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Interview With Illinois Senator Barack Obama; Alabama School Bus Crash Kills Two Students; 'Seinfeld' Star Under Fire

Aired November 20, 2006 - 15:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.
Go big, go long, or go home. That's not a football coach talking. That's the Pentagon playbook for the political football called Iraq.

Meanwhile, can the Democrats' rock star became the nation's Iraq star? Barack Obama unveils his exit strategy.

And the bit hits the fan. Seinfeld's Kramer doesn't leave them laughing at a Hollywood comedy club when he goes on a racist rant. We have got the tape.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

It's the top of the hour -- Betty Nguyen working details on two developing stories -- Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with this small Cobra jet that's having some problems with its landing gear.

We were talking to the FAA just moments ago. Here's a picture just in of that small corporate jet. It's a Beechcraft 95. And it left Saint Louis, the Spirit of Saint Louis Airport, around 12:45 local time. And it's been trying to land but, at this point, is really having a problem with it.

It was originally headed to Kyle-Oakley Field in Murray, Kentucky, which is a regional airport. But soon after leaving the base, the Spirit of Saint Louis Airport, the pilot noticed that its -- his landing gear was having a problem. So, he was trying to turn around and land at that airport, the Spirit of Saint Louis, but, obviously, still having problems with that -- according to the FAA, has plenty of fuel on board.

He's trying to work out these problems, before he dumps any of that fuel. , it's something that really is a wait-and-see mode at this point. We don't know a whole lot about any of the people on board this plane, although the airport is very aware of the situation, and a lot of people watching, on standby, as this plane tries to work out its landing gear problems, and can safely get on the ground.

Of course, we're continuing to watch it -- again, don't know a whole lot, except for the fact that is a Beechcraft 95. It's a six- seater -- no information as to exactly who is on board. But it left the Spirit of Saint Louis Airport around 12:45, local time, and it was headed to Kyle-Oakley Field, which is a regional airport in Murray, Kentucky.

But, on the way, soon after takeoff, the pilot learned that he was having some gear problems, and decided to turn around and try to land.

But, at this point, as you see, Kyra, he's still working on those problems, still up in the air. No fuel is being dumped, as we can determine at this point. So, it's just one of those wait and see. And, hopefully, it can land very soon. And very safely is the key word now.

PHILLIPS: All right, Jonathan Freed, actually, with us out of Chicago, he also is a pilot. He also is one of our correspondents.

Jonathan, I know you're watching this live right now on our air -- the six-seater Beechcraft obviously trying to -- to get a handle on the situation with its landing gear.

Are you hearing anything? Have you been able to listen to the radios?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I'm -- what I'm doing is -- is looking at what's going on right now, Kyra.

We can see the plane. And you know the pilot is going through a very well-rehearsed series of procedures to deal with this sort of thing. You drill all the time in order to get your license initially, and once you have got it. You just want to stay current and focused whenever an emergency happens.

And I am not checked out on this particular type of aircraft, but there are very -- there are very, very clear procedures. And -- and this pilot is defaulting to what he has practiced probably hundreds of times before. He's going to be looking to see whether or not that gear is not just down, but whether it's actually locked as well.

And there are all kinds of things that you can do in order to try to -- to deal with the unknowns. One of the things you can try to do is to put the plane down as gently as possible, as if it were, for example, a soft field kind of landing. When you're -- when everything is working fine, and you're landing on -- on a grass strip, for example, you don't want to sink into the mud or catch your wheels.

So, you try to bleed off the air speed, as best you can, and -- and just gently put that plane down. So, right now, I can just imagine that the pilot is doing everything he can to get the information from the plane.

And, sometimes, you're trying to figure out what the plane is not telling you, as much as what the plane is telling you.

PHILLIPS: Well, I'm looking at -- it looks like all wheels are down -- possibly that right wheel not all the way down and locked. Are you able to see? Have you been able to get a good -- yes, it looks like all wheels are down.

So, he must have an issue -- or she has an issue -- with whether they're actually locked or not. It actually looks like that the pilot is -- is trying to bring it down at this time. Can you tell?

FREED: Yes, it -- it -- it could be. It's difficult to tell from this angle.

I'm looking at the same pictures that we are. The gear certainly does seem to be down.

PHILLIPS: Here we go. Yes, it looks like the pilot is coming to a lower altitude. It looks like we got a better eye on the runway...

FREED: Looks like that...

PHILLIPS: ... and looks...

FREED: Looks like that plane could be...

PHILLIPS: Well, let's see how it does, huh?

FREED: Exactly.

I mean, I -- I recently had -- had my own in-flight emergency recently, where I had an alternator failure. That's an electrical issue.

And your mind -- and it was the first time that I had experienced an in-flight emergency since becoming a pilot. And you learn a lot about yourself in a circumstance like that. You discover how you're going to react under pressure, and whether you're going to remember all of the steps that you have to go through, in order to deal with that kind of a problem.

So, if -- if this pilot, if it's -- it -- if it's this person's first time dealing with something like this, you can bet, when they -- when they walk away from this, they're going to know how they're going to deal under -- under pressure...

PHILLIPS: And it looks like...

FREED: ... because it just doesn't get -- doesn't get any more intense than this. Doesn't have to be that big a problem.

PHILLIPS: Yes. They always tell you to stay calm, and -- and don't panic. That's the first thing you learn...


PHILLIPS: ... whether it's water survival or going through flight school.

FREED: Exactly.

PHILLIPS: It looks like the pilot is trying to bring it down. And -- and, from the way we can see it live...

FREED: It certainly looks like...


FREED: ... final.

PHILLIPS: The speed seems -- yes. It does.

FREED: And let -- here we go.

PHILLIPS: And the speed looks good.

FREED: Let's -- let's see what they're doing now.

Right. You see the float? The pilot seems to be extending what we call the float as much as possible before putting the plane down. And you can see that it's just gently, gently kissing the ground here...

PHILLIPS: There you go.

FREED: ... because, if the gear was not locked, the last thing you want to do is plant it the way you would if you were trying to get the plane stopped in -- if -- if the field were a short field. And it seems that -- well, it's down, and -- and -- and slowing down. And...

PHILLIPS: And it looks like all wheels are locked, too.

FREED: That was a -- that was a great example of where the pilot held it off as long as they could, to try to really bleed off that speed so it touched down as gently as possible. That -- that -- that looked textbook to me.

PHILLIPS: There you go.

It will be -- you kind of wonder what was going through his or her mind, as he was circling down, trying to bring it down. But this is good to hear -- corporate plane now landing safely in Saint Louis, Missouri, there, six-seater Beechcraft, thought it was having some issues with the landing gear. All looks good.

Jonathan Freed, thanks so much.

FREED: Thanks, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, straight ahead: They keep calling him the Democratic Party's rock star. But is Barack Obama ready to take lead vocals on Iraq? The NEWSROOM is in Chicago to interview him live this hour.


PHILLIPS: More information on that story developing out of Alabama.

Betty Nguyen working it for us -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes, we are getting some new information, Kyra.

As you know, as we have been telling you about, two students have been killed in a bus accident in Huntsville, Alabama, today, a bus that plunged over an overpass, some 30 feet below -- again, two students killed in that accident. Forty-three students were actually on the bus. Now, that's a new number from earlier. Thirty-three patients were transported to Huntsville Hospital.

Two of those patients are still unidentified, at least within the past hour, Kyra, a girl and a boy. As you know, these students, they don't carry I.D. on them. In fact, they were just headed from Lee High School to Huntsville Center For Technology, just part of their regular class, when this accident occurred.

And something else that we learned about the accident from witnesses -- and -- and this information coming to us from Rex Reynolds, who is the Huntsville police chief -- he says that witnesses say a car may have brushed by or maybe even collided with this bus, causing it to plunge off of that overpass to some 30 feet below, where two students were killed and a number of them injured.

When we last checked with hospital officials, two students were still in the operating room, and two remained in critical condition -- talking about the injuries, numerous injuries, head injuries, spleen, kidney injuries, fractures, and, of course, cuts and bruises -- again, in all, 43 students on that bus. The bus driver did survive. So, hopefully, we will learn more about exactly what happened, maybe get an identity, who was driving that car, if, indeed, a car did brush up against that bus, causing it to plunge over the overpass.

But take a look at this picture, if you would. This is from the Associated Press. Look at the front of that bus. Obviously, the brunt of the damage was sustained in the front portion of that bus. And you can see the overpass right now. That's where that bus landed.

And, again, unfortunately, especially on a week when families are coming together to -- to celebrate Thanksgiving, there are going to be two families that are being -- going to be grieving tremendously, because two female students were killed in this accident, an 18-year- old and a 17-year-old.

Obviously, counselors are going to be out at the schools. They're going to be out at the hospitals to deal with the students and just family members, who are trying to cope with such enormous loss -- 43 students aboard that bus, two of them killed in that accident.

Kyra, we will stay on top of it for you.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Betty.

Kids do it every day. They ride buses to and from school and field trips. But how safe are they?

CNN's David Mattingly finds some answers that may shock a lot of parents.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Over the years, statistical information shows that taking the bus is the safest way to get to school. But, according to researchers behind a new national study, school buses should be even safer.

GARY SMITH, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INJURY RESEARCH AND POLICY: Seventeen thousand children are injured each year on school buses. And that number is more than three times higher than previous estimates.

MATTINGLY: The findings, published in the "Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics," shows thousands of strains, sprains, cuts, and bruises are treated at emergency rooms every year after mishaps on buses. Forty-two percent of the injuries happen during crashes.

In this extreme case, from 2003 in Ohio, a bus rollover tossed kids out of their seats. The injuries weren't serious, but, according to researchers, these injuries and many like them could be prevented.

SMITH: Well, it can be a traffic-related swerve, a quick breaking. And, if a child's thrown to the side, there's absolutely nothing to keep them from flying through the air.

MATTINGLY: These crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show how higher seat backs and padding provide good protection in front-end collisions. But adding seat belts and shoulder straps actually caused more injuries to the head, neck and abdomen.

(on camera): But researchers behind the new study argue that seat belts could be effective in preventing injuries in those cases where students are thrown sideways, out of their seats, and into the aisles. They also suggest that better supervision and better behavior on the part of the students themselves could go a long way to cutting down the number of injuries on buses every year.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


PHILLIPS: Well, for such a funny man, this really, really wasn't. Michael Richards' racist rant -- coming up from the CNN NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Remember the "Seinfeld" curse, the alleged inability of the sitcom's famous foursome to recreate their success?

Well, the former Kramer, Michael Richards, did plenty of cursing on stage in L.A. the other night. He had a pretty bizarre and racist hissy fit that shocked his former fans. Our report by Brooke Anderson contains language you will find disturbing.


MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: Throw his ass out! He's a nigger!


RICHARDS: He's a nigger! He's a nigger!


RICHARDS: A nigger! Look, there's a nigger!

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Renowned actor and stand-up comic Michael Richards, best known as Kramer from "Seinfeld," veered from his act, and exploded in anger at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles Friday night.

RICHARDS: All right. You see? It shocks you. It shocks you to see what's buried beneath your stupid mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

ANDERSON: In this cell phone video obtained by entertainment Web site, Richards' outrage escalates. And offended audience members challenge him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was uncalled for.

RICHARDS: What wasn't called for? It's uncalled for you to interrupt my ass, you cheap mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED)!


RICHARDS: You guys have been talking and talking and talking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was uncalled for, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) cracker-ass mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

RICHARDS: Cracker-ass? You calling me cracker-ass, nigger?

ANDERSON: Darryl Pitts was in the audience, and says Richards completely lost control when a group of people were disruptive and told him he wasn't funny.

RICHARDS: Shut up! Fifty years ago, we would have you upside down with a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) fork up your ass!


RICHARDS: Well, you interrupted me, pal. That's what happens when you interrupt a white man (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) uncalled for. That was uncalled for!

ANDERSON: Pitts says this venomous, personal attack against the rowdy group stunned the 300 in attendance.

DARRYL PITTS, AUDIENCE MEMBER: It just got totally silent. It just took all of the air out of the room. He dropped the mike and just walked off. There was never any, "I'm sorry for what you just saw."

ANDERSON: Comedian Paul Rodriguez was also on the bill Friday night.

PAUL RODRIGUEZ, COMEDIAN: Once the word "nigger" comes out of your mouth, and you don't happen to be African-American, then, you have a whole lot of explaining.

ANDERSON: But Richards, who was back on stage at The Laugh Factory 24 hours later, didn't explain, refusing to talk on camera. He told CNN off camera he felt sorry for what happened, and he had made amends.

To whom or how he had made amends, Richards didn't say.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld issued a statement, telling CNN -- quote -- "I am sick over this. I'm sure Michael is also sick over this horrible, horrible mistake. It is so extremely offensive. I feel terrible for all the people who have been hurt."

Comedians are known to sometimes cross the line of good taste within their acts, but Pitts says Richards' actions far exceeded the boundaries of what is acceptable, and that he should take responsibility.

PITTS: He needs to make a public apology to everyone, because he offended every African-American in this country with what he did.

RODRIGUEZ: Freedom of speech has its limitations. And I -- I think Michael Richards found those limitations.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


PHILLIPS: It's called the young and restless -- no, not a soap opera, but the demographic of college-educated 25-to 34-year-olds. And a study out today tells us where they're going.

Susan Lisovicz has the details from the New York Stock Exchange.

Give us the details, Susan.


Well, you know the winner well. And, as a matter of fact, so do I, because I used to live there, too -- Atlanta showing the biggest increase in the so-called young and restless. From 1990 to 2000, more than 81,000 moved there during that period, Atlanta; followed by the San Francisco Bay area; Denver; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas.


SAM WILLIAMS, PRESIDENT, ATLANTA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: Our biggest growth right now actually is coming from the Northeast and the north central states, followed by California. These are young, talented people that can work anywhere in America. And they're choosing to come here, because of the careers, the cost of living, and the quality of life.


LISOVICZ: And quality of life, to a lot of folks who have moved there, also means the weather. It's so pretty so much of the year in Atlanta, the fact that it is a green city, a lot of trees, even downtown, and that it has a big airport nearby.

So, when you want to get out of town, you can go to a lot of places, Kyra, as you well know.

PHILLIPS: That's true. Well, why is this such a coveted demographic?

LISOVICZ: Well, first of all, they're well-educated, so they are highly employable, Kyra. They are up to speed on new technologies. And, so, that is real talent. And it's especially desirable, because baby boomers are starting to retire from the work force in droves.

We should note that the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce did not conduct the study, but did commission it, and are very happy to advertise the results.

Now taking a look at the markets, let's see what kind of market we're in for investors today -- very quiet day, in terms of volume, perhaps because it's a holiday-shortened week, but a lot of news, especially merger activity. We have about five big billion-dollar deals.

And the market, coming off four days in a row, seems to be unimpressed in many ways -- checking the numbers, the Dow Jones industrials off 28 points, or a quarter-of-a-percent. Remember, its previous four sessions ended with record-high closes -- the Nasdaq composite up, but just barely. It's up three points. Shares of Microsoft are up nearly 2 percent on an upgrade. That's helping to keep the Nasdaq afloat. And the S&P 500 is flat.

And that's the latest from Wall Street.

Kyra, I will see you at the top of the hour -- or at the end of the hour.

PHILLIPS: Sounds good. Look forward to it.

LISOVICZ: Likewise.

Well, he mocked their militias, but Iraqi insurgents get the last laugh. A comedian becomes a casualty in Baghdad, proving the very notion of a safe job there is a joke -- details ahead from the NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Teachers, political leaders, even comedians, no one is safe on the streets of Iraq these days. Insurgents are getting more brazen. And their list of targets is getting much longer.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad with the latest.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Both of Iraq's deputy ministers of health attacked in less than a 24-hour time period.

Hakim al-Zamily's convoy came under fire in central Baghdad. He was not in the convoy at the time, but the attack killed two of his guards, and wounded a third. Less than 24 hours prior to that, Iraq's other deputy minister of health, Ammar al-Saffar, was kidnapped from his home.

At least two dozen armed gunmen masquerading as Iraqi police and government officials stormed into his house, and kidnapped him.

Underscoring the reality that no one is safe here, one of Iraq's prominent comedians, Walid Hassan, was found with four gunshot wounds to the head. He was part of a show called "Caricature" that aired on one of Iraq's Sunni satellite TV stations. And it criticized and poked fun at the Iraqi government and at the militias and the insurgent groups.

It provided much-needed humor, albeit black humor, at a time here when few are finding anything to laugh about here. Iraqi emergency police found 60 unidentified bodies believed to be the capital's latest victims of sectarian violence. In fact, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior is estimating that, in the first 20 days of November, the death count already much higher than that of October.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


PHILLIPS: Well, it's not the first time he's brought it up, but now more people are listening.

Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and decorated Korean War vet, is again pushing to bring back the draft. He says minorities and the poor carry too much of a burden in the all-volunteer military. And he will introduce a draft reinstatement bill some time next year.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I think, at a time where national security is so important, having a young people commit themselves to a couple of years in service to this great republic, whether it's our seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals, and, at the end of that, to provide some educational benefits, it's the best thing for our young people and the best thing for our country. I will be introducing that bill as soon as we start the new session.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The good news for America is that enlistment and retention among those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan is sky-high. The people in the military have a sense of purpose of why they're there. We just need to get more people to join, better benefits, better pay. I think we can do this with an all-voluntary service, all-voluntary Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy.


GRAHAM: And, if we can't, then we will look for some other option.


PHILLIPS: Well, there hasn't been a draft since 1973. And Democratic higher-ups say that there won't be one now either. They say there are no plans to take up the issue in the 110th Congress.

And you can hear more from Representative Charles Rangel later today in "THE SIT ROOM." He is going to join Wolf Blitzer live, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

A new take on Iraq from an old hand at the politics of war -- former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says, a U.S. military victory in Iraq is no longer possible, at least under the conditions the Bush administration wants.

In an interview with the BBC, Kissinger says, "If you mean by clear military victory an Iraqi government that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible."

Kissinger also says withdrawing troops now would be a disaster. He says the U.S., its allies and Iraq's neighbors need to come up with a common agreement, what Kissinger calls a legitimate outcome for the war.

Kissinger has played a major role in U.S. foreign policy for almost half-a-century. Here is a look at the man and his often controversial past.


PHILLIPS (voice-over): Born in Germany. Educated at Harvard. Former secretary of state. One of the most powerful men in American foreign policy since the end of the World War II and one of the most widely vilified. That's Henry Alfred Kissinger in a nutshell.

A mere glance of hot spots around the world from the Cold War, South America, Vietnam, China the Middle East and Iraq, and you'll find Kissinger's footprints. Kissinger was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1973 with then North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho for their roles in bringing about the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. However, Le Duc Tho refused the prize because he said his country was not yet at peace.

Kissinger paved the way for President Nixon's historic visit to china in 1972 by holding secret talks in Beijing the year before. A year later, Kissinger negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur war among Israel, Syria and Egypt. Numerous critics have denounced Kissinger's brand of balance of power diplomacy and some called for him to stand trial for war crimes.

Among other events they point to Kissinger's role in the U.S. secret bombing of Cambodia and his alleged involvement in the overthrow of Chile's Socialist president Salvador Allende. Kissinger has denied all allegations brought against him. He left politics in the mid '70s and formed a powerful and successful international consulting firm.


PHILLIPS: Well, the place is Indonesia but topic was Iraq. President Bush wrapped up his Asian tour today with a stop in suburban Jakarta. He met with his Indonesian counterpart, a key ally on the war on terror. At a joint news conference, Mr. Bush was asked about U.S. troop levels in Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I haven't made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases and won't until I hear from a variety of sources, including our own United States military. As you know, General Pace, who is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is in the process of evaluating a lot of suggestions from the field and from people involved with central command, as well as at the Pentagon, and they will be bringing forth these suggestions and recommendations to me here as quickly as possible.


PHILLIPS: There have been protests every day this month against President Bush's visit. Today was no exception. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country and many there see the war in Iraq a direct attack to their faith.

Straight to the NEWSROOM with Betty Nguyen working details on a developing story -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes, this story has caused a lot of controversy in fact. O.J. Simpson's new book, "If I Did It." Well, Fox was going to be airing a segment, in fact, I think it was a two-parter, interviewing him. Well it appears, this according to the Associated Press, Fox News is reporting that the publication of an O.J. Simpson book and a two-part TV special in which Simpson discusses the murder of his ex- wife Nicole and Ron Goldman have been canceled. There' been a lot of talk that the Fox affiliates banning together and protesting and saying they will not air this on their air. We have learned now, according to the Associated Press that Fox News says it has decided to cancel it altogether. A lot of uproar about this. We've seen a lot of debate regarding the fact that he has written this book, that he would even do such a thing and then have a TV special after that. Now it appears that that won't even see the light of day, at least not on television, not on Fox News, and that is the latest coming out of the Associated Press -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Thanks, Betty.

Well, they keep calling him the Democratic Party's rock star but is Barack Obama ready to take lead vocals on Iraq? Our Don Lemon is in Chicago to interview him live coming up next.


PHILLIPS: Betty Nguyen, we've been talking so much about this book that O.J. Simpson has put together. A lot of outrage, a lot of e-mails saying how could he write what is basically a confession. It already went to the best sellers list and now we hearing Fox isn't going to run the interview pumping the book.

NGUYEN: Well that is the word that we've received from Fox News. this coming to us by way of the Associated Press. Fox News is reporting this two-part series that would have gone in conjunction with the book, "If I Did It" is what the book is called, that it would discuss the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and then Ron Goldman as well. Well, that two-part series is not going to be aired after all according to Fox News.

As you mentioned Kyra, there was an uproar not only about the book but about this two-part series, and a lot of Fox affiliates said they simply did not want to air, that they were embarrassed about the whole thing and felt that it was in bad taste. Again, Fox News today saying, you know what -- after looking at it all, we have decided to cancel the airing of that new confessional after all. I say confessional -- not really. The book is called "If I Did It." Not saying that he confessed to anything, but had he done it, this may have been how he would of done it. Also very interesting, also very controversial. Now it doesn't seem like the two-part series is going to see the light of day, it's not going to be aired on Fox News after all.

PHILLIPS: Even his publisher came forward and said, look, this is his confession and you had GMs and presidents of broadcasting companies saying we're not going to air this interview. They boycotted it as well.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. It's caused such a huge uproar. Not only Fox affiliates, but reporters, correspondents working for Fox affiliates said they were completely embarrassed by all this. And they were talking to alot of their heads within their companies saying can you please do something about it? Well, it seems like those at the top of the food chain of Fox News have heard it very loud and clear and will not air this after all.

PHIILIPS: We're going to air a live interview with Senator Barack Obama. Don Lemon live at Chicago -- there you go, we going to switch it over to him -- hey Don.

LEMON: Hey Kyra, how are you doing today. Senator Barack Obama joining us today, giving a speech today on foreign policy. Senator, some people -- thanks for joining us, by the way.


LEMON: Some folks say, this is your way of sort of bolstering your resume on foreign policy and trying to seem strong. How do you respond to that?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I gave a similar speech last year in the exact same venue. And I've been giving speeches on foreign policy since I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So, I think the timing has more to do with the fact that it's been almost precisely a year since I last called for us to change direction in Iraq. After the election I think it's clear that the American people believe that we need to change course in a significant way.

LEMON; You talked about, in your speech, you said that without -- this is a quote. Without a coherent strategy or better cooperation from the Iraqi people, we will only be putting more of our soldiers in the crossfire of a civil war. You're calling it a civil war. Do you believe that?

OBAMA: I think this is a low grade civil war, in addition to an insurgency, in addition to terrorists actively involved in what's taking place in Iraq.

You know, what we have is a toxic brew in Iraq, and what my speech specifically says is that without a fazed redeployment where we are sending a strong signal to the Iraqi government that they have to take some responsibility for arriving at a political solution to what's taking place there, that we are not going to see any significant progress and we will continue to have our young men and women in a line of fire without any demonstrable steps being taken to stabilize the situation.

LEMON: You also talked about in your speech specific timelines for what we call redeployment, which essentially means withdrawal, getting out of Iraq. It seems exactly the opposite of what the White House says and I'm not sure it's possibly in contrast to what General John Abizaid spoke about last year.

OBAMA: Actually, General Abizaid, it's interesting you brought him up. Last week he said it's going to take four to six months to stabilize Baghdad.

And what I suggest is in four to six months having stabilized Baghdad, that it's time for us to start a phased redeployment. So what I don't do in the speech is say there's any dates certain in which we have to be out. What I suggest is that we need to send a strong signal to the Iraqi government that the time for coddling is over, excuses aren't going to cut it, that Shia and Sunni and Kurd have to make a determination that they are in fact going to govern their country. If they do not arrive at that political settlement, we cannot force any kind of security militarily on the Iraqi people.

LEMON: And John Abizaid speaking, testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. Let's take a listen to what he had to say and I want to see what you think about it on the other side.


GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR, CENTRAL COMMAND: Do we need more troops? And my answer is yes we need more troops that are effective that are Iraqi.

QUESTION: Do we need more American troops at the moment to quell the violence?

ABIZAID: No, I don't believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.

QUESTION: Do we need less American troops?

ABIZAID: I believe that the troop levels need to stay where they are.


LEMON: Do you believe that? Because some people are saying this could lead to a possible chaos in Iraq and what if it does lead to chaos? Does that still hold true?

OBAMA: Well, I mean, I think there are a couple of premises that are important. There is chaos in Iraq right now, right? There were 33 people who were killed in explosions yesterday.

Every day, we're seeing reports of death and carnage taking place. So we should be under no illusions. There is chaos in Iraq at the moment. The question is what is most likely to lead to a better solution or a worse solution?

Now, I agree with General Abizaid that I think sending more troops in without a better strategy, I think, is simply going to put more of our young men and women in the line of fire. In terms of withdrawal, I think it is important for us to execute a phased redeployment to force the Iraqis to take into account the fact that, for example, they have done nothing, up until this point, to disban the militias in Iraq and they feel no obligation to do so as long as whatever benchmarks the president is putting forward, are basically ignored with impunity and without any consequences.

LEMON: And speaking of our men and women in Iraq, and this is potentially men and women who would go to Iraq, Charlie Rangel yesterday on one of the morning talk shows said at least hinted or made some assertion we should possibly reinstate the draft. Do you agree or disagree? How do you distinguish yourself from that? I mean, he is the head of the House Ways and Means Committee.

OBAMA: Enormous respect for Congressman Rangel. He himself is a veteran and I think that he understandably believes that all of us should be making sacrifices not just a few of us, when it comes to decisions to go to war.

I think that the volunteer army has worked effectively up until the point where we made bad decisions on the part of the civilian government, where we essentially decided to go into Iraq, overstretch our resources, not think through what our plan for the post-war situation would be.

And as a consequence, our military has been way overstretched. My attitude is is that if we have good strategy, then the volunteer military forces that we have in place right now are more than adequate, they are by far the best fighting force in the world.

LEMON: All right, you said adequate. Let's talk about your level of experience. People talk about you. They equate to you John Kennedy. But John Kennedy served years in Congress and the Senate and then was elected president, also served his country. Do you think -- and people compare you to him -- do you think that you have what it takes to be the leader of a free world, of the U.S.?

OBAMA: Look, first of all, other people may make those comparisons, I don't. So I'm flattered by them, but I try not to compare myself to others.

But rather, to make the best judgment in terms of what I can do. You know, the experience that I have as a state senator, as a constitutional law professor and a U.S. senator, I think, gives me a good grasp of the issues that we face as a country.

Whether or not that experience translates into good judgment that would allow me to lead this country, I think is something that that would be tested over time. But I think the important thing is is not experience per se. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had the best resumes in Washington and initiated a fiasco in Iraq. But rather, does someone have the judgment necessary to learn from experience and make good decisions? And that is something that generally I've been able to do in the various work that I've done.

LEMON: Let's just say a year from now, that you do throw your hat into the ring and don't think I'm going to ask you that question soon. But just a year from now, and we potentially have 140,000 to 200,000 men and women with their lives on the line. Do you think that people will go to the polls to vote for you over someone like Joe Biden who has years and years and years of experience on Capitol Hill? Why should they do that?

OBAMA: Well, look. I'm not going to compare myself to others. I know the judgments that I've made that I think were good ones. For example, in 2002, I anticipated that Iraq would be a problem. And almost every problem that we've confronted is one that I anticipated in that speech.

Now, maybe I benefited from the lack of a Senate intelligence briefing, or not having served in Washington long enough, but I seem to have gotten it right. And that, I think, ultimately, is what the American people are looking for. But, keep in mind, at the moment, I'm not auditioning for the job.

LEMON: Right.

OBAMA: What I'm undergoing is a process to look at how I can be best -- most useful to the American people, given the enormous privilege that I have, not only to serve in the Senate, but to have enhanced platform to speak on the issues of the day.

LEMON: And I happened to see your wife recently. I ran into her and I asked her. I said, jokingly, are you ready to be first lady? And she said, no comment and she laughed.

OBAMA: Right.

LEMON: But she's a very strong force in your life.

OBAMA: She is.

LEMON: I'm sure you remember a few years ago that Alma Powell came out and said I do not want my husband to run for president because she was afraid that he might get killed.

How much of a role does Michelle have in your decision?

OBAMA: Well, Michelle is my life partner, she's my best friend, my closest adviser. She also benefits from not being wildly ambitious on my behalf. You know, she's more concerned about whether I'm a good father and a good husband than she is whatever political title I might have, which keeps me grounded and I think is a check on whatever ego or vanity might drive me into a decision.

But she is somebody who I think is proud of my service and has historically been supportive of whatever I do as long as I'm taking out the garbage and reading to the kids at night.

LEMON: I think I know your answer to this, because we've spoken about it before. Do you think that at this point, in our country, this point in time, that a person of color stands a chance to be the president of the United States?

OBAMA: Absolutely. I think the American people, at their core, are a decent people. I think that we still have prejudice in our midst but I think that the vast majority of Americans are willing to judge people on the basis of, you know, their ideas and their character. And in the case of the presidency, I think what is most important is whether the American people think that you understand their hopes and dreams and struggles and whether they think that you can actually help them achieve those hopes and dreams.

LEMON: Why should someone vote for you, though, over someone like a Hillary Clinton who already has a machine in place, her staff is in place, and her husband was the president and she, you know, has more experience than you and was also the first lady and has some knowledge about what happens with politics?

OBAMA: Don, you know, that would be a decision that the American people would make at the point where I made a determination that I was a candidate.

LEMON: Now let's talk about that, a determination about being a candidate. You have said that you are going to announce sometime whether or not you're going to run, think it over and talk about it with your family over the holidays. The clock is ticking. You know, I'm not in an enormous rush. I think these are decisions that you try to make sure that you have all of the information you need and that you know what's in your gut and what's in your heart.

LEMON: If you did, how soon might you decide? And when might you make a decision?

OBAMA: You know, I don't have a particular timetable. The fact is that I'm also spending a lot of time thinking about what I can get done in this upcoming Congress, where I'm in the majority for the first time. So the -- you know, external circumstances and the campaign calendar impose a certain limit on how long it would take for me to make a decision. But, at some point, I'll make it. And I promise when I do, that I'll talk to CNN about it.

LEMON: Yes, I know you said you're going to give it to another person we know in town first, but I'd like to at be -- at least be second, if do you that.

You have to raise a lot of money between now and then, if you do decide. So I would imagine that decision is going to come very soon?

OBAMA: Absolutely.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you for joining us.

OBAMA: Great to see you, Don.

LEMON: Thank you.

OBAMA: Thank you.

LEMON: Senator Barack Obama, you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: Reaction coming from the Laugh Factory. Betty Nguyen's been watching it. Paul Rodriguez, up there talking about last night and Michael Richards' comments.

NGUYEN: Well, he's not talking about Michael Richards' comments. As you know, Kramer from the show "Seinfeld", he was at the Laugh Factory last night doing his routine. And someone in the audience may have been heckling him. And then he just launched into racial slurs, throwing the N word out there, doing just a tirade that went on for minutes.

It caught those in the audience really off guard. Many of them actually got up and left. Really no word from Richards as to exactly why he said what he said, and not even an apology at this point.

Let's get some sound right now from comedian Paul Rodriguez, who is responding to exactly what happened at the Laugh Factory.


PAUL RODRIGUEZ, COMEDIAN: I was in the back watching this. He has always done cutting-edge stuff, so I kept expecting a punchline to merit the words in front of it. It didn't come. There was a silence, and the African-Americans in the audience were rightly offended.

If you're going to use the word "nigger" on this stage, there should be a reason for it. There was no reason. There was no explanation. It wasn't to educate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what he is and that what he's about. There was a reason. There was a reason.

RODRIGUEZ: I appreciate that. I appreciate that. Now let me just finish my thing and then if they want to, they can focus on you, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, don't focus on me, focus on the issues.

RODRIGUEZ: OK. All right, fine.

I am saying that Mr. Richards will no longer be accepted at this establishment because we do not back these ugly, hateful words. It is sad that him being of the Jewish faith, so closely on the heels of the Mel Gibson incident, the audience came here expecting to see Kramer and they got Mark Furman.



NGUYEN: I have to tell you, that news conference there, which is still going on, got quite heated with that gentleman in the audience speaking with comedian Paul Rodriguez, talking about what was said at the Laugh Factory by Michael Richards, as many people know, is Kramer.

And a lot of it focused on the words being used, the N word in particular. And while comedian Paul Rodriguez says, you know, he is making no apologies on behalf of Michael Richards, he has no excuse for what he said. He did say that as a whole, society, especially in rap music, does throw out that word, so everybody needs to be very careful with what they say.

And just very quickly, let me tell you that we are still waiting to hear from Michael Richards. So far, no official apology has been made, and, as for Jerry Seinfeld, who shared the show with him, Kramer was on "Seinfeld". Well, Seinfeld just says he is just sick over this whole thing. And obviously, we'll wait to see if is there's going to be an apology -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Betty. Thanks.

The closing bell and a wrap of the action on Wall Street straight ahead.


PHILLIPS: Megamerger Monday. There we go, I said it. Didn't twist the tongue.



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