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YOUR WORLD TODAY

Iraq Elections; Ariel Sharon's Health and Israeli Politics; U.S. Spying Dispute

Aired December 20, 2005 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Iraqis set a new deadline for final vote results amid allegations of fraud.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Israel's prime minister leaves the hospital to face a political rival now at the helm of his former party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is, I'm convinced, one of the reasons we have not been attacked for the last four years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: The U.S. vice president stands by a decision to eavesdrop on American citizens. But critics maintain his boss has gone too far.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president had no legal authority to eavesdrop on and wiretap hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans on American soil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: And a music superstar prepares to join hundreds of other gay couples saying, "I do." Elton John and Britain's controversial new same-sex union law.

HOLMES: All that coming up.

It is noon in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad.

Hello, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes.

VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is CNN International and this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

HOLMES: Welcome, everyone.

We begin in Iraq, where complaints are mounting over last week's parliamentary election, particularly from Sunni Arabs.

VERJEE: And where the big question is how much the Shias will be able to dominate the government.

HOLMES: That's right. Officials now say final results will have to wait until the first of the month.

Now Aneesh Raman joins us now live from Baghdad with all the details -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, good afternoon.

As you say, Iraq's Electoral Commission saying no final results until early next year. Over a thousand complaints have been lodged about the election process. The political fight that led to the buildup of this election now continues to rage on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Working for another slate (ph).

RAMAN (voice over): Just a few miles away, another press conference, another critical voice, that of the Sunnis, speaking as well of irregularities and warning of further alienation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an agenda to be tabled by a (INAUDIBLE) front immediately or in the very near future.

RAMAN: Anger sparked by preliminary results based on about two- thirds of the ballots released by Iraq's Electoral Commission, showing the religious Shia alliance faring far better than many observers had anticipated. Showing as well that the Sunni List and that of Ayad Allawi did far worse than either had hoped. The commission, alongside the early returns, announced scores of complaints.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have now more than 1,000 complaints. Some of these complaints are very serious. And they are related to changing some of the figures.

RAMAN: And ongoing investigations into those complaints mean final results won't be known until next year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: So Michael, earlier today, again, we heard from Ayad Allawi's list, the secular list. They are alleging voter fraud. You heard their Sunni politician. He is alleging fraud.

So this government, as it takes shape next year, is set to first have to deal with some contentious debate -- Michael.

HOLMES: And Aneesh, is there concern about how much time, as well, it's going to take to pull that government together it? It could be mid-year before there is really a government.

RAMAN: It could. After the results are certified, that begins a process of intense political wrangling as each party tries to form a coalition.

Now, as we've been saying, the initial results show that the Shia alliance which is currently governing Iraq is set to get more seats, a vast majority than observers had expected. The threshold is 184 seats, two-thirds of the council of representatives. And the closer they get to that, the less they have to compromise with the Sunnis, as well is with the secular politicians.

So if we see the official results mimic what we're seeing in these preliminary results, it could be a quick start to the government because the Shia won't have to build much compromise. But that could be essentially politically disastrous for this country, further alienating the Sunnis and leaving out the secular voice -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Aneesh, thanks. Plenty of political horse trading ahead.

Aneesh Raman there in Baghdad -- Zain.

VERJEE: Michael, two weeks after telling a judge to go to hell, Saddam Hussein is expected to be in court when his trial resumes on Wednesday. That's according to one of his attorneys.

Hussein asked the chief judge to be excused from the December 7 proceedings. He called the trial a sham and complained about the conditions of his detention.

HOLMES: Well, the first trial in Serbia containing the Srebrenica massacre is under way. It involves five members of the notorious Scorpions paramilitary group.

Police whisked the defendants to court in Belgrade. They are all charged with murdering six Muslim men in 1995.

The Serb militiamen allegedly tortured and killed the victims all while capturing the gruesome scene on videotape. That tape sparked international outrage after it aired on Bosnian television in June. If convicted, the defendants face up to 40 years in prison.

VERJEE: An Israeli cabinet member says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is supposed to spend a few days resting after suffering a mild stroke. It's yet to be seen whether the leader will follow doctor's orders considering the pressure he faces in the run-up to a March election.

Guy Raz has more on Ariel Sharon's plans and those of Mr. Sharon's political nemesis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUY RAZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ariel Sharon is a big man with a big entourage, and now a big lead in the polls. Leaving Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, he didn't look like a man who just suffered a stroke.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I was touched by the great concern Israelis expressed over my health, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. But now I must rush off and get back to work and to move forward.

RAZ: Forward, or Kadima, is the name of his new centrist political party. In the coming weeks, Sharon will have to begin a diet. His doctors have suggested mild exercise, like Tai Chi, as well. Anything to keep his blood from boiling.

And the man who boils his blood more than anyone else is Benjamin Netanyahu, now the leader of the right wing Likud Party, Ariel Sharon's former party, and the political movement that now hopes to oust Sharon from power when Israelis vote for a new government next March.

"The country stands at the threshold of a critical time," he said. "I don't think it's headed in the right direction. And I think we'll change that."

But try as he may, Netanyahu may not have the opportunity. The polls show his Likud Party will suffer its worst electoral defeat in history, trailing far behind both Sharon's party and the center left Labor Party, now headed by Amir Peretz.

Voters say they are concerned about Sharon's health, but few in this country believe he'll truly follow doctor's orders and go on a diet.

(on camera): In fact, according to this Israeli newspaper, the day before the prime minister's stroke, he enjoyed a meal of hamburgers, steak in chimichurri sauce, lamb chops, meat kabobs, a variety of Middle Eastern salads, and for dessert, two helpings of chocolate cake.

Guy Raz, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: There's growing pressure from both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Senate for formal hearings on a secret wiretap program. Several top Republicans and Democrats have asked the Intelligence and Judiciary committees to investigate spying on American citizens. They contend it's been done without appropriate legal authority.

Elaine Quijano has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the historic election...

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Bush staunchly defended his authorization of a secret domestic spying program.

BUSH: Because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that's important. We've got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent.

QUIJANO: The program's existence was first disclosed in Friday's "New York Times." It allows the National Security Agency to monitor without a court-issued warrant the international communications of Americans in the U.S. who are suspected of having terrorist ties. But some analysts say the president is on shaky legal ground.

THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT LEGAL ANALYST: No one knows for sure whether this was constitutional. But the Supreme Court has said that the president actually doesn't have the power to order domestic surveillance when you would ordinarily have to go to a court.

QUIJANO: The president insists he does have the power to authorize domestic surveillance under both the Constitution and under a congressional use of force measure passed in the days after September 11.

But some say those arguments could backfire.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, POLITICAL ANALYST: The civil libertarian instincts of small government conservatives joined with the outrage in a partisan sense and ideologically by Democrats creates a pretty potent coalition against the president.

QUIJANO: A new CNN- "USA Today"-Gallup poll shows 65 percent of Americans say they would not support the government taking additional terrorism prevention steps if it means violating civil liberties. That's up from 49 percent in 2002.

Elaine Quijano, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: CNN's Dana Bash is traveling with the U.S. vice president, Dick Cheney, who has been vigorously defending the top secret domestic spying program. She joins us now on the line from Oman.

Dana, you've just interviewed the vice president. What did he say?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Zain.

Well, we actually were -- were with him in Pakistan. And we've also -- in Muzaffarabad, excuse me, which is in the hills, just very close to where the earthquake hit two months ago. And the vice president was there touring where -- United States military forces are actually there doing humanitarian efforts to try to help particularly with the medical issues there.

So that was sort of -- it was the public diplomacy that the vice president was focused on. But certainly, as he has been travelling both there and the days earlier in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has been engaged in the debate back home, particularly over Iraq.

On the issue of the National Security Agency, the vice president was quite unapologetic, just as we heard President Bush last night. He was very clear in saying that this is a crucial thing he believes to fight terrorism, that he and others in the administration learned after 9/11 that they have to deal with this in a very different way.

And he also made clear that as far as executive power is concerned, he thinks it had been eroded leading up to September 11. And now they are trying to expand it. And he said that is important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: We made the decision that when we have somebody inside the United States who is in touch, not just overseas, but who is in touch with terrorists, or a terrorist suspect, or an al Qaeda affiliate, that in fact that's proper. And the present has authorized the NSA to be involved in looking at that transaction.

If we had been able to do that before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on the two hijackers who were in San Diego, in touch with overseas in al Qaeda individuals or organizations. So the activity we've undertaken is absolutely consistent with the Constitution. It's reviewed very carefully by the president every 45 days.

He has to personally sign off on it, it has to be approved by the Justice Department and attorney general, and we've briefed the Congress on it about a dozen times. So it is good, solid, sound policy. It is, I'm convinced, one of the reasons we have not been attacked for the last four years. It's absolutely the right thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, the vice president made those statements actually after meeting with Pakistan's President Musharraf. Of course, he is somebody who the White House calls a key ally in the war on terror. The vice president told me that he still believes that he has been doing a good job in capturing and, in some cases, killing top al Qaeda leaders.

But sort of a postscript to the interview, the vice president talked to a small group of reporters in his cabin above Air Force Two and expanded on the idea that he does believe that it is things like the executive order on the National Security Agency and other things, probably, that have prevented other attacks after 9/11. He said it's not like it happened by accident. He said it's not like it was just a one-off when the terrorists said, gee, that's it, we are not going to do it again.

He said that this is something that he wants to make clear to the American people would have happened again had the United States government and particularly the executive branch not had those powers. Of course, as we've been talking about for the past several days, many Democrats, even some Republicans, say that's actually a dangerous precedent.

But I can tell you, Zain, the vice president was quite unapologetic about the need he believes for these powers in the executive branch.

VERJEE: Traveling with the vice president of the United States, who's now in Oman, CNN's White House correspondent, Dana Bash -- Michael.

HOLMES: Well, Democrats highly critical of the Bush administration's actions, not surprisingly. One of the most vocal opponents of the practice is the Democratic senator Dick Durbin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The president had no legal authority to eavesdrop on or wiretap hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans on American soil. He says that it was under his power as commander in chief. And I will just tell you that there was a clear legal way to do this, and in many cases the president did not follow it.

I have no way of knowing whether or not the information gathered was of value to us. Every president will tell you that there is a good reason for ignoring the law, which a president has done in this case. But we really need to step back and ask, why did this president decide at this moment in history to ignore the clear standards of the law, a standard which allows him to go to a secret court, even on an expedited basis if he feels that someone is engaged in terrorist activity?

This administration just ignored that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Well, in the past, wiretaps have been obtained through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act accord.

The U.S. wiretap program and controversy is the topic of our inbox today.

VERJEE: We've been getting some really good e-mails. We are asking you this: How much of your privacy are you willing to give up in the name of national security?

HOLMES: Send us your thoughts: ywt@cnn.com. Don't forget to include your name, where you are writing from.

VERJEE: Up next, commuter chaos.

HOLMES: Oh boy was it. Millions of New Yorkers walking today after transit workers walked off the job. That story after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, to YOUR WORLD TODAY. And welcome to our viewers right around the world.

Well, if you're headed to New York City, don't expect to travel by train or by bus. Thousands of transit workers have walked off the job, effectively paralyzing the nation's largest public transportation system just days ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Joining us now from Midtown Manhattan is Chris Huntington.

Chris, don't know where you live, but you got to work.

CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did, Michael. I came in at 4:00 in the morning. I managed to drive in before a 5:00 a.m. deadline that was imposed on any vehicle that had fewer than four passengers. And that was a -- that was a rule that was very, very strictly enforced with scores of cars being turned back and creating huge logjams at various bridges and tunnels that feed into central New York City.

I'm here outside of Pennsylvania Station, which is one of the main railway stations here in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It's where you've got the Amtrak trains that come up from Washington, D.C., or down from Boston, as well as very important commuter rail lines such as the Long Island Railroad. They all feed in here and usually join up with a major hub of the New York City subway system.

Of course that's unavailable. So people were spilling out onto the street. All of this because, of course, transit workers went on strike at about 3:00 a.m. New York time this morning.

Thirty thousand transit workers in all. These are the folks that run the buses and subways and take tickets and all of that. They have walked off.

There is a huge gap between what they would like in a pay rise and what the transit authority is offering. The transit authority offering 3 percent this year, 4 percent next year.

The workers would like something closer to 6 or maybe even 8 percent. This is going to go to court and be an ugly battle for some time to come. But for millions of commuters it's a major, major headache. It's also coming, of course, the week before Christmas and Hanukkah, and with New Year's just around the corner.

This is a major, major shopping time. So Michael, this is a very, very costly situation for the workers involve and indeed for the city as a whole -- Michael.

HOLMES: Chris, I know you've been out on the streets doing these live shots for several hours now. I've seen you in between them. You've been talking to people. What are they saying? One imagines that New Yorkers are not short of an opinion.

HUNTINGTON: Not short on opinion and not shy to share that opinion. They are, too, a man, woman and child that we've spoken to, angry about the strike. But you pressed them a little further and they do, by and large, have sympathy for the transit workers who are a hard-working bunch of folks. And they have been without a contract for more than two years, without a raise for more than two years.

So there is some sympathy for them to get paid a bit more. But there's not a whole lot of patience for the fact that they walked off the job -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Thanks, Chris.

Chris Huntington there in Manhattan.

China has leapfrogged Italy to become the world's sixth biggest economic power. This is an unexpected upgrade and follows a revision to the country's 2004 output by some 17 percent.

The country had grossly underestimated its output from its services sector. Here now is how the rankings stand.

The United States is first, with an output of more than $11 trillion. Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom next in line. And China is now closing the gap on France.

VERJEE: Lots more to come here on YOUR WORLD TODAY.

HOLMES: Indeed. Still ahead, the latest on the investigation of a fatal seaplane crash off Miami.

VERJEE: We are going to tell you what authorities have learned and what they still hope to find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN Center in Atlanta. More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few minutes. First, though, a check on stories making headlines here in the U.S.

Drama in Washington, D.C., as some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee send a letter calling for hearings on domestic spying by the Bush administration. The letter expresses "profound concern" about the Bush administration use of wiretaps without warrants. The administration staunchly defends the practice, saying it's limited to people with suspected terrorist ties.

Our Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry joins us with more on the story.

Ed, hello.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Daryn.

That's right. In fact, two Republican senators, Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe, have signed this letter you just mentioned. They are two relative mavericks and moderates here in the Senate, but they joined three Democratic senators in calling for this "immediate joint inquiry" by the Judiciary and Intelligence committees to find out whether or not this program was in fact consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution.

The letter signed as well by Democrats Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and Ron Wyden. And it states, "At no time to our knowledge did any administration representative ask the Congress to consider amending existing law to permit electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists without a warrant."

This follows two prominent Democrats yesterday, Senator Jay Rockefeller and former Senator Tom Daschle, coming out and admitting on the record that they in fact were briefed in recent years about this spying program. But both Rockefeller and Daschle claim that they were only briefed in a very limited way, in a general way, and that they in no way endorsed the program. And, in fact, that they raised concerns at the time about the program.

Both Daschle and Rockefeller suggesting that in recent days the White House has been misleading the American public about what Democrats knew and when they knew it. And now you have two prominent Republicans also saying they want an investigation -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Ed Henry on Capitol Hill.

Ed, thank you.

And now to a court ruling that came today in the long-running debate over teaching evolution. A federal judge says a school district in Pennsylvania cannot teach the theory known as Intelligent Design.

Our faith and values correspondent, Delia Gallagher, is live from New York with more on that.

Delia, hello.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn.

That's right. Judge John Jones of the Harrisburg Federal Court in Pennsylvania ruling about an hour and a half ago that it is unconstitutional to teach Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution in the public school classrooms. You'll remember that this trial centered around Dover High School in Dover, Pennsylvania, where the school board last year voted to have a four-paragraph statement on Intelligent Design read in ninth grade biology classes.

I want to read you a portion of the judge's verdict today, Daryn.

He says, "To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the board who voted for the Intelligent Design policy."

It's a very strongly-worded statement from the judge, a long verdict. But the bottom line is that he is saying it is unconstitutional to teach Intelligent Design along with evolution in the public school class rooms. And it will set an important precedent for this country -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Delia Gallagher, live from New York City.

Thank you.

Now to Miami, where a salvage team today will try to lift a submerged seaplane from the waters off of Miami Beach. New pictures are just in to CNN from the Coast Guard. The plane carrying 20 people crashed yesterday afternoon. Nineteen bodies had been recovered. Crews are searching for the final victim, as well as the cockpit voice recorder.

Investigators hope the recorder will provide clues to the crash of the vintage seaplane. The port of Miami is closed until the first phase of the investigation is complete.

Some U.S. sailors will be spending the holidays with their families. The USS McClusky is pulling in to San Diego right now. The McClusky has been on a five-month deployment in the southeastern Pacific. The troops have been conducting counter-drug operations in which they have seized more than three million tons of cocaine.

Much more on the Pennsylvania Intelligent Design decision coming up on CNN's "LIVE FROM."

Plus, a New York adoption agency turns to television trying to find homes for kids for the holidays. Stay tuned for the heartwarming story.

Meanwhile, YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: And welcome back, everybody, to YOUR WORLD TODAY right here on CNN International. I'm Michael Holmes.

VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee. Here are some of the top stories we're following.

The Iraqi Electoral Commission says it will investigate more than 1,000 complaints about last week's parliamentary elections. Officials say final results will not be announced until all of the complaints are addressed. Partial results show the Shia coalition holding a commanding lead, with the Kurdish coalition in second place. The Sunni-led coalition was in third place, winning the Al Anbar province.

HOLMES: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of the hospital after suffering a mild stroke on Sunday. Mr. Sharon insists the episode will not affect his ability to run the country. He says he'll get right back to work, with the March election high on his agenda. Now that vote is going to pit him against Benjamin Netanyahu, the newly-elected leader of Likud, Mr. Sharon's former party.

VERJEE: More than 30,000 New York City transit workers are taking part in the city's first transit strike in a quarter of a century. Picketers chanted, "No contract, no work." With no buses and trains running, cars and other vehicles clogged Manhattan streets. New York's mayor says union workers have put their demands ahead of the people that they serve. HOLMES: Meanwhile, the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to hold his year-end news conference on Wednesday. He has been dogged for the past year by multiple probes revealing mismanagement in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program.

But Richard Roth now reports on a less noticed problem, one that may have wasted or lost more oil-for-food money than Saddam Hussein ever stole.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Frank Willis remembers what it was like to handle $2 million cash.

FRANK WILLIS, FMR. CPA OFFICER: We had bricks of $100,000 bills. We, in effect, treated them as footballs and hiked, passed and went out for catches in the office.

ROTH: Working for the Coalition Provisional Authority after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Willis personally paid a contractor to provide security at Baghdad's airport.

WILLIS: He showed up with his gunny sack, verified that there were 20 bricks of $100,000, crisp new $100 bills in shrink wrap, and left.

ROTH: In those days, Willis says, Iraq was a Wild West economy.

WILLIS: There were no effective banks operating. There were no systems of wire transfers. Communications that we take for granted in the United States didn't exist.

ROTH: Audits by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction have found the transitional government failed to account for almost half of the billions it spent. One red flag: ghost employees at Iraqi ministries that received most of the cash.

WILLIS: Iraqi Airwaves was under my responsibility. It had 4,000 employees, they were paid. How did we know how the 4,000 were? Well the Iraqis knew and paid according to who they knew. So there's clearly leakage there as moneys came into the Iraqis, and some of it was distributed and some of it ended in back pockets.

ROTH: The main critique of the oil-for-food program was that Saddam exploited it to line his own pockets with $2 billion in kickbacks. But when the program ended, there were $8 billion unspent dollars in the U.N. bank account. That money was turned over to the U.S.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: What we found was an appalling level of incompetence, mismanagement, waste, fraud and greed.

ROTH: Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman has led the call for more accountability over what happened with left-over oil-for-food and other cash in Iraq. WAXMAN: We have not been able to get an answer for how much of that money was spent and where it went. We do know that $1.5 billion went to Halliburton.

ROTH: Waxman complains that his Republican colleagues held more than a dozen hearings on oil-for-food and only one on this spending.

WAXMAN: We don't really know who got the money, but we know it was a lot of money. Three hundred and 50 tons of $100 bills were shipped to Iraq, and that money was handed out like it was paper.

ROTH (on camera): An international monitoring board has asked the United States to reimburse Iraq for any left=over oil-for-food funds not used to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.

Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western music, but his latest decree appears to be falling on deaf ears in Tehran. The band includes classical music and applies only to state- run radio and television. Music shop owners don't expect it to be enforced. Music enthusiasts are similarly unfazed, one shopper saying, "The president acts like he's living in the Stone Age."

VERJEE: North Korea says it plans to enhance its nuclear facilities to meet energy demands. Pyongyang says a U.S. decision to scrap plans to provide it with two light water reactors compels it to take action. The official state news agency reports North Korea will now develop light water reactors on its own, along with two graphite- moderated reactors. Graphite-moderated reactors can produce large amounts of fissile material and that can be used to build atomic bombs.

HOLMES: Well, this is the busiest shipping week of the year.

VERJEE: And there's only a few days left to get your packages out in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. Have you done that, Michael?

HOLMES: I have. I have indeed. They're going to Australia.

VERJEE: Well, we're going to be tracking how holiday gifts get to their destinations. We'll do that next and I'm going to be popping it in the mail today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, our viewers around the world, including here in the United States.

Well, recent polls show the U.S. president's approval rating is edging upwards again, after a long decline. They suggest Americans are more optimistic about Iraq after this week's election.

Tom Foreman takes a closer look now at evolving American public opinion in 2005.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush often says he doesn't pay attention to approval polls. But on radio, in a news conference, and in speeches, he's clearly tried lately to make more voters share his view of Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our strategy in Iraq is clear, our tactics are flexible and dynamic. We have changed them as conditions required and they are bringing us victory against a brutal enemy.

FOREMAN: 2005 was a hard year for George Bush. His Social Security reform was trashed, a Supreme Court nominee thrashed. He's faced Katrina, gas prices, a party scandal, a conservative revolt and now headlines about secret spying on Americans.

It's not an impossible amount of bad news according to Democratic analyst Paul Begala.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But Iraq makes everything worse because Iraq goes at the central pillars of his presidency, that he is competent and strong in defending America, that he is trustworthy and honest.

BUSH: I George Walker Bush do solemnly swear...

FOREMAN: It was once much better. At the start of the president's first term, 57 percent of Americans approved of how he did the job. 9/11 came and it jumped to 90 percent. The U.S.-led coalition invaded the Afghanistan. His ratings stayed up. Iraq was stormed, another strong year. But in 2004, with the war running on, the bottom collapsed. Even as he won re-election, half the voters disapproved of his performance. This autumn brought the chill of a record low, 37 percent approval.

And that doesn't even show what analyst Amy Walter calls "intensity levels."

(on camera): And what are those intensity levels showing you?

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: There's a more intense disapproval rating for the president than there is an intense approval for the president.

FOREMAN: So even the ones who like him are not that crazy about him?

WALTER: They're not liking him at the intensity level that people who say they dislike him are at.

BEGALA: He has more time left in his presidency I believe than President Kennedy had in the entire time in the White House.

FOREMAN: So he has time to recover? BEGALA: An enormous amount of time, absolutely. He's got to fix Iraq.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The president was asked about his hopes for next year.

BUSH: I hope the world is more peaceful. I hope democracy continues to took root around the world. And I hope people are able to find jobs.

FOREMAN: But it all starts with the biggest uphill battle for support his presidency has known.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(WEATHER REPORT)

HOLMES: All right, let's move on. Christmas and Hanukkah just days away, of course. And in North America the United Parcel Service is going to be working overtime to get millions of your holiday gifts delivered on time.

Jonathan Freed has a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): You are riding through the heart of UPS' largest sorting facility for ground shipments in North America. We tossed in a package equipped with a camera. There are 65 miles of conveyor belts and rollers at this one and a half million square foot facility outside of Chicago.

RICK MENDOZA (ph), UPS: Break is over. Let's go. Get everyone back on the clock.

FREED: Rick Mendoza is one of the people responsible for making sure your holiday wishes arrive on time.

MENDOZA: And it looks like they're going heavy to Dayton, Ohio.

FREED: It's the busiest shipping week of the year and UPS says it's handling some two million packages a day at this center alone.

Do you feel a sense of personal responsibility for making sure that everything gets to where it's supposed to go?

MENDOZA: Yes, I do. Because I have the position of insuring that all the processes are in place. FREED: So how do they sort through 100,000 packages an hour? Take this system called the bullfrog because of how so called lily pads make packages jump to their destination.

All right, let's test that.

MENDOZA: Let's test it.

FREED: OK.

What's this?

MENDOZA: This is Knoxville, Tennessee, preload.

FREED: OK.

MENDOZA: The package all should say 3799. Grab one of them out, and we have, what, Knoxville, Tennessee, 3799. The right package in the right bag.

FREED: OK, you could have gotten lucky. Let's test one more.

MENDOZA: Let's test one more.

FREED: Another on at random.

MENDOZA: This one?

FREED: This one right here, sure.

MENDOZA: This one right here. This is a Ohio. (INAUDIBLE), Ohio, 4369. We go in. Here we go, Ohio, 4369.

FREED: Mendoza also watches over the folks who load and unload the trucks, which can be tricky during the holiday rush.

MENDOZA: From your shoulders to your waist is your power zone. And what we want to try to do is keep as much of the weight as you can within that zone. You don't want to carry packages below your waist. You don't want it to much overextend.

FREED: That's because things are already extended enough around here. Where, by company estimates, it's delivering up to 230 packages per second. At least ours didn't have to leave the building.

Jonathan Freed, CNN, Hodgkins, Illinois.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: It's just a few more hours before they tie the knot.

VERJEE: Still ahead on YOUR WORLD TODAY, we'll tell you why entertainer Elton John may be adding a new tune to his musical repertoire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: New laws establishing formal legal partnerships for same sex couples are going into effect in Britain.

VERJEE: As Paula Newton tells us, entertainer Elton John and his long-time partner are among the couples planning on taking part in the controversial civil ceremonies. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The poster boy of flamboyance will drop the flash and marry his man in a sober English ceremony.

Sir Elton John and his long-time partner, Canadian film maker David Furnish, will be one of the first gay couples engaging in civil partnership. Britain's version of gay marriage.

ELTON JOHN, SINGER: The ceremony's planned but the party isn't planned yet.

NEWTON: Have no fear, the party will not disappoint. A guest list of 700, including celebrities like Liz Hurley, Victoria Beckham, too many to possibly list. The couple says this marriage is more than a celebration. It's a political statement.

DAVID FURNISH, FILMMAKER: It's a really important date. It's historical change and I think it's brilliant that Britain has made these changes to the government and legislation to recognize equality.

NEWTON: And Elton John recently wrote a passionate defense of gay rights in a British newspaper, saying, "Gay people have often been made scapegoats by those who fear that we are a threat to the status quo."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We get it every week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every week. We get death threats. Hate mail. Whatever, doesn't matter. It doesn't phase us.

NEWTON: Gino Marianno (ph) and Michael Lett (ph) will be going to the chapel on Wednesday too. They are no strangers to the ugly side of homophobia. And now --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the gay wedding show.

NEWTON: The lucrative side of gay marriage.

They are so-called pink wedding planners. And in the end, this is about cold, hard cash.

These couples will now have virtually all the rights of heterosexual couples. That means they can inherit each other's estates tax free.

NEWTON (on camera): But some here in Britain aren't buying it. Most outspoken, church officials. They say the new law will make homosexuality far too mainstream.

REV. CHRIS SUDGEN, GAY MARRIAGE OPPONENT: The problem with that from a Christian point of view is that that is the same as legalizing bigamy. NEWTON (voice-over): The reverend is joining forces with some in the United States who also feel Britain's new law is pushing the envelope too far. In short, condoning sin.

REV. DAVID ANDERSON, AMERICAN ANGLICAN COUNCIL: And it's really causing a split between people of faith and the secular world.

NEWTON: Many in British society are embracing gay marriage. The tabloids here are full of same sex love stories. But the palace, ever the wiser, is steering clear of the controversy.

The queen herself knighted Sir Elton John. So his new bride would normally be called a lady. Would David Furnish be called lady? No chance says the palace. It called the question interesting, but passed the buck to the government.

Sir Elton and David will celebrate their union in the very same place in Windsor as Charles and Camilla did earlier this year. Of course, Camilla then became the Duchess of Cornwall. No such luck for David Furnish. Paula Newton, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: All right, all day we have been asking viewers for their thoughts on the Bush administration's decision, a controversial one, to eavesdrop on American citizens without a court order. The question has been this.

VERJEE: How much of your privacy are you willing to give up in the name of national security? We got a lot of really good e-mails in our inbox. Here's one of them.

Jeff Lake from Grant, Florida writes this. "To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: Those willing to sacrifice individual liberty for increased security will end up with neither."

And Jon of Riverdale in New York, hopefully he didn't have to try to get into the city today, he writes this: "The average American should not relent to this atmosphere of paranoia...This is like the secret police in a totalitarian state. George Bush has lost his mind."

VERJEE: Jim Burness of Dublin, Ohio, writes in and says, "The fewer people that knew about this highly valuable method of monitoring suspected international terrorists, the better. The presidents acted in the best interests of the American people. I believe the bigger atrocity is the leaking of this information for political purposes."

HOLMES: And we are still getting plenty of e-mails. Just one more, actually. Julie Lucas, Kansas City, Missouri. Lots of people writing in from here the United States. "I am willing to compromise my privacy to save my life and that of my family. It is glaringly obvious that we have to trust those in charge of protecting us." Julie Lucas in Kansas City there.

Thanks to everyone for writing us here on YOUR WORLD TODAY. The e-mail address, ywt@CNN.com.

VERJEE: We really like it when you weigh in on our questions and give us your opinions.

HOLMES: Hundreds from all over the world.

VERJEE: I know. It's good.

HOLMES: So what are you getting me for Christmas?

VERJEE: This is your gift.

HOLMES: To bask in the glow of your loveliness. I'm going to get her a crown.

VERJEE: I didn't say that. He did. This has been YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Zain Verjee.

HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes basking in the glow of Zain Verjee.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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