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$1.1 Trillion Spending Bill Yanked; Birther Court Martial; School Board Shooting Hero; Afghanistan Reality Check; Reducing College Sticker Shock

Aired December 16, 2010 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We begin tonight with breaking news.

The Senate failing to pass a major piece of legislation and we're going to look tonight at the games that are being played behind the scenes at Capitol Hill, games Americans say they don't want, but that's what they get nevertheless. We're "Keeping Them Honest".

Also tonight the birther Army colonel who refused orders because he doubted the commander-in-chief, President Obama, was born in America. Well, today he does a complete 180, saying he wishes he hadn't done it, wishes he had followed orders. So did he let his former attorney use him as a pawn to raise money for the birther cause? We're "Keeping Them Honest".

Plus the man who brought down the shooter at a school board meeting in Panama City, Florida; he says he's not a hero. A lot of people would say otherwise, his story in his own words about those life and death seconds.

We begin though, tonight with the breaking news. Tonight, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid yanking a $1.2 trillion, yes $1 trillion package to keep the government running because he says he no longer had the Republican support to pass it.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: I was told within the last 24 hours that we had bipartisan support to pass this bill. Many told -- I shouldn't say that, many is a word that's too large -- but a number of Republican senators told me that they'd like to see it pass.


COOPER: Well, Republican -- reportedly a number of GOP senators reneged on their pledge to support the bill which contained about $8 billion in earmarks. In any case, "Keeping Them Honest", the work on this and other critical legislation has been consumed by procedural wrangling and political game playing.

The chief example today: preparations to accommodate a demand of Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He asked that the entire bill, nearly 2,000 pages of it, be read out loud before a vote could be held. Now had that happened tonight we'd be showing you live pictures right now, of one a team of Senate pages doing that job, which was supposed to take about two days and nights nonstop.

Instead, Senator Reid yanked the bill. So instead of wasting two days, reading the bill, they all ended up wasting one day today fighting over it. Senator DeMint by the way is the one who called working until Christmas disrespectful and sacrilegious. And he's made no bones about not wanting to do the budget bill or anything in the lame duck session, telling Fox News about the START Treaty, quote, "We're trying to run out the clock until the reinforcements get here in January."

He wanted that read out loud into the record, too, even though the Senate's been considering it for months just like the spending bill that was dropped tonight, just like the Dream Act, the bill to compensate 9/11 for first responders, the defense reauthorization bill and more. All before the Senate for months, all crammed into the final few weeks, all being wrangled over and delayed again and again.

In a recent Gallup poll, only 13 percent of Americans said they approve of the job Congress is doing. Our own viewers have been taking a dim view. I want to read you one of many comments on the blog we got last night about how many fewer days senators and Congressmen members work than the average Americans. That's what we talked about last night, their complaints about having to work through the holidays.

Arnold Kimtu (ph) writes, "These people get first class benefits and they're sitting there complaining about Christmas? How about those family who lost their jobs and don't have health care or jobs or money to enjoy their Christmas?

And this one from Maria in North Olmsted, Ohio, "As a nurse, I've worked 50 percent of all holidays for 38 years. Thanks for "Keeping Them Honest" in Washington.

We should point out that Senator DeMint was the star of tonight's game playing but there has been plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle.

What's amazing though is how many politicians on both sides of the aisle can stand up that it's not -- that and -- that it's when they're not playing games and speak out against, wait for it, all the game playing.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER-DESIGNATE: The political games have already started.

REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Enough with the games. Enough with playing politics.

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: Here we are, playing political games. REP. GINNY BROWNE-WAITE (R), FLORIDA: Stop wasting time.

BRADY: We're wasting time.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: What's with all the political games everybody's playing?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I hope that very soon we'll move away from these political games.

SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: Thanks to the same old political games.

REP. ANN KIRKPATRICK (D), ARIZONA: Politicians playing games.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: The same old broken game of politics.

REP. ELECT KRISTI NOEM (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Putting the games aside and doing the right thing.

BOEHNER: Stop the games.


COOPER: Well joining me now to talk about what's been happening tonight and what's been going on in Washington: Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief for; senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; and Steve Kornacki of

Erick, were you surprised Senator Reid decided to drop the spending bill tonight?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, not really. I mean, this has been a game of political brinkmanship for a while -- there goes that word again. You know this will be the first Congress since 1974 that hasn't passed a budget.

They've been doing these continuing resolutions. And as we see tonight they didn't need to get this omnibus through; they could have done a continuing resolution. And I -- I mean, I -- I assume pretty soon they'll figure out that monopoly is much more fun to play than Congress.

COOPER: Gloria does Senator Reid look weak tonight?


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. You know, he did what he had to do because he didn't have the votes, but honestly this -- this omnibus spending bill was like a bunch of alcoholics about to go into, you know, Alcoholics Anonymous and saying, ok, one last drink before the new folks come in to town and we're going to have to cut spending.

And I think they decided at the very least, Anderson, that the optics of all of this looked so bad for all of them that they ought to just try and deal with it, pass a continuing resolution, and go away when their -- when their work is done, but take this out of the picture.

COOPER: You think, Steve, this is a sign of the power of the Tea Party movement?

STEVE KORNACKI, NEWS EDITOR/COLUMNIST, SALON.COM: Absolutely. I -- I think tonight you're seeing not so much the implications of the November election in which Republicans won big, but all of the primaries that came before November in which one Republican incumbent after another in which one Republican establishment figure after another was taken out by a Tea Party base that hates any type of compromise with the Democrats.

And -- and one of the symbols of that compromise has been earmarks. And so you've got this bill in which, you know, $8 billion of it is earmarks that's about like, you know, less than one percent of the entire bill.

But that became the symbol of what this represents. And so every Republican, you know, in the Senate looked at this and said, look at Mike Castle in Delaware. Look at what happened in Nevada. Look at what happened in Alaska, in primaries this year where establishment figures were beaten. Do I want to be the next person to face that kind of a primary challenge because I voted for this bill, because I voted for earmarks? Much easier to join the Republican resistance.

BORGER: So you had this bizarre situation where you had people who had earmarks in this bill coming out and saying they were opposing their own earmarks.

ERICKSON: Yes, it -- it really was a comedy of errors --


BORGER: It's crazy.

ERICKSON: -- coming out of Washington with this.

I mean, the Republicans had to know after voting for the earmark ban that their earmarks were going to come out in this legislation.


BORGER: Right.

ERICKSON: And you -- you know God bless Jim DeMint for pulling this stunt this afternoon, it worked.

COOPER: But, Erick I mean --


BORGER: Well -- COOPER: -- what -- what's -- I mean, this is probably a naive question, but when it comes down to what's wrong with letting a bill come up for a vote? I mean, regardless of which party poses it, isn't that the core principle of democracy whether --


ERICKSON: No, not in the Senate.

COOPER: -- the tax deal, or "don't ask, don't tell" or whatever?

ERICKSON: No, the Senate is definitely not a democracy by any stretch of the imagination. It takes 60 votes to do almost anything. This is the way and -- and again using the word the game in the Senate is played, you've got to understand the rules to -- get things done. And it doesn't matter that the majority have rights. The Senate was designed to be this great saucer to cool everything down and slow it down. It's not ideologically -- I hate to use the word -- but the Senate is a very conservative institution.

BORGER: But I also think Jim DeMint had another agenda here, when he was talking about reading this bill over a couple of days, and that is to delay --



BORGER: -- what -- whatever is before the Congress. And there -- as you pointed out, Anderson, earlier, there are some very important things before the Congress, not the least of which is the START Treaty, "don't ask, don't tell", the DREAM Act, and on and on.

And if you run out the time, then guess what? You can't get to it.

COOPER: So, Steve, is this just the vision of the future? I mean, this is what the next two years is going to look like?


Well, I mean, one thing I would say, though, is if you look at "don't ask, don't tell", and you look at this as part of the strategy to delay "don't ask, don't tell", I don't think it's going to work. I think "don't ask, don't tell" will be repealed. The vote will be taken this weekend.


COOPER: You think it will come up, it will happen this weekend?


KORNACKI: Yes. I think "don't ask, don't tell" is going to be repealed. I don't think the DREAM Act -- I don't think that is going to be enacted. But I think you are going to come out of this lame-duck session with "don't ask, don't tell" repealed. I think it's more likely than not at this point.


COOPER: Gloria, do you -- do you agree with that?

BORGER: I -- well, no, I think -- well, I'm not sure. I think there's some real worry among high-level Democrats that the Republicans could hold "don't ask, don't tell" hostage to the -- to the START treaty.

You know, at the end of a session, this is what happens. And they could say, well, ok, if you want START, maybe we'll give you START, but we certainly don't want to give you "don't ask, don't tell".

So, those things are currently in play right now.

ERICKSON: That's exactly what I'm hearing, is that -- that several of the Republicans are basically offering the President a choice, take START or take --


BORGER: Right.

ERICKSON: -- don't take "don't ask, don't tell". You can't have both.

BORGER: Right.


BORGER: But he's going to want a vote.

KORNACKI: That -- that's true. However, we have been through this before, with the Republican Caucus essentially saying before last week that, if you don't take action on the Bush tax cuts, we're not going to allow action on "don't ask, don't tell".

The question really comes down to there are about four Republicans in the Senate right now, four moderate Republicans: Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. Will they break with their party if the rest of their party takes that approach, which I think they will? Will those four or five -- maybe Dick Lugar would join them -- will they then break with the party and say, look, we made excuses once; we're not going to make excuses now; we want this vote now; then we will get to START?


BORGER: Well, you know, Joe Lieberman said the other day it's more important to get "don't ask, don't tell" done now, and -- and wait on the START treaty. So, there's one person --


ERICKSON: Right. It also takes more votes to get the START treaty done. You'll need 66 under the Constitution --


BORGER: Right.

ERICKSON: -- two-thirds of the Senate. You only need 60 to break the filibuster for "don't ask, don't tell".

COOPER: Also, just politically, for President Obama if he's looking to, you know, gain some points with the -- the liberal wing of the Democratic Party or the Democratic Party, passing "don't ask, don't tell", it would seem, would do that more than the START treaty.

KORNACKI: No, that -- I mean, that's huge.

If you come to the end of this lame-duck session, and you've got this big tax compromise right now that at least has the vocal liberals within the party upset -- I think, if you look at the polls, it's interesting. The rank-and-file liberals in the party aren't nearly as upset.

But you've got vocal liberals who are upset with this. But if you can counter that with, hey, look, I've got $300 billion of stimulus in this tax deal, and also I got "don't ask, don't tell" repealed, and this was on the heels of an election in which -- in which the Republicans won 65 extra seats in the House, I think a lot of Democrats will look at that and say, you know, for everything considered in this lame-duck session, that's not the worst scenario.

BORGER: Well, the White House would rather get it all, and thinks it's a false choice between one or the other --


COOPER: Right.

BORGER: -- but we'll just have to see.

COOPER: Yes. Well, I want a pony for Christmas. I don't think I'm going to get it. So, we will see.

Erick, Steve, Gloria, thanks very much.

Join the live chat right now at

He was a highly honored face of the birther movement, a decorated Army doctor -- we interviewed him on this program -- refusing orders, refusing to be deployed to Afghanistan because he didn't believe President Obama was the legitimate commander in chief because he believed he wasn't born in America.

His sentencing and his change of tune -- and, boy, what a change of tune we saw today -- we will talk about that ahead.

Also, a humble hero coming forward -- the security guard who shot the gunman bent on murdering six people, Mike Jones, tonight in his own words.


MIKE JONES, SECURITY DIRECTOR, BAY COUNTY SCHOOLS: I saw that first shot, and I knew the superintendent and fell backwards and all the board members fell backwards. And then he and I engaged in a gun battle, but I had lost the superintendent.



COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report now.

Now, Lieutenant Colonel Terrence Lakin, the Army doctor who became the face of the so-called birther movement, is changing his tune in a big way today, saying he never should have forced the Army to court-martial him in the first place. It's a little late, unfortunately, for regrets, though.

Today, Lakin was sentenced to six months in military prison, and he will not be returning to the Army. He's also going to lose his military pension.

Now, in a moment, we're going to talk to former JAG officer Thomas Kenniff and senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin about the sentence and the case.

But I first want to remind you just how we got here. Now, you probably recognize Colonel Lakin. We have been following his story for months. And when we first met him, he'd been an active-duty physician for the military for 18 years. He was a decorated colonel who refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan, saying the order was coming from a commander-in-chief who he believes may not in fact be a natural-born citizen.

Now, at the time, Lakin said he invited the court-martial to serve a greater cause, to compel President Obama to prove he was born in the United States. Take a look at this video.


LT. COL. TERRENCE LAKIN, U.S. ARMY: I want you to know the reasons why I feel I have no choice but the distasteful one of inviting my own court-martial.

I will disobey my orders to deploy because I and I believe all service men and women and the American people deserve the truth about President Obama's constitutional eligibility to the office of the presidency and the commander-in-chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Now, like most birthers, Lakin was saying that it wasn't enough that President Obama had produced a certification of live birth from Hawaii during his campaign. It's also known as a short-form birth certificate. It's the document Hawaii issues for all such requests.

But Lakin, like a lot of other birthers, said it was not sufficient. Now, I want to show you what the document actually looks like. Here's the front. First thing you should know, it has all the elements that the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport. In the back, there's the stamp by the Hawaii state registrar, Alvin T. Onaka, who uses a signature stamp, rather than signing individual birth certificates.

And according to, the certificate is stamped June 2007 because that's when Hawaii officials produced it for the Obama campaign, who requested it.

I also want to show you one more thing, the raised seal on the certificate. Again, this short-form birth certificate has enough information to be acceptable to the State Department to get a passport.

Now, I also want to show you something else. Colonel Lakin came on the program with his lawyer back in May. But he didn't really get a chance to say very much because his lawyer, frankly, wouldn't let him.


COOPER: Do you honestly believe President Obama was not born in Hawaii?

PAUL JENSEN, ATTORNEY FOR LIEUTENANT COLONEL TERRENCE LAKIN: Well, Anderson, let me answer as his lawyer. You know --


COOPER: Well, no, no, no.


COOPER: Excuse me.


COOPER: Wait. This is a doctor --

JENSEN: And --

COOPER: Wait. Excuse me. This is a doctor. This is a man who served his country for 18 years. I think he can answer a question by himself.

JENSEN: I think that the lawyer should protect the client from incriminating himself. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that lawyer in the video is a guy named Paul Jensen. He lives, he practices in California. He's a Republican. He was Lakin's first lawyer. And a lot of people are saying he gave his client bad advice.

It looked like Jensen was trying to essentially use the case to force the Obama administration to produce a long-form birth certificate. Lakin later replaced Jensen with a new legal team, which immediately took a new approach, focusing on the fact that Lakin had disobeyed an order. That was the bottom line.

While the case played out, Lakin was embraced by the birther movement. The American Patriot Foundation essentially used him as a fund-raising tool. Here's their Web site. And you can see it has all the latest developments of the case, along with all kinds of requests for contributions.

"Keeping Them Honest", it seems fair to ask, was Lakin a pawn for the birther cause, or did he get exactly what he deserved? Lakin pleaded guilty this week to disobeying orders.

During his sentencing hearing, he told the court -- quote -- "I was wrong for trying to push this issue within the Army. I would not do this again. It was a confusing time for me, and I was very emotional. I thought I was choosing the right path. And I did not."

He also said he wanted to continue to serve with the military. He will not get that chance. Again, he's serving six months in prison. He could have gotten up to three years.

Let's talk about it now with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and former JAG officer Thomas Kenniff.

Tom, I mean, six months in prison, discharged from the military, losing his pension, it's obviously -- it's -- it's a bad punishment for a guy after serving his country honorably for 18 years. Do you -- were you surprised, though, by the sentencing?

THOMAS KENNIFF, FORMER ARMY JAG OFFICE ATTORNEY: No, I think it was probably a bargain for a plea. My understanding here was he was facing at least two specifications in the charge sheet.

He pleaded guilty to one of them. That one specification had an 18-month maximum sentence, in addition to all the other collateral consequences, like losing his pension and so forth. It appears that he certainly received very bad legal advice.

Every indication is that his first attorney had absolutely no experience working within the military justice system.

COOPER: Right. You can be a great attorney in the -- in the criminal -- in the civilian system, but you need experience in the -- in the military justice system. KENNIFF: It -- it certainly helps. And the attorney that took over for his first attorney is a very well-respected former JAG, has a lot of experience as a military defense attorney.

And you could bet that as soon as he came on board, he told him, look, you have made a lot of mistakes so far, time to cut your losses. Let's work out a plea bargain to at least try and minimize the time that you're going to spend in confinement. That's probably why he's looking at six months, instead of 18 months or three years.

COOPER: He was -- was he have essentially used by the birther movement?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, you asked at the beginning, was he a pawn or he did get what he deserved? I think the answer is yes to both of them.

I mean, he was a -- a pawn. But I'm sorry. You know, this is not some 18-year-old private who had his head turned by some fancy lawyer. This is a -- a doctor, 18 years in the military. He has to know that in the military, you have to follow orders.

And the military had to make an example of him, because, if they allowed him to get away with this, and -- and allowed him to have an actual challenge to the President's authority as commander-in-chief, then anybody in the military could have done it, and that would have placed the whole mission of the military in jeopardy.

It -- the military simply couldn't allow it, and I think they did the right thing.

COOPER: Some of -- some the other -- the other person who testified on the stand was the doctor who had to go to Afghanistan in his place, because it's not as if he just said, well, ok, I'm not going to Afghanistan and they didn't fill the slot. Somebody else's family had to suffer because this guy was refusing an order.

KENNIFF: Sure. You know, it goes beyond just Colonel Lakin. It's not about Republicans. It's not about Democrats. It's not about whether you believe in the birther movement or whether you support the President.

Civilian control of the military is a cornerstone of the American experiment. And when you have a high-ranking military officer like Colonel Lakin using his rank, his uniform, which is essentially loaned to him, entrusted to him by the American people, to undermine the President of the United States, you're not just undermining Barack Obama; you're undermining this democracy. And that's what is so offensive about this case.

COOPER: And -- and -- and the whole birther thing, I mean, every court has rejected this. I mean, the Supreme Court rejected it a few weeks ago.

TOOBIN: Every court has rejected it because there is no basis for any challenge on this regard. I mean, you know, there are lots of things that are differences of opinion; that are differences of policy. The issue of whether Barack Obama is a citizen of the United States is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact.

And -- and the fact that there are people out there, you know, who believe in the birther movement, who also believe, presumably, in flying saucers and the lost continent of Atlantis, I mean, you -- you just can't be a military officer and use the courts to try to challenge things like that.

COOPER: Yes, all right, strange end to a very strange story.

Tom Kenniff, always like having you on.

Jeff Toobin thanks very much.

Next: the -- the hero in the dramatic shooting at a Florida school board meeting speaking out for the first time. You've seen the video now probably a lot, this guy, this madman, walking in, trying to shoot the school board members.

Security chief Mike Jones, understandably really shaken up by the ordeal, he tells the emotional story of what went through his mind as he took down the shooter.


JONES: Honestly, I shot the man in the back the first time. And I was thinking I'm going to jail. There are just so many things that go through your mind. But it was the instinct and the training. And I'm just glad that they're all here and alive.

And I'm not a hero, folks. I'd just done my job.


COOPER: Well, a lot of people disagree with that. He is a hero.

President Obama saying today the United States is on track in Afghanistan. Is that true, though? "Keeping Them Honest," we'll talk with Peter Bergen, who just returned from Afghanistan; and writer and filmmaker, Sebastian Junger, who spent a year embedded with troops there, coming up.


COOPER: Well, tonight, emotional words from the security guard who is being called a hero, for understandable reasons, for stopping a gunman at that Florida school board meeting.

Now, I want to warn you again, the video is disturbing. Just two days ago, a man named Clay Duke opened fire at school board members in Panama City. Amazingly, he didn't hit anyone. He was shooting at them at point-blank range, as you can see. And many are saying it's because Mike Jones got on the scene when he did. Jones is a retired police officer. He wounded Duke. And then Duke later turned the gun on himself.

Jones is the school district's chief of security. He wasn't even supposed to be there during the meeting, but he stopped by to just check on a project. Within five minutes, he was in a gunfight.

Jones has been in the hospital because his heart rate was speeding after the incident. Today, he was finally able to talk publicly.

And, as many heroes do, Mike Jones insists he's not a hero and he really wants to get back to his charity work as Salvage Santa, buying Christmas presents for needy kids.

As I said, he's a remarkable man. Here's Mike Jones in his own words.


JONES: Well, I know the first three rounds I fired hit center mass. That's what I was aiming for, but, man, he wouldn't go down.

And then -- and then he started shooting at the board members again. So I kept shooting. But he was moving a lot. And he fell. And then his arm came up. I could see him arm. He was still shooting at me.

You just get tunnel vision. You don't -- you don't know that they're coming right at you, but you know he's shooting in my direction. And so I laid done a couple of rounds, but I was crawling past the chairs, trying to get to the aisle where he was laying at, where I could engage him again.

And I was just trying to keep him pinned down to where I could get to him and engage him again, where I could get a good view of him. And I couldn't stand back up because the bullets were coming my way.

And I think they said the gun battle lasted 13 seconds, but it seemed like it was forever. And I -- and I can't -- they -- I think they said that I fired seven rounds. He fired 11 at me.

I -- I don't know. It was a bunch. I know that.

When I got to the aisle, I actually saw him laying there, and I thought he was already dead. The first thing came to mind was, what's this community going to think of me? I'm known as Salvage Santa, this nice guy, and now I have taken somebody's life?

And my parishioners, what they would think? And -- and, then, honestly, I shot the man in the back the first time. And I was thinking I was going to jail. And there's just so many things that go through your mind, but it was the instinct and the training.

And I'm just glad that they're all here and alive. And I'm not a hero, folks. I'm -- I just done my job.


COOPER: Well, he seems like a hero to me -- Mike Jones in his own words.

To be clear, Mike Jones didn't actually kill Clay Duke, the shooter. He wounded him. It was Duke who actually killed himself in the end, but it's amazing to hear what Jones was thinking.

All right, let's get caught up on some of the other stories we're following.

Susan Hendricks joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, was freed on bail in London nine days after his arrest for questioning about alleged sex crimes in Sweden. Assange must stay at the mansion of a supporter outside of London, report to the police daily, and wear an electronic tag to monitor his location.

Iraqi authorities have warned U.S. officials that al Qaeda may be planning suicide attacks in the U.S. and Europe during the Christmas holiday season. They say the tip comes from captured insurgents. A U.S. official said the report is being taken seriously, but added there is no intelligence indicating a specific or credible threat.

Police in New York have found the bodies of four women dumped near a beach in Long Island while searching for a missing woman, but they still haven't found that woman, Shannon Gilbert. Police say Gilbert was a prostitute who had arranged to meet a client near where the bodies were found. The search will continue tomorrow.

And, finally, look at these amazing pictures from the shores of Lake Erie. Cold winds, water and the sun all worked together to create this brilliant scene of a lighthouse encased in ice.

Pretty cool -- Anderson.

COOPER: Wow, that's a lighthouse?

HENDRICKS: Yes, I know.

COOPER: I thought that was some sort of rock formation. That's crazy.

HENDRICKS: It looks like it, I know, but encased in ice.

COOPER: All right, Susan. We'll talk to you in a moment.

Tonight's shot is from the Vatican. We found the video on YouTube. I can set it up Sesame Street style with a simple question, which of these things doesn't belong? 83-year-old Pope, audience at the Vatican, topless acrobats -- take a look.




COOPER: The topless acrobats, as you can see, for Pope Benedict performed during a convention of circuses organized by the Vatican. I didn't know circuses were on the Vatican's radar, but as you can see, the Pope seemed to enjoy the performance very much. There you go.

Coming up, more serious stuff ahead, the White House releasing its much anticipated report on the war in Afghanistan today and the President said the U.S. is on track to achieve its goals.

We'll talk with Peter Bergen who has just returned from Afghanistan and Sebastian Junger, author and filmmaker who recently spent a year embedded with troops in Afghanistan. Do they agree with the President? We'll hear from them.

And NFL star Michael Vick has made headlines for his troubled past but it's what he said he wants in the future that puts him on our "RidicuList" tonight. That's ahead.


COOPER: President Obama said today that America's on track in Afghanistan, but "Keeping Them Honest", is it really? Does a strategic -- does a strategic review out today commissioned by the President himself omit or gloss over some of the major problems? And is the President kind of trying to have it both ways? Mr. Obama's tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan since taking office and has also committed to start bringing some level of troop home next summer. He's also stepped up drone strikes on al Qaeda and Pakistan, but can't seem to win enough cooperation on the ground from the Pakistani government.

He's touting progress but constantly couching his words in fighting America public opinion. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 60 percent of Americans believe the war is not worth fighting, so today the balancing act continued with the President both cautious and optimistic.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to be clear. This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.


COOPER: He went on to say that any gains made are fragile and reversible and so does the report, at least the five-page non- classified version that we got about the counter insurgency, quote, "While the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, these gains remain fragile and reversible."

And about Afghanistan's notoriously corrupt government, only one single sentence, "We are also supporting Afghanistan's efforts to better improve national and sub-national governance and to build institutions with increased transparency and accountability to reduce corruption."

Sounds reasonable enough, but maybe just a tad understated. Remember those diplomatic cables that came out of the recent WikiLeaks dump. The bottom line in the cables was that there was essentially no one in the Afghan government that could be trusted, no one.

Now perhaps the unclassified version is more frank. We certainly hope it is. But "Keeping Them Honest", none of this sounds like anything but at the very best very mixed progress, which may explain why when the President has spoken about Afghanistan and Pakistan over the years. It's always been what sounds like a very mixed message.

Take a look.


OBAMA: We're making progress in our mission.

But, we're a long way from where we need to be.

Progress comes slowly.

But we're making progress.

Significant progress.

Some progress.

Real progress.

Important progress.

We're steadily making progress.

I would add that --

Because of the progress you're making we look forward to a new phase next year.

The truth is that the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated.

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan.

Progress does not come fast enough.

Progress comes slow at a high price.

Much more work needs to be done; it's not going to be instant.

It is a big, messy process. But it's important that the American people know that we are making progress.

And I'm absolutely convinced we will succeed.


COOPER: That was the President on Afghanistan, some would say trying to telegraph the mixed nature of the situation there. But others might say he's trying to have it both ways rhetorically and on the ground with the lives of nearly a hundred thousand troops on the line.

I'm joined by national security analyst Peter Bergen who just got back from Afghanistan on Tuesday; and Sebastian Junger, who spent a year embedded with troops there, co-directed a brilliant documentary about it called "Restrepo", which if you haven't seen you really should. He's also author of the remarkable book "War", which is a great read as well.

Peter, you just got back. President Obama described his exit strategy in Afghanistan as on track. While that in some shape or form may be true, he didn't really give any clue as to what that exit supposedly starting in 2011 is actually going to look like.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes and you know, Joe Biden has publicly said that the drawdown in July 2011 could consist of as few as 2,000 soldiers and sadly all the folks I spoke to in Afghanistan on the U.S. side, the Afghan side, you know, anticipate a pretty large scale continuous presence of the United States until December of 2014. Imagine if a Republican president had basically just announced that we're going to be there for four more years in large numbers. I think the liberal side of the Democratic Party would be up in arms.

Already 72 percent of Democrats are opposed to the war in the poll that you just cited earlier, Anderson. So I think this is -- you know, it hasn't really sunk in that this is a really major commitment. I think personally it's the right thing to do, but clearly I think a lot of Americans don't.

COOPER: Sebastian, how can a report on the war in Afghanistan only have a brief mention about corruption in Afghanistan?

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, AUTHOR, "WAR": I think because it's a problem that doesn't have a ready answer. And in my opinion, it's the heart of the issue.

COOPER: The heart of the issue?

JUNGER: Yes, it is. I mean look, it's the U.S. Military. It's NATO. If you put enough American soldiers somewhere, they're going to win at least for a while. They're going to kill everyone who's fighting them. I mean that's kind of a given.

But the problem is that's not a long-term solution. We can't stay there forever. The Afghans don't want us there forever. So to have a long-term solution, you need the Afghans themselves to buy into this fight; to make this fight their own.

But why would you -- if you were an Afghan civilian, why would you do that if the government you're fighting to protect, that you're risking your life for is corrupt? It's a contradictory message that we're delivering.

COOPER: And Peter, I mean you see the corruption. You see these McMansions which are going up in Kabul which are owned by people associated with the government who earn a small fraction of a salary that there's no way they could pay for this, then that WikiLeaks cable that talked about one high Afghan official found in I think it was in Dubai with a suitcase full of, you know, 50 some-odd million dollars.

BERGEN: Yes. And his stated income is several hundred dollars a month and according to Dexter Filkins, "The New York Times" correspondent, that his house in Dubai which is on the Palm Jumeirah (ph) a very nice neighborhood, there was a Rolls Royce parked in the drive.

So I mean Sebastian is actually right, the corruption thing is something that really just hit me in my visit. There are some things that can be done. The United States military can be more careful about who it contracts to, make smaller contracts instead of these huge contracts that are then subcontracted out.

U.S. officials are also considering trying some of these cases in places like the southern district of New York, rather than trying them in the Afghan system.

A lot of the people involved are dual citizens of the United States and Afghanistan and other countries in Europe, so you could actually have cases not in the, you know, current, feckless Afghan court system but in a European or American court that would actually get some traction and deal with this problem and make some examples.

COOPER: And Peter, also it seems like -- I mean, a key to all of this is the Afghan security forces, the army and the police. I just did a piece on "60 Minutes" about the Afghan police force, which is just plagued by corruption.

I mean, there's a general now who's in charge, Lieutenant General Caldwell, who's been revamping the forces, gotten rid of a lot of the private contractors, who are actually training -- allegedly training these guys, who's not really doing much of a good job of it.

This guy is clearly, you know, a good general, and he's working really hard at this. But that -- that's the key component, is trying to get the Afghans to do the job. And right now, are they doing it?

BERGEN: Well, I can't think of a single significant operation that the Afghan army has done independently of any American support. And Sebastian, you know, may -- may probably -- I don't know what his view is on that. But I mean, the Afghan army so far has been pretty feckless. I was at one of their main bases. They're churning out about 2,000 graduates a month in the Kabul area now. There does seem to be a much better esprit de corps in the Afghan army, but it's got a hell of a long way to go.

COOPER: On the ground, I mean, what's the thought behind the Afghan army among U.S. troops.

JUNGER: Where I was in the Korengal Valley with this platoon there was always a unit of Afghan soldiers, ANA attached to that platoon. And once in a while, there were some good guys that came through there.

But their fire discipline was terrible. Frankly, they're pretty dangerous to be around, because they were, you know, pretty indiscriminate in their fire.

I mean, here's the sort of conundrum. Here's the question. Why is one Taliban fighter worth about ten ANA? What is that? They're the same people. They have the same weapons.

COOPER: Right. Yes, right.

JUNGER: And sort of pound for pound.

COOPER: It's the same question that was asked about -- the U.S. forces asked in Vietnam -- during the Vietnam War, like how come their fighters, you know, the North Vietnamese fighters are doing so much better than the South Vietnamese fighters?

JUNGER: The Taliban believe in what they're fighting for, and the ANA are not sure what they're fighting for. And frankly, you know, if you take a look at the government that we have allowed to sort of fall into corruption, it's hard to answer that question for them.

COOPER: Peter, did you see, you know, did you see signs of progress? What gives you hope and what do you think is the biggest problem right now that you saw on the ground?

BERGEN: Well, you know, Afghanistan is one of those places, Anderson, you spend a lot of time there, and you can make the argument the glass is half full, the glass is half empty.

The glass half full argument -- Kabul is very, very safe now. You know, Taliban is really not able to man attacks there. Definitely parts of Kandahar and Helmand are safer.

On the other hand, here in the north of the country, the Taliban, which shouldn't have much of a presence, is really a significant factor; parts of the eastern central part of the country. So, you know, you can argue both sides of this.

The biggest problem, as Sebastian underlined, is corruption. The Pakistani safe haven is not going away. I think the Pakistanis have reached a ceiling of what they're going to do against the Taliban.

We don't have a lot more leverage over them. We've got Admiral Mullen going over there now, the chairman of the joint chiefs, asking for more action.

But you know, there are certain things that they're just going to keep on the table, the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban. These cards they want to play. And they've shown absolutely no impetus to actually, you know, stop the actions of these militants.


Peter Bergen, appreciate it, and Sebastian Junger, as well. Again, the book is "War" and the film is "Restrepo". Both are -- I've seen "Restrepo" twice and read the book once. It's both great, so thanks for being on.

JUNGER: Thank you, brother.

COOPER: Thanks for being on. Really appreciate it.

And yes, we're talking about none other than Michael Vick. He wants a dog. That's coming up.


COOPER: First, let's check in with some other news. Susan Hendricks joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

HENDRICKS: Looking forward to that. Hi Anderson.

A Massachusetts court has awarded $152 million in damages to the family of a 54-year-old woman who died of lung cancer. The court ruled Lorillard Tobacco lured the woman and others into smoking by giving out free Newport cigarettes decades ago to African-American children. The company says it plans to appeal.

Los Angeles police need your help in the Grim Sleeper serial killer case. Today they released these 180 photos found in the suspect's home and are asking for your help in identifying the women in the pictures. Police are worried some of the women may have been killed by Lonnie David Franklin Junior. He was arrested in July and charged with ten murders, some dating back to the 1980s.

If you bought an electric heater from Wal-Mart, you may need to bring it back. That's because the retailer, along with the Consumer Products Safety Commission, is recalling more than two million of them because they could pose a fire hazard. The heaters were sold under the brands Flow Pro, Airtech, Aloha Breeze and Comfort Essentials.

And it was raining teddy bears at a hockey game in Canada. On Sunday fans at the Calgary Hitmen game tossed 23,000 stuffed animals onto the ice after the first goal. It didn't surprise any of the players. This is an annual event for a junior hockey team. The players donated the stuffed animals to more than 50 children's charities -- a great cause, Anderson.

COOPER: That's cool. Looks like someone could get hurt with all those thrown in --


HENDRICKS: Got to duck.

COOPER: Got to duck, indeed.

All right, Susan. Thanks very much. Time now for the -- is Larry ready yet or -- all right. Larry's not ready yet. We're going to try to go to him shortly.

But time now for the RidicuList; time to add another name to tonight's RidicuList. Tonight should be probably called the ReVickuList, because tonight Michael Vick is getting added to the list.

Now, Vick is having a great year on the field with the Philadelphia Eagles, but rather than just being happy with that and letting sleeping dogs lie, Michael Vick now says -- wait for it -- he wants a dog.

That's right. Michael Vick, who spent almost two years in prison on dog fighting charges, wants another dog. Here's what he told the Web site called


MICHAEL VICK, SERVED TIME FOR DOG FIGHTING: I would love to have another dog in the future. You know, I think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process. I think just to have a pet in my household and to show people that I genuinely care.


COOPER: Now, I know Vick has been working with the Human Society talking to kids about how dog fighting is wrong.

And look, I love a good redemption story as much as the next guy. I'm all for Britney Spears bouncing back and Lindsay Lohan maybe someday getting insurance so she can get an actual job again. But isn't it kind of soon to let Michael Vick get his hands on another pooch? Would you trust the guy with your dog?

I don't know him personally. I've got nothing against him. But I'd sooner stay in a Motel 6 run by Norman Bates.




COOPER: Vick only left prison in May of 2009 and is banned from owning a dog until July 2012. So he's not going to be able to get his wish for a while.

So here's what we're thinking. Maybe Vick should just start out small. You know, a goldfish, for instance, and not one of those fighting fish. Or maybe better yet a Pepperidge Farm goldfish cracker. They're cute and they're tasty.

Now, if Vick, like most 4-year-olds around the world, really, really, really wants a puppy, we found something that could be a way for him to kind of ease back into dog ownership. It's a German toy. Here's the commercial for the Cackle Dackle.




COOPER: Yes. You see that? See that? Find it hard to believe that German kids are really dying to pick poop out of the Cackle Dackle, but can we see that again? There we go. I don't know, is that Play-Doh or something?

But as an interim set for Michael Vick -- Cackle Dackle -- why not? So Michael Vick, we checked our list, we checked it twice, and since you've been naughty and nice, we hereby award you one Cackle- Dackle, a bag of goldfish crackers, and a spot on the RidicuList tonight.

Up next: cutting the cost of college tuition, some tips that could save you a lot of money. Tonight's "Perry's Principles" ahead.


COOPER: Tonight's "Perry's Principles", a tough reality. State funding for higher education has dropped over the last decade with the recession fueling even deeper cuts. Meantime, college tuition rates are rising faster than inflation, but there are ways to reduce college expenses.

Here's education contributor Steve Perry.


STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: Is a private college a better value than a public one. University of Connecticut student, Kara Fenn, doesn't think so.

You were going to a private college in D.C. You're originally from Connecticut. And you made a decision to leave the private college. Why was that?

KARA FENN, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: I view college as a privilege but also an investment. I wanted to get the best education possible but I also wanted to get the most out of my money and I didn't feel as though I was getting that at my previous institution. I think a lot of the time people sort of equate quality with costly and that's not necessarily true. I've been far more academically stimulated here at UConn than I had at my previous institution.

PERRY: Kara also considered what she wanted to do after college.

FENN: I'm very driven toward mission and purposeful work. You don't really make a lot of money in those types of things. I wanted to kind save now so I could have a greater impact later.

PERRY: Lee Melvin is UConn's vice president of Enrolment, Planning and Management. He says there's several ways to cut down on college costs.

LEE MELVIN, VICE PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: One creative way is that students are recognizing the importance of graduating in four years. So what some students are doing is while they're in high school they're taking dual enrolment classes, where they're enrolled in high school and college. They're taking advanced placement courses where they can take advanced placement tests and take that score and some schools will give college credit for that score. So once they arrive to us, many students will have completed half of their freshman year.

The other ways that students are being creative is they are looking at costs both in state and out of state schools. And they're also comparing their private schools and now more students are starting to look at two-year institutions.

You may not start at your dream school. You may have to start somewhere else and then move on to your dream school as far as transferring to that institution. And you'll see students that will come in and they'll try to get a housing assignment where they're a resident adviser. That will help them cut down on some of their room and board. They will look at different ways to do summer programs. Some students will look for different scholarships available to them.

PERRY: UConn senior Robert Herman relies on loans and grants to fund his education but worries about how he will pay it all back.

If you were to talk to a student who's 18 years old, coming out of high school, what would you tell them?

ROBERT HERMAN, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Don't just go to college for the sake of going to college. Have an idea of what you want to do with yourself. Do some research; find out about job prospects. Don't just start up because you think it's the right thing to do.

COOPER: Look, as college prices go up, it's getting harder and harder for families to afford, for students to afford. What can college student dozen to try to, you know, keep costs down?

PERRY: They have to keep their options open, Anderson. One of the things they have to do is they do have to consider two-year colleges. They also have to take a look at maybe staying home when they do go to college.

And a lot of times we think that a private college is inherently better than a public college and that's not always the case. There are a lot of fine public colleges out there. It's not the college that you go to, it's what you do with the education that you receive.

COOPER: Yes. I went to Yale, some of the stupidest kids I ever met were there and obviously some of the smartest as well. I think it's what you make of the opportunity that you have. It's what you make of the school you're at more so than what the school, than what the name of the school is.

PERRY: We have kids who are looking at schools that are $54,000 a year. And then the state school is $20,000 a year.

COOPER: Right.

PERRY: They could get a masters and beyond in half -- in the amount of money that it would cost for them to just go to two years at this expensive and not so prestigious college. Not every college that's expensive is so prestigious.

COOPER: Right. Yes. Steve thanks.


COOPER: That's it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts now.

I'll see you tomorrow night.