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Jobless Rate Slows; Pakistan's Move to Crush the Taliban; Karzai to U.S.: End the Airstrikes; Smoking Out Terror Suspects; President to Give Major Speech in Egypt

Aired May 8, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And in the gloom of this struggling economy, that almost -- almost counts as at least a little bit of good news.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's still a sobering toll. The unemployment rate is at its highest point in 25 years. It underscores the point that we're still in the midst of a recession that was years in the making and will be months or even years in the unmaking. And we should expect further job losses in the months to come.


BLITZER: All right. There were some -- the stock markets were up today. But there are glimmers of hope, as well.

Let's go to CNN's Ali Velshi, our chief correspondent -- Ali, give us a little sense of what's going on right now.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's listen to this one. This is interesting.

How do you see more than half a million jobs lost in a month and say that that's hopeful?

Take a look at the wall and I'll tell you why. We have been losing jobs since January of 2008. The recession started in December of 2007, but we still had jobs earned -- gained that month. But since January, we've been losing jobs.

And let's follow this thing all the way around -- fell off a cliff as this credit crisis began -- September, October, November. Look at that -- December, January. We're close to 700,000 jobs lost in January.

Now look at April. Look at April. It's more than 500,000. But take a look at that trend. It's actually getting better. We're losing fewer jobs. That's the big deal. 8.9 percent is the unemployment rate in the country right now. That is very, very high -- the highest in 25 years.

Let me also show you how it breaks down. We've broken it down a few different ways. First of all, let's break it down by gender. Men -- the unemployment rate for men is substantially higher than it is for women. Women -- the unemployment rate for women is actually lower than the national average. It's 7.6 percent.

Why is that, Wolf?

Because in the last few years, the jobs that have been lost are construction, industrial jobs, manufacturing, things like that, that were heavily dominated by men.

So this doesn't mean it's good for women. It just means that men have been unusually hard hit by this recession.

Now, let's break it down by race and see how it looks. If you look at whites, the unemployment rate for whites is 8 percent. The national average, as I mentioned, was 8.9 percent.

Let's take a look at the other categories. We can just put them all on the screen together. Blacks at 15 percent. That is up from 13.5 percent. Again, that is -- that's sort of partially because blacks have always had a higher unemployment rate than -- than whites have in the country, and they're getting extra hard hit as a result of this recession. Hispanics, 11.3 percent -- that's actually marginally down from where it was.

But you can see as you break it down into these categories, not everybody is affected the same way by the job losses.

But, yes, when you take it in perspective, Wolf, a little glimmer of hope -- even though a half a million people out of work in April.

BLITZER: Yes. And if you go back and take a look at the all those unemployment numbers over all those months, it's now, what, 5.5 million people...

VELSHI: Collectively, yes.

BLITZER: ...have lost their jobs -- 5.5 million families that have been affected by this. And presumably, if you listen to economists here in the administration and in Washington, they think that negative trend -- even though it might be better and better each month -- it's still going to be a net job lost for each month of the rest of this year.

VELSHI: And up employment will continue to go up because you actually have to add jobs to the economy to keep your unemployment rate steady. So you're absolutely right, this gets worse before it gets better.

BLITZER: Ali, thanks very much for that.

From the air and on the ground, Pakistan's military right now waging a full scale offensive in order to eliminate Taliban militants in the northwestern part of the country. But the fighting is also taking a heavy toll on civilians.

Let's go to Islamabad.

CNN's Reza Sayah is standing by with more on what's going on -- Reza, tell us what the latest is on this military offensive by the Pakistanis.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pakistani Army came out and in a press conference today called this operation a full scale military offensive against the Taliban.

But humanitarian groups are saying what's also emerging is a full scale humanitarian crisis.


SAYAH (voice-over): For the second consecutive day, helicopter gunships and fighter jets pounded targets in Pakistan's Swat Valley. On Friday, the Pakistani Army showed pictures of captured Taliban fighters. The Army says 140 militants have been killed since the offensive against the Taliban was launched on Thursday.

But the U.N.'s refugee agency says the fighting has sparked a humanitarian crisis. Two hundred thousand civilians have fled the region. Three hundred thousand others are on their way out by any means necessary. If they can't get on busses and rickshaws, they're leaving on foot.

RON REDMOND, UNCHR: It's massive. It's -- it was already large, as you say, with 550,000 people who had previously fled since last August.

SAYAH: Local hospitals say thousands of civilians have been injured in the fighting -- caught in the cross fire. With doctors and nurses too scared to report to hospitals in Swat, injured civilians are flooding under equipped hospitals outside the region. Officials at one hospital tell CNN they've treated more than 2,000 injured civilians since Tuesday.

In the meantime, the militants remain defiant. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban telling CNN the Pakistani Army will not weaken them, describing the military offensive as Pakistan selling out to Washington and U.S. dollars.


SAYAH: Over the past two years, the Pakistani Army has launched about a half a dozen military offensives against the Taliban. They haven't been able to push them out. But this time, they say, things will be different. This time they say they will stay in the Swat Valley until the Taliban is defeated and peace is restored -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does it seem, Reza, like the Pakistani military has a real strategy here that they're trying to implement?

SAYAH: Well, they say they're happy with the progress so far. But what they haven't come out with is a real counter-insurgent strategy. Instead, what we've seen is a lot of aerial strikes -- helicopter gunships and jet fighters pounding the Swat Valley from the air.

But you ask any military strategist and they'll tell you, that's effective if you want to put on a show of force, but not really effective against insurgents on the ground -- unconventional militant fighters that can easily blend in with civilians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Reza Sayah.

He's in Islamabad for us.

Thanks very much, Reza, for that.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's a little hard to believe, but Minnesota still has not decided the outcome of its Senate race more than six months since election day. And the stakes now are higher than they've ever been.

With the defection of Arlen Specter from the Republican Party, Minnesota's race takes on a whole new meaning.

If Al Franken wins, he'll become the 60 Democratic senator and the party will have a filibuster--proof majority, which would likely help President Obama get his Supreme Court nominee through, along with big initiatives like health care.

Vice President Joe Biden met with Al Franken this week and said the administration looks forward to working with him once Minnesota's Supreme Court issues its final ruling. That's where this thing is tied up now.

A three judge panel ruled that Franken won the race. But Norm Coleman, the Republican, won't go away. He's asked for a recount of at least 1,300 ballots. Coleman is trailing Franken by 312 votes. Coleman's appeal could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, even though some in the Republican Party concede that it's not looking good for him.

By all accounts, then, it seems likely Al Franken, a former comedian who appeared on "Saturday Night Live" and a former liberal radio host, will win. One Democratic consultant and a friend of Franken says it's ironic for a comedian to carry so much power. But, quoting now: "Franken is certainly comfortable with irony."

So here's the question on a Friday evening: What does it mean that a comedian will determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. The future of questioning terror suspects -- thermal imaging and even simulated interrogators -- an inside look at what the Pentagon is developing right now.

Also, from one of the world's most conservative Muslim countries, a pageant unlike anything you're likely to ever see. No swimsuits, no crowns and no men allowed to watch.

Plus, new claims that could turn the art world upside down -- who really cut off Vincent Van Gogh's ear?


BLITZER: A stunning demand from Afghanistan's president. In my interview with Hamid Karzai, he calls on the United States to halt its airstrikes in Afghanistan. That follows a bloody battle this week in which U.S. air support was called in, with devastating results. But the toll of this incident and exactly what happened is still a matter of dispute.

Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for more -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, U.S. military officials will ask people to remember that it was Afghans on the ground -- Afghan security forces -- that asked for these airstrikes.


STARR (voice-over): The inadvertent killing of Afghan civilians in U.S. airstrikes now a crisis in Afghanistan's relations with the U.S. This amateur video, which could not be verified by CNN, is said to show the aftermath of a seven hour battle on Tuesday in which civilians died. But there are widely divergent views on what happened.

Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, told Wolf Blitzer the U.S. should end combat air operations.

PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: So and you cannot defeat terrorists by airstrikes.

STARR: But Karzai insists scores of civilians were killed.

KARZAI: There were more than 100 casualties -- nearly 125 to 130 civilians lost -- deaths -- children, women and men and that it was done by the bombings.

STARR: But two U.S. military officials tell CNN a preliminary investigation found perhaps two dozen civilians were killed in ground combat and airstrikes in Western Afghanistan after hundreds of insurgents attacked civilians and coalition forces. The sources say the U.S. dropped more than a dozen bombs on buildings in rural areas where the Taliban were holed up.

The U.S. now believes civilians were being held inside against their will.

Privately, U.S. officials say Karzai's call to end airstrikes is to appease Afghans who increasingly oppose U.S. bombings. U.S. officials tell CNN it was the Afghan military who asked for air support when this latest battle broke out.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There are some situations where we, frankly, have no choice, because we have American or Afghan troops under attack.


STARR: And, you know, Wolf, military sources now tell us that General David Petraeus is likely to send his own independent investigator to Afghanistan to try and determine what happened and try and make sure it doesn't happen again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any prospects, based on what you're hearing at the Pentagon, that this appeal from Hamid Karzai -- we just heard it -- to stop all U.S. airstrikes, all NATO airstrikes and deal the threat only with ground forces -- that the U.S. military might -- might listen to that?

STARR: Well, you know, I think that most military people will tell you there's two problems. The terrain in Afghanistan, of course, is very rugged -- mountain peaks 14,000 feet high. Fighting takes place in many remote, inaccessible areas. So there is one problem.

The second problem, if fighting is taking place in those areas, how do you get to help Afghan and U.S. military troops on the ground when they get into trouble, when they come under attack, unless you send aircraft in -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Barbara.

Thank you.

And we're going to have more of my interview with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. That's coming up later right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Could a spike in skin temperature smoke out a possible terrorist?

Our Brian Todd played the role of a terror suspect to see how cutting edge science may be used by interrogators. The Defense Intelligence Agency is using imagination to make the nation safer.

Some of what you're about to see may look strange, but innovation often starts out that way.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there may be no agency that's more cognizant of all the controversy surrounding interrogation techniques than the Pentagon. Well now, Defense officials are working on some incredible new technologies like simulated interrogators and thermal imaging. And some of those controversies may be pushing rapidly into the past.


TODD (voice-over): A government official demonstrates what it may be like to be the terror suspect of the future -- not slapped or waterboarded, but questioned by someone with a thermal imaging scanner.

TROY BROWN, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT RESEARCH OFFICIAL: It starts recording your temperature at that spot, as we're conducting the interview.

TODD: Zeroing in on the region around the eyes, this high tech camera can detect the smallest changes in skin temperature. It's being developed by the research arm of the Defense Intelligence Agency. If a suspect's questioned and the temperature goes up, it's a sign of an increase in blood flow, which means the suspect could be stressed. The device can measure spikes to .001 of a degree. But officials say it's not an immediate deception detector.

BROWN: The stress response does not measure lying, but ultimately it's to help me, as an interviewer, redirect my questioning so I can get to the truth.

TODD: So a slight spike in temperature means time to dig deeper. Most temperature spikes can't be seen on the monitor by the naked eye. They're picked up on a wave graph.

DIA officials put me through some light-hearted pacings.

BROWN: So, Brian, tell me how you like working for your boss.

TODD (on camera): I love it. It's the most fulfilling professional experience I've ever had. Uh-oh, it looks like I'm spiking.

BROWN: Definitely.

TODD (voice-over): If that's not high tech enough for you, try being questioned by an avatar. It's a graphic representation of a person tailored to a suspect's own gender and ethnic makeup. It may look humorous or even absurd, but DIA officials believe it could establish trust with suspects.

Fred is my white male interrogator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever try to obtain access to sensitive information that is inconsistent with your present duty requirements?

TODD (on camera): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The experimenter will ask you about your response to this question after the interview.

TODD (voice-over): Officials are clear this will likely never replace human interrogators. People are still needed to decipher the results and program questioners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for coming in for the interview.

TODD: Is this technology ready for prime time?

Well, yes and no. These thermal imaging units are about four to five years away, officials tell us, because they have to calibrate them for the battlefield, where everyone is hot and stressed. So they have to develop ways to calibrate this so that everybody has the same baseline.

But, Wolf, what they're telling us is these avatars -- these fascinating simulated interrogators -- could be ready for the field right about now.


BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.

Wow! That's pretty amazing stuff.

The number of confirmed swine flu cases literally doubling overnight. We're getting new information from U.S. and world health officials.

And a beauty pageant Saudi-style -- what judges in that deeply conservative Muslim nation are looking for. Let me tell you this, Miss America it's not.


BLITZER: We want to go right to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield.

She's getting some information on what's going on in California.

What's going on -- Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Southern California kind of getting a double whammy. Now we're getting reports that a small earthquake has been felt in the area of Ojai, California, in Southern California there. And we understand that it has measured -- 4.2 is the magnitude. No reports of injuries or even damage. Ojai taking place about 40 miles or so away from Santa Barbara County, which is the focus of another situation there in Southern California.

Some 30,000 residents in Santa Barbara have now evacuated their homes because of wildfires. The flames are threatening more than 3,000 homes and have already damaged or destroyed at least 75 houses and 3,500 acres. Take a look at the images there. Strong winds and dry conditions are fuelling the fire, which they're trying to battle from the skies and the ground there. Officials are expecting the winds to gain strength.

Meantime, the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, is continuing to spread. The number of cases here in the United States doubled overnight. Forty-three states now are affected. There are 3,100 confirmed cases in some 24 countries, including 1,100 in Mexico, at least 1,639 in the United States and 214 in Canada.

And Pope Benedict XVI has begun his first trip to the Middle East. The pontiff arrived in Jordan today, where he was met by the King Abdullah and Queen Rania. Benedict praised Jordan as a leader in the effort to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The pope is also scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred.

Thanks very much.

Will America have to bring back the military draft?

Republican strategist Tony Blankley is here. He says there simply aren't enough troops available right now to get the job done.

And the Obama administration -- is it too loyal to Wall Street?

Arianna Huffington of the -- she's ready to sound off on that.

Plus, not long ago, he put a garbage can on his head to symbolize his party's fortunes. Now, Democratic strategist James Carville talks about 40 more years.

He's standing by live.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, President Obama's outreach to the Muslims. He's planning a speech next month in what he calls the heart of the Arab war.

He was the mastermind behind Bill Clinton's campaign. Now, Democratic strategist James Carville is telling why he thinks the Democrats could be in charge for the next 40 years.

And stocks end the week with a surge to extend a two month rally. The Dow gained 165 points and the Nasdaq jumped 22 points.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


President Obama now will address the Muslim world next month from Egypt.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed, he said during the campaign he would address the Muslim world from a Muslim country in the first 100 days. He already did it in Turkey a few weeks ago. Then he went to Iraq, another Muslim country. The decision now to go ahead and go to Egypt for yet another speech. ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the 100 days have passed, as you noted. This is really the official outreach speech to the Muslim world.

But you're also absolutely right that this began much earlier. In fact, week one here, you remember the very first interview this president did -- television interview in office -- was with Al Arabia. That was to send a signal then. Also going to Turkey, taking his shoes off to show respected before he went into the famed Blue Mosque. And then he did address the Turkish parliament.

And he had a very clear message, saying that it was time to basically turn the page from the Bush years.


OBAMA: So let me say this as clearly as I can. The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam. In fact...


OBAMA: fact our partnership with the Muslim world is critical, not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also the strength and opportunity for all people.


HENRY: Now, White House aides say the president wants to try and build on that message June 4th in Egypt, when this big speech will actually occur.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs already deflecting questions about whether this is a smart choice, given the fact that Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has rejected democratic reforms in the past, is this going to cause some controversy.

Robert Gibbs basically saying, look, this is not an endorsement of any leader or any government and -- and that, basically, this is about the president trying to send a message around the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much.

Let's talk about this and more with Arianna Huffington of and Republican strategist Tony Blankley.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What do you think about this decision to go to Egypt in early June and address the Arab and the Muslim world from Egypt?

HUFFINGTON: I think a very important decision, very consistent with the president's strategy from the beginning -- right from Inauguration Day, when he was inaugurated with his first name. The first interview, that Ed Henry mentioned, the speech in Turkey -- this is all consistent with the message, it's a new day, it's a new time for a new relationship with the Arab world.

BLITZER: And you're saying when he was inaugurated, saying: "I Barack Hussein Obama"...

HUFFINGTON: Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: ...because that does play well in the Muslim and Arab world, when he mentions his middle name.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER GINGRICH PRESS SECRETARY: Well, sure. I mean there's everything right about a president reaching out to the world. I think the reason he's going to Egypt is that Turkey, while Muslim, is not Arab. And Egypt, of course, is Arab. So I think that sort of completes the -- the reach out, if you will, demographically.

It depends on what he says, you know, as to whether it's going to be useful and, also, to some extent whether it's going to make any difference, finally, in the tough decisions that presidents have to make regarding fighting, as we're doing now in Afghanistan and perhaps in Pakistan.

So, but, yes, it's a good idea to reach out. In both of my books, I've complained about the former president not communicating well with the world community.

BLITZER: And Egypt being the largest of all of the Arab countries -- not the largest Muslim country, but the largest of all of the Arab countries and the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel; Jordan being the second.

I assume that was part of the president's thinking, as well.

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. And, also, you know, as he said in Turkey: "We are not at war with Islam."

He's, I'm sure, in some form, going to say we are not at war with the Arab world. And even though that's not dealing with the specific details of foreign policy, it deals with the soft power aspect of foreign policy.

BLITZER: And do you have a problem with reaching out to Iran specifically, another Muslim country, not an Arab country, but a Muslim country?

BLANKLEY: I think we should always communicate when it's useful to communicate. But what you notice is happening is that both the Arabs and the Israelis are very concerned about the reach out to Iran. I think that's why Secretary Gates said it was unlikely that anything would come of it. Obviously the Egyptians, the Saudis are equally concerned as Israel with Iran's aggressiveness as opposed to Hezbollah's cell that was found in Egypt itself. Yes, you can reach out theoretically, but you've got to be careful that you don't upset your allies in the process of reaching out.

BLITZER: Arianna, those of us who read you in Huffington Post all the time, you've been very sympathetic, very kind to the Obama White House, except when it comes to their economic policies. This is what you wrote on Tuesday. "The Obama administration's ongoing loyalty to Wall Street is a virus that holds far more danger than the swine flu, sorry, the h1n1." You give the president's economic team an F in how they're handling with this economy. Why?

HUFFINGTON: When it comes to the banks Wolf, and the bank bailout. We have now poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the banks. And remember, again and again we are told the reason is the banks going to unfreeze credit. It's not happening. The president himself said on Jay Leno the banks are actually basically keeping the money to balance their own balance sheet. So the main purpose of all this, which the Secretary of the Treasury reiterated in his various interviews to free up credit is not happening. So what are we doing? We're basically bolstering the prime actors of this meltdown, the people who brought us here and not allowing the free market to actually work and not allowing the free markets to punish those prime actors.

BLITZER: Are you kinder to the administration's economic team than Arianna Huffington.

BLANKLEY: All last year, almost every week, Arianna was defending President Obama and saying he's the solution and I said he's the new problem we're going to have. Now Arianna is beating him up on the banks for not nationalizing. And I'm at this point, regarding his bank policies, I think he's getting it more right than wrong. So we have been arguing every week the other way around now.

HUFFINGTON: It's not about nationalizing. It doesn't have to be nationalization. Many economists (INAUDIBLE) have talked about the banks themselves restructuring, converting their debt into equity, capitalizing themselves that way instead of expecting the taxpayer to carry the burden. I don't see why the taxpayer --

BLITZER: I guess the question is, is this administration simply too cozy with Wall Street and the big banks? I believe that's the suggestion that Arianna is making.

BLANKLEY: Well I mean cozy? I mean they ought to pay attention, any president, any administration should pay attention to what the financial industry's attitudes are because you can't function in a free market, even a regulated free market at cross purposes with the circulatory system of our economy. So you should be listening carefully. It doesn't mean you have to agree with every piece of it, but the idea that you can somehow get the taxpayers money more deeply involved in banks and not have the government controlling more, and one of the issues is whether they should be getting more of an equity participation.

HUFFINGTON: Right to the point, we should not give more taxpayer money to the banks and we should not get more government guarantees of those bonds. BLITZER: I want to move on to Dick Cheney, a subject close to both of your hearts as well. He was doing a radio interview and he said the president was simply wrong when he said the other day that the information obtained during waterboarding could have been obtained in other ways. Listen to this.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't believe that's true, that assumes that we didn't try other ways. In fact we did. And we resorted, for example to waterboarding which is the source of much of the controversy with only three individuals. In those cases, it was only after we had gone through all of the other steps in the process. So the way the whole program was set up was very careful to use other methods and only to resort to the enhanced techniques in those special circumstances.


BLITZER: And they say they were only used against three terror suspects, albeit a couple hundred or 300 times against those three terror subjects. What do you think?

HUFFINGTON: I think he is wrong on two counts. First of all he's wrong, because torture is not about effectiveness, it's about morality, it's about the kind of country we are, and whether we are a country of laws not just in terms of paying lip service to laws. But it's also wrong in terms of effectiveness. Because we have heard again and again that it's not true that other means were used. And in fact John McCain himself said when you torture somebody enough, they're going to tell you anything just so you stop torturing them.

BLANKLEY: Look, there are two issues here, one is factual, and I don't know the answer, I don't think Arianna or you do. Was it used and did it work? And was it the best way to get, or the only way to get -- The other question is the moral issue, which I think we would disagree on also. But the factual one at some point --

BLITZER: We should know the results later this year with Dianne Feinstein the chair of the Senate intelligence committee. They're doing a full review, hopefully they'll release that and we'll know, did it work, didn't it work? We'll get all those kinds of questions resolved hopefully once and for all. Let's hope.

HUFFINGTON: If there was a specific plot that was foiled because of waterboarding, we would have known about it.

BLITZER: We'll leave it at that. Thanks very much.

A bold prediction, 40 more years of Democratic victories, that's what our political contributor James Carville foresees because Republicans will continue to get quote, "spanked." James is standing by live. We're going to talk about his new book.

And one of the most infamous incidents in the history of art might not have happened the way we think it did. Who really did cut off Vincent Van Gogh's ear?


BLITZER: He says his party will keep winning and winning and winning and Republicans will keep getting spanked. His new book is entitled, "40 more Years, the Democrats will rule the next generation." Let's bring in our Democratic strategist CNN political contributor and author James Carville. This is the new book James thanks very much for coming in. Did you say the Democrats are going to keep on winning and winning and winning? What do you base that on?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I base it on several things. First of all presidential politics, party dominance is the norm in modern U.S. history. In 1896 and 1932, there was only one Democratic president from '32 to '68 only one Republican president. In the last 40 years up to 2008 there were 28 years of Republicans 12 were Democrats. I wouldn't suggest that we're going to win every election, but I think the tide is going to shift and we're going to win a lot more than we lose.

BLITZER: It was only a few years ago, you'll remember the midterm election back in 2002 when the Republicans did really, really well, Democrats didn't do so well. We have the videotape of that night. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bad night for Democrats. James Carville feels the same way.

CARVILLE: Well, I'm not saying it.


BLITZER: Nice garbage can over your head, James. That was a bad night, 2002, it was not that long ago. What basically happened?

CARVILLE: Well, in the 2000 election, young people 18 to 29 voted 49-48 for Gore, which was about 50-50. By 2004, that shifted eight points in John Kerry's favor. By 2008, it was 2 to 1, 66 to 32. The truth of the matter is, is that the key demographic here has turned the side of Democratic and as they come up through the system, they're going to retain their Democratic voting behavior and it all goes well for the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: In 2002, the Democrats were in a rut, they came really back in the years that followed. How can you say that the Republicans, they're in a rut right now, but in two years or four years or six years, the might not come back.

CARVILLE: I'm not saying that -- and they'll do better, they'll do better in 2010, than they did in 2008. They'll probably pick up seats. But the underlying demographics do not favor the Republicans. Every growing demographic in this country, be it Hispanics, be it single people, be it young people who obviously are going to go through the system in the future. 40 years from now there are going to be a lot more voters who are currently 25 than voters who are currently 65.

BLITZER: So these are Republicans now who are out on the so- called listening tour, Eric Cantor among others, they're trying to understand what's going on and trying to restructure their party. Do they have a chance?

CARVILLE: Yes, they have a chance they're going to get better, they're going to adjust, they're not going to sit here and the book title is certainly meant to be provocative, but they're going to get better, but until they're able to reach beyond their sort of southern talk radio base, consider this. 48 percent of all Republican Congressional seats are held in the 13 states that are old confederacy as are 48 percent of all Senate seats. They are becoming more and more of a regionalized party. The smarter Republicans like Lindsay Graham and people like that said they need to break out with people like Tom Ridge, they need to push and reassert themselves. This is the first time, someone thinks it's a civil war or something like that and Pennsylvania has had two Democratic senators. They understand that. They're going to adjust. But it's going to be sort of a painful adjustment that they --

BLITZER: Who are the people that fear you in the Republican side the most? In other words who are you worried about when you look down the road? Give me an example.

CARVILLE: As opposed to like -- I can give you a name. What would worry me would be a Republican that's re-established some fiscal conservative bona fides. Right now there's no one, people laugh at them when Republicans talk about being fiscally responsible because they had such a terrible time when they were in office. But I think that their comeback is going to have to be based around that issue.

BLITZER: Now there's got to be a personality that is likeable, smart, conservative, who can appeal to especially younger voters.

CARVILLE: You know, I don't know if they're going to be able to appeal to younger voters in the long-term, but probably unless something goes terribly wrong, they have to re-establish themselves. They got some of their Congressional leadership.

BLITZER: Eric Cantor?

CARVILLE: Paul Ryan, I met him not too long ago, they have some people but how much can a Congressional leader take a political party? Not very far.

BLITZER: What about some of the candidates who didn't make it the last time like Mitt Romney for example? Newt Gingrich?

CARVILLE: He's full of ideas. He was down at my class at Tulane and we had it on CNN. He is going to keep pushing stuff out there, and I'll tell you if it's different kind of thinking, he can do that but he'll have a hard time getting through to --

BLITZER: He's not very well known, but I have heard some of your fellow Democrats say, they look at someone like the Utah Governor John Huntsman and they get nervous.

CARVILLE: But again he has to -- the conservatives in the Republican Party don't much care for John Huntsman right now.

BLITZER: He's pretty popular in Utah.

CARVILLE: Utah is Utah. It's a great state, I was out there not long ago, but he's going to have to expand beyond that. And if the conservatives don't like you in these Republican primaries, it's going to be hard to go very far. Really hard to go very far.

BLITZER: That goes without saying. All right, "40 more Years, How the Democrat will Rule the Next Generation," the author, James Carville. James, thanks for coming in.

CARVILLE: Thank you Wolf.

BLITZER: A contest that judges not on beauty and talent, but on morals. We're going to tell you about a most unusual pageant for women in Saudi Arabia.

And are al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden still a threat to Afghanistan? The answer from Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai may surprise you. My interview with the Afghan leader, that's coming up.


BLITZER: A very different kind of beauty pageant in Saudi Arabia. Let's get the details from CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom. He's joining us from the CNN Center. What happened in Saudi Arabia on this aspect Mohammed?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the word Saudi Arabia and beauty pageant rarely appear in the same sentence. This is a country where movie theaters don't exist and women aren't allowed to work or travel without permission from their male guardians. So it's no wonder this story has people intrigued.


JAMJOOM (voice-over): A beauty pageant in Saudi Arabia? Where women must cover and can be thrown in jail if they don't? But don't look for a swimsuit or a sash here, as this is an inner beauty pageant. Here she comes, miss beautiful morals. Saudi newspaper (INAUDIBLE) reported this week that this unique pageant now in its second year has well over 100 contestants between the ages of 15 to 25. It will be nothing like what Sandra Bullock had to endure in the movie "Miss Congeniality." In this pageant women won't be taught to wave even walk, instead they'll spend 10 weeks learning how to be better people, not better looking people.

The founder told the paper that the pageant aims to highlight another type of beauty, one that includes the beauty of faith, morals and values. The country's strict religious beliefs who enforce the separation of the sexes and the deeply conservative kingdom need not worry. The competition won't be televised. The competitors won't interact with men, and all the judges are female. No songs, tiaras or tears at the end of this pageant. This winner gets a certificate and 10,000 Saudi reals. About $2,600. This Miss Morals, whoever she may be, won't be celebrating by going out, unless, of course, she's in the company of a male guardian.


JAMJOOM: Now, I spoke to several Saudi women about this, to see what they thought. The most interesting reaction came from a banker there. She told me that she finds this all quite silly and that if anything women in Saudi Arabia don't need the kind of training these contestants will get. In her opinion it's the men in Saudi Arabia who do. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Mohammed, thanks very much. Mohammed Jamjoom reporting for us.

The artist, Vincent Van Gogh famous for his paintings and infamous for cutting off his own ear or did he? CNN's Deborah Feyerick is working a story that could turn the story of Van Gogh upside down. All right Deborah, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the life of Vincent van Gogh is the stuff of legend, an artist, an ear, a prostitute. There have always been questions as to why Van Gogh did what he did to himself. Well, a new theory could fill in some of the missing answers and potentially rewrite history.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Ask anyone about Vincent van Gogh and sooner or later they're bound to mention his ear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He cut it off to give it to his girlfriend, didn't he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had something to do with a lover that didn't come through or something like that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought he sent it to someone who had jilted him.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a bad day. The depression thing. I hate when that happens.

FEYERICK: The story that van Gogh cut off his own ear and gave it to a prostitute has stood for 120 years. Now, a number of newspapers and art magazines have picked up on a new account by two German authors who say that's not the way it happened. That, in fact, police reports and a detailed look at events suggest Van Gogh lost his ear during a drunken fight with friend and fellow post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. HANS KAUFMANN, CO-AUTHOR, "VAN GOGH'S EAR" (via translator): We are convinced that Gauguin was the let's say guilty party. It was he who cut the ear during a quarrel outside of the yellow house in (INAUDIBLE).

FEYERICK: The yellow house in Southern France is where Gauguin stayed as van Gogh's guest during the fall of 1888. The authors say Gauguin a master swordsman repeatedly changed his story about what happened that December night, fleeing back to Paris and casting doubt on events.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the most productive periods in both artists' lives.

FEYERICK: George Shackelford is with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and says the new theory that Gauguin did it is not gaining traction in the art world.

GEORGE SHACKELFORD, MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS BOSTON: It seems to me highly improbable, even if he was a really good fencer, that Gauguin could have sliced Vincent's ear off with a saber.

FEYERICK: Shackelford says without conclusive proof otherwise, the more traditional theory remains, Van Gogh was distraught and becoming increasingly self destructive believing Gauguin was deserting him.

SHACKELFORD: His hopes for a kind of community of artists who would band together had effectively been dashed. When Gauguin elected essentially to shut him out.


FEYERICK: One art expert said maybe the most interesting thing in all of this is that police at the time didn't seem all that interested in dealing with two drunken artists, never imagining just how famous they would become. Wolf?

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much.

They're graduates of one of the country's most prestigious military academies, they're also gay. Now they're putting up very public pressure on President Obama to keep his promise to end the don't ask, don't tell policy.

And caught on camera. The first lady and her staff stepping out for a casual lunch. Where they went and what they had. We've got the details.


BLITZER: The boss and her staff went out for burgers for lunch today, not a big deal unless the boss happens to be Michelle Obama. Take a look a this, the first lady and at least 17 of staff dropped in at Good Stuff Eatery famous for its burgers not far from the White House. A blogger snapped this photo of the casually dressed first lady. A spokeswoman said it was Mrs. Obama's idea, explaining quote, sometimes you just need a burger. The president apparently agrees. Earlier this week he and the vice president, Joe Biden, had burgers for lunch in Virginia.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."

Getting hungry thinking about the burgers?

CAFFERTY: What's that?

BLITZER: I'm getting hungry thinking about the burgers.

CAFFERTY: I just had a burger actually from a joint called Island Burgers here in New York. I had a big hamburger and a black- and-white milk shake and I'm good to go for a few hours.

BLITZER: Big question, mustard, ketchup, relish?

CAFFERTY: Relish, ketchup, red raw onion, Swiss cheese and cooked medium rare.

BLITZER: Beautiful.

CAFFERTY: It was excellent. The question this hour: Is what does it mean that a comedian, we're talking about Al Franken in Minnesota, a comedian will determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate?

Steven in New Jersey writes: "If he was just comedian I'd be worried but if you've read his books on politics and life in the U.S., you would find that he has a good handle on what the problems of this nation are and what needs to be done to fix them." Behind all the jokes is a smart man.

Chris in New York writes: "Well Jack I believe we need people from all walks of life in Congress. Too bad it doesn't happen very often. Also, most of the great comedians are pretty smart, so it's not a bad thing. Jim Carrey, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, they're all thinking people."

Arlene in Illinois writes: "I always thought of the Congress as the Ringling Brothers of Washington just without the funny noses."

Lisa in Shelton, Connecticut: "It means Franken will have intimate access to far better material than ever before." Stan in California, "It's fine with me since 99 percent of comedians such as Jay Leno, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart are far more intelligent than 99 percent of the politicians. Sarah Palin is a governor, need I say more?"

Pat writes: "Don't forget he's a Harvard educated comedian with a longstanding interest in politics." Billy writes, "The Republican clowns didn't do so well, time to try a Democratic comedian." Michael in Virginia says, "I'd take a comedian over the jokers and thieves we have on Capitol Hill right now. It's time to fire all the appeal lawyers and give Minnesota their Senator."

And Sylvan writes: "That's just great, a body builder, a wrestler, now a comedian in office. All we need next is a grumpy bald TV show host."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Jack, thank you.

And to our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Afghanistan's president tells me two of the most notorious terrorists are no threat. President Karzai dismisses al Qaeda and Taliban leaders then surprisingly reveals how long he'd like to see U.S. troops stay in Afghanistan.

It's the White House photo-op that terrified New Yorkers with 9/11 memories and left President Obama furious. Now there's punishment. The best political team on television standing by to weigh in.

And fires follow them. A family's home burned to the ground in one fire. Now another blaze threatens their new home.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The president of Afghanistan has bitter complaints with the United States. Today he told me the United States should stop bombing in his country immediately. This comes after what could be the single deadliest incident involving Afghan civilians since U.S. troops invaded back in 2001.