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Airplane Bomber to Go Free; Bloody Countdown to Afghan Vote

Aired August 19, 2009 - 18:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: In the years before 9/11, this was one of the most notorious terrorist attacks ever. More than 20 years after pan-am flight 103 was blown to bits it now looks as though the bomber will be released. He is suffering from cancer, but families of the 270 victims may not be feeling so much sympathy for him. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is following this breaking news story.

Jeanne, what do you have?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the Obama administration has been informally notified that one of the convicted Lockerbie bombers will be released by Scottish authorities. The U.S. government will not be happy.


MESERVE (voice-over): Two hundred and seventy people died when Pan Am Flight 103 went down over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Only one man was convicted of that crime, Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al- Megrahi. He is now 57, suffering of terminal prostate cancer.

And Scottish officials have informally notified the U.S. that he will be released on compassionate grounds, according to senior State Department officials.

The brother of one Lockerbie victim is deeply disappointed.

BERT AMMERMAN, BROTHER OF PAN AM FLIGHT 103 BOMBING VICTIM: Well, this is a bitter moment in this 21-year odyssey.

MESERVE: The U.S. has been outspoken in opposing al-Megrahi's release. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underlined the U.S. point of view on Tuesday.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I just think it is absolutely wrong to release someone who has been imprisoned based on the evidence about his involvement in such a horrendous crime. We are still encouraging the Scottish authorities not to do so, and hope that they will not.

MESERVE: Some relatives of Lockerbie victims supported the release of a terminally ill man, but others, like Susan Cohen, who lost her 20-year-old daughter in the attack, were horrified and angered at the prospect of al-Megrahi walking free. SUSAN COHEN, MOTHER OF PAN AM FLIGHT 103 BOMBING VICTIM: He is not going to get forgiveness from me. And as far as I am concerned, he should die in prison and his soul rot in hell. OK?


MESERVE: Some members of Congress are already issuing statements condemning the release. Expect more strong words tomorrow from the Obama administration when news of al-Megrahi's release becomes official -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Jeanne.

Well, now to the big squeeze on President Obama from both sides in the health care reform debate. We are following new developments on this make-or-break issue. On the left, a threat from the president's political base. The AFL-CIO now is warning it will not support Democrats who oppose a government-run insurance option.

On the right, Republicans are warning the president not to push a reform bill through Congress without their support, using a maneuver one GOP senator calls sneaky.

The White House says it still wants a bipartisan bill, all of this as the president makes a new health care pitch to religious groups.

Well, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

And, Ed, what are you hearing that is new from the president?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's interesting, Suzanne, is the president just wrapped up a conference call with faith leaders and really took the gloves off. For the first time in this health care debate, I heard him use religious references to hit Republicans. He hit them pretty hard.

There were at first some mild religious references, for example, the president saying that he thinks there's an obligation for people to help others who do not have health insurance, saying I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, but then he said this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness.


HENRY: Now, the president also went after his critics on this charge that he wants to create death panels, the president saying -- quote -- "That is just an extraordinary lie." I had not heard him use that word either. So, it shows that as time is running out, as this reaches a more critical stage, the president's rhetoric is certainly getting much tougher -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ed, we know that he's going to be talking more about this moral imperative behind health care reform, a moral obligation for people to get involved and support this effort.

Do we expect that he's going to use more of these kind of religious references, work that in, perhaps, in some of the town halls or the speeches that will be coming up in the coming weeks?

HENRY: Well, he could, because, as you know, in recent election cycles, there's been a feeling in the Democratic side that Republicans have reached out to faith leaders more aggressively.

And you will remember that, in the campaign last year, certainly then as a candidate, Senator Obama was very aggressive in saying he was not going to cede that territory to Senator John McCain. So, it's possible.

But I have to tell you, just in the last few moments, reaching out to a couple of Republican strategists and aides on Capitol Hill, they're pretty angry about this rhetoric. And so, it will be interesting to see whether the president pulls back or not, because they're saying they think this crosses the line, using religious references to go on the attack -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, Ed Henry at the White House, thank you so much.


MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty joining us at this hour with "The Cafferty File."

Hey, Jack, what are you watching?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne, are you a good driver?

MALVEAUX: I am, I think so, a little aggressive, but good.

CAFFERTY: Good. A little aggressive? All right. Well, be careful.

"USA Today"'s got a story that several states are trying to cut down on bad drivers by going after super speeders, lane hogs and drivers with multiple moving violations. It turns out, Suzanne, aggressive drivers may, may kill more people than drunk drivers across the country every year.

A recent AAA study found things like speeding, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, et cetera, were a factor in 56 percent of all crashes. So, states are cracking down. In Florida, the worst drivers have to go back to driving school. A driver who's found at fault in three crashes over three years has to go back, pass a driver's ed class, course, and a road test, just like a beginning driver.

In Georgia, so-called super speeders will be fined an extra $200. This applies to all drivers going faster than 75 miles an hour on two- lane roads or faster than 85 on any road. The new fine's expected to generate about $23 million a year for Georgia. Sounds like it might be a good idea for other states that could use much-needed cash.

In Kansas, a new right-lane law makes it illegal to drive in the far left lane unless you're either passing or turning left. Other states have launched campaigns against aggressive driving, trying to reduce road rage. And officers have been targeting drunk drivers, speeders and those who do not wear seat belts.

So, here's the question: What is the best way to put the brakes on bad driving? Go to, and you can post a comment on my blog -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jack, we will see what they have to say. Thank you, Jack.

Debt collection abuse. I want you to listen to the kind of calls that some people are getting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, ma'am, that was pretty ignorant, but I wouldn't expect anything less from you because you are totally ghetto.


MALVEAUX: And they get worse. How are these collection agencies getting away with it?

Also, documents just released on the student gunman who massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech -- what we are learning about his treatment at a counseling center.


MALVEAUX: A major diplomatic announcement right here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a short time ago. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says that North Korea is ready to start a new dialogue with the U.S. about nuclear weapons. The reason, it feels owed a favor after releasing two American journalists.

Richardson revealed the outcome of his meeting with two top North Korean diplomats. Take a listen.


MALVEAUX: Governor, what can you tell us about your talks? What do the North Koreans want?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, first, the North Koreans are sending good signals that they're ready to talk directly to the United States. They felt President Clinton's visit was good, that it helped thaw relations, make them easier. They did feel that getting the two American journalists out was a gesture on their part. They mentioned several other gestures they have made recently, the release of the South Korean detainee. And so, I detected for the first time -- and I have been meeting with Minister Kim, who's the top U.N. diplomat -- a lessening of tension, some positive vibration. The fact that they're ready to have a dialogue again.


MALVEAUX: North Korea wants direct talks with the United States, but senior Obama administration officials say that they stand by their call for North Korea to rejoin six-party international talks, and they stress that Richardson was not negotiating on the president's behalf.

Well, we are counting down to a major test for the Obama administration's war policy. Presidential balloting begins in Afghanistan just a little more than four hours from now. U.S. troops are playing a crucial role in trying to make sure that the vote doesn't turn into a bloodbath.

CNN's Ivan Watson is on the move in Afghanistan right now.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in a convoy on a police truck. We're escorting this truck ahead up of us. In the dust, you might be able to see it. And it's taking ballot boxes up to some of the polling stations here in Afghanistan's central Bamyan province.

As you can see, security is important here, even though this is one of the safest provinces in the country. Despite that good track record, election workers say, in some parts of the province, they have heard of armed men going house to house, warning people not to vote.


MALVEAUX: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is facing almost 40 challengers in this election, and he is so worried about violence, he is asking the local news media not to report attacks.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

And, Barbara, how are the U.S. troops positioned for this event, for this election?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, I have to tell you, as the voting begins within hours now, U.S. troops are at the ready.

What we are learning is that there are about 300,000 both U.S., NATO and Afghan security forces, on high alert for the election. Just like we saw in Iraq, however, it is the Afghan forces that will be right at the polling places. The U.S. troops will hang back a little bit, if you will, and they will be ready to move in very quickly via helicopter or ground vehicles if trouble breaks out. But the real hope is that doesn't happen. There's about 6,500 polling stations across the country, 15 million Afghans going to the polls, but going to the polls under the threat of Taliban violence. There's a lot of tension there.

MALVEAUX: I know that White House officials are watching this very closely, as well as the State Department. What do they have invested in the outcome of this election, the Obama administration?

STARR: Well, this is President Obama's top priority in the war right now, is to have a credible election in Afghanistan.

The administration has really made this the center point of what's going on, because, if they cannot demonstrate that there is a credible, free and fair election in Afghanistan, it will be very tough to keep the U.S. military mission going there.

But here's the real bottom line, Suzanne. Everyone expects that there will be a runoff, that there will be no clear winner tomorrow.


STARR: The runoff will not happen until early October. Now, so, we're talking about several more weeks of potential violence in a very fragile country.

MALVEAUX: Well, I know you will be watching very closely. Thank you very much, Barbara.

Well, debt collectors laying on the abuse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're realistically thinking to yourself that watching someone's children with the way you act is an acceptable form of employment? How about you get a real job?


MALVEAUX: And there is even more to this story than bullying and insult. One state is investigating.

Iraq's insurgents are back with a vengeance. Half-a-dozen bombings hit Baghdad just minutes apart, leaving hundreds dead and wounded.

And more than two years after a mass killer struck at Virginia Tech, victims' families are getting to see details of his visits with university counselors.



MALVEAUX: Well, more than two years after the Virginia Tech tragedy, families of the victims are for the first time seeing details of the killer's visits with Virginia Tech counselors a year before he killed 32 people.

Let's go to our Abbi Tatton.

And, Abbi, what does he tell -- what did he actually tell them?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Seung-Hui Cho told counselors, Suzanne, he was not suicidal, and counselors sent him away with emergency contact information.

Virginia Tech has released documents today, mental health records from late 2005 from Seung-Hui Cho's visits with campus counselors, and they noted at the time in this first telephone interview that they did with Cho that he had problems. He had depression, anxiety when having to talk to people, does not have any relationships, is what Cho told them.

But take a look at this later conversation that they had in person with Cho a couple of weeks later. It concludes with this Post- it note which is on the front of the document. "I met with student for about 30 minutes. He denied any suicidal or homicidal thoughts."

And if you can see, there's a cross through the document behind it. That was to suggest that the counselor thought he had been assessed enough already, saying he's been assessed just a couple of days before. Now, that's despite the fact that the day before that was written, Cho had been briefly hospitalized after telling a roommate that he had thoughts of suicide. The roommate was alarmed enough to alert campus police to that.

But he -- Suzanne, Cho told the counselors that that was a joke, and the counselors didn't meet with him again after December 2005.

MALVEAUX: And, Abbi, why is it that we're just seeing these documents now?

TATTON: These documents have been missing throughout the whole investigation. And, just last month, the former director of the counseling center said that he found them amongst his personal records. He had inadvertently taken them -- obviously, their discovery and their release now causing further pain and further questions as well for the victims' families.

MALVEAUX: Certainly. Thank you very much, Abbi.

Well, what if the bill collector called and you heard this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, learn English. Get an education. Since you're sitting on your fat derriere all day long...


MALVEAUX: We are looking into bullying, threats and harassment by debt collectors. Could it happen to you?

Also ahead, the U.S. gets the keys to the secret Swiss bank accounts, and some rich Americans could be in big trouble.

And how did Nazi symbols and rhetoric get thrown into the health care debate?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here, we just stop but we don't respect them.

The guys...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear this? She's saying to a Jew "Heil Hitler." Did you hear? I'm a Jew. You telling me "Heil Hitler"? Shame of you. Shame of you.



MALVEAUX: Consumers are accusing a debt collector of going to offensive extremes to get hold of their cash. Imagine getting a call and being told your daughter will be sexually attacked.

New York's attorney general says it is happening in several states, and he wants to shut it down.

Our Mary Snow has been digging deeper on the story.

And, Mary, you actually spoke to one of those victims.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne. Yes, we did.

We spoke with a mother of two young children who tells us as soon as she hung up the phone, she knew she was scammed, but she said she felt so cornered and was so upset that she gave out information she shouldn't have. And she says she's telling her story now in hopes that other people won't get duped.


SNOW (voice-over): Michelle Minton says she will never forget the call she got the same day her daughter was diagnosed with autism. A man posing as a lawyer claimed she owed $4,400 and said her arrest was imminent if she didn't pay up.

MICHELLE MINTON, DEBT COLLECTION VICTIM: He was getting very insistent and started -- you know, I don't remember all the words, but started talking about, your kids will see you arrested. If there's nobody there, if your husband can't make it home, child protective services will have to take your kids.

SNOW: Minton wasn't actually in debt, but feeling the pressure, she relented, gave the number of her bank account and lost $900.

Dorothy Gilbert teared up listening to the voice-mail left at her home over a $187 bill she had already paid.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are totally ghetto. Second of all, ma'am, learn English, get an education. Since you're sitting on your fat derriere all day long making money off of the rest of the free working population in the country, you might want to try to get educated enough to at least be able to say payment plan, instead of payment pan, you uneducated reject.


SNOW: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says that call and others, in which law enforcement is impersonated and some even threatening sexual assault, are tied to operators of 13 companies he's now trying to shut down in New York.

ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: The tactics, they are so disturbing, so threatening, that they tend to be effective. That's why they do it.

SNOW: Private attorney Joe Mauro represents debt collection abuse victims. He says there's been an increase in cases, tying it to the economic downturn.

JOSEPH MAURO, ATTORNEY: There is no money to be pulled out of consumers these days. And, as that happens, the debt collectors become more desperate.

SNOW: But the trade group for debt collectors says don't paint them all with the same brush. It estimates rogue collectors make up about 10 percent of the industry.

ROZANNE ANDERSEN, ACA INTERNATIONAL: The harassing phone calls and the aggressive behavior is absolutely unacceptable.


SNOW: Now, New York's attorney general filed a lawsuit against the Benning-Smith Group, an umbrella group for 13 companies. We called several and they were either disconnected or out of service. Three individuals from Buffalo, New York are also named. We reached a lawyer for one, who says he'll fight the charges -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Mary.

Well, the U.S. government is getting access to thousands of Swiss -- secret Swiss bank accounts -- accounts that Americans may be using to avoid paying taxes. The Internal Revenue Service today announced a landmark deal with officials in Switzerland. It means the IRS can peek into more than 4,000 accounts held by rich Americans in Switzerland's biggest bank. Billions of dollars could be on the line.

Our Tom Foreman has been looking into these vaults of banking secrecy -- and, Tom, what are we following here? TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you something, Suzanne, what we're following here is what really may be one of the biggest stories of the day, although it may not jump out at you that way to begin with.

Look at this map. Everywhere that you see one of these raised gold symbols like this is a place in the world where people can do offshore banking. So you see it's off the coast of Africa here, Europe, over in the South Pacific, in Central America.

What's offshore banking all about?

We've all heard about it.

Let's take a look at it. Offshore banking is a way that people can put money somewhere else, often seeking lower tax rates, sometimes seeking stability. Sometimes people are in very troubled parts of the world and they're seeking a place where they can put the money where they think it is more stable, so they won't lose the money. But most of all, many people say it's about this -- it's about privacy, about hiding exactly how much you have, perhaps from the government in which you live.

And there are other reasons, too -- global banking, global business deals, things like that. There are some good reasons for this, in many cases.

But it's very widespread. Look at this, down in the Caribbean, lots of it going on. The advantage to small nations is it allows them to compete on the world stage by offering something that maybe they can't offer in terms of natural resources or products or trade.

But let's take a look over here at the big story here, which is -- I'm going to have to spin it by hand over here. If we go over to look at Switzerland, this is where USB is. And this, Suzanne, is what they think could be the mother lode in this big story.

MALVEAUX: And why -- why is the IRS going after them?

FOREMAN: Well, what they did is they went after USB -- this big bank over there (INAUDIBLE)...


FOREMAN: UBS, excuse me. They offered this -- they went after them to say we need to know who you're dealing with, because we think some of these people are trying to cheat our government.

Ultimately, UBS said they'd go along. And they gave them about 5,000 accounts and the information on about 5,000 accounts. The IRS initially wanted 10 times as many. So it's not as much as they wanted. But these 5,000 accounts, at some point or another, had about $18 billion total dollars in them. These people are coming under pressure now. But this is the part that matters right down here.

MALVEAUX: Sure. FOREMAN: September 23rd is the voluntary deadline from the IRS, where they're saying to these people, who are going to be identified, you can come forward and talk to us before then. Tell us what your money was, what you were doing with it and you might get off this without such a big deal.

Why does that matter?

Because that is a way to make these folks, perhaps, talk about all the other banks and all the other clients in all these other countries. This is something the Obama administration said they wanted to do. They wanted to get out all this hidden money. And when you have a government like ours, that's looking for money right now, this could represent a tremendous amount of money if they can, in fact, find all of these tax havens all around the world. (INAUDIBLE)...


FOREMAN: And they're not guilty just because they have an account.


FOREMAN: They may not be. But certainly that's what they're looking for.

MALVEAUX: All right. Tom, thank you very much.

A fascinating report.

Well, angry town halls are taking an ugly turn, with references to so-called Nazi policies and pictures portraying President Obama as Adolph Hitler. There is concern that the gatherings are becoming forums for hate speech and potential violence.

Plus, NASCAR was once thought to be Republican territory, but could the current Democratic president find political gold in the popular sport?


MALVEAUX: Health care reform and comparisons to Nazi Germany -- joining us for a political timeout, former Bush speechwriter David Frum; Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune;" and CNN's senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

But first, let's go to CNN national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica?

YELLIN: Suzanne, have you noticed all the talk about Hitler in health care reform lately?

Every so often, someone compares the reform plans to Hitler's extermination policies or brands President Obama or his political allies as Nazis. This image right here popped up outside a town hall meeting. And that's a Lyndon LaRouche protester from the far left making that comparison.

A swastika was also painted on Congressman David Scott's office sign after he argued with a doctor at a town hall meeting.

Well, finally, at a town hall yesterday, Congressman Barney Frank lashed out at a woman. She was speaking to him while holding a poster that showed President Obama's face defaced with a Hitler mustache.

Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you supporting it?

FRANK: When you ask me that question, I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?


YELLIN: Now, that woman is not alone. This Israeli man seemed to be near tears when a woman threw out Hitler's name as he was being interviewed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we've just spoken. But we don't respect them. The guys...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear this?

(INAUDIBLE) Heil Hitler.

Did you hear it?

I'm a Jew. You're telling me heil Hitler?

Shame of you. Shame of you.


YELLIN: Well, look, it should go without saying that there is just no legitimate basis for any comparison between a despotic murderer and an elected U.S. president campaigning for legislation.

But the question here is, is this just overheated rhetoric as usual or has a new line been crossed -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thanks. That's an excellent question. We'll start with you, David.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, I'd -- I'd direct viewers -- there's a very funny Web site called, which points out they both had dogs, they both often wear funny pants and they both had beer stomachs. So, obviously, they have a lot in common.

No, it's a -- it is, obviously, a foolish and destructive way to talk and it doesn't have any place in American parlance. And I just wonder whether the problem isn't that Americans don't have enough references to other bad regimes. It's like Steven Spielberg -- you need a villain, get a Nazi.

And people just say well, this is just like Clement Attlee in Britain or Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan. I don't know if it would have the same purchase.

MALVEAUX: Clarence, is it just ignorance on the part of people who are going there or is this something that politicians should address?

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": The short answer is yes to that. You know, but the longer answer is one of the things David and I agree on is that the Hitler analogy should not be made to anybody but Hitler. I mean it's ridiculous when both from both the left and the right this happens.

Lyndon LaRouche is who was behind this particular campaign. I've been covering him for several decades now, Suzanne, and this is the biggest publicity he's gotten because these town halls, those quirky things, these town halls -- it's one of those quirky things, but these town halls are attracting cameras to anybody who makes a fuss of any kind.

The people who come and peacefully ask questions and they have civil discussion don't get covered. But the nuttier you are, the more coverage you'll get. And now he's getting this -- this tremendous amount of coverage just by yelling "Hitler." And it's rather appalling.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. And we've all seen -- I mean you covered Lyndon LaRouche for a couple more years...

PAGE: OK. Thank you. Thank you.

BASH: -- longer than I have.

PAGE: Thank you. (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: So we've seen him and his supporters, certainly, on the campaign trail. And, look, the bottom line is the fact that we're talking about him and the fact that we're talking about what his followers are doing to disrupt these town halls may be encouraging them, because the reality is that there are people who are loud, but many of the people who are loud at these town halls do have legitimate questions about fundamental policy questions that have to do with their lives with regard to health care.

These people, that's not what they're talking about.

MALVEAUX: Does it help or hurt in -- in making those points?

If you're against any kind of reform -- health care reform -- does that hurt their movement, when you have people from both sides of the extremes doing this?

FRUM: Well, look, if you're -- if you're trying to oppose the president and then you have a lot of lunatics showing up and saying yes, you agree with me, that's not helpful. I mean the -- there are so many points that need to be raised about what is wrong with the Democratic plan. It is going to be expensive. It doesn't have proper cost controls. This public option will crowd out the private insurance that Americans rely on.

These are serious points and these are unserious points.

PAGE: Right. It's really rather sad. But the Obama administration was caught off guard by this series of events. They were hoping to have some kind of finished legislation that they could seriously debate for August. They don't. They have a lot of rather -- rather vague ideas right now, as the sausage making process is still happening on Capitol Hill. And meanwhile, anybody who just yells no gets a lot of attention.

MALVEAUX: Dana, I'm going to ask you to stand by. And we're going to ask a different question.

Top NASCAR drivers make a pit stop at the White House.

Can President Obama help them find some new fans?

And wet kisses from a pit bull. Dogs do tend to slobber, but, well, Jeanne Moos finds that it can happen sometimes to get Moost Unusual.


MALVEAUX: The politics of NASCAR -- we are back with David Frum, Clarence Page and CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash and CNN national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, take it away.

YELLIN: Hi, Suzanne.

On a lighter note now, here we see President Obama posing, yes, with some of the stars of NASCAR. Don't ask me their names.

To think that just a few years ago, every candidate competed for the NASCAR vote and this kind of snapshot -- it would have been a political gold mine, especially for a Democrat.

Do you remember when President Bush showed the flag often during the 2004 campaign, turning out with NASCAR folks?

And last year, candidates Clinton and McCain both made racing world pit stops.

But you know what?

It would seem NASCAR is not the force it once was. Thanks to the recession, ticket sales are down, sponsorships are off and NASCAR is now working hard to find new fans. The racing powerhouse, it would seem, has hit a speed bump.

So today on all the sports channels, there's talk that President Obama could actually help NASCAR -- that an association with the president could accelerate the association's appeal to a younger, more diverse fan base.

Now, there's a turnaround.

So the question today is, with the political environment what it is, who actually has more to gain from this kind of alliance, NASCAR or the president?

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jessica.

A great question.

We'll start with you, Dana, because you and I have been to many NASCAR races with the former President Bush, who was there.

BASH: Don't give away our secret.

MALVEAUX: So what do you think?

BASH: Well, look, I mean, Jimmy Johnson has had a problem running out of gas lately. So I think that the White House hopes that there's not a metaphor there for its health care plan. That's all I can say about that.

But on a more serious note...

PAGE: Well put, by the way.

BASH: Thank you.


MALVEAUX: That was a good analogy.

BASH: (INAUDIBLE) changed.


MALVEAUX: That was good. That was good.

BASH: But on a more serious note, look, I mean this is something that the president tried to do, that Republicans have tried to do -- reach out to this kind of voting base. And with regard to the last election, the president did win Virginia, a red state. He did win North Carolina.

And, you know, the question, at this point, is whether or not he's lost some of the voters that he gained in those areas. It looks as though the polls now show that he probably has. So maybe he could use this to try to get some of those voters back.

But I think that, really, this is a chance for the president to use -- to do what many presidents do with all sports, which is have a feel good moment. I mean NASCAR is very mainstream right now. And that's what he was trying to do.

MALVEAUX: Clarence?

PAGE: Well, this has actually been a big issue for NASCAR in recent years, to get a more diverse and younger audience. They've -- they've been trying all kinds of different outreach. And so this is kind of an interesting juncture here, because Obama would like to have better penetration with the NASCAR crowd, which is over 60 percent Republican in their voting demographic. And they'd like to have more of an appeal to -- to his base. So maybe they can help each other this time.

FRUM: Hey, whatever happened to the promise of green jobs?

Shouldn't the president be backing bicycle races instead?

MALVEAUX: NASCAR is not that green.


FRUM: It is not...


MALVEAUX: You saw the car out there on the South Lawn.

FRUM: It is not green. But I think the decline in -- in the fortunes of this and other forms of entertainment are one more example that we need of the penetration and depth of this recession. And the president has, with his focus on health care, has been a danger of overlooking the driving fact, which is the number -- that when you look at both the unemployment and the underemployment numbers -- people who are looking for or working part-time work who want full- time work, people who are discouraged workers and have left the labor force, so they don't count in the unemployment numbers, it is really still very grim out there.

MALVEAUX: What about the NASCAR dads?

It was a very important voting bloc for President Bush, obviously, and for -- and for Obama.

FRUM: Right.

MALVEAUX: Largely white, Southern, Republican, working class folks.

Are they still an important group that he -- that the president has to pay very close attention to?

PAGE: And by the way, we've got NASCAR in Illinois, in Wisconsin, Upstate New York. It's all over the place. But -- but, yes. You know, what's important here is Obama is not going to win, in the foreseeable future, the NASCAR demographic. But if they aren't so afraid of him, they aren't so likely to turn out and vote against him. So it's that kind of -- of a feel got outreach that's important here.

But if it were just NASCAR voters, McCain would have won last time.

FRUM: Is this the last chapter in the Henry Louis Gates/Officer Crowley story?

No, seriously. I wonder if the president's political team is not still haunted by the damage the president did himself in that passage and maybe this is some attempt to repair that damage.

PAGE: This couldn't hurt.

MALVEAUX: And very quickly.

BASH: Well, no. I mean I also think the fact of the matter is that NASCAR is much more widespread. There's even -- there are even NASCAR fans in New York City.


BASH: And -- but, but in terms of the -- the theory of NASCAR voters, they are more conservative. And when you look at Congress, where I spend most of my time, there are conservative Democrats who are elected from some of these places (INAUDIBLE) is losing, potentially, on health care.

MALVEAUX: We've got to leave it there.

I'll go straight to Lou Dobbs -- Lou, what are you working on tonight?


Coming up at the top of the hour, the White House insisting the president wants to sign a health care bill now with bipartisan support. Top Democrats, however, making it clear they're ready and willing to shut Republicans out. Democratic sources telling CNN, at the end of the day, a win is a win.

Also, after weeks of failing to convince the American people of his health care plans in town halls all across the country, the president is now recalibrating his pitch -- now emphasizing the moral imperative of health care for all. We'll have that.

And the one thing our elected officials and the national media aren't discussing -- jobs. Thirty million plus unemployed. Tonight, we continue our special series of reports, Jobs Now.

Join us for that, all the day's news and much more at the top of the hour -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Lou.

And Jack Cafferty joining us again -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: What's the best way to put the brakes on bad driving, this hour's burnt offering?

Dave in New Hampshire says: "I get sick of hearing about the danger of using cell phones while driving. It would be so easy to design a car that would block the use of a phone by the driver while the car is in anything but park. We have the technology to do this. The only reason it's not being done is because the lobbyists would be in an uproar about how this would cut into the profits of the phone companies. Money is more important than lives, haven't you heard?"

Keith writes: "Anybody with a lawyer automatically gets their ticket reduced. They're in bed with the court. Get rid of this arrangement. How does a speeding ticket end up becoming a failure to use a turn signal? Why does a card from your pal the cop act as get out of jail free card? We need a stronger police presence, increased fines and no institutionalized leniency from the police, court and lawyers."

Dave writes: "Easy -- camera, then tickets. One ticket in the mail for a few hundred dollars will make a believer out of you. It did me."

Tom in Toronto: "That's nothing. In Toronto, Ontario, the fine for speeding over 150 kilometers an hour -- that's about 95 miles an hour -- is a fine of $10,000. Your license is revoked. Your car is impounded on the spot. It's advertised on signs all along the highways and it seems to be working."

Sue in California says: "Having somebody go back to traffic school after they've caused three accidents in three years is insane. I think there needs to be a three strikes you're out law. Their license should be taken away forever."

And Dennis in Boulder, Colorado: "Isn't it ironic that the young, who have long lives in front of them, are in such a life and the old, who don't have as much time left, are in no hurry to get somewhere?"

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

This has been a lot of fun for me, Suzanne. I want you to know that.

MALVEAUX: Me too, Jack.

Well, a kiss and tell revealed on live TV -- an interview segment that got out of control.

Also, Filipino protesters in a tug of war with police -- find out who was at the center of the scuffle in today's Hot Shots.


MALVEAUX: Here's a look at today's Hot Shots.

In the Philippines, demonstrators try to keep a fellow protester from being arrested as a tussle takes place.

In Canada, Mr. Steven Harper waves from a helicopter on his trip to Canada's Arctic.

In Ukraine, President Victor Yushchenko takes a picture of someone at a fair.

And in Pakistan, a child says good-bye to his cousin, who is leaving her hometown due to clashes between security forces and the Taliban.

Well, a dog looking for a good home stole the spotlight on a Canadian news show. The pit bull was extremely friendly.

But did her affection at ways make a lick of difference to the viewers?

CNN's Jeanne Moos has the answer in a Moost Unusual TV moment.


MALVEAUX: We're having some technical difficulties with Jeanne Moos' piece about the pit bulls, who obviously was in a lick of trouble, but also got a lot of attention from that story.

Well, we also want you to check out our political podcast, obviously. To get the best political team to go, you should subscribe at

We're actually going to work on another Jeanne Moos piece we're going to get to you. And I believe that is coming up right now.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): This kind of keyboard meets this kind of keyboard to produce the latest Web sensation. The keyboard cat has become a recurring theme...




MOOS: ...tagged onto the end of some of the Web's classic videos. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)



MOOS: Be it Bill O'Reilly's rant or a break dancer who kicks a kid...


MOOS: ...or the TV salesman whose ladder collapses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, really, you think...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: oh, God. Harold, are you OK?

MOOS: The videos tend to be captioned, play them off, keyboard cat.

(on camera): How's the cat?

CHARLIE SCHMIDT: The cat, actually, unfortunately, is dead.

MOOS: Charlie Schmidt (ph) is an artist and inventor from Spokane, Washington. He videotaped his cat, Fatso, 20 years ago. Suddenly, people are taking his cat video and adding it to other videos.


MOOS: Tagging videos with the keyboard cat somehow highlights their absurdity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ought to sit down.


MOOS: For instance, a guest fainting on the air.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll be -- we'll be back in just a second.


MOOS: Charlie thinks the keyboard cat works especially well with news video.

SCHMIDT: That's what the news is, it's sort of a frame for weird behavior.

MOOS: Like a car chase.


MOOS: The keyboard cat could replace news anchors.

SCHMIDT: We don't need these guys necessarily. Don't tell Wolf I said that, though.


MALVEAUX: All right, from keyboard cats to licking pit bulls, we bring you everything, too.

Here from THE SITUATION ROOM, I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, is "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.