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The Situation Room

President Obama Set to Announce Afghanistan Decision; NBA Jerseys No Longer Made in America?

Aired November 25, 2009 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: countdown to D-Day. Within days, President Obama is going to announce how many more troops will go into Afghanistan, so the U.S. can eventually get out. But will a public tired of war be on board?

He was detained and says he was tortured in a notorious prison in Iran. Now that journalist is talking to me, even with threats that he would be killed. And he even thinks he heard those American hikers who are detained in Iran in jail.

And Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and other NBA players may cry foul. Basketball uniforms they wear could cost Americans jobs. NBA jerseys could soon be made outside the United States for the first time ever.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, I want you to set your TV sets, because we know exactly when President Obama is going to announce his strategy decision for Afghanistan, and there's only one remaining question. How many more U.S. troops are going to go to war?

Well, this guessing game is under way, but we do have a few things that we do know. There are 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan right now, and a defense official who is in the know says that the Pentagon expects orders to send another 34,000 troops, which actually means more than 102,000 American troops could be fighting this war.

Now, whether or not this equation is accurate, well, that's going to be revealed in the next couple of days by the president. But I want to go straight to our CNN White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Obviously, Dan, this is a decision that he has made. We're hearing all kinds of things about the troop levels. What is he going to lay out for the American people in the days ahead?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, as you know, this is highly anticipated, and it had been circulating now for days that this announcement would be made soon. Well, now the White House is locking in -- locked it in, saying that the president will make his announcement on the strategy in Afghanistan next Tuesday.

It will be at the West Point Military Academy in New York, happening in prime time, and the audience will be cadets and other military officials. But we're told this message is really aimed at the broader American public, where the president will lay out why it's important for the U.S. to be in Afghanistan, really convey a sense of urgency, the importance of really going after al Qaeda and other extremists, and also why it's important to deepen the involvement of the U.S. there in that region.

Also, the president is expected to walk through sort of the process, how he got to the point of making the decision, and then, ultimately and finally, the president will talk about the commitment and how long he expects to be there. This, according to Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, will not be a long engagement. It will be limited.

He says, don't expect the -- the United States to be in Afghanistan another eight to nine nears -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And , Dan, obviously, we have heard a lot of different price tags over the war. That's a very hot political subject. Is the president going to touch on that, the cost of the war, the price tag, and is he going to make sure that some of the allies are on board?

LOTHIAN: Very good questions.

I mean, first of all, we're being told that, yes, the president will be talking about the cost of whatever this strategy will be in Afghanistan. As you point out, though, you know, there are a lot of -- there are a lot of questions about this cost, because we have been hearing billions of dollars. If you have any kind of surge, any significant surge in Afghanistan, it will amount to billions of dollars.

And, already, there are some key Democrats who have been questioning the high cost and even talking about a potential war tax in order to pay for it. So, yes, we're being told by Robert Gibbs that the president will talk about the costs, although he did not provide any details.

And in terms of the allies, we are told that we should anticipate that the president and also members of the national security team will be reaching out to key allies, not only to tell them about this plan, but also to try to get some involvement. And, in fact, Senator -- rather, Secretary of State Clinton will be headed to Brussels next week to meet with some NATO allies -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Yes, it sounds like a full-court press, Dan, obviously to try to convince the Americans to be on board with all this. Thank you very much, Dan.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

MALVEAUX: Well, the president may need to convince a war-wary public, but how do the troops who are already in Afghanistan, how do they feel about President Obama's upcoming decision to send more troops to war?

Well, I asked our CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, who has been embedded with those troops.



Yes, of course, the troops that I have been speaking to here in Kandahar say, first of all, they're very glad that they now at least have a timeline and know when this announcement is going to be made. And they're glad that this announcement is going to be imminent.

And I have been speaking to a lot of the soldiers here on the ground. And every single one of them that I have been talking to is telling me we need more people here on the ground. And they say the main problem that they have is that they will go into battle with the insurgents, and then they will clear the insurgents out of a certain area, but then they won't have enough soldiers on the ground to actually hold that area.

So, once the Americans get out of there, the insurgents come right back in. And they say that's a major, major problem that they have, not only that the insurgents are coming back but, for instance, what they will do here is, they will clear a road of improvised explosive devices, and just a couple of hours later, the insurgents are going to come back and plant new ones.

So, they say, with a couple of more troops, they could make a very, very big difference here on the ground -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Do they feel frustrated or nervous or confused about what they are doing, their mission inside of Afghanistan?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, certainly, there aren't many people here on the ground who would tell you that this mission is going particularly well.

However, I haven't talked to any soldier here who doesn't believe that they can still win this, that this could all still end in a very positive way. They say, with a few small adjustments, and especially with more people here on the ground, they could make a very, very big difference and really bring a lot of this under control very, very quickly.

Of course, we are in a very important part of Afghanistan. Down here in Kandahar is where the insurgency is very strong, where the insurgency has been gaining ground. And this is certainly one of the places where I have been hearing a lot of people say, we need a lot more people here on the ground.

And the other thing, Suzanne, that I'm also hearing is that a lot of these soldiers are saying they need more trainers to train the Afghan national forces for them to take over all of this. They say that's going to be their ticket to get out of here, better sooner than later -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much for joining us from Kandahar. Appreciate it. Be safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: I want to bring in our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, obviously, there are a lot of different audiences that the president is trying to reach on Tuesday. Who do you think is the most important?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, he is going to have to convince a majority of the American public that this is the right thing to do, because right now they oppose the war.

But we took a look at our poll and what we call the internal numbers in our poll, Suzanne. We found some interesting things. First of all, take a look at this. We found that there is a gender gap here. When we asked, if the president decides to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan, look at the number of men who favor it. Fifty-eight percent of men favor it, 41 percent opposed. Women, 42 percent favor, and a majority, 57 percent, oppose.

So, they're -- and women are just kind of mirror images of each other in this. I think, in order to convince women, Suzanne, he's going to have to show a clear way to get out of Afghanistan.

MALVEAUX: They have been emphasizing the exit strategies.

BORGER: Yes, they have.

MALVEAUX: You her administration officials saying, we have got to figure out a way to get out. And that was the reason...


MALVEAUX: ... for the delay, the process here, obviously.

BORGER: Mm-hmm.

MALVEAUX: Tell us how this breaks down for the independents. That's a key group for President Obama.

BORGER: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: And I -- it sounds like he might be losing some support.

BORGER: Well, independents have grown increasingly skeptical of him, as you know, in all kinds of policy areas, so he's lost some traction with independents.

And when you -- when you look -- when you look at the war, if you look at Democrats, you will see that it's very partisan. Sixty-two percent oppose, 37 percent favor. And when it comes to Republicans, 70 percent favor this war in Afghanistan. Thirty percent oppose.

But, when you look at independents -- I'm not sure if we have the numbers, so let me just -- so let me just read it to you -- it's almost split on independents. Fifty-nine percent favor. Fifty percent oppose. So, this is a president who has got to not only show these independents why he's there, that he's going to set up clear benchmarks, timetables, goals for the government in Afghanistan, which has not been a reliable partner, again, as with women, an exit strategy. And he's also going to have to show that he's committed to this decision, because one thing independents worry about when it comes to Barack Obama is, they are not quite sure they know who he is or what he stands for yet.

So, he's got to show him the -- them a commitment to a course of action.

MALVEAUX: And it's interesting, though. It was the same group during the campaign that I covered that just -- they weren't quite sure about him, but, eventually, he won them over. Now it looks like they are a little -- a little uncertain.

BORGER: He won them over, but he was running against someone at that point. And it was John McCain. And so they had a choice. Now it's just Barack Obama, so they are -- they are taking another look at him.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Which Obama are they going to get?

BORGER: That's right.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you so much, Gloria. I appreciate it.

The very moment that the president reveals his plan for Afghanistan, you are going to see it right here on CNN. Be sure to watch our live coverage of the president's announcement. Again, that happens Tuesday evening. Our coverage starts at 7:00 Eastern.

Well, it was almost a year ago West Point cadets heard from President Obama's predecessor about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. It was toward the end of his second term, and then President George W. Bush spoke at the military academy as part of a series of speeches -- I remember covering it -- highlighting his own administration's actions, as well as decisions.

I want you to listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We liberated more than 25 million Afghans.

Now America and our 25 NATO allies and 17 partner nations are standing with the Afghan people as they defend their free society. The enemy is determined, the terrain is harsh, and the battle is difficult, but our coalition will stay in this fight. We will not let the Taliban or al Qaeda return to power. And Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for terrorists.


(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: President Bush acknowledged then that the incoming administration faced volatile situations in several hot spots, especially along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.

Well, for more than 20 years, he endured a private hell. Doctors thought he was in a coma, but he was conscious all along, unable to speak. Now he tells CNN about his nightmare.

As seven suspects are charged with a terror incident in Mumbai, last year's terror attacks, they could have been worse. You will meet one man who might have saved thousands of train travelers that day.

And is it a bird or a plane? Well, no, some say it's a rocket man trying to do what no other one has before with homemade personal jet wings.


MALVEAUX: Now to new developments in those nightmare attacks in Mumbai last year. You may recall seven suspects have been arrested and charged in connection with those attacks.

And that's what a defense attorney for one of the men tells CNN. He says that among these charges are acts of terrorism and supplying funds for terrorism. Now, you remember it was a four-day siege on 10 sites left and at least 160 people were dead, but the death toll, it could have been a lot higher, perhaps if it was not for a man's fast thinking.

Our CNN's Sara Sidner, she's got more on that story.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a tiny room in a Mumbai slum, Gangu Sitaram Sakhre does her chores filled with regret. She can't stop thinking about the day her family decided to do something they had never done before.

"We were going on a trip," she says, "we had a reservation done. We had never ever traveled by train before."

At 9:10 p.m. on November 26, 2008, 12 members of the Sakhre family showed up a at Mumbai's main train station. As usual it was busy. Their train was scheduled to leave in a few minutes.

"We were about to leave," son Ganesh Sakhre says."Then we heard a sound. It was the sound of gun shots." At that moment, two men, shown here on a Closed Circuit TV, started randomly shooting into the crowds.

From a bird's-eye view, Vishnu Zende saw it all happening."They were screaming, shouting and running out," he says."That is when we realized there were terrorists here." Zende was on duty as the station announcer when the Mumbai attacks happened. That night, terror was unfolding all over the city, from the train station to five-star hotels. (on camera): Unlike the hotels where there are hundreds of guests a day, here at the main train station in Mumbai tens of thousands of people stream through every day and it's the announcer's job to try and guide them.

(voice-over): Zende stayed through 20 minutes of grenade and gun blasts, using the microphone to try and save lives.

"The gunmen could also hear the announcement," he says, "that is exactly why they came and started firing where the staff inside the train station sit. They were trying to figure out where the announcement was coming from."

They never did. Zende's announcements succeeded in getting thousands of people to safety but it was too late for Gangu's husband. He was already bleeding on the station floor beside her.

"Since my husband died, I am completely shattered. Sometimes I feel that I have nobody in this world to call my own." So she does the only thing she can to get by: pray to the Hindu gods for some relief.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Mumbai.


MALVEAUX: Imagine being trapped inside a paralyzed body able to think and reason, but unable to speak or communicate. Well, that was apparently the case for a Belgian man who doctors believed was in a coma for more than two decades. Well, now researchers have found a way to unlock the door to his mind.

Our CNN's Morgan Neill has this incredible story.


MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 23 years, Rom Houben was trapped within his own mind. Fully conscious, listening and thinking, he had no way to let anyone know.

A car crash in 1983 left the once active engineering student paralyzed. From young adulthood to middle age, doctors believed he was in a vegetative state, but then Dr. Steven Laureys, a neurologist studying coma patients, came to visit.

STEVEN LAUREYS, NEUROLOGIST: From the first day, it was clear already without fancy imaging techniques whatsoever, at the bedside, he showed clinical signs of consciousness incompatible with a vegetative state.

NEILL: Brain-scanning technology later confirmed it. Houben was fully conscious.

(on camera): Rom lives here in this house with seven other long-term patients. Now, staff say they have seen patients get worse and get better, but they have never seen a transformation like the one that Rom has made. (voice-over): Today, with the help of a therapist, he communicates one letter at a time. I asked how he managed to cope with being shut off from the world for so long.

ROM HOUBEN, PATIENT (through translator): Time has no value for me. I live moment to moment. I try to enjoy the good moments and shut out the boring moments. To do this, I meditate.

NEILL: As he lay in bed, unable to interact, Houben says one of the worst things was hearing the emotional conversations of the families of other patients.

HOUBEN (through translator): I heard everyone who talked around me. I heard the families of other people as they shared their problems. When I heard that, I would shut them out, and I would meditate.

NEILL: For 23 years, Houben's parents always believed he was conscious, but time after time, doctors disagreed. Now his mother says she doesn't like to hear people talk about her son's rebirth.

FINA HOUBEN, MOTHER (through translator): I have been asked the question, do you think it is a second birth, as Rom described it as his second birth? But, for me, it is not his second birth. For me, his birth was when he was born, because I never considered him not to be here.

NEILL: But Houben's story is not without controversy. Skeptics say there's no way to know the words we're seeing are actually his. They point out that a therapist guides his fingers as he's types. It's called facilitated communication. And many psychologists liken it to a Ouija board, saying it's often the person holding the hand who really decides what is typed.

But both Dr. Laureys and Houben's mother say they have tested the method with information only Houben would know, and they are convinced the words are his. One thing not up for debate, after years as what is called a lock-in, Houben's life now looks wide-open. As the screen reads, "I have to make new goals in life, because, for so long, this was my goal, just showing that I'm in here."

MORGAN NEILL, CNN, Zolder, Belgium.


MALVEAUX: Fourteen firefighters prepare to get promotions that they have been waiting for a long time. It took them six years and a Supreme Court ruling.

And Iraq's soccer team is benched -- why they have been banned from international competition.


MALVEAUX: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring all the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

And, Fred, what are you working on?


Hello, everyone.

Well, 14 firefighters are getting their promotions six years after they passed the test. Authorities in the city of New Haven, Connecticut, threw out the exam results after they realized only one minority applicant had passed. A lawsuit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the firefighters won this year. Today, the city announced that the men would be made captains or lieutenants as soon as possible.

And eight people in China have been infected with a mutated form of the H1N1 virus. However, Chinese officials say the cases were isolated and were not resistant to drug treatment. Last week, a different mutation was reported in Norway, but, again, responded to treatment. Influenza viruses mutate quickly, and scientists worry that a new resistant strain of H1N1 could quickly become a global problem.

And a Swiss court has ruled that fugitive film director Roman Polanski could be released to house arrest on $4.5 million bail. Polanski is being held pending extradition to the United States, where he will face charges related to a 1977 charge of having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Swiss authorities have 10 days to appeal the bail ruling.

And take a look at this. At first, it looks like a suicidal plunge, doesn't it, right there? But then the jets actually kick in, and you can see it is actually -- voila -- come on, right there -- a rocket man.

This is Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy attempting to fly from Morocco to Spain and become the first to go between continents with a homemade jet wing, as you see right there, pretty extraordinary stuff.

Well, sadly, he actually had to ditch the mission because of bad weather. But he was rescued unhurt. And, of course, you know, the daredevil that he is, Suzanne, he will try it again.

MALVEAUX: I don't know, Fred. Do you think have nerve to do something like that?



MALVEAUX: A simple no.


WHITFIELD: I'm not doing that one. I won't even parachute. There was a time, but I changed my mind on that.


MALVEAUX: I'm wavering, too.


WHITFIELD: I think the most courageous thing I will do is just, you know, downhill skiing. That's about it.


MALVEAUX: Yes. Don't break a leg.

WHITFIELD: Keep -- stay on the ground.


MALVEAUX: All right, thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right.

MALVEAUX: Well, for the first time ever, NBA jerseys won't sport "made in America" on the inside tag -- why an American institute is being outsourced. And what is being done to stop it?

And later: President Obama travels to Copenhagen to build a case for reducing greenhouse gases. I will ask commentator Ben Stein, can the president pull it off?



Happening now: Iran's president is getting red carpet treatment around Latin America. What does this mean for U.S. policy in the region? Well, we will ask CNN's senior editor for Latin American affairs.

Plus, tea party activists announce a political convention with Sarah Palin as the guest of honor. Are seeing the birth of perhaps a new party?

And e-mails allegedly hacked from a university computer have some wondering if the scientists studying global warming are cooking the books to prove their case.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The National Basketball Association is an American institution, but it looks like that "made in America" won't be sewn into a lot of those uniforms much longer.

Our CNN's Mary Snow joins us.

And, Mary, can you tell us what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Suzanne. Well, here it is in a nutshell. One of the U.S. suppliers making the jerseys worn by NBA players may soon be out of business. It's now fighting to survive, and that's because Adidas plans to end its contract with the company and shift production overseas. Now a U.S. senator stepping in trying to pressure Adidas to change its mind.


SNOW (voice-over): They have outfitted Michael Jordan and the Olympic Dream Team, half the teams on the NBA wear their jerseys. But the roughly 100 workers who make those uniforms outside Buffalo, New York, may soon be out of work. Their company, American Classic Outfitters, says Adidas, which is based in Germany, informed them that they're moving production overseas to Asia, and the company has now enlisted New York Senator Charles Schumer to try and stop it.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Now, basketball is an American sport. It was invented here in America. It is centered here in America. And the jerseys ought to be made here in America, no ands, ifs or buts.

SNOW: But those who follow the business sports don't see a lot of outrage building.

JON WERTHEIM, SR. WRITER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": This is a league that's been trying to expand internationally and made no secret of that. For years and years, they're looking to put teams in Europe, more players than ever are coming from overseas. I think of all leagues, the NBA is probably least likely to be sympathetic to this.

SNOW: We reached out to the NBA, but it declined comment.

While the NBA is stressing globalization, its jerseys have been made in the U.S. And it's not alone.

The supplier for Major League Baseball uniforms says it has a long- term commitment to making the MLB uniforms in the U.S. Uniforms for the National Hockey League and National Football League are also made in North America. And Schumer is betting that anger at Adidas will make a difference.

(on camera): What are you doing at this point? Have you contacted David Stern, the NBA commissioner?

SCHUMER: We have contacted Adidas. We're hoping they will do this on their own. But if they don't, we will certainly contact the NBA and ask them to go to work on this.


SNOW: And as for what Adidas has to say about all this, we did reach out to the company, but so far we've not yet gotten a response -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Mary.

Iraq will be absent from playing soccer internationally in the foreseeable future. It was suspended from competition today.

Our CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom has the story from Baghdad.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, in a major blow to the morale of soccer fans here, Iraq's Football Association has been suspended by FIFA, soccer's world governing body. That means Iraqi soccer teams and clubs cannot play in international matches. The suspension was caused by the decision by Iraq's Olympic Committee to disband Iraq's Football Association due to governmental interference.

(voice-over): Officials tell CNN they are working on resolving the situation. This is the second time FIFA has suspended Iraqi football. The first time was in May of last year, but that ban was eventually lifted.

Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Iraq, and it has come a long way since the days of Saddam Hussein. At that time, Hussein's son Uday was president of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and he would regularly threaten players with physical violence and torture if they played poorly.

But the national soccer team continued playing. In recent years, they have become something of a force that has united Iraqis across sectarian lines.

Fans across the country were ecstatic when the team won the Asia championship in 2007. In July, Iraq played its first home game since 2002, beating its Palestinian opponents 4-0. Tens of thousands of fans came to Baghdad from all across the country to attend that match.

(on camera): While Iraq's national team has no matches scheduled for the next six months, fans here can only hope the situation is resolved as quickly as possible -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Well, he was captive in Iran for four months. Now a "Newsweek" reporter is free and talking to me about his ordeal. You'll hear his extraordinary story just ahead.

Plus, Iran's leader gets a warm South American welcome. How this visit might help Iran's nuclear program.

And kids in one American school are so hungry, they devoured ketchup packets. Eighty-five percent of the students here are homeless. This is an amazing story of how one principal on the front lines is making a difference. .


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last year we didn't have Christmas. They gave us Christmas. This year we're hardly going to have Christmas, but they're going to give us Christmas.

They have helped us a lot, so I've got to donate my time here to -- you know, to show how much I appreciate the people here.



MALVEAUX: Before Thanksgiving, economic numbers that many Americans, you'll find, you'll be thankful for. Surprisingly now, new claims for unemployment dropped last week, falling to 466,000. That's the lowest in over a year. Now, as for Americans getting unemployment benefits a week or longer, that also fell to just over 5.4 million.

Now, the government is also saying that consumer spending was up one percent. That is the best showing since August.

Now, while spending was up, so was the money in people's paychecks as well. Personal income rose slightly just a bit in October for the second straight month. Now, meanwhile, orders for cars, appliances, other durable goods, that dropped almost one percent last month, but consumer spending on those goods actually rose just more than two percent.

So, to make sense of all of these numbers here, I want to bring in our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi.

And Ali, the question that I have here, because you look at so many of these different indicators, which one is the most important? Which one says the most to all of us in terms of how we're doing and how this economy is doing?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Great question, and I happen to think, Suzanne, that the jumble of them is actually the clearest message.

I want to ask people to remember Thanksgiving a year ago. We didn't have mixed signals a year ago. Every one of these indicators was pointing one way, and it was down. It was very clear.

We would have given anything to see a green arrow up, combined with a red arrow down. So, what you're seeing here is mixed signals, and that means that we're at some sort of an inflexion point in the economy, and it means that this economy is going two ways.

If you're employed and feeling secure about your future, you're spending a little bit of money, and that's what we're seeing. If you're not employed and you're insecure about your future, your financial future, you're holding back and you're not participating. This is exactly the rocky stage that we're in between the depths of a recession and a recovery.

MALVEAUX: And I understand that gold prices are also rising. Why is that happening?

VELSHI: Gold prices are amazing. I mean, we've been setting records day after day after day.

Two things happened. Gold is a hedge against other types of investments, so you've seen the U.S. dollar suffering, typically you see gold going up on that.

There are fears that inflation may come. You've seen high prices for oil and other commodities. Gold is held as a hedge against inflation because it's a commodity that sort of keeps its value. But most importantly, for those people who are fearful -- you've seen the stock market run up almost 60 percent since March, 20 percent since the beginning of the year -- gold is held by people who are fearful about a collapse or about things going wrong.

So, you put all this uncertainty together, the very uncertainty that causes us to say, which indicator actually tells the story of the economy, and a lot of people don't worry about asking the question, they just invest in gold. And as a result, you're seeing this surge in the price of gold, which may continue for a little while -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. All right, Ali. Thanks for making sense of all of this. Appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Well, hard times can bring out the worst in people. But, you know, they also bring out the best.

Our CNN's Dan Simon, he found an elementary school in Las Vegas that goes more than the extra mile to help its students.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are chefs from some of the fanciest hotels in Las Vegas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There you go, Campbell (ph).

SIMON: But today, they are serving breakfast at Whitney Elementary, part of a nonprofit initiative to eliminate malnutrition and hunger.

SHERRI GAHN, PRINCIPAL: So what do we say when we're very grateful and very fortunate?


SIMON: School principal Sherrie Gahn says it's a healthy and memorable meal for students who don't have much.

GAHN: Which one?

SIMON: That's because the school estimates that as many as 85 percent of the 600 or so students are homeless, living in cheap motels with friends, or in shelters.

GAHN: Literally, at my every waking moment I think about, what else do I need to do?

SIMON: When Gahn arrived here seven years ago, she says children were devouring ketchup packets to fill empty stomachs. Clearly, they weren't getting enough food. So she set out to do something about it, a mission that came from personal pain.

GAHN: And I was raised in poverty. My mother went to a local organization at one point. My mother actually asked for food and clothes, and they turned us down. And I saw how devastated she was.

Get your food, honey.

SIMON: Gahn vowed her families at Whitney would never be turned down. She twisted arms and begged for donations, opening a one-of-a kind school supply closet, part food bank, part clothing supply.

JAMES ICENOGLE, 4TH GRADE STUDENT: I got some pants, some shirts, some new shoes and some new socks.

SIMON (on camera): A lot of these kids come from such challenging circumstances, that there's no money at home to even celebrate birthdays. So once a month the school throws a giant birthday party for all the kids who had birthdays that month. There's pizza, there's cake, and even some presents to take home.

(voice-over): Hairstylists donate haircuts and dentists donate dental care. When a family comes up short for something like a utility bill, the school, through donations, can help with that, too.

SHIRLEY HERNANDEZ, GRANDMOTHER: Last year we didn't have Christmas. They gave us Christmas. This year we're hardly going to have Christmas, but they're going to give us Christmas.

They have helped us a lot. And so I've got donate my time here, you know, to show how much I appreciate the people here.

SIMON: And that's what Gahn expects, that parents giving something back by volunteering.

(on camera): At the end of the day, what is it that you wish for these children?

GAHN: I want them to have that sense of norm that a lot of families grow up in America are having that they don't get.

SIMON (voice-over): On this morning, they do get attention from the city's best chefs. For many, it will be the best meal they have had in a while. For Sherrie Gahn, it's another small victory for her students.

Dan Simon, CNN, Las Vegas.


MALVEAUX: What a lovely story. Well, a political A team right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. James Carville and Ben Stein on the decision for the president to attend a major climate change summit.

And although the president is weighing sending more trips to Afghanistan, one expert says, "You can't just drop them over there. There's a daunting to-do list to tackle first."


MALVEAUX: A beautiful sunset over the Capitol there that we're looking at.

Now, when President Obama travels next month to Copenhagen for the Summit on Climate Change, senior administration officials say that he's going to try to build momentum for some kind of international agreement on lowering greenhouse gases. But really, how much can he do realistically? That is our question.

And joining me for today's "Strategy Session" are Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville, and Ben Stein, "Fortune" magazine columnist and former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon.

Thanks for joining us.

I want to start off, first of all, here, he's going to be stopping off in Copenhagen. He's going to be pushing for legislation on climate control.

Things have happened over the last month that have changed the equation. He's talked to the leaders of India, and China as well, major polluters, along with the United States.

He wants to build momentum here, but obviously this is a political issue. This is up to Congress.

What can the president do on this issue, James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, unfortunately, I hope I'm wrong, but not very much. And I hope that talk radio and the pollution lobby are right that global warming is not a problem, and 940 peer reviewed scientific articles are wrong. That's about all we can hope for, because right now, I have to tell you that the pollution lobby and talk radio is winning this battle. And the will in the United States to do something about this is not what I think it should be, but that's the reality of the political situation, as I see it right now.

MALVEAUX: Ben, does -- is James right? Does the president have any power to move the ball forward here if he goes to this summit?

BEN STEIN, COLUMNIST, "FORTUNE" Well, calling the people who want to keep Americans free to use the kind of energy they want to use the "pollution lobby" is a wild smear, and I'm very surprised to hear someone as good natured and kindly as James say it. But it's not the pollution lobby, it's a lobby for the truth.

The truth is that the global temperature peaked around 1998. It has not gotten any hotter. Instead, it's gotten cooler.

The truth is that there have been periods in the past a thousand years ago, 2,500 years ago, when it's been warmer than it is now, when there was no manmade burning of carbon. The truth is that we do not know the exact interaction between all these events and effects and what they do to weather.

The truth is we cannot predict the weather three days from now. To say we can predict it in 2030 or 2080 begs (ph) the imagination. It's just unbelievable.

The truth is we've now got a lot of data coming out that the scientific community around the side of anthropogenic global warming were cooking the data and were suppressing data to those who are questioning their data. So I think the whole thing of fighting global warming may be based on a false premise. Maybe it isn't, but the fact is we just don't know at this point.

MALVEAUX: What the truth, is too, is that Americans are divided politically over this issue. If you look at the poll, "Washington Post"/ABC News here, among Republicans, 54 percent believe that global warming is really happening, but Democrats, 86 percent believe that it is really -- it is taking place here.

CARVILLE: Look, again, I hope that talk radio and the pollution lobby is right, because I -- but I'm afraid that 950-something peer reviewed scientific articles and almost the entirety of the non-paid-for by people that study this think that climate change is real.

I hope they are wrong for the sake of my children. And it seems as though that they've spent a lot of money and have been very successful here.

MALVEAUX: Well, what do you make of that, Ben? Do you think it's just a lobbying effort?

STEIN: Actually, no, there are huge number of scientists who are questioning that. I mean, you say 950 peer reviewed articles. We now learn that the peers are in a kind of cabal -- not all of them, but some of them are in a kind of cabal to suppress any information that challenges the consensus on global warming and the manmade effects on the climate.

There are many, many scientists not paid for by the energy companies. In fact, the energy companies pretty much have backed off and washed their hands of this. They find they just don't want to question the conventional wisdom on this. This is being done, this questioning about the effects of manmade activity on the climate, is being done just by brave independent souls, and it's just not proved.

MALVEAUX: Well, we could debate whether or not this is real or not, but I covered Bush for eight years, and he said that global warming did not exist, that science didn't back it up. But here's a poll that shows that a lot more people are actually agreeing with the former president.

Three and a half years ago, 76 percent of Republicans believed it was happening. Well, now it's down to 54 percent.

Take a look at the Independents. Eighty-six percent thought it was happening. Now it's down to 71 percent.

Democrats, 92 percent. Now it is down to 86 percent.

Is that not going to make it even harder for the president to convince the rest of the world that we need some sort of global initiative here?


MALVEAUX: Climate change?

CARVILLE: The answer is yes.

MALVEAUX: What does he do?

CARVILLE: The pollution lobby is winning. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and they are winning.

MALVEAUX: So what does he do? What does the president do, James?


MALVEAUX: If you could give him some sort of advice, could you advise the president? What does he need to do if he's going to change this and is going to turn it around, or is it hopeless?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't know if it's hopeless. Still, you've good majority of the people believing that.

And in the end, scientific truth is going to win out. But right now, you've got to say ExxonMobil was paying tens of thousands of dollars for any "scientist" that would dispute these facts. And over a period of time, this is building up and they are winning.

I don't know why you're not happy about it, Ben.

STEIN: Well, you know, James, with all due respect, I hate to say this because I respect you very much and always love it when I'm on with you, but you just made that up about ExxonMobil. They are not paying tens of thousands of dollars to any scientists...

CARVILLE: Sure they did. They did.

STEIN: ... who will dispute global warming. This is a cabal of global warming -- anthropogenic global scientists who are suppressing anyone questioning them.

It's not the pollution lobby versus the clean air lobby. It's the truth lobby versus those who want to suppress the truth lobby. Look, I don't like pollution either. I don't like those little microparticles that go up in the air and they get in my lungs and they cause cancer. But whether or not -- and I'm all for cleansing the air of as much as possible. But whether or not manmade activity is changing the climate of the Earth, that is very much in dispute, and whether or not we should have giant global policies based on suppressing something which may be a hoax, that's very much up in the air.

CARVILLE: It's very much not very up in the air by the scientific community. But, again, nobody is suppressing it. You're right here saying this, and you all are winning.

The scientific community and the evidence is losing, and that happens. You know? It happens.

STEIN: James, I'm not trying to get something published in a peer reviewed journal. If I were trying to get it published in a peer reviewed journal, they wouldn't let me.


MALVEAUX: Well, we do know that the president is going to Copenhagen, and it's going to be at the beginning of the summit. He's already received some criticism that he's not going to be able to really get a lot done because he's going to be there on day one of the summit, as opposed to the end. But clearly, speaking with senior administration officials today, they say at least we're going to try to get some momentum with this debate and perhaps this move forward.

So that's where we're going to leave it right there.

A quick note, Ben. Happy birthday. I understand it's your birthday today.

CARVILLE: Oh, happy birthday.

MALVEAUX: Big 6-5. OK?

STEIN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks again.


CARVILLE: Happy Thanksgiving.

STEIN: I want that jacket for my birthday.


Thanks, guys.

Well, a lot of turkeys go under the carving knife for Thanksgiving dinners tomorrow, but at least one gobbler, well, he's going to go to Disneyland. That's the presidential pardon. Republican rock star Sarah Palin will be the headliner for the first national Tea Party Convention. Could a new third-party movement be in the making?


MALVEAUX: President Obama makes a major proclamation, but I've got a warning for you. If there are any turkeys watching, they may want to turn away.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On behalf of Sasha and Malia and myself, we're thrilled to see you.

I want to thank Walter Pelletier, chairman of the National Turkey Federation, and Joel Brandenberger, its president, for donating this year's turkey.

His name is Courage. He traveled here from Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he was raised under Walter's own precious care.


OBAMA: There you go.



Now, the National Turkey Federation has been bringing its finest turkeys to the White House for more than 50 years. I'm told President Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys. You can't fault them for that. That's a good-looking bird.

President Kennedy was even given a turkey with a sign around its neck that said, "Good eating, Mr. President." But he showed mercy and he said let's keep him going.

And 20 years ago, this Thanksgiving, the first President Bush issued the first official presidential pardon for a turkey.

Now, today I'm pleased to announce that thanks to the interventions of Malia and Sasha, because I was planning to eat this sucker, Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate.

Later today, he'll head to Disneyland, where he'll be Grand Marshal of tomorrow's parade. And just in case Courage can't fulfill his responsibilities, Walter brought along another turkey, Carolina, as an alternate, the stand-in.

Now, later this afternoon, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I will take two of their less fortunate brethren to Martha's Table, an organization that does extraordinary work to help folks here in D.C. who need it the most.

And I want to thank Jaindl's Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, for donating those dressed birds for dinner.

So today, all told, I believe it's fair to say that we have saved or created four turkeys.


You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office, and then there are moments like this where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland. But every single day, I am thankful for the extraordinary responsibility that the American people have placed in me. I am humbled by the privilege that it is to serve them and the tremendous honor it is to serve as commander in chief of the finest military in the world.

And I want to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to every service member at home or in harm's way.