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U.S. To Israel: Find A Way Out; Israel Prepared for Rockets; IOUs Instead of Checks; Senate Pick Defends Himself; Professor Predicts U.S. Disintegrates

Aired December 31, 2008 - 17:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, breaking news -- Israeli leaders say it is too soon for a cease-fire in the all-out war with Hamas. Warplanes pound more targets in Gaza, as rockets rain down on Israel. But the Bush administration is now looking for a way to bring it to an end.
He was named to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat by the governor accused of trying to sell that seat. Now a move to block the appointment. I'll speak with the appointee -- the man caught in the middle, Roland Burris.

And the end of the USA -- a Russian professor predicts this country will disintegrate by 2010. His theory is a big hit in Moscow.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


Breaking news -- Israel's all-out war with Hamas militants in Gaza rages on, as Israeli leaders resist growing international pressure for a cease-fire. In the latest developments, Israeli warplanes carried out more strikes on Gaza. Both Israeli and Hamas sources say targets included smuggling tunnels on the Egyptian border and a mosque in Gaza City, which the Israeli military says was used to store rockets.

Gaza officials put the Palestinian death toll at more than 390. The United Nations says dozens of civilians are among the dead.

Four Israelis have been killed by rocket fire and dozens more rockets have landed in Southern Israeli today -- some reaching more than 20 miles from Gaza.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us now -- Brian, neither party seems to be ready to budge.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't appear they are, Suzanne.

Israel's prime minister has vowed that his side won't stop its attacks until Hamas does. Now, with daily images of carnage and casualties, there is growing concern inside the Bush administration and some intense behind-the-scenes maneuvers. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials and Arab diplomats tell CNN American leaders are strongly encouraging the Israelis to find a way out of this. Their biggest worry, according to sources -- the longer this goes on, the more likely it will become a mirror image of Israel's war against Hezbollah two years ago, when casualties backfired on the Israelis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hamas could survive this Israeli onslaught. You would have more copses, more bodies, more destruction. And yet Hamas could survive politically, even if it's -- it could be in a weaker position. This will embolden Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and the radicals.

TODD: It will embolden those elements, some observers say, while embarrassing Israel, the United States and America's moderate Arab allies, like Egypt and Jordan. Arab diplomats tell us they sense a shift in the U.S. position just in the few days since this conflict began.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire. Now, the cease-fire should be restored immediately.

TODD: That was on Saturday and it meant Hamas should stop its rocket attacks.

Now the talk is of a so-called durable cease-fire that both sides have to agree to and honor.

And given the fierce resistance Israeli forces got from Hezbollah two years ago, there's a lot less confidence in Israel's ability to score a clear victory now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to imagine how the Israeli military can utterly destroy Hamas, as it set out to do. Hamas, besides being a militant organization, is a social organization. It has a political wing. It is an embedded force, not just in Gaza, but in the larger Palestinian territories.


TODD: All of that weighing heavily now in the minds of those watching here in Washington. Now, if there's any indication we need more of that, consider that President Bush, when he spoke today with Israel's prime minister, got an assurance that Israeli forces are only targeting Hamas military positions -- Suzanne, they are incredibly worried now about more images coming into living rooms all over the world of civilian casualties like there were two years ago. That is a huge concern right now.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

Thank you, Brian.

As the bombs and rockets fall, first responders try to cope with the rising casualties on both sides.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem with that -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, in the front line of the home front in Israel, of course, are the emergency services. And we saw, in the Southern Israeli town of Ashkelon, that those emergency services have a tough job in this current Israeli offensive.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Ambulances rush to the scene of a rocket impact in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Amidst the pandemonium, the medics try to treat a young girl who was shot.


WEDEMAN: Since the start of the Israeli offensive against Gaza, the emergency services, Magen David Adom in Hebrew, or Red Star of David, have responded to more than 250 such calls in Southern Israel.

(on camera): During the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, the Israeli emergency services were harshly criticized for being disorganized and unprepared. This time around, they seem to have gotten their act together.

(voice-over): Alom Friedman was with the emergency services in Northern Israel during that war and since then, has seen the old mistakes remedied.

ALON FRIEDMAN, MAGEN DAVID ADOM: We are working on the -- this situation -- this scenario for a lot of months. We made a lot of drills. We had a lot of meetings which we cooperate with the other organizations, our mutual positions, like the police, the fire brigades, the army.

WEDEMAN: Volunteers from abroad are pitching in. They never expected to get this kind of experience, says 21 years Tal Hertig from Switzerland.

TAL HERTIG, VOLUNTEER, MAGEN DAVID ADOM: I was just overtaken by the whole scenery -- like flashing lights everywhere, people being hysteric. And so I can't say what's really going through -- what was going through my mind, because I was just focused on trying to do what the driver said.

WEDEMAN: And as this closed-circuit video from Ashkelon shows, escape from an incoming rocket is a matter of pure luck.

Within an hour after a rocket fell outside their home, Sterod (ph), a municipal social worker, comes to speak with Isaac and Sonia field -- offering them advice, seeing what can be done to soothe their fears. In 2006, this sort of support didn't exist.

For the medics here, much of the day is spent sitting and waiting -- the calm broken by the next rocket to hit.


WEDEMAN: And as challenging as it may be for the Israeli emergency services, for the Palestinian emergency services, it is infinitely worse. They've had to deal with five days of intense air attacks on Gaza -- more than 390 people killed, nearly 2,000 wounded. And word is that the hospitals, for instance, in Gaza are running out of basic medicine. Their equipment is going out. All these hospitals have to run on emergency generators. So for them in Gaza, it is far worse -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Ben Wedeman.

Turning to the financial crisis, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers are locked in a budget battle threatening to hit millions of state residents right in the wallet. State employees and taxpayers could soon be getting IOUs instead of checks.

CNN's Dan Simon is live in San Francisco -- Dan, tell us what is the update here on the California situation.


This all stems from the fact that California is close to going broke. Today, Governor Schwarzenegger submitted his latest proposal to fix the problem -- a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts. If a solution isn't figured out soon, then the state could be forced to take drastic action.


SIMON (voice-over): It is not welcome news for California taxpayers -- the state budget crisis could hit average citizens in the wallet, as the state may be forced next year to delay tax refunds. CNN first reported that possibility last week.

But now the state controller, John Chiang, has made it official. In a letter to state agencies, he says California may need to issue IOUs.

Last year, 10 million Californians received state tax refunds totaling nearly $8.5 billion.

In an interview, Chiang acknowledged the strain the -delayed refunds could put on those trying to make ends meet.

JOHN CHIANG, CALIFORNIA CONTROLLER: That is especially not helpful in difficult economic times, where families need the moneys to pay their bills, whether it's a rent bill or a mortgage bill.

SIMON: Among those to get hit hard, California legislators themselves. They haven't been able to come up with a budget compromise with Governor Schwarzenegger. The controller warns that the state's 1,700 elected officials and their staffs would be among the first to have their paychecks replaced by IOUs. California lawmakers are the highest paid in the country -- earning a salary of $116,000 a year. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY SPEAKER: The average lawmaker is like myself. I mean that is the income I need to pay my bills, just like thousands of Californians around the state.

SIMON: California assembly speaker Karen Bass says she would not expect lawmakers to be exempt from paycheck delays, but it's regrettable that it's even an option.

Though California may have the most pressing problem, a look nationwide shows that all but six states face budget shortfalls. Nationally, the budget gaps are expected to total more than $350 billion over the next few years and a recovery could take a while because of the housing market -- the biggest part of the problem. It may be slow to fully recover.


SIMON: Here in California, another twist to all this. The state controller, John Chiang, he checked himself into a hospital last week, complaining of chest pains. He's 46 years old. He is in good condition. No word whether the stress of this situation may have caused the problem -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you so much, Dan.

A controversial Senate appointment is facing new obstacles. Top Democrats are working right now to block it, saying it's tainted by allegations the Illinois governor tried to sell the seat. His pick, Roland Burris, joins us live to defend his appointment.

Also, more than a dozen young Somali American men now missing -- have they left to wage holy war?

Plus, a former NBA star arrested. Charles Barkley suspected of DUI. Now he's speaking out about it.


MALVEAUX: The country's new senators will be sworn in next week. But one won't be seated if Democratic leaders have their way. They're working on plans right now to block the appointment of former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, named by Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill Barack Obama's seat -- a seat that Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell.

Roland Burris is joining us live from Chicago.

Thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to start off by letting you know, we've spoken with aides in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office, who say they're not going to give you credentials, you're not going to be allowed on the floor, you're not going to have an office. What are you going to do when Congress goes back into session on Tuesday?

ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS SENATE-DESIGNATE: Suzanne, we're certainly going to make contacts with the leadership of -- of the Senate to let them know that the governor of Illinois has made a legal appointment and that I am currently the junior senator for the State of Illinois. And we're hoping and praying that, you know, they will see the reason in his appointing me as a very qualified, capable, able and ready to serve individual to carry on the business of the 13 million people of our great state and, of course, the business of the people of the great United States of America.

MALVEAUX: Is your plan to come to Washington on Tuesday to start your term?

BURRIS: Well, we certainly will be working on that. We plan to come. We haven't made any detailed reservations yet, because, you know, we're just coming out from under this as of yesterday. And there's just a lot of things to do.

MALVEAUX: Are you going to reach out directly to President-Elect Barack Obama, who says this is not a good idea for you to show up?

Are you going to reach out to your colleagues, to Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois -- or even Harry Reid -- to make your case?

BURRIS: Well, certainly we will do the two. I don't know about being able to reach the president. But Senator Durbin has called me twice. My voice mail is so -- so packed, I started trying to clean it out and found two calls from Senator Durbin.

And I -- and because I'm over here now, I cannot return his calls.

I do plan to talk to my colleague because I would have to depend on him greatly for the, you know, the orientation and introduction into the United States Senate.

MALVEAUX: What will you tell him?

BURRIS: So I'm looking forward to...

MALVEAUX: What you tell him?

Obviously, you know that he is against this and he is blocking this.

BURRIS: Yes. I will tell the senator that, you know, look at Illinois law and advise that you all may have serious problems with the governor for his -- for his problems and whatever action he's taken, but that does not in any way legally bar me from the seat in the United States Senate, because his acts were legal. He is still the governor. And he could be chastised for not carrying out his Constitutional duties we there's a vacancy.

And what it appears to me is the fact they do not want the governor to make this appointment is certainly beyond the, you know, the realm of legal authority when it says in the Constitution and it says in the statutes of the State of Illinois that the governor shall fill these vacancies by appointment. MALVEAUX: Mr. Burris, in light of that -- and the president- elect, Barack Obama, did weigh in on this. And he said he did not believe that anyone who the governor appoints should actually be seated.

In learning that and hearing him weigh in on this, did that hurt you?

Was that a sting?

BURRIS: Oh, absolutely not.

I'm a good friend of Barack. None of this is a sting. I think that they're certainly trying to assess what the problems of the governor -- what the problems of the governor -- what the problems are. And based on that, they're looking at the governor.

But they have to look at the governor's official act and authority. That has to be separated. You know, he cannot carry out his duties and responsibilities by leaving that seat vacant. And what we are also saying is the people of Illinois will not have to suffer by having us be shorthanded with only one senator going into the 111th Congress. This is to the benefit of the people of Illinois to -- you know, all decks on hand to try to deal with all these crises that we're experiencing throughout Illinois and the country.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Burris, a lot of people have spoken very well of you. And, obviously, clearly your legacy is of some concern to you, at least you're interested in that. I know that we're showing our viewers a picture of a memorial that has been constructed in Chicago. It lists some of your accomplishments as a trailblazer.

In light of your interest in your legacy, why would you associate yourself with the Illinois governor, who so many people believe is tainted?

BURRIS: Well, that may be. And I -- you know, as a former attorney general of my state, you know, I certainly have problems with some of the actions and behaviors of the governor.

But that has absolutely nothing to do with him exercising his power.

MALVEAUX: Which problems do you have...

BURRIS: He is still the governor.

MALVEAUX: ...with the governor?

You said you had some problems with some actions of the governor?

BURRIS: Well, yes. I mean if the -- Suzanne, if the allegations against him are true -- and, of course, you're not -- in this country, you're not -- you know, you're innocent until you're proven guilty. And if they get proven in a court of law, the governor has serious problems. I'm not a part of that. I had no part of that, nothing to do with that. And he'll have to -- he'll have to deal with that himself.

But what we are -- what I'm saying and a lot of people are saying across this country is Roland Burris has been legally appointed to the United States Senate. I am currently the junior senator from our state. And based on that, the problems with the governor should in no way be what we call tainting my appointment. There's no illegality in him appointing me. There's -- you know, it's legal.

MALVEAUX: There are some...

BURRIS: And that's...

MALVEAUX: There are some -- I'm sorry, Mr. Burris. But there are some who believe that it's poor judgment, at the very least, to be associated with the governor, despite the fact that he's having his own legal problems and that perhaps you are not. The "Chicago Sun- Times" editorial here is saying that: "Anyone chosen by Blagojevich would have to be tainted, even the most accomplished politician. Once Blagojevich was charged criminally, every other viable Senate candidate made a point to withdraw from the process, but Burris never did."

Why did you keep your name in the drawing there?

Why did you still promote yourself as a potential candidate?

BURRIS: Well, in terms of my qualifications and my commitment to the 11 point -- 11 -- 13 million people of our great state, my thing is public service. And I certainly know the State of Illinois. I know the people. And I know that I can make an impact on the quality of life of the people and that the power still rests in the hands of the governor.

Now, regardless of what the editorials say, what the people say -- those are their opinions. But they are not stating fact and they're not stating the law. And if they say that anything that the governor touches is tainted, that means that all the bills that he's signed are not legal bills. All the federal documentation he signed for transfers of funds and all of the other transactions are not legal transactions.

They cannot say that. The governor is still exercising the power. Until he is impeached, until he is removed from office, then he is still the governor of our state.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk about...

BURRIS: And because I received an appointment -- because I received an appointment from him, in no way or circumstances whatsoever reflect on my, you know, ability to do the job for the people of this great state.

MALVEAUX: Very quickly, Congressman Bobby Rush said that it would -- it would be a lynching -- a hanging of sorts, if people were to look at you and not support you as the appointee. Why shouldn't people ask you serious...

BURRIS: No, no, no, Suzanne...

BURRIS: ...and tough questions about your record without being accused of being a part of some sort of symbolic lynching?

BURRIS: Please. That is and that is not a correct statement. What Congress -- I was at the press conference. Congressman Rush said do not hang a lynch (INAUDIBLE) on Burris for something that he did not do. You know, he was talking about the governor that -- in terms of that, don't be punishing me. And that's the same thing I'm saying. You don't punish me because there is no relationship to what the governor is doing, has done, will do with the appointment and him carrying out his duties as the governor. There is a distinct difference.


Thank you so much, Roland Burris.

BURRIS: It is my pleasure.

MALVEAUX: Have a great new year.

BURRIS: I wish all your listeners Happy New Year, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much.

A New Year's prediction that is raising eyebrows. One professor is predicting the end of the United States as we know it. Details of his forecast of U.S. disintegration.

And it was an emotional year for Bill and Hillary Clinton, but they're going to go out on top tonight. What they have planned and what to expect in the new year.


MALVEAUX: Jim Acosta is monitoring the stories that are incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Jim, what are you watching?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, also happening now, after a devastating year, Wall Street is ending 2008 on an up note. The Dow rose 108 points today, to close at 8776. Investors were relieved about a sharp drop in weekly unemployment claims. Despite that bit of encouraging news, though, the Dow is down nearly 34 percent for 2008. This is the Dow's worst year since 1931, when the U.S. was deep into the Depression.

Strong winds are battering parts of the eastern United States, including the nation's capital. The wind gusts have toppled trees. In Kensington, Maryland this morning, right outside D.C. a falling tree limb seriously injured a two-year-old child. In the Mid-Atlantic region, maximum wind gusts have reached -- get this -- more than 60 miles per hour. And you'll get an extra second to enjoy 2008. Oh, boy. Tonight, official timekeepers will be adding a leap second -- yes, a leap second -- to atomic clocks around the world. This will be the first leap second added to the clocks in three years. Scientists say it's necessary to take into account a slight slowing of the Earth's rotation.

And, Suzanne, I'm just curious, as each of these different time zones add a leap second, are we supposed to feel that back here?

I'm sorry. That's too much for me to absorb right now.

MALVEAUX: I don't know.

ACOSTA: Just a thought.

MALVEAUX: What are we going to do with that leap second?

I don't know.

ACOSTA: I have no idea.

MALVEAUX: Maybe an extra wink of sleep. I'm not sure.

ACOSTA: That would be nice.

MALVEAUX: But I know I'm not going to work -- I'm not going to be working that extra second.


ACOSTA: Good for you.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, 2009 -- what will it be the beginning of the end for the United States?

A Russian professor is predicting that our country as we know it won't exist by the end of 2010.

Also, from the suburbs of Minneapolis to the front lines of holy war -- the FBI theory behind the mysterious disappearance of more than a dozen young men.

And a former NBA star, Charles Barkley, arrested on suspicion of drunken driving -- what he has to say about the incident.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


It was an awful year for many Americans. And if you believe a Russian professor, things may soon get worse. Well, his forecast -- he says that the U.S. will disintegrate.

Our CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, reports that that theory seems to be a big hit in Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): An economy in freefall, unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and growing hardships at home, as recession bites. As if things weren't bad enough, now one Russian professor is predicting the imminent breakup of the United States.

PROF. IGOR PANARIN, POLITICAL THEORIST (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I got the idea that the United States could disintegrate in the summer of 1998. I should admit that I was quite surprised to have come to this conclusion. Up until I started analyzing it, I had no idea that the U.S. had this disintegration tendency.

CHANCE: In brief, Panarin predicts that by 2010, the U.S. will break into pieces, including new republics centered on states like California and Texas.

The Eastern states will join the European Union, he says.

Canada will grab a handful in the north, while Alaska would return to Russian rule.

It's all the end result of a fractured civil war, triggered, says Panarin, by moral and economic degradation and immigrants.

(on camera): It may be just a crackpot theory with no real scientific research to back it up. But what's fascinating is how it's being received here in Russia. The Kremlin has long blamed the United States for everything -- from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. And this apocalyptic vision of America's future is certainly being embraced.

(voice-over): Professor Panarin, a former KGB analyst who heads Russia's diplomatic academy, regularly appears as a U.S. commentator on Russian television and in national newspapers. Analysts say his high profile reflects anti-American sentiment here.

SERGEI KARAGANOV, POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course, a lot of people in the world, including in this country, would like the United States to fall part, because it has been too mighty and because it is -- it looks now that it is losing.

CHANCE: But Panarin says he's being proved right by events.

PANARIN (through translator): We're seeing indicators like the collapse of the Wall Street banks, a mortgage crisis in the USA, as well as a number of various domestic problems. Even five years ago, many of those problems didn't exist and most people didn't believe my ideas. But today, when America has shown its vulnerability, people have started to take them more seriously. CHANCE: And in a country like Russia, which has huge problems of its own, the demise of the United States, its old enemy, is proving a powerful distraction.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


MALVEAUX: It's been a deadly avalanche season in the United States. Coming up, the heartbreaking story of one man who couldn't go back for his friends.

Also, they vanished with scarcely a trace. Now, the FBI thinks some young American men from Minnesota may have gone to wage Jihad.

And he left office under intense criticism and pressure. Now former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says that he is a casualty of the war on terror.


MALVEAUX: Joining us to talk about all this, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Leslie Sanchez. Thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to start off by reading something from the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales here the "Wall Street Journal." He's upset. He says that "for some reason, I'm portrayed as the one who is evil and formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

He's speaking out, Leslie. He feels like he's a victim here, that a lot of these policies that people objected to, he doesn't think that's appropriate, the criticism.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I have to say, I know Alberto Gonzales, and I've known him as a judge and I've known him to be a fine man and a very dedicated person to this country. You can question a lot of things, but you can't question his motives. He's somebody who really loves this country. You can question his legal judgments and his decisions and why didn't he measure the repercussions better. I think, ultimately, he didn't do it for personal gain. He was doing what he thought was right at the time.

MALVEAUX: Do you think it's all about intention here or do you think that he was a victim in the war on terror, when you talk about wire-tapping, about interrogation techniques, all these things that a lot of people on objected to ultimately?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I think he certainly is a person of great integrity. I don't dispute that. But this is a matter of what his legal judgments were when he was the attorney general of the United States, sworn to uphold the law and the Constitution. There are many people who believe, and I think quite rightly, that he basically did whatever Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush White House told him should be done. That included suspending the Constitution or ignoring the Constitution, engaging in these wire- taps, ignoring the FISA court.

The attorney general of the United States is supposed to stand up and say, this is illegal. This is wrong. And I'm not going to stand for it. If you do it, I'm going to resign. John Ashcroft did that. Alberto Gonzales never did.

SANCHEZ: I think there's going to be a lot of question and debate, which is why I'm looking forward to his memoir. I think we need to clear this out. I don't think there's one person responsible, but probably many. With respect to that, yes, there were thinly reasoned memoranda coming out of the Justice Department, even when he was White House counsel. I think overall, what we have to look at, the silent thing here, is that the United States has not been attacked since 9/11.

MCMAHON: The silent thing is the way Alberto Gonzales treated the objections of the career lawyers at the Department of Justice and the other people who were objecting to what he did. John Ashcroft said, if you do this, Mr. President, I will resign. Alberto Gonzales never did that.

SANCHEZ: I think there's a lot of untold story there. It's just been leaked out. He wants to talk about it. It's in the book. We want to buy the book.

MCMAHON: 31.95.

MALVEAUX: Did he lose credibility when he went before Congress, the series of hearings that I covered, when he said, I don't recall, I don't recall. A lot of people looked at that and found that unbelievable that he really didn't understand or recall the kinds of things that he was doing when he was making those decisions.

SANCHEZ: I know when we were talking about it at that time, it made it very difficult for a reasonable person to think that he didn't. I think that's part of the untold story. I think there's a lot of people who are going to question his independent judgment during a lot of those calls, and that's the part of the story that I do hope -- he's compelled to tell.

MALVEAUX: New Year's Eve. Let's turn to the Clintons, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Obviously, Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination. Bill Clinton, he was criticized for his behavior during some of the primaries and the caucuses. The two of them are ringing in the new year, Times Square. They're going to help drop the ball and everything. It seems like they're coming out here at the end of the year on top. Why?

MCMAHON: They're the energizer bunnies of politics. Hillary Clinton this year took a licking and she kept on ticking. She ran a great campaign. There were 18 and a half million people who voted for her. She was she was able to mend fences with President-Elect Barack Obama. And now she's going to be the secretary of state. Her husband went through a rough period in the primary, and now he is going to come out and he might get sent to the Middle East as an envoy, because he was see committed to Middle East peace and it's so needed now. They did come out on top. They had a relatively good year. Obviously, she would prefer to be president, but secretary of state isn't bad.

SANCHEZ: Say what everybody is thinking, they don't fade away. They're always there. I think that's part of the resilience. I think that's very admirable in the sense of what they did accomplish, especially Hillary Clinton. I think that's admirable for anybody, Republican or Democrat. What's interesting about New Year's Eve, it's out with the old and in with the new. Are they the old? Are they the new? I don't really think we're quite sure.

MALVEAUX: They're going to stick around. OK, thank you so much, Steve and Leslie.

Teens and young men missing in Minnesota.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We searched his floor and we found out that his passport and everything was gone.


MALVEAUX: Why authorities think they may have been recruited to fight alongside terrorists in Africa.

And Israel says it's too soon for a cease-fire and it's all-out war with Hamas. As troops and tanks mass on the border, is a ground offensive the next step? You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: As violence escalates again in Afghanistan, there is a growing and troubling phenomenon: young boys recruited as suicide bombers. Atia Abawi (ph) has the story from Afghanistan.


ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They may be teenagers, but to the Afghan authorities, they are dangerous criminals, accused of theft, violent acts, even murder. These boys are held in a juvenile detention facility in Kabul. Shakirullah (ph) is one of them, just 14 years old, seized before he could kill himself and others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been detained for trying to commit a suicide attack.

ABAWI: Shakirullah tells us he kills time in a cell remembering his life in northwest Pakistan before he was recruited by fanatics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was studying in a madrassas when I finished reciting the Koran. A Mullah then came and told me now that you have finished the Koran, you need to go and commit a suicide attack. ABAWI: He didn't even understand the Koran, which he learned to reside in Arabic, and he didn't want to go. But without a chance to talk to his parents, he was driven to the Pakistan/Afghan border and handed over to strangers. Weeks later, he was arrested while being trained as a suicide bomber.

(on camera): Shakirullah is not the only boy here accused of planning an attack. Three others are too.

(voice-over): Including one of his cell mates. Both seem to be leaders in their bloc. When the television is on, the two boys quickly order the channel to be changed to a reading of the Koran. Still very pious, Shakirullah says he was cheated by his recruiters. Now he's hearing a different take on Islam at the detention center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The teachers educate them on Islam and explain to them that the acts they were doing are not right for them and for others. The way you want to kill yourself and someone else, it in itself is a big offense in Islam.

ABAWI: Shakirullah is now forced to wait. Wait to hear from his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I miss my parents, my mom, and dad.

ABAWI: And wait to see what his future holds.

Atia Abawi, CNN, Kabul.


MALVEAUX: And now to a mystery that reaches from the American Midwest to Africa, and raises some fresh concerns about terrorism. Several families of young men of Somali descent are speaking out on how their relatives and others living in Minnesota have disappeared. Our CNN Justice correspondent Kelli Arena joining us now. Kelli, tell us what this is about.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the FBI has been investigating this for months. Agents believe that these young men have gone back to their homeland to fight alongside terrorists.


ARENA (voice-over): Early November, Minneapolis; 17-year-old Berhan Hassan (ph) tells his family he's getting a ride home with a friend. He varnishes.

ABDIRIZAK BIHI, UNCLE OF MISSING TEEN: We search his floor, and we found out that his passport, his belongings and everything was gone.

ARENA: He's not the only one. More than a dozen young men of Somali descent, many U.S. citizens, have disappeared from Minneapolis over the last six months. And the FBI has a pretty good idea where they went.

E.K. WILSON, FBI AGENT: A number of young Somali men have traveled from throughout the United States, to include Minneapolis, to Somalia potentially to fight.

ARENA: Not enough of any fight. Many believe these young men have gone to Somalia to fight alongside terrorists. Some even called home to tell their parents not to look for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those I talked to were completely shocked and dismayed as to what happened. They were completely in disbelief.

ARENA: The shock only magnified by what happened to one of them, a college student named Shirwa Ahmed (ph). On October 29th, Ahmed blew himself up in an apparent suicide bombing in northern Somalia. Why? One answer, Somalia is the new rallying cry for Muslims worldwide, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and before that, Chechnya.

KARIN VON HIPPEL, SOMALIA EXPERT: If you go on to some of these al Qaeda-inspired websites, Somalia is now listed as another place to go and fight the Jihad.

ARENA: And there's a lot of concern about what could happen if they try to come home, trained in urban warfare.

OMAR JAMAL, SOMALI JUSTICE ADVOCACY CENTER: I don't see anything that would prevent from those kids to carry out suicide bombing right here.

ARENA: Officials say young men have also disappeared in Boston, Portland, Maine, and Columbus, Ohio. There's clearly recruiting going on and the FBI is investigating.

For a community that came to America to free their families from war and fear, a terrible feeling that their children are still at risk, even in the United States.

BIHI: All those mothers in our community and all those dads in our community are feeling deja vu again that they are not safe no matter where they go.


ARENA: Unfortunately, two big questions remain unanswered. Who is recruiting these men? And why have they answered the call? Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Kelli, I want to thank you for that story. I also want to let our viewers know, we want to give a very warm send off for Kelli. She is leaving CNN after a career spanning 24 years. She started as an intern in 1984, and over the years, she has worked almost in every capacity, from writer to booker to producer, and, of course, as an award-winning reporter, most recently as our CNN Justice correspondent.

And her contributions to THE SITUATION ROOM, the network have really been invaluable, including her coverage of the 9/11 terror attacks, the anthrax attacks. Kelli has traveled the world for CNN, bringing us stories from Asia, from Europe, the Middle East, even Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And Kelli, I want you to know the network, as well as on a personal note, we wish you the very best. It's really been very special, our time with you here.

ARENA: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks, Kelli.

It's the season of white death in the mountains.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We made the decision that it was unsafe to go in there, and that's when we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to leave our eight friends and start walking off the mountain.


MALVEAUX: Survivors recall the terror of one especially catastrophic avalanche.

And a former basketball superstar is arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Now, he's speaking out. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: It is sometimes called the white death. And now a deadly avalanche season is getting even deadlier. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is joining us live. Thelma, tell us about the latest?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, so far, a total of 19 people have been buried under avalanches from the Canada to California. Experts say avalanche conditions are so treacherous that skiers and snow mobilers have triggered slides from as far as a quarter mile away.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): It is a terrifying sight caught by a CNN i-reporter: an avalanche of snow thundering down the mountain, smothering everything in its path.

JEFF ADAMS, SNOW MOBILER: We were riding in the bottom of the bowl at the base of the mountain when the first slide hit us.

GUTIERREZ: Jeff Adams was snow mobiling in British Columbia, east of Vancouver, when he and 11 friends were hit by a second avalanche, a 15-foot wall of snow that was racing towards them at more than 90 miles an hour.

ADAMS: I managed to float to almost to the surface. When I opened up my eyes, I could see daylight. I was digging, and I managed to get my mouth free. I was already choking. GUTIERREZ: Then he found one friend, and they started digging out another.

ADAMS: We heard a crack again. And we said sorry, James, we have to run. As we were running away from James, he was saying, "don't leave me here. Don't leave me here." We went back in, and finally got James out.

GUTIERREZ: With no tools or gloves to dig out the other men, they decided to go for help.

ADAM: That is when we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to leave our eight friends, and start walking off of the mountain.

GUTIERREZ: So far this winter, early snow and heavy rain across the west have created severe avalanche conditions. The results can be deadly.

BRUCE TREMPER, UTAH AVALANCHE FORECAST CENTER: You are going to be getting tumbled very, very violently. These things have tremendous force that take out large trees and travel for long distances.

GUTIERREZ: Two days after Jeff Adams and his two friends escaped the avalanche, the bodies of all other eight friends are recovered. So far, avalanches have killed one in Washington State, one in Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe on Christmas Day, one in Wyoming, at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, four people in Utah and four in Colorado, including Brian Cott (ph), a 38-year-old fire fighter who lost his life trying to save others.

MICHAEL PORTER, FIRE FIGHTER: Brian was on the way out of the avalanche, and knew someone else was in trouble, and he turned around and went back to try to help them.


GUTIERREZ: Brett Coberik (ph) with the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center says the real message for skiers and snow mobilers right now is to stay away from any steep slopes, especially in the back country. He also warns that you don't have to be on the slopes to actually trigger an avalanche when conditions are so dangerous as they are right now. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Good advice. Thank you so much, Thelma Gutierrez.

Bigger than originally thought, and sooner to be expected. We are getting information about President-Elect Obama's stimulus plan. CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry is with him in Hawaii.

Plus, basketball legend Charles Barkley speaking out about his arrest for suspected drunken driving. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: An NBA superstar, now a respected TV commentator on the game is arrested in Arizona on suspicion of drunken driving. Charles Barkley is putting out a statement about the incident. Our CNN's Brooke Baldwin joins us live. Brooke, what is he saying?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in essence, part of that statement, Suzanne, he says he is disappointed that he put himself in that kind of situation. But do also remember what he said back on the TV commercial in the early '90s. Charles Barkley said he is not a role model and might approve that today.


BALDWIN: Sir Charles Barkley busted in Scottsdale, Arizona. TNZ cameras captured these photograph of the former basketball powerhouse early Wednesday morning, after police say they pulled him over for running a stop sign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On contacting Mr. Barkley, our officer noticed the odor of intoxicating beverages coming from his person. Our officer then had Mr. Barkley step out of the vehicle, in which performed the field sobriety tests.

BALDWIN: Police say, those tests revealed probable cause. Barkley was then arrested for a DUI. He declined to take a Breathalyzer test, but did agree to a routine blood test at a nearby DUI command post. Barkley, a commentator for TNT, which, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner, has since released this statement through Turner Sports: "I am disappointed that I put myself in that situation. The Scottsdale police were fantastic. I will not comment any further, as it is a legal matter."

This is not the first time Barkley has been in trouble. In 1991, the NBA fined him 10,000 dollars for spitting on a fan. Later that year, Barkley war arrested and later acquitted after breaking a man's nose in a bar.

Fast forward to July of '96, Barkley was arrested after getting into a fight in a Cleveland dance bar.

CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA STAR: Well, if someone throws ice at my party, that is just wrong.

BALDWIN: And October, 1997, he was charged with throwing a man through a glass window in a club in Orlando. In the past, Barkley said he isn't a role model. The 16 year NBA veteran and US Olympian made need to be more mindful of his behavior. In October of this year, the Alabama native announced his gubernatorial goals to CNN's Campbell Brown.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: So, are you going to run for governor.

BARKLEY: I'm planning on it in 2014.

BROWN: You are?


(END VIDEOTAPE) BALDWIN: Today -- with Gilbert Police did say Barkley was cooperative and cordial during his arrest. His blood test results should be back, he said, within a week. Barkley faces up to ten days in jail and a $1,000 fine -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Brooke, thank you.


MALVEAUX: We want to go to Jim Acosta, who is basically watching pictures from around the world as they ring in the New Year. Jim, lots of different places. And the countdown there live, what are we looking at?

ACOSTA: This throughout the hours of THE SITUATION ROOM, as people celebrate the New Year across the globe. This is Berlin. And in Germany right outside of the Brandenburg Gate, about a million people, from what we understand, are gathering there to usher in the new year. This is also the spot, as many of us will recall, that Barack Obama spoke to 200,000 people over the summer.

And, so, folks there in Germany, you see those search lights aiming into the heavens. That beautiful picture there, the Brandenburg Gate. Just gorgeous here, as it is 11:59 p.m. And it looks like they are projecting some words there onto the Gate. We can't really -- it looks like they are counting down, perhaps, as we get closer here.

Suzanne, if I am not mistaken, it doesn't say Advetezane (ph) but it probably should. I do know that, goodbye. Goodbye 2008. I've been learning up on all of the ways of saying it around the world. Let's listen here as they celebrate in Germany.