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Erin Burnett Outfront
Defying the Republican Party; Interview with Representative Marsha Blackburn; Vice President Joe Biden Party Crasher
Aired August 21, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT next going against the party, Senate candidate Todd Akin reiterates tonight his plans to say in the race even after more Republicans including Mitt Romney explicitly called for him to step aside.
And federal judges take a $1 million trip to Maui which is nice if you can get it. Tonight we follow the money to find out about government waste.
And a California college student says police brutality was the reason for him being punched while in handcuffs, and there is video of this arrest. Do those brutality claims add up? Let's go OUTFRONT.
Well, good evening, everyone, I'm Erin Burnett and OUTFRONT tonight, defining the party. Todd Akin the now infamous Republican congressman whose comments about women fending off pregnancy from a quote "legitimate rape" is sticking with the Republicans even if the Republicans are not sticking with him. An hour ago the deadline passed for him to get out of the Senate race in Missouri without penalty and he stayed in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: I have not done anything that was morally or ethically wrong, as sometimes people in politics do we do a lot of talking and to get a word in the wrong place you know that's not a good thing to do or hurt anybody that way, but it does seem like a little bit of an overreaction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Overreaction, don't tell that to Mitt Romney. Late this afternoon after Akin had already made it clear he is not going to step aside, Romney released a statement saying, quote, "His fellow Missourians urged him to step aside and I think he should accept their counsel, and exit the Senate race."
And don't tell Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus not to overreact. Here is what he told me last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, RNC: I would prefer Todd Akin do the right thing for our party and our candidates and I would prefer him not come. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: A message pretty clear from a host of Republicans, don't let the door hit you on the way out, Todd Akin, but meanwhile in some rather awkward timing, it is time to discuss the party platform, after all it is convention time, and in Tampa where the convention begins in just six days the party platform today took shape. There were hours and hours of meetings and the committee made some decisions.
Since 1984, Republicans have voted to include in this platform a constitutional ban on abortion. It is called a human life amendment, and there is no language allowing for exemptions in cases of rape or incest. Now this is not something that Mitt Romney, the presumptive boss of the party says he agrees with, and in fact, he has been very clear on this in the past couple of days not hedging at all.
His statement yesterday on abortion in the wake of the Akin scandal could not be clearer. Quote "A Romney/Ryan administration would not oppose abortions in instances of rape." And other Republicans disagree with the platform as well. Four years ago the party nominee, John McCain, tried to change the language of the Republican Party platform to specifically include exceptions for rape and incest, and today, Republican Senator Scott Brown sent a letter to the chair of the Republican Party saying "I believe this is a mistake because it fails to recognize the views of pro choice Republicans like myself".
But the language remained unchanged in the party platform today. But, Scott Brown has an interesting point, because when you look at the numbers, it shows this issue is important. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and 75 percent of the Independents, so I'm not even looking at Democrats here, these are Republicans and Independents who could vote for Mitt Romney. They think abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, and 59 percent of people who say they are pro life feel this way, too.
OUTFRONT tonight, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, she is co-chair of the Platform Committee. She voted for that language to remain the same today. I spoke with her just a couple of moments ago and started by asking her about those poll numbers.
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Erin, you are going to find that there are -- the Republican Party is going to support a culture of life, and that is what is reflected in the platform. Now, you mentioned the issue of the exemptions and I would just say that the platform is silent on that, and basically, because of federalism, sends this issue back to the states.
BURNETT: All right, so let me just read you the words. These are the words that you know everyone has been saying have been in the Republican platform now since 1980. It says that --
BLACKBURN: That is right. BURNETT: That you assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life, and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life, which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution. If you got that amendment, you say that the unborn child has a right to life that cannot be infringed, how does that allow for anyone to in any state to allow an exemption in the case of rape or incest?
BLACKBURN: Well and we continue to support a federal life amendment. At this point in time as you know the issue is directed back to the states. Now, under the Republican umbrella, and under the umbrella of life, you're going to find that many of us that have the position with Governor Romney that you allow those exceptions of rape, incest and life of the mother, and then you're going to find others that have other opinions. On whole, you're going to see that Republicans support a culture of life. They have and I think you will see them continue to support this.
BURNETT: I mean, I think you are making it very clear, but I am also interested when you said many of us, you know, and obviously this is an interesting question to ask to a woman and it is different in many ways than asking it to a man, but that you, yourself as chairwoman of this party platform support the sanctity of life, but also support those key exemptions of rape or incest?
BLACKBURN: Yes. You're going to find individuals that are going to have different opinions within the pro-life community, and I think that is great. And I think within our party that it is a very good thing that we have this, but reminding you whether it is prenatal or whether it is the end of life, Republicans support a culture of life. We have always done that, and you are going to the see us continue to come down on the side of life.
BURNETT: I mean, you know, and it's interesting, because I know there is so much politics in this, but it would seem all humans support a culture of life and the sanctity of life. It's how you define it and who can make the choices where all of the controversy occurs and that brings me to Todd Akin. You heard him say that he thinks many in his own party have overreacted. Do you think people have overreacted to his words and what he says?
BLACKBURN: I don't. I find his words disturbing and I was very concerned when I was made aware yesterday of those statements. You know, it is an indefensible comment.
BURNETT: And do you think he should step aside? I mean are you disappointed that he did not?
BLACKBURN: I'm deeply disappointed in the comments, and I think that this type insensitivity that I would have liked to have seen him move aside and then move forward with someone in the race so that we can put the attention back on the issue that the American people are talking about, and you have talked about our platform here in Tampa. You know most of the platform is about jobs and the economy. That is what the American people are talking about. That's where they want our focus, and that's what you are going to see when we give you that platform at 2:00 on Monday. That's exactly what you are going to find in that document.
BURNETT: Peter Hamby has been covering the platform debates all day, the votes, everything, and he joins me now. Peter, let me ask you, because you are a member of our political "Strike Team" and we asked them, will the debate over abortion that has been brought on by the Akin comment, you know, causing entire interviews about the platform with the co-chairwoman to be about specifics on abortion policy rather than jobs hurt the Republicans in November. Our "Strike Team" voted 89 percent said yes, this will hurt the Republicans in November. Eleven percent said no. That is a pretty overwhelming verdict and I'll emphasize our "Strike Team" is all made up of Independents.
PETER HAMBY, POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean Erin if you surveyed all the, you know, activists, the Republican officeholders that have been here drafting the Republican Party's platform, 89 percent of them would probably say it's hurting the Republican Party, too, and their chances of taking over the Senate this November. It has been an unmistakable backdrop to this whole process. Sort of -- there's been a lot of sort of hushed hallway conversations, a lot of hand wringing in private.
It didn't really come up by name in the actual committee meeting where they are drafting the platform until late this afternoon a 22- year-old delegate from Alabama actually brought Todd Akin's name up in the session, and said during a debate over contraception in what sort of language to put in the platform about contraception, and she said, hey, guys, we need to be a little bit more sensitive about this, you know coming from a younger person's perspective when talking about things like rape and contraception and our perception among women.
So it did come up once today, Erin, but again, the talk about it here is just like the talk you're hearing out of Washington. A lot of people want Todd Akin out of the race and they want to take the Senate back in November and they are afraid that they're not going to be able to now.
BURNETT: And it is interesting, I mean you know we will look at this -- some of this, you know you just heard Marsha Blackburn saying you know having to do something which she probably does not want to do which is say yes, I support exemptions or I would allow abortion in the cases of rape or incest. Nobody wants to get that specific, but it sounds like now they're going to have to because the party platform contradicts and now people are going to notice it very painfully -- we just read it to everybody -- what Mitt Romney himself said the other day his view is on abortion.
HAMBY: Yes, well just moments ago, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who is the chairman of this committee appointed by the Romney camp and the Republican National Committee -- he worked with Congresswoman Blackburn and former Senator John Hogan (ph) on this issue -- I asked him directly you know do you think Mitt Romney will read this platform before accepting the Republican nomination next week. McDonnell sort of paused awkwardly for a moment and said I'm sure his staffers will take a look at it.
McDonnell was careful to use words like that this platform represented the views of grassroots leaders and not specifically the Romney campaign, saying that this represents just -- this is our general statement of principles that many candidates can take a look at and decide where they stand, but look, make no mistake the Romney campaign was involved in the process of drafting this platform.
There were numerous Romney advisers; the entire high command is already down here in Tampa in the room when these things were being drafted. They had a hand in specific language on certain amendments to the platform. On this one, they chose not to pick a fight, because as you mentioned when John McCain picked a fight about it, it became a big issue with him with social conservatives, but the Romney campaign was involved, but we will see if they want to talk about that in public in the next few days --
BURNETT: I guess we know the answer to that will be no. With so many Americans disagreeing with that platform, this is an issue that isn't going to go away -- all right, thanks to Peter.
And ahead on OUTFRONT crashing the party, who the Obama administration sending to Tampa -- no joke -- someone very, very senior -- actually this is kind of shocking. We're going to tell you about it -- going to campaign at the Republican National Convention.
And then Nike, they want you to pay more than $300 for a pair of shoes. Does the price tag add up?
And did police go too far while arresting a college student? We have the video, alleged police brutality, you'll be the judge.
BURNETT: Our second story OUTFRONT Joe Biden, party crasher. All right the Republicans are obviously gearing up for their big convention in Tampa next week, and we have learned today that the vice president is also going to be in Tampa for the big event. Now this is a pretty surprising thing. Usually the VP of the opposing party would not go to the convention of the other party.
The veep is being dispatched to speak at so-called counter rallies. So the question is, you know, I mean maybe you could send the head of your, you know the Democratic Committee, but sending Biden, is that a sign of desperation? OUTFRONT tonight Jamal Simmons, Reihan Salam, McKay Coppins, reporter with "BuzzFeed" -- OK, great to see all of you. Jamal, let me start with you.
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let's do it.
BURNETT: All right, so this is not standard operating procedure. Never mind that it is a guy who might say who the heck knows what, but is this a sign of desperation they're going to actually send the number two guy to Tampa at the Republicans big moment?
SIMMONS: I wouldn't say it's desperation. It's aggression though. It's definitely aggression. In 2008, I ran the Democratic "War Room" at the Republican Convention and so we brought surrogates in from all over the country. We tried to make a stink. We tried to get in the news whenever we could. It's tough to do, but this is clearly like raising that to another level and we saw at the end of the Democratic Convention last time John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his VP was then totally squashed Barack Obama's momentum coming out of that convention, so it's a constant sort of one upmanship, and now I think the VP going is kind of the next level go get them.
BURNETT: Reihan, what do you think? I mean in 2008 as Jamal is talking about, Sarah Palin did sort of take the wind out of the sails --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
BURNETT: -- paranoia and freak out right in your camp, but Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty were dispatched, so they were important people that could have been VP candidates --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, indeed --
BURNETT: -- but not the guy who spent four years in the White House.
REIHAN SALAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh I think -- I think this is absolutely fascinating. When you look at Tampa, it is smack dab in the middle of the most competitive part of one of America's most competitive states, so it really matters a huge amount. If the Democrats are able to deny the GOP Florida, then you have really radically reduced the chances that Mitt Romney is going to get elected president, and also there are a lot of folks that believe that Joe Biden is a huge asset for Democrats among white working class voters and you have a fair number of those voters in and around Tampa. You have a lot of retirees in that region as well, so this is a very --
BURNETT: Right and he's also --
BURNETT: -- demographic. That's a good point. You know you got the youth --
BURNETT: -- for Obama --
SALAM: -- old man demographic is huge on Joe Biden and I think that that's why it's a very true group (ph) to have him there.
BURNETT: McKay, obviously Biden and his propensity to say what he thinks, which as Politico has reported has you know caused real fights between him and the president. It's been like a bit of a lightning rod. Here is what people have said recently about him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I have never seen a vice president that has made as many mistakes, said as many stupid things.
Rick Santorum (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And to see that out of president -- Vice President Biden was really sickening to see him stoop to that depth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. McKay, will he backfire or like Jamal is saying you know the more crazy weird things he says the more coverage Democrats will get in the Republicans' moment, so hey, the more crazy, you are, Joe, it is a win?
MCKAY COPPINS, BUZZFEED REPORTER: Yes, I mean obviously sending Vice President Biden into a situation like this, a high stakes situation is always the roll of the dice, because with Biden, you get a lot of brilliant moments and you also get a lot of gaffes. I think that Jamal is right though, that you know if the point of this is to upstage the GOP and distract attention from the convention, this kind of infomercial that is going on, then sending Biden there whatever he says is going to distract from the convention as long as it is not a massive gaffe and probably will end up working in their favor unless he royally screws up.
BURNETT: So will Paul Ryan go to Charlotte, Reihan?
SALAM: I am quite confident he won't. One thing though -- I think that actually that little bit demonstrates the power of Joe Biden. Rudy Giuliani is still ticked off at Joe Biden, because Joe Biden really got under his skin by just making fun of him constantly in 2008.
BURNETT: Joe Biden really can get under people's skin --
SALAM: He really did and that is a great talent --
SALAM: -- power and let him use it. Let his free flag fly and we'll see what happens.
SIMMONS: That's not something you hear very often --
BURNETT: Democrats though, Jamal, they are trying to come back from the fact of look you've got a shorter convention. You have to -- you have to go against the NFL kickoff game and you are going to lose. I am sorry. Am I speaking out of turn --
SIMMONS: We're going to move Biden to Thursday night probably because of that, too, you know. So now he's going to speak the same night as the president instead of having his own night which is sort of the traditional way of doing it, because really football is going to probably carry the day.
BURNETT: They put Bill Clinton against football though. This is a guy who could actually hack it --
SIMMONS: Bill Clinton could at least like hold on to some nugget of rating.
BURNETT: Yes, all right, well we will see, and of course, everybody we're watching Tropical Storm Isaac who could disrupt the entire Republican plan. OK, thanks to all three of you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks.
BURNETT: Next a skateboarder's clash with police was caught on tape and there's a real question about police brutality, that skateboarder OURFRONT tonight.
And Nike says you will pay $300 for shoes, there are a number of reasons you probably will and government waste, $1 million on Maui is literally everyone the tip of a very vital iceberg?
BURNETT: So remember when paying $100 for a running shoe, a basketball shoe, I mean, was just ridiculous, unheard of? Well, now we are entering the territory of $300 basketball shoes. Nike's LeBron X (ph) is going to sell for a reported $315 dollars, wow. For those of you that think that that is insane, there will be a cheaper version that will sell for a mere $180 according to Nikeblog.com, still insane.
Well that pair reportedly though will not have the Nike plus basketball technology that the more expensive $315 shoe will have. But here is the thing, $315 you know is a princely sum, because the shoe industry they say well look at we got all kinds of problems. We've had rising costs for things like cotton and all of the things that go into shoes, labor costs are rising, and then there are the marketing costs. But look, here is the truth.
We're betting they are going to make a rather indecent profit on this shoe. Let's be honest, until maybe they actually pay the star whose name is on it, because Nike has to pay King James to promote these shoes and wow, they pay him well. According to "Forbes", LeBron makes $40 million a year on endorsement deals, $10 million of that every single year comes from Nike. That is a heck of a lot of money for pitching an ugly pair of shoes.
Here's the thing. When it comes to basketball shoes though, Air Jordan still reigns supreme. And that is our number tonight, $1 billion. That is the Jordan brand's annual revenue right now, $1 billion. Nike has successfully kept that Air Jordan brand alive, well, kicking, jumping, everything which is pretty amazing given that it has been around since 1985. Well the Department of Veteran Affairs is under fire tonight for spending $5 million on a couple of conferences in Orlando. Does the price tag add up? Believe us when we found Veteran Affairs is far from alone when it comes to big boondoggles.
And the rising tension between the U.S and China, why did China today warn America that this could spiral out of control?
BURNETT: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT. We start with the stories that we care about, where we focus on our reporting from the front lines.
So we begin tonight in Dallas. Dallas County officials confirming the 11th West Nile-related death. A CDC official tells OUTFRONT its teams are arriving in Texas this week to assist the public health officials with advice on West Nile virus prevention.
Now, this is after the officials declared a state of emergency in the county last week. There have been 693 West Nile virus cases reported this year, and half of them -- just nearly half -- have been in Texas.
Well, new satellite images show North Korea has successfully placed a dome on top of a nuclear reactor. These were sent to us from GeoEye and IHS Jane. And they show the Yongbyon nuclear complex and this is -- the date is June 24th. So you can see the dome sitting beside the building, and now, there is a new picture and this is the picture on August 6th and you can see if you look that the dome is in place.
IHS Jane's Allison Puccioni calls this a significant new development, although it could still take a long time, years for the facility to be operational. It's unclear how quickly they could do it but it is a big step. North Korea insists that the Yongbyon facility's light-water reactor is going to be used for generating civilian electricity.
Iran meantime has unveiled new weapons today. And among them, there's a short range, surface to surface missile. This is according to Iranian media reports. In addition to the missile, they say leaders have started construction on a military defense site. Reports quote Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying the weapons are for defensive purposes only.
We spoke with Anthony Cordesman of CSIS who tells Iran has been making these announcements for years. It is questionable whether the weapons could be deployed and how accurate they are.
But this does come as Israel's Channel 10 today reported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to attack Iran before the U.S. presidential elections, something you may recall which was a big area of concern for the United States and the world, this spring talked down. So if this is moving forward, it would be very significant. A couple of weeks ago, we told you about a massive patent battle between Apple and Samsung. You may remember it. Apple says Samsung copied its designs. Samsung says Apple has been using some of its technology. Well, they couldn't settle it, and that case is going to the jury. It is really complicated, the judge actually said it's going to, quote, "put everyone into a coma."
I looked to the actual instruction jury sheet, it was outrageous. A hundred and nine pages long, and that's what we counted, 84 instructions and you have to go through patent this and patent that, patent this, this is in gray, this is in black, check this,. check that -- it's crazy. The form that the jurors will use to record the verdict is 20 pages long.
Well, it's been 383 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating, what are we doing to get it back?
In a new report, Standard and Poor's says that the chances of recession in this country have risen, they say, contagion from the European crisis, the fiscal cliff and the risk of a hard landing for China have added greater uncertainty to the U.S.
And now our third story OUTFROTN: government waste or the cost of doing business? So, we had an interesting segment today. We found out this: the federal government spends more than $15 billion a year on travel, which is about half of the size of the entire budget for the U.S. Justice Department.
And according to Senator Tom Coburn, it is wasteful and unsustainable. A lot of it has actually to conventions and off-site conferences, some of them the kind where you do trust falls and zip lines. So, who is doing the wasteful spending?
Sadly, a lot of people. According to Representative Darrell Issa, one group is the Veteran Affairs Department. Currently, it is being investigated for spending $5 million on two conferences in Orlando last summer.
And then this headline comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most powerful courts in the nation, spent a million dollars on a conference in Maui earlier this month.
Tom Schatz has been tracking the spending as president of Citizens Against Government Waste and he's OUTFRONT tonight.
Tom, it's just pretty amazing. I want to start with the Veterans Affair before we get to this Maui situation. Five million dollars on two conferences in Orlando, Representative Issa says they spent $52,000 for a video for the training conference, and $84,000 on pens, highlighters and hand sanitizers.
I mean, I don't know -- I don't know whether these Montblanc pens, I mean, I feel badly making a joke about this. But that's absurd, isn't it?
TOM SCHATZ, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: It's absurd because the GSA conference scandal has occurred. The USDA has been investigated for conferences and every agency is abusing their travel budgets. And, unfortunately, Erin, Congress hasn't done anything to stop it. The House has passed a bill and the Senate has passed an amendment to restrict the amount of money that can be spent on conferences, the number of people that can travel out of the country on conferences, they haven't reached an agreement yet and sent that bill to the president's desk where I'm sure he would sign it.
BURNETT: And now, why haven't they? I mean, you know, we also, of course, this week heard about, you know, congressman skinny dipping in the Dead Sea which they were doing on the budget of who knows companies, sponsors, whatever it might have been. But I mean, is this a case that people don't want to shine the light too brightly on other people's travel budgets, because it could come back and shine on themselves?
SCHATZ: That maybe part of it, but it's also part of the overall lack of Congress doing anything. One of the reasons that their popularity has hit another new low. The House passed a bill and the Senate passed an amendment to the postal bill and the House didn't pass a postal bill, the Senate didn't pass the data transparency bill -- it's just a mess.
But it typifies what's been going on this year. Even the most clear example of government waste can't be eliminated by Congress.
BURNETT: So, let's talk about this 9th Circuit Court of Appeals situation. They went to Maui. Six hundred people went to Maui. They said it was too late to cancel, because it was booked two years ago. What I found amazing about this was they said, look, we booked it two years ago when the economy was in better shape.
Well, the economy went into crisis in 2008 and not 2010, so I don't even understand the excuse.
SCHATZ: This is another example of abuse. The judicial branch in particular doesn't feel particularly responsible for spending money. You can't fire the judges of course, but the oversight committee has said, and made the point that they need to be accountable and finally they cancelled next year's event. Four of out of the last nine conferences that the 9th Circuit has had and they are headquartered in California, by the way, four of the last nine have be somewhere in Hawaii. So they've already been abusing their privileges over the past decade. They just finally got caught.
BURNETT: Can they be reprimanded for this?
SCHATZ: They can't be reprimanded other than Congress reducing the amount of money that they can use for their conferences, and that's something that must be done. The White House has proposed a 30 percent cut. The Congress has gone along. In fact, Senators Coburn and Hatch said a 75 percent cut. So, this is something that again needs to be done. Not a huge amount of money, $15 billion or whatever it might be, and there were conflicting numbers.
BURNETT: Right. SCHATZ: But it's an easy thing for anyone else to reduce travel when they are having financial problems. Everybody here in Washington doesn't seem to get it that they are driving the country over the cliff, and we need to stop, even the most minimal spending compared to the $4 trillion budget we have.
BURNETT: That's right. I mean, I'm wondering when you do the math and you add it up, how big are the numbers? I mean, obviously, you want to get rid of waste and abuse regardless of how small or large the numbers are, but we are in a debate right now over how much more revenue we need to raise and it's hard to have that conversation when you don't know how much money you're wasting in the first place, you know? We don't need more revenue to pay for stuff like this.
SCHATZ: That's for sure. Citizens Against Government Waste has a report called prime cuts, almost $400 billion of savings in one year, $1.2 trillion over five years. And Senator Coburn and Senator Sessions have analyzed Government Accountability Office reports showing duplication and overlap and they estimate $400 billion a year in duplication and overlap. That's again about 11 percent of the entire budget. I don't think anyone would argue that's too much to cut out of the federal government.
BURNETT: All right. Tom, good to see you and appreciate it.
And now our fourth story OUTFRONT: U.S. Marines today began serious -- this is month-long -- exercises in the Western Pacific. Some of the military exercises will be done alongside American ally Japan, which has China mad as a hornet. In an editorial, Chinese state media warned the United States, quote, "not to fan the flame in the region."
The tensions are extremely high thanks to a dispute between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Both countries though claim to own them, and on Sunday, a group of 10 Japanese activists landed on the island, unfurled their flags. Those actions sparked furious anti-Japanese protests across the nation of China.
Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is OUTFRONT tonight.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a frightening scenario. American troops backing their Japanese allies drawn into a conflict with China and fighting over nothing more than some uninhabited islands and a few rocks.
U.S. Marines and Japanese troops are beginning new exercises like this one, practicing how to recapture occupied islands. But Defense official says it's part of the Marine annual requalification training and not directed at any particular nation.
China doesn't see it that way. On Tuesday, a state editorial warned the U.S. not to, quote, "fan the flame in the region." And suggested the situation could spiral out of control. BONNIE GLASER, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Tensions are clearly rising.
LAWRENCE: All of this over a small cluster of islands that no one even lives on. The Senkakus are privately administered by the Japanese, but the Chinese claim they are the rightful owners.
VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: These guys have got to work it out and we won't take a side on it.
LAWRENCE: While officially neutral, the U.S. defense treaty means it would have to back Japan in a military confrontation over these islands.
GLASER: So I think that behind the scenes, the United States is probably encouraging all parties, including Japan to not take any actions that are going to further cause tensions to potentially spiral out of control.
LAWRENCE: Like recent incidents in which the Chinese protesters turn violent. And Japanese nationalists wave their flag.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is Japan's territory.
LAWRENCE: The U.S. is signaling it will support Japan's security if not its sovereignty claim.
The Pentagon has traditionally conducted surveillance flights for anti-submarine warfare operations near Japan.
GLASER: We have upgraded the capabilities and we are now going to in the potentially fly the drones over the area which would provide better surveillance capabilities so that there would be more situational awareness of actually what is taking place in the region.
BURNETT: So, Chris, you know, when you talk about this and talk about the fear factor, we hear about with these cuts coming that the Defense Department is taking unprecedented cuts and the force will be hallowed out, our Navy will be weaker than it's been in decades if not more.
But are we really building to get bigger in the Pacific?
LAWRENCE: Well, Erin, if you listen to the promises and all of the plans, this certainly sounds big. I mean, we have been pulling troops out of Europe for the last couple of years, and winding down the war in Afghanistan. And now, you are seeing new partnerships with militaries of other countries in the region like Vietnam. The Navy says that within four years, it's going to have about 60 percent of the assets there in the Pacific.
But really, this is all going to come down to money. Remember that Congress is expected to cut at least $50 billion a year from the next decade from the Pentagon's budget. There are a lot of people questioning whether the U.S. could ever afford say a second aircraft carrier group or new base in the Pacific with those kinds of cuts coming.
BURNETT: It will be interesting what happens, of course, if China were to ramp that up, and, Chris, China came out to say, forget it, and back off. Did the U.S. heed that warning or are we responding at all or we are ignoring them?
LAWRENCE: Well, military officials say they are going ahead with the exercises. They say, look, the Marines have to be re-qualified, that this exercise is taking place 1,000 miles away from the actual disputed islands, it has nothing to do with it. And they are saying, China and Japan hopefully can just come to some agreement eventually, and they don't want anything to spark a conflict in that area right now.
BURNETT: All right. Chris Lawrence, thank you. And still ahead OUTFRONT, a college student says he was the victim of police brutality. He has a video to prove it, and the officers said to him they didn't beat him up enough he is still a smartass.
And dramatic video as CNN's Arwa Damon witnesses a fierce gun fight from the front lines today.
BURNETT: We are back with tonight's "Outer Circle," where we reach out to our sources around the world.
We go the Lebanon tonight where conflict in neighboring Syria is spilling over and spurring sectarian violence.
Our Arwa Damon is OUTFRONT tonight. She witnessed clashes between rival neighborhoods.
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ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, it was pretty heavy sustained gunfire, difficult to determine exactly where it's coming from. This particular part of Tripoli is a historic sectarian fault line between Sunni and an Alawite neighborhood, separated by a street called the Syria Street. The Lebanese army was firing on both sides trying to beat them into submission, realizing it needs to keep control over the situation. Some residents were evacuating and moving through makeshift holes that have been blasted through walls, crawling down staircases that have been put into place to allow them to safely move up or to allow them to allow the fighters to move into position. The grave concern amongst the residents is that situation in Syria is only going to further aggravate these tensions and yet another generation of Lebanese will grow up only learning only the lessons of war -- Erin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Thanks to Arwa. And now our fifth story OUTFRONT: A Venice, California, college student claiming police brutality after he says four LAPD officers wrestled him to the ground and put in handcuffs. Now, you are looking at cell phone video that captured the arrest of Ronald Weekley, Jr., including the part where it looks like the officer punched the 20- year-old in the face.
All right. You can see this happening right here. You can see the altercation on the ground, and again, he was skateboarding down the street. Get the background here with our own Casey Wian who filed this report.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Ronald Weekley, Jr., approached reporters to describe being arrested and beaten by Los Angeles police officers Saturday evening, allegedly after a skateboarding traffic infraction, he struggled to fight back tears.
RONALD WEEKLEY, JR., ALLEGED LAPD BRUTALITY AFTER ARREST: He hit me twice right away, and I started screaming and yelling, because I thought I was going to die. I needed someone to see what was going on.
WIAN: Someone did. The cell phone video shows four officers on top of Weekley and one appears to punch him in the face. Weekley's attorney says he was hit four times and sustained a broken cheekbone and nose and concussion.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR WEEKLEY FAMILY: That' the question, why did they confront and assault this college student? Because he was skating on the wrong side of the road or was it because he was the wrong color?
WIAN (on camera): What prompted police to stop Weekley on his skateboard on this busy street in the first place is very much in dispute. The Los Angeles Police Department says he was skating in traffic. Weekley's father says the arresting officer told him that he was skateboarding on the wrong side of the street. Weekley says officers simply grabbed him as he was trying to enter his residence.
(voice-over): The LAPD says Weekley is being charged with resisting a police officer with force which allegedly happened before the camera was rolling. The LAPD is investigating.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My plea to the community is let the investigations proceed. They will be independent. They will be reviewed at the highest levels of the LAPD. But more importantly, they will be reviewed by the independent inspector general as well as the Independent Police Commission.
WIAN: Representatives of the LAPD civilian oversight authority monitored Tuesday's news conference but declined to comment.
Weekley's attorney plans a lawsuit and is demanding the officer who threw this punch be held accountable. Casey Wian, CNN, Venice, California.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, Ronald Weekley Jr. joins us, along with Benjamin Crump, the attorney of the Weekley family.
All right. Good to see you both of you.
So, Ronald, let me just ask you what happened. You were skateboarding down the street. And just tell me from there what happened when the officers came over.
WEEKLEY: I was just skateboarding down street, about to enter my house, when I was immediately grabbed by my hair. I didn't know what was going on. They grabbed me by my hair, my shoulders, my back. They immediately threw me on the ground.
I realized what was going on. I wasn't going to resist whatsoever. I said, you guys have my hands. They cuffed me. They had my legs, the officers jumped on me, as the other officer put his knee on my back and just started punching me in my face. And that's when I screamed, you know, somebody help me, help me.
BURNETT: Ronald, had you seen the officers before this happened? I mean, did you even know they were there? Had you -- had you said anything to them or was this literally out of the blue?
WEEKLEY: This was completely out of the blue.
BURNETT: So, why do you think they did it?
WEEKLEY: When I was in the back of the patrol car throwing up, one of the officers said to me I was a dumb A-hole because I didn't stop at the stop sign.
BURNETT: So stop at the stop sign.
Benjamin Crump, what are you -- why do you think they arrested him? And --
CRUMP: Well, certainly, Erin, I think it has the pretext of race. Venice, California, is known for being a culture of skateboarding. They don't stop anybody from skateboarding. It's a civil infraction. It's a civil fine. It's nothing that you assault a law-abiding citizen for, for skateboarding on the other side of the road because that's the other version they told his family why they stop them.
But, really, it comes down to -- it wasn't the wrong side of the road. They came and attacked him because he was the wrong race. They have a culture of this, Erin. And thank God for that videotape. He got punched four times. And there was no reason why this young man was handcuffed, for them to hit in his face those four times.
BURNETT: I want to read to you, Mr. Crump, the response from the LAPD. They say, "Until we fully complete the investigation and look at the circumstances of the incident, it would be inappropriate to discuss further details of the arrest or the use of force. It's a standard procedure that with all use of force incidents, we will thoroughly investigate it. It will be reviewed at the highest levels of the department."
Obviously, you have a video that shows a certain part of what happened here. But are you open to the fact that when that video was not rolling, that something else may have happened that would change the way you see this?
CRUMP: Absolutely not, Erin. There were so many witnesses out there that watched this from the very beginning. And the thing that is so unbelievable is that the cop knew that people were watching and yet he still punched him in the face four times. And it goes to the simple fact we want that officer held accountable and immediately suspended pending this investigation.
And we want the L.A. County district attorney to drop these trumped up charges against Ronald Weekley Jr. His whole college career and everything has been turned upside down because this assault and battery by LAPD.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Ronald Jr., thank you very much. Benjamin Crump, also appreciate you taking the time. Benjamin Crump also representing the family of Trayvon Martin.
Well, next, the postal service makes a big bet on the Simpsons and wow, did they take a painful punch in the gut.
BURNETT: So, as antiquated as the United States Postal Service's business model may seem and as poorly as they've been doing lately, they are here to stay, because with 574,000 people on the payroll, the postal service ranks number three in the United States of America behind only the federal government and Walmart in the number of employees.
But in their latest publicized gaffe, the post service inspector general has announced a $1.2 million loss from the printing of commemorative Simpson stamps. Yes, this marked the 20th anniversary of the cartoon family.
It seems the postal service ordered a billion of the stamps into print and wound up selling less than a third of them, which left them with a stockpile of 682 million unsold Bart, Marge, Homer's, Maggie.
You might ask, why can't they just keep on selling them? Because the stamps were first of all back in May 2009 and they have 44 cents printed on every one. So, in a rather unfortunate move, the post office raise the price of postage a penny in January 2012, which means the stamps are obsolete.
They keep raising postage all the time anyway. They totally blew the whole thing. But that's not the sad part of this is. The $1.2 million is just a drop in the ocean for the postal service. It recently reported a $5.2 billion loss in the third quarter. And they're going to lose $15 billion this year.
Postmaster General, get a few things straight, turn the ship around, you could end Saturday delivery. Close a lot of post offices. You could do all of that and you can get well, forget all those weird commemorative stamps anyway.
Anderson Cooper starts now.