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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Radio Talk Show Hosts Debate Future of Middle East, Oil Consumption in U.S., War in Iraq, Energy Alternatives And Many Other Issues

Aired September 16, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Lin with a look at what's happening now in the news. Missouri Police have issued an Amber Alert for this missing one week old girl. Police say a woman entered the mother's home in Landell (ph), south of St. Louis and slashed her throat and took the child.
Hurricane Lane is making a mess along Mexico's Pacific coast. The storm roared ashore this afternoon as a powerful Category Three hurricane. It knocked out power to parts of Mazetlan (ph), a popular Mexican resort.

And bombs exploded along a busy street in southern Thailand today. Four people were killed, including a Canadian tourist. Another 30 people were injured. The attacks come on the 21st anniversary of the Thai separatist movement.

And protests erupted in India and through much of the Muslim world today over comments the Pope made about Islam. The Vatican expressed sincere regrets over the statement but stopped short of the apology demanded by many Muslim leaders.

And later, a special "LARRY KING LIVE," a special tribute to the heroes of New York Firehouse 54. The unit lost an entire shift, 15 firefighters on 9/11. That's tonight at 8:00 Eastern.

I'm Carol Lin. Now, "WELCOME TO THE FUTURE."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, WELCOME TO THE FUTURE: Hello, I'm Miles O'Brien, WELCOME TO THE FUTURE.

As we head into the home stretch of 2006, it's time to look at where we are and where we might be going. The fifth anniversary of 9/11 has passed without another major terror attack on our soil, but how safe are we really?

The war in Iraq continues and it's taking a toll. More than 100 lives a day and billions of dollars each year. The Middle East is mired in a conflict that is centuries old, and our next generation is facing a bankrupt tomorrow.

Seldom has this country been more abuzz with uncertainty and debate about our future, and the group we've assembled can certainly attest to that. In these chairs, talk radio show hosts from different backgrounds and political points of view. We brought them here to report on what they've been hearing from you every day.

But as you can imagine, they have got some opinions of their own. Jay Thomas with Sirius Satellite Radio. Ben Ferguson for Radio America, Martha Zoller of WDUN in Gainesville, Georgia, Stephen A. Smith, ESPN Radio, Dr. Joy Browne of the WOR Radio Network.

Putting them in one room is risky business. So fasten your seat belts. We are in for a wild ride.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: What are the people beefing about on the radio these days? Start with you.

JAY THOMAS, SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO: Unfortunately, they are sick of all the talk about the war and stuff. They're over it.

O'BRIEN: Over the war or they don't want to talk about it?

THOMAS: It's like a TV show that went on too long.

O'BRIEN: If they are frustrated over it, what are they doing?

BEN FERGUSON, RADIO AMERICA: They want an update and let us know when they're coming over.

O'BRIEN: That's it. Let me know when it's over?

FERGUSON: Right.

MARTHA ZOLLER, WDUN, GAINESVILLE, GA.: They're very disappointed about how this thing with Hezbollah and Israel went. They expected that Israel would be able to take care of the situation quickly. That would actually be a help on the global war on terrorism, and they feel like it was a loss.

DR. JOY BROWNE, WOR RADIO NETWORK: They think it's somewhat of a distraction, that by Iraq, it's lowering the urgency factor of terrorism in the United States because it's taking resources there.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about 9/11, five-year anniversary? It has changed our society forever. Have we learned the lessons of 9/11?

THOMAS: My whole thing about 9/11 is that 100 people put it together. When McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City building, they were going to arrest all of the militias, and all the -- but they didn't. They went in and got the five or six guys that did it. They got very lucky. A small group of people blew up the World Trade Center. And for some reason, we have gone completely berserk, and we've destroyed our image in the world.

BROWNE: I was actually down at the pit for six weeks. I saw the World Trade Center. What I was surprised about is how close it was to the surface. It's been five years. It just hasn't been integrated. It hasn't gone away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN (on the radio): 800-544-7070. We are doing something a little different this hour, which is sort of looking at the world as we know it. The question is do you feel safe these days given everything that's going on in the world?

Lynn, you're on the air. I'm Dr. Joy Browne. Hi.

CALLER: Hi. I don't think I'll ever feel safe again, because we've become more aggressive. And I think we don't scare the terrorists, I think we incite them. This is a time of false quiet. That's what I think.

BROWNE: Thank you, ma'am. Alice, you're on the air, I'm Dr. Joy Browne. Hi.

CALLER: Regarding this topic, do I feel safer? In a sense, yes. There's been efforts to really make sure that we are safer. I mean, now that they know what happened and so many of the things have come to light, that I think systems have improved.

BROWNE: OK, cool. Thank you for participating with me. I appreciate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So we're the walking wounded five years later?

BROWNE: I think in some ways we are. I think there is some big positive to that in that I think we are more -- I think we are more empathic. As someone said on September 11th, we all became Israelis. We understood what it was to be under siege.

ZOLLER: I think the good thing that came out of it is first of all, many of us -- I don't think any of us thought we would be sitting here five years later and not have been attacked on our soil again in that period of time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

ZOLLER: That was the feeling that it would be imminent. When you get outside of New York, or in big cities, the kind of community spirit is still going on in the projects that are ongoing to help soldiers, mail, and letters. They don't even have to ask for help --

THOMAS: What does that have do with 9/11 that 100 guys did and we have spent a trillion dollars --

ZOLLER: But it has to do with 9/11 --

THOMAS: And blown up half the world.

(CROSS TALK)

THOMAS: We've had attacks before. We caught the bad people and put them away.

ZOLLER: No, no, no, but you said, how were we changed?

STEVEN A. SMITH, ESPN RADIO: I think the thing that we're missing here is the level of cynicism that has proliferated in regards to what you're looking at when it comes to the federal government. When it comes to the Bush administration, specifically.

You have a lot of people out there looking saying all right, you know, Osama bin Laden, this is what he did. With 9/11 and what have you, but we're in Iraq. You understand? We're still looking for him. And we're looking at the Bush administration and I'm not casting aspersions on them saying we know definitely they lied about this that or the other. I'm saying that's the appearance that it gives, so you don't trust the leadership that is telling you --

BROWNE: But that's what I'm telling you.

SMITH: This is what the problem is and that's what it's going to come down to.

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: I was in Israel just a couple of weeks ago. It was the first experience -- that I had -- with the El Al brand of profiling. I was walked away thinking if I was trying to hide something they would have found it out. Should we do some sort of profiling here to try to make us fly safer?

BROWNE: Don't you think we already are?

FERGUSON: We are not profiling. The perfect example is in New York City where we can't profile people that we think might look like terrorists, so we're going to pick every third person that goes through a turnstile? It doesn't make sense.

We're so worried about being politically correct, we don't want to offend anyone, and say we're going back to the '60s or '50s or whatever it may be, because that's what people say. If you profile people, you're being racist. No, I'm racist towards terrorists and if you fit the profile of a terrorist, then I don't like you. And I want to make sure --

SMITH: What's the profile of a terrorist?

(CROSS TALK)

FERGUSON: But you look at --

SMITH: Hold on now. Let's be clear about something. When you talk about Timothy McVeigh or what have you, in Oklahoma City, he didn't fit the profile.

O'BRIEN: Yes, Timothy McVeigh is a great point. Immediately after Timothy McVeigh, what did the news reports say? Suspected Arab terrorism, right? ZOLLER: Absolutely.

FERGUSON: But I think most Americans admit, when you get on a plane -- be honest -- you know exactly who makes you nervous when you get on a plane.

(CROSS TALK)

SMITH: That doesn't qualify -- that doesn't justify them --

FERGUSON: Do they not all look the same?

ZOLLER: There are

FERGUSON: The people that did 9/11, people that did the Madrid? Do they not all fit --

SMITH: But that's bigotry.

O'BRIEN: The P word, "profiling", is a bad word. It would be nice if we had smart people at those security checkpoints.

FERGUSON: Never going to happen.

O'BRIEN: People who are using their brain a bit, instead of patting down my 10-year-old daughter, which doesn't make sense. We need just human beings who are well paid, treated properly, and trained well instead of this thousands standing around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not a be-all, end-all though.

O'BRIEN: Well, I know.

(CROSS TALK)

THOMAS: You know, what? You're talking about Israel and I'm going to have some smoked salmon.

O'BRIEN: You all have earned your treats. You all have earned your treats.

(Voice over): Next on our plate, war grinds on in Iraq and Afghanistan. So what do we do?

FERGUSON: If you got a problem, you can either witch about it, or you can fix it.

SMITH: So, 100,000 lives have been lost. What's your definition of fixing the problem?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FERGUSON (On the radio): You know, five years it's been since 9/11. A lot of people say the war in Iraq is actually distracted us from finding Osama bin Laden.

Let's go to your phone calls get your thoughts on that. Gary, you're on "The Ben Ferguson Show".

CALLER: OK. We have a problem. They came and hit our towers. But who hit the tower? Al Qaeda hit the tower. It was Osama bin Laden. OK? So why haven't we found him?

FERGUSON: The reason why I don't think we found Osama bin Laden is because it's a lot harder to find a man that does not have a home. This man will live anywhere where he can't get caught.

Gary, appreciate the phone call.

Back to the phones. Sean, welcome to "The Ben Ferguson Show". What do you do?

CALLER: I was an Infantry Marine.

FERGUSON: In Iraq?

CALLER: Yes, sir.

FERGUSON: Do you think we're not doing a good enough job finding Osama bin Laden, or are we are working has hard as we possibly can?

CALLER: I think we're doing a pretty darn good job. There's two fronts in this war, Iraq and Afghanistan right now. You don't have to split them up. As long as troops are overseas that keeps us Americans, here on our home front, safe.

FERGUSON: Sean, appreciate your service to this country and appreciate your phone call. And we're glad you made it back safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: I want to talk about the war in Iraq. To what extent is this the front line in the war on terror, or a diversion, a bloody, tragic diversion, which saps our ability to fight this war on terror?

SMITH: It's a bloody diversion. I don't think there's any question about that. I'm appalled.

BROWNE: Do any of us disagree with that?

SMITH: No, I don't think anybody --

(CROSS TALK)

THOMAS: He thought we could democratize a Middle Eastern country, it was a good idea. And we would start it from there and we would have oil and stuff. And yeah, maybe there'd be terrorists, maybe now. As soon as they were free, they started all the stuff that's going now. The idea was great. The idea was great, but they failed. They failed.

(CROSS TALK)

ZOLLER: Iraq was not a diversion. A lot has been accomplished there. It's bad right now.

BROWNE: What's been accomplished there What's been accomplished in Iraq?

ZOLLER: There's been elections. There have been people getting out to vote. Women in Afghanistan and Iraq have been able do things that they never could do before.

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: If this is about the war on terror, as we are told, what has it done to help us in the war on terror?

FERGUSON: I think it's easy to Monday morning quarterback.

O'BRIEN: No, no. Answer that question. What has it done to help the war on terror?

(CROSS TALK)

FERGUSON: I think it got rid of a man named Saddam Hussein, who was a pretty big terrorist.

SMITH: The man was a dictator --

(CROSS TALK)

SMITH: Hold on, hold on. The man was a dictator, he needed to be removed. But we have no evidence whatsoever that he was working in conjunction with Osama bin Laden, or anybody else for that matter. In terms of being a terrorist --

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: OK, here we go. We're in Iraq. Even you say there's a Monday morning quarterbacking component to all this. It was a great idea. Didn't work out. Here we are. What do you do now? Do you pull out?

ZOLLER: No.

O'BRIEN: Quickly?

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: You can't. Right? Because it's then like leaving after the Marine barracks bombing, it's like leaving Somalia. All the things the U.S. has done to set an example that we will be cowed by terror. So what to do, though?

SMITH: We're colonialists!

FERGUSON: Here is the part that frustrates me the most. Hate it or love it, we're there. Are we going to leave early? No.

BROWNE: We can't.

FERGUSON: We have to finish the job. What I think is frustrating is the fact we are always talking about -- in this country -- we are talking about the negatives instead of reality of, OK, if you've got a problem you can either witch about it or you can fix it. We have to decide that we're going to stay there and --

SMITH: But what's your definition of fixing it?

BROWNE: What would fixing it be?

SMITH: Over 100,000 lives have been lost. What's your definition of fixing the problem?

FERGUSON: You have to stay until their government over there is stable enough so we can walk away.

SMITH: Oh, my God. When is that going to happen!?

FERGUSON: See, this is where we are 30-minute mentality in this country. If we can't get it in 30 minutes, in a sitcom, and it's not fixed, the problem, we don't want to be there.

SMITH: That's right.

FERGUSON: Let me ask you this -- isn't it not a positive thing that more people voted in the Iraqi elections, that knew that they could be profiled, blown up, shot at, than voted in the American elections where we have --

SMITH: That depends on the amount of lives that are lost in the process! I mean, it's really easy for you, as American --

(CROSS TALK)

SMITH: -- To sit here in this country and to talk about -- well, you know, it's the right thing to do. Who are you to define the right thing for those people? We're not over there.

FERGUSON: They're embracing it. They're not running away.

THOMAS: Oh, please.

SMITH: Excuse me? There's plenty of people -- I'm telling you right now, you know how many soldiers I run into, American soldiers -- American soldiers -- who we unequivocally support, and they say we have no business over there. Most of those people don't even want to be over there. They actually say that.

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: Let's run a hypothetical scenario here and have everybody weigh in. The U.S. announces tomorrow it's leaving. It leaves in, you know, relatively orderly procession. We have decided it's a civil war. We're in the middle of a civil war, for whatever reason the term would be cut and run. What happens then? How bad -- what is the impact? You feel very strongly about our presence. But isn't there a real down side to that?

SMITH: There's a down side to it if we just get up and leave. Obviously, I agree with Senator Clinton, when she talked about there shouldn't be a definitive time date as to when we should leave. We should be working on leaving, but it shouldn't be a definitive time date. Like, we're leaving next week or we're leaving next month.

But definitely I think we need to get out of there. I don't think it's a problem America can fix. The world has to be involved, but the people there have to be committed to fixing the problem.

THOMAS: When we pulled out in Vietnam, everybody is hanging on the helicopter. We're now trade partners with Vietnam. Nothing happens if we pull out of Iraq. It will look bad.

(CROSS TALK)

BROWNE: I think we've sown the seed, there are more people now who hate us, we have killed more people who can then say, my brother has been killed by the Americans. Given the fact that this has been costly, long term, not very effective, what do we do now? Is there something we can pull out of this?

FERGUSON: I think what you have to look at here, is one thing, we can't pull out of Iraq and the main reason why, going back to your question is the fact that --

BROWNE: But what's the goal?

FERGUSON: Is the fact that you have people over there that have stood up for democracy. They have put their names on ballots. They've run for office. They signed their name to a death list. If you sign your name over there to be a leader in that government right now, you're going to be a target.

BROWNE: So what do we do?

FERGUSON: That's why we stop talking so much about -- and politicizing it to the point where we say it's bad, it's a quagmire. I don't care if you think it's a quagmire or not. At this point we have to stay. If we don't stay it will be ten times worse.

BROWNE: What's the goal?

THOMAS: You know what, it's like staying in a bad marriage for the kids. At some point you got to split. I'll say this again, I don't care anything about those people over there. I live in the United States. I walk out on the street every day. I should be giving all my money away to the people in the street here. We should load them up in food, money and never shoot another Iraqi.

O'BRIEN: All right. I'm sorry to say we haven't settled it.

BROWNE: That's OK.

O'BRIEN: Nice try.

When we come back, we'll kind of do a guns and butter kind of thing. We will shift from war to when whether we're ever going to be able to retire and get some Social Security. I don't know. The two might be linked.

BROWNE: Yes, truly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about paying the bills. There are a lot of people -- who here is relying on Social Security in any way, shape or form? Are you counting on it?

ZOLLER: No.

FERGUSON: Not at all.

BROWNE: No.

THOMAS: I think I'm going to get it.

O'BRIEN: Are you going to get it?

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: Are you going to make ends meet with it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't live on it. You can't.

THOMAS: But if I add it to my --

BROWNE: But it is your exclusive -- it is even the majority of what you are counting on financially?

THOMAS: No, but it's a part of it, though.

BROWNE: I figure I'll buy groceries with it, or something.

THOMAS: It's a number. It's going to be $1,500 a month. My mother who just passed away at 93 was getting, I don't know, $1,000 a month. My dad died 30 years ago.

O'BRIEN: It kept her going?

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. And Medicare was fantastic for her.

O'BRIEN: You threw her a few bucks, too, right?

THOMAS: Not a lot, though. Yeah, because, you know, once she didn't have any assets --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would disqualify her from Medicaid.

(CROSS TALK)

THOMAS: Yeah, and what's funny is we stumbled into that. Had my brother and I been giving her tons of money and built her a big giant house and all --

O'BRIEN: She would have had overhead.

THOMAS: So we kept her really down and in a really bad area.

BROWNE: Congratulations.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: She would complain, we would say one day, this is -- but there's so much robbery here -- it's going to be OK, Mom.

O'BRIEN: A house with wheels.

BROWNE: I'm doing this for your own good.

THOMAS: I'm the guy that doesn't care about people in Iraq, remember me?

O'BRIEN: I remember that.

ZOLLER: Oh, that's right.

O'BRIEN: Speaking of Iraq, we are spending about a billion a week? There are many other ways that money could be spent. We have a deficit, we have a debt.

SMITH: School.

O'BRIEN: Those kids who are not educated well will have to pay the bills here. What are your thoughts on this? Will we find a way out of this problem? Are we just --

ZOLLER: See, when you talk about what we spend, as far as discretionary spending, which the Defense budget is part of discretionary spending, that's not what we spending most of our money on.

THOMAS: What does that mean?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS (on the radio): It's Willy of Georgia -- It's the Jay Thomas Show. Will you see a Social Security check?

CALLER: No, I don't think so. That's why I'm not really planning on it. I'm buying real estate now, and getting into renting and all that.

THOMAS: What's going to happen? You give money every week in your paycheck, how come you're not going to see anything? What are you going to do? CALLER: Exactly. I'm not going to wait for my pension to be taken or anything like that. And I can't really trust my employer and I work for a good company.

THOMAS: You work for a good company, you don't trust your employer, and the government will screw you, too.

CALLER: Exactly.

THOMAS: I think you're a bit of a pessimist, Willy. You are a bit of a pessimist. Willy, thank you very much.

Rodney do you think will you see a Social Security check?

CALLER: Yes, I do.

THOMAS: Let's say you were 35 instead of 45?

CALLER: If I was 35 and I was dumping the kind of money I dumped into Social Security when I was actually 35, I would be screaming. I don't know why kids are so stupid?

THOMAS: They're drinking. They are out drinking and having a good time.

CALLER: That's a good point. I was, too, I guess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZOLLER: Social Security is the easy thing to fix. I know people don't want to believe that, because Medicare is a much bigger problem in the future than Social Security is.

O'BRIEN: How it is easy?

ZOLLER: It's easier to fix because there is a dedicated revenue stream that has not been diverted anywhere else, on Social Security.

SMITH: But they're projecting that by 2017 we're going to --

(CROSS TALK)

SMITH: The government will be giving out more money than it's taking in.

(CROSS TALK)

SMITH: It will be depleted by 2040.

ZOLLER: If you are over 50 years old, you really can't change the Social Security system. But under 50, you've got to -- we've got to look at other opportunities like personal accounts.

SMITH: Let me tell you a little story, because I'm a little scared. I'm 38 years old. Let me be honest with you. I might as well be 70 that's how scared I am. Because I look on this side, I sitting out here, I work my butt off every day because I have to take care of my Mama, because she works so hard. So I have to make sure she's living the life.

(CROSS TALK)

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: No, keep her down, keep her down!

SMITH: You can do it, right!

On the other side, I got like ten -- eight nieces and two nephews, these folks walk around with their heads cut off like they don't know what's going on.

BROWNE: They got their i-Pods on.

SMITH: When you think about it from that standpoint, like you said, the money should be there. The fact that it isn't, and that we are even debating what the prospects of Social Security in the future is going to be is what alarms me. I know that we have the money. The problem is, are we going to be allocating those funds appropriately? That's where it comes back to the politicians and it comes back to our trust in them and all this other stuff.

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: Philosophically, then, philosophically, we are the only large industrialized, prosperous, G8 country that does not have some kind of national health care and a safety net.

ZOLLER: Actually we do have --

O'BRIEN: Wouldn't it be cheaper in the long run -- What are you talking about, Medicare?

ZOLLER: Well, two thirds of the people in America are covered either by VA, Medicaid or Medicare.

O'BRIEN: OK.

ZOLLER: I mean, we need to learn from that.

O'BRIEN: But there are still some people who

(CROSS TALK)

O'BRIEN: Why not get rid of the --

ZOLLER: Hey, I'll shock you right here. I'm a conservative and I believe in personal responsibility. But I think we've got three huge bureaucracies in the VA, Medicaid and Medicare, that are basically trying to do the same thing, which is deliver health care. We have to figure out how to merge those bureaucracies and that I don't want national health care, but we sure are not doing it right through the government right now. O'BRIEN: So, merge the bureaucracies, put them under Homeland Security, that would be good.

ZOLLER: Oh, yeah, right.

THOMAS: How about a billion a week? How about a hundred million a week?

(CROSS TALK)

THOMAS: I have a problem with where my tax dollar is spent. I wish I could check off on my tax dollar that I don't want a certain amount of money to go into certain things.

O'BRIEN: You want the line item veto on your 1040.

(CROSS TALK)

THOMAS: What?

O'BRIEN: You want the line item veto on your 1040.

ZOLLER: That's right. Amen.

O'BRIEN: I like that idea.

THOMAS: I wonder. The people that want to support the United States Army or the war, or whatever, they can.

O'BRIEN: You could opt out.

THOMAS: People who want to support it only when they go in to help people, they can do that.

BROWNE: The government would certainly pay a lot of attention to that.

THOMAS: You know what, they would change.

O'BRIEN: It's an interesting thing.

ZOLLER: The defense is in the constitution. All this other stuff we're talking about is not.

O'BRIEN: That's pretty much it from the federal government. That's pretty much it.

ZOLLER: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back to the checkbook analogy for a minute, though. Back to our -- you know, if you keep spending and you keep having your checkbook upside down, eventually you go bankrupt. You have no credit.

Conceivably as we keep marching down this road, is the U.S. headed for that kind of level of insolvency? FERGUSON: I think we're broke. I think we're in the debt, huge debt, Social Security needs to be fixed. They will fix it at the very last moment and it will cost us a lot more money to fix it.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, the late fees will kill you.

(CROSS TALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: When we come back, we'll really solve a problem, an easy one. We're doing the Middle East.

THOMAS: No, we're not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: With two sides so dug in, will we ever see peace in the Middle East?

BROWNE: They looked in the camera each of them said, God gave this land to me. When it's real estate you can negotiate. You can not negotiate, God gave this land to me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: I'm Carol Lin, more of WELCOME TO THE FUTURE in just a moment, but first a look at what's happening right now in the news.

Hurricane Lane is battering Mexico's Pacific Coast right now with heavy rain and strong winds. The Category Three storm came ashore earlier today near El Dorado and it could bring up to two feet of some rain in some areas.

And a new offensive against Taliban fighters underway in Eastern Afghanistan today. Seven thousand U.S. and Afghan troops are taking part in Operation Mountain Fury. They hope to expand Kabul's control in the region near the Pakistani border.

The Iraqi government is considering a network of trenches and natural barriers around Baghdad to reduce violent attacks there. People going in and out of the capital would have to pass through one of 28 high security check points.

And a nationwide Amber Alert has been issued for this week-old infant. Police say the baby girl was kidnapped from her Missouri home by a woman who attacked the baby's mother with a knife. The mother has been hospitalized in serious condition..

Now coming up at the top of the Larry King hosts a special tribute to the fallen heroes of Firehouse 54, a unit that lost an entire shift of fire fighters on 9/11.

I'm Carol Lin in Atlanta. Now WELCOME TO THE FUTURE with CNN's Miles O'Brien.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to the future. We've been taking stock of what's ahead, talking about where we are today, and where we think it might lead us tomorrow. The war in Iraq and how we can afford it continue to weigh on our minds. And there's more -- the Middle East, oil jitters. Will our pervasive sense of uncertainty ever fade? In these chairs five of the country's most outspoken talk radio hosts. They're sharing what they've heard from you, but they certainly are not shy about telling us what they think either.

All right. Middle East. Is it -- Condoleezza Rice -- watching her say it was the birth pangs of a new Middle East, half full or straining credulity? What do you say?

BROWNE: Strained.

O'BRIEN: Strained?

THOMAS: The birth pangs of perhaps a Muslim dominated Middle East which does not bother me in the least and I don't know why we're so upset about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FERGUSON: We'll go back to the phones. Ray, you're on the Ben Ferguson show. How are you, Ray?

CALLER: Ben, how are you this evening?

FERGUSON: I'm doing well. Could everything that's going on in the Middle East, do you think this could lead to a wider war?

CALLER: Oh, definitely because evil and your enemy can be everywhere.

FERGUSON: But do you think Israel fighting Hezbollah did that actually help us, the United States of America?

CALLER: Hezbollah is an enemy of the world. I mean, that's all part of the deal. So, you know, we need to keep our military sharp, we need to back Israel. You don't go into a gunfight with a slingshot. And that's all part of walking with that big stick.

FERGUSON: Absolutely. Ray, appreciate the phone call, man, have a great night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZOLLER: Democracies don't go to war against...

(CROSSTALK) BROWNE: There was a documentary a couple years ago, that had a bunch of 13-year-olds. Yeah, and it had all these 13-year-olds, Arabs and Jews, got together, played soccer. At the end they said what would you do -- what do you feel about Israel? Each of those kids looked into the camera, these 13-year-old kids. You could not tell which was Arab, which was Jew, they looked in the camera, each of them said god gave this land to me. When it's real estate you can negotiate. You cannot negotiate, god gave this land to me. He said I should have it. I will do anything to protect it.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Are you too naive? Is that is? What is it?

BROWNE: That's what he said. My Israeli hairdresser, I said -- I didn't say when do you think it's going to be over. I said do you think it will be over? He said, you are so naive. We are not only arrogant, we are naive. We don't look at history, we don't look at anything except our own sense of what we think is right. We don't look at the fact that other civilizations have different rules, have different gods, have different structures.

O'BRIEN: A lot of this debate, we could have had this discussion in 1973 after the 1973 war. What is different this time is the...

FERGUSON: Nothing.

O'BRIEN: Yes, there is something significantly different -- the ascendancy of Iran in all of this. And a question you might have to ask is, No. 1, are we handling that right? Have we created a worse situation by destabilizing Iraq and emboldening Iran and thus leading to what we saw just there? What should we do about that?

THOMAS: Fifty percent of Iranians are under 30. And Iran, I believe, the head, the clerics, the mullahs, they saw that their young people were coming in our direction. Coca-cola, CDs, blue jeans and anything else.

BROWNE: I want my MTV.

THOMAS: And I want to tell you, I believe that Iran's going to take care of itself because that youth group will not buy all this crap that they're getting from the old guys because...

SMITH: Here's the problem, though. You've the Iranian, the president of Iran calling for the elimination of Israel. Talking about that's the only thing that would lead to peace. You know -- you know they're the ones pretty much financing Hezbollah in terms of the missiles and all this other stuff. You...

O'BRIEN: This goes to -- this is all about the perception. What is the United States' responsibility in the world? Are we there to impose democracy?

SMITH: No.

O'BRIEN: Does that make any sense?

SMITH: No.

O'BRIEN: You want to impose democracy.

SMITH: My personal opinion is this. If you're going to hold yourself up as the moral standard, live by it. You know what? The world is about business, first and foremost. You talk about somebody -- no matter how much you hate them, if you talk to them about helping out their economy and what have you, it's about money. If you're honest about that, and you say listen this is why we're coming, it's in our best interest. This is what we're doing as opposed to standing up on your high horse acting like you are above reproach, maybe just maybe the hatred...

BROWNE: And say it's democracy.

SMITH: Wouldn't proliferate and because of that people would conduct themselves accordingly.

FERGUSON: I think other countries figured out how to tell their people that we're the bad guy. And I'm saying if we change -- if we walked in with lollipops and Hershey bars -- hold on -- which we've done before, instead of helmets, Kevlar (ph) vests and guns, they still don't like us.

O'BRIEN: Let's paint a picture then. Ten years from now what is the Middle East? What is that region going to look like?

FERGUSON: I think it's going to look like the exact same thing it is now because -- I think we're naive, I think that one thing I've learned in life is that history repeats itself. And of we're ignorant or arrogant enough to think we can fix peace in the Middle East, any president that thinks he can fix peace in the Middle East, I don't care who it is through history is a little bit arrogant and ignorant because...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are we in Iraq?

FERGUSON: It's a religious thing with them.

ZOLLER: ... make the point a couple of times about you used the term colonialism. And you know, you think about it, the Middle East, they were trying to fix the problem when the Brits were there and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The crusade.

ZOLLER: I was joking with my British uncle. I say you guys drew the line so it's your problem. But you know, it's...

O'BRIEN: That's a bad line, too.

ZOLLER: But you want to do it because it's good -- that's right. That's right. We want to do it because we believe it's the right thing and we want peace for the world.

BROWNE: Who are we to determine the right thing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we're Americans.

ZOLLER: Close your eyes and imagine a world without America in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not...No. No. We'll will still be there.

O'BRIEN: But as America tried to turn inward, and I can see how people would want to do that, there's one fly in the ointment, you know what it is? We need that oil over there. What if we didn't need the oil? When we come back, we'll talk about that.

When we come back, kicking the oil habits.

ZOLLER: It's not oil in the way that it's like about money and oil, blood oil, that whole thing. It is oil in that oil is what lubricates our economy. Our economy does not move without the free...

BROWNE: (INAUDIBLE) Blood for oil.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Let's talk oil now. Here's the thing, first of all, let's talk about Iraq. Is Iraq about oil?

SMITH: Yes.

FERGUSON: Easily, yes.

ZOLLER: No.

THOMAS: It is, but I said it earlier it was a great idea. Just didn't work.

FERGUSON: If it was about oil, I wouldn't be paying $3 a gallon.

ZOLLER: And it's not oil -- yes, you would. You would be paying $8 a gallon.

O'BRIEN: It's not soupy (ph) out there, right? So, I mean, you could make a case that production is not like it used to be.

ZOLLER: Well, Miles...

THOMAS: It's not bad that it was about oil.

ZOLLER: It's not oil in the way...

O'BRIEN: There's no pejorative in this. If it's not about oil?

THOMAS: What didn't work...

O'BRIEN: If we didn't care about Saddam Hussein, would we be there, would we be shedding blood, would we be losing the best and brightest among us, our young people.

THOMAS: We didn't go into Africa.

O'BRIEN: Rwanda? What did we do about Rwanda?

THOMAS: Nothing. No oil there.

ZOLLER: It's not like about money for oil, blood for oil that whole thing. It is oil in that oil is what lubricates our economy. Our economy does not move without the free..

BROWNE: Blood for oil?

ZOLLER: But because blood for oil implies that you're doing it because of Halliburton or you're doing it because Bush is making money from it.

SMITH: I know, I think it implies with you just said. I think it fuels our economy. I mean, that's what it comes down to.

ZOLLER: And we've got to get onto another plane. However, it took us 20 years to go from regular to unleaded gas in our cars. OK, it's going to take a generation to make this change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWNE: But think about it for a moment, all right? If we accept that, in fact, dependency on oil is not a good idea, what are you personally willing to give up to be less dependent on oil? No one is really saying all right, I'm willing to do this or I would be willing to do this. Maybe it's a tougher thing?

CALLER: I'd be willing to -- you know, we have two cars. I'd be willing to have one. I'd be willing to keep my winter temperature at 55 or 60.

BROWNE: OK.

CALLER: Like some European countries.

BROWNE: Fair enough.

CALLER: I'd be willing to get rid of air conditioners. I would be willing to do all those kinds of things, but that...

BROWNE: Would you do it now?

CALLER: Well...

BROWNE: Why not now?

CALLER: I tend to agree that Americans and the American government only responds when the pain is horrific.

BROWNE: To crisis.

CALLER: Absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well, we are pretty pitiful then, aren't we?

BROWNE: Yeah.

(CROSSTALK)

ZOLLER: Well, I believe that we can find something else?

O'BRIEN: What's going to motivate that search, though?

ZOLLER: We got to drill everywhere that we can right now and maximize what we have right now.

O'BRIEN: How about your backyard? Let's do it right in your backyard.

ZOLLER: Absolutely, tomorrow. You can go in my backyard tomorrow.

THOMAS: Here is a twist on this, though. The same -- some of the same tree huggers who stopped all those nuclear power plants in this country are now saying, you know, nuclear power might be a good thing.

ZOLLER: Amen, brother.

O'BRIEN: How would things be different if it's domestic drilling or alternatives or whatever the case may be, if we didn't have to worry about oil elsewhere from anybody? How would things be different in the way we do foreign policy, the way we relate to the world?

BROWNE: Well, first of all, our balance of payment, second of all our military spending and our approach to it. Third of all, our -- that no one would question our motives anymore when we go to a country to say we're here to help.

SMITH: Bingo. That's a big P.R. problem.

BROWN: Yeah, the perception of reality is even more important sometimes than reality. And we would be perceived as not the thugs that we are.

SMITH: It's a rippling effect, simply because when you have the perception out there that we're in it for ourselves, that we're not thinking of anyone else.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: Was it the wail of propaganda (ph), that's what happens and that's what creates so many of our problems. Because the hatred, again, builds and because of that, you have got people coming at us from all different directions and everything stems from that. O'BRIEN: So what you're saying is if Martha gets rid of her big car, you get rid of your Denali, I get rid of my Yukon XL, we make a more stable, more peaceful world.

ZOLLER: I don't want to get rid of it.

SMITH: No way! What'd I do with it? Right? Huh?

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: Our response is no way! No, you do it. No, you do it. Right?

O'BRIEN There's one little point which we have to bring up.

ZOLLER: Another fly in the ointment.

O'BRIEN: Another fly in the ointment, if I do say so myself. It is that this is a finite resource. Eventually, no matter how much we yammer here, we will run out of this stuff.

FERGUSON: As soon as we get close...

O'BRIEN: So we are cramming for a test. It's like college, we're not going to plan ahead. We're going to wait right till the end.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, if we don't drill...

O'BRIEN: When will we be off oil?

THOMAS: It's only 12 years if we don't drill in the United States, it's 12 years. In the Middle East it's 100 years if they stop drilling today, right? The oil reserves they have over there. We might be able to help our kids a little bit the next 50 years.

BROWNE: But not our grandkids.

ZOLLER: I'm for bio fuels, I'm for ethanol, I'm for solar power, I'm for nuclear power.

THOMAS: I have a question. If you think it's OK to stay in Iraq for the long term and spend whatever and lose life -- if they said look, let's pull out of there and Americans let's pull together and let's fight for an alternative fuel so that we never have to go back there, that's a fight that I think all Americans could...

ZOLLER: Stay in and wait, yep.

O'BRIEN: A Manhattan project-type thing, right?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: This is what the government -- is it the government's role to instigate this process? Because when you talk about whether it's hydrogen or whatever those alternatives, there's all these chicken and egg issues about, you know, how can we sell the car, we don't have the gas stations, you know, the infrastructure, which is a perfect place for government to step in and I don't see government doing that. Should it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

ZOLLER: Government's role in this kind of development, though, is not only to help in some ways but get out of the way and get the strings out of the way like the breaks they give to oil companies. And hey, I'm a conservative Republican, and I don't like the breaks that oil companies get. I don't think it's a fair. I'm a free market, fair market kind of person. Right now the government is in the way.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: What's wrong with that, the government will never get out the way. It's not beneficial for them to do so.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: The disclosures of every congressman senator who is a Republican or Democrat, and all of them take oil money, which is all the more reason why we don't...

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: Won't ever get out the way, because all of them take all them take oil money, so they're not going to get out the way.

O'BRIEN: Are we headed for a mid-'70s style oil shock? Are we going to have, you know, a president in a cardigan sweater telling us to turn down our thermostats?

BROWNE: Yeah, I think we are or turn down our air conditioners. We already had it this summer. We had a mayor saying turn down your air conditioners, I mean, we've already...

O'BRIEN: Here's the thing, though, the gas prices have gone up, the people just keep on driving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the same cars.

SMITH: Because sometimes they don't have a choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

SMITH: Sometimes they don't have a choice.

FERGUSON: Our economy is you have to drive to work in most cities in America. You have to drive your kids across town for activities and their school.

BROWNE: We all have perfectly legitimate sounding rationalizations for why it's not going to be us. We're not going to change a damn thing about it, so we're still dependent on oil.

O'BRIEN: You know the saying, those who -- what is it? Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

What's your big prediction for the future? Is it rosy or doomsday?

SMITH: We'll step up and handle the challenge faced with us, but only after we crash and burn.

BROWNE: (INAUDIBLE) is an optimist.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Here's a question. Most of us are more or less the same era except for you. You're like...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the baby.

O'BRIEN: You're like our little son. Young man. But, we all kind of grew up in the duck and cover era. We're worried about, you know, sudden Armageddon, nuclear annihilation. My kids are worried about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and the threat that is posed by that. Is it worse today, is it the same?

BROWNE: Let me tell you, I did a thing about do you feel safer now. And there were two things that were extraordinary in terms of my listeners' response. First of all, it's all personal. If your family's OK, you feel safe. No. 2, a guy called and he said he was a surfer and he said if you think about surfing, you go out on the water, and there's nothing between you and sharks except a little piece of fiberglass. And if you think about that, you would never go out in the water. He said when you go out surfing you know the sharks are there, but most of us will never see a shark. He said, that's what terrorism is.

SMITH: You're talking about perception, all right, you go out on a highway, people are dying everyday, you're walking down the street, you walk into a rough neighborhood or whatever, people getting shot, whatever -- getting robbed, whatever the case may be. But there's a degree -- of the perception of control.

BROWNE: Yep.

SMITH: When you're thinking about terrorism, you're talking about people trying to come to your doorstep to harm you. That's an entirely different thing.

FERGUSON: Different than voluntarily going out.

(CROSSTALK)

ZOLLER: I think what happens, we got this -- as great as 24-hour news is and radio and immediacy and immediately responding, it's a beast that has to be fed all the time.

FERGUSON: Yeah, we analyze everything to the extreme.

O'BRIEN: How many hours are you on?

THOMAS: I'm on three hours a day. But they rerun me -- it's seven hours a day.

O'BRIEN: Three. How many?

BROWNE: Three house a day.

FERGUSON: Three hours a day.

ZOLLER: Three.

SMITH: Two on radio, one on national television.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's why you look old.

O'BRIEN: Three, six, nine, 12 and four for you, that's 16. I do four. That's 20. Twenty hours we're collectively are responsible every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every day.

O'BRIEN: Every day! And whatever we talk about is -- we have the power to guide people's perceptions.

BROWNE: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: Are we making them afraid?

FERGUSON: My mentality to my audience has changed over, probably, the last year and a half to the fact that I think you can overkill, I think, 9/11, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan has been killed. And I've noticed that my audience is exhausted from being scared.

THOMAS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's fix the world, shall we? What if some big things happened that could really change our world view? What if we found, say, intelligent life on another planet?

FERGUSON: I'd freak out.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Would that change -- would we stop going to war against each other? How would things change in our world?

ZOLLER: I'm a huge fan of the movie "Independence Day" which is kind of that whole thing. That brings -- I think that, yeah, we like to be united against a common enemy, whether it's a political party, when we're trying to get into power.

BROWNE: Why does it have to be an enemy?

ZOLLER: Well, I'm not saying life on other planets...

O'BRIEN: What if we found there are nice people there? They're just smart, they wanted to help us out?

ZOLLER: Well then we won't unite if they're nice people.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's got to be an evil thing.

O'BRIEN: That's human nature, it's got to be something evil.

BROWNE: We're focusing on why people fight, all right. And you're sort of assuming that it's part of human nature for us to be angry and to hate each other. You're making the assumption that human behavior is about aggression, about hatred, about dislike. I don't think it has to be.

SMITH: No, I don't think so...

ZOLLER: It's about moving on to the next frontier. We have done it ever since we came, you know, out of the cave. We've been looking to the next thing and that's why...

FERGUSON: Hence the reason why weren't content with just landing on the moon. It was like, what's next.

ZOLLER: That's right. So we're always...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...fight...

O'BRIEN: Ten years from now, one prediction?

THOMAS: Ten years from now, I think that people like me who feel discriminated against on a daily basis by people that want to make me believe in things that I have no interest in believing in and make boogey men out of a few people and have scared us, I think it will change. And I think that there's a softer time coming after this really hard time. It reminds me of the Vietnam era. All that peace and love stuff came because of all the horror that preceded it. All of that stuff about god being dead came because people were being shoved religion down their throat. It'll happen in the Mideast, too. These kids will revolt against these clerics. That's going to happen because of what's happening now. We're going to be forced into moderation.

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, give me a prediction.

BROWNE: I think -- I don't think -- I think, the Middle East is going to be ongoing. I think the United States will have -- I think because we're living longer, I think that there will probably be more social -- I think there'll probably be national medicine. I think there'll be a health care. I think that taxation will have to be reformed. I'd like to think there is less dependence on oil. I'd like to think that the sort of name calling by disagreeing will somewhat be lessened. I do think we're in a cycle and we may be going more toward moderation.

O'BRIEN: All right, you're an optimist. Quick prediction.

FERGUSON: Yeah.

O'BRIEN: Ten years.

FERGUSON: Ten years from now we will still be fighting the war on terrorism around the world more than we are now. I think that we're also -- when bad things happen to people that are good people, we'll still help probably more than ever. And I think that's the good thing. In this country I actually think you'll probably have more people involved in politics 10 years from now than now because I think things will be so bad here in this country that people are going to have to get involved.

O'BRIEN: Prediction?

ZOLLER: I think 10 years from now it's going to be a better time because all of these guys and gals coming back from war will be running for political office, and they will bring back the sanity to our form of government like they did after World War II.

O'BRIEN: Interesting point. Good.

SMITH: I think moderation will kick in, but only after America continues to burn. I think America's burning as we speak and anything that's burning ultimately changing form. I think it's a situation where you look at some of the problems that exist in the world today and corruption is a part of it. But the people who govern us are too easily influenced to deviate from what is right, what is righteous and what is moral, and because of that we are in a world of trouble. I think as Americans we'll step up and we'll handle the challenge that's faced with us, but only after we crash and burn. I don't think it'll happen before that.

BROWNE: Well, everybody's an optimist. I mean the idea about how we get there varies, but...

O'BRIEN: That's optimistic?

(LAUGHTER)

BROWNE: He's saying that Americans will step up in his version is crash and burn.

THOMAS: And you are single, right?

SMITH: Yes.

THOMAS: Wait till you get married. I don't know what that means exactly.

O'BRIEN: I don't know what the means exactly, but we'll see. All right, we'll see you all in ten years. We'll sit down here in 10 years and hash it out.

With the same cheese will be here. That brie is staying right there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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