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AMERICAN MORNING

Obama Says Authorities Missed Warning Signs and Red Flags; Suicide Bomber Kills Eight Americans in Afghanistan; U.S. Treasury Bails Out GMAC

Aired December 31, 2009 - 08:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. We're coming up on 8:00 here in New York. A little bit of snow falling as well in Times Square on this New Year's Eve, the last day we're going to say 2009.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. I'm John Roberts, along with Kiran Chetry. Good to see you this morning.

You've got a party that you're going to tonight?

CHETRY: Just a small little...

ROBERTS: Small little...

CHETRY: Taking the kids. I'll probably be asleep by 9:00.

ROBERTS: OK. Fabulous.

Well, here are the stories that we'll be talking about in the next 15 minutes.

The president demanding answers from his intelligence team. He'll get a report of the bomb plot against Flight 253 in just a few hours time. Plus, we're learning just how much the government knew before the worse almost happened in the skies over Detroit. A full update -- just ahead.

CHETRY: Also, intelligence was gathered, warnings were there, but why didn't federal intelligence officials connect the dots before this plot unfolded? We're looking at the system that's in place to keep you safe, how it failed on Christmas Day. We're talking about what we need to do to improve that with our former homeland secretary of security, Michael Chertoff.

ROBERTS: The Taliban is taking credit for a suicide bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan. Eight Americans believed to be CIA, at least some of them, were killed. Six others are wounded. A senior U.S. official is telling CNN the bomber walk into a gymnasium on a U.S. military outpost in the Khost province and detonated his vest.

A Taliban spokesman says the attacker was an officer in the Afghan army. U.S. officials are not confirming that.

Five Canadians were also killed in Kandahar province yesterday, including the first Canadian journalist to die in the conflict.

CHETRY: First, new details this morning about just how much the government knew before Flight 253's terror plot. The NSA had picked intelligence that extremists in Yemen were plotting and that they mentioned someone called, quote, "The Nigerian."

A government official tells CNN that they had a partial name, Umar Farouk, as in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Federal transportation officials are also taking major heat from one pilot's union for not alerting crews in the air on Christmas Day about that failed attack.

Meanwhile, the president, still on vacation in Hawaii, is demanding answers and within hours will be getting a report on the failed attack from his intelligence team.

ROBERTS: And the president is still insisting that our counterterrorism network completely failed this test, things that were supposed to work and information that should have been shared, none of that happened. So, what went wrong?

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Doherty, is working that part of the story. She's live for us this morning in our Washington, D.C. bureau.

Good morning, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Well, let's look at the State Department. The State Department's review for the president of what went wrong has been zeroing in on how the embassy in Nigeria processed information that the suspect's father provided. Was it red flag or was it downplayed? How is that information sent on to Washington? Should it have triggered a review of the suspect's visa status?

There are a lot of questions and lots of problems.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): President Obama says the clues were there, that a fuller, clearer picture of the terror suspects would have emerged if all the bits and pieces would have been shared and put together.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.

DOUGHERTY: But as one official told us, for the most part, it's a passive system, where those bits and pieces are sometimes simply pushed on with no action taken.

A key question: why wasn't the suspect's visa revoked?

The bureaucratic maze begins in Nigeria when six weeks ago, his father warned the U.S. embassy that his son is becoming radicalized and has gone to Yemen. He gives him the son's name, birth date, passport number and that information is sent in a routine, brief, unclassified visas VIPER cable to the National Counter Terrorism Center in Washington.

Here, it's just one of hundreds of reports and often vague tips coming in each day, that analysts from the CIA, FBI, Justice Department and other agencies are supposed to evaluate side by side running them through data basis, and comparing them with other clues each agency already has gathered and those still coming in to make sure even seemingly insignificant dots get connected.

But in this case, with no urgency attached, the father's warning is treated like a missing person's report. Since nothing else alarming comes up, the analysts put the suspect on the so-called TIDE list, along with 550,000 other possible suspicious people. But that's where it stops.

To go on to the next step or to put someone on a no-fly list, or subject them to secondary screening, you need reasonable suspicion of a link to terrorism. And the Counter Terrorism Center rules the evidence against the bombing suspect simply is not there. No recommendation is made to the State Department to revoke his visa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And according to a senior U.S. official, the State Department is considering revising the way it writes those cables. Right now, for example, they are very short, just the immediate facts.

Now, could have a fuller version of the warnings the suspect's father gave them at the embassy have helped to stop him? That's one thing the State Department is looking at -- John.

ROBERTS: Jill Dougherty for us this morning -- Jill, thanks.

And stay with us, because coming up in less than 10 minutes time, we'll be speaking with the country's second secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, to get his opinion on whether the Obama administration is at fault here.

CHETRY: Another developing story out of eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban is taking responsibility for a suicide bomb attack that killed eight Americans believed to be with the CIA. The bomber infiltrating a heavily guarded U.S. military outpost.

Our Atia Abawi is live with the latest in Kabul, Afghanistan.

And we talk about the heavily-guarded nature of this outpost. Any new information on how this could have happened?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly what we're waiting for. We are waiting to hear from officials how the bomber was able to make it on the base, able to make it to the gymnasium where he detonated his vest, killing those eight Americans, most of which is believed to be employees of the CIA. The Taliban claiming responsibility, they say that they actually had an Afghan soldier able to infiltrate the base and able to kill these Americans. And the Taliban in that statement, they say that will have more and more attacks in this nature. They're trying to get these Afghan forces to side with them, and therefore infiltrating ISAF forces, U.S. military forces and, obviously, U.S. civilians as well.

A day before this attack in western Afghanistan, a completely different part of the country, an Afghan soldier also shot and killed another U.S. soldier as well as shooting two Italian soldiers and injuring them as well. This also happened on the day that the Taliban released a 2009 year-end review, as well as an outlook for 2010.

They said 2009 was a very successful year for them when it comes to politics, their military as well as their public relations with the media. And they say, as for 2010, they plan on having major military operations starting in April -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Atia Abawi for us this morning from Kabul -- thanks.

ROBERTS: Other new stories this morning.

Your cell phone is not as secure as you might think it is. A German security expert says he cracked the encryption code that keeps billions of cell phone calls secret. He says he did it to force the cell phone industry to upgrade in their security.

Now, we should point out it was the GSM code that was cracked. The code for the new 3G phones is still intact. But sometimes, those 3G phones do flip back to GSM mode.

CHETRY: Right. That's right. So, a lot of concerns there.

Meanwhile, evangelical pastor and author, Rick Warren, says that his Saddleback Megachurch is suddenly strapped for cash. He's asking parishioners to pass the plate big time. Warren says that the bottom fell out when the year end donations dropped dramatically. He says the church needs to raise nearly $1 million to stay out of the red.

ROBERTS: And the new czar to ensure transparency for shovel ready projects, we're sure that there's an app for that. Actually, those are just four words that Lake Superior State University says have been overused, misused and shouldn't be used anymore. The school makes the list of ban words every year. So, please erase those words from your vocabulary.

CHETRY: There you go, app. OK.

ROBERTS: And shovel ready and czar.

CHETRY: Shovel ready.

All right. All day on CNN, we are celebrating New Year's around the world. And just a few minutes ago, it was Sydney, Australia ringing in the New Year. There are live pictures right now of beautiful fireworks that go off every year over Sydney harbor and the Opera House there. This is the first year, though, that the city is using microchip technology -- how about that -- to set off 25,000 shooting comets. Very cool.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: Happy New Year. By the way, don't miss Anderson Cooper tonight, beginning 11:00 Eastern. He's going to live in Times Square as we ring in the New Year.

ROBERTS: And what's the weather going to be like in Times Square. Right now, there's few snow flurries that are in the air. Was that going to last?

Our Reynolds Wolf is watching the extreme weather for us from the weather center in Atlanta.

Hi, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi there.

Well, snow flurries are definitely going to be in the picture tonight. One to three inches of snow is possible in and around New York City. The temperatures are going to range anywhere from 34 degrees above freezing to right around 30 to 31. So, there's going to be some sticking out there. But it should be pretty to say the least.

Now, the thing is, there are a lot of people that are going to be traveling today trying to get to places like New York, and you may have a few delays there, anywhere from an hour to 30 minutes or so at airports in New York and D.C. Also, trying to get there, you might have some issues living Atlanta and Charlotte. Also in Houston and San Francisco, morning fog and low clouds might hold you up for just a little bit.

Your complete forecast is just moments away. Sit tight and enjoy the last day of the year -- back to you guys.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Reynolds.

WOLF: You bet.

CHETRY: Still ahead, we're going to be talking to former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the missed warning signs, what needs to change, what is falling through the cracks, preventing our intelligence agencies from connecting the dots when it comes to this incident that took place on Christmas.

Ten minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 12 minutes after the hour.

And other stories making news this morning.

President Obama using his veto power for the first time. He has rejected a stop gap spending bill that turned out to be unnecessary. Lawmakers passed the temporarily bill in case a snow storm prevented from approving a final measure, but that didn't happen.

The White House says the veto was just a housekeeping move, taken out of the abundance of caution. President Bush did not use his first veto until a year and a half into his second term.

After 2 1/2 years in captivity, a British computer expert is a free man this morning. Peter Moore was captured by Shiite Muslim insurgents in Iraq back in 2007. Three of his bodyguards were killed and a fourth is also believed to be dead. The BBC reporting Iran's Revolutionary Guard was actually behind that kidnapping and he was taken to a camp inside Iran within a day.

CHETRY: We've more on the attempted bombing of Flight 253. President Obama today is demanding answers after an alleged trail of mixed signals on the Christmas Day plot. So, how did it happen and what could be done to make sure it doesn't happen again?

Joining me now for this morning's "A.M. Breakdown," former homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff.

Secretary Chertoff, good to talk to you this morning.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Good morning.

CHETRY: So, you've had some days now to hear more about the warning signs, more about the questions about what intel was not shared. What is your best assessment about what failed here?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, based on what I heard just a few moments ago from Jill Dougherty, it sounds like the problem was not so much a failure to share as a lack of urgency in tracking down the leads in the information that was available.

Obviously, when you have a father coming in and talking to the embassy about a son was radicalized, and gives the embassy the passport numbers, the first thing you would think is that a very fast effort to see if the person has got a visa and suspend the visa. And I guess you get a little bit of a sense that people took their time, which I think may lie at the core of the problem.

CHETRY: Right. So, we learned that the warning -- the father's warning at the State Department was treated more as a missing persons alert, as Jill Dougherty said. He was not put on the no-fly list. He was not put even on a list for secondary screening.

And so, the question is: nearly nine years after 9/11, why are we still apparently not taking things like this seriously? And what needs to change?

CHERTOFF: Well, I wonder whether we've began to drift into a sense of complacency or a kind of an overload because we have been on alert for such a long period of time. I can tell you, having been through countless examples of these kinds of threat when I was in office, you really have to drive the agencies, to have sense of urgency about tracking all the leads down.

You know, we used to have a rule that basically you did not put your head down on the pillow at the end of the day without getting a resolution of the kinds of questions that were raised here. So, it may require that the president light a fire under all of the agencies to make sure that when these things come in, they get answers and get answers quickly.

CHETRY: I mean, the CIA is taking a little bit of heat for this situation, but, again, with all of the things that come in every day from places like embassies around the world from the State Department, how do you know what you are supposed to sort of give high priority to and what may be just one of the many routine tips and information bits that come in?

CHERTOFF: Well, I am sympathetic to the problem of what we sometimes call intelligence overload. So much information comes in, how do you separate what we call the signal from the rest of the noise? And often it's very difficult to do.

I have to say in this case, when the father who was obviously a prominent Nigerian comes in, and talks to the embassy, that strikes me as a little bit more than the random tip that comes across the transit. So, I that's where I would focus my attention. Why was it written up the way it was? Why didn't someone pursue the question? Why at the minimum didn't they suspend the visa while conducting they were conducting the investigation?

CHETRY: Yes, and the other question is he was denied a visa by, you know, our biggest ally in the war on terror, Britain. That's what I am wondering. I mean, you were in this position, do you share information with the other nations.

I mean would the officials in Britain say, hey, listen, we are not letting this guy fly to us?

CHERTOFF: You put your finger on another problem. We approached the Europeans in the last couple of years and said, look, we want to have access to your database about people who you deny visas to. And many of the countries in Europe were happy to share with us but the European Union objected on what they call privacy grounds.

And, in fact, the European Union often objects to giving us information on the ground that it invades the privacy of either their own citizens or even travelers. So, I think, we are now going to have to go back to the Europeans now and say, look, no kidding, this nearly cost 300 lives, you have got to give us access to those databases.

CHETRY: As you know the 9/11 commission also highly recommended that the Federal Government be the one that oversees the matching of airline passenger names to those on terror lists, not leaving to the hands of airlines, or piece mailing it. And this has not yet fully happened nearly nine years after 9/11.

What is the hold up of finding a way to consolidate and improve these lists?

CHERTOFF: Actually, the good news is it finally got done this year, but the airlines objected for a long period of time on the ground that they did not want to go to the bother and expense of migrating the data from their own databases to the government.

I do think I have to point out in this case the problem was not a failure to match, the problem was the fact that the name was not on the list in the first place, and that goes back to question of whether the intelligence leads were pursued as aggressively as they should have been given the fact the father came in with some pretty precise information.

CHETRY: And just one quick question before go. A lot of heat on the current homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.

People also pointing the finger at National Intelligence Admiral, Dennis Blaire, could somebody in the administration lose their job over this?

CHERTOFF: This does not strike me as an occasion to go and try to go through people's public statements and find a scapegoat. I think what the president has to do is make it very clear in word and deed, that he expect to treat the tracking down of this kind of information as job one. And he is going to expect to get regular reporting on these things so that the fire is lit under the people who are out there collecting the information.

CHETRY: All right. Former Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff. Great to talk to you this morning. Thanks.

CHERTOFF: Good to talk to you.

CHETRY: 18 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: 20 minutes after the hour, and that means it's time for "Minding Your Business". Our Stephanie Elam is here right now with more, you know, we are seeing goodbye to 2009, a lot of people are glad about that when it comes to finances.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oh that's so true. That is very, very true. And just make sure that you remember how much of a volatile year 2009 was, how about a little bit more bailout action just to wrap up the year? Couple more billion, what's that between treasury and taxpayers and big companies.

Well, this time we are talking about GMAC, and they are getting an additional $3.8 billion dollars in their third round of bailout money. They have already received $13.5 billion dollars so the $7.5 billion in May and $6 billion in December of 2008. On top of it, treasury is going to increase their stake in GMAC, they are going to now have a controlling stake of 56 percent that's up from the 36 percent that they already had, on top of the two board members that they already have on GMAC's board, they can now go ahead and pick two more.

Now this latest infusion is actually less than what was announced, the $5.6 billion that was announced because GMAC actually needs less money at this point, that is because the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies were less severe than expected. So that's good news there I guess, although still a lot of money.

The whole point of doing this is because, they want to get GMAC profitable in the first quarter of 2010. They just want to make sure that they keep their home lending unit out of bankruptcy, as well. That's the other huge issue here. GMAC says this money will act as a buffer. And just to give you an idea of what GMAC does, take a look at this, they actually have $178 billion in assets, they have 15 million customers worldwide, auto and mortgage lender, as well as a consumer bank. But they lost $5.3 billion dollars in the first 9 months of 2009, really hurt by soft demand and by the fact that some people were going a little -- having a hard time paying those loans back. And that has really affected them. It just shows you how important the company is in the mind of the treasury.

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

ELAM: Yes.

ROBERTS: Stephanie Elam "Minding Your Business" this morning. Thanks.

ELAM: Sure.

ROBERTS: 9/11's two wars and the country's first African- American president. A look back at the past decade with historians Dorris Kearns Goodwin and Douglas Brinkley, coming right up. It's 23 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: A lot of people are asking this morning at what point did the alleged Christmas bomber go from a child of privilege to a radical? Well, our Senior International Correspondent, Nic Robertson is live in London. Nic, you had a chance to speak with some of the suspect's former classmates to find out if there were any signs in his past?

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, what's interesting Kiran, is when we talked to some of the teachers in high school, they said his views were quite religious and that gave them a little cause for concern. But his friends really thought he was a straight talker, a sports guy, liked football ,liked soccer, liked playing basketball, and for them he was sort of the moral compass of the class. But behind the scenes, he was clearly a very troubled young man.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON (voice-over): This high school photograph, there is a look of innocence. But behind the impassive gaze, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab appears to have been deeply troubled and lonely. He was devout, loved his faith. His friends even called him the pope. One of his internet postings reads, how can I really enjoy being with people to whom I cannot express my feelings. They know I am Muslim, but I see how they don't understand, but he hid his troubles well. Kwesi Brako was on the school basketball team with him.

KWESI BRAKO, HIGH SCHOOL FRIEND: To say I am surprised is a given at this point. I would not have figured him to be a lonely person.

ROBERTSON: His blogs, Abdulmutallab, was longing to get to university mixed with Muslims. In the fall of 2005, he got his wish, admitted to University College London, but this conflicted teenager was about to enter a highly charged Islamic scene.

USAMA HASSAN, FORMER RADICAL: There was a battle of ideas going on on the campuses.

ROBERTSON: Hassan knows, now reformed, he was once a campus radicalizer. And influenced the man who orchestrated the killing of the Wall Street Journal's reporter, Daniel Pearl.

HASSAN: On British and U.S. campuses, he would have had exposure to a variety of Muslim voices, all claiming to speak for true Islam. And many of these voices would like to be very extreme, fundamentalist voices who openly advocate no compromise to the West as they see it.

ROBERTSON: Abdulmutallab joined the university's Islamic society. By his second year, became its president. Brako was at a different college in London, but his old friend turned his back on him. Abdulmutallab was changing.

BRAKO: He liked to wear Islamic clothing. I think he was wearing a Kaftan, and the matching trousers and sandals.

ROBERTSON: In 2007, under Abdulmutallab's leadership, the Islamic Society organized a week of debate about the war on Iraq titled war on terror, a war that appears to have weighed heavily on him.

ROBERTSON (on camera): This is the campus at the University College London, where the war on terror week was held. A year later, and an independent British think tank issued a report on Islamic societies at universities like this. They concluded that while most students were tolerant, a significant minority supported violence in the name of Islam.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The few friends Abdulmutallab did have at university are hard to track down. Eventually, we get a lead.

ROBERTSON (on camera): We have been trying three days to find one person at the university who knew him well enough that is willing to talk to us. And we think we have found him. This could be the breakthrough.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): His name is Kason Rafik. He was the Islamic society president just before Abdulmutallab.

KASON RAFIK, FORMER ISLAMIC SOCIETY PRESIDENT: Hello?

ROBERTSON (on camera): Hello, is this Kason?

RAFIK: Yes, speaking.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): I asked about Abdulmutallab.

RAFIK: It's difficult for me to reconcile you know, the man, the person that I knew, and just believing and seeing in the media of course in the last 3-4 days, it is clearly different. Again, it goes back to the issue of where exactly did this process of radicalization take place.

ROBERTSON: Investigators are still trying to figure out where and how Abdulmutallab was radicalized. What worries Usama Hassan is that Abdulmutallab may have radicalized others.

HASSAN: There is of course the worry that he may have a small band of comrades or friends who think along similar lines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: And that's a worry right now that is driving intelligence agencies around the world to check what they knew about him, what contacts he had in their countries, and this is spanning as we know at least three continents right now, Kiran.

CHETRY: Nic Robertson for us this morning. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Coming up on the half hour, and that means it's time for this morning's top stories. Today, President Obama will get a preliminary report from his intelligence team on the bomb plot against Northwest flight 253. We now know that U.S. intelligence did have information that extremists in Yemen were plotting with someone they called, quote, "the Nigerian". Officials also had a partial name for the Nigerian, Umar Farouk, as in Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab.

CHETRY: And the Taliban claiming for a suicide bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan, eight Americans, some believed to be member of the CIA, killed, six others wounded. A senior U.S. official telling CNN that the bomber walked into a gymnasium on a U.S. military outpost on the Khost province and detonated his vest.

A Taliban spokesman is claiming the attacker was an officer in the Afghan army. U.S. officials are not confirming that.

ROBERTS: And here comes 2010, Sydney, Australia, welcoming the new year about 30 minutes ago. They celebrated with a beautiful display of fireworks over the famed Sydney Harbor.

And don't miss Anderson Cooper live in Times Square as we ring in the new year. There is a live picture of Times Square right now, and it's snowing.

CHETRY: Yes.

ROBERTS: They are getting snow on the roof. It's beginning to stick in some places, though maybe it will turn to rain.

CHETRY: It's snowing on New Year's Eve.

ROBERTS: I got to get out of town on New Year's Eve at 11:00. I hope the flight's on time.

Just hours left in the year and in the decade, and in the world of politics, we have seen a whole lot. To help us close the book on it all, we have two presidential historians live for the "A.M. Breakdown." Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote the definitive book on the politics of Lincoln. And Douglas Brinkley, his latest, "The Wilderness Warrior" looks at America's first green president Teddy Roosevelt.

It's great to have both of you with us this morning. Doris, let's start with you. This decade started with the recount of 2000, finishing off with the election of the first African-American president in this nation's history. It's got to be a great decade to be a presidential historian.

(LAUGHTER)

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, AUTHOR, "TEAM OF RIVALS": Historians love to look back and say what if. When I think about the decade of the 0s or whatever we will call the decade, I think about missed opportunities.

What if at the time of 9/11 it mobilized the country, we had a Manhattan project for alternative energy. What if we got the big three car companies convert to efficient cars? What if we had much more people joining the army, volunteering, there would be the same soldiers fighting the third tour of duty?

What if the public system had been strengthened as we worried about a biological attack? Maybe we would have been better off with H1N1. Those are the moments in history when with the proper leadership and the country behind, we might have been willing to undo the tax cut and our deficit hadn't been so great if we had been together in unity in fighting this war.

ROBERTS: What do you think about that, Doug? Was this the decade of lost opportunity?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, "THE WILDERNESS WARRIOR": Yes, I think it was one. But it also was a decade of fear. After we won the cold war, there was a feeling of American omnipotence, that we were the only superpower.

And then suddenly 9/11 hit us and shocked our system. And people got very fearful. And then when that parlayed with the economy turning south a little over a year ago, I think we were ending the decade with a lot of anxiety, which is unfortunate, because we are making the huge drives in the medical professions and computer technology, things that are enhancing our lives all the time.

ROBERTS: In terms of, Doris, Doug said this decade being a decade of fear, "Time" magazine kind of captured the sense of that with their cover on the end of the year, "The Decade from hell," with a screaming baby there.

They had suggested it may be the worse decade ever. What do you think? Last century we had some terrible decades.

KEARNS: Yes, when you compare it to the decade of the '40s when 50 million people were killed in World War II, 400,000 in the United States, it doesn't compare to that. Nor even the '60s when you had three assassinations that shocked our nation.

But the difference is in the '40s and the '60s there were great things that happened to counter the terrible things. We beat Hitler. America emerged stronger and more socially just then ever before after that war.

In the '60s we had great strides in civil rights, Medicare, the peace corps. I think when you look at the 0s, the election of the first African-American president and some of the medical breakthroughs will balance it, but not quite the same as those other decades.

ROBERTS: Right. Doug, when we were talking about great accomplishments that came out of hard times, you mention medical breakthroughs, technology. Anything else that we can hang as a good thing that happened in the last decade?

BRINKLEY: It depends on how much you like to use the Internet. Many people like getting instant information. It has been terrible for the journalism business, but I think YouTube and MySpace, Facebook have become ubiquitous during this decade, and many people get a lot of joy out of that.

I worry it becomes a narcissism in our society. Back in the 1970s Christopher Lasch wrote a famous book, "The Culture of Narcissism." We kind of have been hitting a mega-narcissism decade. Everybody wants to be a celebrity. That Andy Warhol maxis everybody has their 15 minutes of fame, and everybody is getting their five minutes of fame right now.

And I have some problems with that because people are looking for immediate results, jackpots, not earnings from hard work.

ROBERTS: And Doris, what do you think about that, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter? Are they going to be seen as we look back decades from now as being great contributions to society?

KEARNS: Well, it probably makes leadership harder because everything is so much more fragmented than it used to be. When Roosevelt gave one of his fireside chats, 80 percent of the people would be listening on their radios, so there was a sense of national unity. Now it's so much more scattered that I think the very technology makes us more individualized.

ROBERTS: All right, listen, I have a couple more questions to ask you, but we have to take a break. Stay with us, and we'll come back on the other side of this.

It's 36 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's 39 minutes after the hour.

We continue to look back at the last decade. And one other question to ask the two of you. The last century was taken to the American century. It's been a difficult decade for us so far. Do we risk losing our possession of preeminence in this world?

BRINKLEY: I don't think we will lose our preeminence anytime soon, but certainly others are coming to the table. That notion of there being one superpower, the United States, is now gone. If that ever existed, it was a very short window in the 1990s.

Now we have to particularly deal with China, also a reenergized European Union just to get started. But there are other countries that are nipping at our heels in the global economy.

I think the great advancement we made in electing Barack Obama, America has entered the global community again. For eight years under President Bush there was kind of an isolationist, go it alone, attitude, and the Obama administration is trying to put America as one of many nations and not the supreme nation.

ROBERTS: Doris, your thoughts on that?

KEARNS: We still have the strongest military in the world and the most open society and that idealism that's underneath all of our fears that we talked about earlier.

The key if we will compete in the global economy goes back to the idea of clean energy and the environment. It's important for us to have excitement about the economy, and not just getting along.

ROBERTS: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Doug Brinkley, good to talk to you. Thanks so much for coming in this morning. Happy New Year to you.

BRINKLEY: Happy New Year to you.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

KEARNS: Thank you

CHETRY: Here's to a better decade ahead as well.

ROBERTS: There you go.

KURTZ: If saving money in 2010 is on top of your list, our Gerri Willis will join us with some simple ways you can cut costs. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: What was the delay at LaGuardia?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Let's see what we have for you. Actually we don't have LaGuardia up there right now. I think there was a ground stoppage of about 15 to 20 minutes a while ago. But that's going to be kind of back and forth through a good part of the day and I'd expect more of the same at JFK and of course in Newark.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks very, Reynolds. Appreciate.

WOLF: See you guys.

ROBERTS: Hey, if saving money in 2010 is on the top of your list, Gerri Willis has some simple ways that you can cut costs in today's edition of "Financial Resolutions". She is just ahead with that.

It's 46 and a half minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: A lot of people are making resolutions as we enter the New Year. And a lot of say they want to save money, and that's at the top of the lists. Well, if you do want to save money we have some simple ways that you can cut costs.

ROBERTS: Gerri Willis is here with today's edition of "Financial Resolutions". Good morning to you.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Good morning to you. Great to see you guys.

These are ways that are painless to save when you stop wasting money. We spent a lot of money on cell phones each and every year. The average monthly cost is $65 and annual cost of $780 and guess what? According to Consumer Reports, two-thirds of people use less than half of the minutes they're allotted. They're overpaid.

You need to review your uses. Check out these two Web sites. It will help you find a new plan; billshrink.com and myvalidas.com.

If you have an unexpected life event; a birth or death or illness, you're worried about, just call your carrier, ask for a special dispensation. You can go on a different plan for a month.

Another way that people lose money, car insurance is another area where we spend too much. The average cost is $1,800 per year, you can whittle down that bill.

Even long term employment will get you a discount as much as $750 dollars. Look at these discounts -- luscious -- low mileage, $100 a year; good student, $300 a year; raising your deductible, $200 to $400 a year; early shopping, $250 a year.

You can save on fun stuff, too. Trading in books or CDs or DVDs; swapadvd.com, paperbackswap.com, even tickets guys. If you want to buy low cost tickets go to zebratickets.com.

A lot of people don't know but you may have perks right in your wallet right now. If you're a Triple A member, for example, you can get automatic discounts at Target and Sears.

ROBERTS: Love saving money.

WILLIS: Love saving money.

(CROSSTALK).

CHETRY: Good idea about swapping books and DVDs.

WILLIS: Something from your house, they just take up space.

CHETRY: Thanks Gerri.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: All right. Thank you.

CHETRY: Still ahead, we're going to be talking -- checking in with Jim Acosta. He takes a look at the political stories of 2009; some of the highlights and the lowlights still ahead.

It's 51 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to The Most News in the Morning.

We are looking back at some of the year's best and worse moments from the world of politics. And the bar of course was set pretty high from the start with President Obama's inauguration. But 2009 also (INAUDIBLE) scandalous lows as well.

So before we turn the page on a new decade in politics, Jim Acosta is looking back for us. He's live in Washington with an AM Original this morning. Hey, Jim, Happy New Year.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey Kiran. You're right. Happy New Year to you, too.

You know, it is the end of a decade, so I am told. But the decade never really had an official name. Was it the 2000s, or double Os. Perhaps more appropriate the noughties (ph). Whatever the name there were plenty of political hits and misses in 2009. More than enough to cap off what "Time" magazine dubbed the decade from hell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: There was no invitation required to make the list of best political hits and misses of 2009. Just ask the Salahis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president-elect of the United States, Barack H. Obama.

ACOSTA: The year began with a historic breakthrough even if the oath didn't come out quite right.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will execute...

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: Faithfully the office of President of the United States.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts.

ACOSTA: And there were governors going off script. Rod Blagojevich got the boot, impeached by the Illinois legislature.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: The truth, unadulterated truth.

ACOSTA: Sarah Palin got a book deal and stepped down as governor as Alaska.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: It would be apathetic to just hunker down and go with the flow. We're fishermen, we know that only dead fish go with the flow.

ACOSTA: And Mark Sanford got caught with a mistress, nowhere near the Appalachian trail.

MARK SANFORD, GOVERNOR, SOUTH CAROLINA: And we'll let the chips fall where they may.

ACOSTA: And what better to go with chips...

OBAMA: The Cambridge police acted stupidly.

ACOSTA: Than a beer summit.

TEA Party conservatives mobilized to stop health care reform. Cue the death panels.

SEN CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: And we should not have a government program that determines you're going to pull the plug on grandma.

ACOSTA: The death panel claim was dubbed by Politifact as the lie of the year. It was not long before Congressional town halls turned into brawls.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D) MASSACHUSETTS: On what planet do you spend most of your time?

ACOSTA: But it was South Carolina Congressman, Joe Wilson, that set a new low.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie.

ACOSTA: What is worse, the moment came just days after the death of Ted Kennedy, a loss that briefly brought the country together in mourning.

PATRICK KENNEDY, SON OF SEN. TED KENNEDY: And the dream shall never die.

ACOSTA: There were also firsts. The first African-American president picked Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina for the Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed.

ACOST: Mr. Obama became the first sitting president to win Nobel Peace prize in 90 years. A surprise to the White House and one the writers at "Saturday Night Live" could not resist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be perfectly honest, this award was a complete surprise as I have only not been President George W. Bush for nine months.

ACOSTA: Still if 2009 were a party, it's debatable whether any of it was worth crashing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: At least SNL was having a good time and Kiran, is it ok if I use my blackberry camera here and get a picture of the two of us?

CHETRY: Absolutely. I will take one of you with my iPhone at the same time. There you go.

ACOSTA: Very nice.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Political junkies can take heart. I was going to say 2010 is right around the corner. We do have mid term elections coming. So 2009 may be a tough act to follow but 2010 will try really hard.

CHETRY: Yes, why do I feel that SNL will still have plenty of material in 2010? Jim, happy New Year.

ACOSTA: No shortage. Exactly. You too.

CHETRY: Well, it is video that you're not supposed to see. There are the politicians and the pundits, even news anchors, as they're waiting to go live on TV.

ROBERTS: Now a museum art exhibit has captured some of this famous talking heads in the moments before they start talking. Our Jeanne Moos has got the off-air uptakes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They sit down and get miked up to get ready for their close-up, but something seems off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've just never seen him in such repose. He looks almost meditative.

MOOS: Carville, quiet? An oxymoron.

You know all those talking heads on TV going blah, blah, blah. Not here, in what's called the silent echo chamber.

There's John McCain, military bearing, eyes boring into you. And Chris Matthews who seems to forget to blink.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A complete statue.

MOOS: The statue would be Henry Kissinger, like portraits they hang on the walls at the Aldridge Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somehow you feel like you are seeing into their soul.

MOOS: From Larry King grimacing to Wolf Blitzer sinking his teeth into his script to Joe Biden sinking his teeth into a pastry, washing it down then coming back for more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could have been like an eclair.

MOOS: It looked like an eclair didn't it.

Who collects this stuff?

HARRY SHEARER, COMEDIAN: Well, I call it a hobby or a sickness.

MOOS: Comedian and actor Harry Shearer is mum on the how part. I assume he is stealing satellite signals.

SHEARER: I'm like Dick Cheney, sources and method.

MOOS: Shearer got hooked more than three decades ago when he saw a footage of Richard Nixon right before his resignation speech or Nixon even sat down.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, you are better looking than I am, why don't you stay here? Secret service in the room? Out. I am just kidding you.

MOOS: It was Shearer who collected this famous John Edwards clip. Somebody else put it to music. Other Harry Shearer found objects include annoyed hosts, and Ann Coulter joking around about chewing Nicorette..

ANN COULTER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And you can chop it up so I can snort it.

MOOS: Dan Rather debating how to wear the collar of his trench coat. And Katie Couric mimicking Dan Rather.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: What do you think? Open...

MOOS: The Aldridge museum exhibit doesn't show embarrassing moments but rather who the person is.

SHEARER: In those moments before they put their TV personality on.

MOOS: For instance Dr. Phil not giving advice.

Sean Hannity sanitizing or moisturizing.

Before our interview with Shearer, we nabbed him making noises and tucking his shirt into his pants. At least when a talking head is silent, he doesn't have to eat his words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No more.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: That's going to wrap it up for us. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. Have yourself a happy and a safe New Year and enjoy the coming decade.

CHETRY: That's right. We'll see you next year.

Here's "CNN NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins. Good morning, Heidi.