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Debt Commission Report; Money Trail in Islamic Center Project

Aired November 11, 2010 - 20:00   ET


KATHLEEN PARKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Kathleen Parker.

ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to the program, thanks for joining us. Another great show, tonight.

PARKER: You know, Eliot, it's been a rough couple weeks for poor President Barack Obama. He gets the shellacking in the midterm elections, then he's getting criticized by everybody around the world for his QE2, for the W...

SPITZER: The vote isn't big enough, I guess.

PARKER: The vote ain't big enough, $600 billion dumped into the economy. And now, he's in South Korea and he's going to have to come home without the prize he went over there to get, and only to come home to a Debt Commission report, you know, that everybody hates.

SPITZER: You know, Kathleen, let me be the contrarian for a moment. You are right. It has been a tough two years, let alone two weeks. But put that aside, the reality is, the Debt Commission may be his ticket back and here's why: The Debt Commission recommends a lot of tough medicine. Everybody is criticizing it. Democrats reflexively saying Nancy Pelosi, no way, no how, union leaders. Republicans are saying because of the tax increase, no way we will do it. He can play the centrist in the middle saying everybody needs to take a little medicine, everybody has got to bear some pain if this economy is going to come back. He can almost create a third party that say to each extreme: I'm the one in the middle, forget the voices on either side, here is the road back to recovery. That's what he's going to try and do.

PARKER: Oh, let me tell you, that is music to my ears. I love the idea of radical centrism. I've been going for that for a long time. I don't know if Barack Obama can do, he talks a good party. I mean, when he's at the Democratic Party 2004, he set it up. And when was elected it was all about, you know, no left, no right, we're going to pull together and do this thing. Well, it hasn't happened, yet. This time, you know, everybody's got to pay a little bit. There's going to be pain to go around for everyone.

SPITZER: There is an interpretation of what he has done that actually fits that mold. But, let's not fight what happened over the past two years. Going forward with this deficit is what everybody is fighting about, right now. And let's not lose sight of the fact they do a big job saving about $4 trillion in the deficit in the proposals they put out there. Not very popular. About two-thirds of it spending cuts, about one-third of it, tax increases. And that's why everybody is upset, because everybody's ox is being gored somewhere, somehow.

PARKER: One of the people criticizing him, needless to say, is Sarah Palin. Who, by the way, a new poll just came out today saying that she is the most recognizable, as well as the most polarizing figure...

SPITZER: No surprise there.

PARKER: ...among those Republican presidential contenders for 2012.

SPITZER: Well, that's no surprise. Look who is out there, it's a bunch of nobodies, I hate to say it. Very smart people, perhaps, but not well known to the general public. Mike Huckabee, governor of Arkansas, wonderful, nice guy, but you know, he doesn't have the profile of Sarah Palin, nothing close to it, right now.

PARKER: Well, Sarah Palin has been both hurt and helped by the media. And one of our guests, tonight, is John Ziegler who's just created -- who's got a new movie out called "Media Malpractice" in which he talks about the assassination of Sarah Palin by media. We're going to talk to him and it's a rousing interview.

SPITZER: Fascinating stuff.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: It's part of reporting the case this election. The feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. I felt this thrill going up my leg.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: I interviewed Lee Cowan, our reporter who covers Obama, while I was out yesterday. We posted the interview on the Web. Lee says to me, it's hard to stay objective covering this guy.

DAVID WRIGHT, ABC NEWS: With every victory, Obama's congregation seems to be growing.

JOEL STEIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: It's like being 13 and seeing Sean Cassidy and we're all on board. We are on board the Scott Baio train. So, we're not embarrassed. We get together, we just talk about how much we love Obama.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: I'd love to find something to criticize him. Got anything?

MATTHEWS: No. You know, I have been criticized for saying he inspires me and to hell with my critics.


PARKER: John Ziegler is a former conservative radio talk show host, turned filmmaker. He funded "Media Malpractice," mostly out of his pocket. Please welcome John Ziegler.

Well John, we agree with you, that clip showed, you know, this was like as Nicolle Wallace says later in the film, it was like running against god. The media were defiantly in love and I want you to know that I have a little tingle up my leg having you sit here at the table.


JOHN ZIEGLER, FILMMAKER: Well, I'm not quite sure how to take that since you are...

SPITZER: I'm right in between you guys.

ZIEGLER: Yeah, really, since you're in the film...

PARKER: Look, I'm for truth. I'm for honesty.

ZIEGLER: Well, the subtitle of this film is, "How Obama got Elected and Palin was Targeted," and you, essentially, bought into the Obama myth and...

PARKER: No, I didn't. You didn't read my earlier columns.

ZIEGLER: You did.

PARKER: Hey, I read about Obama four years ago. I was writing about him before anybody knew who he was.

ZIEGLER: Before the election, you essentially endorsed him and...

PARKER: No, I didn't.

ZIEGLER: Yes, you did.

PARKER: I don't endorse anyone.

ZIEGLER: Do you not read your own columns?

PARKER: No, I don't endorse anyone. I have never endorsed a candidate.

ZIEGLER: Well, read the column you wrote before the election.

PARKER: Every column is a sliver of a slice of a piece of a moment.

ZIEGLER: I see, so you didn't buy into the Obama moderation myth?

PARKER: I did.

ZIEGLER: OK. So, you were duped by the media into the...

PARKER: I am one of those people who thought this is a guy who's talking about not a red, not a blue America and was going to bring the country together.

ZIEGLER: Right. So, you were duped.

PARKER: Well, I was at the 2004 Democratic convention.

ZIEGLER: Were you duped?

PARKER: No, I'm not going to say I was duped. I'm saying that I wrote some columns...

ZIEGLER: So, you stand by that...

PARKER: Oh, listen to you. I'm the interviewer, here.

SPITZER: I'm just watching. This is new for me.

PARKER: No, no, no, this is fun. This is fun. But I wrote critical things of him and I still write critical things of him.

ZIEGLER: And you endorsed him before the election and...

PARKER: I did not endorse. I did not endorse.

ZIEGLER: You took part into targeting Sarah Palin. You essentially took part in the assassination of Sarah Palin 1.0. That person is dead, she doesn't exist anymore

PARKER: Actually, I did not take part in it. I led it. OK? Let's be clear. Let's get our facts straight, here.

ZIEGLER: All right, you led the assassination.

PARKER: I said, on September 26, 2008...

ZIEGLER: Did you clean the blood off your clothes, yet?

PARKER: On September 26, 2008, I said that she was out of her league and I have rested my case so many times, I don't need to bring that up, again. Other people...

ZIEGLER: So, you were duped into that myth, as well.

PARKER: I will agree with you that some people in the media came after her in a vicious, cruel and unfair way. I was not one of them.

ZIEGLER: Oh, really?

PARKER: No, I'm not. I'm not. But if you want to...

ZIEGLER: So, as an alleged conservative, who is the first to come out there...

PARKER: So, did you come here to attack me or are you going to let me interview you?

ZIEGLER: No, I want to understand, I really truly want to understand how someone as smart as you could be duped like you were by the media into believing that Obama was really a moderate, not a socialist and that Sarah Palin, the vice presidential candidate, was really "not in her league," as you said? It's not true...

PARKER: Every column I write is a true essay in that moment. And I change my mind and I will say if I change my mind. But I have not changed my mind about whether Sarah Palin was ready to be president. And I hold John McCain accountable for bringing her into the national arena before she was ready, because I think she could have been great.

SPITZER: John, here is where I'm going to have to jump in. Two comments, here: One, I will speak, I think, for many Americans when I say that Sarah Palin was not ready to be president.

ZIEGLER: Based on what?

SPITZER: Not ready to be vice president of the United States, based on her inability to articulate substantive positions for lack of knowledge, lack of understanding and I...

ZIEGLER: Based on what?

SPITZER: That's enough. We're not going to go there, right now.

ZIEGLER: Of course, because it's not based on anything.

SPITZER: No, no, no because we're going to -- the other thing I just can't let slide by is your comment about the president of the United States being a socialist. Which is just such an ill founded, out of line observation. But, we're not going to go there.

ZIEGLER: It's only backed up by all the facts.

SPITZER: I want to talk about your movie for a second.


PARKER: Talk about your move, you did a great job.

SPITZER: Well, here's my question. The media is bias.


SPITZER: And that's always been true and it always will be true. And so my question to you is, there's Fox and then there's MSNBC. And I'm not saying this is some sense of purity, we're at CNN, down the middle. Every person in his own way views the world through a prism.


SPITZER: And I think, isn't it better to say to the public, understand that than to live in the puerile world where you pretend there's objectivity.

ZIEGLER: That may be the only thing you and I agree with on in this particular...

SPITZER: All right, I rest my case.

ZIEGLER: I agree that nobody is objective in totality. It's not possible. I'm all for freedom and disclosure. I actually think it was ridiculous that Keith Olbermann got suspended for doing the most honest thing he's every done on the air.

SPITZER: I think all three of us agree.

ZIEGLER: OK, so, I mean, we all know he's a left winger so he's donating to Democrats. Big deal. But, at least we know about that because that's the system. However, you mentioned Fox and MSNBC. There's no question, that the mainstream, how you define that is becoming more and more difficult in this day in age. But, the mainstream is still far left.

SPITZER: Stop, stop.

ZIEGLER: The 2008 election was so enamored, as we saw in those clips, by Obama, they were in love. It was sexual.

SPITZER: Wait a second. Wait a second. First of all...

PARKER: I think the media did fall in love with Obama. I don't think there's any refuting that.

SPITZER: Sure they did, I'm not disagreeing with you about it.

ZIEGLER: You guys did, too.

SPITZER: No, no, the media falls in love with politicians on both sides of the aisle. The media fell in love with Ronald Reagan. The media fell in love with Bill Clinton, at one point. The media fell in love with...

PARKER: The media used to be in love with John McCain.


SPITZER: This is -- these are the rhythms of politics.

ZIEGLER: I'm waiting for a Republican president candidate that they were in love with after Reagan. Could you give me one after Reagan?

SPITZER: George Bush.

PARKER: I don't think you would find -- listen, listen. I wrote many, many columns favorably about George W. Bush and he will tell you that. And that's why I spent a lot of time in the Oval Office.

ZIEGLER: Well, you used to be a conservative before you were on CNN.

PARKER: You know, no I'm not -- that has nothing to do with CNN. I'm an opinion writer. And my opinions are not, they're not stationary. By the way, I'm not supposed to be -- I'm not the mainstream media in the classic sense as in a straight forward reporter. I mean, I'm paid to write opinion. I've been doing it for 23 years. And you've got a lot of catching up to do if you think I'm a left-wing socialist.


ZIEGLER: You endorsed one.

SPITZER: George W. Bush...

PARKER: Oh, you are just ridiculous.

SPITZER: unbelievably beautifully coverage about his personality, his charming demeanor and he got the sort of adulatory columns that John Kerry never got in the '04 race.

ZIEGLER: You think the media was in favor of George W. Bush in 2004?

SPITZER: The coverage he got in 2000, excuse me. The coverage he got in 2000...

PARKER: Well, right after 9/11 in 2001, he was very much...

SPITZER: We're talking about campaigns. In 2000 he was embraced by the media that loved him and found him charming. And Al Gore couldn't talk his way into any favorable...

ZIEGLER: But, that might have actually reflected reality.

SPITZER: But, the point we're making is the media will fall in love, it will fall out of love. And that is the nature of the first amendment and it's been true since the first day of this republic.

PARKER: Well, let's ask you, who do you consider mainstream immediate? Are you talking about television or newspapers or what?

ZIEGLER: Here is how I define mainstream: Media, the people who do not obsess with politics on an everyday basis like the three of us do, are likely to absorb. That's really what I think dictates elections in this day in age. Fox News Channel has no impact on a general election. They have a huge impact...

PARKER: Oh, I think so.

ZIEGLER: On a primary election, they have a huge influence. But, in a general election, very, very little. No, it is actually, I believe it's the entertainment shows, the comedy shows that have way more influence. We saw that with the targeting and destruction, the assassination of Sarah Palin in 2008. Who destroyed her? Tina Fey more than anybody else did.

SPITZER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

ZIEGLER: "Saturday Night Live" is a mainstream show because non- political people...

PARKER: So, why did Sarah Palin go on that show and appear with Tina Fey if she felt that way? I mean, Tina Fey actually was adorable in the same ways Sarah is adorable so.

ZIEGLER: Well, I'm sure you enjoyed Tina Fey's bastardization of Sarah Palin in 2008.

PARKER: I enjoyed when the two were on the show together.

ZIEGLER: You asked an interesting question because I asked her to same thing in my interview. This movie is largely based on a 15- minute interview I did with Governor Palin back when she was still governor of Alaska from her home in Wasilla and did ask her...

PARKER: This was after the election before she quit her job.

ZIEGLER: Exactly. This is early 2009, it's the most comprehensive interview she's ever done on the subject of the media coverage of the 2008 election. Maybe the most comprehensive interview she's ever done on the 2008 election. And the -- by the way, the entire interview is available on our new DVD, which is in stores nationwide.


ZIEGLER: And you can find out more about it...

PARKER: I thought she was very gracious in that interview, I have to say.

ZIEGLER: But here's the important part about where you come from with your question, and that is I was wondering the same thing, why did you go on that show. And here is what amazed me. And I don't think we understand just how small the bubble is in that campaign. I played for her clips for her to react to during the interview that she never seen before. Tina Fey, this is important. Tina fey made an inappropriate joke about her own daughter, on "Saturday Night Live," which Sarah Palin had never even seen when she went on the show. She wouldn't have gone on, I don't believe if she'd seen...

SPITZER: And they properly apologized for that and all of that's out of bounds. But I want to ask you a separate question, because if you believe the media has had such a sort of bias in almost a conspiratorial perspective...

ZIEGLER: I don't believe in conspiracies.

SPITZER: But let me just ask, how is it then that Sarah Palin has continued, not only to thrive, but to dominate the political theme.

ZIEGLER: Ah, great question. I have an answer.

SPITZER: But... PARKER: OK, hold that thought just one minute. We got to take a quick break. We'll be back in a few minutes with John Ziegler. Stay with us.


ZIEGLER: The Sarah Palin of today is not the Sarah Palin of the 2008 election. Sarah Palin 1.0, as I refer to her, was assassinated by people like Kathleen and others.

PARKER: Oh come on.

ZIEGLER: She's dead. Sarah Palin.

PARKER: She would not -- look, Todd Palin called me recently, come on...

ZIEGLER: Do you think Todd Palin had any idea of your history of columns? I mean, please.



SPITZER: We're back with John Ziegler. John.

ZIEGLER: There's two things you need to understand, first of all, The Sarah Palin of today is not the Sarah Palin of the 2008 election. Sarah Palin 1.0, as I refer to her, was assassinated by people like Kathleen and others.

PARKER: Oh come on.

ZIEGLER: She's dead. Sarah Palin.

PARKER: She would not -- look, Todd Palin called me recently, come on...

ZIEGLER: Do you think Todd Palin had any idea of your history of columns? I mean, please.

PARKER: Well, yeah, I think he did.

Well no, that was not an absolution of your past sins.

PARKER: I'm just saying, if they thought I was the evil doer in this crowd, they wouldn't have done it.

ZIEGLER: Believe me, it was silly, they don't have an (inaudible) table of all the pro-media people in the anti...

PARKER: It's pretty limited.

ZIEGLER: That's true. Here is the answer to the question. Sarah Palin 2.0, which began the day she took the job at Fox News Channel, is a completely different entity and one that the media is in love with because here's why, it's all about ratings. She is ratings gold for you guys. It's why you talk about her.

PARKER: Well yeah, that's why you're here.

ZIEGLER: If I was worried about ratings, I wouldn't be going on this show.

PARKER: No, no, no our ratings.

SPITZER: Let me ask you a question, though, Why, if they're so obsessed with ratings, during the campaign, were they so, in your view, malicious towards her?

ZIEGLER: Oh no. Wait a minute, that's exactly what they were after. It was a perfect storm during the 2008 election.

SPITZER: But suddenly they change perspective?

ZIEGLER: No, no, no, it was an ideological bias against her that was combined with oh, my god, not only are we are going to help Obama win but we get these huge ratings because she's beautiful and controversial and polarizing. This is the greatest thing we've ever asked for.

SPITZER: OK, let me tell you where I think you're most fundamentally wrong. One, Sarah Palin was dealt with in the way every politician was dealt with.

ZIEGLER: Oh, really?


ZIEGLER: Compare the statements she made during the campaign with Joe Biden's statements, or even Obama's.

SPITZER: Joe Biden has been put through the wringer. Every politician from Bill Clinton on down has been put in the wringer in that manner.

PARKER: I think she got harsher treatment, I really do. Come on. Because I think she's a woman, for starters, but also because she's...

SPITZER: No, she got the treatment that based upon the quality and demeanor of her answers and that is how the media responded.

ZIEGLER: You need to watch the film.

I have. The other thing that I would say is that there has not been a transformation of Sarah Palin.

ZIEGLER: Oh, she's a totally different person now. Totally different person.

PARKER: I think she's decided to be her own person.

ZIEGLER: Well, the notion that somehow this is the same entity that got assassinated, which could it have been the next Ronald Reagan, had she been treated fairly in 2008, but because she was dealt this hand of cards by the media, she's brilliantly turned a negative into a positive for her, her family and parts of her cause. But that does not necessarily mean it's conducive to a presidential run.


PARKER: I agree with you, there. I agree with you, there. But let me ask you, just, tell me how you got into this? How did you happen to come to Sarah Palin and say let me do this?

ZIEGLER: You know, I did something very stupid, in retrospect. Which was, I decided that I was going to make this movie early in the 2008 campaign, back when Hillary Clinton was getting jobbed. And I am no fan of the Clintons, but I actually bought the domain name HowObamaGotElected in June, 2008. So, I was that positive that the media was set on this agenda. This was what was going to happen. I spent about, at the time a quarter of a million dollars, it's not a third of a million dollars, on this film. And if Sarah Palin had not done the interview with me, I probably would have lost the whole thing. but I saw an interview with her where she said I want to do anything I can to help with this issue of media accountability. I believed her word. I did everything I could to get the interview. Went up to the Wasilla. It was an amazing interview. The media went nuts with it, now we are rereleasing the DVD nationwide and it's all over -- it's in every single cable system in the country, on video on demand and now we can actually reach the mainstream with the truth about what happened in 2008.

PARKER: Well, you know Sarah Palin maybe better than anybody. Is she going to run in 2012?

ZIEGLER: I would have to say it's 60/40 no. If she does run, it's because she feels as if that's the best way for her to remain relevant over the next year or so until -- when she would announce between that time and the primaries. I think she's smart enough to realize she is not the best person to go after Barack Obama in a general election. If she's not smart enough, well, I will have misjudged her greatly. But she is not the best to go after Barack Obama because she was destroyed by the news media unfairly.

PARKER: One last question. What do you think Sarah Palin wants to accomplish? I mean, does she want -- what is her agenda?

ZIEGLER: I believe that her agenda is to do it best for her country, her family and herself. I mean, that's what I believe her agenda is and I think she's pursuing all of those agendas pretty darn well right now.

PARKER: Well, she's certainly doing well and I can't deny her that.

SPITZER: A lot of Democrats hoping she runs. Barack Obama certainly hopes she runs. But anyway, all right, John, thank you for coming by.

ZIEGLER: See, the media wants her to run.

SPITZER: See the movie, "Media Malpractice." If it is half as passionate as John was right here. John, thank you for coming by.

ZIEGLER: Thank you.

SPITZER: We'll be right back.



CROWD: No mosque here. No mosque here. No mosque here.



SPITZER: Tonight's "Person of Interest" was the focus of a nationwide controversy this past summer that divided our country.

PARKER: He's the developer for the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. Sharif el-Gamal joins us to discuss the future in the controversial community center.

Sharif, thanks so much for being here.

SHARIF EL-GAMAL, DEVELOPER OF ISLAMIC CTR: Kathleen, Eliot, thank you for having me.

SPITZER: So, first question we've just got to ask, things have quieted down. It was a firestorm of focus, media, hysteria. Where are things now in terms of the money, in terms of your capacity to go forward. A hundred million dollars, a big knot. How close are you to actually doing something?

EL-GAMAL: Well, we're in the process of making it happen. We are very happy that the spotlight has moved on to other issues which are more relevant and more important. We are happy the media decided to focus on other things. But, we are in the process, right now, of developing our board and putting together the non-for-profit and really focusing on the real work that's ahead of us.

PARKER: You know, one of the concerns, of course, was whether some of these more radical Islamic groups would have access or at least would be making any contributions to your center. You have to raise $100 million. How will you know, you've said you wouldn't accept money from organizations that have terrorist associations, how will you know that money is not tainted in some way?

EL-GAMAL: Well, I'm going to ask Eliot to help me out, because he's run so many different political campaigns. I mean, that's how we plan on running it. Really, having a process, you know, there's three points that I want to make in respect to that.

We are not going to take money from Iran, we're not going to take any money from organizations that have un-American values or that -- this is an American project, so you know, everyone has to remember that, you know, this is an American project that is going to serve the needs of lower Manhattan, the fastest growing residential neighborhood probably in the burrows in Manhattan, demographically speaking. You know, CB1, or "The District," as it's known, has -- "Community Board One," has over 50,000 residents that reside there. And this is about serving the needs of American citizens and Americans that live in lower Manhattan. And it is a Muslim-led project, just like a JCC, Jewish Community Center or a YMCA, you know, caters to all the people that reside in that neighborhood.

PARKER: All right.

SPITZER: Well, let's drill down on the numbers for a minute, because, $100 million, as I said before, is a big number. And when the media hysteria was going on, of course, everybody focused on should you, could you, what were the legal constitutional issues. Put those aside, for the moment. How much money do you have right now in a bank account so that you can move forward on a real estate project?

EL-GAMAL: You know, you're from a family of real estate developers. It's about putting together a different -- a capital stock. And we're not putting in $100 million of cash to build the community center. There's going to be different components to it whether it's debt or equity or you know, there's the Economic Developing Corp which goes out and sponsors the projects.

SPITZER: So, let's -- we don't want to do a tutorial, here on leverage ratios and how much capital you'll need in different tranches of debt.

PARKER: Thank god.

SPITZER: How much -- it could be useful for a lot of folks. But, how much equity do you need? How much actual cash do you need to raise?

EL-GAMAL: We're probably going to need to raise between $20 to $30 million.

SPITZER: OK, of the 20 to 30, how much do you have in the bank, right now?

EL-GAMAL: We have expressions of interest from some of the most prominent people around the country who want to get involved in the project. And what we've done is we're putting together our board, because that's going to be an essential component of the fiduciary responsibility that's also going to be responsible for how this money is coming in and the money that going to be coming into the project with American values.

SPITZER: Do you have a chairman of the board, yet, a chairwoman, a chairperson?

EL-GAMAL: The chairman of the board is going to be an (INAUDIBLE), OK? And we're in the process... SPITZER: Who is he?

PARKER: Who's the imam?

EL-GAMAL: Well, the imam, is going to an American. An American who's been a fabric of lower Manhattan for the last 30 years.

PARKER: We've met him.

SPITZER: Who is going to be in charge of the fund raising? I'm trying to get my arms around the money here, because it seems to me, given the controversy, given that you have a piece of property there with taxes accruing every day, we'll get to that in a second, are you going to be able to do it? even for those who firmly believe you should or your rights have been trampled upon, whatever -- where's the money, to quote a famous line in a movie, show us the money. I mean, is it there?

EL-GAMAL: Absolutely.

SPITZER: How much do you have in the account?

EL-GAMAL: It's -- we haven't started the fund raising process yet, because we've been trying to understand what was happening for the last couple months. Today, we are process of finalizing the non- for-profit, putting together the essential elements that will empower us to go out on our campaign to start raising the funds.

SPITZER: It doesn't sound to me like there's money yet, at all.

EL-GAMAL: Not yet. No, no, no.

SPITZER: OK, one last question on the money, because it's been out there in different article. Real estate taxes owed on this piece of property. Are they in arrears? Have they been paid?

EL-GAMAL: No, we are in -- right now, we have a process that we have entered into with the Department of Finance and we did not pay the real estate taxes because, again, as a real estate developer, you go and you challenge the city for the assessment of a vacant piece of real estate and that's what we were doing. But, we have entered into a payment plan and an agreement with the city and we're current. And there are no issues from a tax perspective or otherwise.

SPITZER: So, you have paid off the $225,000, approximately, in taxes.

EL-GAMAL: We've entered into an agreement with the Department of Finance while we are going through and challenging the assessment of the real estate taxes on this particular piece of real estate. Again, that's -- that, as a real estate guy, from a real estate family, you know that's a process that you enter into when you buy a piece of real estate.

SPITZER: Well, not to correct you, but we always pay the taxes first. And if you go to the city's Web site, right now, it indicates that you're in arrears for $226,000.

EL-GAMAL: We are not in arrears anymore. We have entered into an agreement and we are in compliance with the Department of Finance.

PARKER: Looking back, after all this controversy, is there anything you would have done differently to try to sort of preempt this public outcry? Any way to make it more acceptable?

EL-GAMAL: Well, you know, it's been an eye-opener for me as an American to see how my country views my religion Islam and what --

PARKER: And let's talk a little bit quickly about your story because you're an all-American story. You were born in this country.

EL-GAMAL: I was born in Brooklyn Methodist Hospital to a Polish Catholic mother, to an Egyptian Muslim father. My wife is a young lady from East Hampton, New York. I'm an American. I'm a New Yorker. This is my city. I'm a real estate developer. And this has been an eye-opener for me personally.

PARKER: Yes, I'm sure it's been difficult. I'm concerned about -- I'm just curious about, you know, as a piece of real estate, is this the best use for that particular property for you? Or is this driven in part by your wish to have an Islamic center versus something else like a gap or something in this building that would --

EL-GAMAL: You know, this started out -- this is an idea and this is concept that we feel is going to help revitalize Lower Manhattan. The community board has voted unanimously twice in favor of this project. The mayor, our local elected officials are behind this project. And this is a project that Lower Manhattan and New York wants.

SPITZER: Having said that, have you seen dissipation in any of the international support because of the media hysteria? There are headlines about certain Saudi princes who would have been big financial, potential financial backers moving away from this. Has that become problematic?

EL-GAMAL: This is an American project that is going to be funded and run in New York City, not anywhere else. And this is not an international issue. This is an American product about serving the needs of a community in Lower Manhattan.

SPITZER: The community itself, what is your sensibility now when you deal with the same community board members? Are they still behind you? They're saying look, the firestorm has passed, let's move forward?

EL-GAMAL: We are meeting with them. We're getting them involved. They can't wait for this to be built.

PARKER: All right, Sharif El-Gamal. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate you taking the time.

EL-GAMAL: Thank you for having me. PARKER: Stay with us. We will be right back.




LENO: Could you date a Democrat? Like I see Carville and Matalin there --

O'DONNELL: If that Democrat doesn't mind being wrong a lot, then sure. Sure I could.

LENO: Can you separate it? I mean, can you separate? There you go. Opposites, they say opposites attract. Could you date a person who had completely opposite views of you?

O'DONNELL: Well, just like when I vote, I mean, when I'm looking for in a man of character.



PARKER: It's time now to have "Fun with Politics" and who better to bring the fun than our favorite Christine O'Donnell. She stopped by "The Tonight Show" last night to chat with Jay Leno. And now that the campaign is over, she's ready to talk about the important stuff, dating.




LENO: Could you date a Democrat? Like I see Carville and Matalin, Democrat --

O'DONNELL: If that Democrat doesn't mind being wrong a lot, then sure.

LENO: Could you date a person who had completely opposite views of you?

O'DONNELL: Well, just like when I vote, I mean, when I'm looking for in a man of character. It's all about character. And character and confidence. And there's a big difference between having good character and being confident and an egomaniac.


SPITZER: So, Kathleen, let's play the dating game. And who's bachelor number one? Russ Feingold. They can both talk about what it was like losing in the midterms and Russ certainly meets her character and confidence criteria.

PARKER: Oh, I've got a better one, Eliot.

SPITZER: Who's that?

PARKER: Bachelor number two, George Clooney. Hey, she said she was open to dating Democrats. And so why not give Hollywood's number one bachelor a try.

Trying to help you out here, Christine. Two great choices. Take your pick. You've got to go ahead and take the plunge. And after all, it's a lot easier than trying to figure out that old First Amendment.

SPITZER: We'll be right back.


ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, CO-FOUNDER OF "HUFFINGTON POST": I want to know, who convinced the president to go overseas right after the midterm election? It doesn't make any sense at all. After what happened, after the clear identification of the problems we're having at home, of how people are feeling about this administration, about the Democrats, you leave and you go to India which is identified in people's minds with outsourcing jobs?

PARKER: Well, we decided that he thought his job has been outsourced?



SPITZER: The president's debt commission's newly released roadmap is already facing fierce criticism both sides of the aisle and several interest groups attacking it.

PARKER: This as the president is returning from another setback overseas, this time in the form of a stalled trade agreement with South Korea. A disappointing development for the White House.

SPITZER: It's been a hard two weeks for the president. Joining us now in "The Arena" to discuss all this, Arianna Huffington from the "Huffington Post" and author of "Third World America," and Chrystia Freeland, Reuters global editor-at-large.

Thank you both for being here.

PARKER: Before you launch --


PARKER: -- may I just say how happy I am that I'm at a table with two other women and just you because every night I'm here at the table swimming, trying to pedaling, treading water.

SPITZER: You know, I'm fighting uphill already.

PARKER: You're going to be singing opera before we're done with you.

SPITZER: I hope not.


CHRYSTIA FREELAND, GLOBAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE, REUTERS: I was going to admit that. We're talking about tough economic issues. And it's nice it is a female dominated panel.

SPITZER: I'm breaking out in hives, guys. I'm breaking out in hives.

PARKER: Women can segue easily from hair to the QE2, especially if they have -- right?

SPITZER: We're filling the boat, right?

All right. Let's bring this back to reality, please. All right. Being the leader of the show, what's happening here? Anyway, Arianna --

FREELAND: I'm surprised you went there, actually.

SPITZER: I just read the script sometimes. Really. All right. I go off-script too often.

Here's what I want to ask you, this debt commission. Forget the substance of it for a moment. Do you buy the notion that this could be a political ticket back for Barack Obama, put some back in the limelight in the position of leadership?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, CO-FOUNDER OF "HUFFINGTON POST": That would have been possible if there was also a jobs commission at the same time. I mean, the problem is, that even before we see the debt commission report, the fact that there's no jobs commission happening and that the emphasis is on the deficit rather than creating jobs is a fundamental problem. Because even the sort of the reference points of that commission, we're talking 2037. Right? That's when they are talking about balancing the budget. So it's not exactly the short term. The short term, the priority, the national conversation, everything should have been about job creation. So that's my fundamental problem before we begin to annotate what's in the leaked report.

SPITZER: A fascinating point. That's exactly right.

PARKER: You know, the White House has been reluctant to step forward. Health care comes to mind. How can -- can President Obama actually advance a set of very unpopular proposals?

FREELAND: Yes, I think he can. I think he's actually been very good in advancing unpopular proposals.

No, no, no. I mean, you know, one thing you can't criticize him for is a reluctance to take unpopular positions. And he actually has done this politically amazing thing of managing to be criticized fiercely by the right, by his sort of former Wall Street constituents, and also fiercely by the left. So I don't think we can accuse him too much of pandering.

To your point, Eliot, about this deficit commission. He created it, right? I mean, this is actually, it's not as if this sort of came from outer space. This is something that he created. And I think the White House did it very intentional to come at this moment in the political cycle. I'm not saying they had a crystal ball and knew they would be shellacked in the midterms. But they wanted it to happen now partly because they really believe this is a big issue and they wanted to have as much distance between the midterms and 2012.


FREELAND: But also, I think, to move the conversation on to what they thought was going to be their next issue.

SPITZER: Arianna's point I think is extremely powerful. Everybody is focused on jobs, not the deficit right now. And do you almost need to deal with jobs before the deficit is a political matter, before the political will can be summoned to make these hard decisions?

HUFFINGTON: I think you have to both for political reasons but also for substantive reasons. The truth is that everybody would agree that we'll never be able to solve the deficit problem if we don't rebuild the economy. It's not going to happen.


HUFFINGTON: I mean, there are just -- the numbers are too huge. And what are we doing to rebuild the economy? Nobody can really tell you how we are going to get to say, eight percent unemployment, let alone five percent in the next few years. There is no plan for that.

SPITZER: Let me switch gears. Let's go overseas for a moment.

The president has been overseas. He fled the country right after the midterm elections? Has this trip been a disaster? He gets nothing from South Korea. He's going to G-20 where it seems like a coalition of nations is about to attack us for a QE2 policy, the quantitative easing stuff. What's happening? Is this an uprising of the world against us financially?

HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, I want to know who convinced the president to go overseas right after the midterm election. It doesn't make any sense at all. After what happened, after the clear identification of the problems we're having at home, of how people are feeling about this administration, about the Democrats, you leave and you go to India which is identified in people's minds with outsourcing jobs? PARKER: Well, we decided that he thought his job has been outsourced?

FREELAND: You know, I'm not going to defend the egghead people technocrats in the White House. And I'm not saying that politically it wasn't a mistake because it sort of looks like it was. But beforehand, I thought it was kind of a smart to do and showed an understanding that America really is part of the global economy, reaching out to India, which I think is an incredibly important emerging market ally. This is the world's biggest democracy. They're growing so fast. Isn't that fantastic? And is America confined --

SPITZER: Chrystia, you spend too much time in account on foreign relations. You're right. This is approved 80-1.

FREELAND: No, come on. No. Actually, the key --

HUFFINGTON: Timing, timing, timing is everything.


FREELAND: I agree with you guys. You know what?

PARKER: So for the third time to Indonesia, right?

FREELAND: In a totally provincial view, the view that argues, which I think is kind of the easy one that there are going to be some made in America only solutions to America's huge problems. That's going to be wrong. And the problems that Obama is facing at the G-20 are the first big wake up call to America. That it no longer runs the world economy.


FREELAND: And America (INAUDIBLE) have to figure out how do we operate in this new environment.

SPITZER: That's the critical point. This G-20 was the tipping point.


SPITZER: Suddenly, the president of the United States doesn't show up and everybody doesn't bow down and say yes, sir, yes, ma'am. Eventually, how do we respond to you? They're attacking us. They're saying your policies are wrong, and they're going to win the debate.

FREELAND: Your policies and your whole way you run your economy. To me, the most important two statements of the past few days has been the state endorsed ratings agency in China said the U.S. economic system doesn't work and so we are downgrading the U.S.

SPITZER: That's right.

FREELAND: That is huge. And then you had the German foreign minister saying something really similar. I don't like the way the U.S. economy works.


FREELAND: Think about how much --

SPITZER: Can I ask a question? Did the Chinese rating agency know that the mortgage debt was going to go bad, too? You know, these people we really have to rely on. Or are they as bad as backing --

FREELAND: Well, I think America does have to rely on them insofar as they are huge consumers of U.S. debt. And they are actually the guide. They have a good reason to be scared by the Fed pumping money into the economy because ultimately what that's going to mean is America gets to pay China back in devalued U.S. dollars. It's a great thing.

HUFFINGTON: Don't worry about the Fed pumping $600 billion into the economy in the way they are doing it, which again, will benefit the people with the most resources, the banks. Again, the same beneficiaries. Aren't there other ways to do that? How about buying municipal bonds? How about doing it in a way that would actually strengthen community banks and credit unions. Surely, the Fed has added tools at its disposal rather than doing to help build grass and (INAUDIBLE) and the banks, again.

FREELAND: It's not so much a question though of whether the Fed has other tools. I think it's mostly a question of if you're a believer in stimulus, there should be fiscal stimulus as well as stimulus on the monetary side. Because you're right --


HUFFINGTON: Yes, even within the terms of mandatory policy. I mean I agree with you. There has to be fiscal stimulus. But even within the terms of what the Fed is doing, I mean, again, the Fed is doing things that I don't see how they're going to help Main Street and the middle class.

SPITZER: OK, but let's put this back. You're right. Fiscal policy is not politically viable. Monetary policy rates are at zero. They're out of tools to use, so they're trying this QE2 stuff. And you're also right. This has been the single largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich because anybody who saves gets zero and the banks making a ton of money these days and that hasn't been focused upon enough politically or economically.

FREELAND: It's good for big corporations, too, right?

SPITZER: Good for big corporations.

FREELAND: You can borrow huge amounts of money at cheaper rates.

PARKER: So you've obviously been talking to Sarah Palin.

SPITZER: Well, you know, no. We're not going to go down that path. We're not going -- FREELAND: No, but Sarah Palin has a point in terms of the interest of her actual constituency, which, you know, I'll probably define as sort of lower middle class-ish, the kind of people who tend to be on fixed incomes, don't have a lot of debt. And that particular slice of America is going to be hurt if you see an inflationary policy.

SPITZER: But, Kathleen, you're right because Sarah Palin once again is ahead of the White House. Politically, Sarah Palin has picked up the support of everybody who's grabbing a pitchfork to point it at somebody. And the White House is having the pitchfork pointed at them, instead of being the ones leading the charge carrying the pitchfork against the banks.

PARKER: That's a lot of pitchforks.

SPITZER: A lot of pitchforks but you know what, there are a lot of pitchforks out there right now and they got it wrong. And that's been their fundamental problem.

PARKER: Well, Arianna, what's going on with David Axelrod? He spoke to the "Huffington Post" and said that they were willing to go ahead with extending the tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts. And then today, I think he pulled back from that and said no, he was mischaracterized. What's going on here?

HUFFINGTON: Well, the fact is, as we're going to know pretty soon that they're going to actually cave, I mean, this is pretty obvious. And again, if they were going to cave, why didn't they sort of take the initiative and work out some ground compromise where they wouldn't be appearing to be surrendering and to be out of options. I mean, that is really what is unfortunate again here.

And there was a moment before the election, remember when John Boehner was on one of the Sunday shows blinking, saying that yes, maybe we shouldn't go all the way and extend all the Bush tax cuts.


HUFFINGTON: But they never took advantage of that moment.

PARKER: Right, right.

FREELAND: Isn't caving better than not caving at this point if what you're worried about is not so much your own political position but the state of the U.S. economy?

SPITZER: It speaks to their inability to negotiate because they always give and don't get.


FREELAND: For the common good.

HUFFINGTON: It's the same thing that happened with the stimulus. There are $300 billion of tax cuts that were included in the stimulus which are now seen by everybody as being stimulus when there were tax cuts and nobody can tell you among the average voter that they were $300 billion of tax cuts. They caved prematurely.

SPITZER: Anyway, Arianna, Chrystia, fascinating conversation. Thank you for being with us.

PARKER: Thank you.

SPITZER: We'll be right back.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Joe Johns. "PARKER SPITZER" is back in a moment. First, the latest.

On this Veterans Day, Vice President Joe Biden led a wreath laying ceremony at the Tombs of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The vice president called the more than 23 million surviving veterans the heart and soul of the nation.

In San Diego, more than 3,000 Carnival cruise ship passengers are back on land after an engine room fire that stranded them at sea. They spent three days without air-conditioning, hot showers, hot meals, in some cases, working toilets. Three days that seemed like three years.


MARQUIS HORACE, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: It was like "Gilligan's Island" or something. I felt like maroon on a prison ship. I guess you can call it that because I was in the dark and I had mayo sandwiches and backed up toilets. And it was just bad. It was really bad all the way around.


JOHNS: Tonight on "AC 360," we're keeping them honest. has pulled two books condoning pedophilia off its Web site following public outrage and threats of a boycott. One of those books was a how-to-guide for pedophiles. Its author is an unapologetic. But should Amazon be apologizing? We'll show you our efforts to contact the company's executives to get a response. John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted" also joins us tonight.

That's the latest. "PARKER SPITZER" continues right now.


PARKER: Before we go, a postscript. It's Veterans Day and we were searching for a way to honor the men and women who wake up each morning prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

SPITZER: We thought the best way to honor all of them was to show just one. From Valley Forge to Bollywood to Kandahar, troops have been returning to their loved ones. Robin Meade of Headline News was there when tech Sergeant Andrew Blackwell, U.S. Air Force, came home after a six-month deployment in Afghanistan. Take a look.


ROBIN MEADE, HEADLINE NEWS: You've never held him in your arms. What is this moment like for you?

SERGEANT ANDREW BLACKWELL: Meet the little one and see my daughter right after her birthday. It was a blessing, truly.

MEADE: To finally have dad right here?


MEADE: It was great, wasn't it?

MUSIC: Gonna hold this moment like a picture.

BLACKWELL: It's a hard choice. Every time --- every time it comes up, to know that some of that time will be away. But it's what's best for my family.

MUSIC: Welcome home.


PARKER: To tech Sergeant Blackwell and his family, to all our troops and all their families, thank you.

SPITZER: Now more than ever, we're grateful for your service.

PARKER: Thank you so much for watching. We'll be here tomorrow night, so be sure to join us.

SPITZER: Good night from New York. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.