form," she said.
The principal at Payne Junior High School kept the actual drawing.
The picture was enough to get him suspended, initially, for five days.
"He was just basically doodling and not thinking a lot about it," Mosteller said.
CBS 5 News tried to get more details from the Chandler Unified School District but were told, "Federal privacy law forbids the school or district from discussing student discipline."
"We're not advocates for guns," Mosteller said.
Alison in for Keith tonight...
Warner Warns Bush: Three weeks before the Bush administration delivers its latest report on Iraq, today a top member of the Republican Party calls for the White House to make sure the U.S. commitment in Iraq does not remain open-ended. Our fifth story on the Countdown: Senator John Warner, the Senate's leading Republican on military matters says President Bush should start ordering some troops home... as 16 of America's spy agencies conclude that Iraq's leaders cannot govern effectively.
Decision 2008: Being number three is no fun, just ask Melinda Doolittle and John Edwards who is making a mad dash for the front of the pack. Will his criticism of Senators Clinton and Obama stick with voters?
ODDBALL: Brawl in the Bolivian Congress, and Flash News...some weirdo flashes a news camera. It doesn't get any more literal than that, right?
Tales from the Pokey: It's official...Lindsay Lohan has reached a plea deal requiring her to spend one day in jail. A whole 24 hours. And in our third story on the Countdown, the question is once again raised. After two DUI busts within nine weeks, both involving alleged possession of cocaine...Is a celebrity getting special treatment?
Mine Disaster: Number two tonight, there may be a little bit of justice for the families experiencing anguish and heartbreak. The latest on the fate of six missing miners in the Crandall Canyon Utah mine disaster. Today the senate committee that oversees mine safety said it would investigate the cause of that tragedy calling for hearings in early September. :
Putin on the Fritz: Vladimir took his shirt off to reveal some ripply...something. Paul F. Tompkins will try and contain the drool from dripping out of his mouth as he breaks down this skin story.
This just crossed on the reuters wire...fresh off his visit to the region, Sen. John Warner (R, VA) is calling for the "first step" of withdrawal from Iraq.
Republican senator: Bush should begin Iraq withdrawal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Bush should announce on Sept. 15 an initial pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq to spur the Iraqi government to take steps toward political reconciliation, an influential Republican senator said Thursday.
Virginia Sen. John Warner said Bush should "announce on the 15th that in consultation with our senior military commanders he has decided to initiate the the first step in a withdrawal of our forces."
Name that barrel chested dog-tag wearing world leader (hint: it's not Jeff Gannon/Guckert).
Photos of Bare-Chested Putin Create Stir
Wednesday August 22, 2007 6:01 PM
By MIKE ECKEL
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) - When he flexes Russia's diplomatic and military muscle, Vladimir Putin always makes headlines.
But few could have predicted the squall of gossip and speculation that erupted after the president stripped off his shirt for the cameras while vacationing in the Siberian mountains last week.
The resulting images, prominently enshrined on the presidential Web site, inspired admiration, criticism and some racing pulses among his admirers.
The Russian media still can't get enough.
The tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda on Wednesday published a huge color photo of the bare-chested president under the headline: ``Be Like Putin.'' Its excuse? A guide showing exactly what exercises were required to build up a torso like the Russian leader's.
Kremlin watchers have been trying to guess what kind of political message the pictures send, given that the 54-year-old Putin has insisted he plans to step down at the end of his second term next year, as required by the constitution.
One radio talk show host speculated the photos were meant to enhance Putin's personal appeal to voters - a strong signal that he doesn't plan to relinquish power. When the commentator, Yevgeniya Albats, went on to suggest the half-naked photo shoot was unbecoming for a Russian leader, female listeners peppered her with e-mails expressing admiration for Putin's physique.
Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that women who visited its Web site posted comments on Putin's ``vigorous torso'' and said they ``were screaming with delight and showering (him) with compliments.''
Russian gay chat rooms and blogs were particularly intrigued by the photos: Some claimed that Putin, by stripping to his waist, was somehow pleading for more tolerance of homosexuality in Russia - where gays and lesbians are for the most part forced to remain closeted.
One satirical photo circulating on the Internet jokingly compared Putin's mountain adventure with Prince Albert II of Monaco to the movie ``Brokeback Mountain,'' a love story about two cowboys who conceal a homosexual affair.
The Russian president, who is married with two daughters, has long cultivated an image of machismo and manliness. Well-known as a downhill skier and black belt in judo, Putin has appeared on national television driving a truck, operating a train, sailing on a submarine and copiloting a fighter jet.
These exploits have been widely publicized, thanks to the Kremlin's control of major Russian media.
In contrast to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, notorious for drunken antics, Putin has established an image as serious, energetic, sober and sharp-witted. In a country that worships its Olympic and other world-class athletes, he has also taken care to stay physically fit.
In interviews, he speaks avidly about judo and athletics.
``Sport has helped me form my own personal point of view on the world, on people and my approach to them,'' he said in an interview posted on the Kremlin Web site.
Some say it's all part of the Putin mystique.
``He's cool. That's been the image throughout the presidency, cool,'' said Sergei Markov, Kremlin-connected head of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Research.
But Putin's outdoor outing last week took this manly public persona to a new level.
The prince and the president spent several days on vacation in the mountainous southern Siberian region of Tuva. Dressed in fatigues, fingerless gloves, a bush hat and chic sunglasses, Russia's most powerful man was shown on TV broadcasts in scenic footage riding horses, rafting down a river, fishing for grayling and off-roading in a sport utility vehicle.
Amid the outdoor posturing, the image-handlers were careful to make sure Putin was shown staying on top of major events - a lesson he learned after he was criticized for failing to immediately interrupt his vacation after the submarine Kursk sank in August 2000.
Putin's Siberian holiday coincided with the bombing of a passenger train near St. Petersburg. This time, TV footage showed him reportedly issuing orders to top ministers by cell phone from his vacation retreat.
Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National Strategy Institute think tank, said the pictures from Tuva were nothing more than an effort to reassure Russians that Putin knows how to relax - and was preparing for retirement.
Yevgeny Volk, who heads the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, said the political elite increasingly views Putin as a lame duck leader and that the photos only strengthen the impression that he should no longer be taken seriously.
The Maliki plot thickens. The New York Times has learned the White House is getting ready to release parts of a new intelligence report today titled "Prospects for Iraq Stability" that will say it's unlikely the Iraqi prime minister will ever be able to unite sectarian factions and meet political benchmarks that have been set. So all the extra American troops are buying him time to do what exactly...? We've put all eggs in Maliki's basket because...?
Alison in for Keith tonight...
Iraq = Vietnam: To quote the president on the state of the war: "The confused nature of this conflict cannot mask the fact that it is the new face of an old enemy. The contest is part of a wider pattern of aggressive purposes." Those words, coming from President Lyndon Johnson, another Texan, from another party, about another war, Vietnam, in April 1965. But in our fifth story on the Countdown: the current President, George W. Bush, expressed many of the same sentiments today, in a speech linking the Iraq war to the conflict in Vietnam. It all comes full circle.
The Utah Mine Collapse, The Plot Thickens: It went from a tragedy to a catastrophe and now for some, to outrage. Is it even possible, the owner of the mine is considering opening up other sections of the same mountain for mining?
ODDBALL: The world's longest table, a three horned cow and the crocodile whisperer.
The Book on Protestors: The Bush administration has a detailed plan on how to deal with protesters. It is a manual, in fact, and apparently it is very handy. Public awareness that there are written instructions discribing clever ways to make the bad dissenters go away surfaced as the result of a lawsuit filed by two protestors who had been arrested. Our third story on the Countdown: the A-B-C's of marginalizing those pesky protesters courtesy of the administration.
The Brad Pitt Interview: Our number two story tonight: fame, fortune and a few good ideas can be a powerful combination. If you are going to have photographers and TV cameras follow your every move, why not make those moves to help others and raise awareness for a cause. Brad Pitt and his baby's momma, Angelina Jolie, bought a house in New Orleans last January because they SAY they fell in love with the city. Now they are working to help build healthy homes for the city's displaced residents. Houses that are also healthy for the environment.
Tales From Rehab: In our number one story on the Countdown, Lindsay Lohan is either...A: doing great in rehab and really changing her life around. B: acting out by having relations with a male patient in the bathroom. Or, C: some sketchy combination of the two, if that's possible. But one thing's for sure: her lawyer has his act together because there's word that Lohan won't face any felony charges for her recent transgessions.
TV Newser has an interview with Keith re: the big Sunday show on NBC (7p ET, check your local listings).
Here's an excerpt:
"If something comes of it, it would be great," he says. "I have no expectations. My best analogy is that it's like a top minor league pitcher being brought up for one game to pitch inside the huge ballpark. You know in advance that it's a one-time thing."