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U.S. Droves Hunt Insurgents in Pakistan; President Obama Vows to Finish the Job in Afghanistan; 150 Years Ago Darwin's Landmark Book; Big Bang Machine Finally Running

Aired November 24, 2009 - 17:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you, Jack.


Happening now, President Obama vows to finish the job in Afghanistan. And the Pentagon is expecting war orders soon to greatly boost American troop strength there. But getting those troops to the war zone may take a lot longer.

Well, he was once a homeless veteran himself. Well, now he is helping other vets get off the streets with hot meals, housing and friendship -- a look at one of our CNN's heroes.

And President Obama hosts India's prime minister at his first state dinner. Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson will sing for the president and his guests, after she sings a little for us.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Eight years after the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, President Obama is vowing to finish the job. After urgent strategy sessions, he is not tipping his hands just yet, but tens of thousands of troops are likely to soon get their marching orders.

I want to go live to CNN's Elaine Quijano.

She's at the Pentagon today -- and, Elaine, what do you think we can expect for an announcement on reinforcements?

What do we know so far?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that President Obama, Suzanne, has said that he plans to announce his decision on Afghanistan shortly. And here at the Pentagon, planning is well underway.


QUIJANO: (voice-over): On the heels of the president's last scheduled war council meeting to review Afghanistan strategy, Pentagon planners are now expecting orders to send about 34,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, according to a Defense official. The planning calls for Army and Marine brigades, as well as support troops. But top military officials have made clear getting any additional forces into the country will take months because of the lack of roads and other infrastructure.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I anticipate that as soon as the president makes his decision, we can probably begin flowing some forces pretty quickly after that. But it -- it is a bigger challenge than certainly was the -- was the case in Iraq.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We had, in Iraq, a place -- a staging base in Kuwait. We don't have that in Afghanistan.

QUIJANO: The 34,000 additional troops would be less than the 40,000 sources say General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, wants. But one official says NATO allies would be asked to help fill in that gap.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: If the president decides to commit additional forces to Afghanistan, there would be an expectation that our allies would also commit additional forces.

QUIJANO: For his part, the president vowed the Afghanistan war will end on his watch.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is my intention to finish the job.

QUIJANO: But questions persist about Afghanistan's shaky government and the ability of Afghanistan forces to take over security responsibilities.

(on camera): Can one realistically put a date certain on finishing the job in Afghanistan?

MORRELL: Well, I don't know -- I think it's unknowable how long it will take. But I think we all have to work with the idea that we have goals, landmarks, things to shoot for to get this done.


QUIJANO: So where would additional troops for Afghanistan come from?

Two likely spots -- Fort Drum, New York, where one Army brigade was held back from going to Iraq; and another is Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which also has troops that could be deployed -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Elaine.

Well, there are currently 68,000 U.S. troops serving in and around Afghanistan. But more than 40 countries are sharing the burden. They are participating in the NATO run, American-led International Security Assistance Force. The most recent figures show that Britain contributes about 9,000 troops; Germany more than 4,000; France more than 3,000; and Italy, Canada and the Netherlands, more than 2,000 each. At the other end of the spectrum, several countries contribute fewer than a dozen personnel each.

As an extended holiday season gets underway, millions of Americans are on the move this week. And hitching a way with them, well, that's the swine flu bug.

Our CNN's Jeanne Meserve, she's joining us now -- and, Jeanne, obviously, a lot of people are a little worried about seeing the family over Thanksgiving because they -- they may, you know, have a cold or the flu, who knows?


MALVEAUX: How do you protect yourself?

MESERVE: Well, you know, it's a very busy travel period. Just go to any train terminal or airplane terminal and you can see that planes and trains are jammed. And when people get together, germs get together. And that includes the H1N1 virus.


MESERVE: (voice-over): As if anyone needs another reason to stress about holiday travel, now H1N1 anxiety is part of the mix.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And there was this lady that was sitting like across the aisle from me like blowing her nose. And I was like, all right, I'm glad we have that kind of distance, you know, because I don't want to get sick. And there is no rea -- no way you can really get away from it when you're on a plane.

MESERVE: This animation from Purdue University shows how a sneeze propels germs around an airplane. Government health officials have a few simple words of advice for travelers -- wash your hands often, don't touch your eyes or nose, cover your cough, and, for Pete's sake, don't travel if you're sick.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Don't get on a crowded plane and -- and spread the wealth. It's time to stay home.

MESERVE: Airlines have briefed crews about H1N1. AirTran even enlisted a former head of the Centers for Disease Control to answer employee questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I contract swine flu from loading bags?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maurice, the bags will not transmit the flu.


MESERVE: But flight crew vigilance has inconvenienced a small number of passengers. Mitra Mostoufi had an upset stomach and was taken off a United flight. MITRA MOSTOUFI, UNITED AIRLINES PASSENGER: The crew does not feel good about you flying because you might be sick. I didn't know they were all physicians.

MESERVE: It turned out Moustafi did not have H1N1, but United says it removed her as a precaution, to protect the health of other passengers.

Despite the specter of H1N1 infection, many Thanksgiving travelers are undeterred and unconcerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something you've got to live with. And you just have to make some adjustments. And, yes, you can't let it stop your life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen. And there is no reason to get, you know, so uptight about it.


MESERVE: If you can document that you have H1N1, airlines will rebook your travel without penalty. And if you're seated next to someone who appears to have it, you can ask to have your seat changed. But during this holiday travel crunch, there may not be another seat on your flight or the next one -- or even the flight after that -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Jeanne, what happens to the person who is actually removed from the plane?

Do they have any recourse at all or what do they do?

MESERVE: Well, if you don't have H1N1 and you're not gravely ill, they will rebook you on another flight without any sort of penalty. They'll get you out of there just as soon as they possibly can. After all, the airline has inconvenienced you here. Oftentimes, they will have a health professional come in and do an official evaluation of how you are.

But if you really are sick, they're not going to let you fly.


MESERVE: You're going to have to go some place, find a bed and get better.

MALVEAUX: OK. Great. Thanks.

Good advice, Jeanne.

Thanks again, Jeanne.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- hey, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne, with Black Friday right around the corner -- this coming Friday, actually -- retailers are hoping for a better Christmas shopping season than last year. And there are some glimmers that they may get it. One survey shows Black Friday shopping is expected to pick up more than 16 percent. The National Retail Federation says 57 million people say they will definitely go to the stores this year on Black Friday. That's up from 49 million last year. I will not be among them.

Some stores even plan to extend hours on Friday so people have more time to get in on the door buster deals. And there are some bargains to be had.

A new Gallup Poll shows consumer spending up 11 percent from the prior week. Even more impressive is the comparison to the same week last year. Spending is down 7 percent year to year, but that's the smallest year to year decline so far in 2009. That's something when you consider consumer spending makes up two-thirds of this economy.

There's also a big difference in how people say they plan to pay for their Christmas shopping this year. The same retail group reports an increase in the number of consumers who say they plan to use cash, debit or check cards. Credit card use is expected to decline by 10 percent. The reasons include credit card companies reducing people's credit lines and customers trying to lower their own debt as the recession drags on.

So here's the question: How will your Christmas spending be different this year?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Suzanne, are you going to spend more on my gift this year than you did last year?

MALVEAUX: Considering you didn't get a very big gift from me at all, yes, I think so, Jack.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

MALVEAUX: I'll give you a gift this year, how's that?


MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jack.

The world's largest atom smasher is plagued by problems. We'll take a look at a theory that some believes explains all of it.

Is it a time traveling particle to blame?

Also, we're learning new details about the big state dinner tonight and waiting for the first arrivals -- counting down to the most exclusive dinner in the country.

And she's singing tonight, but she's also right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Award-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson is the headliner at President Obama's first state dinner. With a sneak peek of her performance -- we've got it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: She has an Oscar and a Grammy among her many awards. But tonight, a very different honor for Jennifer Hudson. She has been invited to sing at President Obama's first White House state dinner. Well, I talked with her this afternoon about the big night.


MALVEAUX: Did you ever imagine that you would be performing at the White House before the president?

JENNIFER HUDSON, ACTRESS/SINGER: No, I didn't. I mean, it's such an honor, you know, to be able to go to the White House and sing for the president. So I'm just honored. I'm just excited.

MALVEAUX: Now, that's amazing that you're excited, because you've done "American Idol," you did the Super Bowl, you performed at Michael Jackson's funeral and now this is another opportunity.

You actually get nervous?

HUDSON: Yes. No, I mean, of course, I'm more excited than nervous because, I mean, it's not everyday you get to sing at the White House or get invited to the White House. So, you know, it's exciting.

But I'll -- the nerves haven't really kicked in yet. Maybe later I'll be nervous.

MALVEAUX: What do you think of the Obama family?

HUDSON: I think they are amazing. I'm extremely proud of them and -- I mean, yes. I'm very proud of them.

MALVEAUX: Does it bother you at all if you the president get criticized at any time?

HUDSON: Yes, but that's like a huge part of, you know, this field, the -- just being in that position, especially his position. But I think he's handling it extremely well. And he's the right person in the right position. That's how I feel about it.

MALVEAUX: What have you done to prepare for tonight?

HUDSON: I've rehearsed my songs over and over again. I think I picked the perfect gown...


MALVEAUX: Tell me about it.

What does the gown look like?

HUDSON: Oh, it's beautiful. I mean it has the longest train I've ever worn ever. And it's like my favorite color, purple and black. I think it's very formal and very fitting for the occasion.

MALVEAUX: And what about the song?

What are you performing?

HUDSON: I'm going to sing standards. This is my first time singing standards. So I'm going to sing "The Very Thought of You," "What a Difference a Day Makes" and "Somewhere."

MALVEAUX: Give me a few bars, for those of us who don't have tickets...


MALVEAUX: ... and can't go to the dinner. You have to sing.

HUDSON: Well, we have to call -- call the president and tell them to get them in there, because -- so you guys can come and hear me sing.

If you sing it with me, I'll sing it.

MALVEAUX: Go ahead.

You start.

HUDSON: Are you serious?

MALVEAUX: Oh, sure.

Go ahead.

HUDSON: Oh, Lord.


I think that's enough.

MALVEAUX: That's beautiful.

HUDSON: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely beautiful.

HUDSON: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And you've been performing.

You've been practicing for this?

HUDSON: I have. You know, there's been a lot -- a lot of other things going on at the same time. But I'm like, hold on. I'm going to the White House, I have to be prepared.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Now, tell me a little bit about -- the Obamas have used their own personal story to inspire others. You have been through the president has. You've been through difficult times.

What do you hope to inspire when you perform?

HUDSON: Wow. Well, I think, in a way, the song says it all. That's probably the reason why I chose a song like "Somewhere," because it's -- it's like, no matter what you're going though, when you're going through it, there is a place of -- of peace and quiet and -- and we are all on a mission to get somewhere and somewhere better. And, you know, so I guess that's my message.

MALVEAUX: Is there anyone special that you will be thinking of tonight?

HUDSON: No. I think I will be focused on what's before me. (LAUGHTER)

I mean, I'm -- I'm in a mind -- a very focused state of mind at the moment, because, like I said, once again, it's not every day you get to sing at the White House.

MALVEAUX: Tell me a little bit about your family. You have a new little boy.


MALVEAUX: And there's a lot going on in your life.


MALVEAUX: Can you tell me?

It must be very full.

HUDSON: We're -- we're getting ready for the holidays. I'm going to cook my first Thanksgiving meal. I'm going to start...

MALVEAUX: Can you cook?

HUDSON: No, I can't.


HUDSON: That's is going to be challenging.

MALVEAUX: Good luck.

HUDSON: This is my first. So I'm actually

-- it's crazy, because I'm more nervous about fixing my first Thanksgiving meal than I am about singing at the White House.



What does it mean to you -- I know that Michelle Obama, she mentors a lot of young women, young girls.

What does it mean to you to have this kind of opportunity to be at the White House, to be chosen for the first state dinner?

HUDSON: Oh, my goodness. It means a lot. And it's an honor. And I just hope that I can help out with it and become a support system for other young women and also be -- if I'm going to be a role model, be a -- a good role model and an influence, you know, for others.

MALVEAUX: You've been very busy, obviously.


MALVEAUX: What's it like to be doing so much all at once?

You have a new role that's coming. You're going to be Winnie Mandela, correct?


MALVEAUX: In "The Biopic?"

HUDSON: I'll be Winnie Mandela and -- so that's another thing I'm preparing for. And it's just a matter of just balancing everything out and taking one day at a time, step by step. So that's what I try to do.

MALVEAUX: Do you know the Obamas well?

They invited you to the DNC to perform.

HUDSON: We've met on different occasions. And from time to time, I've been invited to sing for different events. So -- this is the first White House one, though.


HUDSON: But I'm sure I'll see them tonight.


MALVEAUX: Well, she certainly will.

There have been a number of memorable White House state dinners over the years.

President George W. Bush hosted Mexican President Vicente Fox at his first state dinner just one week before the September 11th attacks.

President Clinton was in office more than 500 days before hosting the Japanese emperor at his first state dinner. The dinner was in an air conditioned tent in the Rose Garden.

And it was John Travolta who gave the guest of honor, Princess Diana, a whirl on the dance floor at one of President Reagan's state dinners.

Well, if you have a mortgage, you'll want to hear the latest news about home values for millions of Americans. It's not good.

Plus, battling bandits caught on camera.


MALVEAUX: Alina Cho is monitoring all the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Alina, what are you working on?


The president of the Philippines has declared a state of emergency in two provinces to put a stop to reprisal killings after yesterday's grisly massacre. Today, officials raised the death toll from 21 to 46. And local media is reporting that some of the victims were tortured, raped -- even beheaded. Among the dead, the wife of an opposition candidate to the incumbent governor.

Well, a new report shows that the United States is far from the end of the mortgage meltdown. Almost one in every four homeowners with a mortgage owes more than their house is worth. In real estate terms, that's being called underwater. According to the research firm First American CoreLogic, that amounts to nearly 11 million homeowners. And for the great majority, it's due to the steep drop in home values.

Caught in the red zone?

Well, a few weeks ago, Maria Shriver, wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was apologizing after getting caught making a parking infringement. She was even seen in pictures driving and holding a cell phone. Well, now the governor himself appears to have been caught red-handed -- not with a cell phone, but the Web site TMZ is posting pictures of the governor in a car parked in -- you guessed it -- a red zone. The Web site says it happened on Saturday. The governor's office is not yet commenting.

And just imagine this police radio report -- Suzanne, are you listening?

Be on the lookout for a gang vandalizing cars and stealing sandwiches. The leader is named Fred and can climb through windows and even open car doors. We are not talking about humans. Near Cape Town, South Africa baboons are increasingly raiding the cars of tourists.


CHO: And since those furry felons are a protected species, authorities, Suzanne, are reduced to warning humans to lock their doors and windows.

MALVEAUX: Alina, they look...

CHO: See those baboons?

MALVEAUX: ...they look pretty big to me. That looks like...

CHO: (INAUDIBLE) they're pretty big.

MALVEAUX: It looks like the baboon could take it.

CHO: They're almost as big as the humans, right?

MALVEAUX: Well, he could take one of us, I'm sure.

CHO: He probably could take me. That's probably true.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Alina.

CHO: You bet.

MALVEAUX: As the president gets ready to announce his Afghanistan plan and the Pentagon gets ready to send reinforcements, will more troops really matter?

I'm going to ask CNN's veteran war correspondent, Michael Ware.

Plus, the U.S. targets Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan from thousands of miles away.

But what is the impact of this robot war on civilians?

And among those who will be attending the state dinner at the White House, well, our own CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his wife. We're going to speak with them. We're going to talk with them just ahead.



Happening now, there are anonymous sources all over Washington that are telling us about this new strategy for Afghanistan. The president, however -- he's not one of them. White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, will preview what we really know about next week's announcement.

Plus, state dinners at the White House are much more about foreign policy than food. As the Obamas prepare for their first big night, we're going to give you a background briefing on the combination of policy, as well as protocol.

Also, how did a 13-year-old boy hide in plain sight on New York's subways?

And, more importantly, why?

Mary Snow gets the story from Francisco Fernandez, as well as his family.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our top story, it has been a long grind for American troops in Afghanistan. And President Obama today -- he made it clear that he intends to step up this U.S. effort there.


OBAMA: After eight years, some of those years in which we did not, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job.


MALVEAUX: The president says that he's going to announce his plans after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Well, the Pentagon is expecting orders to send some 35,000 more troops to the war zone.

Meantime, the United States has been using more unmanned aircraft to target insurgents in neighboring Pakistan.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has that story.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Look around this room. It's been hit by a missile fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle -- a UAV, more commonly known as a drone. The family living here say children were killed in this U.S. attack. The children were never the target, but in Pakistan's tribal border region, the deaths spelled trouble for U.S. foreign policy, where many believe that fighting with drones is cowardly.

PETER SINGER, AUTHOR, "WIRED FOR WAR": Last year, one of the most popular songs in Pakistani pop culture was a song whose lyrics talked about how America fights without honor.

ROBERTSON: Launched from just over the border in Afghanistan, the pilotless Predator and Reaper drones are the answer to so many of the U.S. military's problems -- credited with killing more than a dozen Al Qaeda leaders.

GEN. DAVID DEPTULA, U.S. AIR FORCE: The real advantage of unmanned aerial systems is they allow you to project power without projecting vulnerability.

ROBERTSON: This is what the view looks like from a drone. And this is how effective they can be. Those men on the corner are firing guns. The enemy eliminated. No service personnel put in harm's way. Why? Because the pilots who fly the drones never have to leave home. They control them from thousands of miles away in suburban America. Major Morgan Andrews drives to work from his Las Vegas house. I asked whether it's like a video game. No, he says, it's often all too real helping comrades in harm's way.

MAJ. MORGAN ANDREWS, U.S. AIR FORCE PREDATOR PILOT: It's very easy, I guess, when something like that is happening to project yourself there.

ROBERTSON: For the top brass, the potential of these remote systems gets their hearts racing, too.

GEN. DAVID DEPTULA, U.S. AIR FORCE: The future with respect to how you use these unmanned systems or remotely piloted systems is really unlimited, and we need to -- we need to open our minds and think more about capability and impact that we can use them to achieve as opposed to how we've done business in the past.

ROBERTSON: The U.S. military calls the deaths of children in Pakistan's border area regrettable, an acknowledgement that the awesome power of these machines can sometimes backfire.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


MALVEAUX: While President Obama is vowing to finish the job in Afghanistan, will more troops actually make a difference? Over the years, CNN's Michael Ware has spent a lot of time covering the war in Afghanistan, and he's joining us now from New York.

Michael, thanks for being here. Obviously we're hearing that we're on the very verge of getting a decision about the number of troops. What do you make of the idea of putting more U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan? Is it going to make much of a difference?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends what the president hopes to achieve. If the president wants to put pressure on the Taliban war machine, then, yes, he needs to send more troops because right now with all the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban machinery is virtually untouched. Indeed, American operations are feeding into it, giving it more recruits, indeed as Nic's package shows from the drones, from other sorts of attacks, so America doesn't have enough forces on the ground to actually hurt the Taliban. The idea would be to put pressure on them, to turn the screw and to bring them to the negotiating table which we see the Afghan trying to do.

But more importantly, and perhaps poignantly we have the Indian leader in country today meeting with the president, and what Americans need to understand, and this is a bit difficult, American soldiers are dying more because of India's rivalry with Pakistan using Afghanistan as a battlefield than it has anything to do with jihad or holy war or the Taliban, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And obviously, Michael, that's something that the president talked about with the prime minister of India today, but I -- I know there's been a split. I've spoken with senior administration officials over months on end here about this top-down versus bottom-up approach, that you either try to build up the Afghan Army and police, or you try to work with these warlords, these little small militia groups to try to take on the Taliban themselves. How do you think more U.S. troops is going to -- is going to affect balance there?

WARE: Well, it's going to help you meet in the middle between those two notions. The U.S. mission desperately needs to do both of those things. It needs to build an Afghan Army and an Afghan police service that can at least vaguely do the job, at least in an Afghan way.

But at the end of the day, I mean, I lived in Afghanistan. I lived in Kandahar, the homeland, the heartland, the birthplace of the Taliban. I know that place, and there, there's no such thing as a central government. There's no federal tax or services. It's about valley by valley by valley and village by village by village. That's where power rests. If you have a dispute with your neighbor, you don't go to the police. You go to the local warlord, and he answers to a warlord above him. They are the ones who control it. So if you can bring them on board, some of them are on the fence, some are now with the Taliban simply because that's in their interests right now, then if one of those warlords says there will be no Taliban in my district, there will be no Taliban in his district.

MALVEAUX: Michael, what do the Afghan people think about this? Do they want us there?

WARE: Oh, well, certainly at first, certainly at first rooting the Taliban. Let's not forget, the Taliban were welcomed when they first arrived because the chaos, after the Soviet invasion and America turned its back, that's something the Afghan people have yet to forget, that that left them in this anarchy raping, pillaging, it's unimaginable the anarchy that went on, Suzanne, and America left them to that fight. The Taliban rise up and in the religious cloak at war said we'll bring you law and order, and they did. Now when that went too far, sure, the Americans removed them. There was some celebration, but at the end of the day ordinary Afghans are fiercely nationalist, and they see any foreigner as a foreigner. They see the Americans as foreign occupiers.

MALVEAUX: So they don't trust us? Do they trust us?

WARE: No, no, they don't at all. So many promises made. Where's the delivery? Where's the roads and where's the electricity? Where's the schools and the security? You have your tanks roll through my village in the day. You pass out lots of lovely leaflets. You talk to our elders, but who rules at night? And where will you be tomorrow when I'm attacked? No. They don't trust you at all.

MALVEAUX: What would you do if you had a chance to talk to the president? What would you say to them about what needs to be happening next when you see the situation on the ground?

WARE: All right, several things. We could talk for a long time about this, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Only a few minutes, Michael.

WARE: First, send in the troops. Apply the pressure at the joints and ligatures of the Taliban. You can't cover the whole place. Try to find places where you can hit them with U.S. troops where it hurts. Bring in the Afghan forces as best they are and as quick as you can build them where you can, but turn to the tribal leaders and the old warlords. Pay them off. Put them in their interests and outbid the Taliban. That will give you a success similar to what you saw in Iraq. It won't be pretty. It will be messy, but at least it will hold itself together.

MALVEAUX: All right.

WARE: And finally, you've got to start banging India and Pakistan's heads together because they are the runs who are fueling this war.

MALVEAUX: All right. Michael Ware, thank you so much.

Finally success for the so-called big bang machine, but only after repeated failures. Was it being sabotaged by a particle from the future?

And he was once a homeless veteran. Now he's helping others escape the same fate. We'll meet another of CNN's top heroes. It doesn't cover everything. And what it doesn't cover can cost you some money.


MALVEAUX: On this day in 1859, Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" was published laying out his theory of evolution. Today Christie's Auction House in London sold a rare first edition of the book for an equivalent of $172,000. Christie's says it had languished for years on a bathroom shelf. Meantime, Darwin has a controversial successor carrying the torch for evolution. Our CNN's Max Foster has that story.


MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins first came to prominence with his 1976 book "The Selfish Gene" which explores the origins of life. An outspoken critic of creationism, Dawkin's atheist views have put him at the center of controversy. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's seminal work on "The Origin of Species." Darwin's description of a theory of evolution, that populations evolved over the course of generations through a process of natural selection, is the very basis on which Dawkins builds his thesis. The scientist's latest argument for evolution versus creationism is titled "The Greatest Show on Earth, The Evidence for Evolution."

Max Foster, CNN, London.


MALVEAUX: Scientists looking into the origins of the universe are celebrating preliminary success of a massive multi-billion dollar experiment. The world's largest atom smasher, it's an atom smasher, yes, finally up and running after months of failure and some frustration. Our CNN's Atika Shubert, she's looking at some of the challenges researchers have been facing.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was supposed to be the greatest science experiment ever, and it's certainly the most expensive. The large Hadron Collider designed to recreate the big bang theory with colliding particles has so far cost nearly $10 billion and counting. Scientist are hoping to catch sight of the theorized by never seen Higg's boson particle, the so-called god particle that gives matter its mass.


SHUBERT: But within days of kicking off last year, the Hadron Collider broke down, a helium leak in the cooling system took about a year to repair, and the latest hiccup, a piece of crusty French bread that found its way into the Collider's inner workings disrupting its work. So coincidence or something more? Well, according to two physicists the culprit may be the Higg's boson particle traveling back in time to destroy itself. Professor Holger Bech Neilson explains his theory.

HOLGER BECH NIELSEN, PHYSICIST: It would look as if the future has an influence on what happens today or yesterday so it would look at if some effect from the future goes back to us from today.

SHUBERT: Professor Nielsen says the Higg's boson particle may be so abhorrent to nature that it ripples back in time to sabotage the machine that created it. Still, Professor Nielsen doesn't think the Higg's boson particle managed to place a baguette to stop the Hadrom Collider.

NIELSEN: I think some of these are more like caused by -- by media interest than by the gawking quotation mark, you know, model.

SHUBERT: But as large Hadron Collider gears up for yet another try, you can't help but wonder.

Atika Shubert, London.


MALVEAUX: A proposal to make Republican candidates pass a conservative purity test before they can get funding from their own party, what would Ronald Reagan think?

And our doctor is in the house. The White House, that is. Our CNN's Sanjay Gupta will be at the president's first state dinner, and Sanjay is going to join us next. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Dignitaries are gathering right now for the White House state dinner honoring India's prime minister, and among those who are attending our own CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And I don't mean to make Rebecca, your wife, jealous but you look mighty dapper there. Usually you're in scrubs or something else here.


MALVEAUX: What do you think? Were you surprised when you got the invite?

GUPTA: Yes I was. I just got it a couple of weeks ago and you know it's funny. CNN mail sort of sat in the mail room for a little while and I opened this thing up and it was an invitation so I was excited and a little surprised.

MALVEAUX: What did Rebecca think, your wife?

GUPTA: She was definitely very excited. We've never been to something quite like this before so as soon as we started reading about and learning more about it she got tremendously excited. She decided to wear a sari, which is a traditional Indian dress for tonight hard to put on. She's still doing that but she was really excited about it.

MALVEAUX: You've met the president and first lady before through getting to know the White House, but it's probably her first time, Rebecca's first time?

GUPTA: Well you know I used to work at the White House, and she visited the White House a few years ago when we just toured around, but this is the first time for an event like this, clothes like this.

MALVEAUX: Do they tell you what to expect? Do you know anything? We know that Jennifer Hudson is performing.

GUPTA: It's surprisingly little information. They had an arrival time for the arrival ceremony today and we showed up there and then it was raining so we moved it inside to the east room from the outside. I've seen the tent and on TV like everyone else. I assume it's in there and they say about 8:15 is when dinner is going to start and I think just mingling ahead of time.

MALVEAUX: I know there's some social aides, there's some dos and don't. Do they tell you what not to do, you're not supposed to bow or don't give, you know, the prime minister a hug or anything? Have they said be on your best behavior?

GUPTA: Well they've sort of given us that guidance but really nothing more in terms of social customs or anything else. It was interesting for the arrival ceremony they said no cameras, but certainly as everyone was over there everyone was taking pictures so I'm not sure how enforced the rules are either. It seemed like everyone was pretty lax and pretty comfortable.

MALVEAUX: You have relatives in India still and keep up with them. What do they think of this honor going to the state dinner? Do you still keep in touch?

GUPTA: I do. I'm very close with my relatives in India, mainly in Delhi. They were very excited about it. You know Manmohan Singh was recently re-elected as you know and this was an election where over 300 million people showed up to vote. Think about that. That's like the entire population of the United States voted in India, and so he's an economic reformer who is quite popular over there, and they, you know, my relatives over there are quite fond of him so this is something that they were certainly looking forward to.

What's interesting as well that in this country there's only about 2.5 million Indian Americans living here, a billion living in India, so it's a relatively small population, but small population, but you know obviously a great deal of pride when a prime minister from India comes to visit.

MALVEAUX: Have you ever met the prime minister of India?

GUPTA: I have never met him, no, I talked to him once on the phone after his operation, but never met him.

MALVEAUX: OK. Now we just got the list here. It's a partial list I think of who's attending and we noticed, Deepak Chopra is one of them, and Oprah's BFF, Gail King. Who do you really want to see tonight?

GUPTA: Well I'm really looking forward to meeting the prime minister and his wife and certainly talking with the president. You know I haven't - I'm seeing the guest list for the first time with you so I haven't had a chance to really peruse that but I can tell that the dinner time conversation at those tables is usually just fun and fascinating and fast, so who knows?

MALVEAUX: Supreme Court justices or anybody you could be sitting next to. Have they told you yet?

GUPTA: No. They haven't given us seating lists at all. I know Secretary Clinton is going to be there as well. I saw her at the arrival ceremony. I talked to her for a few minutes. I don't know. It's going to be a very eclectic I think fascinating group.

MALVEAUX: OK. Now despite the fact that officially you have the time off; we're going to invite you back tomorrow so you can tell us all about the dinner and how it went and all the festivities.

GUPTA: Yes, give you all the behind the scenes looks.

MALVEAUX: OK. Great. Thanks, Sanjay. GUPTA: Thanks, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty. Hey Jack.

CAFFERTY: I'll be having dinner in New Jersey tonight. The question this hour is: How will your Christmas spending be different this year?

Shaun in Boston says: "My wife and I have already completed our Christmas shopping for this year. We've opted not to exchange presents with each other, instead focusing on our daughter. Even though we both have steady employment with good salaries, we're taking a frugal approach. Many of the items we bought her were purchased on sale or even from eBay. You cannot be too careful anymore."

James in Seattle: "I'm done shopping, paid cash for everything. I also spent a fourth of what I spent last year because everyone in my family is hurting and we all agreed, better to spend time together with minimal gifts than to go into debt over things we really don't need."

Silas in Boston says: "I'm only buying gifts from locally owned retailers this year and the gifts will be smaller and more thoughtful. Why spend it in places like Wal-Mart or Target where their profits ultimately go to China? The best Christmas gift Americans can give to themselves is to start trading at local businesses, the true heart of the American economy."

And Kristin says: "My time is valuable and I'm not stupid enough to put up with the early hours, lack of merchandise and being jostled by rude, greedy people. We'll be doing most of our shopping online."

And Bryant says: "I will no longer use a credit card since they raised their interest rate for no reason."

And John in Arizona: "My wife and I are Arizona state employees. We were both hit with 15-day furloughs last spring. The fear of that happening again will keep our wallets completely closed this season. Spending money just isn't a smart choice right now. Our holidays will be spent with family and friends and not in the stores." That actually sounds good to me.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: All right Jack. Still looking for the name, your name on this list here. I'll keep looking.

CAFFERTY: You won't find it.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks Jack.

A formerly homeless vet is reaching out to others and changing hundreds of lives. We're going to meet another one of our CNN heroes.

Plus the subway run away, one teenager's mysterious 11-day odyssey under ground.


MALVEAUX: His motto is no man left behind and this CNN hero lives it out every day as he tries to help homeless veterans. Roy Foster knows their plight well, he used to be one.


ROY FOSTER, STAND DOWN HOUSE: Camouflage, to see camouflage used as a covering for a place to dwell, veterans should never, ever end up in a position such as this. It shouldn't happen. My name's Roy Foster, founder of Stand Down House, providing supportive services for homeless veterans.

All right, this is the beginning, man. It's a good day. Another veteran coming off the streets. So which branch?


FOSTER: So where was you on the rank?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was an e -- can't remember.

FOSTER: How long you been out on the streets?


FOSTER: Four years. I myself was a homeless veteran, substance abuse issues, and at the completion of my treatment, I realized that their needs to be a safe place for the veteran. What we're looking at has really given this veteran back his life. Good, hot meals, housing, but most important, camaraderie. Do we watch each other's back? Absolutely. That's one of the things that's taught from day one in basic training, we're not one any longer, we are a unit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United States Army, Service Company 10th Special Forces group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in the United States Marine Corps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I served in Vietnam for a year and a half.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, 91st base command.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was doing everything I could do to kill myself, drinking and drugs and anything I could do, I don't have any of that at all now, I'm too old for it anyway.

FOSTER: It's easier for a veteran to confide in another veteran his deepest secrets and that camaraderie is a vital part of being here at Stand Down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been here about a month now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been here five months.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been here about four hours.

FOSTER: There are so many cracks that are in the system where a veteran can be easily left behind. Here at Stand Down, no. No man left behind.


MALVEAUX: Anderson Cooper hosts the all-star tribute to our CNN heroes this thanksgiving night at 9:00 eastern, 6:00 pacific only here on CNN.

Happening now: The best political team on television on these stories. President Obama feeds a huge guessing game on when he'll announce his plan for Afghanistan.