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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Public Option Lives; Poll Pain for Lawmakers; Swine Flu Spreading Fast; Asleep in the Cockpit?; California's Troubles; U.S. Schools Failing

Aired October 23, 2009 - 19:00   ET


KITTY PILGRIM, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Wolf. The public option back from the dead, Democrats pushing once again to include a government health care plan in new legislation -- do they have the votes to get it passed?

And disturbing details of the Northwest flight that flew 150 miles past its destination, allegations tonight that the pilots could have been fast asleep carrying 140 passengers, questions remain about what really happened.

Also the state of education in America, how do our kids measure up? Is the rest of the world passing the United States by in the classroom? We'll have an in depth report.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and analysis for Friday, October 23rd. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening everybody. The public option resurrected, Republicans in Congress are once again pushing for a government run insurance plan to be included in new health care legislation. Now the idea is universally opposed by Republicans, it has split the Democratic Party. President Obama has said he favors the public option. No final decisions have been made.

Both Houses will vote on the legislation in coming weeks, and of course there are serious questions tonight about whether any bill that includes the public option could pass. Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill -- Dana, what's the latest.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that right here last night we reported that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was leaning towards this new idea of a public option but allowing states to opt out of it. Well today, Kitty, he spent most of the day scrambling for votes to make that happen. The 60 votes he would need in order to break a filibuster on this issue.

We are told that he had a series of meetings with a number of conservative Democrats who believe that this idea is just the wrong way to go and that has been his problem. We're told after some one- on-one meetings in person and on the phone that the Senate majority leader ended the day without the votes that he needs so far but feeling good about the discussions he had -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Dana, there's suddenly more support in the Senate for a public option, what has changed?

BASH: It's interesting. You know there has always been a majority of Democrats, even in the Senate who believe that the public option is the right way to go. The issue always has been the fact that they didn't believe that they have a filibuster proof majority in order to push that idea and because of that the Senate Democratic leadership they weren't sure the right way to go, and whether or not that they should push this public option from the beginning or wait until the debate really gets going on the Senate floor because they know that there are going to be lots of amendments offered on this issue and others.

Well late this week we are told that the Senate majority leader decided to quote, "set a bar and show support". That's according to one of his aides and one of the reasons, Kitty is because of CNN polling and other polling out just this week that shows that there is actually increasing support for the idea of a public option in America and that really gave ammunition to very local -- vocal liberals in the Democratic base and they really want the Senate majority leader to start out from what they call a strong show of strength. And that is having a public option, so that's why the Senate majority leader decided to give it a try.

PILGRIM: OK, Dana, what about the House, Speaker Pelosi scrambling for votes, what's going on in the House?

BASH: That's right. It's interesting in the House it has never been a question whether or not they can get a public option. The question is what kind of public option. Because there's such a big Democratic majority over there and you're right, the House speaker is now looking to see if she can get what many liberals believe is the strongest public option. And right now she does not have the votes.

She and her lieutenants are scrounging around, counting votes, trying to see if they have the votes for that particular kind of public option that progressives really want. But they're going to have to decide soon, because right -- today we were told that they want to bring this to the full House floor on November 10th, that is just little more than two weeks away and we might actually see a bill next week -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much. Dana Bash -- thanks Dana.

Well Americans are really down on Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, only 29 percent of people approval of the way Congress is handling its job, now the low marks could be a bad sign for lawmakers come the midterm elections -- Candy Crowley reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deference to...

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maybe it's the partisan bickering. SEN. JOHN KYL (R), ARIZONA: Mr. Chairman, it's courteous if you don't interrupt somebody right in the middle of a sentence of an important point they're trying to make.

CROWLEY: Maybe it's the seemingly endless repetition of questions or the glacial pace. Whatever it is, there's something about the way the legislative branch works or doesn't that people don't like. Just 29 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job, and if you're running the place as Democrats are, that's troublesome.

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Clearly that's some Democrats who are dissatisfied, that's the only way you can get these numbers that low and you don't want to go into a midterm election if you're the Democrats with Republicans against you and your own party lukewarm.

CROWLEY: Big thumbs down, two for party leaders, the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found the Republican leadership approval number is in the low 30"s. That's a figure that suggests to get the majority position back, the GOP will need a Democratic political implosion. Still at 38 percent, Democratic congressional leaders do fare little better than Republicans and that is way down from a brief shining 60 percent approval moment in the February after glow of inauguration.

Nonetheless, there is an electoral hint in the numbers that Democrats could use. Party approval is much higher than congressional approval. More than half of Americans, 53 percent think favorably of the Democratic Party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When people think about the Democratic Party as Barack Obama, they like the Democrats, when they think of the Democratic Party as the congressional leadership or Democrats in Congress, they don't.

CROWLEY: Which means if the numbers should hold into next year, congressional Democrats would do well to limit their references to Congress and see if the president might be available for a drop by in the district.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


PILGRIM: President Obama is back on the fundraising circuit. He's been raising huge amounts of cash for the party and for Democrats facing tough re-election battles and the president's fundraising appearances have already put him far ahead of the number of appearances President George W. Bush made his entire first year in office -- Dan Lothian reports.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama in Cambridge, Massachusetts, pushing his clean energy policy.

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Recovery Act provides the largest single boost in scientific research in history.

LOTHIAN: It's the appetizer in a day of big fundraising meals. First a reception for friend and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, then off to a Connecticut dinner to raise cash for Senator Chris Dodd.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He's trying to help the people that are helping him up on Capitol Hill. Secondly the president is the one that's drawing all the star power right now. He is the fund-raiser in chief, as much as he is the commander in chief.

LOTHIAN: Even as he debates the way forward in Afghanistan and fights for health care reform, Mr. Obama has been doing a flurry of fund-raisers all across the country. Since taking office, more than 20 events, compared to just six during former President Bush's entire first year, however that's also when 9/11 happened. Mr. Obama is a presidential ATM machine fighting for his party's future, so far helping to raise more than $25 million.

ROTHENBERG: The Democrats are aware of significant vulnerabilities in next year's midterm elections. They want things to go well now, there's a special in New York and governor elections in Virginia and New Jersey that they don't want to start a ball rolling against them.

LOTHIAN: But some warn there's a danger to the administration's ambitious fundraising effort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're engaged in this type of travel and you're engaged in nonstop fundraising, what happens is the White House begins to start -- begins to look very hyper partisan, hyper political and that can then hurt the Obama brand.

LOTHIAN: But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested this level of fundraising is necessary because of the president's strict contribution rules.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This president doesn't accept money from PACs, doesn't -- or doesn't accept money from PACs lobbyists and doesn't allow lobbyists to give to fund- raisers that he's at as well.

LOTHIAN (on camera): A spokesman for Governor Patrick said the events today raised $600,000. Now this stepped up fundraising effort doesn't end tonight. President Obama will appear at events in Florida and Virginia early next week -- Kitty?


PILGRIM: Dan Lothian reporting.

Well turning now to the international efforts to curb Iran's defiant nuclear program -- Iran says it will wait until next week to respond to a United Nations plan that would slip its uranium to Russia to be enriched. The United States, Russia and France have officially endorsed the measure and it would help restrict Iran's ability to make a nuclear weapon.

Coming up, distracted, asleep, something else -- well those are the questions for a crew of a Northwest night, they flew 150 miles past their destination before the pilots figured out where they were. We'll have details tonight on what happened including the results of a breathalyzer test on the pilot.

Also critical delays in bringing swine flu vaccine to the public, the virus continues its rapid spread throughout the United States. We'll have a special report.


PILGRIM: Alarming new details tonight on the spread of the swine flu virus. The Centers for Disease Control reports the outbreak is now widespread in all but four states and there were new admissions that the distribution of the vaccine is seriously lagging.


PILGRIM (voice-over): Forty-six states now reporting widespread swine flu, many millions of cases. And the virus continues to spread, 1,000 deaths, 20,000 hospitalizations.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CDC: We expect that influenza will occur in waves and we can't predict how high, how far, or how long the wave will go or when the next will come. We're now in the second wave of pandemic influenza and whether this will continue through the fall, into the winter, whether it will go away and come back, only time will tell.

PILGRIM: Sixteen million doses of the vaccine are now ready to ship; 11 million doses are now available to the public. While more and more vaccine is hitting the market the CDC admits it is not enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We share the frustration of people who have waited online or called the number or checked the Web site and haven't been able to find a place to get vaccinated.

PILGRIM: Dr. Frieden today called the technology being used to create the vaccine antiquated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The technology that we're using although it's tried and true is not well suited for pandemics.

PILGRIM: The CDC says the Department of Health and Human Services has spent more than $2 billion trying to develop a newer method of vaccine production. But even if it could, during a pandemic would not be the time to release a new product to market. Dr. Frieden says while new technologies would not help with this year's swine flu pandemic, they are needed to develop seasonal flu vaccines each year.


PILGRIM: The CDC also said today that while the swine flu remains a largely young person's virus, there's no guarantee that it won't start to affect older people later on in the year. And it also warned that pregnant women are six times more likely to die from the swine flu.

New York State today rescinded its order requiring the health care workers be vaccinated against the swine flu. The state is receiving only a quarter of the vaccine it needs, now the governor's office said those doses should go to children and other high-risk groups. New York nurses had sued the state to overturn the state's order. New York is the only state mandating vaccinations for health care workers. Now with the suspension of the mandate it was unclear what will happen with the lawsuit.

New questions tonight about the Northwest Airlines flight that overshot its destination, by 150 miles -- the two pilots say they were distracted by, quote, "a heated discussion they were having in the cockpit". Federal investigators want to know if they actually fell asleep at the controls. Jeanne Meserve has our report.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The cockpit voice recorder from Northwest flight 188 was handed over to investigators Friday afternoon, but it is only 30 minutes long. Recordings of what was happening in the cockpit during the period the plane was out of radio contact were likely taped over. Investigators want to know why the plane did not respond to repeated radio calls as it cruised from the Rockies almost to the Great Lakes.

STEVE WALLACE, FORMER FAA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATIONS CHIEF: For an airline crew to have no contact with air traffic control for (INAUDIBLE) one hour and 18 minutes is unthinkable in the domestic United States.

MESERVE: A police report identifies the captain as Timothy Cheney, the first officer as Richard Cole. Police who interviewed them after landing described them as cooperative, apologetic and appreciative and say breathalyzer tests were negative. While they were in the air and incommunicado, air traffic controllers made repeated attempts to reach them on regular and emergency frequencies.

CRAIG BOEHNE, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOC.: Once the airplane passed over the airport at cruise altitude then the level of concern and anxiety increased significantly.

MESERVE: Controllers feared the plane had been hijacked. Fighter jets in Wisconsin were put on alert. There were interagency phone calls in Washington. The TSA checked to see if there had been screening issues with passengers. When with the help of other pilot's controllers eventually made contact with the plane, they found the pilot's responses vague. They asked him to make extra turns on his way back to Minneapolis to verify he was in control of the aircraft. (INAUDIBLE) explained the gap in communication saying they had been distracted by an intense discussion on airline policy. Others suspect they were asleep.

(on camera): Investigators will analyze the flight's data recorder. If it shows the plane's controls being operated during the one hour and 18 minutes of radio silence, it would appear to confirm that the crew was awake, not asleep, but the investigation has just begun. The NTSB hopes to interview the pilots this weekend or early next week.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


PILGRIM: Now in the wake of this incident, NORAD is receiving -- is reviewing procedures for launching fighter jets to track potentially threatening aircraft -- these new details coming tonight from our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Now there apparently was a delay by the FAA in notifying the military that the Northwest plane had overshot its destination.

To hear Lou's thoughts on all the day's issues, tune no to Lou on the radio Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show" 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. each afternoon on WOR 710 radio in New York and go to to find the local listings for "The Lou Dobbs Show" on the radio and to subscribe to his daily Podcast. You can also follow Lou at loudobbsnews on

Still ahead tonight, are the latest polls all bad news for President Obama? Our political panel will take that on and a lot more.

Also Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a surprising new target. We'll explain that next.


PILGRIM: Good news tonight on the housing front, sales of existing homes rebounded in September to the highest level in two years. Sales were almost -- up almost 9.5 percent. That's according to the National Association of Realtors. An economist for the group said first-time buyers were taking advantage of a tax credit that accounted for much of that rebound.

California's budget crisis tonight continues to worsen. Many Californians are demanding to know who's to blame for the state's troubles and now Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has an answer for them, blame federal judges. Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has blamed the state legislature, the state's tax structure, the recession, and even himself for California's budget deficit. Now facing a new billion-dollar revenue shortfall, he's shifting at least part of the blame to federal courts.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: They have judges coming in and saying, oh, wait a minute, you want to make cuts across the board, well you can't make the cuts in this program in you know in-home services. You can't make cuts here, and you, you cannot do the furloughs there and you have to spend more money on prison health care. And you have to go and spend more money on prison building and all of those kinds of things. So that's (INAUDIBLE) the water in the valley, you know so they are going absolutely crazy.

WIAN: He says judges are getting in the way. But critics of California's budget deficit reduction plan say it's too dependent on program cuts that are likely to be overturned in court. Lawsuits are pending to block at least $3 billion in proposed cost reductions for health care, workers compensation insurance and local agencies. And the state is still fighting a court order to reduce its prison population by 40,000 inmates. A three judge panel this week rejected a plan by the governor to free fewer prisoners over a longer period of time.

DONALD SPECTOR, PRISON LAW NETWORK: It's one of a long series of incidents where the governor and the state of California have tried to evade court orders or not complied with them over two decades.

WIAN: Schwarzenegger concedes judges are right sometimes.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Whenever they agree with me, they're right. It's very simple. And when they don't agree with me, they're wrong and they're interfering with our governing of the -- of the state, OK?


WIAN: The governor in effect is pleading with federal judges to give California state officials a break because of the historic nature of the state's financial crisis, but given court rulings so far, judges don't appear to be very sympathetic -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Well what's the thinking on this, Casey? Why blame the judges, is it true or is it a tactic?

WIAN: Well I think it's a clear deflection of blame because Californians in a poll recently gave the governor a 27 percent approval rating; the state legislature came in even lower at 13 percent. So I think he's trying to deflect some criticism here, Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much Casey Wian. Well as Casey just reported, Governor Schwarzenegger will have to come up with a new plan to reduce prison overcrowding in the state. The judges ordered the state to cut the prison population by about 40,000 inmates over two years. They rejected a plan that would reduce the number of prisoners by 23,000. Now the three-judge panel is now giving the state 21 days to come up with a new plan and if that's rejected, the court said it will develop one of its own.

Californians tonight have one more thing to worry about. They can be fined for sunbathing in the nude. The California Supreme Court ruled nude sunbathers can be cited even if they are in areas informally known as clothing optional areas. Now the court said that park officers can enforce regulations against nudity at state beaches even though nude sunbathing has taken place at some state beaches for decades.

Just ahead, the president's message of change and hope apparently not resonated with the American people -- his poll numbers continue to sink. Four of the country's leading political minds will join me next to discuss that story and more.

And it's a day off for students in Hawaii, but parents are outraged that budget cuts are cutting into their children's education; we'll have a special report.


PILGRIM: Today was the first of dozens of unwanted days off for school for children in Hawaii. Now the state's budget crunch has forced it to save money by shutting down schools on certain Fridays. Parents of course are outraged and some education experts say it's just another reason that U.S. students are falling behind the rest of the world. Ines Ferre has our report.


INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 250 Hawaiian schools were closed this Friday as the state implemented the first of 17 furlough Fridays to meet its budget, a major blow for a school system in need of improvement. Hawaiian eighth grade students rank 40th in the country in math. Internationally the U.S. does poorly in both math and science, American 15-year-olds rank 21st when it comes to science among the most developed countries, way behind top performers like Finland, Canada, Japan and Korea.

In math the U.S. ranks even lower and in reading the last international score showed that American fourth graders rank 17th in average reading scores, trailing Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore and three Canadian provinces. So why are others outpacing the U.S.? One expert says it has to do with the top performers' level of expectations and high standards.

ANDREAS SCHLEICHER, ORG. FOR ECON. COOPERATION & DEVELOPMENT: Most of the successful education systems do have a framework of national standards (INAUDIBLE) articulate performance expectations and in the United States that discussion is just starting with development of their common core standards in a number of subject areas.

FERRE: The U.S. school year is about 10 days less than the international average and 21 less than Japan's. Although the U.S. spends more hours on instruction, Asian and European countries still outperform our students.

JENNIFER DAVIS, NATIONAL CENTER ON TIME & LEARNING: Time is one of those components, but the quality of school leaders, the quality of teachers, and a variety of other factors are critically important to success, but what added time allows for is those other things to be done well. FERRE: U.S. classes have at least five students less than those in countries like Japan and Korea and on average the U.S. spends more money per student than some of the world's top performers.


FERRE: And Hawaii now has the shortest school year in the country, 163 days compared to a national average of 180. The shortened academic year comes at a time when President Obama, who is a native of Hawaii, has been advocating for more time in the classroom -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: It's incredibly ironic, Ines. Well, I'm sure that there will be a big discussion about that in short order. Thanks very much. Ines Ferre.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week it's time to tie student performance to the quality of America's teaching training programs. Well, joining us now to discuss that and a lot more is Christopher Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, it's a nonprofit organization that publishes "Education Week" and that journal's recent survey titled "Diplomas Count" examines graduation rates in U.S. schools.

We're also joined by CNN education contributor Steve Perry, he's author of "Raggedy Schools." And Sam Chaltain, national director of the Forum for Education and Democracy. And he has a new book, "American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community." Gentlemen, with this kind of expertise, we should sort it out in very short order.

Let me talk about our secretary of education, Arne Duncan, he spoke recently about teacher preparation, he actually spoke today at Columbia University's the teacher college, or yesterday, actually. He blamed the schools and colleges about teacher preparation. How much do you think this is valid or putting the blame on the wrong person? Christopher, your thoughts on this?

CHRISTOPHER SWANSON, EDITORIAL PROJECTS IN EDUCATION: Well, I think what we heard Secretary Duncan say yesterday was not a surprise. The debate over teacher preparation and the quality of America's school teachers has been a live one for a number of years. It's interesting to note, though, that he wasn't laying this all in the teacher's laps. There's a little bit more of a conciliatory note than in some of his earlier speeches and I think what he's looking for is the way forward for the teacher preparation programs which train the majority of our schoolteachers to be partners in reform going forward.

PILGRIM: Sam, I'd like your thoughts on that too, teacher preparation, I know that you're very big on this.

SAM CHALTAIN, FORUM FOR EDUCATION & DEMOCRACY: Yeah, well, I think the problem is right now we don't have a teacher profession in this country, so part of what needs to happen is we need to invest for the long-term in the creation of a real teaching profession as opposed to a teaching force. PILGRIM: What do you mean by that? Because, I can hear every teacher in the country getting upset with that statement.

CHALTAIN: Well, to use an example from my own experience when I was teacher -- so, I was teaching in New York City, we were the first line of defense as substitutes if somebody else wasn't coming in. And I remember being asked to substitute for one teacher's classroom and there was one student clearly sitting in the front because it was the way that she tried to drown out all of the chaos that was happening in the rest of the classroom and I had been instructed to just give a handout and I watched her as she was crying and saying that this is the handout that we've been given the last three times that this teacher was been sick.

PILGRIM: That's a very sad story.

CHALTAIN: On the other side, at the same school, there were 30- year veterans who where true master teachers, true instigators of thought, reflective practitioners that the rest of us aspired to be.

So to me, the bigger situation is all of those other teacher in the middle. So, how do we, from a policy perspective, think about how do we recruit, how do we develop, how do we support, how do we evaluate and how do we distribute highly effective teachers more effectively?

PILGRIM: All right. Steve, you run a school, it's a highly successful school, tell us your thoughts on teacher preparation and how do -- must have overcome the problem with the results that you're getting.

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I have yet to hear a teacher come out of a teacher preparation program and feel like they've been prepared and I have yet to see one that I have actually felt was prepared. One of the fundamental challenges in a teacher program is that they're run for college professors who are not typically known for their teaching ability, but in fact their research, and they have spent very little time in the setting in which they're training people to go to. So, therein lies one challenge.

The second is, that there are people, principals, who are responsible for evaluating these people. So not only are the teacher preparation programs in question, but the principal preparation in programs. Because if you can't determine whether or not someone is a good teacher, you can't get those people in and out.

And then finally, we have to make a decision as a community, what is good education for us? Too often we allow other organizations such as teachers unions to come and determine how long it's going to take us to fire a bad teacher, what it's going to take to evaluate that teacher and finally to bring in the most talented people, wherein you have to deal with bumping rights and things of that nature.

PILGRIM: You know gentlemen; I'd like to play a spot for you. It's a commercial spot that highlights the inequities of selecting teachers in different, sort of, school systems. Let's just listen to it and get your comments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first pick in this year's teachers draft, Margon Middle School selects Todd Nocarum (ph), (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no surprise here. Ever school in the country was hoping that to nab Nocarum, he's a veteran teacher who demands the best from his students and brings his subjects to life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't the schools with the biggest challenges have access to the biggest talent? We can do better.


PILGRIM: Christopher, thought on this? I mean, the disadvantaged schools stay disadvantaged because they don't have the pick of the best, best teachers?

SWANSON: Right, in some ways, this is the opposite of a virtuous cycle, in that It really does a disservice to many of our students. This is one of the things that we have really gotten appreciation for in the last five years or so, just the extent to which the disparities in the quality of teaches just build and build on each other. More senior teachers are able to opt into better positions and typically higher performing school with higher income communities. And that's not putting the future talent where we need it.

One of the things that we are hearing coming out of the administration and the federal government, so far, is that they want to take this seriously. A lot of the federal money attached to the stimulus has conditions on it if the states really want to be eligible for it. Some of those deal with really being able to look at the quality of teachers, in terms of student achievement, and advocating talent where it's most needed. So, if we see this moving in the same direction that may help take care of...

PILGRIM: That's a hopeful sigh.



PERRY: Well, I mean, how exciting would it be to have a teacher draft to have access to the most talented teachers. And one of the challenges is when you don't run an effective school, good teachers don't want to come to your school. So, the best way to attract good teachers is to run a good school.

PILGRIM: Is it an issue of money? Is it?

PERRY: No, it's absolutely not. In fact, the money issue's often overstated, especially when you're talking about within the same community. The average teacher's salary remains the same so you're getting who you get because of the type of school. One of the ways that we've been able to attract talented teachers is because we make sure that teachers understand that when you come there, you're going to work harder than you have ever worked in your life, but you will be rewarded.

PILGRIM: Last thought?

CHALTAIN: Yeah, I mean, as the organization that actually produced that, we're not actually calling for a teacher draft, but to just extend the analogy a little bit further.

PILGRIM: What would you like to see? What is the point of this and what would you like to see done?

CHALTAIN: The point of this to recognize that there are a lot of different components that go into recognizing and supporting highly effective teachers. So, a good example is actually the current system underway with national board certification. Teacher have to have been in the classroom at least three years. They look at student work and it's largely performance based, which obviously makes sense, that kids that are in Steve's school when they take chemistry, there's a reason that they don't only learn chemistry from a textbook, that there's also a laboratory experience.

Same thing when we get a driver's license. So, when we're talking right now about how to improve a teacher profession and evaluate teachers, it has to be a number of measures, test scores are one, and that's also, by the way, a part of national board certification. But we need a fuller picture to understand who the best people are to put in front of every kid.

PILGRIM: A very informed discussion. Thank you very much for being here to do this, this evening. Christopher Swanson, Steve Perry and Sam Chaltain, thank you.

Still ahead, former Vice President Cheney accuses President Obama of dithering on Afghanistan. We'll ask our political panel if the president is taking too long to decide on sending in more troops.


PILGRIM: Well, joining me now is Republican strategist, former political director for the White House and CNN contributor, Ed Rollins. Democratic strategist, CNN contributor Robert Zimmerman. Columnist for the "New York Daily News," also a CNN contributor, Errol Louis. And editor-in-chief of the "U.S. News & World Report" and publisher of the "New York Daily News," Mort Zuckerman.

Gentlemen, always a pleasure. Let's talk about the public option, quite the topic today. A lot of movement, we see some support maybe building in the Senate, don't know about the House. Ed, thoughts on today's activities?

ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think obviously the majority leader wants it, the speaker wants it. You know, it's a matter of trying to get the votes and I think that that's the one part that they're not sure of yet. It's the one thing that loses votes, I think they'll get it in the House version, obviously, but I think the Senate, they're still not quite there. They don't have the 60.

PILGRIM: You know, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called in an emergency meeting of the Progressive Caucus and exiting from that we did get comments from Rhode Island Democrat, Jim Langevin, let's just listen to what he had to say.


REP JIM LANGEVIN (D), RHODE ISLAND: You're going to have a health care bill voted for and it's going to include a public option, it's just ironing out the subtle detains right now, several nuances between the type of public option. But at the end of the day, I think it's going to be a robust public option and we're going to have a strong bill.


PILGRIM: Now, we heard from our correspondent, Dana Bash, that we could see real movement on this next week, even possibly have it done by Christmas. Errol, thoughts on it?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, I think that that's clearly the schedule, it's interesting that Speaker Pelosi said, well, let's not quibble over words. Maybe we'll call it a public option, maybe we won't. but clearly she has promised the Progressive Caucus, clearly she has sort of set a direction for this and unless something comes to knock it off, the momentum on the House side is clearly in the direction of getting this thing passed.

I think there's a significant amount of momentum on the Senate side, as well. I mean, and it's coupled with this removal of the anti-trust exemption that insurance companies have had for a long time, so you start to really see some a movement toward really reshaping the entire system.

PILGRIM: Would you have anticipated this, Robert? I mean, just a few days ago everyone was saying...

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I felt there would be some aspect of a public option in the bill, whether it was done through a trigger effect, whether it would be done with the option, the state opting out -- a public option where states have the right to opt out.

You know, I spoke with a number of senators about this during the course of the week, and they think there is a movement towards a form of a public option. One of the reasons that polls we're seeing form both parties are so meaningless is that everyone tends to define a public option differently. Even in the House where is consensus there will be public option, they're battling over how that will be structured.

And I think what's really interesting to note, if we move in the direction, it seems to get some traction from the moderates, some are resisting the idea of a public option where the states can opt out. Then it might raise the issue that Ed's talked about, which is the idea that insurance companies selling across state lines, and number of senators -- two senators this week have said if consumer protections are included, it's a real possibility.

PILGRIM: Mort, thoughts on this.

MORT ZUCKERMAN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": I think just dealing in at-home politics, Harry Reid is in real trouble in his home state and he really needs the support of the liberal wing of his party in Nevada and I think this is a part of what motivates him. I think it's going to be a much tougher ride in the Senate, obviously, than in the House. But I still think there's a moderate chance that it will go. I happen to be in favor of a public option, I just don't know if there are 60 votes for it in the Senate.

ROLLINS: One part that's not really been defined and I think where a public option is most dangerous to them if they really want success, long-term, they don't know how much it's going to cost and they don't know what kind of damage it's going to do to insurance companies or what have you, and obviously as they start laying that out in the course of the debate over the next six to eight weeks, you'll see some people shifting away from the conference call.

ZIMMERMAN: In fact, the issue of controlling costs and protecting benefits is even more important than the issue of a public option.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, if there's one thing in this health care bill that I'm absolutely convinced of, they have no real idea of what it's going to cost and we are probably facing an unbelievable fiscal overhang from this health care bill. Just as with Medicare and Medicaid, they didn't anticipate the longevity of people and we now place one-third of our costs in the last year of life and one-third are for nursing homes.

Nobody ever saw whether the pet scans, MRIs, CAT scans, nobody anticipated. We have the same thing. We're in an era of unbelievable advances in medical technologies and medical science, whether it's genetics or you name it, stem cell research and nobody is contemplating what those costs are.

ROLLINS: (INAUDIBLE) I mean, deficits never really -- they matter today and you go out and talk to ordinary voters, they're scared of deficits for the first time.

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, and it's brought into the debate on Capitol Hill in many respects.

PILGRIM: You know, I'd like to actually talk about the political climate because we have the 2010 elections and all of this discussion we have to put in the political context. We have approval ratings for Congress which are at, what, 29 percent approve and hang on, 69 percent disapprove. I mean, yeah, there it is. We have to put all of this in the political context. How much of this is going to be a cosmetic attempt or a real attempt? Where are we here? ROLLINS: Well, I'm astonished the numbers are that high, the approval ratings, to be perfectly honest. What historically happens is people don't like the Congress, they like their own member. I think there will be 20 or 30 incumbents who are incumbents today in very serious trouble. And they may know who they are. There's another 20 who don't know they're in serious trouble and they'll find out as you get to March, April next year, and I think you're going to have 50, 60 seats in the play and that basically creates chaos in a House.

LOUIS: And that also, though, depends on whether or not they nationalize the election. I mean, whether or not this becomes the issue that you can run on in every district and that's something that's something that we don't really know, yet.

ZIMMERMAN: Look, at the end of the day, these polls are going to come out every other week and they're going to be -- the good news is that both parties rate equally poorly when you break down by party lines, according to that poll. The issue here simply is whether this Congress can put a bill through that is going to show that, in fact, benefits are protected and we deal with insurance reform, like preexisting conditions and of course, issues such as that. And the other concern realistically, in evaluating these polls, is that you understand that putting people back to work, that's going to help drive a lot of this.

PILGRIM: Well, I know Mort, you've written recently on this.

ZUCKERMAN: That poll that is going on that is really an accurate poll and that's called unemployment. And if you look at the unemployment numbers, which actually happen to be worse than the numbers than the numbers that are put out publicly. But even the public numbers show that 17 percent are either fully unemployed or partially unemployed. One in every three families has a member who's either unemployed or a close friend who's unemployed. Those are staggering numbers. If you add all the other unemployed, it's close to 20 percent. Now, we have not seen that since the Great Depression.

PILGRIM: You called it the worst labor environment in 70 years in your article in the "FT". We're going to be right back with more on our panel in just a moment.

First, coming up at the top of the hour, sitting in for Campbell Brown, we have Rick Sanchez -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Dithering. Dithering is the word of the day, Kitty, that's what, well, former vice president, Dick Cheney is accusing the administration of doing when it comes to Afghanistan. So now, the administration is firing back and a lot of people are asking, heck, we're going to ask this question, is this a schoolyard fight or is this a real public discussion between United States officials? It's an important question.

And I don't know if you have heard about this one, Kitty, but there's two pilots that missed their mark, Minneapolis, by something like 150 miles in one hour and the tower is trying to reach them and for some reason they weren't able to. They're saying that it's because they were bickering about airline policy, but a lot of pilots have come out today, people with a lot of years there in the cockpit and they're saying these guys were probably asleep.

I say that more as a question than anything else. Here's what's new. One of the pilots has come out tonight and he apparently is answering the charge, we got it, we'll let you hear that interview and a whole lot more, by the way, not to mention we'll be talking Wall Street, too, you know, the fat cats? Back to you.

PILGRIM: We look forward to it, Rick.

SANCHEZ: All right, thanks, Kitty.

PILGRIM: We'll have more with our panel in just a moment. Stay with us.


PILGRIM: We are back now with our panel. And, gentlemen, let's talk about Afghanistan for a minute, very big topic, very big issue. We had former vice president, Dick Cheney accusing the administration of "dithering" over its strategy in Afghanistan.

Mort, your thoughts on that comment and the reaction to that comment.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think in fairness it was because Rahm Emanuel had previously said there was a plan and they inherited. He said that there was a plan and they're dithering over whatever their new plan is going be. And the dithering really dealt with the going back and forth that the Obama administration has demonstrated. This was what he campaigned on during the campaign on March the 27th after a strategic review, he says we absolutely must go ahead with strategy-x, which was counterinsurgency strategy. McChrystal gives him the information of what you need to implement that strategy and a large oops suddenly seems to come out and now they're going back and forth on it. And I do think he's going to have to do something because I think it would unravel a huge number of alliances and the credibility of this country...

PILGRIM: Well, we had Secretary Gates at the NATO meeting and he said the analytical phase is coming to an end.

ZIMMERMAN: Look, let's be realistic, Dick Cheney doesn't have either the credibility or the integrity to be relevant in this process. In fact, it was his criminal negligence over his conduct of foreign policy during the Bush administration that put us in the situation where Afghanistan drifted for seven years. And that's a tragedy for our soldiers who fought so valiantly there.

I think it's to the credit to the Obama administration that they are in fact trying to put a strategy in place. Did it shift, sure it shifted because the government, in fact, collapsed. And in fact, the corruption of the election had a tremendous impact on that process. So, I think it's great that we finally have leadership that's going to have a strategy in terms of how to pursue a policy there and maybe it involves more troops in Afghanistan.


ZIMMERMAN: Line up, gentlemen, I'm ready for it. May I just wrap it up by simply saying, whether it involves more troops in Afghanistan or whether it involves another agenda with Pakistan, there are important questions to ask and important issues to research.

PILGRIM: Well, we have the election coming up November 7, certainly more clarity at that point, perhaps. Errol, thoughts on this.

LOUIS: I wouldn't bet on clarity or anything else. I mean, you had a clearly rigged election, hopelessly corrupt. There's no assurance we won't just have a replay of that. I think what the administration really wants is some kind of a negotiated settlement, some kind of power-sharing arrangement. But, the reality is, they can't jump at this kind of a bait, no matter who says it, whether it's Fox News, or Vice President Cheney or anybody else, because the reality is just as Robert pointed out. I mean, you don't have a partner, there. You don't -- you can't run counterinsurgency strategy when there's no government in place or not legitimate government in place. So, there's going to have to be some time. People will call it dithering, he's going to have to be the commander in chief and stand tough.

ROLLINS: It's very important to correct the history, first of all. We did do something in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was where al Qaeda was being hidden, where bin Laden was. We basically told the government there to give up him, bin laden, or we would invade. We invaded, we overthrew that movement, we chased the Taliban out.

We then turned the responsibility over to NATO while we were based in the Iraq war.

You can argue what Cheney or any of the rest of it -- those were the facts. Equally as important, this was this president's strategy. He adopted this strategy. It wasn't the Cheney, it wasn't the bush strategy. It was his strategy and as Mort said, he asked him to go take this, give me the tactics. What the bottom line is, in order to do anything in that region, you need 400,000 to 500,000 people and you have to get them out of them. It has to be Afghanistan.

That's a long ways and a long training mission. And I think at the end of the day, the NATO is going to walk away from us and not respect this president or this country if we basically don't...

PILGRIM: Gentlemen, we have to continue this discussion on another occasion. A very good start. All right, Robert Zimmerman, Errol Louis, Mort Zuckerman and Ed Rollins.

Still ahead, he braved enemy fire to rescue his fellow soldiers. The heroic story of Sergeant Joshua Sowers, when we return. Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Tonight in "Heroes," we honor Sergeant Joshua Sowers, a Bronze Star recipient who helped lead his fellow soldiers to safety following an ambush by Afghan insurgents. Philippa Holland has his story.


PHILIPPA HOLLAND, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In August 2008, Sergeant James Sowers was on patrol in the volatile (INAUDIBLE), in Afghanistan. He and 13 other troops were delivering humanitarian aid to a small village. Within moments of arriving, they were ambushed.

SERGEANT JAMES SOWERS, U.S. ARMY: We started taking some pretty accurate fire, small arms fire, a few RPGs, a lot of heavy machine gun.

HOLLAND: The patrol was split in two, separated by an open area 100 meters wide. The Afghan insurgents pinned one team in the village. Sowers and his squad leader ran to rescue the trapped soldiers, exposing themselves to enemy fire.

SOWERS: We came through a house, opened the door and pulled them back through the house and was able to take them back through a more covered route. We just got to him real quick before, you know, anybody was able to maneuver on him.

HOLLAND: For his bravery, Sergeant Sowers was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor. Just one month later, Sowers and his unit were in another fight with the insurgents.

SOWERS: We were at ambush at close range and I took a round through my left foot. Of course, the first thing we do is secured the area and made sure they weren't advancing down on us or anything like that. And then we called in a Medivac. It shattered my foot in about 30 pieces, so there was no walking out of the mountains on that.

HOLLAND: For the past 13 months, Sergeant Sowers has been recovering from his wounds at the Center for the Intrepid. He has extensive nerve damage and a reduced range of motion in his foot preventing him from returning to the infantry.

SOWERS: What I've been doing for about the past five months is mainly just been just muscular strengthening, endurance, cardio. Just trying to get built up, that way when I transition back to my unit, it will be kind of a seamless transition. Everyone here is really helpful and they know what you need as far as healing goes and a well trained staff and it's -- I was lucky to come here.

HOLLAND: Philippa Holland, CNN.


PILGRIM: We'd like to thank Sergeant Sowers and all of the brave men and women who serve this country in uniform.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tonight. Please join us Monday. For all of us here, have a great weekend. Good night from New York.