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New Rules for Flying; U.S. Closes Embassy in Yemen; Guns in NBA Locker Room; Protests, Clashes Continue in Iran; Iran Sympathizers Bring Demands to Obama; Congress Returns to the Hill, Health Care Debate to Continue; Issues Await Obama Following Vacation, Including Education; Dubai Tower Will Be Tallest Building

Aired January 03, 2010 - 18:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a senior White House adviser breaks news on CNN, warning the world of a possible al Qaeda terror attack against U.S. and British interests. We'll get to that story just ahead.

But first, breaking news on how the rules of air travel are about to change.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, reporting tonight from New York City.

Those new developments from the White House, released just moments ago in the aftermath of the botched Christmas day airline bomb. Starting at midnight, all travelers flying into the U.S. from abroad will be subject to stricter random security measures. And if you are flying from a terrorism-prone country, expect a full screening.

A statement released just moments ago reads, quote, "TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening."

Senator Charles Schumer has his own plan for tightening airport safety. He says U.S.-based airlines should threaten to stop flying to airports with lax security. The New York Democrat wrote to the heads of the major airlines today, asking them to report any security issues to foreign airports. And he says, if those problems are not fixed, we should stop landing there.

Schumer is also asking the State Department to double-check all travel visas for people who had been added to a terrorist database.

It is the most dramatic evidence yet that Yemen is emerging as a new and increasingly serious terror concern for the United States and the West.

The U.S. government today closes embassy in Yemen's capital, citing security threats and the continued possibility of terrorist violence.

Britain has shut down its embassy as well.

President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism explained the decision on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."


JOHN BRENNAN, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: I spoke with our ambassador in Yemen, Ambassador Seche, both this morning as well as last night. And there are indications that al Qaeda is planning to carry out on attack against a target inside of Sana'a, possibly our embassy and what we do is to take every measure possible to ensure the safety of our diplomats and citizens abroad.

So, the decision was made to close the embassy. We are working very closely with the Yemeni government on taking the proper security precautions.


LEMON: As we have been reporting, U.S. CentCom commander, General David Petraeus, was in Yemen yesterday for talks with that country's president.

The U.S. embassy is in the capital of Sana'a and the ambassador is Steven Seche, a career foreign service officer who's been with the State Department for nearly 30 years. The embassy serves the typical duties for U.S. citizen there. It also handles other diplomatic responsibilities, including visas and passports.

Let's talk about the terror threat inside Yemen and the decision to close the U.S. and British embassies there. I'm joined now, by phone -- Edmund Hull, he is a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen.

Thank you for joining us again this evening, sir. What does this mean now, these stricter policies? Does this mean the administration is becoming more serious about this?

EDMUND HULL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO YEMEN (via telephone): Well, let me just address the situation in Yemen and the closing of the embassy there. As a general rule, closing an embassy is not pulling up stakes and leaving the country. Rather, it's a tactical maneuver to reduce exposure when there is a specific threat. And even though the embassy is closed, essential business, for example, security cooperation with the Yemenis usually continues despite that closure.

LEMON: So, Ambassador, we had the -- General David Petraeus meeting with the president of Yemen yesterday. And now, we have this. This appears to be an escalation that is not stopping one more step added to this. So, being the former ambassador there, what does this mean? What is the next step, if any, in this process? Do you think this is the end or more steps will be taken?

HULL: Well, I think what you are seeing is reaction -- action and reaction. During the previous month, there have been several strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen. And it's not surprising that they should attempt to respond to those attacks with their own initiative.

And I wouldn't necessarily see this as a dramatic escalation but rather an understandable back and forth between the government of Yemen on one side and al Qaeda on the other. And I think the critical issue here is which side is able to gain the offensive and maintain the offensive.

LEMON: This morning, I want to read the direct quote again from Mr. Brennan. He says, "There are indications that al Qaeda is planning to carry out an attack against a target inside of Sana'a and possibly our embassy." He also said that, "What we do to take every measure possible to enhance the safety of our diplomats and citizens abroad. So, the decision was made to close the embassy."

He made that news, again, as we said this morning on CNN. Then where might the information come from that there was an imminent or not sure as ambassador, if you want to comment on this -- do you believe that there was an imminent threat or possibility of a threat here, otherwise, they may not have closed this embassy? Do you believe that a threat was imminent?

HULL: Well, I'm not privy to any particular intelligence, but I think you can take Mr. Brennan at his word if he says that there was a threat. I think we can certainly credit that.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Ambassador Hull -- former Ambassador Hull, we appreciate you joining us again this evening on CNN.

HULL: You're welcome.

LEMON: And President Obama yesterday made a direct connection between the Christmas Day terror plot against a U.S. airline to al Qaeda fighters inside Yemen. Today, on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," the president's assistant for counterterrorism talked with our Gloria Borger about what U.S. intelligence agencies knew before the Christmas Day attack.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: There is a report in "Newsweek" this morning that you personally received intelligence from Saudi officials that al Qaeda might try to use an explosive hidden in underwear? And that's what Mr. Abdulmutallab did. What did you do with that information when you got it?

BRENNAN: Well, I think the report you are referring to is the attempted assassination attack against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in late August.


BRENNAN: In fact, within a week of that attack, I was out in Saudi Arabia. I met with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. I went to the room where the attack took place.

We worked very closely with the Saudis to get that information. We shared it completely throughout the government.

PETN was the substance that was used in that attack. We were looking very carefully at that. There was no indication at the time that there was going to be an attempt against an aircraft. What we need to do is try to stay ahead of it.

BORGER: Was the FAA put on alert about this, that people might be coming through airports with explosives?

BRENNAN: There was -- there was nothing in that assassination attempt against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef that indicated aircraft -- aviation was a target. He was sitting in the Majlis when the suicide bomber came next to him. We were very concerned about the possible assassination attempts. And so, we have been taking steps, as we get this information.

BORGER: So, the FAA didn't know? So, the FAA didn't know?

BRENNAN: Oh, the FAA, they get all the information that's available to the intelligence community that relates to terrorist threats. And so, we have that system working well. But clearly, in the case of Mr. Abdulmutallab, the system didn't work the way it was designed to.



LEMON: And before he was a bombing suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was reportedly a student of extremism, known by British intelligence for his radical ties while at school in London. A senior British official tells the "Associated Press" that the Nigerian man started making contact with extremists under surveillance about a year after arriving in the U.K. But the official says no one considered him enough of a threat to alert American authorities.

A Florida man accused of going on a shooting rampage Thanksgiving Day and murdering four of his relatives is now in custody -- and it's all because of a tip from a television viewer. Paul Merhige made his first appearance in Palm Beach court this morning. Merhige was arrested at a Florida Keys motel last night after the owner recognized him from an episode of "America's Most Wanted."

The father of one of the victims, a 6-year-old girl, was relived when he heard the news.


JIM SITTON, VICTIM'S FATHER: It means I'll be able to sleep a little better tonight and I won't be patrolling the inside of my house with the shotgun, you know, thinking the monster is right around the corner. I have been in protective mode. And now that he's captured, at least, you know, my family, we can even begin the healing process.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Merhige is also accused of killing his 79-year-old aunt and his twin sisters, one of whom was pregnant. He is being held without bond on four counts of murder.

An NBA player admits to having a gun in the locker room but it's the part of the story that didn't -- that he didn't talk about that everyone else is talking about.

And we are getting new video this afternoon out of Tehran, as anti-government protests -- protesters raise their voice against the regime. Our Iran desk is monitoring today's developments and we'll check in.

And President Barack Obama preparing for his next big policy push. Kids, you may not like this one. Parents, you might not either.

And we want to know what's on your mind. Make sure you log on. Those are the sites right there.


LEMON: Man, this story is really getting a lot of buzz on the Internet, on the blogs. So pay attention to this.

NBA star Gilbert Arenas says he used, quote, "bad judgment" in taking guns into the Washington Wizards' locker room. Arenas spoke last night after two days of reports regarding an alleged locker room showdown between two players.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, reports the case is attracting attention far beyond the sports world.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas is a three-time NBA all star, but his alleged locker room gun antics could get him into serious foul trouble legally.

GILBERT ARENAS, WASHINGTON WIZARDS PLAYER: I'm a jokester. You know, nothing in my life is actually serious.

CANDIOTTI: But it's no joke. The D.C. police, U.S. attorney's office and National Basketball Association all say they are investigating. The "New York Post" reports Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton allegedly drew guns on each other in the locker room December 21st over a card-playing gambling debt.

ARENAS: I can't, you know, speak on that. But, you know, if you -- if you've known me, you've been here, I never did anything with violence. Anything I do is funny. Well, it's funny to me.

CANDIOTTI: Team owners say Arenas kept unloaded weapons in his locker with no ammo, a practice they call dangerous and disappointing. Quote, "Guns have absolutely no place in a workplace environment and we will take further steps to ensure this never happens again."

ARENAS: I agree. You know, that's bad judgment on my part, you know, storing them here. And, you know, I take responsibility for that.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): And players who are working, there's a great deal of security. But away from the spotlight, it's a whole new ball game.

(voice-over): Some professional athletes own or carry guns, saying they consider themselves potential targets that need protection -- protection from attacks like that suffered by Washington Redskins defensive back Sean Taylor, who was murdered in his Miami home during a robbery. But carrying a gun can be costly, even for a celebrity. Ex-New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for illegal possession of a gun after accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub.

Megastars like Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neil create fan frenzy when they hit the court. In post-game, fans get up close and personal with their heroes.

Shaq, who works with police in his spare time, declined to talk about the Arenas incident.

(on camera): I just want to ask you about the Gilbert Arenas incident.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Either did LeBron James, but he did talk about security in general.

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS PLAYER: I live in Akron, Ohio, which is my hometown. So, I don't need security.

CANDIOTTI: Do you own a gun?

JAMES: I don't -- I don't travel with security. One thing I do is continue to just make sure my family is always safe.


LEMON: Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti joins us now.

Susan, we have been discussing this, everyone is talking about this story. This is far beyond a sports story. Real quickly, though, what are the rules about this?

CANDIOTTI: Well, here's what both the NBA and the NFL says. They ban the use of guns by players, handling guns on company time or on company property. That's even if they show up at charity events. And on top of that, they recommend against personal use for their own player's protection. But the discussion now is really with whether teams should be adding a gun clause to personal contracts, for example, banning them, just like they do skydiving, or let's say boxing or car racing.

LEMON: I can't believe I'm having this conversation with you about guns. I mean, it just seems like such a common sense sort of thing. By the way, do you heard any -- Crittenton or any of the other players about this?

CANDIOTTI: Well, I mean, we've reached out to Gilbert Arenas and have not heard back from him. We've also reached out to Crittenton's agent, we haven't heard back from him either. But the "New York Post" says that the agent says that his client will be exonerated when all is said and done.

But everyone wants to know what does Arenas have to say specifically whether about whether he drew a gun or there was gun play going on in the locker room or not? And he -- all he's saying is he's going to talk with investigators about it.

LEMON: So, he does have to speak to investigators?

CANDIOTTI: Oh, he sure does and says he's going to do it tomorrow. He has to. He got the U.S. attorney's office involved, the D.C. police and, of course, the league. They want to talk to him about it as well.

LEMON: Oh, my gosh. All right, Susan, thanks. Keep working this story. And I want o tell you, Susan, you -- you've been -- have you tweeted him or have you been following his tweets on...


LEMON: Both? OK. I'm going to tweet him as well, maybe he'll tweet me back or maybe he'll come on.

Thank you so much, Susan.

Susan is working the story. If we get more information, she's going to bring it to you.

Let's talk more about this now, because joining us now in Los Angeles is veteran NBA analyst and nationally syndicated radio show host Stephen A. Smith.

Good to see you, Stephen. I wish it were for a better subject than this.


LEMON: Steven, what's your take on the "New York Post" report that Arenas and Crittenton drew guns on each other in the locker room over a gambling debt? And it does appear that there is, you know, credibility to the story because they are responding to it.

SMITH: Well, first of all, number one, Peter Vecsey broke the story. It was an outstanding job by him. He's absolutely right on the money, according to numerous sources that I spoke to in the league. There isn't a single thing that he reported that is incorrect.

The fact is, that they did get into an altercation and ultimately comes down to a situation where Gilbert Arenas, if he is convicted of a felony, if he's charged and ultimately convicted of a felony, he will lose out on $111 million contract. It's about $100 million left on that contract.

Crittenton will probably be pushed out of the league.

And Ernie Grunfeld, the president of the Washington Wizard, he could very well have his job in jeopardy simply because, according to the reports that was in yesterday's "New York Post" by Peter Vecsey and someone else, I might add, the fact is, is that Ernie Grunfeld reported that Gilbert Arenas did have guns in the locker room. What wasn't reported to the NBA, according to league sources, was that there was an altercation involving those guns. And that's an entirely different matter altogether, that's an important item...

LEMON: That there is an altercation...


SMITH: ... and that's why the NBA is very unhappy about that.

LEMON: An altercation involving the guns in the locker room, right? I just want to get that.

SMITH: Between...

LEMON: Between them at the time.

SMITH: Yes. And according to my sources, what happened was that after getting into an argument over a gambling debt that didn't even amount to more than $500, the next day, when Crittenton walked into the locker room, there were three guns laying in his locker area, according to numerous sources that I had spoken...

LEMON: And this is according to...


SMITH: ... talking a lot now.

LEMON: This is according to your sources. Yes, and again...

SMITH: This is according to my sources. Apparently, there were three guns laying in the locker room and Gilbert Arenas was standing in the corner basically saying, "Take one" and used an expletive word to say, "Take one," expletive, and that's when everything just basically elevated.

LEMON: OK. So, and this is, again, according to Stephen A. Smith's sources, CNN hasn't confirmed that. But it is good information, Stephen.

Did they have a beef before this? Do you know anything about that? Were there beef...

SMITH: Not to my knowledge.

LEMON: There weren't beef.

SMITH: Not to my knowledge. Not at all.

And the sad part about this, Don, is that Gilbert Arenas is a very affable individual to know him, a lot of people like him. He doesn't mean any harm to anybody in usual circumstances. But he's going through a lot in his life. This is a guy that was abandoned by his mom at the age of 3 1/2 years old. I mean, this is a guy...

LEMON: That's not an excuse, though. That's not an excuse that anyone should act in that behavior, right? But it gives you...

SMITH: Who is saying it's an excuse? That wasn't me. I'm just giving you some background information to the psychological issues that this guy has had to deal with. That's just one of the things.

And, obviously, when you get $111 million, you get a bit of a big head. And, clearly, he is engaged in a strong level of idiocy and, you know, he's going to be dealt with. Because I can assure you this, whether it's the U.S. attorney's office, whether it's the metro police in D.C., no matter what they do, trust me, Commissioner David Stern is going to have something to say about this.

I wouldn't be surprised that by Friday this man is suspended for the rest of the year.

LEMON: It's just -- I mean, come on, Stephen. All right, let's talk it. Just for bringing guns, and if there were three guns, suspended -- I mean, is that really enough? What is going on that people feel -- especially these players -- that they have to carry guns or bring guns into a locker room.

I mean, I can't believe I'm even having this conversation. It's common sense. You don't do -- I don't bring a gun into CNN. I don't bring a gun anywhere I go. What's going on here?

SMITH: Well, I think -- I think it's important to understand that this is not the first time we've talked about the absence of common sense when it comes to professional athletes. That's number one.

Number two and more importantly, some of the things that we talk about in the world of sports, particularly as it pertains to the African-American community, that sort of like taboo, but it's just real, is that you got quite a few players, it's not the majority, but the actions of a few taint the many. And you've got the actions of the few acting like prisoners in a prison yard or something.

(CROSSTALK) LEMON: Wait. Wait. What do you mean about African-Americans? What do you mean -- explain that to me.

SMITH: I'm talking about the arrest of African-American players in the NFL. I'm talking about, you know, the behavior of some players on the NBA level of African-American descent. It's something that hasn't been talked about quite enough.

LEMON: You think it's cultural.

SMITH: I think -- I think you can make the argument that it's cultural right now because you look at the way guys acting, you look at the way some guys conducting themselves. It has been a problem that has been lamented by league commissioners for quite some time. And they don't go to that level where they point out that it's occurring in the African-American community because they don't want to go there. But I'm on national TV with you and I am going there.

LEMON: But if you look at -- if you look at...

SMITH: That's what we are seeing.

LEMON: Well, you know, both of us African-Americans, if you got eyes, you can see.


LEMON: So, if you look at Plaxico Burress and you look at all the other stories, you know, maybe you are right. There is a problem.

Here's my question that I ask every time I hear a Hollywood starlet or someone in Hollywood has gotten a DUI. And they make millions, you know, every movie. Why are you driving yourself?

I don't -- sometimes, I don't want to drive, I take a taxi if I go out and I have a couple of drinks. I'm an adult. I'll take a taxi. I don't get into a car.

So, why not get security if you are concerned about your safety and you're making millions of dollars a year?

SMITH: Well, that's certainly a legitimate question, especially in a case of a Plaxico Burress or in this case with other guys. I mean, the fact is, is that if you are making that amount of money, you know what, you can afford security. So that comes to a common sense issue.

But what we're pointing to now, Don, is you say, well, why isn't that the case? Because a lot of times, it comes down to guys' definition of what manhood is all. And even though you and I would consider that to be utterly ridiculous, the fact is, is when you take millions of dollars and you put it in the hands of young men who are more concerned with how they look and what kind of image they can portray about themselves...

LEMON: And not being a punk or whatever, yes. (CROSSTALK)

SMITH: ... ramifications of their actions then you have your answer.

LEMON: Stephen A. Smith, always a great conversation with you. Stephen, appreciate it. If you get any more information, get in touch with us, please.

SMITH: No problem. Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you very much, sir.

We're going to move on now and talk about battling more than freezing temperatures. Blustery wind chills and snow in New England. How about coastal flooding and erosion added to the winter mix? Weather mix? CNN's meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is keeping tabs on it all for you in the CNN weather center.

Hi, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Don. Yes, couple that with people trying to get around town by the airways and the roadways, it means major travel delays. Plus, another arctic blast is on the way. We'll tell where and when it arrives -- coming up.


LEMON: You know, Jacqui, we all love to be home for the holidays with the snow falling and whatever, what gives with this? Some people may not be able to make it home on time because of all this bad weather we are getting.

JERAS: Yes, we've had a lot of delays. In fact, let's just go ahead and start right there at the airports. And you see, because of this system across parts of the northeast, then it's the windy conditions combined with some low clouds and poor visibility because of the snow.

So, we are looking at over an hour and a half in Boston, Logan. JFK, nearly two hours. LaGuardia, about an hour and a half. More than two hours -- two and a half almost there in Newark. Teterboro, over an hour, and about an hour and a half in White Plains. So, that's a lot of people having problems and being late.

And the roadways, of course, are very slick with the snow. And temperatures below freezing across much of the country means that you're going to have slick spots and certainly bridges and overpasses in particular certainly on the rough side.

Well, let's take a look at what this system has been doing across parts of the northeast. First, we'll talk about some of the wave action, the strong winds kicking up big waves and causing quite a bit of coastal flooding.

These pictures from Massachusetts along the coastal areas and there you can see those big waves. We did have some homes which were damaged and flooded as a result of this. And this wasn't just Massachusetts. This was all the way up the coast in Maine as well as the Canadian Maritimes.

Now, the fun part of it was the snow. And some people having a good time in Rhode Island as a result, making a little snowman there about three to six inches total in the Providence area. But we had some really impressive numbers further up to the north as we get into northern New England.

Check out this. More than two feet in South Burlington, Vermont; 21 inches in Randolph, New Hampshire; 17 in Augusta, Maine; and Mount Vernon, 15 inches.

So, our low continues to linger here across the northeastern corridor. We're going to finally start to watch this begin to pull away by tomorrow. So, watch for the snow to lessen and watch for the winds to decrease as well.

Now, the cold air in place here behind this system bringing in a lot of lake effect snow showers. Around the Buffalo area, if you saw the game today, it was just a big mess there. We had up to two feet in the Tug Hill Plateau. So, this is going to continue to be an ongoing story.

And a big plunge of cold air as if this weekend wasn't bad enough. This is going to be coming into the nation's midsection, pushing eastward. By the middle of the week, Don, I think Wednesday could be the worst day and we may even get some snow into some southeastern states before the week is out.

So, the cold air continues to grip the U.S.

LEMON: When are you going to be talking about sunny, balmy afternoons all over the country?

JERAS: A couple months perhaps.

LEMON: A couple of months.


LEMON: Patience is a virtue, right? Thank you, Jacqui.

JERAS: Sure.

LEMON: Political tensions are reaching a boiling point in Iran as the government threatens to take an even harder line against protesters. We have a live report for you.

And Congress gets back to work this week. The focus: health care. We'll take a look at what's next in the battle for reform.


LEMON: Boarding a flight bound for the U.S.? Get ready for changes at the security check point. The TSA says, starting at midnight, everyone getting on an international flight heading into the U.S. could be subjected to stricter, random searches. And if you are flying from countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism, enhanced security measures are a must for every single passenger. The State Department lists those as Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Iran. A federal counterterrorism official says the other countries of interest that the TSA alludes to include Pakistan, Yemen and Nigeria. The crackdown comes nine days after a botched bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

The U.S. has closed its embassy in Yemen, citing the threat of a possible potential terrorist attack. Britain closed its embassy there as well. President Obama's top adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism tells CNN there are indications that al Qaeda might launch an attack in Yemen's capital, possibly against the U.S. embassy. No word with on when the embassy might reopen.

The month-long manhunt for a Florida man accused of gunning down four relatives on Thanksgiving Day is over. Paul Merhige made his first appearance in a Palm Beach court this morning. He was arrested about 200 miles from the crime scene in a Florida Keys motel last night. The motel's opener recognized Merhige from an episode of "America's Most Wanted".

New video and strong words in Iran today, adding to the political powder keg there. This is amateur video. Take a look.


LEMON: This video is believed to be from last weekend's bloody threat, street battles that left eight opposition protesters dead. Government official had been saying that no guns were used, but this appears to show a man in black firing several shots. and new today, Iran's interior minister threatened to take a harder line, saying police are under orders to show no leniency to protesters. This comes one day after opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, said he is willing to die for his cause.


CROWD: Free press for Iran. No more justice.


LEMON: Human rights, democracy and freedom of the press, demands of Iranian protesters are being brought to President Obama's doorstep. About 100 people rallied just outside the White House today. And they say the world is looking for answers from President Obama.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTOR: If Obama doesn't speak up and condemn more strongly the human rights violation and also lend his support more to the green movement, the government will feel in power to condition continue with the rape and torture and killing on the streets. UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTOR: The world has watched this on -- you know, on YouTube, on Facebook, because foreign journalists are not allowed to go there. But all these videos have come to us and we have seen how the government has violently crushed down this citizens' movement.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTOR: We have actually been writing letters to the White House and I that is the most effective, but we have also been doing protests, because I feel like if we do protests and it's on video, then people in Iran will have a little more hope knowing we are with them at the same time.


LEMON: A lot of the protesters talking about the global impact of the amateur video coming out of Iran.

Our Reza Sayah is manning our Iran desk at our CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

Reza, you have uncovered some new footage for us?

REZA SAYAH, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don, new footage, and a couple of hours ago, we did something that is pretty rare, and that is to tape record a conversation with a supporter of the opposition movement in Iran. Of course, we have gotten a lot of dramatic video throughout the past couple of months from the protests, but speaking to some of these demonstrators has been difficult. One, because of the strict media restrictions in Iran. And two, because a lot of these people are afraid. They're afraid that Iranian security officials are listening on their phone conversations.

But again, a couple hours ago, we spoke to a 28-year-old man. We will call him Hesam (ph) to protect his identity. He says he's a researcher, a supporter of the opposition movement, who has taken part in most of these demonstrations, including the one seven days ago, last Sunday, where he said he was attacked by security forces. Of course, people have died in these demonstrations. Hundreds of people have been detained.

We asked Hesam (ph), are you afraid. And if so, why do you keep going out there? Here's what he had to say.


HESAM, UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTOR: I'm afraid, but I don't have any choice. It is not a good way just to see it at home and do nothing. So I want to change the condition. If I want to have a better life, I have to do that, yes. Maybe it is (INAUDIBLE) the condition. Maybe I would be attacked. Maybe I would be shot. Maybe I would be killed, maybe arrested. All of them could happen. But I, myself, I do my job.

SAYAH: Hesam (ph), what do you and your fellow protesters want from these demonstrations? What will make you say, OK, I'm not going to protest anymore, I'm satisfied? HESAM (ph): I think what -- you know, the -- I just -- I need the country to be democraticized, and really I need democracy, democracy and all the principles of a democracy, based on the out- context. Because we have -- like it or not, going at a country with -- a very, very multicultural country, and (INAUDIBLE). And I think we need our country a democracy based on our context. Democracy, I mean, and all of the main principles, freedom of speech, and respecting of the civil rights, respecting, to that point, the human rights, minorities. And everything that is common and universal in democracies, for Muslim democracy to work.


SAYAH: That's what you see here so often from supporters of this opposition movement, that they want true democracy, a freer, more open society, a change in election laws, and a more representative government.

We also asked Hesam (ph) in Iran, where do you think all of this is headed? And he said, based on what he has seen, chances of these two sides coming to an agreement is unlikely. He expects to see more turmoil, Don, and more bloodshed.

LEMON: Much more to talk about this with this story, Reza Sayah.

Reza, we will pick up our conversation at 7 p.m. eastern here on CNN.

Thank you so much, sir. Reza standing by at our Iran desk.

Congress is back in session this week and the fight over health care once again takes center stage.

Let's get now to our political director, Paul Steinhauser. He joins us now.

I always get your title and Mark's -- Mark Preston's title all jumbled up.

Happy New Year to you. Good to see you. Let's talk about health care reform. What's next?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Don, I guess you could say it was overshadowed big time by that national security and terrorism incident over the holidays, but definitely not been forgotten. As you mentioned, Congress coming back later in the month, but House and Senate negotiators definitely, starting this week, will start trying to work it out.

The time line here, Democratic leaders in Congress would love to get a bill to the president for his signature before he gives that State of the Union address at the end of this month or early in February, but that could be tough. And why? Because these bills are very different. The House bill, the Senate bill, big differences over the public option, over illegal immigration provisions, over anti- abortion provisions, over the price tag of the bill, and over how you pay for the bill.

So while the negotiators are going to be working hard, whether they can get a bill to the president by the State of the Union is a question mark.

LEMON: Well, what are the polls showing on how Americans feel about health care reform?

STEINHAUSER: We asked that. We did a poll just before the holidays, in late December. This is interesting. We asked about the Senate bill which, at the time, was nearing passage. You can see, our poll indicated that only 42 percent of the people we questioned were supportive of the bill. The rest, a majority, were against it. Why? About an equal amount, 39 percent right there, didn't like the bill because they thought it was too liberal. And a small amount, about 13 percent, didn't think the bill went far enough. It wasn't liberal enough for them.

Take a look at this next number as well. This really kind of spells it out because it really matters to you and your family. Only 22 percent of the people we questioned said they thought that the bills would be better for their family, would be change for the better. 37 percent said change for the worse, and about four in 10, Don, said, you know what, this bill not have any effect at all on my family and their health care.

LEMON: Paul, even as a final bill is being signed into law, in an election year, the fight is not over yet, right?

STEINHAUSER: This battle will continue, even if this becomes law, even if the president signs the bill into law. Already, we are seeing attempts by Republicans to take this bill, if it becomes law, to the courts. They say it is unconstitutional. There are two movements there.

Remember, a lot of the provisions don't kick in until 2013 or '14. What happens after this bill becomes law? It becomes a battle of salesmanship, the Democrats touting the benefits in the bill, the Republicans saying it is time to repeal the bill. Already, you're seeing a lot of people on the right urging, telling Republicans who are up for re-election this year that they have to mandate that they will urge for repeal of the bill.

So, it is going to be a big -- it is going to be a big topic straight through the midterm elections in November, Don.

LEMON: Deputy political director, Paul Steinhauser, thank you very much.

President Obama wants students in class more, not less, but cash- strapped states are cutting the calendar. We will update you on the administration's push for a year-round curriculum.

They say it will be the tallest and probably most impressive structure of its kind, definitely a first. Already a tourist attraction and it is not even finished yet. I'm talking about the Dubai Tower. We will show you what it's going to look like, coming up.


LEMON: President Obama and his family will wrap up their Hawaiian holiday vacation later tonight and head back to Washington.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, has been roughing it in Honolulu during the president's stay.

A lot of issues await the president when he returns here to the mainland, right?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don. We have been talking a lot about national security, but another big education (ph) -- that affect so many of our viewers, obviously is education. What is interesting is we decided to take a look about the fact that the Obama administration has been pushing this idea of all year-round school. They think it will make the U.S. more competitive. Ironically, here in the president's home state, they are actually going the other direction. They are cutting the number of days that kids are in school. That's angering a lot of parents.

He sat down with one of those families that has been pretty hard hit by this move.


HENRY (voice-over): Like many 9-year-olds, Hunter Gentry loves his scooter and is very creative.

HUNTER GENTRY: I'm Hunter Gentry and I'm a chef and a baker. Waaa!

HENRY: This young Hawaiian has already started his own cooking show on YouTube, hoping to make it big on "Top Chef" someday.

But Hunter also has bilateral hearing loss, which makes it hard to hear "S's" and "T's" at the end of words. two hearing aids help, and so do special classes at school, but that's been disrupted by furlough Fridays, a drastic measure by Hawaii to cut 17 more class days, resulting in the shortest school year in the nation to deal with a massive budget hole.

LELA GENTRY, MOTHER OF HUNTER: When he is missing Friday, he is missing not only his regular school day, like everyone else, but he is missing his one-on-one resource time with his teacher. And I think that that has really helped him to succeed all these years, to have that special attention.

Now with the teachers having to kind of juggle their schedule and squeeze in other -- you know, squeeze in time on other days, he generally has to take away time from other subjects, if that's the case, too. So really, it's a no-win situation.

HENRY: Lela works as a makeup and wardrobe stylist. And her husband is a freelance photographer. So they can often work with Hunter at home on Fridays. But she notes other families have day care issues. and she has a second child on the way.

LELA GENTRY: My time's going to run thin.

HENRY: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pushing for the nation to adopt an all year-round curriculum, so he's angry this state is going in the opposite direction.

ARNE DUNCAN, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Everyone's having to make really tough choices. But if we desperately need more time, not less, when Hawaii said their certain to this tough fiscal problem was to eliminate 17 days of school, 10 percent of the school year, no one else has proposed that kind of answer. There has to be a better way.

HENRY: But last week, Hawaii's Republican governor. Linda Lingle, rejected a move by the teacher's union and state education officials to restore seven days to the public schools' calendar.

GENTRY: I got the day off.

HENRY (on camera): So it's not so bad for you?


GENTRY: No, but...

LELA GENTRY: He is honest.

HENRY: Come on, I need a day off.

(voice-over): Mom worries that, while the politicians slug it out, the testing scores of her son and others will suffer come spring.

LELA GENTRY: The biggest person that's, you know, being hurt are the students. And I think, you know, when it comes to education, it should never be touched and never be cut back.


HENRY: With so many states cash-strapped across the country, I can tell you, federal officials are watching very closely to see if other states follow this model. Lela Gentry told us that she hopes other states avoid the furloughing Friday model at all costs, Don.

LEMON: Ed Henry, thank you very much. Safe travels. Sorry you have to come back to the mainland. Appreciate your reporting here.

HENRY: Yes, I do.


Happy New Year. Thanks.

LEMON: Happy new year to you, too.

Sports are big business, but an event with a prize -- get this -- totaling $420 million? That should get some folks excited, right? Rick Harrow will be along to tell us about it. That's his salary I think, 420 mill.



LEMON: You wish.


LEMON: Tonight, the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets will meet in the final NFL game at Giants Stadium and officials want fans excited, but sober. They're turning off the tap. A Jets spokesman said it would not be prudent to serve alcohol with a late kickoff, and the fact that it will be the last game ever at the old stadium. So win or lose, you can forget about drinking to that if you're going to that game tonight. Oh, well.

There will be a new stadium, football stadium for the Giants' and the Jets' opening next year. There are other big-money sports stories on the horizon there.

And our sports business guru, analyst, man around town, Rick Harlow, joins us.

Let's start with Indie race car driver Danica Patrick.

HARROW: She's no longer an Indie car driver. 13 respected NASCAR races they're anticipating. Frankly, she came into the NASCAR world at the right time, sponsorship-wise and attendance-wise. One of NASCAR's wags says she's going to do for NASCAR what Hannah Montana did for Disney. We'll have to see.

LEMON: NFL, how are they promoting the Pro Bowl this year?

HARROW: Big deal. Pro Bowl, Super Bowl, together in Miami, back to back. The head of the Super Bowl Host Committee says about $5 million. They're going to keep people in town for the second week. The Dolphins eliminated from the playoffs today. Never fear, they Ives of the football world to south Florida at the end of January.

LEMON: Hey, I saw this tonight and wondered if it was a big deal, an all-time high of $1.76 billion for the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

HARROW: Not an all-time high but it is for the winter games. After the Super Bowl, we have 5,000 athletes, Don, from 58 countries heading to Vancouver, $2 billion of cost. The opening, closing ceremony already sold out. Hockey game already sold out. It's good to know, in this economy, it's a big event and it's doing well.

LEMON: The World Cup, too, another event, being held in an African nation this year. Prize money, $420 million.

HARROW: Well, the $420 million is one story. But the fact that South Africa is hosting a world class event for the first time, a little bit risky. The infrastructure isn't guaranteed. We've seen it. It's going to revolutionize the World Cup. And it's going to bring major events to a continent that hasn't had them before.

LEMON: Yes. Did you have a good holiday season, Rick Harrow?

HARROW: I had a fantastic holiday season. I drank a little bit. I was thinking about how we're going to make these segments bigger and better for the next 30 years, my friend. How does that sound?

LEMON: That sounds great. By then, I don't know, 30 years, I'll be really old. We won't say how old.

Thank you, Rick Harrow. Happy New Year.

HARROW: Really old, really rich.

LEMON: In, 30 years, I'll be 40. OK.


HARROW: Good math. See you next week.

LEMON: Thank you.

They say it will be the tallest structure in the world. Already, a tourist attraction, and it's not even finished yet. We'll tour the Dubai Tower straight ahead for you here on CNN.


LEMON: It will be the tallest building in the world, and it quite possibly will be the most expensive high-rise ever, and it is on its way to completion in Dubai.

CNN's Stan Grant has a preview of what's to come.


STAN GRANT, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Burj Dubai translates in English as Dubai Tower and it certainly towers over what is already a massive Dubai skyline.

Kye Ho Kim is senior vice president with Samsung Construction, a division of the giant Korean multi-national company that is rewriting construction records with this building.


KYE HO KIM, SAMSUNG CONSTRUCTION: It's really, really scary.

GRANT: Scary? Why? You can see down?

KIM: Oh, yes, yes. We can see just through the bottom. We can see right through the bottom.

GRANT: The whole way to the ground?

KIM: Oh, yes. Just the bottom of the -- we can see just through the bottom, we can see (INAUDIBLE).

GRANT: Oh, my goodness.

KIM: Yes.

GRANT: The whole way to the ground.

KIM: Yes. It's really scary.

GRANT: If you fall?

KIM: Gone.

GRANT: Forget it.


(voice-over): What a list of firsts. When completed and opened, it will be the tallest building in the world at more than 800 meters. That's about half a mile high. It will be the building with the greatest number of floors, the world's highest and fastest elevator.

When finished, after five years of construction, the cost will top out at more than $4 billion U.S. dollars, and on it goes.

It is already a tourist landmark.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: It's amazing. It's great. At 800 meters high, it's the highest structure of the world.

GRANT (on camera): Are you looking forward to being able to go out there one day?


GRANT (voice-over): In the sweep of human history, the Burj Dubai may not rank with man on the moon, but right now, there is nothing else like it on earth.

Stan Grant, CNN, Dubai.


LEMON: It certainly will be a very interesting building. Remember when the Sears Tower -- I'm not that old -- I was going to say the Empire State Building, but I'm not that old.

Some of your comments now. Let's read some.

Let's see. "Don, you act surprised at Steven A.'s comments, when the fact it's the mentality of youngsters in sports today."

This is some of your comments. We were talking about the story of the NBA players bringing the handguns into the locker room. That's from lap58, I acted surprised at Steven's comments. I was not surprised at Steven's comments. Just holding a conversation. Delana13 says, "It makes me question, when I see the consistency of black players getting into these kinds of troubles, and one has to wonder why."

Sojourner1864 says, "These players have to remember that they are world class athletes on a world stage. Time to leave the thug life behind."

Joshuaeporter says, "That's a generalization, talking about issues of African-American players, male players. Professional players need to be looked into when it comes to guns, but you have to consider the environment these players are coming from. Many from inner cities."

I don't think that's an excuse, they're from inner cities. Lots of people from inner cities don't carry guns.

Gotarhill says, "Some get caught up in the tough-guy image, others grow up around violence and can escape the mentality of their past."

Past is just past. Move along. Leave it behind. Get help if you need it.

All right, that's it. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace,, you can always get us there. We appreciate your comments.

Time to move on to the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM.