Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

General Petraeus, President Obama Address Troops In Afghanistan; Interview With Greece State Prime Minister Charalambos "Haris" Pamboukis; Doing Some Homework

Aired December 3, 2010 - 13:00   ET

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


ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: You too, we'll talk to you next week. We are staying on the same story that Tony was just talking about, the president and his surprise trip to Afghanistan to Bagram Air Force Base. You saw the live pictures there, moments ago. As soon as the president starts speaking we'll get right to it.

I'm Ali Velshi with you for the next two hours; here's what I got on the run down. You think Washington's fired up over WikiLeaks, wait to you see how the rest of the world is reacting today. Plus mom's using social networking to share their breast milk. What does the FDA have to say about that?

And when the next disaster hits, a cool new robot may come to the rescue. Today the little guy is our "Big 'I'" and he's rolling into our studio. But we begin with that breaking news from Afghanistan; a surprise visit from President Obama. We'll show you those live pictures in just a few moments.

He's at Bagram Airfield bringing holiday greetings to U.S. troops and personally awarding four purple hearts. He was planning to also visit Kabul, the capital, and President Hamid Karzai. That as you know is delicate at best, and likely strained by those WikiLeaks cables depicting Karzai as quote "paranoid and weak, shrewd, but insecure."

It turns out the two president be meeting today. We are told bad weather is forcing Mr. Obama to stay in Bagram. Now he's due to address the GIs any minute now and we'll bring you that live when he does. This is Mr. Obama's second visit to Afghanistan as Commander in Chief. He's expected to stay for only about three hours.

Now for "Two at the Top" let's go over to my friend Ed Henry at the White House on that surprise trip to Afghanistan, on a day when there's so much else going on in Washington. I guess that's the best time to make a surprise trip on a day you wouldn't think the president would be in Afghanistan -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes you're right. I mean there's a new jobs report as you know better than anyone out today. Typically, on a Friday when that report comes out, the president will give remarks either at the White House or a nearby small business. So this was very obviously unexpected that he would not be here and instead would be in Afghanistan. What does make sense about it though, when you take a step back from the day-to-day, is the fact that Thanksgiving just passed, Christmas and other holidays coming up. Typically, at least in the Bush administration now this administration over the course of these two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, there's typically been holiday visits from either the president or the vice president.

And as you said, just the second as Commander in Chief. So it's been a while since he's been in country, and big, big policy, a part of this. Beyond just thanking the troops while being home -- being away from home for the holiday, which is obviously, very, very important to do. The policy back drop here is that as early as next week, the president is expected to get a big year-end review of exactly what is going on there on the ground in Afghanistan.

And by most reports, from our own reporters, like Nic Robertson and others, is that the situation on the ground has not been good in terms of security. And while the administration has been picking out some signs of progress, and we'll likely hear that from the president and General Petraeus, there are still enormous security challenges on the ground.

And then the challenges of rebuilding Afghanistan and making sure that as the president recently laid out its time table, beginning to withdraw troops July 2011, wrapping things all up for the U.S. and allied mission by the end of 2014 based on conditions, of course, that is -- largely dependent upon President Karzai and his government being able to stand up their own military and security forces. And as you noted from the WikiLeaks documents this administration has ruled out -- Ali.

VELSHI: And stay right there, listen to these comments with me. First of all General Pet has taken the stand in Bagram Air force Base, he is preparing to introduce the president.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER, AFGHANISTAN: -- we got to try that again. How about an air assault?

SOLDIERS: Air assault.

PETRAEUS: Anybody out here want to say air power?

SOLDIERS: Air power.

PETRAEUS: And is everybody ready for the main event?

(CHEERING)

PETRAEUS: You sure about that?

SOLDIERS: Yes.

(CHEERING)

PETRAEUS: OK, here's the deal. A couple years ago, my air assault buddy at the time, at the time, Command Sergeant Major of the 101st Airborne Division, Command Sergeant Major Marvin Hill told me what he looks for in a commander. He listed all of the usual qualities that you'd expect; you know all the ones. And then he added I also want a commander who is available to our troopers, who is accessible to our troopers, and who is approachable.

Now as I thought about it, I realized that in addition to all of the qualities we expect in leaders, I also look for those specific attributes. And this evening, it is my honor to introduce to you, a leader who has demonstrated his concern for each of you, who has already been to the hospital, to pin purple hearts on some of our wounded warriors.

To meet with the platoon that suffered a tragic loss, and who has proven, above all, that he is available, accessible, and approachable by flying halfway around the world to be with us here tonight. Fellow warriors, please join me in welcoming the leader who made the tough decisions to provide us the resources that have enabled progress here in Afghanistan.

The President of the United States of America, our Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama.

(CHEERING)

PETRAEUS: OK, but before the president starts, I think you all know the president was out on the basketball court a few days ago. Now, he had beaten that team four times already. He just scored on the guy, and elbows started flying around. Now, the only explanation we can come up with is that they forgot who they were playing with.

And so Sergeant Major Hill, still my air assault buddy, decided we'd give him a T-shirt. Well, OK, I got it. It's not the biggest, baddest. It's an I staff T-shirt, it's Hoo-rah. But then, the commander, the 43rd commander of the 101st Airborne Division, came up with a manly man T-shirt, and no one will mess with you, if you wear this, Mr. President.

Hoo-rah!

BARAK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, everybody!

(CHEERING)

OBAMA: I'm sorry, Bagram, I can't hear you. Air assaults?

(CHEERING)

It is great to be back. Let me first of all thank the 101st Airborne Division BAN. Where is the BAN?

Give them a big round of applause.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Thank you.

To Chief Thomas Hager, and the commander and conductor. I gather we had a couple of other bands playing Manifest Destiny and Nuts. I don't know about, you know - I don't know how they sounded. What'd you think? Were they pretty good?

It is great to be back, and I apologize for keeping you guys up late, coming on such short notice, but I want to make sure that I can spend a little time this holiday with the men and women of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and that's all of you.

I want to thank General Petraeus, not only for the introduction and the T-shirts, but for General Petraeus' lifetime of service. This is somebody who has helped change the way we fight war, and win wars in the 21st century. And I am very grateful that he agreed to take command of our efforts here in Afghanistan. He has been an extraordinary warrior on behalf of the American people. Thank you, David Petraeus.

I want to thank all your outstanding leaders who welcome me here, including General John Campbell, Admiral Bill MCraven, from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, Colonel Todd Canniber (ph).

I want to salute your great senior enlisted leaders, including Command Sergeant Major Scott Schroeder , Command Sergeant Major Chris Varis (ph) and Command Chief Craig Adams.

I also want to acknowledge the outstanding work that our civilians are doing each and every day, starting with Karl Eikenberry all the way through to your Senior Civilian Representative Thomas Gibbons and all the civilians who are here. They are fighting alongside you, they are putting themselves at risk, they are away from their family, and we are very, very grateful to them as well. So give them a big round of applause.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Now I think we've got every service here tonight. We got Army, we've got Navy, we've got Air force, and I think we may have a few Marines around too. And a whole lot of folks from the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles.

Now, here in Afghanistan, you are all Coast Guard. Is that what I heard?

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Here in Afghanistan, all of you are part of one team. Serving together, succeeding together, accept maybe in next week's Army-Navy game. As your Commander in Chief, I've got to stay neutral on that. We also have some ISAF partners here as well. You know, when I was here in the spring, we had a coalition of 43 nations.

Now, we've got a coalition of 49 nations. And this sends a powerful message, that the coalition of nations that supports Afghanistan is strong, and is growing. Now, I'm not here to give a long speech. I want to shake as many hands as I can. But let me say that, at this time of year, Americans are giving thanks for all of the blessing that we have. And as we begin this holiday season, there's no place that I would rather be, than be here with you.

I know it's not easy for all of you to be away from home, especially during the holidays. And I know it's hard on your families, they've got an empty seat at the dinner table. Sometimes, during the holiday season, that's when you feel the absence of somebody you love most acutely. But here's what I want you to know. As Presidents of the United States, I have no greater responsibility than keeping the American people secure. I could not meet that responsibility.

We could not protect the American people. We could not enjoy the blessings of our liberty without the extraordinary service that each and every one of you perform each and every day. So on behalf of me, on behalf of Michelle, on behalf of Malia and Sasha, on behalf of more than 300 million Americans, we are here to say thank you. We are here to say thank you for everything that you do.

And I also want to say thank you to your families back home. So that when you talk to them, you know that they know -- they are serving here with you, in mind and spirit, if not in body. Millions of Americans give thanks this holiday season, just as generations have before, when they think about our armed services.

You're part of an unbroken line of Americans who have given up your comfort, your ease, your convenience for America's security. It was on another cold December, more than 200 years ago that a band of patriots helped to found our nation and defeat an empire. From that icy river, to the fields of Europe, from the islands in the pacific, to the hills of Korea, from the jungles of Vietnam, to the deserts of Iraq; those who went before you, they also found themselves in the season of peace serving in war.

They did it for the same reason that all of you do. Because the freedom and the liberty that we treasure, that's not simply a birth right. It has to be earned by the sacrifices of generations. Generations of patriots. Men and women who step forward and say, send me. I know somebody's got to do it and I'm willing to serve. Men and women who are willing to risk all, and some who gave all, to keep us safe and to keep us free.

In our time, in this 21st century, when so many other institutions seem to be shirking their responsibilities, you've embraced your responsibilities. You've shown why the United States military remains the most trusted institution in America. And that's the legacy that your generation has forged during this decade of trial in Iraq and here in Afghanistan. That's the legacy that you're carrying forward.

As General Petraeus mentioned, one year ago, I ordered additional troops to serve in this country that was the staging ground for the 9/11 attacks. All of those troops are now in place. And thanks to your service, we are making important progress. You are protecting your country. You're achieving your objectives. You will succeed in your mission.

We said we were going to break the Taliban's momentum. And that's what you're doing. You're going on the offense. Tired of playing defend. Targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds. Today, we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future.

We said a year ago that we're going to build the capacity of the Afghan people. And that's what you're doing, meeting our recruitment targets, training Afghan forces, partnering with those Afghans who want to build a stronger and more stable and more prosperous Afghanistan.

Now, I don't need to tell you, this is a tough fight. I just came from the medical unit and saw our wounded warrior, pinned some Purple Hearts. I just talked to the platoon that lost six of their buddies in a senseless act of violence. It's a tough business. Progress comes slow. There are going to be difficult days ahead. Progress comes at a high price. So many of you have stood before the solemn battle cross. A display of boots, a rifle, a helmet and said good-bye to a fallen comrade.

This year alone, nearly 100 members of the 101st have given their last full measure of devotion. There are few days when I don't sign a letter to a military family expressing our nation's gratitude and grief at their profound sacrifice. And this holiday season, our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost a loved one, the father and mother, the son or daughter, the brother or sister or friend who's not coming home. And we know that their memories will never be forgotten and that their life has added to the life of our nation.

Now, because of the service of the men and women of the United States military, because of the progress you're making, we look forward to a new phase this year, the beginning of a transition to Afghan responsibility. As we do, we continue to forge a partnership with the Afghan people for the long term. And we will never let this country serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again. That will never happen.

This part of the world is the center of a global effort where we are going to disrupt and dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in its extremist allies and that's why you're here. That's why your mission matters so much. That's why you must succeed, because this effort is about the safety of our communities back home and the dignity of the Afghan people who don't want to live in tyranny.

Now, even though it is a hallmark of American democracy that we have our arguments back home, we have our debates and we have our elections, I can say without hesitation that there is no division on one thing, no hesitation on one thing, and that is the uniformed support of our men and women who are serving in the armed services. Everybody, everybody is behind you. Everybody back home is behind you. Everybody. From north to south to east to west, from sea to shining sea, the American people are united in support of you and your families. And as your commander in chief, I also want you to know that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that you have the strategy and the resources and the equipment and the leadership to get this done.

You may have noticed that during these tough budget times I took the step of freezing pay for our federal work force. But because of the service that you render, all who wear the uniform of the United States of America, are exempt from that action. We're going make -- we're going spare no effort to make sure that your families have the support that they deserve as well. That doesn't just matter to me. It's also a top priority for Michelle, to make sure that Americans understand the sacrifices that your families are making. As she likes to say, 100 percent of Americans need to be right there supporting you and your families. One hundred percent. Only 1 percent are fighting these wars, but 100 percent of us have to be behind you and your families.

Your generation, the generation of Afghanistan and Iraq, has met every mission that you've been given. You've served tour after tour. You've earned not just our admiration, you've earned your place in American history alongside those greatest generations. And the stories of those who served in these wars are too numerous to tell.

One of my greatest privileges as president is to get to know the stories of those who earn the Medal of Honor. Two months ago I presented the metal to the parents of Staff Sergeant Robert Million, who gave his life here in Afghanistan as a member of the Green Berets. His valor, charging toward some 150 insurgents, saved the lives of nearly 2 dozen American and Afghan comrades.

Last month we held another ceremony. For the first time in nearly 40 years, the recipient of the Medal of Honor for an ongoing conflict was actually able to accept it in person. His name is Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta. And some of you may have seen his story, but I want to tell it again tonight because of what it says, not just about our armed forces, but also what it says about the country that love.

So three years ago, Sal and his platoon were in Korengal Valley. When their patrol was ambushed, two Americans lay wounded up ahead. That's when Sal and his men counter attacked again and again and again. They were being rained down with fire. But they just kept counter attacking because they wanted to get their two buddies.

When he saw one of his teammates wounded and being carried away by insurgents, Sal rushed in to help his friends. Despite the bullets, despite the danger, he kept on pressing forward. It was an incredibly intense fire fight. And by the time it was finished, every single member of that platoon had shrapnel or a bullet hole in their gear. Five were wounded, and two had given their lives.

Now, Sal is a pretty humble guy. And so when he came to the White House, he said, you know, I didn't do anything special. He said he was just doing his job. That he didn't do anything that his brothers wouldn't have done for him. If I'm a hero, he said, then every man who stands around me, every woman in the military, every person who defends this country is also a hero.

And he's right. Each of you has your own story. Each of you is writing your own chapter with the story of American and the story of the American armed forces. Each of you have some losses. Each of you have made sacrifices. You come from every conceivable background, from big cities and small towns, from every race and faith and station. You've come together to serve a greater cause. One that matters to the citizens of your country back home and to strangers who live a world away. So, make no mistake, through your service, you demonstrate the content of the American character. Sal is right, every single one of you is a hero.

Some people ask whether America's best days lie ahead or whether our greatness stretches back behind us in the stories of those who have gone before. And when I look out at all of you, I know the answer to that. You give me hope. You give me inspiration. Your resolve shows that Americans will never succumb to fear. Your selfless service shows who we are, who we always will be, united as one people and united as one nation, for you embody and stand up for the values that make us what we are as a people.

America is not defined by our borders. We are defined by a common creed. And this holiday season it's worth remembering that we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are the right to life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that's what you're fighting for here in Afghanistan and that's what you're protecting back home. And that belief is more powerful than any adversary.

So we may face a tough enemy in Afghanistan and we're in a period of tough challenges back home, but we did not become the nation that we are because we do what's easy. As Americans, we've endured and we've grown stronger and we remain the land of the free only because we are also home of the brave. And because of you, I know that once more we will prevail.

So, thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America!

VELSHI: All right, President Obama on a surprise visit to the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan where he's met with troops, he's met with General Petraeus. He awarded some Purple Hearts, met with a platoon that had lost six members earlier this week and was intending to meet with President Karzai. That didn't happen.

Here to tell us a little bit more about what is going on here. This is not a day we were expecting to see the president in Afghanistan. Ed Henry at the stakeout. He's at the White House. And, in fact, quite specifically, quite commonly on the day when the unemployment report comes out, Ed, we typically hear from the president. We thought we were going to hear from him this morning out of Washington.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that was on his schedule that he was going to comment on that jobs report. I apologize, there's some construction going on here at the White House.

But the bottom line is that this was something that administration officials say the president had been wanting to do for a time. They were planning it in secret obviously for security reasons. He's at Bagram Air Base there, which has been facing all kinds of threats of late. And he's trying to convey two messages. I mean, one, you heard the holiday message right after Thanksgiving, right before Christmas. We're told that some of the troops are -- there were about 4,000 troops there for these remarks. Some of them have been on multiple tours of duty where they've missed about four holiday seasons in a row from their families between serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, rotating in and out. So this is not just a short time missing their family at the holidays.

And secondly he wants to underscore that he's committed to trying to finish this mission. I thought it was interesting that at the beginning General David Petraeus, who has had an uneasy relationship with this White House, to say the least, did give the president credit for providing the resources with that surge of troops in order to try and finish that mission. So that was interesting.

VELSHI: He was very enthusiastic in his introduction of the president.

Ed, also a big economic day for us. We're looking at those unemployment numbers. We know there are debates going on and negotiations going on in Washington about extending unemployment benefits and cutting taxes or extending the tax cuts. You've got some economic news that you're -- you can break for us now.

HENRY: Yes, some new information you're hearing on a stakeout first, which is that Roger Altman, who was a big Clinton Treasury Department official, was here at the White House early this morning meeting with administration officials. I've just confirmed that with a couple of the administration officials who say that Roger Altman was meeting with various members of the Obama economic team.

What's significant is that he is the candidate to replace Larry Summers as the head of president's National Economic Council and is seen as a real heavy hitter on Wall Street. It doesn't mean he's going to get the job, but a couple of weeks ago he had a face-to-face meeting here at the White House with President Obama. They don't know each other very well. He's a Clinton guy. But there are a lot of people on Wall Street who are high on him. Some people in the administration

***Enter 15 Here

***30 Below

It doesn't mean he'll get the job, but a couple of weeks ago, he had a face-to-face meeting here at the White House with President Obama. They don't know each other very well, he's a Clinton guy, but there are a lot of people on Wall Street who are high on him. Some people in the administration, others think maybe he's a figure of the past and maybe they need some new blood.

But he was here at the White House a couple of hours ago, I'm told. A meeting with officials, a second meeting now with top administration officials. It might mean that they're edging closer to finally picking a replacement for Larry Summers. He signaled a few months ago that he was stepping down at the end of the year. That's just a couple of weeks away.

So amid the jobs numbers, which were bad today, as you've been noting, and amid all of the other economic challenges they face, maybe they are edging closer to find a replacement for Larry Summers.

VELSHI: OK, Ed. We'll follow that news, which you just brought us. Thanks very much.

Ed Henry on "The Stakeout" at the White House.

Hey, listen, you might have heard about Greece's overwhelming economic woes threatening a few months ago to take the world into another recession. But we've got a guy straight from the prime minister's cabinet and his take on the solution for Greece and possibly for Europe. His Excellency Haris Pamboukis in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Well, you've probably see Greece all over the headlines this year. A big EU bailout, major belt tightening in that country that cut benefits and raised taxes, causing big protests back in May. Basically, Greece, like a few other EU countries, was hit really hard by the financial crisis. Now it's trying to recover.

Now you can see those countries in red behind me -- Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain Portugal. In fact, if you said, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, it gives you the acronym for those countries, PIGS, is what people have been saying.

Problem is that Greece, in its recovery, needs investors. Investors are hesitant to invest in Greece for three big reasons. Number one, a remarkably big and complicated bureaucracy, complicated laws and the lack of opacity -- the lack of transparency in government -- I think we'll just use the word transparency, it's easier.

His Excellency Haris Pamboukis, the state minister of Greece, joins me from New York. Minister, thank you for being with us.

Boy, we were hoping in May, that Greece was a warning to the world and to Europe that European countries have got to fix some of those problems we just talked about. And now, sadly, we're finding that for different reasons, we are seeing problems in Ireland, we're now hearing that Portugal may get into trouble.

What can we learn from what happened to Greece in May, and hope that we can stop this contagion across Europe?

CHARALAMBOS "HARIS" PAMBOUKIS, STATE MINISTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF GREECE: Hello, Ali. Thank you very much. It's a privilege for me to be here.

VELSHI: Pleasure.

PAMBOUKIS: Greece, as already know, has faced some very, very big crisis. It was the first battlefield, if I may say so. And we have, in fact, took unprecedented measures, reducing our deficit, our deficit by six GDP point, which is unprecedented, and now we are pursuing on that.

We have tackled the problem by having a plan and a very solid team, and we all have the same goal around five axis. The first one was big pension reform. The second is to make the -- the public sphere much more competitive. The third is give specific advantages and a much more pro-investment frame, regulatory frame for foreign investment, but also for Greek investment. The fourth was to have visibility of law and taxes. And the fifth is to have a consistent growth plan.

We have exceptional human resources and also we have security, meaning that Greece as you all know, we participant in the European Union, we are a Democratic country, we have --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: But ultimately -- I'll just interrupt you. It was a good lesson and I'm glad Greece is going down that road, but is it different from the things we're seeing in other European countries? Are we just going to see all of these countries that were thought of as a little bit more vulnerable continue to pull down -- you know, to endanger the world's economy?

PAMBOUKIS: I understand. I think that each country participate to the same crisis. We are facing an unprecedented global crisis and, of course, each country has its own problems, and these problems are not all the same. The case of Ireland is not the same to the case of Greece, and same stands for Italy, Spain and Portugal.

But we know that all of us need to make a big effort and to remain united, to have solidarity, much more in this way in the painful and difficult times. And I'm rather optimistic because any other solution among the solidarity, the non-Euro solution, the non- Europe solution are not really any options.

VELSHI: Let me ask you this.

PAMBOUKIS: We should remain and even --

VELSHI: One of the things where, you know, when you talk about a European solution versus a non-European solution, a lot of the countries in the EU are faced with this idea of austerity, belt tightening. And we saw protests in the streets of Greece, in the streets of Italy. We're seeing it all through these countries in Europe.

How are these plans which you laid out for me very effectively, how are they going to play, particularly when there are elections, when there are voters who don't want some of these changes to come through, like increasing retirement age or cutting back on pensions?

PAMBOUKIS: In the case of Greece, we have some good news because we have gone through the test of elections. We all understand that it is not easy and it is not easy for anyone. But the Greek, Greek people, they have shoulder up our program. They have seen and participated even excitedly (ph) to that national need to recover the country.

And that is why, in recent elections, we have make very good score. That means we are still backed up. And I think as long as the austerity measures will be treated in a fair way, I think that no problem we will have and the social coherence and the social stability will not be jeopardized.

VELSHI: Mr. Haris Pamboukis, thank you so much for coming and telling us a bit about this. We wish you all of the best in Greece's continued efforts to get back on track. We look forward to watching it happen.

PAMBOUKIS: Thank you very much, Ali. Thank you very much.

VELSHI: My pleasure.

All right, success at school begins at home. We're tracking one family as they go through an education makeover with Dr. Steve Perry. His prognosis after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: You hear it all the time, schools in America are falling behind those in other countries. You hear story after story that our students are suffering because the public school system is broken and in need of repair.

What's going on after school? When kids get home? It's the other critical component of the education debate that we don't talk about as much. How are parents helping their kids do better in school?

Well, CNN education contributor and school principle Steve Perry is paying a visit to homes across the country to help kids and parents do a little homework.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI, FATHER: The main help we need is that homework and keeping our kids on track in school has become a source of a great deal of strife and disharmony.

JULIA RACZKOWSKI, MOTHER: Why wait till the children go to college? And we're paying $40,000 a year to have them not do homework and now follow through and potentially drop out of school.

DR. STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): The Raczkowskis are not alone. There are millions of families struggling with many of these same issues. (on camera): There's a lot we can learn about a child by the way they keep their room?

What happened, David, are you moving out?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI, SON: It was a tornado.

PERRY: A tornado?

I see we have newspapers articles down here, it looks like some notebooks and some "National Geographic." What is that, David?

D. RACZKOWSKI: This is -- I went whitewater rafting a couple days of go.

PERRY: Oh, a permission slip.

D. RACZKOWSKI: Yes.

PERRY: Oh, good.

D. RACZKOWSKI: And I needed this, but I forgot it.

PERRY: Sometimes, when you start like this, things happen.

Now it's about 9:30. So bedtime?

J. RACZKOWSKI: Eva and Nathan will go off the computer -- probably I've hustle them off around 10:00.

PERRY (voice-over): But the kids are not staying in bed, they are getting up in the middle of the night for snacks.

J. RACZKOWSKI: You know, all of that middle school eating, crackers and all that stuff.

PERRY (on camera): So they go to bed sometimes around 1:00?

J. RACZKOWSKI: Yes.

PERRY: Two?

J. RACZKOWSKI: Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: All right, the tough guy himself is here, Dr. Steve Perry.

You have been a critic of things that go on in the public school system, but you're saying stuff has to go on at home to create the right environment for these kids. What did you learn from the Raczkowskis?

PERRY: Well, in going to their home, what I was able to do is something I don't do very often, is see what happens after school. VELSHI: Right.

PERRY: And be a resource, because it doesn't matter what income bracket you come from, what race you are, if you're a parent you've got questions.

VELSHI: We associate with not having the right environment at home with poor urban schools.

PERRY: Exactly.

VELSHI: We just think -- you know, both parents are working or there's a single-parent home, nothing's going on. This is a --

PERRY: Oh, the Raczkowskis are neither poor, nor urban. They have a very nice home and a very good life and great kids, by the way. I think it's very important to point out that they have great kids.

But we're all trying to figure this thing out with parents. We're all trying to figure out what we can do to help our children be successful. We hear so much about what we need to do and the expectations being as high as they are in children's performance.

And what we talked about with the Raczkowskis was specifically what is happening in the home that is standing in the way of their children's success. And when you watch this special, what you'll see is when they make just a few changes -- and they're the types of changes that any family can make at home --

VELSHI: Right.

PERRY: -- the children's grades actually go up.

VELSHI: Steve, you know that we do education every day on this show, so we're very, very interested in it. What are the changes -- what are the difficulties you run into with the kids? They seemed like nice kids, but some of these kids are hardened about the system. In other words, they don't think that school is for them, they don't think it's really helping them, they don't have faith in their own ability to do well.

What are attitude problems that you can deal with, that parents can deal with their kids?

PERRY: Well, parents need to be parents. Too many parents -- that's one of the challenges you can met with the Rickowskis (ph). Sometimes parents ask children their opinions on things. And children's opinions on things are children's opinions on things, especially when it relates to education.

What parents can do is set up a structured environment within which children can be successful. Set bedtimes. Set study hours. Set study places. One of the conversations we had with the Rickowskis (ph) was, where do your children study? If three children, two of whom are twins -- and what it shows, every single child is different.

VELSHI: Right.

PERRY: Some of the kids can do fine studying in the library. One of the children, David, who is one of the twins -- younger twins. David can't study in the library. David needs to be sitting right in front of mom and dad -

VELSHI: Right.

PERRY: -- with the book open -

VELSHI: Fair enough.

PERRY: -- knee-to-knee getting it in.

VELSHI: All right, let me ask you this. If there's a situation where things have gone permissive - and I don't mean in a bad way, but just permissive. Where the kids' room's a mess or they are staying up too late or they are getting up eating snacks in the middle of the night.

How do you reimpose discipline. Easy for you and me to say when we go into somebody's house to say, oh, this is how it's got to be. How does a parent do that?

PERRY: That's one of the questions the parents ask. They wanted to know if it's too late. But in fact, it's at that time - it's at the time when they're in middle and high school when children need you the most. That's when they seem to be giving you a stiff arm and push you away. But that's when the stakes are the highest, and that's what we talk about. We need a family at that critical stage.

That's when real parenting starts to take place because they have an opinion when they are 3, 4, 5 years old, you just sort of put them somewhere, put them in time out, they face the wall. But when they have their own opinion, they start to get bigger, that's when the real parenting takes place. That's why this is so important to have this conversation.

VELSHI: OK. We're going to watch this, this is good. Thank you, Steve. We'll watch it very carefully.

You can catch "The Education Makeover with Dr. Steve Perry" tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.. Again, 4:30 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. If you tune into this show, it means you care about education, because we do a lot of it, so watch that.

All right. The next generation of robotic rescuer comes with a catchy name, Survivor Buddy. You'll meet him and the innovator behind the project, next in our "Big I."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. Time now for "The Big I." Talking about robots that care. These days, robots are used for just about everything from building cars to entertaining your kids. But they can also save lives, and we love robots on this show. But robots can be used in critical search-and-rescue operations, including things like mine disasters. The people who design and build these lifesaving robots are trying something a little different.

Joining me is now is Dr. Robin Murphy, who's a pioneer in this field. She's the Raytheon (ph) professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M. Great to have you here. You have had all sorts of examples in the last couple of years about where a robot could have been very, very useful and very helpful, and you've had some opportunities to experiment.

DR. ROBIN MURPHY, PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE, TEXAS A&M: That's right. We've been at 11 disasters, starting with the World Trade Center. And we think of them as the huge advances being made in military robots. Those are going to get smaller and go into places that people can't go to. The smaller helicopters and airplanes so that the responders on their own don't have to ask --

VELSHI: And when you talk small, let's just show people. We're talking about his robot folded up, smaller than a shoe box.

MURPHY: Smaller than a shoebox. And this is actually Survivor Buddy, the next phase. So, what do you do when you find a person -- and when you find a person, you're probably with a robot going to find them and be with them for a minimum of ten hours. If you're the Chilean miners, that's like months.

But what are we going to do with you? And we realized the robots would be very rude. That they were actually creepy. That -- have you ever been to a doctor's appointment, and the doctor didn't make eye contact? Well, after 15 minutes, you find it annoying. But after hours, we know from all the psychology and communications research that you will find it beyond annoying. You will start doing the wrong thing. So, if you're stressed, we want to make this easier.

And so if you start having a robot with a little bit more natural motions, we can do two-way video conferencing. While you're waiting, you can play music --

VELSHI: So, basically, this comes to keep somebody company or establish communication with them. You send it down if they're in a tight space, and until rescue is able to get to them, you can communicate and interact.

MURPHY: That's right. For about the ten-hour period, it's all you, what you want to do.

VELSHI: You say 10 hours because is that the average?

MURPHY: That's the average. Like the Mexico earthquake, we started keeping statistics. That's about how long it takes, four to ten hours. But think, it's not just you. All of these robots are now beginning to be used for telepresence and videoconferencing. And so, we're doing research with Stanford University at looking at, well, if I am on the screen going up and down, should my head be going up and down on this, or is that just making it more annoying?

VELSHI: Oh, interesting! And what do we know?

MURPHY: We don't know yet. But that's why we're researching it.

VELSHI: So, you're going to make this thing as easy to -- as comfortable for the person who is trapped?

MURPHY: Absolutely. Because you're already in shock. You're already there. We want it to be calming. Like in an MRI, they give you the music you get to play.

But also we know that we can give you have certain music and it will calm your heartbeat down. We have a doctor that's done physiological work showing that's a very big thing. And the miners themselves -- the Tasmanian miners actually went down and requested the Foo Fighters, which is interesting.

VELSHI: We'll keep a close eye on this as it develops. When do you think it will be ready to deploy --

MURPHY: This is prototype two. We're thinking in another eight months, we'll have prototype three, which will actually be much more hardened. These dark, black things are very bad to have in the night. You want to see it. So, we're working literally with the theater department to help pull this out. Pixar is helping us, as well as Hanson Robotics.

VELSHI: All right. You'll keep us posted. When you get that, come back. And we'll just keep on following your evolution with this --

MURPHY: Well, we'll send her, and we can talk over the Internet.

VELSHI: OK, good deal! We'll do that. Good to see you, Robin. Thank you so much for bringing this. Good luck on this, and thanks for doing this. For more information on Dr. Murphy's robot, check my page out, CNN.com/ali.

Okay. Hillary Clinton makes her intentions clear for 2012. Will she make another run for the White House? That's next in our CNN political update, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Time now for a political update, and the military's top brass are weighing in over "don't ask, don't tell." Our chief national correspondent John King joins me now from Washington. John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Ali, after that last segment how can you be sure I'm not a robot?

VELSHI: No, you definitely are not. I see the whole of you.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You know, you just mentioned. That's the big story, big debate on Capitol Hill. Should the Congress vote to repeal don't ask, don't tell, the policy since the Clinton administration that prevents homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

Well, the service chiefs are split on this. The Army chief, the Marine commandant, the Air Force chief say they're opposed to the change because they think it would disrupt morale and disrupt the livelihood of the servicemen and women.

The vice chairman of the joint chiefs, though, the head of the Navy and the head of the Coast Guard say they are in favor of the switch. All this playing out now as Congress decides to vote this year in the lame duck session to repeal. John McCain saying today, Ali, he thinks there are 41 votes, enough to block the procedural vote to keep that policy from changing. But Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, a Republican, said he would vote to repeal. So, we'll keep our eyes on that one.

Two Democrats talking about running for the presidency or not. One forever and one in 2012. Let's start with the forever first. The secretary of state Hillary Clinton, she on a trip right now. She was in Bahrain, and she was asked a question yesterday and said her current job as secretary of state would be her last job in public service. She said, "I think I'll serve as secretary of state as my last public position."

And the debt commission gets 11 bipartisan votes, Ali. Needed 14 to make Congress vote on those. So, that vote not certain now.

VELSHI: All right. We'll keep on talking about that. John, good to see you as always. Not a robot ever. John King.

Your next political update is just an hour away. We'll be right back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)