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Ten Marines Killed in Explosion in Iraq; Bush Hails Economy; U.N. to Recognize China's Human Rights Abuses; TSA Will Allow Previously Banned Objects Back On Planes

Aired December 2, 2005 - 18:00   ET


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. Good evening, everybody.
Tonight, the deadliest day in months for our troops in Iraq. Ten U.S. Marines are killed in one massive explosion.

Then, President Bush tries to shift the political agenda to the economy. But can the president boost his sagging poll numbers?

Also Venezuela President Hugo Chavez now using satellite television to blast President Bush.

Plus a shocking illustration of the violence that could spill over our southern border from Mexico.

And Christmas under fire, political correctness out of control. Many Americans are now fighting back.

We begin tonight with one of the deadliest days for our troops in Iraq since the war began. Ten U.S. Marines were killed in a bomb explosion in Anbar province. Another 11 Marines were wounded. Now the number of American troops killed in Iraq is now 2,127.

This latest attack took place near Fallujah west of Baghdad last night.


PILGRIM (voice-over): The U.S. Marines were killed while on foot patrol near Fallujah. The military said the insurgents made the huge roadside bomb from several large artillery shells.

The bombing comes just over a year after thousands of U.S. Marines stormed Fallujah in one of the biggest battles of the war. Since then, Fallujah has been considered one of the most secure cities in western Iraq.

But many of the Marines have been involved in a series of bloody engagements elsewhere in Anbar province. In August, 14 U.S. Marine reservists were killed when their amphibious assault vehicle was blown up near Haditha.

The military says its goal is to hand over more and more security responsibilities to Iraqi troops and police.

LT. GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, MULTINATIONAL SECURITY COMMAND: Right now we're building a 10 division army. It's a light infantry army with some enablers that will allow it to have some ability to project force around the country. And at end state it will number approximately 160,000.

PILGRIM: The White House and the U.S. military say the build-up of Iraqi forces is progressing well.

The true test for those Iraqi forces will come when American troops withdraw from cities like Fallujah and let Iraqi soldiers fight the enemy without significant U.S. support.


PILGRIM: Joining me now is our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, today's attack was clearly well planned. Now how is it possible for insurgents to plant such a large bomb after last year's offensive to clear Fallujah of the terrorists?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, for one thing, this incident didn't happen in Fallujah. It happened outside Fallujah. And the other thing it shows is that no matter where you are in Iraq, the insurgents are going to look for the weaknesses.

We learned a little bit more about what happened in this incident from Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who got a briefing about this and other matters at the Pentagon today.


SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It's a very serious attack, and it appears that this group of Marines had collected, which is always a dangerous thing, in a sortie at he one location. And the location has been one that they felt was perfectly safe.


MCINTYRE: Apparently, that was an area they thought had been cleared of any hazards. But somehow they managed to plant a booby trap that had four large artillery shells all strapped together. Marines gathered in one place. That's why there was such a heavy toll.

PILGRIM: Jamie, what are they saying? What more can our troops do to protect themselves from the roadside bombs? The bombs cause most of the casualties in Iraq at this point, don't they?

MCINTYRE: It's really difficult, because everything the United States does, the insurgents react to. They put more and more armor over there; they build bigger and bigger bombs. I mean the real answer -- and I don't mean to be flip about this -- is to get the troops out of there and to turn these missions over to Iraqis. The Iraqis are better equipped to do these kind of patrols. They know the language. They know the culture. They have an easier time spotting who the bad guys are in the population. It's something that the U.S. military just isn't that good at. As long as the U.S. troops are there on these kind of patrols, they're going to be a prime target.

PILGRIM: That makes a lot of sense. Thanks very much. Jamie McIntyre. Thanks, Jamie.

Now, the Marines are not the only Americans killed in Iraq over the past 24 hours. Three American soldiers were killed in a vehicle accident near Baghdad, and an American soldier died of his wounds after a battle with insurgents in Ramadi.

President Bush trying to convince Americans he has a strategy for victory in Iraq. But today the president shifted the political agenda to the economy. That's after some positive news on jobs.

Elaine Quijano reports from the White House.


ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Citing good old fashioned American hard work, President Bush touted the latest economic news.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy added 215,000 jobs for the month of November. The unemployment rate is 5 percent.

QUIJANO: As his overall approval ratings continue to sag below 40 percent, Mr. Bush sought to claim credit for the recent economic developments and said Americans have reason to be optimistic.

BUSH: Lower gasoline prices. A strong housing market. Increases in consumer confidence and business investment. Our economic horizon is as bright as it's been in a long time.

GREG VALLIERE, STANFORD WASHINGTON RESEARCH GROUP: This is sort of like a quarterback on a football team. If the team is doing really well, he gets more credit than is warranted. If the team is doing poorly, it's the reverse. Right now you've got to say President Bush does deserve some credit for a very strong economy.

QUIJANO: Yet a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll last month showed 61 percent of Americans disapproved of how President Bush was handling the economy -- a disconnect some say is due in part to another issue weighing heavily on the country.

VALLIERE: Even as the economy gets stronger and the stock market does better, you've got to say that for President Bush his job ratings really hinge on Iraq.

QUIJANO: Even as the president spoke of a sunny economic forecast, outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan warned of a coming storm, fueled by a growing budget deficit.

(END VIDEOTAPE) QUIJANO: And White House economic advisers say President Bush is on track to cut the deficit in half by the year 2009. And the economy will once again be on President Bush's agenda when he travels to North Carolina on Monday.

But Iraq continues to be a main focus for the Bush administration, as well. With that country's elections less than two weeks away, President Bush next Wednesday will deliver the second in a series of speeches laying out what the administration sees as progress there.


PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Elaine Quijano.

Well, whether it's Iraq or the economy, the president appears unable to persuade many Americans that he's on the right track. In fact, the president's poll numbers show he's having a pretty hard time convincing many Americans he's doing anything right.

Bill Schneider joins me now. And let's ask Bill. Bill, the president had pretty good news on the economy. What do Americans make of that? I mean, after all, these are solid numbers.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they are pretty good numbers, particularly given the fact that we've had a hurricane and an energy crisis and all kinds of problem.

But let's take a look at exactly what the view of the economy is right now in the American electorate. This poll was taken about two weeks ago, and it asked people what are economic conditions in the U.S. like? Thirty-seven percent said they were excellent or good; 63 percent said only fair or poor. That looks terrible. Actually, the 37 percent is a little higher than it's been since June, but it's still not very good.

He's not getting a lot of credit. Why? Well, what do people think about President Bush's policies on the economy? The answer is only 21 percent of Americans believe his policies are helping the economy. Nearly twice as many, 40 percent there at the bottom, think they are hurting the economy and the rest say they're not having much effect.

The only policy Americans are aware of is the tax cuts and they are not sure that's really making much difference.

PILGRIM: All right. So after sorting through the economy, let's turn to Iraq. And to what extent are rising American casualties influencing public opinion on the war, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: That's what they are all about. Americans are very, very sensitive to casualties. Opposition to the war grows very quickly as casualties continue. That's the reason why this year, as casualties have increased, opposition has increased so very rapidly.

The president gave a speech on Wednesday in which he talked about all the progress we're making, how much the security forces can take responsibility for defending their own country. And then the news you just reported, 10 Marines killed, that's what makes all the difference.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much. Bill Schneider. Thanks, Bill.


PILGRIM: Now the president's director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, today defended himself from critics in Congress and the intelligence community. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Negroponte declared the United States is much better prepared to stop terrorist attacks.


JOHN NEGROPONTE, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I certainly believe America is safer since 9/11. And I believe that, from an intelligence point of view that our intelligence effort is better integrated today than it was previously. I think we're doing a good job at bringing together foreign, domestic and military intelligence. And in addition to that, of course, we are on the offensive against al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world.


PILGRIM: Now Negroponte also said he does not favor any more changes right now in the laws that govern the intelligence community.

Still ahead, the Supreme Court justice nominee Samuel Alito's new assurances on abortion. We'll tell you about them.

Also, the United Nations finally opening its eyes to the growing Chinese threat. We'll have a special report.

And do Venezuelans want their Chavez TV? President Hugo Chavez has a new forum to blast the United States. We'll explain. All that and more, much ahead.


PILGRIM: On Capitol Hill today, Supreme Court Justice nominee Samuel Alito pledged that his personal views on abortion will have no bearing on how he rules on abortion cases; that's if he's confirmed to the high court.

Alito's comments came today during a meeting with Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite a rough week for the Alito nomination, Senator Specter says this nomination still appears on track.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I don't think his nomination is in trouble. And I'd like to see the judgment reserved to the Senate so we don't get into trouble. And I think if -- if we reserve judgment until the hearing, we'll see a very learned, very experienced jurist come forward.


PILGRIM: Democrats stepped up their attack on Alito's record this week. They cited a statement written 20 years ago, where Alito said abortion rights were not protected by the Constitution.

Tonight, the United Nations has finally come to the conclusion that communist China has a severe human rights problem. Critics said this body has stood by for years as China commits brutal crimes against humanity. But now it seems the U.N. Human Rights Commission is finally saying enough is enough.


PILGRIM (voice-over): China has kept its prisons off limits to U.N. human rights investigators for more than a decade, for good reason. The U.N. official who arrived in China two weeks ago has come up with a litany of state sponsored torture and abuse allegations.

The United Nations received reports that Chinese authorities use torture methods, including electric shock batons, cigarettes, hoods or blindfolds, beating, sleep deprivation and submerging prisoners in water or sewage, exposing them to extreme heat or cold.

The U.N. official, Manfred Nowak, said psychological torture, forced confessions and reeducation are prevalent.

MANFRED NOWAK, U.N. RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE: Strong emphasis on changing the individual, the personality of the individual. So this reeducation was a deprivation of liberty. It is aimed at breaking the will of the individual concerned.

PILGRIM: He added certain groups are targeted: political dissidents, Falun Gong, unofficial church groups, Tibetans and ethnic minorities in China.

The moral outrage of the world since Tiananmen Square, when the Chinese military fired on students, has faded. But the repression of this communist society has not.

MICKEY SPIEGEL, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: There's certainly all kinds of brakes on religious worship. There is a legal system that really compromises the rights of individuals. For instance, there's no right to remain silent. So forced confessions are something that happen frequently.

PILGRIM: The U.N. report adds that police in China are under pressure to produce a confession, which is why they often resort to torture.


PILGRIM: The report will be submitted at next year's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. And some say that's not soon enough. In the teenage world, cursing is epidemic. But in Hartford, Connecticut, school officials have a new way to put a stop to the rampant cursing in schools. They're charging students who curse a fine of $103. So far about two dozen students have been fined. And school officials say if the students can't afford the fine, their parents will have to pay it.

Just ahead, Pentagon propaganda. We'll have the very latest on the Pentagon's moves to plant stories in the Iraqi media.

And then more propaganda, this time against the United States. How the Venezuelan President Chavez is once again trying to embarrass this country.

Stay with us.


PHILLIPS: The U.S. military confirmed today it has paid to plant stories in the Iraqi press, to help further U.S. war goals. During a closed door meeting with Senate leaders, military officials described this Pentagon program for the first time. They said the program was an effort to give the truth to the Iraqi people. And they said it was critical to the war effort to counter misinformation.

Well, another type of propaganda is happening in Latin America, this time at the expense of the United States. It's a new television station run by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The programming is blatantly anti-American.

Lucia Newman reports from Caracas.


LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Say hello to Telesur, the newest addition to 24-hour satellite television, beamed all over Latin America as an alternative to CNN and other Western networks. It's the brainchild of Venezuela's fiery leftist leader Hugo Chavez, who claims the network represents the awakening of Latin America.

Shortly before moving to larger, more glamorous studios in Caracas, Telesur's president gave us a tour of a network whose slogan is, "Our north star is the south."

ANDRES IZARRA, PRESIDENT, TELESUR: We're going to do stories out of Latin America that are not -- that you cannot find in other news services. And we are against a -- one single message. We are a new voice that's going to diversify the messages.

NEWMAN: It's dubbed the Spanish-language Al Jazeera. And like Al Jazeera, it's financed with oil money, bankrolled by Venezuela to counter what it calls U.S. cultural imperialism.

The governments of Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba also have a stake in the new network, although its staff comes from all over the region. "I directed and presented a program at a regional TV station in Colombia before Telesur recruited me," says Patriza Riega (ph).

While one editor puts together a story on a plane crash in Peru, another combs through a mountain of Latin American documentary offerings. The majority have never seen the light of day in a region where nearly 70 percent of programs on commercial channels are made in the United States.

Telesur intends to be the antidote, by showcasing homegrown music, documentaries and news, a lot of which is aggressively anti- capitalist and anti-American.

Critics in the U.S. State Department and at home call it divisive, outright propaganda.

JOSE TORO JARDI, VENEZUELAN POLITICAL ANALYST (through translator): The idea is to influence other countries. Telesur has been totally financed by Venezuela, but it would seem its editorial line comes from Cuba.

NEWMAN: Florida Congressman Connie Mack sees it as such a threat that on his initiative Congress passed a bill this summer, authorizing U.S. radio and TV broadcasts to Venezuela to counter Telesur's alleged anti-Americanism. The broadcasts have yet to begin.

Telesur's president denies that the station's economic dependence on Venezuela's government compromises its credibility.

IZARRA: We are a voice independent of the government. We're trying to again -- this is a project for the integration of Latin America. That's our real strategic objective.

NEWMAN: Telesur is currently available in 15 countries on more than 50 cable systems. And its success or failure will ultimately be measured on the number of eyeballs it attracts to its distinctive left-wing brand of journalism.

Lucia Newman, CNN, Caracas.


PILGRIM: Coming up, a horrible murder caught on tape in Mexico. New evidence that violence is spiraling out of control just across our broken southern border.

Plus President Bush's plan for Iraq. Three of our nation's most respected journalists join me for a look at the president's new message in the Iraq war.


PILGRIM: Tonight in Mexico a shocking act of violence caught on videotape and new concerns about widespread corruption inside the Mexican armed forces.

Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It looks like a video shot by hostage-taking terrorists in Iraq, but apparently this is the work of rogue law enforcement officers just across our border in Mexico.

These four men, badly bloodied and bruised, sit handcuffed and tell interrogator how they served as hit men for the Zadas (ph). They're the group of former Mexican military commandos who defected to work for the gulf drug cartel.

Zadas (ph) are believed to be responsible for dozens of killings in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, even some across the border in Texas. This man talked in detail about the killings of a Mexican police chief and a well-known journalist. Others spoke of their alliances with Mexican law enforcement.

The men appear terrified, often looking off camera at their captors. At the end of the DVD video, a pistol appears. One hit man is shot in the head.

The video was sent anonymously to a small newspaper in Washington state, which passed it on to the "Dallas Morning News" and the FBI. Law enforcement sources in the United States and Mexico say they've been aware of the video for months. But only after it became public this week did Mexican authorities arrest 11 federal agents on charges of murder and kidnapping.

JOSE LUIS VASCONCELOS, MEXICAN ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL (through translator): We are able to determine the participation of some investigative federal agents in what we originally thought was a kidnapping.

WIAN: Vasconcelos says the video is an effort to discredit Mexico's efforts to fight violent drug gangs.

Meanwhile, Mexican President Vicente Fox appeared in a news conference today, but Mexican journalists failed to ask him about the video or the arrests of Mexican federal agents.


WIAN: Now that the video is public, law enforcement officers on both sides of the border are preparing for a possible new round of violence. Many suspect the video is part of a dispute between rival drug gangs that is now likely to escalate.


PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Casey Wian. Thanks, Casey.

Well tonight, border officials are reporting great success in a year-old program to check the fingerprints of anyone caught trying to cross our border illegally. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the program has led to the arrests of more than 152,000 people, and they include 750 people wanted on sexual assault, 600 suspected murderers.

Now, just this week, officials say a fingerprint match helped them catch a wanted member of the violent Central American gang MS-13.

Separately tonight, immigration officials say they arrested 42 illegal aliens hired by subcontractors at sensitive work sites. Twenty illegal aliens were found working in New Orleans, including at the Veterans Hospital and at the airport.

And in New Mexico, 22 Mexican nationals were busted while working at the Kirkland Air Force Base.

Well, immigration reform is just one of the issues dogging President Bush in his second term. According to a recent CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, the president's approval ratings on immigration, federal spending, the economy, the war in Iraq, all below 40 percent.

Joining me now is former adviser to four presidents, David Gergen. And David, thanks for being here.


PILGRIM: You know, we saw a major initiative from President Bush this week, or at least a major speech. How much initiative was there? How much is a repackage? And what's your assessment of President Bush taking up the issue of immigration?

GERGEN: Well, on the war itself, the deaths today of the 10 Marines plus 14 others being wounded, plus other deaths in Iraq, I think it wiped out any possible gains the president had from his speech.

The violence on the ground has always spoken more loudly than any words could from the Oval Office or from a speech in front of a live audience as the president had this week. So I think that it nullified the effects of the speech.

And the speech itself was, I think, helpful. It certainly showed that the president understood the realities on the ground more than he had suggested in the past. It was a more sober assessment of things that had gone wrong in the past. I think that was helpful.

I have to tell you, Kitty, as a strategy for victory it was, I think, a very complicated. I think it's very hard for Americans to understand anything -- what you -- the news stories -- when the news stories are as diverse as they were in their leads on what the speech was saying, that means the message is not getting through. There's no clear message.

What you want when you have a presidential speech of that nature, is everybody with the same lead. Basically, the president asserted today and whatever that is. And that didn't happen. Instead you had headlines like 'president rejects calls for withdrawal." Or "president restates his strategy." Or "president lays out new strategy." It was all over the lot.

PILGRIM: Let's call up a poll that we have -- CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll -- should the U.S. withdraw troops? We had 59 percent saying only when the goals are achieved. That's almost 60 percent, David. And then 35 percent on a specific timetable.

Yet, you have many media reports saying that Americans want out, and yet this would suggest otherwise.

GERGEN: That is the best thing the president has going for him. And it has steadily been true that while Americans have been growing disillusioned with the war, they have not been embracing the notion of pulling out quickly. They have not been embracing what Nancy Pelosi just argued, what Representative Murtha has argued and that the president has going for him.

But I have to tell you that there are Republicans who are looking over the horizon at the 2006 election who want real progress on draw downs by before 2006. They don't want to go into this kind of environment.

So I think the president has got two major problems on Iraq. The window is closing on how much time he has to have left before he has to start making draw down. Public pressure here at home is going to potentially get worse. But especially pressure from his own party and pressure in Iraq. Iraqi politicians are calling for him to get down. So he has limited time now to get the Iraqi Army up and trained. And even when he does that, then the question becomes are the Iraqis we are training going to turn into goon squads and go out and shoot Sunnis?

There a lot of reports that people are putting on uniforms we give them and using our guns basically to go out, in effect, in a civil war. I think this is a tough one for the president. The country has a strong interest in him succeeding. All of us hope we can start getting our troops out of there.

But I think this is the president's war. And he's got a tough road ahead.

PILGRIM: How do you assess the reports of planted news stories in the Iraqi press? How damaging is that? How significant is that?

GERGEN: I think it's a horrible practice. We shouldn't be doing it, especially since we're trying to build a -- quote -- "a free press" there. That's been our stated aim. This ought to be investigated by the Senate.

I think John Warner and others are taking a serious interest in it. The White House ought to condemn it. Somebody is out of control in doing this.

I don't think it is what is going to move American public opinion. It's more of an inside Washington story.

What Americans care about are the Marines getting killed. What they care about -- I had two conversations with old friends today, both of whom had sons over there. Both of whom have been wounded. And it's just, you know, those kind of stories are multiplied all over this country. That's what people really care about.

PILGRIM: Let's turn to another thing they very much care about, that's the economy. And there are some good numbers on the economy.

GERGEN: Yes, there are.

PILGRIM: Why aren't they having traction for the president?

GERGEN: It's a mystery, isn't it? We have had 10 straight quarters of 3 percent growth or more. And the economy is growing well. The inflation numbers are down. The president deserves and I think, you know, could take a bow on this. I don't think he deserves all the credit.

But I have to tell you, I don't think that the White House is engaged on the issue. You know, when Bill Clinton was president and he was talking about the economy, he was doing an event every day or two that showed him working on the economy.

What Americans perceive is that this president has only done tax cuts and nothing else. And if the White House hasn't talked about it much -- now they went out and claimed credit today, but that's not really sort of seen as working on it.

And, I think, if they really -- they need to have a two-track message. One is Iraq and the other is the economy. Obviously, can't ignore immigration, and the president talked about that this week, too. But if he wants to get credit for an economy that is doing a lot better than people thought it would be doing, even though a lot of people in the personal lives aren't doing as well, they are still anxious and worried about the health care and like.

This kind of growth record is a good record. And it is something if you're in the White House you ought to be, you know, out there working on it almost every day. And show, you know, I can -- we can do two things here at the same time.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much.


PILGRIM: David Gergen, thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you.

Well, despite today's news on the economy, the news from our nation's devastated manufacturing sector is getting worse tonight. U.S. auto workers are bracing for news of more production cut backs, also punishing layoffs. And some say our nation's once proud auto giants are fighting for their very survival.

Bill Tucker reports.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ford refusing to comment on reports that it will be closing North American plants and laying off 6 percent of its workforce. A spokesman for the company calls the reports speculation and refuses to comment, except to say that the company will as previously announced be unveiling its restructuring plan in January -- adding that the plan is not final.

The flurry around Ford comes a little more than a week after GM announced it will be closing North American plants and eliminating 30,000 jobs.

Executives at the old line auto companies struggling with heavy overhead costs brought on in part by large retired workforces. GM, for example, has three retired workers for every active worker.

DAVID COLE, CENTER FOR AUTOMOTIVE RESEARCH: GM has about $1,500 or $1,600 of health care in every car that they produce, whereas Toyota's in the area of maybe two to $300.

TUCKER: While legacy costs are high, they don't tell the whole story. Sales at GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler slipped in November even as sales of foreign owned companies rose. As GM and Ford look at layoffs, Toyota is getting ready to open its sixth car plant in North America.

Auto plants owned by foreign companies here include Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, BMW. The reasons for their successes are simple in the eyes of analysts.

MICHAEL ROBINET, CSM WORLDWIDE INC.: They think in years and decades, and not so much in quarters and months. So that they are looking long-term, making sure they take care of the customer. They have had relatively strong quality for several years.

TUCKER: And they build products that customers want to buy.


TUCKER: In Robinet's view, it's not whether the industry rises or falls, it's that the players are changing. And as for the American automaker, he thinks that once we get the news from Ford we will have seen the worst of the layoff. And when Ford and GM restructure the businesses, Kitty, they will return and once again be competitive.

PILGRIM: One can only hope. A major American industry. Thanks very much, Bill Tucker.

Well, some much-needed common sense tonight in the fight over outsourcing. The Burlington, Vermont, city council passed a law banning outsourcers from doing business with the city. Under this law, Burlington will not award service contracts over $50,000 to firms that outsource work overseas.

And that brings us to our "Quote of the Day", which comes from the Burlington City Council member, Phil Fiermonte. And he calls the ordinance -- quote -- "a modest but important step that our city can take to help protect workers in Burlington. And to send a message to Burlington public officials they are not going to stand by idly as corporations ship jobs overseas."

If only more politicians in the country would follow the lead of the Burlington, Vermont, City Council.

Tonight's poll, let's take a look. Do you believe your community should ban doing business with any company that exports jobs? We would love to hear what you think about this. Cast your vote at We'll bring you the results a little later in the broadcast.

And tonight an update to a wage outrage story we told you about several weeks ago. Sixteen Ohio paramedics went to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. And they claim that they were shortchanged by their company. They say American Medical Response paid them almost 40 percent below what they normally earned at home. Now at the same time, AMR was collecting $8 million in FEMA contracts.

Tonight AMR has released a statement acknowledging their mistake. And they say they have sent additional paychecks to the paramedics to correct that problem.

Coming up, a new effort in the fight to investigate Able Danger, what it knew about Mohammed Atta before September 11. We'll have the very latest on this growing controversy next.

And then more than four years after 9/11, the TSA is revising the rules to allow sharp objects similar to the ones used by the hijackers. We'll have the special report on a plan that is causing outrage.

Stay with us for that.


PILGRIM: New developments tonight in the Able Danger controversy. Congressman Curt Weldon is now sending a copy of his Able Danger letter to the Pentagon and to every member of the House and Senate. Now Weldon is trying to turn up the heat on the Pentagon which has yet to respond to the letter which was sent two weeks ago.

This letter was also signed by more than half the members of the House of Representatives. And Tuesday, on this broadcast, Congressman Weldon said he was confident of a response from the Pentagon by now.


REP. CURT WELDON (R-PA), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Gordon England and Rumsfeld are honorable men. I expect an answer this week. And I'll tell you Lou, this story is not going to go away. One hundred and three Democrats and 143 Republicans are saying we demand a public hearing, not a private session where people can hide or distort what is being said, an open, public hearing.


PILGRIM: Now Weldon is demanding that Able Danger officials be allowed to testify on Capitol Hill. Able Danger officials say the Pentagon prevented them from alerting the FBI about 9/11 radical Islamist terrorists more than a year before the attacks. You can read this letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld if you go to our Web site, We encourage you to do so.

Well joining me now to discuss the events of the week, senior analyst Jeff Greenfield; John Fund, who's a columnist for the "Wall Street Journal"; and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. And thanks for being with us gentlemen. A lovely Friday. A big week in Washington. The Iraq speech -- let's get your assessment of that first, Jeff.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it seems like the White House announces a big new Iraq speech every week. And it's always the same speech.

PILGRIM: There's one next week too, by the way.

TOOBIN: There's one next week, too. And you know, the policy hasn't changed. And the facts on the ground appear only to be getting worse, today, most dramatically with the 10 Marines. And I guess we're just on a stay the course route, but it doesn't seem like anything is changing.

PILGRIM: The White House saying don't put an artificial timetable on this. Do you think this is an acceptable statement?

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, the American people agree with it as your poll indicates, because there's one thing that the American people understand. Things could get even worse if we pull out and that sends the wrong signals to our adversaries and is a sign of weakness.

In addition, this presidential speech was different. He laid out specifics. He gave meat on the bones. These are the kind of training we're having. This is the kind of progress we're making. This is our goal. This is where we are. He didn't bring out a map but he came pretty darn close to it. So it's a different speech, and I think it's the beginning of a better public relations effort which, frankly, they need because their previous effort failed miserably.

PILGRIM: You know, I have to push you on this, John. Then why was the sort of reaction so negative if there was substantive differences in the speech?

FUND: Well, the American people don't sit around the table waiting with bated breath for the president to speak. This has to be a consistent effort over, frankly, months. And that's why this president, I think, should have been doing this all along. This has been a communications failure on the part of the White House. He's starting to claw back.

PILGRIM: Strategy for victory good, bad? JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: If the assumptions in the speech are right, things will get better. But, you know, the assumptions so far over the last couple of years, from the time Saddam fell to now, have been, to be short about it, shaky, ranging from how much oil revenues there would be to the speed with which the Iraqis would embrace us.

There are a couple of issues here. And the answer to your question is we don't know yet. We don't know whether centuries of murderous divisions between the Shiites and the Kurds and the Sunnis are going to be fixable. Maybe they will.

We have been hearing stories out of Iraq more recently. For instance, some of these Iraqis that are standing up and taking -- they're going to take the place of Americans, are in fact sectarian militia that are spending a lot of their time killing their sectarian enemies. If that can stop, you know, things might look much better. If they don't, then this speech is just going to be another speech in which we're told things are getting better and they won't. We don't know the answer to that yet.

I think from the very beginning, Kitty, this is an issue where spin and public relations take a big backseat to what is hell is actually going on.

FUND: That's why there are some markers. There are elections December 15. There is a clear timetable for the training of troops. If those aren't met, if the elections turn out to breed more discord rather than unity, obviously, that's a problem.

But remember, things did improve after the constitution was passed and the Iraqis decided they actually might get a democracy. They may improve after the election. And there are a lot of candidates out there. I noticed a lot of Iraqis interest in this election.

PILGRIM: And you do get violence going up to the election. I mean, that is expected.

FUND: That's expected.

PILGRIM: OK, Jeff, go on.

TOOBIN: What is -- I still don't understand. Is the goal to train Iraqis or is the goal to defeat the terrorists? I heard the speech. I still don't mow the difference.

FUND: Well, we are going -- not going to be ale to defeat the terrorists because we're already looking at a phased withdrawal. The decision has been made. The Iraqis are going to have to stand by themselves because you cannot defeat this insurgency completely without primarily their help. They are the ones who know the territory.

PILGRIM: Let's go to the planting of articles in the Iraqi press. How much do you think this is a big deal? Or is this being made too much of a big deal? GREENFIELD: It's dumb.

PILGRIM: It's dumb?

GREENFIELD: It's just dumb. I mean ...

TOOBIN: I don't think it's a terrific big deal. But it's just -- it's one more bad piece of news. It's one more example. I mean, you know, we were going to fight this war to spread freedom, to end torture. After Abu Ghraib we have problems with our own torture. Iraqis are torturing each other again. This is a little bit of argument that, you know, we're not spreading the free press either.

FUND: I read some of the translations of these articles. Like every government program, it was incompetent. The articles were unreadable.

PILGRIM: They were unreadable. OK. That's the final review on it. They weren't even good articles.

GREENFIELD: Just one point on it. All through the Cold War, many millions, tens of millions of dollars, were moved to, for instance, like anti-Communist magazines in Europe to shore up Christian, Democratic and non-Communist parties in places like Italy where the Communist Party was gaining.

I was a victim of part of that. I was part of the National Student Association when unbeknownst to some of us, the CIA was funding it. It almost always is a bad idea because it never accomplishes what you think you're going to do. And it winds up giving you a big PR headache.

FUND: But doing it out in the open like Radio Liberty did help.

GREENFIELD: That's a different story.

FUND: Right.

TOOBIN: And openness works. And Radio Marti in Cuba -- I mean, that's ...

PILGRIM: There are degrees. That's what you're saying. OK.

GREENFIELD: There's always some clever guy somewhere in some government building who thinks, a-ha! I know how to do this so it will work, and it's just dumb.

PILGRIM: Thanks for your perspective on this, gentlemen. John Fund, Jeff Toobin, Jeff Greenfield, as always, thank you.

FUND: Good to be here.

PILGRIM: Well, the Transportation Security Administration made it official today. It will once again allow passengers to carry sharp objects on commercial airliners in this country. The new rules go into effect during the hectic Christmas travel season, and Jeanne Meserve reports from Washington.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Knives, hammers, ice picks, saws are still banned, as are box cutters like those used by the 9/11 hijackers, but the decision by the Transportation Security Administration to end the prohibition on small scissors and tools has brought an outcry.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: TSA should not make it easier for future Mohammad Attas to arm themselves with razor sharp objects and bring down a passenger plane.

MESERVE: The TSA says the changes, which will take effect on December 22, are a matter of priorities.

KIP HAWLEY, DIRECTOR, TSA: I'm convinced that the time now spent searching bags for small scissors and tools can be better utilized to focus on the far more dangerous threat of explosives.

MESERVE: To better detect bombs, the TSA will select passengers at random for pat-downs, which will include arms and legs, as well as the torso. Screeners are also receiving additional training on recognizing bomb components, especially detonators. But most commercial flights don't just carry people; they carry cargo.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: That's a huge vulnerability. And it's really inexcusable, to me, that we have not already begun a program to begin screening 100 percent of cargo.

MESERVE (on camera): Hawley says the changes were not the results of any specific intelligence, but that terrorists have done surveillance of screening. So the TSA is going to vary screening procedures to make them harder to predict, and harder to circumvent.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


PILGRIM: A reminder now, vote in tonight's poll. Burlington, Vermont, decided it will no longer conduct business with any company that exports jobs. Do you believe you community should ban doing business with companies that export jobs? Cast your vote, We'll bring the results in a few minutes.

And coming up at the top of the hour, here on CNN, THE SITUATION ROOM, Wolf Blitzer. Wolf, what are you working on?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Kitty. We're working on lots. Did the United States pay to plant misinformation to build up the case for war? Explosive allegations in "Rolling Stone Magazine."

Plus a nursing crisis. Will someone be there when you have to go to the hospital? A reality show is trying to stop the national shortage. Also Howard Stern unplugged. He's speaking out about his battles with the FCC and one outrageous comment he says he isn't particularly proud of.

And Saddam Hussein's army uniform, put up for auction by an American soldier. You're not going to believe how much someone was willing to pay for it.

All of that coming up in a few minutes at the top of the hour.


PILGRIM: Thanks, Wolf.

Tonight an international dispute over priceless artifacts. It's turning pretty ugly. The government of Peru is now threatening to sue Yale University. Peru wants Yale to return 5,000 artifacts from Machu Picchu. They were loaned to Yale in 1916, never returned. Well, Peru sent a warning letter to Yale through its ambassador to the United States. And Yale says is it in talks with Peru and hoping for a resolution.

Still ahead tonight, the revolt against years of PC holiday seasons. Now how some are fighting back to put the Christmas into the Christmas season.

And then, our weekly salute to our nation's heroes. One Marine returns to a second tour in Iraq after fighting in a critical battle. We'll have his story next.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Now our weekly tribute to our nation's heroes, the men and women serving this nation around the world. And tonight, Marine Private First Class Casey Robinson. He survived the deadly battle of Nasiriya, was honored for his heroic actions.

Alex Quaid reports from Iraq.


ALEX QUAID, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty-three-year- old Private First Class Casey Robinson takes pride in showing new Marines at Al-Assad how it's done. This is his second tour in Iraq. Last time, he fought in Nasiriya, in ambush alley. Eighteen Marines, Robinson's buddies, died in one day.

PFC CASEY ROBINSON, U.S. MARINE CORPS: And there was enemy mortars and artillery coming in. Me and a couple of guys kept making runs, trying to grab the wounded back to the buildings. Everybody was scared. It was pretty messed up. There was a lot of fire coming in.

QUAID: His actions earned him a Bronze Star, awarded during a field ceremony. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To Private First Class Casey Earl Robinson, United States Marine Corps, for heroic achievement in connection with combat operations against the enemy as automatic rifleman.

QUAID: But it's not something he likes to talk about.

ROBINSON: Try not to let my family know about like how bad it was. I kind of downplay it to them. This time kind of sold it that react type. I'm not actually out there looking for the enemy. I'm just kind of security.

QUAID: As Robinson fires, he says it's a different type of war now.

ROBINSON: It's not like there's the enemy, go get them. It's more like, an IED goes off and you react to it.

QUAID (on camera): Here comes a rocket.

(voice-over): So when he's not out on missions, he's training. And has advice for new Marines coming over.

ROBINSON: The main thing is you just don't want to get shot.

QUAID: That and...

ROBINSON: Bring way more socks than they say to pack.

QUAID: Alex Quaid, CNN, Al-Assad, Iraq.


PILGRIM: Private First Class Casey Robinson hopes to make a career out of the Marine Corps, and we wish him the very best.

Still ahead, our nation's holiday confusion. What in fact are we celebrating this time of year? A very special report on a very PC Christmas.

Plus, the result of tonight's poll. Also, a look ahead to Monday's guests.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Forget about good will towards men. This holiday season is turning nasty in the fight to keep Christmas Christmas.

Lisa Sylvester reports.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ask most people what this is and they will give you a quick answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a Christmas tree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a Christmas tree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, in England, it would be called a Christmas tree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's where we're from, so we call it a Christmas tree.

SYLVESTER: But some schools and government offices have adopted the politically correct term holiday tree. Also gone from many schools, the annual play "Silent Night," and Christmas carols.

BARRY LYNN, SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE ADVOCATE: Christmas carols, remember, are basically prayers set to music, so I can understand why a school district would want to say, look, let us not have prayers, sung prayers at our holiday concert.

SYLVESTER (on camera): But in a quest to include all religions and faith and not offend anyone, many were offended. The Reverend Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel is now leading to fight to save Christmas, or at least the name.

MATTHEW STAVER, LIBERTY COUNSEL: Renaming a Christmas tree to a holiday tree or censoring out Christmas is political correctness run amok. And I think the majority of Americans see the absurdity in these kinds of situations, and they have had enough.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): While it was once PC to say holiday tree, suddenly it's now very un-PC, creating confusion. Retailers are grappling with how to welcome customers. The White House is trying to figure out if it's hosting a holiday party for the media or a Christmas party.

LES KINSOLVING, COLUMNIST: I'm compelled to ask why the Bush White House has eliminated Christmas and replaced it with a word holiday?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know that that's accurate that the Bush...


MCCLELLAN: ... White House eliminated...

KINSOLVING: Yeah, right there, yeah, it's no longer Christmas. It says holiday.

SYLVESTER: House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert made sure this year the Capitol would be graced with a Christmas tree after nearly a decade of having a holiday tree.

So in the days ahead, add one more way of spreading good cheer. Happy holidays, season's greetings, and oh, yes, merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


PILGRIM: Now the results of tonight's poll. Ninety-one percent of you said your community should ban doing business with companies that export jobs.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us next week. We'll have the very latest on the Able Danger controversy. Author and Emmy- winning journalist Peter Lance has been investigating intelligence failures before 9/11. He'll be here.

Also, presidential historians Richard Reeves, James Taranto will join us.

For all of us here, have a great weekend. Good night from New York.

THE SITUATION ROOM starts right now with Wolf Blitzer. Wolf?


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