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THE SITUATION ROOM
Job Growth Hits the Brakes; President Obama's Afghan Surprise; Debt-Slashing Blueprint Not Approved; Debate Over Long-Term Jobless Benefits; WikiLeaks Army of Secret Spillers;
Aired December 3, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now -- a painful curveball for the U.S. economy and for the nation -- startling new jobless numbers just when it looked like employment might -- might be picking up. This hour, we'll tell you who's actually hiring and why. Stand by.
President Obama's surprise visit with U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- why he went now and why he canceled on the Afghan president. New information.
And the founder of WikiLeaks is warning that even if he's arrested or his Web site is taken down, he's got an Army of people ready to spill U.S. government secrets.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, a new punch in the gut for the United States. Fifteen million Americans are desperate to try and get a paycheck. Once again, job growth hit the brakes in a big, big way.
Take a look at the new numbers that are so disturbing to so many millions of people. Just 39,000 jobs were created last month. That's less than a third of the 150,000 jobs economists had expected. The overall unemployment -- unemployment rate rose once again, to 9.8 percent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's too much pain out there. There are still millions of people out of work and trying to make do with -- without a paycheck and without the dignity or the respect that goes with a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And it gets worse. Right now, more than six million Americans have been jobless for a half a year or more and 1.3 million Americans have simply given up looking for work all together. It's a sea of gloomy statistics. But none of us should forget that for every one of those numbers, there's a person, a family that's hurting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEBORAH SEVILLE, LOST JOB, MAY SOON BE HOMELESS: It is like everything, yes, is falling apart.
And also, what goes along with that is sort of, you know, my zest for life and...
SEVILLE: -- I don't know, like, you know -- like a future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our Mary Snow spoke with that woman and she spoke with others who have also been looking -- hunting for jobs.
Mary is joining us from New York right now -- Mary, you're -- you're trying to find some places where there are some jobs right now, that people, potentially, have a chance of finding. MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Wolf, as dire as the situation is for millions of Americans -- and we've seen firsthand from Deborah Seville and others this week how dire it is -- this isn't going to ease the pain. But you're about to hear from an economist who's going to tell you something that you probably wouldn't expect to hear after seeing today's bleak jobless report.
SNOW (voice-over): With only 39,000 private sector jobs added last month, it's hard to find any silver lining in the November jobs report. But economist
Lakshman Achuthan says most of the report is looking through a rearview mirror.
LAKSHMAN ACHUTHAN, ECONOMIC RESEARCH CYCLE INSTITUTE: The really important takeaway is that the recovery continues, there is no double dip, there is actually a revival, if you look at forward-looking indicators, a revival in growth. So the slowdown that we've seen in the jobs market for the past half a year, it's drawing to a close. It -- it's -- it doesn't necessarily turn on a dime. But it is going to turn around the end of this year.
SNOW: So where are the jobs?
Among the most promising industries, high tech, engineering, education, health care, business services or non-financial services.
Rob Reeves, a recruiter in Sun Valley, Idaho in the tech sector and in green jobs such as wind and solar power, says he's been placing people in jobs in the last few months.
ROB REEVES, RED FISH TECH: The real upswing didn't come until summer for us. And that's when we saw a significant push where, you know, where we are today. And we're still seeing it. SNOW: And while construction and manufacturing continue to cut jobs, there are some workers in those fields who found work by switching to green jobs. Thirty-two-year-old Chris Dunbar spoke with us from Asheville, North Carolina with his boss at FLS Energy. The company specializes in solar energy and plans to hire more than 60 workers next year.
Chris lost a job in construction a year ago.
CHRIS DUNBAR, FLS ENERGY: You see the writing on the wall and you know that you have to change at least your -- your mind set. Your skill set, you know, you can -- you have to realize that those skills could be used for -- for a lot of different things.
SNOW: And despite the high unemployment rate, Lakshman Achuthan says things will improve.
ACHUTHAN: I would absolutely advise people who are wondering about where, you know, should I try now to get a job, right now is the time to go. Right now, the next month, two or three, you're going to get a lot more traction than you did in the past three months in terms of finding a job.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: That's on an optimistic note. But even the economist you just saw, Lakshman Achuthan, says we'll be very lucky if the unemployment rate goes below 9 percent next year. And many economists will agree. The reason why is that eight million jobs were lost during the recession and only a little over one million have been recovered -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of Americans have been out of work for a long time. And the economists suggest, Mary, the longer you're out of work, the more likely you'll remain out of work, the harder it will be for you to find a job.
Is that what you're hearing?
SNOW: That is what we're hearing, unfortunately. And they're really the ones who are getting left behind. And, you know, of all those jobs that were lost, of course, not all are going to be recovered. And one thing that people are seeing is that in some cases, people may have skills that are mismatched. They lost their jobs and they don't have skills in changing industries, like some of the people we met in that piece.
BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York for us.
President Obama left the vice president, Joe Biden, to talk about the new jobless numbers, while he flew off, in secret, to Afghanistan to see U.S. some troops.
Dan Lothian is working this part of the story for us. Why the trip now -- Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in terms of the timing, a top aide here at the White House telling us that the president wanted to make the visit sometime around the holiday season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And pointing out that some of these troops have been there, either in Afghanistan or Iraq, on their fourth tour of duty. So the president wanted to thank them for their service and sacrifice, but his trip there also highlighting some major challenges the U.S. is facing in Afghanistan.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): It was a secret trip the White House says was in the works for more than a month -- flying into Bagram Air Force Base for a little more than four hours to salute the men and women who are carrying out the administration's stepped-up strategy in Afghanistan.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This part of the world is the center of a global effort where we are going to disrupt and dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and its extremist allies. And that's why you're here.
LOTHIAN: But ahead of the mid-December review, what is being called a comprehensive assessment to possibly tweak the president's policy there, challenges remain. There's rampant corruption in the Afghan government, highlighted by leaked State Department cables in which Ambassador Karl Eikenberry is said to be concerned about, quote, "how to fight corruption when key government officials are themselves corrupt."
And then there's the continued Taliban threat.
OBAMA: You're going on the offense. We're tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds.
LOTHIAN: Mr. Obama had planned on flying to Kabul to meet with President Hamid Karzai and visit U.S. Embassy employees. But a storm rolled in, with high winds, dust and low cloud cover. So his helicopter trip was canceled and the Karzai meeting became a 15 minute phone call. The president did visit wounded troops at a base hospital, awarding five Purple Hearts, and met with those of the 101st Airborne Division, who lost six members in a deadly attack early this week.
OBAMA: There are going to be difficult days ahead. Progress comes at a high price.
LOTHIAN: Thirteen hundred U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began. This year was especially deadly. The Obama administration plans to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011. And a stable, reliable government there is key to meeting that deadline.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LOTHIAN: As for whether or not those WikiLeaks documents will cause more problems for the administration, a top aide here pushing back on those concerns, saying that they've weathered this kind of information being released in the past and that there's no real secret that there are some major challenges being faced there in Afghanistan, especially when it comes to corruption in the government -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this trip to Afghanistan. That's coming up later.
Thanks very much.
Dan Lothian over at the White House. As the president was visiting Afghanistan, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was asking questions about the mission and whether America's goals can be accomplished.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Our mission was to go after Al Qaeda, after people who bombed New York and Washington.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: Who are gone.
LUGAR: They're gone, over the border, perhaps, into Pakistan. Some may have gone to Yemen, a suggestion in Somalia. So this does lead to some strategic considerations as to how many other countries we ought to be involved in. At that point, a good number of people say, hang on here, just a minute.
What are the limits of our armed forces?
How many times at once?
And let's try to get Afghanistan right, at least in a stable condition, where people can govern themselves and keep Al Qaeda out. Now, we may or may not be able to fulfill that objective. But, clearly, that's what we were after.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And you can hear much more from Senator Richard Lugar on "STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY." That's this Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
The latest on "don't ask/don't tell" from Capitol Hill, where there's a split among top military brass. In Senate testimony today, leaders of the different branches of the armed forces gave very different answers about gays serving openly in the military.
The Marine Corps commandant, General James Amos, expressed the most resistance to repealing "don't ask/don't tell."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GENERAL JAMES AMOS, U.S. MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT: Successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Some of the other military leaders supported repealing of the law, but not necessarily immediately. They all, however, seem to agree that a repeal would be better coming from Congress than from the U.S. courts.
A plan to slash the federal deficit couldn't get passed by the panel that created it.
Will Americans get outraged by soaring debts like they have in Europe?
And is anyone ready to make the really hard choices?
And we'll hear what it's like to be in the middle of a wall of fire and fear your life is about to end.
BLITZER: The Senate has delayed votes on Bush era tax cuts until tomorrow. Democrats say they want t0 put their support for extending breaks for the middle class on the record. But the measures aren't expected to pass the Senate. Republicans are standing firm in wanting to extend tax cuts for everyone, including wealthier Americans. Both sides have engaged in lots of political maneuvering in an effort to try to strike a deal before the tax cuts expire at the end of the year.
President Obama's Debt Commission failed to approve its controversial recommendations for slashing the federal deficit. But it doesn't necessarily mean bipartisanship in Washington is a lost cause.
Fourteen votes were needed to present the plan to Congress as legislation. Eleven of the 18 members voted yes -- five Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent -- while four Democrats and three Republicans voted no.
Let's talk about this with our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger -- Gloria, you got a chance to speak with a couple of those senators who -- who voted yes, in favor of these recommendations. And they don't see this, necessarily, as a complete failure.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. They don't.
I spoke with Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, both the top people on the Senate Budget Committee, and they say, look, they did get 60 percent of the votes, which was more than a lot of them thought they were going to get, but they said, you cannot end it here.
They are happy with what happened. They said they bridged a lot of philosophical divides. But Senator Kent Conrad said to me, the next thing that has to happen is that the president needs to call for a budget summit so that people don't write worthless budgets, they get together, use what the commission did as a template and actually get some deficit reduction done in this next Congress.
BLITZER: You know, they had 10 months, David, to get the job done, to come up with some sort of recommendation that 14 of the 18 members could support and submit it to Congress as legislation that the Congress would have to vote yea or nay on. They failed in that mission and now it's just a bunch of recommendations that may or may not go anywhere.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: well, that's true in one sense, Wolf. It's, you know, it's a glass half full/half empty kind of proposition. But I think after the elections an given the partisanship and polarization we saw coming out of the elections, that it was a miracle they got to 11, that they got 60 percent.
GERGEN: And again, what has been disappointing to me is has been that the president and the White House have sat on the sidelines while this has gone on. I think they could have given it a real boost during the process.
And now, with the president of Afghanistan today, he is not even meeting with this commission. Instead, he is keeping his distance and he's asking his Treasury secretary and budget director to meet with them. I don't know why he doesn't invite them to the White House as a prelude to the kind of summit that Senator Conrad is talking about.
And by the way, both Senators Conrad and Judd Gregg deserve credit for getting this off the ground and Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson deserve enormous credit for the superb job they did in chairing it.
BLITZER: The real conservatives on the panel, they hated the fact that there would be any tax increases at all, and the real liberals on the panel, like Jan Shackowsky, they hated tinkering at all with Social Security.
Well, if you don't deal with taxes, you don't deal Social Security and Medicare, you are probably not going to deal with the deficit.
BORGER: And that's the real problem. That's the real problem, Wolf, you had three leading House Republicans, one of whom is going to run the Budget Committee next year, voting against this.
Now they say it didn't go far enough. And Congressman Ryan, who is going to run the Budget Committee, said, look, I'm going to use some of this in my next budget.
But what if the president said in his State of the Union speech said, OK, step two, we'll take it, we'll use it, we need to talk about it. Would those Republicans then be a part of that summit and could they then come out with first steps here? I think they have a template they can use. They ought to use it.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see if they do.
David, you want to make a quick thought?
BORGER: I jus t-- it's an irony that this week the Congress is struggling to reduce taxes by $4 trillion over the next 10 years. At the same time, we are talking about trying to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion in the same week.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.
All right, David, thanks very much. Gloria, thanks to you as well.
We are monitoring some other top stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM including reports that the FBI is now investigating Barbie. We're going to show you why.
Plus, former President George W. Bush beating Sarah Palin, the details of their matchup just ahead.
BLITZER: An urgent appeal for help in fighting Haiti's cholera outbreak. Let's go to Fredricka Whitfield, she's monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Fred, what do we know?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf. Hello, everyone.
Well, the United Nations is asking for more money to combat Haiti's cholera epidemic. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon say the U.N. has only gotten a fraction of the $164 million they requested last month. More than 1,800 people have died in the outbreak and another 85,000 have become sick. Health officials say, the good news is that a smaller proportion of infected people are dying.
O, say can you see. An almost 200-year-old copy of the Star Spangled Banner sold for more than $500,000 at Christie's today. It's one of only 11 known copies of Francis Scott Key's patriotic song. All of the other copies are owned by institutions or libraries. It is believed that Key wrote the lyrics after witnessing the British naval bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
And George W. Bush beat Sarah Palin, at least in the book wars. The former president's memoir, "Decision Points," is number one on "The New York Times" hardcover, non-fiction bestseller list for the third week in a row. Palin's new book, "America By Heart," which came out this week is second this week. Both Bush and Palin have been touring the country to promote their books -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred, for that. They are both selling a lot of books, there's no doubt about that.
A fellow Democrat is asking where is the president's outrage about an end to long-term jobless benefits. I'll ask one of his top economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee. He's standing by live over at the White House.
An amazing video of an inferno and the terror for the man behind the camera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONI SOFAR, PHOTOGRAPHER: This was the first time in my 22 years of career as photographer that I felt that I'm going to die now. Not in a minute, just now. Death is now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Back to our top story.
A trifecta of troubling news for the U.S. economy -- shockingly few jobs were created in November, Congress can't agree on a plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, and a presidential commission fails to approve its own plan to slash the federal deficit.
Let's discuss with Austan Goolsbee, he's the chairman of the president's council of economic advisers. He's joining us at the White House.
Austan, thanks very much for coming in.
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIST: Good to see you again.
BLITZER: All right, first of all, the Department of Labor Statistics, the numbers were way below what so many economists have expected. Do you believe there is a problem at the Department of Labor. Do you trust these numbers?
GOOLSBEE: Yes, look, there's not a problem at the Department of Labor. Wolf, as I say every month, including last month when it was well above expectations, this month when it is below expectations, you never conclude very much from one specific month's jobs numbers, because they tend to be highly variable.
Overall, this is the 11th straight month of positive private sector job growth. We have added about 1.2 million jobs so far this year in the private sector. The president is the first to say, that is not near enough. We lost more than 8 million jobs in the recession since it started in 2007.
The numbers today should be taken in the full context of all the economic data, but they certainly raise, I think, the concern that you can't let -- that you can't pull the rug out from under ordinary American workers.
BLITZER: All right, well let's talk about some of the things that need to be done, because 9.8 percent the unemployment number going up from 9.6 percent, 39,000 jobs created last month. I spoke with Steven Moore, you know him from "The Wall Street Journal," he is an economist, and he says this about what he describes as the failed two years of the Obama administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN MOORE, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": One of the things my parents taught me is, if you have a losing strategy, change it. And well -- what I would do, I think it is really essential, Wolf, that we do not raise taxes on businesses.
As you know, this is a big topic of discuss on Capitol Hill this week. But I think raising taxes, you can't raise taxes on producers and then give the money to people that aren't producing and expect the economy to expand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He is referring to those that are making more than $250,000 a year. You want to raise their taxes at the end of this year?
GOOLSBEE: Well, look, let me say, Steve and I are friends and I respect him though he obviously has a certain ideological position.
Obama's view, the president's view has been that you must make sure that for the middle class in this country, the 98 percent of people that are doing the consumer spending as we go into the holidays, you have got to extend their tax cuts, the Bush ones --
BLITZER: Well, he wants to extend their tax cuts, too.
GOOLSBEE: -- and the Obama ones. Now hold on.
BLITZER: He wants to extend everyone's tax cuts.
GOOLSBEE: Well, the Obama tax cuts, it's not clear that that's true. So the making work pay tax credit that helps 95 percent of workers, the American opportunity tax credit that pays thousands of dollars for going to college, and the extending of unemployment benefits for millions of people who lost jobs through no fault of their own and are searching for work, all of those things are critically important. If we were to take those away, we would yank the rug out from consumer spending. BLITZER: The tax cuts that you implemented during the first two years of the Obama administration as part of the economic stimulus package, would you then agree to keep the tax rates the same for everyone?
GOOLSBEE: Wolf, I'm not a legislative negotiator. I'm just a policy guy. What I would point out is that from a policy perspective, what Steve said is not correct. The high income tax cuts are the least effective way, the lowest bang for the buck of getting the economy stimulated and going because if you give an extra $40 million to a billionaire, how much of that money is actually going to go into the economy and how much is just going straight into the bank.
BLITZER: You are also being criticized from the left, the left saying you are not doing enough. Robert Reich, the former labor secretary during the Clinton administration, he told me, this is what is need to stimulate jobs.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: There are many things that can and should be done including helping our new infrastructure, our new WPA, for example, to hire all of the jobless Americans and put them back to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You ready for a Roosevelt type program like that?
GOOLSBEE: Well, you know, Bob Reich and I go back a long way. We are old friends. I think the president has identified infrastructure as a key place where there ought to be bipartisan agreement. They are installing in infrastructure as a way to attract business there. The president's view has been to help the private sector, that the government can't be leading it all itself.
BLITZER: Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, he is very upset. He doesn't think the president is passionate enough in forcing through legislation that would continue the unemployment benefits for people who have been unemployed for 99 weeks. Listen to what Harkin says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Where is the president's outrage at this? The president ought to be out there saying this is morally outrageous that we are going to deny unemployment benefit to people during this time of year, especially.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Go ahead and respond to Senator Harkin.
GOOLSBEE: I'm not sure what he is saying there. The president got them extended. The president is absolutely convinced. And the CEA, where I'm the chairman, put out a report showing that it is not just direct impact on the recipients and their families to end these extensions right before the holidays and then millions more people going into next year would have many hundreds of thousands of negative impact on job creation, because they are going to spend less.
BLITZER: The Republicans say they are ready to extend the unemployment benefits but you have to cut spending elsewhere to pay for it.
GOOLSBEE: You can talk about how you want to pay for it. Let's not make the confusion of putting in and taking out at the same moment so it has no net impact. That would not be sense I believe.
BLITZER: Quickly on the unemployment rate, 9.8 percent overall. Look at this, among African-Americans it is 16 percent, among Hispanics 13.2 percent, much, much higher.
What are you doing to help minorities specifically?
GOOLSBEE: I would say there have been a number of groups that not just this month but over the course of this recession that started in 2007 and is the worse since 1929. There have been some very hard hit groups. Some are to minorities and some are geographic areas that have been very hard hit. Obviously, the most important thing for everybody is trying to get the economy going again. This helps people who have high unemployment rates.
Now, that said, for minorities the president has explored the small business contracting features to try to make it easier for small business and women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses to get contracts from federal procurement. You have seen extensive training, investments in community colleges and education spending, to try to get people the skills that they need to get back to work.
As I say, most important and overall, we have to put the focus on getting the growth rate juiced up. We should do that in a bipartisan way. Encouraging companies to build factories and hire people in the United States and helping small businesses get credit.
To that extent, that is not arguing that we shouldn't extend the tax cuts for the middle class and shouldn't extend unemployment benefits to people when the unemployment rate is at unprecedented levels. It just doesn't make sense.
BLITZER: Austan Goolsbee is president of the chairman's council at the white house. Thanks for coming in.
GOOLSBEE: Great to see you.
BLITZER: Good luck, you have a huge, huge problem out there. We are all count on you. Say thank you.
GOOLSBEE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, again.
BLITZER: Thanks again. Good luck.
The WikiLeaks founder is a wanted man. He is vowing that nothing will stop his mission to reveal government secrets.
And does Senator John McCain have a good reason to oppose the repeal of don't ask don't tell? Stand by.
BLITZER: U.S. government officials insist they don't know about and are not involved in any efforts to take down WikiLeaks. The website has overcome an online attack and other serious setbacks as it works to expose hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables. The site's founder says he has a virtual Army ready to keep spilling secrets.
Let's go to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the whereabouts of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, are still not public. That is not stopping him from speaking out and threatening more document releases.
MESERVE (voice-over): WikiLeaks supporters call it an insurance policy, the trackers call it blackmail. In an online chat with the British newspaper "The Guardian" Julian Assange says more than 100,000 people have an encrypted archive of documents from the U.S. and other countries. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically, history will win.
Assange blames abusive elements of the United States government for problems with the WikiLeaks websites that have made it harder to access. A former CIA employee is skeptical.
JAMIE SMITH, SCG INTERNATIONAL: If we wanted it to disappear, it would be gone.
MESERVE: U.S. officials deny any interference. I am not aware the department of defense is behind any of the problems that WikiLeaks is experiencing, said a Pentagon spokesman.
From the State Department spokesman, I am not aware of any conversations by the United States government with either any internet host here or any government over there at this point.
Some experts say the information WikiLeaks has revealed and threatens to reveal just isn't harmful enough for the U.S. to go on the cyber-offensive and risk revealing to its enemies U.S. computer warfare capabilities.
SMITH: It simply tips our cyberhand, if you will. It is like using a shotgun to kill a fly.
MESERVE: The U.S. is still considering going on the offensive in the legal domain though there has been no announcement of an indictment or arrest warrant for Assange. Wolf back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Jeanne thank you.
The man believed to be responsible for one-third of the spam e- mail you get heads to court to face charges. We have details.
Plus, a new way to count just how many stars are in the sky in this number is huge. It comes with a whopping 23 zeros.
BLITZER: What if you could count the stars in the sky? Astronomers have come up with what they say is a more accurate way to do that. They estimate an astounding number, 300 sextillion stars. That's a 3 followed by 23 zeros.
Astronomers now detect many more dim stars known as red dwarfs. The new estimate in the journal of nature suggests the universe is three times bigger than scientists thought.
Another space shuttle delay from NASA. Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Fred, what's going on?
WHITFIELD: Hello, again, Wolf. Hello, everyone.
The space agency is putting off the final launch of Discovery. Officials say engineers can't figure out what caused the cracks in the foam covering the shuttle's external tank although they are confident it is a solvable problem. NASA says Discovery won't go into space until at least February 3rd. It was supposed to launch in early November.
You could call him the spam king. A Russian man who the FBI believes is responsible for one-third of the e-mail spam that you get will be arraigned in a Wisconsin court Monday. Court documents show that Oleg Nikolaenko could send an estimated 10 billion spam messages per day. His lawyer says so far the charges against him are only accusations.
The FBI is worried a new Barbie doll could be used to make pornography. The doll has a digital video camera in the middle of Barbie's chest which can record up to 30 minutes of video which can be streamed on a computer. The FBI tells CNN, "there have been no reported incidents of this doll being used as anything other than as intended. For clarification purposes, the alert's intent was to ensure law enforcement agencies were aware that the doll, like any other video-capable equipment could contain evidence and not to disregard such an item during a search, " CNN has reached out to toy maker, Mattel but has not gotten a response. Mattel gave the following statement to CNN affiliate KING saying, "Mattel products are designed with children and their best interests in mind. Many of Mattel's employees are parents themselves. We understand the importance of child safety. It is our number one priority."
An update on the massive snowstorm in your hometown of Buffalo. This will not surprise you. In all, it dumped up to three feet of snow over upstate New York and stranded hundreds of motorists on one highway for 20 hours. Pretty miserable but that's no record. Officials say back in late December of 2001, 76 inches fell in Buffalo, including 36 inches in one day.
They are used to snow there. You are used to snow. You probably miss it.
BLITZER: We are very sensitive, those of us from Buffalo. A lot of that snow is just south of Buffalo, not necessarily in Buffalo itself. The wind effect from Lake Erie, a little bit south of Buffalo. Trust me are Buffalo gets a lot of snow.
WHITFIELD: Maybe makes a few inches of difference.
BLITZER: It's not exactly Miami but not as bad as some of the southern parts of the New York state there. Thanks.
WHITFIELD: I know they miss you in Buffalo, snow or no snow.
BLITZER: I miss them. It's a great place. Thank you.
Senator John McCain is passionate about keeping don't ask don't tell in place for now. We will talk about the political motives that may be driving him to speak out and what it's like to be caught in the middle of a devastating and deadly wild fire. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session." Joining us, two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen and John Avlon. He's the senior political columnist over at TheDailyBeast.com.
Our old friend, Mark Halperin, from our sister publication, "Time" magazine, he writes this. He says, "Is it hyperbolic to say the Democratic Party is in the midst of a nervous breakdown? I have been covering national politics since 1988 and I don't remember a situation quite like this."
Hilary, is there a nervous breakdown going on?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I have no clue what Mark Halperin is talking about. Democrats have been pretty clear for the last couple of months. Coming up to the end of the year, our priorities are extending the middle class tax cuts and extending unemployment insurance for the millions of Americans for whom it's running out at the end of the year. If Democrats are nervous, Republicans in my view are manic. They can't decide what's more important, to prevent unemployed people from feeding their families or to give millionaires a tax break. It is just pathetic.
BLITZER: You think the Democrats are having a nervous breakdown, John.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think if Hilary was doing the messaging, they might not be in a nervous breakdown situation. Mark Halperin mentioned 1988. There is definitely a civil war within the Democratic Party just as there is with the Democratic Party, between the left and center. President Obama is in a precarious position. If they're not careful to what happened in 1980 where Jimmy Carter was primaried by Ted Kennedy because Carter was viewed as too conservative by liberal Democrats and too liberal by the rest of the electorate.
So I think the party needs to do a better job of not only messaging and communicating, but uniting behind the president and getting better about the message and remembering that whatever is on the left for President Obama he is twice as popular as Congressional Democrats and they should not lose sight of that going into 2012.
ROSEN: I don't think there is not disunity right now about the president. I think that there is enormous frustration that the focus seems to be on the president and what he is going to do, but meanwhile, the Republicans in the Senate are banding together and they have 42 votes. They have vowed to block anything that they do not approve of, and anything that is not attached to the millionaire's tax break, and if that's the case, there is not much else that you can do about it. They are sort of controlling the votes, and this is not a message problem, but actually a votes problem.
AVLON: Well, you play of offense against it and one great gambit is what Mr. Schumer has proposed which is make the new threshold a million dollars. That's a great way of playing offense with this issue.
BLITZER: Do you think it will make a difference to the Republicans, John, if it were $1 million as opposed to $250,000?
AVLON: Well, they would have a incredibly hard time defending the position of the $1 million rather than $250,000 for a household because it makes the distinction between the working wealthy in this country and the super rich and that is where a distinction should be.
BLITZER: Would it make a difference, Hilary?
ROSEN: Well, it doesn't make a difference and I think it's been floated with the Republicans and because it doesn't they don't bother. $250,000 only affects 2 percent of the people in country. I agree with you. $1 million seems like a nice compromise, but the Republicans have vowed to control this gain for wealthy people, and keep the unemployed poor for as long as possible, and this is a big problem.
BLITZER: Let's get to another big issue, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that's before Congress right now. We heard more testimony today from the chiefs of the various branches of the U.S. armed forces. Senator McCain is taking the lead in terms of opposing any change in the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Listen to what he said, and I will play this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No one came up to me and said, gee, please, Senator McCain, get to work on the don't ask don't tell. In fact, every place I went members of the military came up to me and said, it is fine, it is working.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee right now. Are you surprised, John, that he is really taking the lead in blocking, trying to block any change in "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?
AVLON: I am, because he has not taken this sort of a stand previously. It is a reflection of the primary campaign he ran this year where he moved to the right to protect the right flank, and he seems to be continuing it.
But there is a sense of discontinuity here in Senator McCain's record, but not only with his own record, but positions articulated by his wife and daughter, but also with Senator Barry Goldwater who held Senator McCain's seat before him who famously said you don't have be straight to shoot straight. It is time to move forward on this and it is awkward position for this senator who has moved to the right.
BLITZER: Hilary, will anything happen on this?
ROSEN: Well, Senator McCain has lost the moral high ground and the Senate can do this and if the Senate doesn't, the president needs to issue a stop loss order. This is going to may end up in the president's hands.
The fact that the Marine general could go to capitol hill and testify that he was opposed to lifting the ban in my view is a complete violation of the chain of command. It was offensive and people have to get a hold of the issue and deal with it now.
BLITZER: We will have to continue this on another occasion, and thank you both very much.
President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan and more than nine years into the war, why are these trips by the president still have to be top, top secret. Plus, you are going to hear how one man narrowly escaped Israel's deadly wall of fire.