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Taliban Rising; Consumer Product Safety Commission Falling Down on the Job?; America's Broken Government

Aired October 30, 2007 - 22:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
There's important news from Afghanistan tonight, where U.S. troops are in greater danger than ever. A new breed of fighter is joining the Taliban and taking the war to a new and deadlier level. These fighters flocking to the region from other countries, they are more violent, more extreme and uncontrollable.

Also ahead tonight, dangers here at home from the toys your children play with, to the household products we're told are safe, but turn out to be deadly. Why aren't the people who are paid to keep us safe doing their jobs?

And speaking of dropping the ball, most Americans put Congress in the doghouse. Lawmakers start work at midday. They leave after just putting in a couple hours, while the average joe is working hard and falling behind. We are going to take a long, hard look tonight at broken government.

We begin, though, with a new threat in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, more than 50 Taliban fighters were killed or wounded in a raid by NATO-led troops. But that is barely a dent. Violence in Afghanistan is surging. More than 350 people died this year from insurgent attacks. It is the deadliest year since the war began.

And now it has become clear that the region has become a magnet for foreign fighters who are even more extreme than the Taliban. And they brought deadlier tactics to the war and are changing the face of the enemy.

Joining us this evening, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

Peter, thanks for talking with, as always.

Huge, huge influx reported in these foreign militants who are fighting alongside the Taliban.

Why such an increase? Why now?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Soledad, as I'm sure you're aware, the situation in Afghanistan over the last year or so has got progressively worse. IED attacks doubled in the last year. Suicide attacks quintupled, up to 139. They're already up 69 percent this year. Attacks on international forces tripled. And part of this is because of al Qaeda's influence on the Taliban. The tactics that worked, unfortunately, so well in Iraq have been imported into Afghanistan, the suicide attacks, the IED attacks. And, at the same time, there's been people going from Afghanistan to the -- to Iraq to actually learn on the job there. And some of these people are coming back.

"The New York Times" reports today that there are more foreign fighters in Afghanistan, according to both U.S. officials and Afghan officials. And that's a problem, because, of course, the foreign fighters are even more radical than some of the Taliban, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And the number they gave are 5,000 people killed. Reports say that these fighters, Peter, are coming from Pakistan, Chechnya, even Turkey and China, and that they hope to further radicalize, as you point out, some of the more moderate figures within the Taliban.

What kind of long-term impact do you think this sort of influx could have?

BERGEN: Well, I think, unfortunately, it could make the already- violent situation in Afghanistan quite a lot worse.

You know, CNN, Anderson was over there six months ago, and we were there with him. And the situation since then has actually markedly deteriorated. Parts of the country that we were visiting six months ago are now off-limits to foreigners.

And, unfortunately, just as the descent and the chaos in Iraq began in the fall of 2003, I think some of the same things that we saw in Iraq are beginning to happen in Afghanistan, where you can't have reconstruction without security. And security in half of the country, in the south, has really disappeared. You're also seeing the Taliban show up in places 100 miles from Kabul in areas that they were not previously in.

So, the influx of the foreign fighters in tandem with the fact the Taliban are resurgent is very bad news for Afghanistan as a whole. I'm not suggesting that these guys can really overthrow the Hamid Karzai government. That's not plausible. But they can certainly inflict more damage on the U.S. military there, on the NATO troops there.

And, as you pointed out, Soledad, this has been the worst year for violence against Afghan civilians since the fall of the Taliban.

O'BRIEN: But, Peter, you know, there are a couple theories there. Some people say, well, bringing in the foreign fighters, that's really a sign of desperation by the Taliban. And then the flip side of that is, no, actually, because these fighters are more dangerous, it's an indication they are more desperate, and it's a bigger risk, in fact.

BERGEN: Well, I think I'm always very suspicious of arguments saying that suicide attacks are a sign of desperation and all of these people are last-ditch, no-hopers, dead-enders, because we have seen in the past that's not the truth -- not true.

And al Qaeda of course has resurged, not only in Afghanistan, but on the Pakistan border. And they are producing a lot of violence also in Afghanistan's neighbor. We have seen a blizzard of suicide attacks in Pakistan in the last several months, so, on both sides of the border, al Qaeda resurgent and the Taliban resurgent.

O'BRIEN: Peter Bergen for us tonight -- Peter, thank you very much.

We turn now to Iraq and some better news there, a dramatic decrease in death tolls; 37 troops have died in October, the lowest monthly death toll since March of 2006. And the Iraqi government says the number of civilians kill fell from a high of nearly 2,000 in August to 301 in September. Are we looking at a turning point in Iraq?

Joining us this evening, CNN's Michael Ware in the studio with us. That's rare and nice to see. Joining us from Baghdad tonight is Nic Robertson.

Nice to see both of you, in fact.

Nic, in fact, let's start with you, with some good news to report. Is it a clear indication, in your mind, that the surge is working?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's the surge. It's many other things as well. One of the deadliest Shia militias, Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shia cleric, his militia has been on a cease-fire. There's been a change in tactics by the U.S. military.

They are working with tribal sheiks. They are working with these local militias, these sort of community forces. So, there are -- there are many factors that are at work. And it really depends which part of Iraq as to which factor is the most dominant one.

But the surge has helped. It has put more troops into the heart of the community. It has put concrete barriers around communities. It has divided communities. It's made them safer. So, that's one of the reasons why the figures are down.

But the concern is here that, if there isn't a political change, if there isn't political compromise, then the -- then this lull in the fighting could be lost, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk more about politics in one second, because I want to ask Michael a question first.

We hear that the surge seems to be working. Is it working enough to say it's a turning point?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the military commanders are obviously cautious. They are saying it's too early too tell if this is a long-term trend. And that's valid.

However, yes, this is a significant shift. Can you attribute it to the surge? That's a different thing. The surge is doing good things. It is changing the nature of the environment, particularly in Baghdad. However, there are costs to that. But, with the focus on al Qaeda, the real nature of the success there has nothing to do with the surge.

It's about the deal that the Americans -- or the accord the Americans have come to with what they are calling the Sunni tribes, which is essentially the Sunni insurgency. What they have done is subcontracted out the fight against al Qaeda to the very men who used to fight alongside them, who now know where they sleep, who know where they hide, and who can go and get them.

That's the real success, certainly in terms of al Qaeda. Baghdad, yes, there's more -- less violence, but there's also a price for that. We had institutionalized the segregation of those communities, and we have seen America allow the development of what's more or less Sunni militias to counteract the government-backed Shia militias.

O'BRIEN: Nic, you know, you talked about politics just a moment ago. And a lot of the surge, the point was to allow those political benchmarks to be reached. Did, in fact, that happen? Has there been progress on that front?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely not. In fact, in some ways, there's been a reversal.

The sort of Shia-dominated government, in the view of many politicians, has become more entrenched. And that is -- it's exactly what Michael is saying here. I talked very recently with two senior cabinet-level ministers here in Iraq. And both of them are very concerned that -- that political compromise and reconciliation isn't happening.

One of them even said, because of this sort of standing up of the -- working with the tribal sheiks, of forming these sort of Sunni militias to protect Sunni areas, while you have had Shia-dominated police force becoming more embedded, more entrenched, what you now have is a much more dangerous situation.

I asked one of them, is a civil war as likely as it was a year ago? He said, look, the potential for it absolutely still exists, and it would be worse than it would be before.

Why? Because you now have a better organized Shia force and you have a much better organized Sunni force. And the tribal sheiks I have talked to in the west of the country, when you push them and push them and push them and say, what is your bottom line for compromise with the Shia-dominated government that they believe is backed by Iran, they don't have a compromise position.

The only thing they come down to is that they will fight this government. And that's what worries politicians now. One of them told me, what you would have is a better-organized Sunni force fighting a better-organized Shia force, possibly the state, is what he said.

So, what you have here is better-organized Sunni militias, possibly now, at some point, if the compromises don't happen in the government, fighting the government of Iraq.

O'BRIEN: So, some good news, Michael, but in a very dire context, certainly.

WARE: Well, absolutely.

I mean, look, there's a price for everything. And, look, who isn't grateful that the horrific killings are down? It's almost at the point where it doesn't matter at whatever cost. This is also going to be the way that America finally gets its troops out of there.

But, again, it's going to come with a heavy price in the long term. We are building the building blocks for a proxy war that, eventually, America is going to have to manage one way or another.

O'BRIEN: Michael Ware with us tonight, nice to have you in the studio, Michael, as always.

WARE: Good to be here.

O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson in Baghdad for us -- thanks, Nic.

For the next half-hour, we are going to be taking a look tonight at broken government. There seems to be evidence of it pretty much everywhere you look these days, including right in your child's toy chest. More than 20 million toys have been recalled in the last two months alone because of high levels of lead.

And, today, a Senate committee approved a bill that would strengthen the agency that is tasked with making sure that consumer products are safe. It's called the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Now, you might think that the head of the agency would celebrating. Great news, right? Actually, just the opposite is happening.

The group's acting chairwoman, Nancy Nord, sent a letter to congressional committees last week, urging them to vote against many of the bill's provisions.

In fact, today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for her resignation.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Is it too much to expect the government to live up to its responsibility to protect our children? We have a consumer protection agency to do that. We stand here today because we do not believe that it is too much for America's parents to ask. America's children deserve all of that and more. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Now, toys are not the only glaring example of the agency falling down on the job.

We asked CNN's Randi Kaye to investigate another danger to consumers. It's as close to home as your local Home Depot. And here is what Randi found.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, this the room where you used it?

DR. WALTER FRIEDEL, INJURED BY STAND 'N SEAL: This is the room, the infamous room.

KAYE (voice-over): It was supposed to be a simple do-it-yourself project. The grout in this tile floor needed work. So, Dr. Walter Friedel bought six cans of Stand 'n Seal spray-on grout sealer, sold exclusively at Home Depot.

FRIEDEL: What I did was take the can and shake it up, the way they instructed.

KAYE (on camera): So, whatever was coming up, any of those vapors, would have been coming right into your face?

FRIEDEL: Absolutely.

KAYE: But, as far as you knew...

FRIEDEL: They were safe.

KAYE (voice-over): Turns out, they were anything but. Dr. Friedel ventilated the room as suggested, but, within a half-hour, something was very wrong.

FRIEDEL: By the time I made it from my bedroom to the kitchen, I was down on one knee, I was so short on breath. I couldn't catch my breath.

KAYE: A hazardous chemical in Stand 'n Seal had severely damaged 30 percent of Dr. Friedel's lungs. He was hospitalized in intensive care for four days with chemical pneumonia. He needed an oxygen tank for four months and still uses an inhaler.

If only this do-it-yourselfer had known, when he bought Stand 'n Seal two years ago, that it had already been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

(on camera): Did you have any idea, when you bought this product, that it had made dozens of people sick and killed two people?

FRIEDEL: Had no -- no knowledge whatsoever.

KAYE: Two people had died from this stuff, yet, it was still on store shelves.

"Keeping Them Honest," we tried to ask the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the very government agency designed to protect us from dangerous products, how this could happen. They refused to talk to us, saying an ongoing investigation prevents them from discussing the issue. Imagine that, a public agency that can't talk to the public.

(voice-over): Here's what we have been able to piece together through court documents. Consumers started complaining to Stand 'n Seal's manufacturer, Roanoke, in May 2005.

In an internal e-mail dated June 17, the company's CEO wrote, "For the last months or so, we have been getting calls with problems related to the Stand 'n Seal" and called the situation "very serious."

Still, Roanoke didn't tell the Safety Commission until June. At that point, the Safety Commission started an investigation, but didn't recall Stand 'n Seal until the end of August, more than two months later.

DONALD MAYS, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT SAFETY AND CONSUMER SCIENCES, CONSUMERS UNION: The Consumer Product Safety Commission clearly dropped the ball in the case of the Stand 'n Seal case. They failed to get the -- an unsafe product off the market.

KAYE: How was it Stand 'n Seal remained on store shelves even though it had killed two people? Had the Consumer Product Safety Commission not done its homework? Why didn't it make sure the product was safe?

We will have the answers when we come back.



O'BRIEN: Just before the break, we told you about a man who nearly died after he used a spay-on tile grout in his bathroom. And here's what's really scary. The product had actually been recalled, but it was still being sold.

Here again is Randi Kaye.


KAYE (voice-over): Dr. Walter Friedel nearly died after using Stand 'n Seal spay-on tile grout. Two others had died. And the product had been recalled. Yet, Dr. Friedel was still able to buy it. Why?

After the recall, in August 2005, records show the company that makes Stand 'n Seal, Roanoke, promised it had fixed the problem. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission allowed Stand 'n Seal back on the market, but did not ensure the new formula was safe. And, so, Dr. Friedel bought the cans that made him sick two months after the recall.

FRIEDEL: If you look at the bottom of the cans, none of these numbers are on the recall list. So, these were supposed to be safe cans.

KAYE: And they're still a threat. This recall notice on the Safety Commission's Web site only warns about cans bought before June 2005. It has never been updated. We called the commission to find out what it tells the public now about Stand 'n Seal.

(on camera): I'm calling about the Stand 'n Seal product.

CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION HOT LINE OPERATOR: It is on the recall. It is from April 2005 through June 2005. If they're made after that and the date code is different, then it's fine.

KAYE: So anything -- so, if I have a can from, say, October 2005, that should be OK?


KAYE: Yes?


KAYE (voice-over): Some have already discovered it is not fine. Others may still have Stand 'n Seal at home, unaware that it could kill them.

(on camera): Do they just simply not have the tools to go through these investigations?

MAYS: That's exactly right. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a woefully underfunded, understaffed safety agency.

KAYE (voice-over): May says the Safety Commission's 400 employees are responsible for monitoring 15,000 products, and just 15 inspectors oversee 300 ports. Just as bad, its lab equipment is outdated. Yet, the commission's acting chairwoman told a House panel in September:


KAYE: Home Depot pulled the product off the shelves this past March. The company refused an interview, but it has denied liability, saying in a statement that it removed the recalled cans and was not aware that problems continued. It adds, it "never knowingly sold any of the recalled product."

Dr. Friedel and nearly 200 other victims are suing Home Depot, along with Stand 'n Seal's manufacturer, but not the Safety Commission, even though Dr. Friedel blames it, too.

(on camera): Would you say the Consumer Product Safety Commission failed you in this case?

FRIEDEL: They did not fulfill their job; that's for sure.

KAYE (voice-over): And considering the Safety Commission never updated its warning, even after more people got sick, it still isn't doing its job.


O'BRIEN: Randi Kaye has more for us on this.

Now, obviously, in the piece, you can see clearly the Consumer Product Safety Commission needs a lot of help. And, yet, the news today is, it sounds like they turned it down.

KAYE: They certainly did. One consumer expert told us that what the Consumer Product Safety Commission lacks is will, the will to get better. And that's what critics apparently are saying today. We are not seeing that will.

Nancy Nord, the acting chair, apparently reaching out to lawmakers, urging them to vote against this measure that would actually strengthen the Safety Commission and help it better protect us as consumers. This measure promised to increase the agency's authority. It would increase the staff by 20 percent. It would actually increase the budget to $141 million...

O'BRIEN: And why is she saying no? I mean...


KAYE: ... over the next seven years.

Well, several reasons. I mean, no question, she does admit that they would like to see more staff. They would like to see better lab equipment. As you mentioned earlier, in just the last two moments, 13 million toys recalled because of too much lead.

The Democrats are proposing higher fees for companies, higher fines, if they have violated these safety standards, up to $100 million. Right now, it's less than $2 million. She's totally against this, because she says that the agency would be overwhelmed with phone calls, lame complaints from consumers directed there by companies who are just trying to cover themselves.

Democrats are furious, calling for her resignation. And she did try to explain herself today. And here is a little bit of how she sees the situation.


NORD: Frankly, I would much rather be hiring safety inspectors and scientists, rather than lawyers. I'm very concerned that there are provisions in this legislation that are going to increase litigation and result in this agency ending up being in court. I don't want to be hiring lawyers. I want to be hiring safety inspectors.


KAYE: And, after all that, Soledad, the Safety -- the Senate committee actually today approved this bill to beef up the Safety Commission's power. We still have to wait and see, of course, what the Republicans decide to do.

O'BRIEN: Yes. So, she might lose on a couple of fronts there.

KAYE: Mm-hmm.

O'BRIEN: Randi Kaye for us tonight -- Randi, thanks.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a relatively small agency with a massive responsibility. Here's the "Raw Data" tonight.

It was founded in 1973 with a staff of 800. The commission now has a work force of just half of that number. The Democrats want to increase the budget to $80 million in 2009. The department's power reaches halfway around the world, ordering the recall of more than 20 million toys from China.

In light of all these recent recalls, here's a question for you: Do you think parents should boycott all toys that are made in China? We would like to hear from you tonight. You can go to, log on to the blog, post your comments. You can send us a v-mail, too. You know, we just love v-mail here.


O'BRIEN: As we continue our look at broken government tonight, we have another, sadly, shameful example for you. This one involves a member of Congress -- there's a shocker -- and a proposed museum, a museum that pays tribute to, believe it or not, the mule -- yes, the mule.

And, believe it or not, it actually gets worse than that. It may not be a lot of money that we are talking about, but it is your money. We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

Here's CNN's Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five hours from Los Angeles and on the backside of the Yosemite Valley sits Bishop, California, with an elevation higher than its population. And it is here, you might say, federal taxpayers are being turned into jackasses.

BOB TANNER, BISHOP MULE ASSOCIATION: Bishop considers itself the mule capital of the world.

GRIFFIN: The county fairgrounds in Bishop host the biggest mule festival in the United States every Memorial Day weekend. And Bob Tanner says, it's time you knew more about the mule.

TANNER: No, there's a lot of things that people don't know about mules.

GRIFFIN: Which is apparently why Republican Congressman Buck McKeon wants you to help pay for a museum to the mule to be built on these fairgrounds.

The congressman wouldn't talk to us, but his earmark request of $50,000 to explore the possibility of a mule museum is on its way to getting final approval in Congress.

A long way from Bishop, California, and also on its way to congressional approval, in rural Rices Landing, Pennsylvania, your tax money will turn a dilapidated barn into a museum, too.

(on camera): There's cobwebs in there.

(voice-over): This earmark will cost you $150,000, to be spent on a nearly abandoned building where neighbor Gary Smith (ph) parks his truck.

(on camera): Must not be too busy if you can park a truck here, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they got a tour once a year in there.

GRIFFIN: Once a year?


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Democrat John Murtha is asking for this one, the money to restore the luster to the W.A. Young and Sons Foundry, turning it into a key historic property.

That's what Congressman Murtha said on his Web site, anyway. He wouldn't talk to us either.


O'BRIEN: So, we sent Drew looking for some answers. Didn't Congress vow to get out of the murky business of using your money for special earmark projects to help the constituents back home?


GRIFFIN: Well, we have repeatedly, over and over, bent over backwards, trying to ask Democratic leaders all about their earmark reforms, but the speaker of the House is much too busy. The head of the Appropriations Committee, he's too busy, too. And John Murtha, the only earmark reform we know about from John Murtha seems to be he's getting more earmarks.

So, with the Democrats all saying they won't talk to us, we decided to talk to the Republicans.


O'BRIEN: And you are not going to believe what the congressman who is actually pushing that mule museum is saying tonight. Drew is going to be back with us right after the break.


O'BRIEN: Republicans, Democrats, they have no problem spending your money, especially on pet projects that defy logic. We are talking about a few of them tonight.

And -- and, really, they seem almost laughable, but it's actually not funny, especially when you know that you're picking up the tab. In just a moment, one of the lawmakers in question gave us a mouthful. In a blistering rebuttal, we have his fiery words coming up in just a moment.

First, though, here's CNN's Drew Griffin, "Keeping Them Honest."


GRIFFIN (voice-over): A mule museum, a mostly abandoned foundry? These are just two examples of the 63 earmark requests for museums that members of Congress are asking for in their districts.

The congressional watchdog group that tallied the numbers says the total bill for museum pet projects this year alone, $13.7 million. Since the Democrats were the ones who touted earmark reform at the beginning of this Congress, we wanted to find out where museum earmarks fit into those plans.

(on camera): Well, we have repeatedly, over and over, bent over backwards, trying to ask Democratic leaders all about their earmark reforms, but the speaker of the House is much too busy. The head of the Appropriations Committee, he's too busy, too. And John Murtha, the only earmark reform we know about from John Murtha seems to be he's getting more earmarks.

So, with the Democrats all saying they won't talk to us, we decided to talk to the Republicans, and specifically Republican Leader John Boehner. He's not in control of the House, but he is in control of other Republicans.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think there's an awful lot of wasteful Washington spending in these earmarks. And I'm doing my best to try to control it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): To control it, Boehner is gathering signatures in the House to force at least the potential of a vote on every earmark.

BOEHNER: It says this. Every bill that comes to the floor of the House that has an earmark in it, it has to be disclosed with the member's name on it, and the member has to be willing to defend it.

GRIFFIN: He hopes the potential for exposure of things like -- well, like a jackass museum will lead to fewer requests for things like jackass museums.

But he is still gathering signatures, and Congress is getting closer to approving this year's spending bills. And, right now, the mules are in business.


O'BRIEN: Well, Drew is in Atlanta for us tonight.

Drew, I understand you're already getting some reaction to this story. Is that right?

GRIFFIN: Yes, from the congressman himself, Congressman Buck McKeon, Soledad. At 7:05 tonight, his office called, 7:05 tonight. Three weeks after we first contacted his office about an interview on this mule museum, he finally responds with an e-mail.

In part, he says, "If CNN chooses to make a mockery of small-town western heritage, that its prerogative. But I'm going to remain focused on the economic development of my district."

"I'm a staunch supporter of earmark transparency and accountability," he writes. "A light needs to be shined on the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on bridges to nowhere and projects that serve no real purpose, unlike our community museum request."

Buck McKeon, Soledad, tonight trying to draw the distinction between taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere and a taxpayer-funded museum to a mule.

O'BRIEN: He clearly loves the mules. What can I say? Thanks very much for that report this evening, Drew.

Well, mules or no mules, Congress has certainly faced a pile of criticism lately. President Bush jumped in again today, blasting lawmakers for failing to do the people's work. Here's what he said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress is not getting its work done. We're near the end of the year, and there really isn't much to show for it.


O'BRIEN: And, believe it or not, the president has lots of company, at least when it comes to Capitol Hill. Less than a quarter of Americans think that Congress is doing the job that they should be doing. Then why do so many Americans think so little of the powers to be on the Hill?

Here's Candy Crowley tonight with why our government seems broken.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The House floor opened for business this week at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

REP. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: House will be in order.

CROWLEY: They call it morning business. Members talk about anything they want. Apparently, no one wanted to, so the House recessed until 2.

Scheduled business included recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali, expressing support for the Country Music Month, naming several post offices and courthouses, calling on China to respect the rights of North Korean refugees.

The Senate convened at 3 to discuss the continuation of Amtrak. No votes were scheduled on anything, which is code for senators don't have to be there, and they pretty much weren't. So most of the time the Senate floor looked like this.


CROWLEY: In any neighborhood of the country you can find someone like Richard Gantt, just a guy living in suburban Chicago, husband, father of three, divorce lawyer, recovering political addict.

RICHARD GANTT, ILLINOIS VOTER: This is like most parties just do the same thing there year after year after year. Nothing changes.

CROWLEY: Seventy-five percent of Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, according to the latest CNN/public opinion research poll.

Why? Let them count the ways. Because Congress is out of touch. Because Congress has not taken actions on issues important to them. Because there's too much fighting. Et cetera.

GANTT: I think most people in Congress are living a fantasy life. They have the best health care, and they have everything taken care of for them.

CROWLEY: Eighteen miles down the road from the Gantt home, the mayor of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is mulling over the stuff of life. How to help an elderly constituent upset that a village fence is mangling her bush.

SEN. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The unfinished business is the vote on the motion from the gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. Frank, to suspend the rules and...

CROWLEY: The U.S. Congress is a very long way from here.

(on camera) This is sort of free association. United States Congress. You would say to me...

MAYOR CRAIG JOHNSON, ELK GROVE VILLAGE, ILLINOIS: Inept. They are probably the most inept form of government we've seen in the history of this country.

CROWLEY (voice-over): And that's before we told him about Congress and Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. We'll tell you, too, when we come back.



O'BRIEN: Listen to Craig Johnson, a small-town mayor in Illinois. It seems there's something about the slowly turning wheels of Congress that Mayor Johnson doesn't really understand, just like a lot of Americans.

More on our broken government tonight. Once again, here's Candy Crowley.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Being mayor of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is a part-time job, so time is of the essence, which is why the whole Brett Favre thing drives Craig Johnson nuts.

He holds in his hands a House resolution commending the Green Bay Packers quarterback for a record-breaking season.

JOHNSON: So they're going to commend Brett Favre for being a great quarterback, which anybody in sports would agree with. But they don't find time to find out how to put my kids through college, how to make it affordable for college.

You know, they can worry about steroids in Major League Baseball, but they don't know how to make sure that health care can be afforded?

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: Madam change (ph) leader, we passed the minimum wage act in the first 100 hours that we came to power in Washington, D.C.

CROWLEY: The Democratic leadership, seen more favorably than Congress as a whole, feels maligned. The House has scored a record- setting 1,000 roll call votes so far this year.

Since January the Senate has passed, the House has passed and the president has signed the following into law: the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, an increase in the minimum wage, a boost in student aid for college, lobbying and ethics reform. Not insignificant, but off point for many Americans.

SARAH BINDER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: This is not immigration reform. These aren't health care reform. And it's certainly not efforts to change the course of the war in Iraq, which is what Democrats really came into office trying to promise.

So when Congress doesn't perform on the big issues, it really pays the price. CROWLEY: If you are struggling to pay bills, keep a job, find health care, live in the real world, Congress is Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

GANTT: I have met my congressman. And it happened to be about five days before the last election. I haven't seen or heard of him since.

CROWLEY: After members complained they couldn't spend enough time in their districts, the congressional leadership decided the House will not meet on most Fridays next year, which happens to be an election year.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


O'BRIEN: Coming up, "The Shot of the Day". It's a ground shaking in Oregon today, a series of big booms. Look at that. It's pretty dramatic. More on Mother Nature. We're going to tell you how and why, straight ahead.

First, though, Erica Hill joins us with a "360 News and Business Bulletin".

Hey, Erica.


ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Forecasters say Tropical Storm Noel appears to have weakened, with winds dropping to 40 miles an hour. Sixteen deaths are reported in the Dominican Republic. Another 16 are missing.

The outer edge of that storm could reach Florida as early as tomorrow night.

An 11th-hour stay of execution on Mississippi's Death Row. The Supreme Court stepping in just 15 minutes before Earl Wesley Barry was scheduled to die. Barry would have been only the second person put to death since the justices agreed a month ago to hear arguments over the constitutionality of lethal injections.

In New Orleans, embattled district attorney Eddie Jordan says he'll resign tomorrow. Jordan's been under fire for the city's growing murder rate and a $3.7 million discrimination judgment. The case was brought on by former employees.

Another problem in space tonight. Space-walking astronauts spotted a riff on a solar panel being unfurled aboard the International Space Station. The engineers are now analyzing photos to determine just how badly that panel was damaged.

And a drop in consumer confidence is being blamed in part for today's declines on Wall Street. The Dow fell 77 points to 13,792. The NASDAQ also fell slightly, and the S&P dropped nine points, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: OK. Guess what? It's time for "The Shot". Here you go: three, two, one.

HILL: Oh, wow.

O'BRIEN: Kaboom. Pretty impressive, huh?

HILL: That is wild.

O'BRIEN: That was a series of timed explosions that took out two miles of levees in Southern Oregon. A total of 100 tons of explosives used there. The levees that were destroyed, because they're trying to let the water back in from Upper Klamath Lake and restore 25 acres of the wetlands there.

Those marshes were drained 50 years ago to make way for farming.

HILL: Now conservation (ph).

O'BRIEN: Yes, conservation. They're hoping if they can refill the landfill -- refill the marshland with landfill there, they're going to be able to save some endangered species. The sucker fish apparently is endangered there, and they're hoping maybe there will be a new habitat for species of water birds, too.

HILL: Not bad. You know, I like that explosion much better than the building implosions.

O'BRIEN: Really?

HILL: I thought it was a lot cooler looking.

O'BRIEN: Very cool looking but not the sound effects.

HILL: No, not quite the same.

O'BRIEN: You could have helped me out and gone, "Pow."

HILL: Sorry, next time.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that.

If you want to send us your "Shot" ideas, if you see some amazing video, you can tell us all about it at

Thanks, Erica.


O'BRIEN: "Raw Politics" is coming up next. Tom Foreman's in Washington.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, right now, there is no one else in Washington who has been punched around more, is struggling more for his political life. And yet, this guy comes swinging off the ropes like Jake LaMotta. Really "Raw Politics" coming right up.



O'BRIEN: Dick Cheney is coming under fire for a hunting trip in upstate New York this week. It's not what he was hunting that's causing all the trouble. It's the small confederate flag that was hanging in the club's garage. The vice president's spokesperson said Cheney never saw the flag.

Stay tuned for that.

Back in Washington, as we mentioned earlier, his boss was taking shots at the Democrats, and they were throwing shots right back at them. CNN's Tom Foreman has more in tonight's "Raw Politics".


FOREMAN (voice-over): Maybe it's just that wacky Halloween moon, but President Bush is going after the Democrats right now like he wants to plunge his veto pen right through their hearts.

Standing tall with congressional Republicans, the president said the Dems are running the worst Congress in 20 years, wasting time and money on every Bill.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They believe in raising taxes. And we don't.

FOREMAN: Maybe. But the GOP has run up a haunting deficit in recent years. So the Dems' best rhetoric came from a top aide to Harry Reid: says taking money advice from President Bush was like taking hunting lessons from Dick Cheney. Neither is a good idea.

John Edwards thinks he has a good idea: punching Hillary Clinton right in her ethics. He says the Hill is part of a corrupt, old system in Washington and should not be president if Americans want change.

The "Raw" read: he's onto a weak spot. Polls show that even many voters who support the Hill don't trust her.

FOREMAN: Retired Army Lieutenant General James Peake has been picked to take over the Department of Veterans Affairs, a big job that's getting bigger. A new study shows that one out of every eight veterans under 65 is uninsured.

And Republican Internet darling Ron Paul airs his first TV ad in New Hampshire. Says, "Stop the war."

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Once we stop wasting trillions overseas, we can cut the budget and still help people who need it. FOREMAN (on camera): Yes, now, his Halloween costume, I'm going to go with the Energizer bunny. This guy does not have the clout of a front-runner, but Ron Paul just keeps on going and going and going and going -- Soledad.


O'BRIEN: Thanks, Tom.

A house of worship is supposed to be safe and sacred. Tonight, though, you're going to see just how far one large U.S. insurance company went to learn what one church-going couple was doing and saying.

CNN's David Mattingly has our report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes faith to accept what we believe happens here.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A Sunday morning, a congregation joined in worship...


MATTINGLY: ... and a couple badly in need of comfort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an act of faith.

MATTINGLY: Bill and Leandra Pitts had always found strength in their faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you really believe?

MATTINGLY: And in the summer of 2005, they needed that strength more than ever.

LEANDRA PITTS, MINISTER: I could not walk. I could not talk. I could not say a thing. I was, I guess, terrified of everything. It was just like a nightmare.

MATTINGLY: Leandra suffered a brain injury in a car accident near Atlanta. It severely affected her balance, her memory and her speech. Even more than two years later, she still speaks with a stutter and struggles to remember words.

L. PITTS: How's the salad?


L. PITTS: Bill had to or someone had to be with me, because I needed the care, because I couldn't take care of myself.

MATTINGLY: Leandra leaned heavily on Bill, and they both leaned heavily on God. And for those few showers in church every Sunday, the pain they were feeling diminished, and they found the hope they needed to keep going.

BILL PITTS, HUSBAND: We're believing that, through God, she's going to get better, regardless of what doctors have said.

MATTINGLY (on camera): So in August of that year, when the Pitts took their usual seats here at the Southside Christian Fellowship, they once again found the warmth and generous support they had come to count on.

But unlike before, not everyone in the congregation that day was here to worship. Unknown to everyone, the Pitts were being followed. Their every move was being videotaped from the seats just across the aisle.

How did you react when you heard about this?

B. PITTS: I was -- well, shocked at first. And then angered, because I felt like, you know, we were betrayed.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): At the time, the Pitts had been fighting with their car insurance company, Progressive. What they didn't know was that the company had hired detectives to see if Leandra was faking her injuries.

But, instead of observing them in public from a distance, the detectives followed them into church and didn't stop there.


O'BRIEN: Up next, we'll tell you about the insurance company's other bold move, how it continued to go after Leandra and Bill Pitts and how the church spy saga finally came to an end. That's when 360 continues.


O'BRIEN: Before the break, we told you about a husband and wife learning just how far their insurance company would go to find out if they were telling the truth. Now, at the time they had no idea that they were being followed, being secretly videotaped inside their church. They want answers, and so do we.

Once again, here's CNN's David Mattingly.


MATTINGLY: After the car accident in 2005, Leandra Pitts' brain injury blanked out her memory, affected her speech and left her physically disabled.

One of the few places where she and her husband Bill could feel their burdens lifted was at a private prayer and support group held in the basement of Ken King's Georgia home.

(on camera) What kind of secrets come out in that meeting? KEN KING, MINISTER: Abortion, incest, homosexuality, alcoholism, drug addiction, all of these.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The Pitts were ministers themselves. And that was truly gratifying to them was gaining the trust of these people in pain, and offering spiritual guidance and emotional support.

Progressive eventually settled the Pitts' accident claim and paid outstanding medical bills. But while negotiating, the Pitts learned that a detective, hired by Progressive, had been sitting just a few feet away from them, making secret audio recordings of those intensely private meetings.

(on camera) Tell me about that moment where you had to go back to the group and tell them this had happened.

B. PITTS: It deflated everyone. It felt like, you know, you just took all their clothes off and stripped them naked right there, you know. Things that they had shared, things that were, you know, their deepest secrets, that they didn't want anyone else to know.

All I could say was I'm very sorry. I had no knowledge.

MATTINGLY: What kind of burden are they carrying now?

KING: Guilt.


KING: Anger.


KING: Fear.

MATTINGLY: Loss of trust?

KING: Loss of trust. Just how could this have happened?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): "Keeping Them Honest", we went to Progressive to find out, but no one there would agree to an interview. Instead, president and CEO Glenn Renwick posted this apology online, saying, "What the investigators and Progressive people involved in that case did was wrong -- period. I personally want to apologize to anyone who was affected by this incident."

He also says, "We know that we were wrong in this situation and we take full responsibility for the mistakes that were made."

B. PITTS: I feel like something was just taken from me brutally. Trust. Just snatched away from me. And where I had no say over it.

MATTINGLY: The Pitts and Ken King are suing Progressive, seeking damages. Progressive says the detective's intrusion and their secret recordings were regrettable but offer no basis for a legal claim. The state of Georgia is investigating whether laws were broken, and whether Progressive intruded on other customers, too. The Pitts' attorney is doing the same.

WAYNE GRANT, PITTS' ATTORNEY: We're going to find out if it's more widespread and -- or whether or not this was isolated.

MATTINGLY: He declined to release the video and audiotapes, citing his pending lawsuit. Progressive says it has since adopted new guidelines prohibiting detectives from "any type of misrepresentation in conducting investigations."

(on camera) The Pitts say that, by pretending to be a simple church-going couple, the detectives following them violated their private lives, only to discover that they had been telling the truth all along.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


O'BRIEN: What a remarkable story.

Let's get back now to our question of the night. Should parents boycott all toys that are made in China? Lots of comments on the 360 blog.

"On the Radar", Jennifer in Anderson, South Carolina. Here's what she says: "If a parent wants to keep their kids safe, I would say yes to boycott the toys that comes from China they're not safe [sic]. I feel sorry for the parent's [sic] because Christmas is coming up soon, and kids are going to want these toys."

Donna in Minneapolis says this: "China's economy is booming because of all the American companies using Chinese manufacturing plants. So if they're getting rich off us, I think higher fines for lead contamination would hit these Chinese companies where it matters most."

Lorie Ann in Buellton, California, is also thinking about the money. She says this: "The only way to hurt a company is to stop buying what they are selling. I'd say, just say no, no, no. Boycott the toys for just one Christmas season and see the results."

"I do feel sorry for the retailer," she continues, "but they need to demand a safe product, too. The House Speaker can't speak as loud as money being withheld."

To share your thoughts, go to for the link to the blog. We'd love to hear from you.

Coming up next, Barack Obama promised he'd take off the gloves and take a swing at Hillary Clinton at the debate. Did he? We're going to talk about tonight's Democratic debate with the best political team on TV. Also ahead, dangerous toys, broken government. The agency designed to keep unsafe products off the shelves is under fire tonight. Is it too little, too late? Our investigation is coming up next.