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The Situation Room

At Least 20 Killed in Attacks Across Iraq; U.S. Troop Withdrawal; Poison Gas Attack in Russia

Aired December 26, 2005 - 17:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's 5:00 p.m. in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from all around the world arrive in one place at the same time.
Happening right now, it's 1:00 a.m. in Iraq, where there's been a wave of bloody attacks. Could a new upsurge in violence upset plans for U.S. troop cuts.

It's also 1:00 a.m. in St. Petersburg, Russia, where dozens are sickened in a poison gas attack on a store. Could it happen here at home?

And in Sri Lanka, it's 4:00 a.m. He was ripped from his mother's arms by the tsunami, becoming known in the process as Baby 81. A year later, we look back on his extraordinary story as a family still looks for a better future.

I'm Tom Foreman, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Good afternoon. I'm Tom Foreman. Wolf is off today.

This month's election brought a bit of a lull in the bloodshed by Iraqi standards, but as the vote count continues over there the violence has resumed with a vengeance. At least 20 people were killed today around Iraq in a series of attacks.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is live with us now in Baghdad -- Aneesh.


As you mentioned, we've seen periods of relative calm in and around all major events in Iraq. We saw that after the December 15 elections. That has now ended.

The country marred by violence today, leaving, as you say, at least 20 people killed, 50 others wounded. In the capital alone this morning, in just the course of two hours, four car bombs detonating. One of them the U.S. military says was a suicide car bomb, the most -- the majority of those attacks in the Shiite Karada (ph) neighborhood of Baghdad.

Also, later in the day in the capital, a motorcycle bomb detonating as a Shiite funeral procession was passing by.

Now, north of the capital, near the city of Baquba in the restive Diyala province, five Iraqi police soldiers came under attack by machine-gun fire, all of them were killed.

Also in that province, a provincial governor came under an assassination attack today. He survived. One of his guards was killed. And a provincial council member was killed after her convoy came under attack.

This period has also been deadly for U.S. troops. In the past few days, three U.S. soldiers have died, two on Christmas Day from improvised explosive devices, and another today after their convoy came under attack by a rocket-propelled grenade/

So all of this as the country sees brewing political tension ahead of those final election results which could come as early as next week -- Tom.

FOREMAN: We'll stay on it. Thank you very much.

Aneesh Raman over in Baghdad.

Now that Iraq' election has come and gone, the Pentagon has announced some long-expected troop reductions. But is this just a starting point?

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, the force reduction will take the United States down below 138,000 troops. But how long will it be before we see big troop reductions?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this one that they've announced, of course, is a pretty modest reduction. In fact, what it really is, is some troops not necessarily coming home, but just not being sent or not being sent in their entire units.

But you've probably heard that the Pentagon would like to get down to 100,000 troops at the end of next year, 2006. But you can't get anybody here to admit that publicly, because they don't want to be held to it.

What they will say is they're going to have basically monthly re- evaluations of the force with an eye toward making as many reductions as possible. And if things continue to go OK, that means with the Iraqi security forces being built up and the government taking control, then they'll start to draw those troops down, perhaps down to 100,000. But a key point here is it's not based on how well the fight against the insurgents is going, it's based on, you know, how well the Iraqis can take over that fight, because they're not pinning the withdrawal of U.S. troops on the defeat of the insurgency, just on the ability of Iraqis to take over.

FOREMAN: Jamie, if they don't want to talk there about the numbers, my guess is they certainly don't want to talk about the long- term prospects of this. Are we, for the foreseeable future, always going to have bases there and always have soldier there? MCINTYRE: Well, it certainly looks like for some indeterminate amount of time some number of U.S. troops will be there. Because even if there are significant troop reductions, there'll still be a significant number of troops there.

Now, what the U.S. says is they're not talking about permanent bases like the kind that you would find in, say, Korea or Okinawa or Germany, but they would like eventually to have forward operating areas, areas where the U.S. could come in and operate in conjunction with the Iraqis. But they also make the point that it's way too early to talk about that because it will be a decision for the Iraqi government to make.

FOREMAN: Jamie McIntyre over at the Pentagon.

Thank you so much. I know it means a great deal to many families who have young people over there now.

Dozens of people were sickened today in a poison gas attack on a home supply store. The attack occurred in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.

CNN's Brian Todd has been tracking the investigation and looking into whether something similar could possibly happen here -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tom, an official with the Russian Federal Security Service tells CNN the home supply store in St. Petersburg called Maksidom (ph) had received threats that sales would be disrupted around the traditionally heavy new year's shopping period.

Investigators are looking into whether the gas attack that has left more than 70 people sick might have been the work of competitors trying to sabotage the store. Police officials quoted as saying the gas used appeared to be what is called methyl mercaptan, which experts say is not extremely toxic in its most common mixture, but in high enough concentrations can be lethal.

Now, the incident also raises questions about security and the vulnerability of shopping malls around the world so heavily trafficked this time of year to chemical attacks. One expert who was a chemical weapons specialist with the U.S. government says malls in the U.S. and elsewhere are susceptible to what he calls a defuse threat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The problem with securing facilities like malls is that there are tens of thousands of them around the country. The level of threat at any given facility is rather low. So it doesn't -- it doesn't make economic sense to have a high level of security at each facility. It's much more cost-effective to secure these toxic chemicals at the source.


TODD: But Jonathan Tucker (ph) says too many of those sources, chemical plants, industrial storage areas, are not secure in the U.S. He says terrorists and those wanting to commit industrial sabotage can easily steal chemicals like chlorine, phosgene and some ammonias. These are chemicals that aren't even as dangerous as mustard gas or sarin but can inflict damage like we saw today in Russia -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Brian.

All of this can be so frightening when you're in a crowded place, a mall, or a concert or something, but it's important to understand exactly what is and isn't toxic, and there are some excellent resources online to help you with that.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has been digging around on this.

Jacki, tell us about it.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Tom, there are some resources online. The Centers for Disease Control has an agency for toxic substances. And you can go online and learn a little bit more about this methyl mercaptan that Brian was talking about.

Now, this is a hazardous material, but it's used in the plastics industry, it's used in the pesticides industry, it's added to jet fuel. It's something that's used very often. And he was saying, they don't know much about it in high doses.

The other thing that you can find online is from OSHA, more about this, information that you can dig into yourself.

And then, finally, we wanted to just point out, this is very different from chemical substances, one being hazardous material, this being chemical substances, things like sarin, ricin, things like that -- Tom.

FOREMAN: One police officer is confirmed dead in Jersey City, New Jersey, and crews are searching for the body of a second officer.

CNN's Chris Huntington shows us the unlikely series of events that led to their deadly plunge off a bridge there.

We show you the unlikely events that lead to their deadly plunge off a bridge.


CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In dense fog and heavy rain shortly after 8:00 Sunday night, Jersey City police officers Sean Carson and Robert Nguyen were called to help manage traffic on this drawbridge over the Hackensack River. The drawbridge operator, facing a request to raise the bridge for a tugboat, called on police assistance because one of the bridge's safety gates had been damaged in an accident two days earlier.

Officers Carson and Nguyen drove safely over the bridge, heading west to deliver traffic cones and flares to other officers already halting the oncoming traffic. But they did not return safely.

ROBERT TROY, JERSEY CITY POLICE CHIEF: These heroes, they went over the bridge and they delivered the flares, and when they got done delivering the flares the other officers were setting the flares up. Another incident did occur there, not related to what they were doing, which distracted a lot of the officers at the scene. These two officers got back in their truck and headed east, not knowing that the bridge was open for an oncoming tug.

HUNTINGTON: Unaware that the center span they had just crossed safely was now elevated, leaving a huge gap, Carson and Nguyen plunged into the swift and frigid waters of the Hackensack River.

JERRAMIAH HEALY, MAYOR OF JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY: Because of the hour, the darkness, the rain, the fog, I'm sure it was impossible for those two fine young men to see what they were driving into, their own -- their own demise.

HUNTINGTON: Rescuers from the Jersey City police and fire departments, as well as U.S. Coast Guard and New York City harbor patrol responded within minutes. They soon recovered Officer Carson, who was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Shortly before 2:00 a.m., the submerged emergency vehicle was pulled out of the river. But despite an ongoing search, Officer Nguyen's body has not been recovered.

(on camera): Jersey City's police chief says that, in addition to the broken safety gate on the bridge, warning bells that would ordinarily sound when raising the drawbridge did not go off.

The tragic irony for Officers Carson and Nguyen is that they fell victim to the very kind of accident they were trying to prevent.

Chris Huntington, CNN, Jersey City, New Jersey.


FOREMAN: That bridge is about five miles from New York City, often used by truckers going through the Holland Tunnel, if you know the area well.

Speaking of New York, we should mention our Jack Cafferty is off this week. But we're forging ahead without him.

Almost four months since Hurricane Katrina. We'll get a reality check on the pace of recovery way down yonder in New Orleans.

And also, it was a great white Christmas for one surfer. He'll tell us how he managed to get away from a giant would-be killer.

Plus, the nun bun break-in. We'll show you what's happened to the world's most famous cinnamon bun, which some say looks uncannily like Mother Teresa.

Stay with us.


FOREMAN: News from down South. New figures out today show the homeless population in Louisiana's capital has exploded since hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Advocates say there were about a thousand people living on the streets of Baton Rouge before the storms. Now there are between 5,000 and 8,000.

And that highlights just how far from normal things are almost four months after Katrina.

Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, is live for us in New Orleans right now with a look at how things stand this far down from the storm -- Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Tom, I know that you've covered stories here in New Orleans, you're familiar with this area. But for folks who don't know where this city stands now as we head into the new year, this one street may give you some idea.

I'm in the Lakeview neighborhood. It's only about a mile from the breach in the 17th Street Canal, the big break in the levee. There was seven feet of water where I'm standing, and today you'll still see a couple of abandoned cars that have been sitting probably since August 29. And the houses on either side of the street are just empty.

Nearly four months after that hurricane you'll find very few signs of recovery. And then occasionally you'll see a rose among the thorns, and this is one.

This is a house on this same street. And think about it, Tom. If you were to pick this house up and put it any place else in the country, you wouldn't even know that it had been through a hurricane.

There's not a brick out of place, the gas lanterns are fired up. We've got Christmas decorations on the lawn. It's landscaped. Not a spec of paint missing.

Come on inside. I want to show you a look around. This is like something you'd find in "House Beautiful."

Now, the secret to this house is that it's owned by a contractor, and contractors are in short supply now in New Orleans. But this guy was motivated. When there was still water in this area, he got on a jet ski to get in so that he could begin gutting and rebuilding this house right down from the studs. In fact, what you're looking at was accomplished in 60 days.

Darren Schmolke is the owner of this house. He's here with his son Luke.

Darren, it's a beautiful house, and it's the only one on this block that looks anywhere near normal. Why did you decide to rebuild?

DARREN SCHMOLKE, HOMEOWNER: I think because this is home and I felt like somebody need to step up and make a statement. And I was in a position to do so. And so I came in, and we went to work. And I think we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.

ROESGEN: You told me that some people will even stop, people you don't even know, and they'll come and knock on the door because they want to look around.


SCHMOLKE: Yes. I think they're looking for inspiration, and, you know, this is a good place to get some inspiration right now.

ROESGEN: Well, it is a beautiful home. We admire what you've done here. Do you think the neighbors, the ones that you've been able to contact, will be coming back on this street?

SCHMOLKE: Yes, ma'am. I've contacted quite a few, and I know quite a few that are coming home.

ROESGEN: Now, as a contractor, you're one of the busiest people in the Gulf South right now?

SCHMOLKE: Right now, yes, ma'am

ROESGEN: Doing friends' houses, everybody's?

SCHMOLKE: Really, I would like to help out where I can. So it's not like I want to come out here and get rich off it. What I want to do is I want to get people home and get our neighborhood back the way it was before Katrina.

ROESGEN: Well, thank you so much, Darren. You're an inspiration to us.

SCHMOLKE: Thank you.

Now, Tom, this is a dream for many people. Many people don't have the resources to rebuild the way this man has. They're either waiting for an insurance check or FEMA money, and many people are terrified to rebuild so close to the levee. But this is an inspiration for some here in the Lakeview neighborhood.

FOREMAN: Susan, a nice story. A nice bit of encouragement for you and I and everybody else with a little history in that town. Appreciate it.

The Army Corps of Engineers is warning that the next threat to the area's levees may be sooner than many people think. A spokesman says winter storms can send tidal surges into low-lying areas. And he says the Corps is working to get all of the levees to at least 10 feet above sea level as quickly as possible. But he says that won't happen in some areas outside of New Orleans until mid-January. So they're hoping for the best there.

An Oregon man will probably never forget this holiday weekend. He survived a Christmas Eve encounter with a great white shark.

Kimberly Osias is here with his unbelievable story -- Kimberly. KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're not kidding, Tom. Absolutely amazing. The fact that Brian Anderson even lived to tell his story is remarkable. And so is the story itself.


BRIAN ANDERSON, SURVIVED SHARK ATTACK: I was just praying that I will live through this day. That's all -- that's what I was thinking.

OSIAS (voice over): Thinking is what saved Brian Anderson's life. He was surfing with friends off the northern Oregon coast on Christmas Eve when he came face to face with a great white shark.

ANDERSON: I was waiting for a set wave and George was on the inside of me. And the shark just grabbed my leg, I felt a sharp pain on my foot. And it just happened in some split seconds.

And right after that -- and then I saw the shark just right up in my face. And I just give it a good punch to get it to let go.


ANDERSON: And it did. And it let go after I hit it.

OSIAS: It's not clear if Anderson hit the shark in the nose or the eye. For the record, the eyes or gills are the best targets. It's where sharks are most sensitive.

The stunned surfer started making his way to the shore.

ANDERSON: I stayed on my board, and my foot was totally numb. So I couldn't tell how bad the damage was to my foot. And it was just real amazing because the waves just kind of let me in real gently onto the beach.

OSIAS: That's where a surfing buddy came to Anderson's aid.

GEORGE DESOTO, SURFER: I saw a little pool of blood underneath his body. And he was actually pretty quick-witted, and he started taking off his leash. And he was instructing me to tie it around his leg to cut off the blood.

OSIAS: An ambulance rushed Anderson to a hospital, where it took more than 70 stitches to close the wound on his foot. It was the first shark attack in the area in decades. But Anderson says he's not too surprised by his encounter with the great white.

ANDERSON: I hear the fishermen see them all the time out in their fishing boats. So, yes, they're out there. They're just -- they're -- it's a risk we take.


OSIAS: Anderson is expected to fully recover. And he says as soon as he does, believe it or not, he'll be out there surfing again. And Tom, this is really a little bit reminiscent. Do you remember that 2003 attack with that young teen surfer prodigy Bethany Hamilton?

FOREMAN: Oh, yes. Yes.

OSIAS: Remember that? I mean, it was amazing. I believe it was her left arm completely cut off. Not only did she come back after, you know, struggling tremendously. She came back even stronger and competed again.

Amazing story. And it's hard to believe these folks actually get back in the water.

FOREMAN: Unbelievable. And rare but fascinating events.

Thank you very much, Kimberly.

OSIAS: You bet.

FOREMAN: Coming up, her acid wit has won her plenty of fans, but not in the White House. First she took on the Clintons, then the Bush administration. Now she has a ew best-seller asking, "Are Men Necessary?"

We'll speak with "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd.

Also, it's a busy world, and most of us lead lives that are just plain too busy, especially this time of year. But now the keepers of the clocks have decided to give us just a bit more time. We'll explain in just a second.


FOREMAN: On this day after Christmas, President Bush is now at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He flew there a few hours ago after spending Christmas at Camp David. Mr. Bush will stay the week in Texas and finish up what's been a very challenging year for him politically, to say the least.

We want to look back at the president's rocky year now with our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who joins us from LA.

Bill, what does the president's score card look like for this year? And what were his big wins and losses?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, two big wins for the president. One was certainly the confirmation of John Roberts.

Everyone was ready for a huge political fight over the Supreme Court. But then Roberts come up, he was very well credentialed, and he got confirmed 78-22. Half of Democrats voted for him.

Then came, of course, the Harriet Miers nomination, and this time President Bush said to his conservative base, "Trust me," and they didn't.

Another big win for the president in Iraq. There were three successful elections in Iraq, but again, that's begun to look a little sour, because right now the prospects for Iraq's new government look a little bit shaky.

Otherwise, the president lost on torture, Alaska oil drilling, the Patriot Act, his guest worker program. Hurricane Katrina was a political disaster. And what was the issue the president spent most of his time this year promoting? Social Security reform, and that got exactly nowhere.

FOREMAN: It seems like in some cases even where he made progress it didn't necessarily go the way he would wish. He got through his Medicare prescription drug program, but now how are seniors responding to that now?

SCHNEIDER: Unenthusiastically. By two to one in our polls, seniors say they do not plan to participate in this new benefit. Why not? Most of them say they don't understand it.

You know, over the summer, Gallup asked seniors if they understood the new prescription drug benefit. Thirty-six percent this summer said that they understood it somewhat or very well.

Now, how many say they understand it now after months of government outreach? The number is 38 percent. Well, only 7 percent said they expect it to save them a lot of money, and nearly half say they don't expect this new benefit to save them any money at all -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Well, Bill, like they say, it's good being the king, but some years it's better than others.


FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Bill.


FOREMAN: Her sarcasm on the Clinton scandals helped her win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. She's since aimed her stinging barbs at the Bush White House. And now she's the author of a new book titled "Are Men Necessary?"

Wolf recently spoke with "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Maureen Dowd, thanks very much for joining us. And congratulations on your best-seller.


BLITZER: You must be happy about it, but the president of the United States I'm sure is not happy. At what point did you realize that you don't like this guy?

DOWD: Well, I don't think of politicians in terms of like or not like. I'm just -- it's my job to watch them and see if they're abusing power or keeping their promises.

BLITZER: At what point did you realize that, in your words, he was abusing power and not keeping his promises? When did that happen, if you could look back?

DOWD: Well, pretty quickly, because he said he wasn't going to do nation-building, and then as soon as after 9/11 they diverted all our fears and vulnerabilities and took it to the old plan of taking out Saddam. So I think that right away they started abusing power.

BLITZER: But after 9/11 -- didn't the world change, though, after 9/11?

DOWD: Well, it did change. But I think, you know, when he took the bullhorn and said he was going to go after the guys who brought down the building, that was al Qaeda. And I think everything we've done in Iraq has made it more difficult because it's been a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and a terrorist training ground.

BLITZER: Led me read from a column, December 3, by Maureen Dowd in "The New York Times."

"When Bush officials weren't telling us fairy tales about the big, bad WMD in Iraq, they were assuring us that the unprovoked war would be a kindness for Iraq, giving it democracy. But they are not just failing to bring democracy to Iraq. They are also degrading democracy in America."

It's possible, Maureen, and I think you'll agree, that democracy, after all is said and done, possibly could emerge in Iraq.

DOWD: Oh, I really hope so. And anything that can bring the troops home sooner would be fantastic. But as an administration official told "The New York Times," they're not sure if they have an exit strategy or they've put themselves in a box with these elections. And these tribal, you know, sectarian-versus-fundamentalist battles have gone centuries, and we have to see how it plays out.

But, you know, if it's -- if it's going well, that's great.

BLITZER: If there's a stable, vibrant, real secular democracy in Iraq, will Bush have been proven correct?

DOWD: Well, my concern with Bush was just that if you're going to take our kids to war, you have to level with the American people and tell them the true reasons, and not gin up reasons and actually create whole agencies to gin up reasons and not trust the American people. And that's what they did.

So my problem with him is pre-war.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the, shall we say, provocative elements of the book, "Are Men Necessary?"

As far as Hillary Rodham Clinton is concerned, here's a quote from the book.

"Americans like to see women who wear pants beaten up and humiliated. Afterward, in a gratifying redemption ritual, people like to see the battered woman be rewarded. That's how Hillary Clinton won a Senate seat and a presidential front-runner spot."

Is that -- is that how she got to where she is?

DOWD: Yes. It's really interesting to think, without Monica Lewinsky, there would be no Senator Clinton but there would be a President Gore. I mean, feminism, when it began in the late '60s, thought that you'd have an accomplished, brainy woman like Hillary and she would Senate on her own merits, not because she was the wife of and the victim of Bill Clinton.

BLITZER: But you don't -- you don't see the argument that Monica Lewinsky undermined, hurt her? Had there been no Monica Lewinsky, she may have emerged from those eight years of two terms, Bill Clinton in the White House, even stronger?

DOWD: No. She was seen as too controlling, just like Martha Stewart. And in order for people to like her and for her to proceed, she had to be seen as a little bit out of control.

BLITZER: Another woman you write about, Judith Miller, the former "New York Times" reporter. October 22nd column you write this: "Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she (Judith Miller) was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet "Miss Run Amok."

At what point did you and Judith Miller, I guess, become adversaries?

DOWD: Well, again, you're personalizing it. And...

BLITZER: Well, you got pretty personal with her.

DOWD: Not really.

I -- I think the problem is, when she came out of jail, the deal that she struck then could have been struck in the beginning. And it ended up, I think, hurting "The Times"' and journalism. And, also, then, when she wrote her own account of what happened, she said, I got it totally wrong on WMD, but my sources got it wrong. But investigative journalism is not stenography. That's the beginning of your job, when your sources tell you something.


BLITZER: ... when I -- when I read that column, what struck -- what came out was, when you were the White House correspondent for "The New York Times," and you were sitting in "The New York Times" chair... DOWD: Right.

BLITZER: ... and she showed up one day, and she thought she should be sitting in that chair and you should stand along the sides of the White House press briefing room. That -- that stuck out in your mind, too.

DOWD: Oh, no. Only, I thought it was funny. I was laughing at it. I happily gave her the seat.

I only used that as an example, a metaphor for the fact she didn't -- she didn't understand boundaries. And that is what happened with her sources and her agenda. She didn't understand, when the editors told her to stay off a story, she had to stay off.

BLITZER: Here's another quote from the book, "Are Men Necessary?"

"Maybe we should have known that the story of women's progress would be more of a zigzag than a superhighway, that the triumph of feminism would last a nanosecond, while the backlash lasted 40 years."

But you have been such a successful woman.

DOWD: Right.

Strong successful women are fine. I just think that, you know, that the part that interested me was that we went from playing with Barbie to demonizing Barbie, to recreating ourselves as Barbie.

I mean, a lot of the things that feminists tried to achieve, from getting rid of the honorific "Mrs.," to women not having to care so much about their looks, to not being treated as sex objects or paid for on dates, women have now overturned, the daughters of feminists, and gone in exactly the opposite direction, searching for their inner shut, wanting to be called "Mrs." and wanting to be like "Maxim" girls.

BLITZER: Searching...


BLITZER: What does that mean, searching their inner shut?

DOWD: Well, you have seen all these tweens wearing these Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts, "Why do I need brains when I have got these?" across their chests.

I mean, girls and women today are very sexy. And, in a way, it's creating a backlash. They're such wearing sexy clothes to the office, that men and women are sort of silently judging them as not good managers. It's OK for receptionists to dress like that, but not professional women.

BLITZER: Here's something I totally disagree with you on, what you were quoted in "The Washington Post" as saying on November 5: "I got a column entirely because I was a woman."

DOWD: No, I didn't say entirely.

BLITZER: Well, that was the...


DOWD: No, I think, partly, definitely, because they needed a woman.

BLITZER: All right. Well, partly and entirely are totally different.

DOWD: Yes. No, not entirely.

BLITZER: You got the column because you're a brilliant writer.


BLITZER: Whether you agree with Maureen Dowd or not, everybody recognizes, even when you were just a mere reporter on the beat, you -- you were a great writer. You don't think that that contributed...

DOWD: Oh, yes, not entirely.

BLITZER: ... predominantly, the fact that your talent, as your writing skill, as opposed to being a woman...


BLITZER: ... why you're a columnist for "The New York Times"?

DOWD: Yes, I do. I mean, I don't think -- I don't think I'm brilliant.


DOWD: But I think it was partly because of my writing and partly because I'm a woman.

BLITZER: No. It was because of your -- your talent.

DOWD: Well, thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the fact that you are a woman may or may not have had a -- I remember, we were covering a story at Oxford when Bill Clinton went back.

DOWD: Right. Right. Right.

BLITZER: And do you remember the lead you wrote in the Sunday "New York Times" the next day? Paraphrase it.

DOWD: It was something about him coming back to the place where he didn't inhale, didn't get a degree...


DOWD: ... and didn't do something else.

BLITZER: That was -- it was a great lead.

DOWD: Yes.

BLITZER: And I will never forget that story and a lot of other stories that Maureen Dowd has written.

Congratulations on the book...

DOWD: Thanks. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... entitled "Are Men Necessary?" -- and we would -- we would love to have you back.

DOWD: And the answer is yes, of course.

BLITZER: Men are necessary.



BLITZER: You have given away -- you have given away the whole ending of the book.


DOWD: Given away the ending. That's true.

BLITZER: Good to know that we are necessary. Thanks.

DOWD: You are. Thanks.



FOREMAN: Coming up, one child and several sets of parents claiming him, baby 81, a tsunami survivor who captured worldwide attention. We will show you where he is one years later.

And, tonight, in our 7:00 p.m. hour, Wolf's interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. What she's saying about the domestic spying scandal. You don't want to miss it.

Stay with us.


FOREMAN: Well, you know, it didn't last long, but officials say New York's transit strike took a huge toll on the local economy.

And our Ali Velshi has the "Bottom Line" from way up in New York. Ali, what's the deal?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tom, good to see you.

I, as you know, dodged New York all of last week, just by coincidence. I was scheduled off. And I got back today to work. And the story everywhere is Christmas sales and how the holiday sales did. But the one thing you couldn't avoid in New York are the tallies how much that transit strike, just 60 hours long, actually cost the New York -- New York economy.


VELSHI (voice-over): New York City is spending the day after Christmas tallying up the cost of that Grinch of a transit strike. The trains and buses were running the day before Christmas Eve, but slowing down seven million commuters before a holiday had its price.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We estimate that businesses in all five boroughs took an approximately $1 billion hit. Many stores across the city were largely deserted during days when they would usually have been packed. The same went for our museums and cultural institutions.

VELSHI: Retailers were the hardest hit, losing an estimated $250 million a day, as truck deliveries sat in traffic and employees couldn't make it to work.

Even if there were things to buy, many shoppers couldn't make it in to shop. That's wasn't all. The city lost an estimated $8 to $12 million in tax revenue per day. That's according to city lawyers. Estimated police overtime cost $10 million a day. And some schools reported seeing half the number of kids. It's hard to calculate the cost of that.

At stake for the union's 34,000 workers, the rising cost of pensions -- their plan is underfunded by $2 billion. These workers walked out over whether they should help foot that bill.


VELSHI: The city seems to be backing down on pensions, but the union still faces $1 million a day in fines for the 60-hour strike, and each worker loses two days pay for each day they didn't work. The negotiations continue, but the union hasn't ruled out striking again.


VELSHI: Tom, we -- we know that this is -- for retailers, this was such an important time. Bloomberg made a point of saying that, for those restaurants and hotels and people like that who lost that money, it's not money that is coming back. So, for some retailers and some businesses, this was a very, very tough time for this strike.

FOREMAN: I am guessing that, as big as New York is, this will even make a little blip on the national economy. VELSHI: It absolutely does.

When -- when it hits New York at this time of year, such a big shopping time and such a busy time, you definitely do that flow through into -- into what you will see in terms of retail sales for the whole -- for the whole season.

FOREMAN: Excellent.

Ali Velshi, we appreciate hearing all about that news.

Still to come, it's a mad rush trying to get it all done, especially at this time of year. Well, you can slow down for a second. You're about to get an extra one. We will explain.

And the case of the missing nun bun. The cinnamon pastry won fame a decade ago for its resemblance to the late Mother Teresa. Now there's been a break-in at the Nashville coffee shop where the bun has been enshrined.


FOREMAN: Doctors say Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon must undergo a procedure to repair a small heart defect. That word comes after his hospitalization for a slight stroke.

CNN's Guy Raz has that story from way over in Jerusalem.


GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a medical milestone in Israeli political history. For the first time, the health records of a sitting Israeli prime minister have been released for public scrutiny.

And, in the case of Ariel Sharon, the prognosis isn't all that bad. A week since the 77-year-old prime minister suffered a mild stroke, his doctors say he will have to undergo a minor heart procedure, a catheterization , to repair a microscopic hole in his heart.

Doctors believe it's that hole that may led to the blood clot that caused the stroke. At the same time, Ariel Sharon will have to lose weight, his doctors say. At the time of his stroke, Mr. Sharon weighed about 260 pounds, or about 113 kilograms. But, in the past week alone, Ariel Sharon has lost about five pounds, or three kilograms.

So, what does this all mean for his reelection prospects? Well, apparently, not much. All polls continue to show that Mr. Sharon's centrist Kadima Party is well on course to sail toward election triumph next March.

Guy Raz, CNN, Jerusalem.


FOREMAN: Zain Verjee is off this week.

Kimberly Osias joins us now with a closer look at all the other stories making news -- Kimberly.


Well, they have succeeded once, but London's mayor says terrorists have tried 10 other times to attack his city since 9/11. Last July, terrorists killed dozens on a London bus and in the subways. But Mayor Ken Livingstone told the BBC that terrorists failed in eight previous attempts and they have tried twice since. Livingstone offered no details about the attempts.

One person was killed after several drivers got stuck in a mudslide in Modesto, California, early this morning. The California Highway Patrol says the victim got out of the car to see what was going on and was hit by another vehicle. The mudslide was caused when a retaining wall gave way.

Character actor Vincent Schiavelli is dead at the age of 57. Schiavelli, rather, appeared in at least 150 film and television productions, including "Ghost," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." He also wrote three cookbooks. He died in a village in Sicily. The mayor says Schiavelli had lung cancer.

And reality television star Anna Nicole Smith is getting a little help from the Bush administration. Smith is trying to collect millions from the estate of her late husband. The case has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The administration's concern is not really about Ms. Smith at all. Government lawyers are defending federal court jurisdiction in such cases.

And, Tom, I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that those that haven't really followed the inner workings of the high court may be closely glued to this case.

FOREMAN: It will be standing room only that day.


OSIAS: I bet. That's right.


FOREMAN: Up next, he became known as baby 81 after the tsunami tore him from his mother's arms. We will look back on an extraordinary story of survival.

And she was the national security adviser when President Bush approved wiretaps without warrants. She still supports that decision as secretary of state. Wolf speaks with Secretary Condoleezza Rice in the 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) FOREMAN: Today marks exactly one year since one of the deadliest natural disasters of modern times, the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people across South Asia.

Ceremonies commemorating the event were held around the region, including this one in Indonesia's Aceh Province. The waves killed some 130,000 people there alone. Bells tolled across the island nation of Sri Lanka, which was home to about 35,000 tsunami victims. More than 1,000 of them were on a train that was swept away by the waves.

And the global impact of the disaster was evident at this beach resort in Thailand, where hundreds of Swedes gathered, including some survivors of the tsunami . More than 5,000 Swedish vacationers were among those killed one years ago today.

There were countless wrenching stories that came out of the tsunami, but one in particular really seemed to capture people's attention, that of a baby separated from one set of parents, only to be claimed by several.

CNN senior international correspondent Satinder Bindra has the story.


SATINDER BINDRA, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): On December 26, last year, a raging sea tore a 4-month-old boy from his mother's arms. Hours later, he was found floating on this tire by a schoolteacher who took him to a hospital in eastern Sri Lanka. The staff there called him baby 81, the 81st patient seen in the wake of the tsunami. Word spread of the infant's survival and several couples who lost children in the tsunami began claiming the baby boy was theirs.

One couple, the Jayarajah took a DNA test and won a lengthy court battle to get their son back. Baby 81 is now 16 months old. His name is Abihilash, it means hope and he's come to symbolize the aspirations of all Sri Lankans trying to forget the tsunami and build a future.

I pray that when he grows up, he does good things that make us all proud, says his father. I trust that will happen.

Abihilash and his parents' home was destroyed by the tsunami, they now live in a rented house. Despite several pledges, the Jayarajah's say they're disappointed they haven't received any funds to rebuild their lives.

"I'm not angry, but feel sad we didn't get anything," he says. "We couldn't rebuild our home and are still not settled."

(on camera): Murugupillai Jayarajah now runs this small hair cutting salon with his brother. He says business is good because of his family's fame with many customers coming here just to meet Abihilash's father. (voice-over): Murugupillai makes about $8 a day, a decent wage in these parts. He and his wife dream of giving their son the best possible education.

"Our only hope is to keep him happy," she says, "and bring him up in the best possible manner."

The Jayarajahs say they feel the pressure of raising such a famous son, a baby whose story marks the triumph of the human spirit against a savage sea.

Satinder Bindra CNN, Kalmunai, Eastern Sri Lanka.


FOREMAN: Up next, there is never enough time, but this year, there's just a little bit more. Spend some time with us and we will tell you all about it in THE SITUATION ROOM.


FOREMAN: Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we keep close track of time all around the world.

And, of course, even with that, everyone can lose track of time now and then. How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. Dr. Seuss wrote about something many of us experience during the holiday season, losing track of time and running late.

But if you have been struggling, take heart. You will get one extra second before 2006.


FOREMAN (voice-over): International experts on time have determined that a leap second must be added to the final minute of this year. Now, everyone is familiar with leap years. Since the time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun is not actually 365 days, but, more precisely, 365.242 days, we add an extra day to the end of February every four years.

Of course, if you do the math, you realize this means, every 400 years, we have a surplus of three days. So, when centuries change, they are not considered leap years, unless they're divisible by four. Confusing?

Well, leap seconds, by comparison, are easy. It's all about atomic clocks, which measure time through the natural vibration of the cesium atom. The National Institute of Standards and Technology says leap seconds are necessary because time based on the Earth's rotation is not as consistent as time based on cesium clocks , which are accurate to 30 billionths of a second.

So, leap seconds are added now and then to keep the two in line, largely to avoid confusion in fields that require precise time coordination, technology, communication, financial transactions, scientific work, that sort of thing.

The leap second was introduced in 1972, and they appear slightly less often than once a year.


FOREMAN: Now, that said, this year's leap second is a bit of an event. The Earth has been rotating a tiny bit faster of late. So, this will be the first leap second in seven years, which gives us just enough time to check in on the story we have been following about the cinnamon bun that some say bears a striking likeness to Mother Teresa. It has gone missing.

Desperate to find it, the Nashville, Tennessee, owner is reaching out online now.

And our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is hot on the case.


JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Tom, take a close look at what they call the nun bun, or the immaculate confection.

You can see the face right here. This may be the last you see of it, because it has gone missing. Now, it lived for nine years at this cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, Bongo Java. And they were so popular and famous for this, at one point, Mother Teresa herself wrote them a letter asking that they don't use her name or her likeness in their merchandising.

And they don't. They just use a picture of the actual shellacked bun. Now, you can see where it lived, in a case in a glass counter. And 6:00 yesterday morning, somebody broke in and stole nothing but the nun bun.

You can see the crime scene right here courtesy of the "Tennessean" newspaper online. They have got a file of the police report, Tom. You can see the victim here, the Mother Teresa cinnamon bun.

Now, I spoke to Bob Bernstein, who owns the Java cafe, and he says they're going to host a nun bun night, in honor of the missing cinnamon bun -- Tom.

FOREMAN: I had a baked potato that looked just like Dr. Phil once.

We are here every weekday afternoon, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. And we are back on the air at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

It's almost game over for a longtime football traditional -- the story coming up an hour from now. We will have our interview with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, as well.

Until then, I'm Tom Foreman in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Kitty Pilgrim is filling in for Lou Dobbs. She is in New York.