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Korean Crisis; Airport Safety; Sarah Palin's Book Tour

Aired November 23, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Suzanne. And good evening everyone. We begin tonight with breaking news. South Korea goes to crisis status after artillery exchanges with its nuclear-armed neighbor to the north. And President Obama huddles with his national security team at the White House to assess what the administration calls Pyongyang's belligerent actions.

Now tensions are constant between the North and South. Most provocations from the North are cries for attention and attempts at leverage in its pleas for food aid or negotiations over its nuclear program. But the intensity of the artillery barrages makes it among the most serious clashes in decades. And South Korea's president reportedly put his army on notice to strike missile arsenals in the North in the event of further provocation. The president's urgent White House meeting included the secretaries of state and defense, and after Mr. Obama spoke with "ABC News".


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't an attack on South Korea an attack on the U.S.?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: South Korea is our ally. It has been since the Korean War, and we strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea as part of that alliance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will we perhaps send warships or would you put U.S. troops on alert?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm not going to speculate on military actions at this point. I want to consult with President Lee.


KING: (INAUDIBLE) will come in a phone call a bit later on tonight, our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry with the latest -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well John you're right. I mean you remember back to the presidential campaign, it was Hillary Clinton then as a candidate who ran that famous TV ad, the 3:00 a.m. phone call, basically if there's a crisis around the world who do you want with the right experience answering the phone in the White House residence in the middle of the night.

Well early today it was President Barack Obama on the receiving end of that call from his national security adviser Tom Donilon, 3:55 a.m. to be precise. And even as the president was in Indiana today dealing with the economic crisis, he was all over this with his staff, giving him briefings. And as soon as he arrived back from Indiana, he went into the Situation Room with his top national security aides to try and show, as you see from this White House photo, that he's on top of it.

It's a huge test for this president. And after that meeting the White House put out a statement basically saying that the president reiterated during the meeting the, quote, "unshakeable support of the U.S. for our ally, the Republic of Korea and discussed ways to advance peace and security on the Korean Peninsula going forward."

This is a balance. You heard the word peace. You heard the word security. In terms of security there are all kinds of military options that can be on the table. But this White House wants to turn the temperature down. In talking to senior aides, we should expect a phone call from President Obama to his South Korean counterpart just a couple of hours from now. The key is they want to try to turn the temperature down, make sure this crisis does not become a full-scale conflagration -- John.

KING: And Ed that is the biggest concern, a moment like this. You have the secession issue in the North, you know questions about the stability of the government there. You have questions as well about the South Korean government not having experience in standoffs like this. I assume the biggest worry at the White House is some sort of misunderstanding or miscalculation?

HENRY: Exactly and because the South Korean president, President Lee, put out a statement earlier today saying there was going to be a swift response, if there was any more provocation from North Korea. The White House wants to make sure that South Korea doesn't jump the gun on anything like that, also the U.S. reaching out to China to make sure and see if they can communicate and get involved in the situation.

So as you say, there's no miscommunication. I think the broader issue getting beyond potential military options is a diplomatic option. The biggest one of all is to try and get those six-party talks going again, which obviously includes China, includes Russia, a lot of key allies. They have been stalled for a long time. They are needed obviously now more than ever -- John.

KING: An important phone call for the president tonight, Ed Henry at the White House tracking it. Thanks Ed.

We shift now to holiday season air travel, your safety and my question. Is there a widespread public outcry over the latest airport screening procedures or just more narrow but vocal opposition from libertarians and conservatives? Tomorrow could serve as a big test. Opt out is the rallying cry of TSA critics who want travelers to refuse to enter those advanced full-body scanning machines at many of the nation's airports.

Their goal, to create a long wait for the more time-consuming pat-downs and a Thanksgiving rush security line logjam. Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr is part of the opt-out alliance and our senior national security consultant Fran Townsend is among those who think that while the TSA has plenty of room for improvement, its critics are too quick to lower an important line of defense.

Congressman Barr, I want to start with you. You are part of the opt-out alliance. And your organization sent out an e-mail today offering people one of these cards, essentially ask them to click online to get their rights. And you describe what's happening at the airport as this way.

"Groping, naked x-ray scans and invasive searches are unconstitutional and should not be part of your holiday travel plans." My first question to you is that what is the alternative in the short term? Why should people opt out, tie up airport security lines on such a busy day of travel? Why can't we just have a conversation about maybe how we can improve things but not disrupt commerce, disrupt holiday and disrupt the economy?

BOB BARR (R), FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: Well, the major problem is the TSA has shown itself as recently as yesterday in comments by its administrator, completely unwilling to consider changes to these very invasive, unreasonable searches of individual passengers without any suspicion that they've done anything wrong, John.

KING: But if there was any suspicion at all, but post-9/11, post the recent attempt to send these packages to the United States, there has to be some higher alert. How do you balance understandably the rights of Americans to be innocent until proven guilty, with the right of this agency to say we want to prevent another 9/11?

BARR: It has nothing to do with innocent until proven guilty, it has to do with the Fourth Amendment's mandate that the government cannot conduct a search of somebody that's unreasonable. And if you take somebody, John, who has already gone through the normal background -- or the normal screening process and then say, well, we want to give you an additional one not because we believe you've done anything wrong, but just because we want to, that is unreasonable, and that's what people ought to be up in arms about.

KING: Fran Townsend, come into that conversation on that very basic point. Congressman Barr is saying this is flat out unconstitutional. Forget whether it's invasive. Forget whether it's uncomfortable. He says it's unconstitutional.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Congressman Barr and I do agree that TSA needs a lot of room for improvement, both communicating what they're going to do and why it's necessary. We also agree that this is a constitutional democracy. And if he believes that the procedures are unconstitutional, then there's a third branch of government, the courts, in which he can challenge the executive branch. But to do -- to have -- to call for this opt-out day is frankly irresponsible.

The only people who are going to get hurt in this are your fellow American citizens who are trying to get to their families for a national holiday. The TSA is going to continue to do what they do tomorrow whether Congressman Barr and his folks opt out or not. You're just going to slow down lines. But it really hands a propaganda win to our enemies. This is not the way to do it. We ought to debate it. We ought to have a conversation, and TSA ought to improve, but this isn't the way to do it.

KING: Congressman Barr, I want to read something you wrote in "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" yesterday. "Recent polls indicate an air passenger rebellion is brewing and none too soon. As a nation, are we ready to reaffirm our heritage and cast off the yoke of fear that has gripped us since September 11, 2001? Do we become once again a nation of laws in which the Bill of Rights still has meaning or have we succumbed to the federal browbeaters who assert that whatever intrusions they assert are necessary for them to protect us, are permissible?"

You say an air passenger rebellion is brewing. What -- borrow a Gary Hart line I guess and twist it a bit and say where's the proof? In a sense that if you look at the polling, I know you're upset about this. I know many conservatives and libertarians are upset about this and civil libertarians on the left as well, but if you ask all of the American people, this is an "ABC News"/"Washington Post" poll.

Do you support or oppose the digital x-ray machines to screen passengers? Sixty-four percent of Americans say they support them, 32 percent oppose. Are enhanced pat-down hand searches justified? Here's where you get a split, 48 percent say justified, 50 percent say not justified. But do the new TSA rules make you more likely to fly, less likely to fly or no difference? Seven in 10 Americans, sir, say no difference.

BARR: I think you'd get a very different answer, John, if you polled instead of all the American public, of course, it's very easy for people that don't fly to say, oh, yes, go ahead, do a pat-down, do a full-body naked scan or do whatever you need to. But it's very different if you ask people that actually have to go through this very intimidating, very invasive and frankly very humiliating process even after they have already taken their belt off, taken their shoes off, sent their stuff through the metal and explosive detectors, taken their jackets off, taken their sweaters off, it's utterly unnecessary. And for the government to be able to say do it just because we say you have to do it is something that Americans are increasingly objecting to. And they should.

KING: And Fran, answer the congressman's point in the sense that many people who think that this is theater, that essentially it's the facade of security so that Americans feel better, but the congressman doesn't think it's actually doing much good and there are some people who -- a lot of people who agree with him.

TOWNSEND: Well, John, we ought to be clear, when you go through the metal detector and the x-ray machines that's looking for weapons. That isn't going to detect explosives. They are doing some swipe tests randomly right now for explosive residue. But by and large, we don't screen for explosives, and that's part of the problem. This is where I say the congressman and I agree that TSA needs to improve. We need to push research and development so we have the technology to detect explosives.

In the meantime, when you have things like the Christmas Day bomber and al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula putting explosives in computer cartridges, you've got to do these pat-downs. There isn't much alternative right now. But we need to develop alternatives that are less intrusive. I do agree with that.

KING: And one of the things, Congressman that you recommend on these cards -- you can go online and get -- I'm going to lift up a bigger copy of it here -- on the back if detained politely ask why you're being detained and specifically what is being investigated. At any time you may invoke your Sixth Amendment privilege, pausing the investigation, and allow you to consult an attorney. So essentially you're saying to people make a point, prove a point. If they stop you, essentially say hold on. I want a lawyer.

BARR: Absolutely. And the TSA regulations, you have to kind of dig for them, but we dug and we found some of them that are on the back of that card. The TSA doesn't tell you, or at least they don't advertise for you, do you have a right to opt out of the naked full- body scanner? You have a right to have a pat-down done in private, away from prying eyes of other people.

You have a right to have somebody there with you to assist if you want it. There are a lot of things that people need to be aware of. The TSA doesn't advertise because, frankly, it would make their job a little more time consuming, a little more difficult. And force them to be a little more professional, perhaps.

KING: We'll keep an eye on how all this plays out tomorrow on opt-out day, as you hope it is and we'll watch the debate. I'm sure this debacle is going to continue for weeks and months into the new Congress. Bob Barr, Fran Townsend thanks for your time tonight.

Up next here, former and perhaps future Republican Presidential- candidate Mike Huckabee says President Obama should watch his wife and daughters go through those TSA screenings.

And remember Velma Hart?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration.


KING: She just lost her job and joins us to talk about confronting the president and getting a pink slip.


KING: Live pictures there of a bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. "America by Heart" is Sarah Palin's new book and that right there in that room is where the book tour begins tonight.

More on that story in just a moment, but let's continue first our conversation about the politics of the TSA screening and whether some politicians are protesting because they legitimately object or to make a point.

Here with us Republican strategist Kevin Madden was with Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign and CNN political contributor -- political contributor -- let me get every syllable in there -- Roland Martin. Welcome.

I want to get to the Palin book tour in a minute, but I want to continue the conversation we were having in the first block because suddenly there's a lot of protests about these TSA screenings and sometimes when you have a political debate, one politician says one thing and the next one has to say something a little more provocative to get more attention.

This caught our eye last night from Mike Huckabee. He obviously has a program on FOX News. He ran for president last time in the Republican primaries. "Mr. President, I issue a challenge. If you don't find anything wrong with these practices that presume the guilt of an American before he or she proves innocence, then I ask you to take your wife, your two daughters and your mother-in-law to Reagan National Airport and have them go through the full-body scanner and then be subjected to the same and full-body grabbing grope by the government agents that you authorized to do it.

Do it in a public area where all can see. When you do that, maybe some of the rest of us won't be as angry as watching our wives, daughters and mothers humiliated and degraded like the criminals just in order to fly on a plane." -- tough stuff.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but I'm sure the same folks would talk about candidates like Huckabee who ran for president, who took private planes, who did not go through the same security the rest of us went through, who could drive right onto the tarmac as opposed to having to go through those same lines. Clearly he wants to --

KING: In the early days I think the low-budget Huckabee campaign probably included some Southwest Airlines and the like.

MARTIN: Right, early on, but the bottom line is a different standard has been set. He wants to score a political point. The reality is look, you have whiney Americans complaining about this. A lot of folks simply want to be safe.

KING: It's a conversation worth having. But part of my conspiracy theory is that it got louder after the election when conservatives, libertarians, anti-government, people who think there's too much government around us suddenly decided, OK, let's exercise some of our muscle. Wrong?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I think that's right. I think that right now it's animating a lot of conservatives, intellectuals and a lot of grass-roots conservatives in their showdown with what they see as an ever growing, more intrusive government. So I think what happens is a lot of folks that are trying to establish themselves with those folks are trying to go out there and be as provocative as possible to make as a clear point. And that point right there is going to be played over and over. It's been playing on blogs. It's been on Twitter, so essentially Mike Huckabee achieves his goal of actually --


KING: Is an issue -- is an issue like this --


KING: -- safety, safety, terrorists where you have to look at all the intelligence, you have to make decisions, and especially in the days right after 9/11, I think a lot of people excused the government if it went maybe a bit too far. They'd rather go a bit too far than a bit not too far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, right --

KING: -- in making these calculations. Is it just inevitable that we're going to fight this out in a political arena as opposed to saying maybe have a quiet meeting and say what works and what doesn't, what new technology is available.

MARTIN: Guys like Huckabee don't want to have the quiet meeting. They are playing to the base. You're right. They are playing to the people who want them to say exactly what they're saying. But you know what? I think it's those Independent voters, those voters frankly with comments on the left and right who are saying, you know what? I want to be absolutely safe when I fly because we saw what happened when our airline industry was shut down. The economy, frankly, was thrown into the brink as a result of 9/11.


MADDEN: And as sure as dogs will bark in the kennel, politicians are going to play politics. So I'm never really surprised by it --


MADDEN: -- and look I do think that there are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides and -- but Roland is right. Ultimately the public is going to judge it on whether or not it's as big a priority right now as other pressing issues in the country.

KING: All right, you guys just saw those pictures in Phoenix. We can even show them again. That's the beginning of the Sarah Palin book tour in Phoenix, Arizona right there. There's a pretty good crowd there.

Now I'm going to go over to the map -- you guys know politics. I just want you to look at the map. Here's the book tour, all right, Sarah Palin's book tour -- here's the new book cover, "America by Heart", number one best-seller, "Going Rogue" was. Now let's see -- she's starting in Phoenix, and then we're going to off to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a good red state there. And as we play this one out, Des Moines, Iowa, they have something there, caucuses, I think, Nebraska, Kansas and Dallas, Texas there. Small-town America, large Republican (INAUDIBLE) New Orleans, Houston, those get important a little more down the road, and then we see this play out -- Little Rock, Baton Rouge.

We're at the end of November now -- December -- Lexington, Kentucky, Brentwood, Tennessee, important states there and Indiana, back to Iowa -- what a coincidence there. And then we finish, Cincinnati, Ohio, a very big state. You're a Bengals fan (INAUDIBLE) and we end up -- and also stop in South Carolina. These are the -- this is the first wave of the tour here. Obviously, she's trying to --


MARTIN: What happened to California?

KING: She's trying to sell a book, but she's, well some might say, continuing to sell herself.

MADDEN: Look, those are Sarah Palin audiences in those states. I think the people of New Hampshire are going to be very upset, right --


KING: There could be a second wave --


MADDEN: You know you -- I think it's an important part of selling these books is actually you know making sure that Sarah Palin is going out there and adequately embracing the political profile she has and the issues that she's going to be dealing with.

MARTIN: I wonder if she'll be actually driving in a car (INAUDIBLE) on the bus versus a private jet flying in and out. But look, she is simply speaking to her core supporters, driving the book sales and sure, we can sit here and say that there's a political motive to it. I believe so. But I still think she doesn't run in 2012.

KING: You think not?

MARTIN: No, I don't.


MARTIN: I think but as long as you keep the flirt, as long as the flirt goes on, you're still racking up high-speaking fees, things along those lines.

KING: You think of your answer, whether you think -- you know your answers --


KING: You think she's going to run, but I want to match it up. Now, you worked for Mr. Romney last time. Let's go through some of these. Here's Sarah Palin. This is the new Quinnipiac poll pairing up some of the key Republicans -- Obama, 48; Palin, 40 when you look at that one. That's been pretty consistent. The president beat Sarah Palin by a decent margin, but that's still a couple of years out anything can happen.

OK, Mike Huckabee, we talked about him a minute ago essentially a dead heat here -- 46 percent for the president, 44 percent for Governor Huckabee there. Now this guy, Kevin Madden, worked for Mitt Romney, 45 percent, 44 percent against. Statistically a dead heat, but he's the only Republican we could call that I guess ahead even though it's within the margin.

Number one, you can -- do you agree with him or do you think this is now irresistible? I would have said a year ago, a lot of people around Sarah Palin saying or even six months ago, probably not. After this past year, most of them think, how do you give that up?

MADDEN: Look, I'll offer my clinical analysis here. You know I think that it -- depending on Monday if you ask me Monday or Friday I have a different answer to that question. And I think that's the genius of it because we continue to talk about it from Monday through Friday and then again on Saturday and Sunday. So the speculation of fever is really what's --

KING: And Governor Romney's decision sort of pushed back the clock a little bit. Remember when Republicans pushed the calendar back a little bit.

MADDEN: Right.


KING: But is it in part -- is in part you wait as long as you want because you want to see "A," what does Sarah Palin do and "B" just how does this Tea Party boiling play out a little bit?

MADDEN: I think it has more to do with the simple fact that when you were -- if you look at 2008 how fast everybody was into the pool. It had to do with the fact that there were so many candidates at one percent and you had to spend -- you had to get in very fast, raise the money in order to get to 25 percent and be competitive in these early primary states.

Now where you're looking at a lot of these folks that are taking their time, they have national name awareness. They don't have the same pressure to go out there and really build awareness at the same time they are trying to stimulate the man for their candidate.

MARTIN: Also, if you're Mitt Romney, you want this to be a policy discussion. And as long as she's doing the reality shows and she's talking about you bet you and she's on Facebook and Twitter, you're sitting back saying oh, please keep it up because again, she attacked then Senator Obama as a celebrity. She can't even criticize anybody as a celebrity this time around.

MADDEN: I will say it's hard right now to say how each candidate would run against each other until you know how many are in and who's in all together.


MADDEN: So you know what I would say about these 2012 polls is that they're a lot like NFL preseason games. They're fun to watch but they don't mean a thing.


KING: He's saying that because he thought the Bengals looked a lot better in the preseason than they do now.


KING: We're going to hold on right here.


MARTIN: So do my Texans.

KING: This week I say go Bengals. Coming up, President Obama and Vice President Biden in Indiana today sounding like they're trying out some 2012 campaign themes -- we'll be right back.


KING: It's not often the president and vice president, not in a campaign year are out traveling the country together. But today Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden went to Kokomo, Indiana, a factory there that makes Chryslers. Mr. President I'm sorry -- the president of the United States wanted to crow. Many conservatives opposed his auto bailout. The president said good idea.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We made the decision to stand with you because we had confidence in the American worker, more than anything. And today we know that was the right decision. We know that was the right decision.



KING: President bragging there in Kokomo, both Kevin Madden and Roland Martin are still with us. I want you to listen to the president's tone here because this one's a little bit more risky. Of course you want the president to be upbeat because you want consumers to be optimistic. Our economy is so consumer driven. Listen to the president's optimistic tone. And then we're going to check it with the facts.


OBAMA: We learned today that the economy is growing at a faster pace than we previously thought, that's welcome news. But we're going to keep on making it grow faster. We're going to keep on creating more jobs. We need to do everything we can to make that happen.


KING: Now, I don't fault the president for trying to talk up the economy. That's part of his job. But here's the tough part for the president, especially when we get around to reelection campaign. Here's what the Fed said today. The Fed downgraded its economic forecast. Earlier it had said it expected growth this year of three percent to 3.5 percent.

Now it says the economy will grow this year at somewhere around 2.4 percent to 2.5 percent. That is sluggish, at beast. And here's a bigger number here. What about unemployment?

The Fed now projecting this year 9.5 to 9.7 percent unemployment, next year 8.9 to 9.1 percent unemployment, and through 2013, high unemployment, 6.9 percent to 7.4 percent including, Roland, if you're looking at those 2013 numbers, that's the climate in which the president is going to have to seek re-election -- tough.


MARTIN: Look, look, the -- when the president talks about the situation that they actually faced, I think one of -- you know he's absolutely right. One of the mistakes that I believe they have consistently made is that they have not made it clear -- when you talk about these auto jobs -- look, beyond just the fact that we say the auto company. You talk about the people, their families, the people who went to college, the kids who are in school, actually businesses that surround these plants.

And so it really goes beyond just those particular firms. They've talked about it in a much more clinical way as opposed to the language you heard today. They have to be able to convey to the people, look. It goes beyond just magic finger. Everything is just great, jobs come back.

KING: You're right about that. If you go into one of these auto towns, it's not just the plant. Every pizza shop, dry cleaner, mom and pop store the domino effect --

MARTIN: You've got to convey that.

KING: You think they failed that?

MARTIN: Oh they failed miserably conveying that.

KING: What's the challenge? Now you're a partisan Republican, but it's his job. It is his job to try to tell people hey, slowly but surely we're getting better. At the same time, if people start hearing him talking up and then they see the Fed and they just in their own lives see the hard part.

MADDEN: No, that's right and I don't envy the White House because of the great communications challenge here, every night -- every day they have to walk a message tightrope. The economy right now, people are very angry at the way that this administration has reacted with more spending and piling up deficits. And they're very anxious about the future.

So it's very hard for the president because what he needs to do is instill confidence in the American public. He needs to give them a little bit more optimism. But at the same time, he can't use rhetoric that doesn't match the reality of the economic struggles that people are going through every single day. So it's very difficult.

MARTIN: I'll give you an example. March 2009, everybody was talking about the Dow at 9,000. Every day Ali Velshi was on, Mr. Doom, talking how we're losing the stock market, 401(k)s are being trashed out. A year later, all of a sudden at 11,000, 401(k)s stabilized. Pensions stabilized. You would think the White House would be saying to teachers, to firefighters, to police officers all of you who have your retirements based upon Wall Street need to level that because of the actions that we actually took.

But you don't hear -- you don't hear them taking the positive steps and speaking to it in a way where the average person out there is saying, whoa, I didn't have to think about that. I was going nuts a year ago, but now my numbers have stabilized.

KING: Now most presidents say when they leave office it's going to take years for history to make its verdict. I want you to listen here to the most upbeat, most supportive wing man in American politics.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president did what every great president has done in the past. He's looked to the future. We used the Recovery Act to provide seed money that's for private investment. Private investment and new industries like solar and wind, advanced batteries, high-efficiency lighting, high-speed rail. Folks some of our friends forget that's what all great presidents did.


KING: Twice, twice in 20 seconds, great president. It's in the history books already.

MARTIN: That's how you sell a ticket.

MADDEN: Look, the difficult part here is the summary of that was, you're welcome. And that is a very difficult message to -- and it's not going to resonate very well. Going back to Roland's point, the metric people use right now to judge the economy is whether or not they have a job and whether or not that job is stable and whether or not their neighbor has a job. They're not looking and feeling much comfort from the Dow. They're not looking and feeling much comfort from GM and others, you know, going out and having public offerings.

MARTIN: But that's why I think you have to make people understand that because, again, if you're somebody who's retired and you have a pension, okay, and a year ago you were freaking out and then you were saying I'm losing 20 percent, 30 percent and all of a sudden you pretty much gained it back, you have to actually say that for somebody to go, yeah, that is true. That was happening. That's why what I think the disconnect is in speaking in regular terms to regular Americans.

KING: Remember when this woman stood up and told the president I'm exhausted? Four days ago she lost her job. She'll be right here with us. Stay with us.


KING: With us now, a woman who provided one of this year's defining moments. Remember when Velma Hart stood up at a presidential town hall two months ago and said this?

VELMA HART, CFO, VETERANS SERVICE ORGANIZATION: Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantel of change that I voted for and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.

KING: Velma Hart has even more reason to be disappointed. She learned on Friday she was being laid off from her job. Velma Hart joins us now. And let me start right there. That is a heart- wrenching moment for any American. What happened?

HART: I was called in. You know, being the chief financial officer, I certainly understood the financial condition of the organization. And I was called in like everyone else and told what the reality was and that the hard decision had been made. I was thanked for my service. I was given opportunities to leave the organization and, you know, explain the basic information about benefits. The same thing everyone else has gone through who's been in this situation. Some 14 million or 15 million people.

KING: Amvets is the organization you worked for and the executive director Jim King told "The Washington Post," "It was not anything she did. She got bit by the same snake that's bit a lot of people. It was a move to cut our bottom line. Most not for profits are seeing their money pinched." Certainly sad for you. I want you to listen to something else you said to the president, a little bit more of your exchange with the president. It seems to have, I guess, more personal meaning now given your current circumstances. Let's listen.

HART: I have two children in private school, and the financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family. My husband and I joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives, but quite frankly, it's starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we're headed again. And quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly. Is this my new reality?

KING: And you had no idea then, did you? You were talking about the recession, and that hit everybody's savings and the value of everybody's homes. And then you took the third hit, if you will, by losing your job.

HART: I think there's a reality for me, I just left the chairmanship for a national nonprofit that deals with a nonprofit profession. And in that capacity, I learned all too quickly that, in fact, a lot of nonprofits and associations are suffering under this economic stress. It is not an anomaly. The sad part is that we couldn't do things proactively to make a difference before people had to lose their jobs.

KING: And you were very critical in a polite way but a forceful way to the president that day saying sir, I'm exhausted. I was a supporter and I'm out there defending you and I'm frankly running out of gas doing that. Do you think the president heed your message?

HART: I don't know if he heeded my message, but he heard my call. I'm not exhausted anymore. I think the answers he's given to this country since that September 20th day have made very clear to me that progress is, in fact, being made.

KING: I want you to listen to a bit of the president today. We just showed you with the president two months ago. You say you think he's heard the call. He was in Kokomo, Indiana today, very hard hit, almost 10 percent unemployment in Indiana. He was at an auto factory and defending his administration's controversial decision to send government money to help Chrysler and GM. Listen to the president.


OBAMA: So here's the lesson. Don't bet against America. Don't bet against the American auto industry. Don't bet against American ingenuity. Don't bet against the American worker. Don't bet against us.


KING: You have no doubt that he's on your side?

HART: Absolutely. I mean, as a business professional myself, there's no question that the money that was infused into the auto industry on its face looked like a really bad decision, but it's turned out to be a windfall. That not only saved jobs and saved a major industry for this country, but actually, we're getting our money back as Americans. Somebody's paying back a debt. That's an amazing thing. And I'm encouraged and very pleased that the president has taken credit for making such a serious and hard decision.

KING: What next for Velma Hart? And as you search, and I assume you're going to be searching, is there any role for the government? Do you need or want help from the government, or are you on your own here?

HART: I never expected help from the government. Many people raised that as an issue. Velma's just another Democrat looking for a government handout. Well, news to all those who don't know Democrats. Not all Democrats are looking for a government handout. I certainly not among that community. And I believe being a person of faith, that, in fact, I will weather the storm as well if not better than most Americans in this condition. And I'm not looking for anything special.

KING: One thing that did come of this as a contributor role at the financial network CNBC, what's that about?

HART: I don't know what it's about. I'm asked to provide commentary on a host of issues. The most exciting thing for me, though, is the stuff that is actually allowed me to engage with people. I currently have a blog up on the website and have taken my share of knocks for some of my commentary in that blog. But there's another one coming and I'm looking forward to them posting that blog and to the feedback I hope to share with many Americans. You know, none of us are in this alone. But when you're in the situation, sometimes it feels pretty lonely.

KING: I also had a moment where you were invited up on stage during the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally for sanity. He gave you a medal from Jon Stewart. This has been a bit of a moment of celebrity for you in an odd way. What's that like?

HART: Well, I'll tell you, all my friends thought that for me to get any award or recognition for reasonableness was an oxymoron. They didn't think that that made sense at all. But I was certainly honored to be -- Jon Stewart is one of my favorite people in the whole world right next to Stephen Colbert, and I was so honored to be part of the program. It was, in fact, my first rally. I am not a rally girl.

KING: Velma Hart, looking forward, you described yourself as a Democrat. You said the president seems to have heeded the call. Any doubt in your mind that he gets your vote in 2012?

HART: Not at this point, not at all. My issue right now is to watch this Congress starting January 1st. Are they hearing us? Are they there to represent the American public's need? Are they there to represent the Velma Harts of the world who just want things to get better and make a way so that new jobs can be developed and created and all of us can be employed again?

KING: Velma, we appreciate you sharing your story. We hope you'll keep in touch as the search goes on. Thank you.

HART: Thank you.

KING: Next, the latest headlines and rare and disturbing insights into what the Afghan people think about the U.S. Most of them, most Afghans don't even know why our troops are there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Welcome back. We want to remind you, we're keeping track of a developing story. North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire today. Tensions on the Korean peninsula. And we're waiting tonight for the president of the United States to make a phone call to his South Korean counterpart. We'll check in with the white house here on CNN when we get that. Joe Johns for more of the news you need to know right now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, as world leaders plead for calm, an observer who's just returned from the Korean peninsula tells CNN the north actually wants to negotiate but in his words, it's showing us they're a threat first.

Also today, a U.S. scientist told CNN's Jill Dougherty about his visit to North Korea's newly disclosed uranium processing plant.

SIEGFRIED HECKER, CENTER FOR INTL. SECURITY & COOPERATION: There was enormous pride, and the facility had these beautifully polished granite steps leading up. And so it was so modern compared to the rest of Pyongyang. So there was pride, but they also told me right there that facility, we did not want to show you this facility, but our superiors made us do it.

JOHNS: In other news, President Obama put out a statement hailing a breakthrough in aids prevention. New research shows a pill taken daily reduce people's chances of HIV infection by 43 percent to 73 percent.

At the same time, a United Nations report says new HIV infections decreased by almost 20 percent in the last decade, and AIDS deaths are down 20 percent in the last five years.

Finally, a new defense department report says most Afghans still believe a Taliban victory is inevitable despite the ramped-up fighting by U.S. and NATO forces. First thing that jumped into my head when I saw that was, Stockholm syndrome? You've been cramped up in your homeland for so long by these bad guys, surely you don't think they can ever get routed.

KING: It's a huge challenge nine years in. Stay with us because when we come back, we'll hear from an expert who's lived in Afghanistan for five years now. She'll tell us what the Afghan people are thinking. Here's one troubling headline, they don't even know, most of them, why U.S. troops are there.


KING: President Obama is just back from a NATO summit that agreed to draw down forces in Afghanistan between next year and 2014, but also promised a long-term partnership with Afghanistan's government. The problem -- and it's a big one -- is a new survey of the Afghan people shows many are not only hostile toward the international community, they don't know why the American troops are there. With me is Norine MacDonald who not only heads up the group responsible for that survey, she's in Washington to advise the white house on Afghan policy. I want to start with the numbers because frankly they're stunning, nine years into the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. You showed this group of Afghan men these pictures. You can see them over your shoulder there. And every American has seen these pictures too many times, the planes hitting the twin towers on 9/11. And you asked this simple question. Do you recognize this picture? 68 percent said yes.

So they had some awareness of these photos which clearly went around the world. But then you read them an explanation of the events of 9/11 including this. "The American government asked the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden. They refused. So the Americans and their allies NATO attacked the Taliban and came into Afghanistan to look for Osama Bin Laden and overthrew the Taliban." Did you know about this event which the foreigners call 9/11? 92 percent of the Afghan men answered no. Nine years later, they don't have a clue why the American troops are there.

NORINE MACDONALD, PRESIDENT & FOUNDER, ICOS: Yeah. It's a startling statistic. And I think should concern everyone. I think what's happened over the years is everyone assumed the people who were there before explained 9/11 and the reason for the presence of the American and NATO troops there. I suppose the good news about it is easily fixable.

KING: Easily fixable how though? And help me out. You've lived in Afghanistan for five years. Whose fault is this? Is it President Karzai supposed to say the Americans are our friend? Is it the military when they go into the towns to try to win people over to do the education? The state department usually provides diplomatic support for this. Who dropped the ball?

MACDONALD: One of the problems we've got is the only actors on the ground in the southern Afghanistan is the military and primarily American military actors. I think short term we have to use American military actors to fill in this gap. One other thing the report showed the military surge which you can clearly see in southern Afghanistan. There's been a dramatic change in the landscape. They need to be properly supported not only by a proper political explanation and narrative but by real positive impacts in the daily lives of the Afghans in the villages where we're prosecuting our war. That's another thing research revealed, that that's not happened.

KING: One more number in this context and question. Why do you think the foreigners are here? For violence and destruction 31 percent. Helping Afghans and rebuilding Afghanistan 25 percent. Only 4 percent say to provide peace and security. I know you don't like to talk about private meetings at the white house with administration officials but do they get the depth of their communication problem?

MACDONALD: They're seeing things that need to be done and addressed to support the surge. These problems we're seeing, the need for positive impacts in their lives and fill in the blanks in the political narrative, they can be fixed and that is necessary to support the surge. Otherwise the surge will have been wasted.

KING: You've been there for five years. Do you see more Taliban now than three or four years ago? Is the security situation better especially for a woman living in Afghanistan? Has to be pretty dicey.

MACDONALD: When I first went there it was relatively safe. I could travel just about anywhere I wanted. Now it is very difficult to travel around. As I said, though, we're seeing the surge on the ground. It's gratifying to see them there. They're doing a good job. I think we the west have had a strategy trying to build up the Afghan government. In that way we've sort of neglected our direct relationship with the Afghan people. I would like to say on behalf of the Afghan people they're not getting the benefit of everything that we're doing in Afghanistan. The average Afghan living in the village doesn't have a job, doesn't have food to feed a family.

KING: Is Karzai so corrupt it's not reaching the people?

MACDONALD: Let's say it's a combination of the two factors. The government is not able or willing to deliver. And for various reasons we've not been in the villages doing what we need to do for them. It's not just because they're deserving of some support from us because we're prosecuting the war in their village. It's good politics for us. They have to feel that their future is a better future aligned with the west and our security interests which means no Taliban and al Qaeda rather than a future aligned with the Taliban al Qaeda. So good example of that is the United States of America is providing electricity in southern Afghanistan. The Afghan people don't know that. We have to make that clear. A future with us aligned with our security interests means the lights are on. So I think there's a lot more we can do directly with the Afghan people to build that relationship and solidify that, not just for the short term but the medium term and the long term.

KING: As we have this conversation, the American people understandably are tired of this war. It's been nine years. 6 in 10 now oppose it. Much of that opposition comes from the fact -- I found this out last year. I always asked people why are we still there? They couldn't come up with a good answer. Some said 9/11. There was no depth to the answer. They didn't quite understand it. In your numbers is there any doubt in your mind what the people of Afghanistan think will happen if the security situation were to collapse again?

MACDONALD: We asked this -- and this is Afghan men sort of the most interesting cohort. We asked them if the Taliban returned to control Afghanistan, will al Qaeda return? 80 percent of them said, yes, they will. We followed that up with a question. If al Qaeda returns to Afghanistan, will they use Afghanistan again as a base to attack the west? 72 percent of this cohort said yes. So their opinion is obviously there's a serious risk. If we let Afghanistan, southern Afghanistan go back to Taliban control, Taliban will return and al Qaeda will return and use it a base again to attack the west. So for those who think about withdrawing or pulling back or letting the Taliban take control of southern Afghanistan again, it's a huge gamble and tales not a gamble that people of southern Afghanistan think is a very good one.

KING: Fascinating study. Norine MacDonald thank you for your time.

MACDONALD: Thank you.

KING: As we reported earlier. President Obama visited Kokomo today. That rings a bell of sorts for our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick. He's next.


KING: Pictures there just moments ago Phoenix, Arizona, Sarah Palin signing copies of her new book "America's by Heart." She's on the beginning of a big book tour. We will keep track of that. Let's turn to somebody else that thousands would line up to meet, our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick. Pete?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Hey John King. Here's what's interesting. The president himself has a new children's book. I just bought it for my kids. We've read it every night for three nights. It's called "OF THEE I SING." It will be interesting to see whose book sells more. Will that determine who wins the presidency in 2012? We could speculate about that but something even more interesting, the president today was in Kokomo and a lot of Americans may have been confused thinking he went off to the Florida Keys. There's a place called Kokomo where of course, John King, you want to go to get away from it all. But Kokomo, Indiana where the president was with the vice president meeting the mayor of Kokomo, Indiana, Greg Goodnight, to tout the highly controversial bailout of Chrysler and say it created a lot of jobs. John King, one quick personal question for you if we have time you and I are off I was thinking you and I could go to a little place called Kokomo if you're interested. We could get there fast and take it slow.

KING: I'll think about it over the Thanksgiving holiday. Pete, we'll see you tomorrow and we'll see you tomorrow too. "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.