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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Swine Flu Fears; Brush with Disaster; Education in America

Aired October 16, 2009 - 19:00   ET



Warnings about the swine flu -- now the government says the vaccine has been delayed again. Over 80 kids have already died, outbreaks have been reported across the country. What should you do to keep your family safe?

Also, a big divide over health care, Democrats fighting over the so-called public option -- will we have a government-run health care at the end of the day?

Also, a (INAUDIBLE) baby a dramatic brush with death -- a 6- month-old falls on to the tracks just as a train rolls into the station. It was all caught on tape.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and analysis for Friday, October 16th. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Growing concerns tonight about the swine flu -- the Centers for Disease Control is warning that delivery of the vaccine for the H1N1 virus has been delayed again. Manufacturers say they simply cannot make it fast enough. Now, the government had expected 40 million doses to be made available by the end of this month, but now says it will likely be about 30 million, that's 25 percent less. This announcement comes as swine flu outbreaks have been reported all over the country.


PILGRIM (voice-over): The dangerous virus is spreading, now widespread in 41 states. Six percent of patients at doctor's offices are there with influenza symptoms, a high rate for any time of year but especially in October. More children are dying, 86 under the age of 18, and half of those deaths since September have been those in the age 12 to 17.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are very sobering statistics, you know, 43 deaths essentially in one month is a lot. Usually in a whole season that lasts from you know going September all the way to May you would only have about 40 or 50 deaths and so in just one month's time we've had that many.

PILGRIM: And even more bad news from the manufacturers of the swine flu vaccine.

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, CDC: Some of the manufacturers have let us know that the production of vaccine is likely to be a bit delayed in terms of the number of doses they were expecting to have out in future weeks. We wish that we had more vaccine, and there is more vaccine coming out every day, but it doesn't look like we're going to be able to make those estimates that we had projected for the end of this month.

PILGRIM: So when will the swine flu vaccine be accessible to all? The CDC just can't say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't, with precision, estimate exactly how much we'll have at any one time. There are many steps involved with producing vaccine and then with testing and releasing vaccine.

PILGRIM: Schuchat hopes to have widespread availability of the vaccine by the end of this month or early November but says delays will have a substantial impact on states that are trying to plan for distribution of the vaccine to schools and pharmacies.


PILGRIM: A New York judge has temporarily stopped the state's policy that requires state health care workers to get the swine flu vaccine. The Public Employees Federation sued the state of New York over the issue and it argued that the health department overstepped its authority by forcing employees to be vaccinated by November 30th. Workers had faced disciplinary action and would have been fired. And the health department says it will fight that lawsuit.

The government is warning consumers to stay away from swine flu medications being sold online. The Food and Drug Administration has found that some of the products advertised to treat the virus are bogus. In one case, investigators analyzed what was supposed to be TamiFlu. It's the antiviral medicine shown to be effective against the swine flu. And the fake TamiFlu contained only talc and an over the counter fever reducer. The FDA says buying prescription drugs on the Internet could be life threatening.

Part of the reason for the widespread swine flu vaccine delay is that three of the four approved manufacturers produce their vaccine overseas; only one company, Sanofi Pasteur, is producing all of its vaccine for the U.S. market in the U.S., some 75 million doses. Now, the CDC has ordered over 250 million doses, only a fraction of which is on route at this time.

Turning now to the war in Afghanistan, roadside bombs killed four American soldiers Thursday. This news comes as the Obama administration is debating a new war strategy. And today former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, said it's time for the president to decide.


GEN. RICHARD MYERS (RET.), FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: This is a very important decision for this president, for any president, when you're deciding whether to send more of America's blood and treasure into a difficult circumstance. Having said that, I think they need to get on with this decision here fairly quickly.


PILGRIM: And 2009 has been the deadliest year for American forces since the war began eight years ago. The deaths bring the total number of Americans killed in Afghanistan to 873; 4,198 have been wounded; 2,510 seriously wounded.

Tropical Storm Rick off of Mexico's Pacific Coast has been upgraded to a hurricane by the National Hurricane Center. Now, there are worries that this could become a major hurricane as early as tomorrow. This category one storm is gathering strength. It's about 300 miles south of Acapulco.

Rick is the seventh hurricane of the Pacific season. Here on the East Coast, an early snowstorm has hit parts of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey. Snow started falling Thursday, set records for the earliest date and there was an inch of snow in Binghamton, Ithaca, Oleon (ph), New York, Altoona and the state college of Pennsylvania. The National Weather Service says more snow is possible through Saturday.

Now some remarkable video out of Australia as a 6-month-old toddler escaped what seem to be certain tragedy and today there is one happy mother. Dean Felton reports from Melbourne.


DEAN FELTON (voice-over): A young mother arrives at Ashburton (ph) station. In the windy weather, she fusses over her child and even pulls the pram away from the edge of the platform but doesn't apply the brake. And in a split second, her 6-month-old boy rolls off the platform and into the path of a train.

JOHN REES, CONNEX: It's a miracle this baby wasn't killed. The baby somehow managed to escape with just a cut to the forehead we've been told, so it's an absolute miracle.

FELTON: The city-bound train comes to a stop 30 meters further along the tracks, the baby underneath shielded only by the pram.

REES: (INAUDIBLE) played a great role in making sure this baby was -- survived (INAUDIBLE).

FELTON: Mother and child are taken to the hospital but released soon afterwards -- shaken but unhurt. Police say the mother did nothing wrong. Connex workers back at the scene find the pram in pieces and belongings scattered as far along as the second carriage.

(on camera): Transit police say signage and supervision on railway platforms are already adequate but that incidents like yesterday's are a startling reminder of how easily tragedies can happen. SGT. MICHAEL FERWERDA, TRANSIT POLICE: Parents especially know to be vigilant, especially with toddlers. They tend to wander off, especially with multiple kids as well.

FELTON (voice-over): The incident came just a day after the launch of a public awareness campaign warning of the dangers of prams on platforms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The potential for disaster is huge and then the very next day this happens.

FELTON: Dean Felton, Seven News (ph).


PILGRIM: Incredible story with an incredible outcome.

Coming up -- tough new efforts to restrict gun use in California -- is the new law too...


PILGRIM: Also, the Obama stimulus plan, now some say it's not so stimulating. Billions have been spent but to what end and where are the jobs?


PILGRIM: The country's second largest bank is reporting a $2.2 billion loss in the third quarter. Bank of America blames bad consumer and commercial loans for the loss. Bank of America received $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money after it purchased Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial.

The CEO of another bank that accepted the taxpayer bailout, Goldman Sachs, is making dire predictions about the job market. Lloyd Blankfein says some of the jobs lost in the recession could be gone for good.


LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: Some of the jobs that went away won't necessarily come back because at this particular moment in time we're sort of making a lot of adjustments that ideally we should have been making all along. Certain industries have to shrink. Other industries have to go and the people who are caught in the middle can't go back to jobs tomorrow.

They have to be retrained and it might be different people that get those jobs. And so there's going to be a -- recovery is going to be uneven and certain parts of the economy are going to recover faster than others and that divergence is going to create a lot of stress.


PILGRIM: Goldman Sachs is reporting a $3.2 billion profit in the third quarter. Now the firm has set aside almost half of that money for employee bonuses. The company is on track to match its 2007 bonus payout of $21 billion.

The Obama administration stimulus plan is facing sharp criticism again tonight. The White House figures show that the stimulus has only created about 30,000 jobs nationwide so far, and in states like California where companies were awarded more than $1 billion there are very few jobs to show for it. Casey Wian has our report.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Army Corps of Engineers is using federal stimulus money to remove graffiti from the Los Angeles river channel, including one of the largest tags in the United States. The $800,000 project has created eight jobs. President Obama trumpeted the job creation prospects of the Recovery Act during a Democratic Party fundraiser in San Francisco Thursday night.

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it hadn't been for that Recovery Act, here in California and all across America, if it weren't for the Recovery Act, we'd be in a much deeper hole and that is a fact.


WIAN: California companies have been awarded more than $1 billion in federal economic stimulus contracts, yet according to the federal government's own data so far they've created or saved just 2,240 jobs. That works out to nearly $500,000 per job.

But that figure will improve because many of the companies have not hired all of their workers and some projects are not yet under way. Some of the money hasn't even been spent. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is aggressively pushing for more federal funds, his most recent appeal for green energy jobs.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: There's at least 40 companies (INAUDIBLE) in the pipeline that are ready to go. They will be also eligible for federal money, billions and billions of dollars of federal money.

WIAN: Including grants and loans through various federal agencies, California is set to receive about $28 billion. No one knows how many jobs that will create.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: American families and small businesses are struggling. They've seen this economic stimulus package passed but they're asking the question, where are the jobs?

WIAN: They're coming, says the White House, adding quote, "it's too soon to draw any global conclusions from this partial and preliminary data."

(END VIDEOTAPE) WIAN: It's also too soon to draw any conclusions from a bit of good news out of California today. The state's unemployment rate actually declined slightly last month by a tenth of a percent. It's still among the highest in the nation at 12.2 percent and in the past year California has lost nearly three quarters of a million jobs -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Casey, it must be a pretty hard sell to be pushing for more funds when the disbursement of the funds in hand has been so slow.

WIAN: Yeah, that's what a lot of people are saying. They're saying that the federal government has committed so much money but these jobs are being slow to develop. The administration says they're coming.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much. Casey Wian.

The federal government has spent half a billion dollars on 10 contracts in New York City and Long Island, New York. Now so far 54 jobs were created or saved at $9 million per a job at this point. The state of Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country, was awarded 120 million in contracts; only 400 jobs were created or saved. Those jobs cost $300,000 each.

California has a strict new law making it tougher to buy handgun ammunition. The measure is California's first state wide regulation on ammunition sales. The law makes it illegal to sell bullets to people who are banned from owning firearms. Starting in July, gun dealers will be required to keep records of ammunition sales for at least five years. As of February 2011, all ammunition buyers will have to provide a driver's license and a thumb print. Now the law also restricts online sales of ammunition.

Sales of guns and ammunition are on the rise around the country. Ammunition makers say despite a 25 percent increase in production, ammunition is running in short supply and it appears gun owners are concerned about the future of the Second Amendment in this country -- Bill Tucker reports.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The number of FBI background checks on gun purchases is at an all-time high. They're on pace to top 13 million this year, the most in any one year since the FBI began the checks in 1998.

JAKE MCGUIGAN, NAT'L SHOOTING SPORTS FOUNDATION: There are people have been purchasing firearms at you know unprecedented rates, historic highs, and continue to do so. Our industry has done tremendously well.

TUCKER: And gun store owners say it's not just a guy thing anymore.

CHRIS DRUM, CRS WEAPONRY: I would say our customer mix used to be 75/25. And we're now experiencing more like a 50/50, even split between women and men purchasing firearms.

TUCKER: Along with the increase in gun sales, there's been an increase in ammunition sales. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, demand for ammo exceeds supply. In response to the shortage, production has increased roughly 25 percent to a projected 10 billion rounds this year.

Gun advocates say a lot of what's driving the sales is the suspicion of President Obama on the issue of the Second Amendment. During the election, Obama pledged to support for the Second Amendment in an interview with "Outdoor Life", but then earlier this year he asked Congress to approve a 12-year-old treaty with Mexico.

OBAMA: I'm urging the Senate in the United States to ratify an inter-American treaty known as SITA (ph) to curb small arms trafficking that is a source of so many of the weapons used in this drug war.

TUCKER: The Bi-National Border Security Group (ph) made up of officials from the U.S. and Mexico and the nation's largest gun control group, the Brady Campaign, this week reminded the president of his pledge to push for the treaty. It calls for the creation of a gun registration system that would be open to international sharing. Critics say that amounts to backdoor gun control. And then there's the matter of the Supreme Court.


TUCKER: Now next year the court will hear the appeal of a case that is expected to have profound constitutional ramifications. Is the right to keep and bear arms a right that applies to the states as well as the federal government? Well the appellate court has ruled that the Second Amendment doesn't apply to the states, meaning they're free to legislate on gun control on their own, so Kitty nerves are very much on their edge out in the gun owning communities.

PILGRIM: And Bill, what you're really talking about is hoarding, right?

TUCKER: Right. Yeah, because they're afraid they're going to wake up tomorrow and find out they either can't buy it or it's taxed in such rates because Obama supported a 500 percent tax increase at one point when he was a senator, so they're worried and they're getting it while they can.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much. Bill Tucker.

To hear Lou's thoughts on all the issues, join him on the radio Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show". Go to to find the local listings for "The Lou Dobbs Show" on the radio, also to subscribe to the daily Podcast. And you can follow Lou at loudobbsnews on

Still ahead -- the country's failing education system. What can be done to fix our troubled schools? And why are some studies showing women become unhappier as they grow older? We'll have some answers for you.


PILGRIM: This week we told you about a controversial study by the University of Pennsylvania suggesting that women are unhappy despite the progress of the feminist movement. Well, now a new book goes even further, saying that as women age they become less happy while men become happier. Ines Ferre reports tonight on why happiness seems to be declining for women.


INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If American women have made such progress over the last three decades, why are they less happy than men?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it has a lot to do with the amount of stress that they're under.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women, you know want to stay young, they want to be attractive. I don't think men feel those pressures as much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's just a choice, a personal choice whether you become happy or not.

FERRE: A new study on the topic suggests that among other things changes brought about by the women's movement may have caused a decline in women's happiness over the last three decades. Women today make up more than half of our university student population. There are more women in the work force. And wage gaps have narrowed. So what gives? One author who specializes in women's issues offers this explanation.

HARRIET RUBIN, AUTHOR, "THE PRINCESSA: MACHIAVELLI FOR WOMEN": Instead of suddenly being free to do anything, we're actually very limited in what we can do and the opportunities we have to pursue. And so it's not the women's movement. It's the failure of the women's movement that is making women unhappy.

FERRE: A female economist blames increased expectations.

SYLVIA ANN HEWLETT, CENTER FOR WORK-LIFE POLICY: The generation of pioneer women who, you know, bolted over those barriers and crashed through those glass ceilings, I think we paid a very big price for those successes. As a result, I think created a very crowded life.

FERRE: Then there are those who question whether happiness can really be measured at all.


FERRE: And one study shows that women start their adult lives happier than men and grow less happy, their satisfaction with their finances and family life tends to decline over time as men's increases. Meanwhile, research shows that women have significantly less perceived free time, a feeling that's been linked to higher sustained levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. And researchers say that that could be one of the reasons why they might feel less happy -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: You know, I have to ask you, though, when they have a survey and they ask women about these things and then they ask men about these things, aren't women just more willing to share their feelings? Does that factor in?

FERRE: Right, well one of the -- one of the theories is that yes that women might express their emotions more. They might be more honest with them and maybe what they consider happiness differs from what a male might consider happiness. And there's actually data that suggests that over the last three years that women have been expressing more negative emotions like stress, like anxiety, and one of the hypothesis is because they're juggling so many roles.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much. Ines Ferre. Thanks, Ines. I'm pretty happy. I know you are, too.

FERRE: I'm happy. I'm sure that as a woman you can identify with some of these things.

PILGRIM: All right, (INAUDIBLE) make that clear.

All right, coming up, a vital tool in the fight against illegal immigration could be history. Democrats want to kill the successful E-Verify program. The question is why.

And the American education system receiving low marks. New math test scores show no improvement for the first time in 20 years.


PILGRIM: A nationwide math test administered to fourth and eighth grade students has turned up some disturbing results. Now, scores among eighth graders increased only slightly and for the first time in almost 20 years the fourth grade scores did not improve at all.

Joining me now to discuss our education system, whether it is actually failing our kids, is Beth Fertig, a senior reporter for WNYC Radio and author of the new book "Why Cant U Teach Me 2 Read?" We are also joined by Steve Perry, principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnate School and CNN contributor -- CNN education contributor and also author of "Raggedy Schools". We're also joined by Sam Chaltain, the national director of the Forum for Education and Democracy and also an author, author of "American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community," which comes out next week, by the way, so that will be fun to read also.

Beth, I'd like to start with you. You have followed some very -- very tough story, followed some very hard cases in the New York school system. Tell me a little bit about what you observed and why there is such abysmal failure. BETH FERTIG, AUTHOR, "WHY CANT U TEACH ME 2 READ?": Well I reported on three students who got all the way to high school without learning to read. And because they were students with disabilities they managed to win settlements from the city because students with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. These students were immigrants.

Their parents came from the Dominican Republic having very little formal education at all and so when the students ran into trouble, Yunoko (ph), Antonio and Alejandro (ph), their parents didn't really know what they could to help them until they got a lawyer who was able to win them settlements in the form of private tutoring and they're very extreme cases because they have learning disabilities like dyslexia, but there are many, many students who can't read anywhere near the levels...

PILGRIM: Is it institutional? Yeah, the three cases are interesting but is it institutional in your opinion?

FERTIG: I would say in fact the New York City test scores have been going up. We don't know how much because we've seen a huge discrepancy between state scores and national scores, as you mentioned, with the NATE (ph) results. But we are seeing far few students -- fewer students at the bottom because there are more reading interventions that are available, but I would caution by saying that a quarter of the country's eighth graders were reading below a basic level on the last national exam two years ago, which means that's probably the level of a high school dropout.

PILGRIM: Let's review some of these numbers that we just went through in grade four, in the test, the most recent tests, there were no learning gains and we ranked 11th in the world. In grade eight there were slight learning gains, we're 9th in the world.

Now, Steve, you're a principal at a very successful school, all, everyone's going to college out of your school. But when you see statistics like this, what do you think? And actually can you pinpoint what we're doing wrong? What's the secret, here?

STEVE PERRY, CAPITAL PREP MGMNT SCHOOL: There's a lot that we're doing wrong. First of all, our schools are not designed to produce optimum results. We have a short school year, relative to the rest of the world, those nations that are beating us have longer school years.

PILGRIM: Your kids go to school all year round.

PERRY: Two-hundred and one days. In addition to that, it's very difficult to fire bad teachers. Throughout the nation, we find that district after district is struggling to keep scores up by keeping performance up by getting rid of the least effective teachers and the problem is that we have ineffective administrators and very powerful teachers unions.

PILGRIM: All right, I looked at Sam, because you're a former New York public school teacher and what is the situation with teachers. Are there incompetent teachers. They say you should treat them like an athlete. What do you mean by that?

SAM CHALTAIN, FORUM FOR EDUCATION & DEMOCRACY: Well, that is a reference to a campaign that my organization is a part of with a lot of other organizations. It's called the Rethink Learning Now campaign, And the philosophy behind it is that in this lead up to the next iteration of federal education policy, we have to make sure that restore our collective focus on the rightful bull's eye of education reform which to Steve's point, is on learning and on the core conditions that best support that.

Now, what's happened over the year, despite the best of intentions, is what we've actually created is a culture of testing, more so than a culture of learning. So, the way that teachers come into that is we all know that teachers are the most important in- school factor for determining whether or not young people can be successful. What we need to do from a policy perspective is think about how to invest in true teaching profession, as opposed to a teaching force.

BETH FERTIG, AUTHOR, "WHY CANT U TEACH ME 2 READ?": And we have such a diverse country, now. There are so many students with all different learning styles that the teachers need to be prepared to work with all different types of students. We've never before expected universal college readiness, the way that this president has said we should.

PILGRIM: Let me, you know, I really would like to take a clip, President Obama was in New Orleans yesterday and he commented on the success and failure of the previous administration's No Child Left Behind policy. Let's listen to that for just a moment.


BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: One of the problems with No Child Left Behind was that it had a bunch of tests and had, I think, legitimately high expectations, but it didn't always follow through with the tools that schools needed in order to actually achieve these goals that had been set.


PILGRIM: OK. Sam, you were talking about testing and the No Child Left Behind really focused on testing. What do you have -- your reaction to President Obama's comments? And also the fact that there's new money being put forward in this, his race to the top, $4.35 billion that's now going to be additional money put into this problem. Is this a money issue?

CHALTAIN: Not exclusively. It's an unprecedented opportunity, but what we have to do first is make sure that we're focusing on the right end result. So, part of what our campaign is saying is we have to have three pillars that are the core foundation of any successful reform at the local level, but also federal education policy.

Learning and so one of the ways we're starting to create I think a more receptive environment for policies like that is we're asking people all across the country from citizens to senators to actually the secretary of education, himself, to share their personal story of their most powerful learning experience. The logic being, once we see across all of these stories, the core conditions that are most important to creating a powerful learning environment, and I can guarantee you they're the conditions that are at the core of schools like Steve's, we can help policy makers start ask a different questions and figuring out how is it that we empower all educators to create those types of environments for all kids, not past policies that hinder educators from doing so.

PILGRIM: Steve, when you see this money, new money coming, do you see it as a plus, or do you think it really goes beyond money?

PERRY: Money is not the issue. One of the problems is that the people who are making the most decisions know the least about education, they spend the least amount of time in the classrooms or schools and they have discussions and opinions but have no real on the ground experience.

What we need to do is we need to let the most successful models begin to populate the school system. So, children can choose from those schools that are most successful as oppose to going to the school in their neighborhood. And that's what so many children have to do, especially when we look at the difference between students of color's performance and students who are White and Asian.

What we find is in cities such as Atlanta, 75 percent of the eighth graders not passing that state's examination to move on -- 75 percent of the African-American eight graders not passing that state's examination to move on to the ninth grade. It's an abomination. It's not about money because it costs more to fail than to be successful.

PILGRIM: Oh, that a great point. Beth, thoughts on the whole money versus skills and redoing the whole -- the entire system?

FERTIG: Well, you're absolutely right that it costs more to fail. New York City had to pay about $300,000 in tutoring for the three students in my book to learn how to read. Now, we can't afford that type of failure and I think what's very interesting is we're going to be seeing in the stimulus money that you talked about that states are going to be competing for that comes with certain strings attached, states are going to have to compete by showing they can measure which teachers are most effective and that's going to make the union very agitated because they don't want to tie test scores directly to which teachers are most effective. That's a difficult thing to measure, is who's the most necessary....

PERRY: Right, it's profoundly necessary. One of the problems is they want to be treated like professionals, but they don't want to be measured for their professionalism. If a child fails significantly -- if you have a class of children who are failing in your class, then you should not be allowed to move on to the next level while you're pushing children on to the next grade level.

FERTIG: Every teacher gets a class full of student and it's hard to get a fair comparison of who has who in their classrooms. CHALTAIN: Yeah, I was just going to say, I think there's some important nuance, there. And so, I have a 10-week-old son at home, so I don't have to worry yet about where he goes to school. But, if I were to have to make that decision now, the only data that I would have at my disposal would be the schools for third and eighth grade reading and math scores which reflect basic skills standardized tests.

I'm not suggesting that the tests aren't valuable. I am suggesting they're overvalued. And so the only way that we can get a fuller appreciation of whether or not a school is actually creating the optimal environment for learning is if we look at a number of different measures to assess how teachers are affected and I know Steve knows from his own experience and I know from my experience as a teacher, teachers work best in a collaborative environment. So, we can't come up with incentives that discourage them from doing the exact type of work that will best serve kids.

PILGRIM: You know, I think this is a fabulous discussion. I can't wait for you all to get your message out in your books and I hope everyone reads them. Thank you very much for being with us. Steve Perry, Sam Chaltain and Beth Fertig, thank you.

And coming up, a major power struggle on Capitol Hill as one of several health care plans heads to the Senate floor.

Plus, an amendment that would have made E-Verify permanent, that was stripped from a bill behind closed doors without explanation. We'll have that story, next.


PILGRIM: E-Verify is the single most successful federal program aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from joining the nation's workforce. It's once again being threatened; permanent reauthorization for the program has been pulled from pending legislation. Now, that change was made by Senate negotiators without public comment or debate. Lisa Sylvester has our report.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): E-Verify is the nation's voluntary employment verification system. Companies can use the Internet-based program to verify a prospective employee's legal working status. But E-Verify, which started as a pilot program, has never been made permanent by Congress. A Senate amendment to the Homeland Security spending bill would have changed that. But in conference committee deliberations, congressional negotiators removed permanent reauthorization of E-Verify from the final bill, frustrating many Republicans.

REP JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: It was changed to just a 3-year program, and what our concern is, we've been fighting this battle for about 13 years, and finally we got something done and then behind closed doors, without explanation, it's reduced to a three-year program. SYLVESTER: Some Democrats have criticized the employment verification system calling it "flawed" and "inaccurate." Representative Luis Gutierrez told Lou Dobbs Tonight that identify thieves can escape detection by E-Verify. Gutierrez wants to scrap it and start a new program.

REP LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: You know that you and I can go get somebody else's social security card, steal somebody else's identity and then submit that to E-Verify and it says ring, ring, American citizen, qualified to work.

SYLVESTER: Groups favoring immigration restrictions like, Numbers USA, call this a stalling tactic, a way to kill the current employment enforcement system.

ROY BECK, NUMBERS USA: It's always about holding down E-Verify and waiting for five, 10, 12, 15 years until a new system is put in place. We've been waiting forever. We've got a system that works.

SYLVESTER: The federal agency that runs E-Verify, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, says 96.9 percent of workers are confirmed as authorized to work either instantly or within 24 hours.


And the Obama administration repeatedly delayed implementation of a requirement that federal contractors use the E-Verify system. The president eventually signed off on that rule and it took effect last month -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester.

Well, joining me now, president of Christie Strategies and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, is Ron Christie. Syndicated columnist, CNN contributor and professor at Lehman College, Miguel Perez. Columnist for the "New York Daily News", CNN contributor Errol Louis. And Democratic strategist, also a CNN contributor, Robert Zimmerman.

Gentleman, always a pleasure. Let's start with health care. Maybe the House of Representatives could unveil a bill next week. Will it have a public option -- Robert?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't believe it will have a public option as it's been defined by the president and by the House of Representatives. There may very well be a trigger to a public option down the road, but right now clearly there's not going to -- in, in my opinion, there will not be a public option. But I think what's really critical going forward is not the debate about a public option, but producing a bill that's going to show it can control costs, because that's really the key to putting health care on track.

SYLVESTER: What are you expecting next week?

MIGUEL PEREZ, LEHMAN COLLEGE: I think there will be a public option out of the House. I think maybe the trigger will come in once they agree with the Senate or they negotiate with the Senate or a final bill, but definitely I think the House will come up with a public option.

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: And I think in the surging back and forth between the different sides of Democratic Party that the progressives are really making their presence felt so I do agree with Miguel, that there will probably be a public option. And whether or not it stays or whether or not it grows, expands or gets debated, I think the leadership has got to respect what the base has been telling them.

RON CHRISTIE, CHRISTIE STRATEGIES: I agree with the panel as well. I think there aren't enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass a bill without either a trigger mechanism or a public option. The devil will be in the details for the compromise between the Senate and House negotiators. I think a trigger or some mechanism will be in the final bill.

PILGRIM: What do you all make -- and it's been much discussion this week about Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, a key player suddenly and then Nancy Pelosi, and much drama has been sort of conjured up over this. Robert, what do you think of this?

ZIMMERMAN: You know, she wouldn't be there without the moderate conservative Democrats helping to put her in that position. She's not just the lone voice, but because she's the only Republican -- and think of it, out of all the Republicans in the House and in the Senate, she's will the only Republican who stood up and has opened up the opportunity for compromise. So, she deserves the attention she's getting and she deserves the stature she has in terms of trying to form health care reform and move it forward.

PEREZ: Some Democrats, however, are resentful of the fact that she is in this position and making this important decision. It's the American way. She's the only one who held out.


LOUIS: Well, she has the key to an important presidential promise, which is one of bipartisanship, and it may look like a fig leaf, it doesn't look like very robust bipartisanship, but it's the best that they've got for right now and I agree with Miguel. I mean, look, this is how it works, you know, you choose your position carefully. You can end up being a pivotal figure in American politics, that's what she is right now.

CHRISTIE: See, I don't know if I'd call her so pivotal. I think she has obviously voted in favor of the Senate finance bill, but Senator Joe Lieberman for Connecticut has indicated that he's going to vote against it if that goes on the floor, nullifying her vote out of Senate finance. So, I think that there's too much of a play on Olympia Snowe's role. The real devil in the details in this, I believe, is going to be can they pass a bill that's going to keep costs low, insure a lot of people and meet the president's promises. And I just don't think that's possible. ZIMMERMAN: Well, that's why you're going to see more of a focus coming up on tort reform, which is long overdue, and ultimately you can save $54 billion in this very expensive production. Also focus on doctor/patient guidelines that are going be needed. But, I think what's going to be key to passing this bill is not the public option, it's going to be able to show that you can control costs and bring some sort of protection to benefits to health recipients in the process.

PILGRIM: Gentlemen, I'd like to switch to Afghanistan, because it really is such a critical issue right now. We saw President Obama continuing to discuss with his war council, debate the Afghan strategy this week. I'd like to bring up a comment from retired General Richard Myers who was on CNN earlier.


GEN RICHARD MYERS (RET), FMR CHRMN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: This is a very important decision for this president, for any president, when you're deciding whether to send more of America's blood and treasure into a difficult circumstance. Having said that, I think they need to get on with this decision here fairly quickly.


PILGRIM: And one of the criticisms is that this is too undecided and is taking too long. Robert, your thoughts?

ZIMMERMAN: This decision process is probably going to take less time than George Bush's decision to launch the surge in Iraq. And I think it's very refreshing and important to have a president whose gathering information from every specter. I mean, there are serious issues explore. First of all, as Barbara Starr reported, do we actually have the troops to deploy? We only have 48,000 troops that have not been deployed. And so that's a factor.

The second issue is, what is our goal in that region? You know, there's a lot to be said for the fact there's the process, as Mark Thompson from "Time" magazine reported the economic Taliban, 70 percent of the Taliban who will work for $20 a day for whoever is paying them. So, it's important to have a strategy before we pursue deployment.

PEREZ: Right, well, let me ask, everybody in the world has a position on what to do in Afghanistan except the president of the United States. And we keep waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting...

ZIMMERMAN: Because he's the one with responsibility...

PEREZ: But, Robert, what kind of message are we sending to the rest of the world leaders when we are hesitating about what to do with Afghanistan? How do we get them to commit to Afghanistan? We keep waiting and waiting and waiting for...

ZIMMERMAN: We're sending a message is that we're going to make a strategic decision about how to destroy al Qaeda...

PEREZ: The message that we're sending is we're trying to get out of there and the president doesn't have an excuse.

LOUIS: It's not simply about waiting around in Washington to figure things out. You know, there's the thing called the Afghanistan government, which is under a lot of pressure. The U.N. has found that the elections were corrupt and they have to redo them. This is about hears and minds, this about the people over there, it's about the military situation on the ground. You know, there are times where the situation has to develop some clarity and I think that's what the president seems to be waiting for.

CHRISTIE: And the lack of clarity is what the president of the United States himself. He unveiled a policy in March of this year, in August of this year where he said, we have to defeat the al Qaeda network, we had to defeat the Taliban. We need to put U.S. troops in there to get it done. Now the president's holding back and saying, well, you know what, despite what I said before, we need to reevaluate.

Wait, wait. To go to Miguel's point, where we look weak, Gordon Brown committed 500 more troops from Great Britain. Gordon Brown's in a very, very difficult political situation right now, but yet he recognizes the threat...

ZIMMERMAN: We can pursue foreign policy through sound bite. We went on eight years of taking on the evildoers and saw the results of it. We have to have a policy that's going to take on not just al Qaeda, but their terrorist allies.

PILGRIM: Gentlemen, let's take a break, get right back to it. We'll be right back in a minute.


PILGRIM: We are back now with our panel, Ron Christie, Miguel Perez, Errol Louis and Robert Zimmerman. You know, I would like to actually bring up some comments that General Stanley McChrystal said recently and says that inadequate resources in Afghanistan would likely result in failure. I mean, we're hearing a very strong message from the commander in the field.

Ron, your thoughts on this as it dovetails with the debate that's happening nationally?

CHRISTIE: I'm very concerned, Kitty. I think when you have an expert in counterinsurgency which we have in General McChrystal who has indicated that we need at least 40,000 troops to succeed in our mission of defeating the Taliban and making sure al Qaeda doesn't resurge, I'm very concerned. And the last thing I'd say to that is why haven't we heard from the general before the United States Congress? Over the last eight years, the Bush administration had its wartime generals up before Congress and they had the opportunity to testify. I want to know why haven't we had the same level of engagement with Barack Obama and his generals, right now? PILGRIM: It certainly seems like a timely thing to happen.

LOUIS: Well, I think one of the things that has to go on here is that we need a new counterinsurgency doctorate. You know, the counterinsurgency manual that really led to the successful surge strategy in Iraq, assumes a certain level of stability, it assumes a certain kind of credibility that the central government has or at least different factions of it have that is just absolutely lacking in Afghanistan and has been lacking for centuries. So, we have to rethink this whole thing. and it's not something you can do by committee in Congress with a harshly divided Congress -- not going to happen.

PILGRIM: Miguel.

PEREZ: Failure is not an option, though. I mean, you know, what we have to do is figure out a way to keep the Taliban out of power. Maybe victory is not an option either. But we definitely need to be in Afghanistan at least until we know that another terrorist movement is not going arise out of there and hurt us.

PILGRIM: Robert, you get the last word.

ZIMMERMAN: There's a real debate to be had about our role in Afghanistan. Obviously, General McChrystal has a right to -- certainly has an important role to play here, but the reason we have a civilian control of our military is because before we commit our troops to what we call counterinsurgency, which is nation building, which means we're going to be there for at least a decade with tens of thousands of troops because remember Afghanistan consists of tens of thousands of villages throughout the country and we a government that is known for its corruption. So, how to do we engage effectively if fighting al Qaeda and its terrorist allies, if we don't have a working partner in Afghanistan to do it?

PILGRIM: All very good points. Thank you very much, Ron Christie, Robert Zimmerman, Miguel Perez and Errol Louis, thank you.

Coming up at the top of the hour, Rick Sanchez in for Campbell Brown -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Kitty, this is what we've been trying to figure out for quite some time. This is one of those really curious things. Why would people pay thousands of dollars to go to Sedona, Arizona to go to some kind of sweat lodge and two of them end up doing there? Why wouldn't you stay in the sweat lodge? Why wouldn't somebody get you out of there? Why are you paying for it? And why is the man who led those people there not being questioned about this? We are talking exclusively tonight to somebody who was inside that sweat lodge. Somebody who watched what happened. Somebody who actually pulled some people out. And she's' going to take us through this story.

And then, this is also amazing story and a lot of people all over the country are talking about it, today. In Louisiana, why would the justice of a peace, this year, right? We're not talking about the early 1960s or early 1950s, or the 1940s. Right now in America, a justice of the peace told a man because he was Black and his Wife was white, he would not marry them. No other reason. I know it's a federal law, but he told them he would not marry them. It's an important story and you're going to hear from one of the players in here, the wife, or the fiance, at the time, who takes us through our story.

Kitty, back to you.

PILGRIM: Great, we look forward to it. Thanks very much. Still ahead, "Heroes."


PILGRIM: In "Heroes" tonight, Army Specialist Jeremy Pierce, Philippa Holland has his story.


PHILIPPA HOLLAND, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On January 15, 2008, Army Specialist Jeremy Pierce was on a routine mission in Baghdad, providing security for a supply convoy run by Turkish nationals. Suddenly, insurgents started firing at the trucks.

SPEC JEREMY PIERCE, U.S. ARMY: I returned fire. There was three or four positions at that time. Two of those positions focused in on me. Everything was going so fast, tracer rounds, you know, they shot out my turret light. You know, there were rounds hitting the turret plate, itself.

HOLLAND: Pierce unloaded more than 200 rounds before his gun was hit by enemy fire. He grabbed another gun and kept shooting. Specialist Pierce and his fellow soldiers were able to move 16 foreign national vehicles to safety and eliminate the enemy threat. He was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor. Six months after his tour ended, he redeployed with another unit. A month and a half into that tour he was on a mission when his truck ran over a roadside bomb.

PIERCE: The vehicle was dark and smoky. You know, I could taste the gunpowder.

HOLLAND: Specialist Pierce was severely wounded.

PIERCE: When I reached up, that's I realized that my left hand had taken damage. I could feel blood coming out of the inner thigh. I lost all of my toes on my right foot. I cried when they told me they had to put me to sleep and it was so scary for me to make it so far and being told you're going to be put to sleep and not knowing if you're going to wake up or not. I was going to turn 23 in eight days, you know. It was tough for me.

HOLLAND: But, Specialist Pierce persevered and is now recovering at Walter Reid.

PIERCE: If god was say I would have given you a chance to not have volunteered and not have to go on this second tour and you could have your leg back and you could have your toes back and you wouldn't have to have nightmares, I would tell him that I'm proud of what I did and I wouldn't change it for the world.

HOLLAND: Philippa Holland, CNN.


PILGRIM: Our thanks to all of our troops. Goodnight from New York.