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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Obama Takes on Iran; Domestic Spying; Dreamliner Delayed; More Government Help

Aired June 23, 2009 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Thank you, Wolf. Good evening, everybody.

President Obama using harsher words to criticize Iran as the president tries to justify his foreign and domestic policies to what is becoming an increasingly skeptical American public. We'll examine the president's struggle to sell his agenda to the public and on Capitol Hill.

Also, the Department of Homeland Security abandoning a program to use five satellites to help local law enforcement agencies -- we'll tell you all about this controversial program and why the Department of Homeland Security says they want to kill it.

And the approval ratings of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dropping to an all-time low -- I'll be joined by three leading talk radio show hosts. We'll be talking about those issues and more here tonight.

Well turning now to the president's strongest criticism yet of the Iranian government. The president, today, declared the United States is appalled and outraged by the Iranian government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. In a news conference, President Obama also blasted congressional critics of his Iran policy.

Critics who say he's been too passive in this crisis. President Obama said, quote, "Only I'm the president of the United States." The president also had blunt words for the news media. Insisting he's not on a 24-hour-news cycle as he put it. Dan Lothian has our report from the White House.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than two minutes into his opening remarks, President Obama fired a verbal shot at the Iranian regime.

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice.

LOTHIAN: The president says what he's witnessed through compelling reports from Iran has been appalling.

OBAMA: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats of the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions. LOTHIAN: The president seemed to get emotional when asked about watching images of the apparent shooting death of Neda, the Iranian woman who has become a symbol for the reformers.

OBAMA: It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking. And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about that.

LOTHIAN: Despite pressure from Republicans on Capitol Hill to dial up his response to Iran's crackdown, the president suggested he's not influenced by what his critics want.

OBAMA: We want justice to prevail. But only I'm the president of the United States. And I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.

LOTHIAN: The White House has been pushing a dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program. But with the current unrest and a disputed election, Mr. Obama wouldn't rule out a shift in policy.

OBAMA: Obviously it's not encouraging in terms of the path that this regime may choose to take. We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed.


LOTHIAN: While the president may not have been trying to please his Republican critics, he apparently did just that. Republican Leader John Boehner congratulated the president for stepping up his criticism of the Iran regime and he added, quote, "We need to keep the pressure on them". Lou?

DOBBS: Dan, thank you very much -- Dan Lothian from the White House.

The first question President Obama took at today's news conference had to do with his offer to talk with Iran. No questions asked. The president then was asked under what circumstances he might withdraw that offer. The president's response took just under two minutes and he gave no direct answer to the question. President Obama said essentially we're, quote, "waiting to see how it plays itself out", end quote. His comment, by the way, was in the first 10 seconds of his two-minute response.

In his news conference, President Obama, again, used personal pronouns to characterize the U.S. government's response to this crisis in Iran. Let's listen now to what the president had to say on this crisis in his opening remarks.


OBAMA: I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost. I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran's affairs.


DOBBS: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told LOU DOBBS TONIGHT that the president's use of personal pronouns is what he called a coincidence. He said President Obama is speaking as president of the United States.

Joining me now for more on the president's news conference our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley -- Candy, the president obviously taking a stronger tone today than previously. Is that in direct response to the rising criticism over his handling of Iran?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He says not. And, in fact, as you saw was dismissive of the suggestion that he was moved by his critics, in particular, John McCain, he was asked about. I think it is far more likely that what the president is reacting to is what the world has reacted to.

And that is those grainy pictures coming out of the streets of Tehran, in particular the death of that young woman, Neda, who has become sort of an iconic figure in this whole unrest in the city of Tehran. So I think it was those and the increased violence that the president was reacting to and certainly those around him say, listen, the situation on the ground changes and the president is reacting to that.

DOBBS: Well, do you think some of these graphic images of the demonstrators that we've seen over recent days added to the pressure for the president to come out stronger in addition to the criticism that he's received?

CROWLEY: Let me make an argument that I think the president doesn't mind having that criticism. He would not be the first president that I've seen who has taken what some thought was a timid or a moderate stance when it came to something that happened overseas, but who welcomed a tougher stance from Capitol Hill, especially from someone like John McCain whose name is known around the world so that you do have this sort of situation where the president is taking the moderate view.

And you heard him saying, look, I'm the president of the United States. I have to take all these things into consideration. And yet you have John McCain who people overseas do see as speaking for Americans being much harder. I think that makes sometimes negotiations easier and I think it sometimes makes tricky situations as the president perceives this to be a little bit easier for him.

DOBBS: But as Mr. Obama said, he is the only president of the United States.

CROWLEY: Indeed.

DOBBS: Candy, thank you very much -- Candy Crowley from Washington.

We'll have much more on the crisis in Iran throughout this broadcast.

In our "Face Off" debate tonight, we'll be debating whether or not regime change in Iran, were it to happen, would be good for the United States and American interests. Two guests with opposite points of view, obviously -- David Frum and Hillary Mann Leverett join us.

Also ahead, the Obama administration abruptly reversing course on a controversial spy satellite program designed to help law enforcement agencies.

And a new warning from North Korea as the U.S. Navy tracks that North Korean freighter believed to be carrying weapons or nuclear material.

And new details of what happened and why in that deadly train crash in Washington, D.C. that killed nine people.


DOBBS: North Korea tonight is stepping up preparations for a test of a new missile declaring an exclusion zone off its eastern coast. The North Korean warning lasts from June 25th to July 10th. North Korea issued a similar warning before a long-range missile test back in April.

Meanwhile, that North Korean freighter believed to be carrying weapons or a nuclear material is continuing to head south along the Chinese coast still tracked by the U.S. Navy. The "Kang Nam" is believed to be carrying military equipment to Burma in defiance of a United Nations embargo. The "USS John McCain" and surveillance aircraft are following the freighter. North Korea says any attempt to stop that ship would be considered an act of war.

Tonight, investigators are studying the mass of twisted metal from yesterday's commuter train crash in Washington. Nine people were killed. Dozens were injured when a moving subway train slammed into a stopped train during rush hour. The National Transportation Safety Board has now asked that the cell phone and text messaging records from the operator of the moving train be delivered to them to see whether she might have been distracted before the crash of that train. Today, Washington's mayor ended conflicting reports on the number of fatalities.


MAYOR ADRIEN FENTY, WASHINGTON, D.C.: The first update is on the number of fatalities. We now have a final confirmation that nine people have died as a result of yesterday's accident. All of those people are now pulled from the wreckage and we are in the process of notifying the family members of their loss.


DOBBS: This is the deadliest crash in the history of Washington's train system. The Obama administration is ending a controversial domestic spy satellite program. The National Applications Office, as it was called, was established by the Bush administration to provide satellite imagery of possible terrorism or natural disasters to help local law enforcement. But congressional Democrats said some police officials agreed with them that the program is an invasion of privacy and raises serious constitutional issues. Louise Schiavone reports.


LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A domestic satellite surveillance program is quietly vanishing under the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security a DHS source tells CNN. With critics warning of privacy infringements, DHS plans to close the little known National Applications Office or NAO, a program to tap the capacity of U.S. satellites to fly over the country and capture high-quality bird's eye images. The program was designed to make the satellite information available to state and local law enforcement. This analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation says it looked like a good idea.

JAMES CARAFANO, SECURITY ANALYST, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: When a crisis happens we want to have everything we can to throw at a problem. We want to think that beforehand. We don't want people at the scene of a disaster handing out business cards, so you know we need to integrate intelligence with homeland security in this country.

SCHIAVONE: But the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security tells CNN that the NAO which had only operated with a skeleton staff, would be closed, due in some part to an appeal from the major cities Chiefs Police Association who told the DHS secretary, quote, "In our view the NAO is not an issue of urgency. Our goal is effective sharing of law enforcement information that protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans", end quote.

Congressional Democrats opposed the NAO from the outset. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson called it big brother in the sky. And Congresswoman Jane Harman tells CNN quote, "As an ill-conceived vestige of the dark side, counterterrorism policies of the Bush years, it was past time for the NAO to go."


SCHIAVONE: Lou, the Department of Homeland Security tells CNN that there are avenues for information sharing between federal and local authorities already. But defenders of NAO say, if, for example, there was a high quality snapshot of a leaking levee, why wouldn't the city want to skip the bureaucratic hurdles and access that information as a matter of course? Lou?

DOBBS: Is there implicit in this an alternative for the government to use, should there be a natural disaster or an act of terrorism?

SCHIAVONE: There are currently information-sharing programs that have been established between the states and localities and the federal government, but what this NAO did was make this information more immediately available to states and localities. But the states and localities said they were concerned about privacy issues and posse comitatus.

DOBBS: All right, thank you very much -- Louise Schiavone from Washington.

A new delay for Boeing's troubled 787 Dreamliner. The first test flight to push back now for a fifth time delayed again. The plane is already two years behind schedule. Major parts are built overseas. That is, outsourced, and then shipped back to the United States for final assembly. The outsourcing of that production is the reason for much of the delay. Kitty Pilgrim has our report.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 787 Dreamliner is a production nightmare. How about this for a flight delay? Two years behind schedule. The company, again, put off its first flight test. Boeing said as part of the normal stress test, they need more structural reinforcement on the body of the plane. Industry analysts are very skeptical.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA, AVIATION ANALYST: The bigger question is what happens next because if they're finding issues like this at this stage of the pre-flight test program, then who knows what they're going to find after the plane flies.

PILGRIM: The production of the plane has been outsourced to a variable United Nations of countries and that's where the problems began. As far back as 2007, pieces from around the world came in incomplete. The wings and forward fuselage of the plane is from Japan, center fuselage from Italy and South Carolina, the nose from Kansas, wing tips are Korean, the rudder, Chinese, the doors from Canada, Sweden, and France, lighting from Germany.

Today, Boeing executives admit an international team will have to fix the new problem because the wing is from Mitsubishi. The side of the body's center section is from Fuji. But the overall design from Boeing.

SCOTT FANCHER, GEN. MGR., BOEING 787 PROGRAM: Is it concerning to us? No, not particularly. I mean the timing is certainly unfortunate, but we've seen nothing about what led us to the discovery that would lead us to broader concerns.

PILGRIM: The head of the union says his members believe it's the airplane of the future and they want it to succeed.

TOM WROBLEWSKI, INTL. MACHINISTS UNION: It's good that we found -- that the company has found this problem now instead of once the airplane's in the air, so the process is working.

PILGRIM: But it's a big question why Boeing doesn't seem to be able to keep the schedule. At the Paris Air Show last month, an executive said, technical problems are all largely behind us. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: By the end of the Boeing news conference, phone conference, there was still no clear delivery date, no exact estimate on when the new design will be worked out by the international team and the company actually defended the outsource production saying they will be able to work around the clock fixing the new problem because the companies are based in different countries. Lou?

DOBBS: So they're taking advantage of different time zones...


DOBBS: ... even though they apparently mismanaged those production facilities in all those time zones?

PILGRIM: Well it certainly doesn't seem to be pulling together very well.

DOBBS: Well at least they have the orbit of the earth to benefit them. Thank you very much -- Kitty Pilgrim.

Well to hear my thoughts on this issue and many more, join me on the radio each and every Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show" 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. in New York City on WOR 710 Radio. And go to to get the local listings in your area for "The Lou Dobbs Show".

President Obama's hard sell on health care legislation -- controversy tonight over the estimates of massive costs and the potential of providing coverage for illegal aliens. That is what La Raza is calling for and apparently what the administration means to accept.

Also the mystery of the missing governor solved, sort of. We'll tell you what we know and why there is so little real knowledge of what the governor has been doing. Stay with us. It's a great mystery.


DOBBS: Some good news tonight to report on the housing market. Home sales rising for the fourth time this year, up 2.4 percent in the month of May. First-time buyer credits helping, as did somewhat lower prices, down nearly 17 percent year-over-year.

The Obama administration, today, creating another panel to oversee the government bailout of the auto industry, forming the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers. The top six people put in place by the Obama administration to run the auto industry have no experience in the auto industry. Bill Tucker has our report.



BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden made the announcement while on a manufacturing tour of Ohio.

JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's my pleasure to announce in my capacity as vice president an executive order creating a White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers.

TUCKER: He touted the new council as evidence of the Obama administration's efforts to reach out to communities of people affected by job losses in the auto sector. Ohio's Governor Ted Strickland warmly welcomed the action, his state has been devastated by manufacturing and the auto industry job losses.

The Council on Automotive Communities and Workers will be co- chaired by the president's economic adviser Larry Summers and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Administration critics say the announcement is a public relations ploy and little else except for one more government committee.

ANDREW GROSSMAN, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It's really all about politics and this gives so many members of his administration the opportunity to go and visit over the next three years. And it's a very smart political movement, I don't think it's going to do much more than that.

TUCKER: Long-time industry observers say what concerns them is that the people the president is appointing to deal with the auto industry crisis have no background in industry. The executive director of the new White House Council is an academic and a former chief economist for the Labor Department, but he has no experience in the private sector.

Until a few months ago, he was dean of the University of Maryland's College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. The president's other appointees to help save the auto industry include a car czar with no automotive or manufacturing background and the person in charge of dismantling General Motors has no automotive or manufacturing background and is not a trained economist.


TUCKER: Now, this new council announced today sounds very similar to the existing Council of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers which assist in helping autoworkers who've lost their jobs to be trained for new jobs. But there was no announcement today that this new committee to study impact would be replacing the committee that's there to help with recovery. Lou?

DOBBS: Was there any suggestion that they would not be?

TUCKER: No, there wasn't.

DOBBS: (INAUDIBLE) we don't know what's going to happen (INAUDIBLE)...


TUCKER: There's a lot of committees here, Lou.

DOBBS: And a task force. All right. Bill Tucker, thank you very much.

Well for my thoughts on the nation's auto industry and the number of councils and task forces assembled to deal with the issue, follow me on Twitter @loudobbsnews, if you would at -- loudobbsnews.

Other stories we're following tonight across the country -- South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford, he's been missing for four days. It turns out he says he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Well he didn't say it. His spokesman actually said it for him. The lieutenant governor, the senators, the state senators and even his wife, each and every one said they didn't know where the governor was.

Sanford's spokesman said the governor called to check in this morning. He was, quote, "taken aback by all the interest his four-day trip received". Because of that Governor Sanford said he will return to his office but not until tomorrow. By the way, Sunday was "Naked Hiking Day" on the Appalachian Trail. No word on whether the governor was sighted.

Well Bernie Madoff's attorney says a 12-year-old sentence would be enough punishment for his client. He stressed to the judge Madoff's age of 71 and the nonviolent nature of the crime. Madoff ran a $50 billion Ponzi scheme that collapsed. He pleaded guilty to 11 criminal counts and could face up to 150 years in prison. His sentencing is set for June 29th.

And in Oakland, California, commuters call police when a sea lion wandered on to a freeway. And when the police arrived, they opened the back door of the patrol car and it jumped inside. When rescuers from the Marine Mammal Center arrived, the sea lion escaped again and hid under the car. They managed to catch it and will keep it for several weeks just to make sure it can survive now on its own.

Up next, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- she has a little ratings problem. We'll be talking about that and we'll examine all of the day's political issues, all of them, with our radio panel here next.

Iran tonight remains on the brink -- new questions about the U.S. response to the demonstrations in Iran. That's the subject of our "Face Off" debate tonight.


DOBBS: President Obama, today, used stronger language, his strongest to date, in fact, to criticize the Iranian government's crackdown on the demonstrators and protesters. But President Obama stopped short of calling for the Iranian government's removal from office. In our "Face Off" tonight, we examine where the regime change in Iran, were it to happen, would actually be good for the interest of the United States.

Joining me now Hillary Mann Leverett. She is the CEO of STRATEGA. STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy. She worked on Iran and Middle East issues in the George Bush and Clinton administrations. And David Frum, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush -- good to have you both here. Let's turn to first the issue of whether or not regime change is a -- even a relevant concept here and if we may, begin with you, David.

DAVID FRUM, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, we are seeing a challenge to the regime. What began as a challenge to the rules of the game, to the rigged elections, has mutated into something bigger. I think part of what we are seeing here is a revolt against the tremendously disappointing economic performance in Iran of recent years.

Economic conditions -- Iran is over the past four years collected about $270 billion in oil and gas revenues and yet, unemployment is maybe 17 percent, inflation maybe 25 percent, and incomes in Iran are no higher today than they were in 1975. So this is a great challenge to the regime and the regime by attacking the demonstrators has radicalized them and set in motion a revolutionary process and we can't see that it may end in the end of the Islamic Republic a good thing.

DOBBS: Hillary, your thoughts.

HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, CEO, STRATEGA: I think we really need to first assess this idea that the elections were stolen or somehow rigged. There's no evidence for that whatsoever. I think that's why you've seen a dramatic dwindling fading away of the demonstrators, they initially came out because there were questions, there were irregularities reported in the election. But those have been gone through the Guardian Council which is the appropriate body in Iran who has gone through it. The supreme leader has spoken.

Today you're left with just a hardcore of those who are looking for regime change. That is clearly not something that is supported by the broad populous inside Iran. They do now want to see an implosion of the system they do not want to see it come down, they want to see gradual opening over time. They want to see more accountability. They do want to see more prosperity. But Iranians are not in a bad state. The IMF reports there's going to be about 3 percent growth this year while the U.S. and the rest of the GCC are in recession. This is not a country in crisis.

DOBBS: Let's listen to the president, if you will, as he ratcheted up his rhetoric toward the Iranian government.


OBAMA: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats of the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.


DOBBS: Hillary, you say the president's Iran policy is in all likelihood already failed. How would you make that judgment?

LEVERETT: Well, because there's no evidence that the election was stolen and the president is acting that way, he is for all intensive purposes given up on the idea of the strategy of engagement. He has essentially bought into this policy, which is badly reminiscent of the lead-up to the war in Iraq back in 2002, 2003.

He bought into this idea that the regime in Iran, the government in Iran has been delegitimized. It would have been hard enough to deal with them to begin with, and today they are so delegitimized and so depraved that we couldn't possibly deal with that. I think for all intensive purposes he took the engagement strategy off the table today. I think that we are looking at a situation that's going to be very dangerous for U.S. interests in the Middle East.

DOBBS: To be clear, so I understand, until today, then you believe that the Obama administration was pursuing the correct policy toward Iran?

LEVERETT: I think there was division within the Obama administration. I think that Obama had, what I believe, was a correct impulse toward strategic engagement to resolve the problems between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic. But I think there was tremendous opposition to that from within the administration, so I do think the policy was already on the ropes and I think that Obama, today, delivered a death knell to that policy.

DOBBS: David Frum you're I am going to say the author of the "Axis of Evil Phase." Give us your best judgment. Does Iran remain the axis of evil and do you believe that the president has ratcheted his rhetoric to a sufficiently high level? And what real policy options are there anyway?

FRUM: Well, the president is the author of all of these speeches. Let's remember what President Bush said. What is ironic with the phrase axis of evil, the more that phrase has been proven right; the more it has been ridiculed and rejected.

DOBBS: If I may, David, I apologize. Rather than an entomology history here, if I may just respond to my question. Where are we today?

FRUM: Where we were in 2003, is nuclear cooperation. Today we have a chance to take this regime, which has been nuclear proliferators which is involved with North Korea and Pakistan, spreading these weapons and seeing something really benign. Liberating a country that has often had very positive relations with the United States that is a possibility.

President Obama was never planning, I think, on engaging with Ahmadinejad. He was betting on the Ayatollahs getting him a more acceptable president in this recent election. They didn't do that. They stiffed him. His strategy had already failed. It failed on Election Day. Now he has a new opportunity, perhaps, depending on events in Iran to build a better relationship with a different kind of Iran.

DOBBS: Privately, "The Washington Post" reports, advisers to the president are saying that the demonstrations, the protests are effective evidence of the success of his Cairo speech. Are taking credit in some measure for that, considerable measure, in fact. Your reaction to that, Hillary.

LEVERETT: I don't see that. I mean, the president and his spokespeople have been saying publicly and privately that Gibbs came out yesterday and today saying there is change happening in Iran. Well, there always have been a poor people inside Iran who have wanted to have a regime change and completely Democratic American-style democracy there. But the reality is, the facts are, that two-thirds of the electorate either voted for Ahmadinejad or are fine with him saying.

DOBBS: I think we should say, as best we understand, we have no independent or empirical verification of them whatsoever.

LEVERETT: The key here is that there's no evidence of fraud. There's no evidence that the two-thirds of the votes out there are not -- were not voted.

DOBBS: Go ahead.

LEVERETT: The key point here is that Obama said, well, we don't know how this is going to play out. We know how this is going to play out. We know that the supreme leader is going to be in charge. We know President Ahmadinejad is going to be in charge. We put ourselves behind a small group of people to our peril.

FRUM: Hillary and I have been debating these issues for a long time. I think on this point she and her husband, who are true Iran experts, are very much alone. I don't think there are many very many other people in the world who believe that this election was honest. We don't know whether it was completely stolen or that they just padded the Ahmadinejad votes. We will never know the answer to that. But we know that the opposition can get people in the streets and the government can't.

DOBBS: Count.

FRUM: I'm not going to predict that. It's not going to be the same. The idea that the regime is going to be able to put this back together and the Iranian public is going to accept what happened or that the American president can deal with this regime, again, in the way Obama hoped to, that's over.

DOBBS: David Frum, thank you very much. Hillary Mann Leverett, thank you. We appreciate you both being here.

FRUM: Thank you. DOBBS: And a reminder to join us for tomorrow's face-off debate, nontraditional media. Like the social networking Twitter and YouTube have provided critical information on what is happening within Iran, often the only information. Have twitter and citizen journalists made traditional journalism obsolete? That will be the subject of our face-off debate here tomorrow. Be sure to join us.

Up next, new polls showing a big drop in the approval ratings for house speaker Nancy Pelosi.

And new efforts to make certain college students actually graduate. Online classes could be the key.


DOBBS: New efforts tonight to make certain college students stay in school and graduate. One promising sign is an increase in the number of enrollments at online universities. Nearly 2 million students are now taking most of their college courses online. Ines Ferre with the story.


INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One of the greatest stories facing America is keeping almost all of its 19 million students in college. Currently, about four out of ten students in the U.S. don't graduate within six years. That's not a surprise to Patrick Callan who studies higher education.

PATRICK CALLAN, NATL. CTR. FOR PUBLIC POLICY & HOGHER EDUCATION: Some students are simply not well-prepared, so they don't finish. Other times it's the quality of the teaching and the counseling they get while they're in college. And a third problem that gets bigger every year for American students is the cost of college is getting so high that many of them are working excessively to the point where they either reduce their credit loads and never quite finish.

FERRE: One solution to close part of the gap may be collegiate studies online. Last year, almost 2 million students were taking most of their higher education online. A large portion of those are over the age of 25, working full or part time with family responsibilities.

ANDREW GANSLER, ELEARMERS.COM: For a lot of folks, especially working adults, it's a matter of convenience very much. The format is very conducive to doing the degree on your own time, on your own schedule.

RICHARD GARRETT, EDUVENTURES INC: Many, many online programs at bachelor's levels, essentially bachelor's completion programs where people can get that additional credit in the most convenient way possible.

FERRE: Even though some may think online studies would be cheaper, colleges often charge the same or sometimes more than campus classes. Four-year colleges can cost up to $50,000 annually. The average student graduates with more than $21,000 in debt from student loans.

CALLAN: We've got to look at getting the cost and the tuition down for students on the campus and off the campus.

FERRE: For the U.S. to be globally competitive, experts say the percentage of young adults with bachelor's degrees has to increase to about 60 percent. Right now, it's 39 percent. Behind countries like Japan, South Korea, and a handful of European nations. And experts say not only do we need to graduate more college students but also train them in global competitive fields. The percentage of bachelor degrees handed out in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has slowly decreased over the last 40 years from slightly over 35 to 31 percent, Lou.


DOBBS: Has the nation and the economy increasingly becomes technological, the number of mathematics and national science degrees has declined?

FERRE: The percentage of students who are taking -- yes.

DOBBS: Amazing. The idea these online universities are actually charging more than brick and mortar universities. They're effectively arbitraging the ability of the student to work and pay for his or her education online. That is really clever strategic thinking on the part of an entrepreneurial organization. This is clearly where it would seem there is an opportunity for the old brick and mortar universities to exploit their non-profit.

FERRE: They say the advantage for the people who are studying online, are that they don't have to commute; they don't have to spend on baby sitters, et cetera.

DOBBS: And they get to work.

All right. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, President Obama steps up his push for the controversial health care reform plan that could cost from $1.6 trillion to $3 trillion at the outside. We'll find out. We'll be talking with our radio talk show hosts here next.


DOBBS: President Obama, today, intensified his efforts to sell his controversial health care reform package. In his news conference, the president dismissed opposition from the health insurance industry and issued this dire warning.


OBAMA: Premiums have been doubling every nine years and going up three times faster than wages. The U.S. government is not going to be able to afford Medicare and Medicaid on its current trajectory. Businesses are having to make very tough decisions about whether we drop coverage or we further restrict coverage. So the notion that somehow we can just keep on doing what we're doing and that's OK, that's just not true.


DOBBS: Which raises further questions of those cost numbers from the congressional budget office for the president's health care reform $1.6 trillion? Those costs would be even higher were the administration to extent health care reform to illegal immigrants. One leading advocacy for illegal immigrants, the National Council of La Raza, demanding that health care reform reach what it calls all communities irrespective of the cost.

President Obama, today, also strongly defended his economic policies as he acknowledged the unemployment rate is likely to rise above 10 percent. The president said it is impossible to predict the sharp rise in unemployment, when he called for the massive stimulus package earlier this year.


OBAMA: At that point, nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like. If you recall, it was only significantly later that we suddenly get a report that the economy had tanked.


DOBBS: In February, however, the president was absolutely certain, or at least appeared to be, about the direction of the economy. The president was using what his opponents call the politics of fear to convince Congress to support that stimulus package.


OBAMA: The time for talk is over. The time for action is now. Because we know that if we do not act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse. Crises could turn into catastrophe for families and businesses across the country and I refuse to let that happen. We can't delay and we can't go back to the same worn out ideas that led us here in the first place.


DOBBS: House speaker Nancy Pelosi also issuing a grim warning back then about the economy. In an interview on January 25th.


NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER: We have a strategic vision for this legislation. Our economy is dark, darker, darkest, almost. There isn't any economist who could give you an optimistic view of the direction our country is going in.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DOBBS: Well congressional Democrats and the Obama administration, according to Republicans, were pushing a massive borrowing and spending bill and succeeded in financing a much larger government without stimulus. Joining me now, three of my favorite radio talk show hosts, in Dellums (ph), Massachusetts, from WPOR, in Providence, Dan York, and Dan good to have you with us. From Washington, D.C. from Sirius XM, Joe Madison, Joe good to see you. And here in New York from WOR, Joey Reynolds, Joey great to have you with us.

Let's start, the president today saying he didn't understand how difficult this economy was back in January and February. Joe Madison, what do you think?

JOE MADISON, RADIO HOST, SIRIUS XM: Well, I think most people didn't really understand how difficult it was, and I think that he was absolutely right. If he hadn't done anything, I think we'd be in a lot worse condition than we are right now. So we know there's going to be ups and downs, there is some good news like Chrysler will be opening plants, General Motors will be hiring people. Lou, I just -- what upsets me most of all, though, I wish organizations like the Chamber of Commerce would get on board and start talking about buy America instead of supporting outsourcing.

DOBBS: Yeah, that would be helpful certainly. But it appears that this administration campaigned on stopping outsourcing and stopping free trade agreements that continued to hemorrhage money his intent upon maintaining the status quo from the Bush administration, at least on that issue. Your thoughts, Dan York.

DAN YORK, RADIO HOST, WPOR: Well, I think he better stop expressing his concern about not knowing how bad it was back then. One of the things about the president is the charm and the confidence and the whole walk that he has. If he continues to talk about the idea that jeez, I didn't -- I'm not exactly sure if I calculated this thing correctly, that confidence that America has completely and actually misplaced will wane even quicker. So I think he better be careful about that.

And the other thing that we've got to be careful about is the stimulus money. Here in Rhode Island, we have $110 million that have been sent here for educational purposes. Guess how much money has been used for educational purposes in Rhode Island? 0.0, and, in fact, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has warned Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and about to warn the ocean state that if you don't do what you're supposed to do with that money you're not going to get any more. They have no discipline and the quality control is really, really poor.

DOBBS: Well, as we are watching this administration, this federal government struggle with a number of extraordinary challenges, we are also watching the development as what is a pandemic of swine flu. New York just adding an additional two to the death toll from swine flu in this country, including those numbers, 87 deaths in this country, Joey. We have the possibility of not having sufficient vaccine because as wrote in the "Washington Post" today, only 30 percent of the vaccine would be produced in this country. How concerned are you? How concerned are you about the conduct of the government so far in dealing with the swine flu?

JOEY REYNOLDS, RADIO HOST, WOR: Living in New York, we've done a really good job of rising to the occasion. When he closed schools, we were very orderly about it. I thought that we operated in good speed, and I think in creating some sort of an epidemic, you know, of our own, fear. I don't choose to live in fear; I choose to live in faith. I don't want to sound like a religious zealot, but its false evidence assumed real.

I don't play into the fear part, but I do think that you have to be ready. And I believe at this time in history, we're doing very well with the swine flu. I think we've got it under control. I mean, really, that's my own opinion of it.

DOBBS: I love the counter veiling wisdom and gentleness as if they were antonyms. Let's turn, Joe Madison health care reform, obviously in trouble in the Senate, acknowledged as such by leading senators over the last three days, what's going to happen here?

MADISON: Well, what's going to happen is you're probably going to get some kind of health care reform. But President Obama is not going to get all that he wants. There's even a major debate in the Democratic Party. Congressman Charlie Rangel and Congressman John Conyers, both deans of the Congressional Black Caucus are at each other because Conyers wants hearings on single payer, and Charlie Rangel's saying we don't have time for hearings. We've got to move this.

DOBBS: Let me just interrupt that.


DOBBS: Why don't we have time? We've heard this from the Bush administration through to the Obama administration, all of five months of it. What is this sudden imperative that we suspend thinking, we suspend analysis of facts, the gathering of facts, and we just create these ridiculous policies? We may have heard a president today, Joe, saying effectively, you know, and I didn't know what I should have known and getting ready to lay a foundation to excuse policy failures going forward.

MADISON: Look, Lou, I am absolutely in agreement with you on this one. This is going to be a major seat change in health, health reform. I think we take our time, we look at it, we discuss it, we put everything on the table, and as much as I'd like, my good friend Charlie Rangel and Waxman, I think they're wrong on this one. But you know its push, push, and rush, rush.

DOBBS: Dan York, you've got the last word.

YORK: What we missed here is marketing the true panic that America needs to understand with health care reform. It's all about me and my health care and, you know, debates over commodity versus entitlement and socialization and all of that are interesting. What we haven't had from any presidential administration is a chart. That says here's our deficit now and if I don't fix this, we're done. Nobody in America gets how big this problem is on financial life sustenance.

DOBBS: I apologize, we're out of time. Up at the top of the hour Campbell Brown. Campbell.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN HOST: Thanks Lou. Just ahead, the bloody crackdown in Iran raising questions about whether President Obama plans to talk with or take on Iran's leaders. Just ahead, I'll ask White House senior adviser David Axelrod about his thoughts and next steps.

And then of course tonight's great debate is the stimulus plan really working?

Plus R & B star Chris Brown gets five years probation for beating up his girlfriend Rihanna. A lot of people saying, that's it? We will get all of that at the top of the hour. Lou.

DOBBS: Looking forward to it. Thanks Campbell. We'll be right back here.


DOBBS: Ed McMahon best known as Johnny Carson's side kick for 30 years and the 25-year co-host of the "Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon" died today in Los Angeles. He was also a game show host, a TV pitch man making his voice and face familiar to millions of television viewers, McMahon was a Marine Corps colonel, fighter pilot who served in both World War II and the Korean War.

In Korea he flew more than 85 missions earning six air medals, he served on the board of the Horatio Foundation and M.C. the foundation's annual scholarship awards for 12 years. McMahon died this morning in a Los Angeles hospital with his family at his side. He was 86 years old, and having the privilege of having known him, I will tell you he's a great guy.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Join us here tomorrow. For all of us, thank you for watching. Good night from New York. Now Campbell Brown.