Return to Transcripts main page


Two Wars: Challenges of Iraq & Afghanistan; Banks Expected to Foreclose on More Than 2 Million Homes in Next Year and a Half; Buyer Beware

Aired November 24, 2007 - 18:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Tonight, anxious parents this holiday season are trying to find toys that are safe for their children. Millions of toys made in communist China have been recalled this year, and reassurances by toy companies ring hollow.
We'll have a special report.

Also, we'll have the latest on the battle to win a reprieve for two former border patrol agents who are serving harsh prison sentences. Presidential candidate Congressman Duncan Hunter will join us.

And the Supreme Court says it will review Americans' constitutional right to bear arms for the first time in nearly 70 years. We'll hear from the National Rifle Association and the lead attorney in the case.

All that and much more straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS THIS WEEK, news debate and opinion.

Here now, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Good evening, everybody.

2007 has been the deadliest years for our forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the two wars are heading in different directions. The military is seeing positive signs in Iraq, but concerns are mounting over a worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Jamie McIntyre has our report.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No one is declaring victory. In fact, U.S. commanders are warning against excessive enthusiasm. But for the first time in a long time, there are some real positive trends in Iraq that have lasted more than just a few months. Baghdad, in particular, has benefited from the U.S. troop surge, and U.S. commanders say they can feel the difference.

COL. JEFFREY BANNISTER, BAGHDAD COMMANDER: We continue to see this progression toward normalcy -- markets flourishing; kids in playgrounds and walking to school without parents; amusement park; extended night life; weddings, the reopening of Sunni mosques; increase in electricity; traffic; trash; the participation in local government meetings; et cetera.

MCINTYRE (on camera): So to what extent are the positive trends we're seeing a result of the surge, or is it serendipity?

STEPHEN BIDDLE, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, the surge helped. I mean, it certainly established conditions that made this more likely. But I think an awful lot of this amounts to a combination of good luck and mistakes by our opponents.

MCINTYRE: Steven Biddle is just back from Iraq. He has in the past provided some informal advice to U.S. commanders.

(on camera): What are the chances that by this time next year we'll have something resembling success in Iraq?

BIDDLE: I would have estimated a year ago that the chance of getting a cease-fire and then being able to police it would have been maybe one in 10, extreme long shot. I think the odds are probably still better that it will fail than that it will succeed, but radically better than they would have been 10 months ago.

MCINTYRE (voice over): In Afghanistan, it's a different story. Like Iraq, it's been the deadliest year for troops serving there, but unlike Iraq, the trends in Afghanistan are not positive.

As of last month, the number of bomb attacks, including roadside, car and suicide, was up 11 percent. More than 1,900, compared to just over 1,700 all of last year. In 2005, there were only 782 such attacks.

According to a recent report from the nonpartisan Center for American Progress, the U.S. and its NATO allies need to redouble their efforts.

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Prospects of success are getting less each year. We still have about a 50 percent chance of winning because unlike Iraq, the American people support it.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The U.S. also has 37 other countries involved in Afghanistan. The problem now is to get reluctant NATO allies to come through with the troops and equipment they promised. In Iraq, the challenge will be to hold on to fragile gains while carrying out the troop cuts so many in Congress and the American public are demanding.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: And back to the challenges in this country, America's mayors will meet Tuesday in Detroit to battle the growing mortgage crisis. The U.S. Conference of Mayors Forum is expected to come up with local strategies to help hundreds of thousands of homeowners who can't come up with rising mortgage rates. Nationwide, banks are expected to foreclose on more than two million homes in the next year and a half.

As Kitty Pilgrim reports, those homeowners should not expect much help from the federal government.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Millions of Americans duped into signing on the dotted line when they should have been running for the door. Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, backing a bill to protect consumers from mortgage abuses.

Lawmakers are walking a tight rope of competing interests of both lenders and consumers. Mortgage industry groups have raised strong objections to the new rules, saying the rules will make homes out of reach for many Americans. Yet some consumer groups say protections have been watered down.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It will be a bill which I must say will probably leave all parties and interest a little bit unhappy. I'm not pleased with that, but I think given the competing interest here, that is the best that we can do.

PILGRIM: One of the main abuses that exists today is a fee structure that lets brokers take premiums from banks and mortgage companies for pushing consumers into higher interest rate loans.

JOHN TAYLOR, NATIONAL CMNTY. REINVESTMENT COALITION: It shouldn't be legal. It's a way of giving kickbacks to people to convince, you know, unsuspecting borrowers to pay more for their House through the mortgage process.

PILGRIM: The bill is seen as a key first consumer protection effort in an epidemic of mortgage defaults that is expected to leave millions of middle class Americans without homes in the coming year.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: With this bill, we take the first step towards reforms for the future. The bill would establish minimum standards for home loans and expand certain limits on high- cost mortgages. It also would prohibit brokers to from steering consumers to mortgages they are unlikely to be able to repay.


PILGRIM: A House committee has passed an anti-predatory lending bill that will protect people in the future. But for now, millions are on the brink of losing their homes with little clear relief spelled out for them in Washington -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Kitty. I'm sure this is not the last we've heard of all this.

Thanks so much.

Kitty Pilgrim. These are anxious times for toy retailers and parents. The holiday season accounts for half of toy companies' yearly toy sales, but sales could be much slower than in past years. Parents are outraged and confused over a rash of toy recalls, as they fear for the health and safety of their children.


ROMANS (voice over): Will Americans spend their hard-earned money this season on toys made in China?

ALAN KORN, SAFE KIDS WORLDWIDE: I think they're going to be a little bit more cautious in the toy aisle.

ROMANS: Alan Korn is a safety expert who found five recalled toys in his own home.

KORN: When you have iconic brands like Barbie and Elmo and Dora the Explorer, now you're hitting home.

ROMANS: Tens of millions of Chinese-made children's toys were recalled this year for lead paint, dangerous magnets, or other design flaws. Toy brands assure the public their imported toys are now safe, but a recent poll found 9 out of 10 Americans are aware of the lead- tainted product recalls.

Seventy percent are now checking labels. More than a third vow to buy fewer toys this season. And 30 percent say they will not buy toys made in China.

DON MAYS, CONSUMERS UNION: People have, in fact, lost confidence in the marketplace, and it's very unfortunate, because today you can't even trust some of the major brands of toys out there.

ROMANS: Don Mays says toy brands, manufacturers and regulators have a lot more work to do.

The Consumers Union tested toys still on store shelves and found lead in dishware, jewelry, Elmer's Glue Sticks caps, vinyl backpacks and children's tea sets. Elmer's says tests by independent labs show far less lead than reported by Consumers Union. And this hot toy, heavily promoted just last month as a bestseller for Christmas, contains a chemical that metabolizes to the date rape drug.

Consumers frankly have little choice. At least 80 percent of imported toys are made in China, $22.3 billion of toys sold last year in the U.S. And today importers are ordering even more from China despite the safety crisis.

High-end retailer FAO Schwarz has toys from Germany, Denmark, and around the world, and sorts toys by country of origin on its Web site. But most retailers, like Toys "R" Us, are not setting aside shelf space for domestic toys.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: For those customers staying away from toys made in China, a Toys "R" Us spokeswoman says a shopper can ask a manager for a list of American-made toys there.

Coming up, Congress wants to hold foreign manufacturers accountable for the dangerous toys they send her.

We'll have a report.

New calls for release of two imprisoned former border patrol agents.

We'll have a report and Congressman Duncan Hunter will join us.

And one American company giving a helping hand to our veterans.

We'll have that story.

Stay with us.


ROMANS: Millions of product recalls are prompting Congress to take action to protect the American consumer from dangerous imports.

As Lisa Sylvester reports, the House Judiciary Committee finally held a hearing on how to make foreign manufacturers accountable for producing hazardous products.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Thirteen million toys made overseas have been recalled in the past two months. The bulk of them made in China, like the Aqua Dots toys. When ingested, its glue acts like a drug similar to the date rape drug that renders people incapacitated. House lawmakers want to hold these foreign manufacturers accountable.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), CALIFORNIA: And when you take a look at parents all over the country thinking about what -- with Christmas coming up, whether they're going to injure their children by their Christmas gifts, it's just a horrendous situation.

SYLVESTER: Foreign companies that make dangerous toys often get off scot-free. That's because it's hard for consumers to sue them when something goes wrong. Legal barriers include establishing domestic jurisdiction over a foreign factory, providing notification of a lawsuit, and collecting and enforcing a court's judgment.

PAMELA GILBERT, FMR. EXEC. DIR., CPSC: Accountability is the key to making sure that we provide in this country the right incentives for manufacturers and other companies in the stream of commerce to make and sell safer products.

SYLVESTER: Foreign factories that skirt U.S. safety regulations hurt not only consumers but also American companies that want to play by the rules.

VICTOR SCHWARTZ, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: So if a company is able to come into the United States and not be subject to liability, it has an advantage of price that is simply unfair competition.

SYLVESTER: The reform group the American Association for Justice established by trial lawyers has proposed closing the accountability gap by requiring foreign companies have an import license with a U.S. point of contact for any potential lawsuits. Foreign manufacturers would have to consent to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and would have to maintain U.S. product liability insurance, all as a condition for selling products in the United States.

(on camera): Right now that's just a proposal, not the law. Foreign factories can sell their toys without being screened when they come through the ports. Most are not being tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They end up in homes and in kids' play rooms, and when something goes wrong, it's very difficult for parents to hold the manufacturers accountable.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: So, are toys safe to buy? Kitty Pilgrim talked to three consumer experts about that vital concern to parents. First she asked Ed Mierzwinski with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group if parents should assume that the toys on store shelves are safe.


ED MIERZWINSKI, U.S. PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP: Absolutely not. Parents should never assume that toys are necessarily safe. Manufacturers are required to meet the terms of the safety laws, but no government agency tests toys before they're put on the shelves and guarantees that the manufacturers met the letter of the law. And, as we've seen with the millions of recalls this year, they don't always comply with the law.

PILGRIM: Shouldn't the government be doing more? I mean, we've seen Nancy Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, saying they just simply cannot keep up with the testing. But shouldn't the government be doing more? Shouldn't there be a better system in place?

MIERZWINSKI: Absolutely, the government should be doing more. The government needs more money, it needs more resources to hold companies accountable when they break the law, but ultimately it needs to punish companies that don't do a good job. But I think the companies have failed us.

They've stretched their supply chains all the way to China, and the safety links have broken. The government is afraid to go after the companies. Actually, to say it another way, these companies are not afraid of the government, but they should be.

PILGRIM: Lori, what do you think about government oversight?

LORI WALLACH, PUBLIC CITIZEN GLOBAL TRADE WATCH: We've set up a situation with our trade agreements where we promote the relocation of the production of the toys our kids are going to play with overseas to venues where there's no safety oversight, and then we don't inspect the toys to make sure they are safe when they come back. It's the government's fault in both instances, and it requires changes to our trade policy and changes to our inspection policy, both for domestic and overseas-made toys.

PILGRIM: Let me get to a couple of consumer tips. And Urvashi, I want to turn to you for that.

Let's take a look at some of the suggestions that your organization -- you're a senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumer Reports. And let's take a look at some of these tips.

Test toys for lead. Watch out for magnets. Avoid dollar stores, which is very interesting. Don't buy metal jewelry. And stay informed.

URVASHI RANGAN, CONSUMER REPORTS: Yes, I think a lot of people may avoid dollar stores and no-name brands all together. A lot of people may also look for those very small pieces in toys, especially if you have small children, toddlers who tend to mouth a lot of the toys. That's something that a lot of parents are already vigilant about.

But what parents may not know is that you can actually test these toys at home. If you've got painted plastic toys, if you have painted metal toys, there are kits on the market that are reliable and that you can use to test for lead at home.

PILGRIM: The fact that a toy is on a store shelf, does that mean it's safe, or it does not mean it's safe? Can you make a decision as you walk into a store now, as a consumer?

RANGAN: It's really difficult to make that decision actually. There's a couple of lines of defense. First of all, plastic toys that are imported, that are painted, you may want to avoid them, because we don't know whether there's lead on them or not, and we're finding more and more of those toys do contain lead.

PILGRIM: That sounds like pretty much every toy that's on the store shelves.

Lori, some thoughts on this, about the consumer and how they can do something about this?

WALLACH: Well, actually, until we change our trade agreements and change our laws, consumers need to look at the labels. And that wouldn't be a bad idea afterwards.

If it's made in the U.S., the probability that at least because the company would be held liable if they hurt your kid, that they'll be following the rules is higher than -- than goods are made overseas where you can't sue the company so easily. That said, the trick, basically, is go online, Google for "nontoxic American made."

You're going to get a whole string of toys popping up. Some of them you can get online. Some will be a list of toys that you can get in your local toy stores because a lot of producers in the U.S. and some European and other producers have realized that parents really want safe, nontoxic toys, and they're actually doing the production and testing in-house. You can find different samples of toys that way.

PILGRIM: We've seen the market shift that quickly.

Ed Mierzwinski, Urvashi Rangan and Lori Wallach, thank you all for being here.

RANGAN: Thank you.

WALLACH: Thank you.



ROMANS: And we should point out the representatives for the toy industry continue to say that the vast majority of toys on store shelves today are safe.

Coming up, pressure grows for pardoning two border patrol agents. Their allies emboldened by the arrest of the illegal alien who helped put them behind bars.

The Supreme Court takes up the right to bear arms for the first time in 70 years. Lou talks to key players on both sides of this explosive debate.

And a helping hand for our veterans one pizza at a time, that's ahead.


ROMANS: The pressure is growing on President Bush to pardon imprisoned former border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. The two men have served nearly a year in solitary confinement as part of a lengthy prison term for shooting an illegal alien drug smuggler who was given immunity to testify against them.

As Bill Tucker reports, the drug smuggler's recent arrest on federal drug charges is revitalizing the push to free the two border patrol agents.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Members of Congress are renewing their efforts to free jailed border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. This comes after last week's arrest of admitted drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, an illegal alien charged with conspiring to possess and distribute marijuana in September and October of 2005, four months before he testified against the agents under a grant of immunity.

Congressman and Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter personally delivered his letter to President Bush saying, "Mr. President, if ever a case merited a presidential pardon, this is the one. The government asserted that Aldrete was giving honest testimony, even when the U.S. knew he was back in the drug-running business. Thanksgiving is only a few days away. It would be the perfect time to return Compean and Ramos to their families."

The jury that convicted the agents was never told of Davila's arrest or history as a known drug smuggler. North Carolina Republican Congressman Walter Jones this week wrote to Attorney General Mukasey requesting a full review of the case in light of Davila's arrest.

He says, "If the recent indictment allegations against Aldrete are proven accurate, it is reasonable to presume that aspects of his testimony may have been knowingly false and perjured." He goes on to say, "Because a conviction based on perjured testimony violates fundamental notions of due process, a perjury charge against Aldrete would clearly indicate that the agents deserve a new trial."

(on camera): Davila and his attorneys waived off their original arraignment date of this past Wednesday. A new date has been set for Thursday, the 29th, in El Paso.

Bill Tucker, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: Republican presidential candidate Congressman Duncan Hunter is leading the fight to have Ramos and Compean released from prison and their records cleared. The letter he wrote to President Bush asked for a pardon for the two men.

Earlier, Kitty Pilgrim asked the congressman if he thinks a pardon is a possibility.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would hope it is. I talked to Josh Bolten, the president's chief of staff, after I sent the letter over. He assured me he would show it to the president. And also, I sent the Drug Enforcement Agency report that they did in October 2005 that connected this guy to the second load.

So the point was the U.S. attorney had that in his hands even as he was telling the jury that this guy was believable. And you know, that's the heart of the justice system, being able to confront your accusers and ask them and cross-examine them about their credibility. And certainly a second felony being committed just before the testimony certainly goes to his credibility.

I think those juries -- or that jury, if it had had that information, would have taken precisely 20 seconds to find Compean and Ramos not guilty.

PILGRIM: Absolutely.

Let's just read what -- U.S. attorney of the western Texas district, Johnny Sutton, made a statement. And the statement is, "Just as Aldrete's alleged illegal conduct did not excuse the crimes committed by Compean and Ramos, likewise their crimes will not be excused by his. Compean and Ramos had their day in court and received justice in accordance with well-established laws. And now Aldrete will have his day in court and my office will work tirelessly to ensure that justice is done."

The fact that he says that he'll work to do justice now doesn't really...

HUNTER: Well, yes. Kitty, he left out one important part. He knew that this drug dealer had just committed a second felony just before he put the drug dealer on the stand and asserted to the jury that the drug dealer's testimony was believable, that this guy was credible, this guy was honest. And the guy had just committed a second felony.

And you know, when you're given immunity by the U.S. attorney after you've committed a felony, you have to promise to the U.S. attorney you will never run drugs again. So he held his hand up and said, absolutely, you've got my word on it. I'll never run drugs again. And he said, incidentally, I'll also testify truthfully that Compean and Ramos shot me when I was unarmed.

Now, it turns out that he lied about the first part of that pledge, which was that he would never run drugs again. And Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney, incredibly did not convey that to the jury.

They didn't give the defense attorney the chance to talk about that in front of the jury. And, you know, if he would have said, OK, we want to run that to ground, let's say we want to investigate the drug dealer for the second run, they should have put off the trial of Compean and Ramos. Instead, he ramrodded that trial through, got the conviction, sent them to prison, and now he says now I think I'll look at this guy again.

PILGRIM: That's unbelievable. You know, also, the timing of Davila's arrest, it's three weeks before the Ramos and Compean appellate court hearing.

Do you see any significance in this timing?

HUNTER: Well, the timing -- I do see significance in the fact that they had him dead to rights the second time back in October of 2005. And he was -- and the same -- the guy who ran the drugs and was identified as having delivered this second massive load then walked into the courtroom, obviously in the custody of the U.S. attorney, and testified against the border patrol agents.

They had him then and they had this evidence which was very conclusive, in my estimation -- I read the report -- linking him to this second massive load of drugs. So they had him.

Why did they wait for two years to now say, OK, we're going to take a second look at the drug dealer?

PILGRIM: Right. Well, we applaud your efforts in this case. We very much appreciate it.


ROMANS: Coming up, major issues ahead in Wednesday's Republican YouTube debate. The roundtable stops by and weighs in.

Lou talks to both players on both sides of a potentially explosive battle at the Supreme Court. It could have huge implications for next year's elections.

And lending a helping hand to American's veterans, coming up.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. Supreme Court has set the stage for a potentially monumental historic legal and political showdown. Supreme Court justices have agreed to hear arguments next spring on the District of Columbia's sweeping ban against handgun ownership. They're expected to decide whether that ban violates the constitution's second amendment, the fundamental right to keep and bear arms. Two guests told Lou how this controversy is inciting passions on all sides.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: I'll be talking with the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association about this controversial case. But first, let's turn to Allan Gura who is the lead attorney for the District of Columbia resident who challenged this law because he wants to keep handguns in his home for self-defense. Good to have you with us.


DOBBS: Are you surprised that the high court took up this case?

GURA: No, we're not surprised. This is an historic opportunity for the court to finally resolve a question that has really been bugging people throughout United States for many years. Does the second amendment mean what it says? Does it secure an individual right of people to defend themselves and their families in their own homes with ordinary functional firearms? We are very pleased that the Supreme Court is taking this opportunity to answer the question and we're fairly encouraged and look forward to the decision.

DOBBS: You have said that you don't understand why the District of Columbia is fighting this because it's not only Constitutional, it's been highly ineffective in diminishing crime in the nation's capital. Why is the district fighting so hard in this case?

GURA: It's almost an article of faith with district government. But you really do have to believe in it because the facts are absolutely outrageous. D.C. is the nation's murder capital. It almost always leads the United States in murder and violent crime. Disarming the entire law-abiding population of the city is not really a way to control crime. It certainly not a reasonable way to regulate guns. You were leaving honest citizens, people who are law-abiding, (INAUDIBLE) defenseless.

DOBBS: We invited the attorney general of the district, the mayor Washington to accept this invitation to join us here. They did not. But D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty did make this statement. "The City Council enacted the handgun ban more than 30 years ago because it would reduce gun violence. It has saved many lives since then and will continue to do so if allowed to remain in force." How do you square that statement upon what you'd just said?

GURA: That statement simply does not reflect the reality of crime in the nation's capital. The crime rates soared, the murder rates and violent crime rates soared after the gun ban went into effect, and it's still not gone down to the pre-ban levels. People are afraid in their homes. People have absolutely no ability to defend themselves and their loved ones against violent crime. The criminals don't care about this law. The criminals have persisted in doing what criminals do, which is to terrorize the community. And people are defenseless. I think the mayor statement is simply detach from reality.

DOBBS: And, obviously, as the advocate for the plaintiff here, you're expected the second amendment will be upheld as prohibiting such bans as the one D.C. put in effect. Give us your best judgment as to why, very question, you think the high court took up this issue right now.

GURA: It's a very important issue, it's one that's unsettled. And it's really time for the Supreme Court to address this matter. People need to know. That's what the court is there for. The court is there to vindicate our individual constitutional rights, and we feel confident that it will take this opportunity to do so. The second amendment clearly guarantees the individual right.

DOBBS: Allan, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

GURA: Thank you.

DOBBS: Turning now to one of the country's prominent advocates of gun rights, if not the most prominent, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the national rifle association. And it's good to have you with us.


DOBBS: Are you gratified that the high court is taking this up or are you somewhat anxious about the fact they're doing so?

LAPIERRE: No, I think this going to be vindication for millions and millions of Americans all over its country that have known in their heart all along this is an individual right, just like they know food calms their hunger, water quenches their thirst, they know where the firearm, they can protect their family and their lives from bad people and they know that it's their freedom, is not the government's.

DOBBS: As you know, this issue is one of the wedge issues certainly in all sorts of campaigns, but certainly will be in the presidential campaign. Do you think that this is going to be prominently placed as one of the top issues for these candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties to pursue?

LAPIERRE: I do, Lou. I think what this does is it centers, front and center, the question of, do you agree with Washington, D.C. when they seek a form of supremacy that makes the government the only way individuals can seek protection. I mean, they denied citizens the opportunity to own any firearm, rifle, shotgun or handgun in their home to protect themselves from the people that would do them harm. And every presidential candidate is now going to have to answer the question. Do you agree with Washington, D.C. or not? Is it an individual right or as D.C.'s says, the government's right?

DOBBS: And the high court will be deciding precisely that issue and likely so by next spring. Thank you very much, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association. Good to have you here.

LAPIERRE: Thanks, Lou.

DOBBS: Again, we invited the mayor of Washington, D.C. to join us. Obviously, the attorney general of the District of Columbia to join us, and they were unable to make it this evening.

ROMANS: Coming up, the roundtable weighs in on the major issues, ahead on Wednesday's Republican CNN YouTube Debate and an American company steps up for our nation's veterans. All that, straight ahead.


ROMANS: The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is tightening. The first test of voter sentiment comes in just six weeks with the Iowa caucuses. The New Hampshire primary is just five days later on January 8th. Joining me now with a look at how the candidates are faring in the polls, three of the best political minds, Diana West with the "Washington Times," Errol Louis columnist for the "New York Daily News" and Robert Zimmerman, Democratic strategist and supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton.

Thank you all for coming. Happy belated thanksgiving. Robert, I want to talk to you first because I want to talk about what's happening in Iowa. And Clinton's strategy in Iowa and how important the caucuses are for her.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST AND SUPPORTER OF SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Well, you know, it's interesting. For those viewers of Lou Dobbs Political Roundtable, they shouldn't be surprised by the fact that this is a close race, because we've been saying that for eight months. In fact, when Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy, Governor Tom Vilsack, the former governor who chair in Iowa said she was in distant third place and the fact that she has not move in to statistical tie for first and her support is staying solid at 26 percent, indicates this is going to be a real race between the three candidates.

And don't forget something very unique about Iowa's caucus process that if you're a candidate and the caucus does not get 15 percent, you can vote again so it's very hard to poll but clearly it's going to be an important race because Hillary Clinton's opponent is not John Edwards, it's not Barack Obama, it's media expectations.

ROMANS: That's a very point. I want to look at the latest poll as well for this because, you know, four years ago, John Edwards came in a very close second for this in Iowa. Now, this is how it's -- there it is. Obama, 30 percent, Clinton, 26 percent, Edwards 22 percent, Richardson, 11 percent. This is an ABS News/Washington Post Poll.

We hear so much about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the lead, where it's going, and who's giving up ground or who's gaining ground, but Edwards, there is buzz about Edwards in Iowa and there was four years ago as well and from what I'm hearing on the ground, I was born and raised in Iowa, so lots of folks talking about Iowa politics. They're saying there's still buzz there for him.

ERROL LOUIS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: That's no surprise at all. He's the only candidate who has been to all 99 counties. He spent so much time there over the last four years that when things like the state fair came up and other candidates were doing their first or second visit to try and meet the folks, he didn't even bother to go. He went to smaller events because he was so well known there. So, when you see something like Christopher Dodd enrolling his kid in kindergarten in Iowa this fall, trying to sort of, you know, run from behind and act like a favorite candidate or semi-native, Edwards can really lay claim to that status. He ran hard, he ran well four years ago and never left.

DIANA WEST, WASHINGTON TIMES: Diana, you wanna weigh in here on your thoughts for this race? Well, it's gotten fascinating. And this is the interesting part of the race. We really do get a horse race and I guess our hearts are still in our mouths because the nation's future hangs in the balance. But, you know, the Hillary Clinton story is one to watch. It's very interesting to see how she will fare coming out of this. And it will just really be one of those tight races.

ZIMMERMAN: One interesting aspect of this race to watch, since we're looking to polls is to remember, roughly four years ago at this time, Howard Dean was in solid first place. Dick Gephardt was trailing in the very close behind, Kerry was in a distant third and Edwards was in single digits. And when the vote came out of course, Kerry finished first and Edwards finished second. Point being, the negativity of the Dean/Gephardt race was very counter productive and the negativity right now with the Edwards and Barack Obama candidacies and the way they're going out to each other can also be counterproductive to them.

ROMANS: I want to talk about the Republicans. I want to go back to you guys and I want to talk about the Republicans in Iowa and what is happening. I want to look at the Republican ABC News/Washington Post Poll to see whether it's stacking up right now. Romney, 28 percent. Huckabee, 24 percent. Thompson, 15 percent, Giuliani 13, McCain 6. Huckabee, number two. What do you make of that?

WEST: Well, I think you're seeing is the social conservatives making their feelings known. It's interesting to see we still have Romney ahead where he's put in so much work in that state, but you're seeing Giuliani fading a bit and Thompson never getting any traction.

ROMANS: All right, we're going to take a quick break here. I want to talk a little bit more about the Republicans. I want to talk a little bit more about Iowa. Lots of others, including gun control and the debate in the Supreme Court and Ramos and Compean potential pardon, may be not. We're going to use all of these things when we come back with this week's panel discussion. Stay with us.


ROMANS: Joining me once again, three of the best political analysts in the business. Diana West with the "Washington Times," Errol Louis columnist with the "New York Daily News", and Robert Zimmerman, democratic strategist and supporter of Hillary Clinton.

I want to pick up exactly where we left off with the GOP in Iowa and this poll about illegal immigration in Iowa. Is illegal immigration a problem in Iowa? New York Times-CBS News poll, likely Republican caucus goers, 87 percent said serious. 13 percent said not serious. Errol, for the Republicans in Iowa, how important is immigration as an issue?

LOUIS: Well, they'll follow the polls, they'll follow the voter sentiment which is what you suppose to do in an election. If voters think it's a serious issue, no amount of contrary evidence beamed out to them from a place like, say, New York, will change their minds. It reminds me in a way of after 9/11 hearing one farm state senator getting up and talking about how serious the threat to America would be if terrorists were to take over the food supply or harm the food supply.

And you couldn't tell them otherwise that it wasn't as serious as maybe they thought. So, the reality is Republicans are going to run hard on this issue in deference to voter choices. Much the way they'll run hard on issues like ethanol, which are of little concern to the rest of the nation but matter a whole lot in Iowa.

ROMANS: Diana, do the Republicans and the Democrats run completely different way on the immigration issue in Iowa and elsewhere for that matter?

WEST: Well, yes, I mean, I think that's going to be one of the huge wedge issues that will have to play well for Republicans in the general election just because this has proved to be an issue of inordinate importance to American citizens. And we have the former front-runner in Iowa, of course, Hillary Clinton having, you know, had that whole (INAUDIBLE) over not making up her minds on driver's license for illegal aliens, so this is a very important issue.

ROMANS: This is your chance, Robert, to defend that (INAUDIBLE) on the Hillary Clinton.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think she acknowledged that it wasn't her best moment. I'm not her spokesperson, but she answered the question succinctly in the Nevada Debate by saying she was opposed to it. It took her a while to get it but she's there. I think for Barack Obama and John Edwards, I think they should sue their consultants for political for malpractice. Because, when they have to answer the question, they gave a long dissertation.

I'm still not sure where they stand on the issue but I think, to follow up on Diana's point, I don't see the immigration issue, the issue of illegal immigration as a wedge issue. I see this as a very important national issue that both parties have got to address in this campaign.

ROMANS: Which brings me to Ramos and Compean, the two former boarder patrol agents who were tried and convicted for shooting a suspected drug smuggler who was in the country illegally. Now, that person has been indicted now on federal drug smuggling charges. Is this something for the Republicans to seize on, about you know, border security and kind of how crazy this whole thing has become or do Democrats get on this as well? What do you guys think?

LOUIS: If the Democrats are smart, I think they would jump on it as an example of Republican-run Justice Department that really just blew it. Just kind of mop it. I don't think that they're going to do that because I think immigration, illegal immigration is going to be third-rail issue where candidates from both parties are going to stay as far away from any kind of stance...

ZIMMERMAN: But border security is not. And I think, for border and port security, it's got to be the fighting issue. Because, it's the first step before you can put together any sort of proposed comprehensive reform. And I think Democrats have not highlighted that nearly effectively enough. In the same way except for the exception of Senator Dianne Feinstein, you're not seeing nearly the Democrats speak out on the injustice here Compean and Ramos.

ROMANS: Diana, we just have a few seconds left and I want to switch and let you have the only word on the Supreme Court taking a look at the right to bear arms, second amendment right to bear arms for the first time in 70 year says. Is this something that's going to play on the on the campaigns next year?

WEST: Well, I hope so. Because I think it's an extremely important issue. And as a D.C. resident whose home has been broken into, you know, I'm very eager to see whether homeowners and decent law-abiding citizens are going to be given the chance to bear arms.

ROMANS: All right, Diana West, "Washington Times," we'll leave it there. This gentleman won't be able to give us their point. You have tune in for them. OK, Errol Louis, "New York Daily News", Robert Zimmerman, Democratic strategist, thank you, all of you for joining us.

Right after the break, a lesson in giving from an American company coming to the aid of our veterans. That's ahead.


ROMANS: One American business is saying thanks to our military veterans in its own way. Kitty Pilgrim talked to one of those and the president of the company that helped him.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just over a year ago, takeout pizza chain Little Caesars, began offering veterans the opportunity to purchase a franchise at a significant discount. Now, the program was inspired by the story of Army Staff Sergeant Robert Doughty who was seriously wounded in Iraq.

Doughty received a franchise from Little Caesars and he joins me now, and along with Little Caesars president, David Scrivano. And thank you for being here, gentlemen. Robert, tell me, how did you come to be involved? How did you learn about the franchise offer and how did you come to be involved?

ROBERT DOUGHTY, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Well, it was a little strange. I had just gotten back to Paducah. I'd been home for about a month from a recovery at Walter Reid. And I got a weird message from my parents. They said somebody from Little Caesars pizza called. And I grew up with Little Caesars as a kid but I never knew anybody at Little Caesars so it's kind of strange. So, I called them back and I spoke to a representative. And they said the founder, Michael Ilitch, wanted to talk to me. And so they arranged a time for us to talk.

And Mr. Ilitch had read a newspaper article about me while I was recovering at Walter Reid, and he wanted to do something for me, and so he offered me this Little Caesars pizza franchise.

PILGRIM: And so, you've been running it about a year now or so.

DOUGHTY: Right. We open January 23rd of 2007, and it's been great.

PILGRIM: Wonderful. David, tell me a little bit about why this initiative started. It's so very important to the veterans.

DAVID SCRIVANO, LITTLE CAESARS' PRESIDENT: Robby was really the inspiration behind our veterans program. After Robby took his store, Mr. Ilitch and I talked and he wants us to do something more, to thank the veterans and give back to them. So, we created a Little Caesar Veterans Program but we offer significant discounts for veterans who join to become a franchisee, a franchise owner of their own.

PILGRIM: How many takers have you had so far?

SCRIVANO: Well, so far, nearly two dozen have joined already and signed and we over 1300 inquiries. So, we're very excited. The response to the program has been overwhelming.

PILGRIM: Is there too many clustered in one area? Is there a limit? SCRIVANO: Well, Little Caesars is growing across the country. And we're really a strong brand and a well-known chain and we have areas and opportunities throughout the country.

PILGRIM: Robby, take me through a typical day in running your business now.

DOUGHTY: You know, our day is centered around our lunch and dinner rush. So, we normally come in about 8:30, 9:00 in the morning, get the store ready. It's all downhill from there. You know, we're a really fast-paced business with the hot, ready pizza concept. So, our goal is to give somebody a pizza in 30 seconds or less. That's probably the cheese pizza. So, it's really fast paced, a fun environment to work in. I like to go out and work at some of the different pizza stations myself. I try to let my managers manage. I don't go micromanage, but we have fun there.

And I have a partner who served in Iraq with me, Lloyd Allord (ph). So, we work with each other, and I have my brother and brother-in-law work with me, so it's a family affair. And so, I get to work with my family and friends, so it's a good time.

PILGRIM: Great. You were injured in Iraq. You mentioned that you went through rehabilitation. It's a physical business, running a restaurant.

DOUGHTY: Absolutely.

PILGRIM: How are you dealing with that?

DOUGHTY: Well, you know, I know what my own limitations are. And we're fortunate enough to have a small office in the store. So, I can go out and work for awhile. And then, if I need to sit down, then I can sit down for a few minutes.

You know, I'm missing both my legs, one above the knee. And you know, some people might look at that as an obstacle, but in the military, you know, we're used to obstacles, we're used to overcoming them. It's very doable for someone with a traumatic injury like that to take a career like Little Caesars pizza and run with it, have fun with it. You know, have it for life.

PILGRIM: David, you're offering this to a lot of veterans. How do you determine whether they're capable of running a store like that?

SCRIVANO: Well, that consider interested would go to our website at and their connected to the Center for Veterans Enterprises and The CVE helps screen candidates to make sure it's a win/win for both the candidate and Little Caesars. And after they're done going through their screening, they'll come to Little Caesars for an interview to make sure there's a fit.

PILGRIM: Do you think Robby talks about working with other family members. Are you likely to team up some veterans with a partner? SCRIVANO: Absolutely. We recommend veterans teaming up with other veterans. Just like Robby did. Robby and Lloyd, their great partnership, they got their spouses involved. Lloyd's got his kids involved in the business and it's just a great family environment.

PILGRIM: And do you give them some business training as opening a franchise is a serious business, isn't it?

SCRIVANO: Oh, absolutely. Very serious. We want serious people that want to get in. We offer six weeks training before they get into business and then we have ongoing support with real states and findings sites, architecture and training ongoing beyond that.

PILGRIM: Robby, you're about to open another, did you tell me?

DOUGHTY: Right, we're opening our second store in Clarksville, Tennessee here in just a few weeks and I just want to kind of echo what Dave said for a veterans perspective, especially one that is looking at the veteran's program. You know, Little Caesars support has been phenomenal. Their training process, I mean, Lloyd and I really felt fully prepared to open that store and the support doesn't stop there. I mean, I could call up Little Caesars today and if I needed help with something, they'd be glad to help me out.

PILGRIM: We wish you every success. Thanks very much, Robby Doughty and David Scrivano, thank you.

ROMANS: And thank you for joining us. Please join us tomorrow, for all of us here, thanks for watching. Good night from New York. "This Week At War" starts right now with Tom Foreman.