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What the Week: The War in Afghanistan; Legalizing Marijuana in California

Aired October 09, 2010 - 22:30   ET


PETE DOMINICK, HOST: It's been six days since the U.S. told Americans to think twice before traveling in Europe. Five days since Elena Kagan heard her first case as a Supreme Court justice. And four days since Christine O'Donnell told voters, "I'm not a witch, I'm you." And one week since I became a squatter in this time slot on CNN. So buckle up kids, we're about to take you through all of it. Welcome to "WHAT THE WEEK."

There's a fine line between news and noise. I'm Pete Dominick. And on this show, I'm not interested in celebrity gossip or manufactured conflict. I'm interested in the stories and issue that hit home. So I'm taking the camera to the streets to hear what Americans really think of the news that shaped the week. Time now to catch up on the week that was. Hit it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Formal travel advisory for all Americans traveling to Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The State Department says avoid places where incidents may occur.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Militants torched 20 fuel trucks that were headed to Afghanistan. The U.S. sent missiles fired by a drone aircraft into Waziristan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Steven Hayes is guilty of murder, kidnapping and rape, and the break in and the fire that led to the death of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two young daughters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't bring them back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A waste reservoir at an aluminum plant in Hungary burst today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A toxic tsunami. The sludge is so caustic it burns right through clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pitcher Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter in his first post season appearance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Afghan president Hamid Karzai says he has launched a peace council to negotiate with the Taliban and to find a way to end the war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jim Jones, the national security adviser is going to be stepping down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the replacement significance here is going to be Tom Donilon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The unemployment rate is 9.6 percent.


DOMINICK: Well, that's what's 20 and up mainstream this week, but what was undercover? A couple of things come to mind.

Number one, the honeybee killer has been found. Since 2006, 20 percent to 40 percent of honeybee colonies have collapsed, but the U.S. army and the experts discovered a fungus and a virus killing off the bees. You may be thinking, so what? Well, here's why, so what. Honeybees, they don't just make honey, they pollinate our crop making honeybees pretty critical to about a third of the food we eat.

Undercover number two, a French court ruled the law banning the burqa in public places is legal. It's going to take effect this spring.

But our undercover story of the week, the war in Afghanistan. You may be thinking, what? I heard about it all week about the anniversary. Well, it's still not enough. If you gave the average American a pop quiz on the war, the vast majority of us would fail miserably. Where is the country? Who lives there? What language do they speak? And what's the mission? I went lunch crashing on the ninth anniversary this week to find out.


DOMINICK: This is a globe. Can you find Afghanistan? I'll give you ten seconds.

Find Afghanistan. Go ahead.

Can you just try to find Afghanistan on the globe for me? No.

You got ten seconds to find Afghanistan.

What are you laughing at? Find it, Afghanistan.


DOMINICK: How did you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know it's this way.

DOMINICK: You want to phone a friend.

Put your iPad down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh I got an iPad, I'll look it up.

DOMINICK: Can you find Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, I can.

DOMINICK: OK, cool. Why do you say of course? Have you been there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but I watch lots of CNN and you guys are really, really informative.

DOMINICK: Iran, Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I wasn't even looking in the right --

DOMINICK: No, you were in Canada.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I know. I'm switching to Fox News now.

DOMINICK: You have ten seconds to find Afghanistan. You're so close you nailed it. Do you guys know how long the U.S. military has been in Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About ten years, I believe.

DOMINICK: That's right. Do you think we should have gone to Afghanistan in the first place after September 11th with such a large military contingent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish we had focused on Afghanistan, and Iraq was -- I don't know what that was.

DOMINICK: You guys are former military. How do you define the mission in Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: World peace to me.

DOMINICK: World peace.


DOMINICK: Why do you say that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we should be over there.

DOMINICK: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to worry about our country instead of somebody else's.

DOMINICK: Do you think you can define why we're there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess they're still looking for --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say probably still looking for Osama Bin Laden. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.

DOMINICK: Over $300 billion, 10 years, 1,307 lives to find one guy. Is it worth it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, one guy killed over 3,000 people.

DOMINICK: Can you define the mission in Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Originally to catch Osama bin Laden, am I correct.


DOMINICK: Democrat or Republican, we could all stand another history lesson on a war that's now entering its tenth year.

This is my friend Joey. Joey is 9 years old, and he lives in Columbus, Ohio. We've been fighting this war his whole life. Now the president promises to begin drawing down troop levels in July 2011 if conditions permit. But whether we begin to withdraw by next summer or not, for most of us like me, like Joey, we don't directly feel it. The weight of this war will still be carried by our military families and the communities that they live in. They are the ones sacrificing everything for this mission. Give me 60 seconds to remind you what this mission is about.

Fact, 1307 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan. Since the war started on October 7th, 2001, that was just four weeks after the twin towers fell. The Taliban collapsed two months after U.S. boots hit the ground. It felt like victory, but as attention to the war shifted with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Taliban began to rebuild.

And by 2006, the situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated. The news since has just felt like a near constant stream of suicide bombings and deadly attacks.

After three months of deliberation, President Obama heeded the advice of his top military advisers and he went all-in. He ramped up troop levels, sending thousands more into the war zone in an effort to stabilize the fragile Afghan government and prepare their security forces for self-reliance. But this year is already the bloodiest for NATO troops since the war began, and public support is slipping.

According to the most recent CNN polling, 58 percent of Americans now oppose the war. That's where we are today. Nine years later. You want to learn more, stay engaged. Pay attention. Read this book, Steve Cole's "Ghost Wars." It's unbelievable. Read Ahmed Rashid's "Descent into Chaos," and support gold star military families at And keep watching this show because I'm not going to stop talking about this war until it's over.

Well, from the war in Afghanistan to the war on drugs, is California about to call for a cease-fire in the battle over marijuana? We'll hash it out -- next.


DOMINICK: In California, a vote comes up in November on Prop 19. That would legalize regulate and tax marijuana under California law. Not federal law, have you.

A poll out this week suggests most voters in that state are cool with legalizing pot, but support is slipping a little, so who would be hardest hit by Prop 19 being shot down? Those who truly need it for medicinal purposes and, of course, the makers of snack foods. Those "for it" see this is a way to drum up tax revenue. Others see pot as a gateway to harder drugs. I hit the streets to see what the buzz was on the plant with many a name.







DOMINICK: Mary Jane, sir.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what my dad calls it.



DOMINICK: I'm here in an unnamed city in an unnamed store, where they have a section that sells products solely for smoking tobacco.

In the show of hands who knows what prop 19 is? Does that ring a bell? Would you vote to legalize marijuana?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will vote, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would probably be against it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a study says it will save $8.7 billion in law enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think it's silly how many people we have in prison because of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody does it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You might as well legalize everything, and let these people do what they want to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tax it. I mean, yes, people are going to do what they want to do anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's just crazy. Because people are smoking it that's no excuse to continue to do wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marijuana messes up your brain for two or three days. I worked for the railroad.

DOMINICK: Please don't smoke marijuana ever, sir, if you're driving a choo-choo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nothing wrong with it. It doesn't kill you. It's not like cigarettes that gives you cancer. It's a leaf. It grows out to the ground. It's a plant.

DOMINICK: All right. What does America look like if the whole country had legalized, regulated, taxed marijuana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, I think it would be better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we need to legalize any intoxicant. Our bodies are so marvelously made by the creator that we don't need to create anything else into our bodies anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God says that he gives every green bearing seed to mankind, which means every green-bearing seed, every seed.

DOMINICK: What else does God say? Can you give me anything that God says that doesn't have to do with green-bearing seeds?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marijuana, I don't like it.

DOMINICK: What's the Spanish word for marijuana.



DOMINICK: Well, "Forbes" calls her one of the most powerful woman in the world. She's the co-founder of "The Huffington Post," Arianna Huffington. And Todd Zwillich, a man with an almost no power whatsoever, but he is one of the wonkiest wonks I've ever met. He's a Washington correspondent for the public radio "International."

Guys, thanks for joining us. Arianna, you're familiar with California. It is cash strapped. Let's look at the economic reasons alone for regulating and taxing marijuana. What do you think?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, CO-FOUNDER, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Well, the economic reasons, absolutely, it's not just the over $8 billion that it would be saving in law enforcement, it's also the over $8 billion that we would be making by taxing marijuana. But beyond that, it's what someone else, one of your -- one of the other people you asked about it told you, which is that we are filling our jails with non- violent drug offenders, predominantly young, predominantly African- American. That's another big reason. And the third one is that it's a great beyond left and right issue. It has support across the political spectrum and also the support of the majority of the American people.

DOMINICK: Todd Zwillich, you're a great political analyst. You look at numbers. What do you think happens? Will it pass? And a lot of people are saying this is the Democrats' ballot initiative. Gay marriage and social issues got Republicans to the ballot back in 2004. Does this get Democrats to vote this issue in California?

TODD ZWILLICH, CORRESPONDENT, INTERNATIONAL RADIO: Well, look, I think this election, Pete, is still going to be about jobs and the economy. It makes sense that Democrats are looking for ways to get people out to the polls that aren't necessarily about jobs in the economy, because if they're in power and the economy is in the tank, it's not going to look good for them at least from the Washington perspective.

Look, I don't know if this is necessarily a Democratic or Republican issue. Those polls, as you mention, have tightened in recent weeks, and I think you've got 56 percent of Californians now saying they're for this. You know, the savings, the $8.2 billion savings that's estimated, I think the actual numbers if marijuana were legalized in California would probably be somewhat less than that.

Look, the actual percentage of people who are incarcerated in California for marijuana charges is really only one percent. Now, you could argue that's one percent too many if you think that marijuana is a relatively benign substance compared to alcohol or compared to heroine or cocaine or harder substances.


ZWILLICH: But it's not like half the people in jail in California are there for marijuana charges. And the police in California from what I've been reading and gathering from the press there say that most of the marijuana charges come up, come up pursuant to other charges, driving charges, weapons charges. They're not really going after people primarily for marijuana. So I'm not sure about that $8 billion figure.

DOMINICK: Well, that $8 billion, I figured I should say the national study from the Cato Institute is not just for California. But, guys, let me just switch gear with you real quick and talk about our political plague of the week.

This week we're examining a disorder of intestinal fortitude. It's when candidates stop taking questions, they don't debate their opponents, and instead of running to the cameras which we're used to, they're actually running from them. We're calling it "Irritable Broadcast Syndrome," IBS. It's a political plague of the week. Will this trend continue? Will politicians with IBS pull off victories in 2010 and then 2012 without taking questions through interviews and debating? I mean, guys, it's a time-honored condition that if you're the front-runner not to make a mistake, not to debate, but Arianna, is this different this year?

HUFFINGTON: It is different because this year the front-runners are those running against the incumbents, because there's such anger at all establishments that provided you're not the person who is now in charge, you have a good chance of winning. So that means that as long as Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell does not actually step on a land mine of her own making by saying something which will basically haunt her until the election, and they've both said plenty of those things but anymore, they may have a chance.

Sharron Angle, obviously, much more than Christine O'Donnell of winning just because in Sharron Angle's case she's not Harry Reid. That's all that people are voting for. Clearly, they are not voting for her position. She's not even clear what her positions are. In Christine O'Donnell's case, I think she's made the additional problem of doing too much already with these ads, which are being satirized everywhere like -- especially the one about I'm not a witch.

DOMINICK: Are you a witch, Arianna? By the way, we should ask. I asked of all my guest.

HUFFINGTON: I'm a white witch. I'm a white witch.

DOMINICK: Todd Zwillich, I know this is maybe a stupid question, but does it really -- not a stupid question, but doesn't it hurt the democratic process if we're not having them answer questions and debate. Is there anything we can do to force them to debate and do interviews?

ZWILLICH: Well, of course, it hurts the democratic process. I mean, hearing candidates' positions on issues and positions that matter to us as voters are pocketbooks, our towns, our streets, our two wars that are going on, those are of supreme importance.

Look, we don't demand from our politicians that they debate. This election, every district is different, Pete. We all know that, but the 30,000 view is that this election is about, Arianna mentioned it, anger and emotion. If you're running on anger at the incumbent, or emotion and anger at the other guy, why would you debate? All you can do is step on a land mine, let the anger ride. Let that wave. It doesn't benefit any of us to have it in politics.


DOMINICK: Arianna Huffington and Todd Zwillich, I love having you, guys, on. Thanks so much for joining me today. We got to wrap up and say good-bye, but thanks a lot guys for coming on.

ZWILLICH: Always a pleasure, Pete.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

DOMINICK: He was a quiet -- he kept to himself. How often have you heard that after a criminal was busted? How a father of two living in suburban Connecticut plots to blow up Times Square? Right after the break.



BARRY RITHOLTZ, AUTHOR, "BAILOUT NATION": Now this all comes back to everything we've talked about tonight. T.A.R.P. and the bailouts and all the stuff that goes back to what is the role of money in financing and paying --

DOMINICK: So it all goes back to campaign financing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that is wrong in the country traces its way back to that, because you as an individual, your voice is maybe you have a bigger voice and I have a bigger voice than the average voter, but if you are well-healed corporation or a well-funded hedge funds, you're swinging a lot more weight than 100 million people in the country.

A little bit of an interview from this week from my Sirius XM radio show, the author of "Bailout Nation," Barry Ritholtz. We're talking about T.A.R.P. which also ended this week.

And speaking of this week, another piece of big news. Faisal Shahzad, Pakistani-American, we know this guy, right? He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole. Why? Because he tried to blow up his SUV in Times Square. That will actually do it.

This is -- you are here. I'm going to take you through it. This is Faisal Shahzad's nice home here in Shelton, Connecticut, where he lived with his wife and two kids. In April 2009, Faisal Shahzad gets naturalized as an American citizen and then authorities tell us that he went to Pakistan, where he got training from the Pakistani Taliban to learn how to make a bomb, make a weapon. Luckily they weren't very good, or he wasn't a very good student because there's his bomb that didn't go off.

Thanks to a couple of good Samaritans who saw that smoking. They saw something and they said something. Wow, it worked. That's great. And about two days later, Faisal Shahzad was on an airplane trying to get out of the country but he was nabbed by the feds and police who did great work and should be applauded for that great work. They brought him in. He waives his rights apparently and sings like a bird. Gave actual intelligence to the authorities. And about a month and a half later, Faisal Shahzad finds himself not here, I'm sorry. This is it. I get confused with these beautiful paintings.

Faisal Shahzad finds himself pleading guilty to all ten counts against him in a federal court. The system worked. He is in prison for the rest of his life without a chance for parole. Good-bye, Faisal Shahzad.

Well, next, politicians, well, they need your attention, don't they? They always do. I do, too. If they want your vote, politicians need your attentions. So what happens when they get the attention though of late night comedians? Coming up, the subject of our "Roasted" segment.


DOMINICK: Each week, people do great things. Sometimes it makes the news, sometimes it doesn't. Either way, here's a look at five people who this week, well, they're much better than me.

This guy, his name is Alfredo Quinones Hinojosa. We'll call him Dr. Q, it's easier for me. He was an illegal immigrant picking weeds in California. Then he went to community college and he learned English. Then he earned a scholarship to Harvard Medical School, and now at age 39, he is the director of brain tumor surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. When I was in college, I just wanted to be the best resident assistant in my dorm. Dr. Q, you are way better than me.

This handsome young man, his name is Alex Darro (ph). He is 16 years old. And this week he started a Web site to raise money to fight diseases in children. When I was 16, I just wanted to get my license, and two days after I did, I drove into a ditch. Alex Darro (ph), you're much better than I was when I was 16.

This guy, well, I don't know. He's not very good. He's eating a doughnut. Victor Perez is our next contestant. He is the unemployed California man rescued an 8-year-old girl abducted outside her home. He is a total real life hero. He was actually honored by Governor Schwarzenegger. Victor Perez, you're much better than me. I've never rescued anybody or anything.

And lastly, these two guys, they are professors from England, who this week, they won the Nobel Prize for physics by creating the thinnest, strongest material known to mankind. These guys are way better than me. This week, I actually created this right here, a Jack-O'-Lantern with my daughters, but then I actually burnt my hand when I was putting the candle in. So all these guys, well, they are way better than me.

Well, you think comedy is just fun and games? Not if you're a politician. Each week we highlight the harshest political commentary from the world of late night television. One well-delivered punch line and a candidate's best laid talking points can be totally knocked out by laughter. We call it "Roasted." And nobody seems to have been roasted this week harder than Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. Did you catch her newest political ad?


CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you.


DOMINICK: I'm you. That's the message she was trying to get out to Delaware voter, but here's what happened when the comedians got a hold of it.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": This Christine O'Donnell, you've probably heard about. She has a new campaign ad where she says she is not a witch. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not as effective as her opponent's slogan, I'm not Christine O'Donnell. That's what's better. It's more effective.


DOMINICK: Well, good luck, Christine O'Donnell, and thank you for watching. Remember, stay engaged, think for yourself, and have a great weekend. And I'm Pete Dominick. We'll see you next week.