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Facebook Firing Test Case; Egypt's Biggest Protest Yet; Republican Presidential Front-Runner?

Aired February 8, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the biggest protest yet in the Egypt uprising. The words of one man helping to swell and inspire the crowds. This hour is a freed Google executive, the new face of the still unfolding revolution in Egypt.

Also, we're tracking over a billion dollars in U.S. military aid to Egypt and its army. American companies and their workers could have a lot to lose if the flow of that money is suddenly cut off.

And could a posting on your Facebook page cost you your job? A new development in a groundbreaking case could encourage companies to rethink their Internet policies.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters, maybe more, showing the world that they're not going away until President Hosni Mubarak does. It's the biggest demonstration yet in Cairo's Tahrir Square. And it comes as this historic revolt begins its third week, the protesters clearly unimpressed by a new government commission created to oversee constitutional reforms.

But they were moved by the words of freed Google executive Wael Ghonim and his vow to put Egypt above all else.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Cairo.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Hang in there," the reception line sings. "Freedom is being born."

This is how they welcome newcomers to Tahrir Square on yet another day aimed at keeping up the pressure on the Mubarak regime. The square was packed, many coming for the first time.

DALIA, PROTESTER: I came today for the first time because I felt like I have been already too late to participate in these protests. And I think like nothing will make this regime go unless we keep on coming and keep on coming. "I came to join the people in the revolution," says Umar, a pharmacist who traveled from upper Egypt. "It's always been my dream and the dream of every Egyptian to live in this moment of liberation."

They say, "Mubarak, wake up. This is your last day." But they have been saying it for days now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of here now. It's our orders.

WEDEMAN: But President Mubarak isn't taking orders. In fact, the government is striking back with a campaign on state television suggesting the United States is funding the protests, which have been infiltrated, it says, by Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and others.

Azza Al-Mahi has brought her father, Ahmed (ph), a university professor, for the first time. She says Mubarak should stop blaming others.

AZZA AL-MAHI, PROTESTER: It's over. There's no America. There's no Hezbollah. It's his fault. What we are in is his fault! It's not due to the Americans! It's not due to Hezbollah! It's due to him. And he has to understand that!

WEDEMAN: Some newcomers were motivated by this emotional interview on a private Egyptian satellite channel with Wael Ghonim, one of the organizers of the protest movement released from detention Monday.

WAEL GHONIM, GOOGLE EXECUTIVE (through translator): I want to say to every mother and every father that lost his child, I'm sorry. But this is not our fault. I swear to God this is not our fault. It's the fault of everyone who was holding on to power greedily and would not let it go. I want to leave.

SAMIR, PROTESTER: I saw the interview of Wael Ghonim yesterday. This is the announcement to the end of the regime.

WEDEMAN: Premature, perhaps, but Tahrir is more crowded, more rowdy, more revolutionary than ever.


BLITZER: And Ben Wedeman is joining us now live via Skype from his home in Egypt. Also joining us live from Cairo, CNN's Hala Gorani.

Ben, let me start with you.

Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who gave that emotional speech today, the emotional interview yesterday, is he what we call in American politics a potential game-changer in Egypt?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly his interview, Wolf, really electrified a lot of people because they saw quite vividly on a very popular Egyptian satellite channel that the people involved in the protests who have been organizing it, supporting it are not some strange foreign-backed individuals from Iran or Hezbollah, that he's an ordinary Egyptian, a very eloquent young Egyptian, who very eloquently made the case for change in Egypt.

And a lot of people who have been sitting on the fence not quite sure where they stand in all of this were won over by him. Game- changer? Maybe too early. I went to the Tahrir Square to try to determine whether that was the case, and I came away with the impression that, yes, it made an impact on many people, but it's not a game-changer yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Hala into this conversation.

And, Hala, I want to play what Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said today about the Egyptian vice president, Omar Suleiman. Listen to this.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yesterday I think the vice president -- Vice President Suleiman made some particularly unhelpful comments about Egypt not being ready for democracy, about not seeing a lift of the emergency law. And I don't -- I don't think that in any way squares with what those seeking greater opportunity and freedom think is a timetable for progress.


BLITZER: Do you get the sense, Hala, that people in Egypt understand where the U.S. stands out on all this right now, or is there confusion?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that their understanding of the U.S.' position has evolved. In the beginning, there was real criticism coming from the Arab street directed at the United States for continuing to say that the Egyptian government is stable and that the transition should become -- should be a gradual one.

I think, right now, they are hearing from the United States calls for perhaps a more prompt, a more immediate transition process. But the real frustration is directed at their own government right now.

There is criticism of the United States. Truly, what we're seeing on the streets of Cairo -- and I'm sure Ben would agree with me -- is regardless of what comes out of the current regime, President Mubarak still surrounded by his old guard, whatever committee formation is announced, whatever set of sort of reforms are promised in the future, the people in Tahrir Square and those who are within the pro-democracy movement say they just don't trust this regime and this government, that promises, perhaps not exactly the same ones, have been made in the past, and they have been consistently broken.

And many say, look, President Mubarak has been in power almost 30 years. He's been an autocrat. He's ruled with an iron fist this country. We don't believe that overnight he's going to turn into this democratic force for Egypt. BLITZER: It seems to me, and I'm looking at it from the outside, Ben, that Mubarak and Suleiman, the entire regime, they are digging in right now, and they're determined to stay on at least until September, when the next scheduled elections are supposed to happen. Is that -- is that an accurate assessment?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly -- it's hard to say about President Mubarak...

GORANI: Absolutely.


WEDEMAN: ... because it is widely believed he is being slowly phased out of the picture and that Omar Suleiman is the strongman, he in a sense is calling the shots.

But of course we do have a timetable. In September of this year, there are supposed to be presidential elections. And if the government will stick by that timetable, they may find they will, for once, in a long time -- excuse me, Wolf -- they may indeed have a challenge.

Of course, we haven't yet seen anybody emerge as a potential presidential challenger, but this government seems to be doing all it can to make sure that its hold on power remains at least -- at least until September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We all remember, Hala, last week when you and many of our colleagues were threatened by the secret police or security services.


BLITZER: Is it easier being a journalist today, or are you still worried about potentially what could happen to you simply by doing your job?

GORANI: It is easier. We're not being deliberately targeted in the way we were last Wednesday and Thursday.

We were threatened one day. We were attacked outright the next in a car and surrounded by a mob. So it is easier. There are still sort of precautions that we take just to be on the safe side. We don't sort of walk out on the street with a big professional television camera in any neighborhood that we choose in Cairo. It's something that we're careful with still.

But it is a lot easier. We don't feel deliberately targeted. There is nowhere near the level of violence that we experienced last week, Wolf. So it is a lot easier to do our jobs right now. But we're still seeing some of our colleagues, just to remind everyone, that have been detained just over the last few days, despite the fact that the government is promising that journalists will be able to do their jobs freely and without being sort of harassed or intimidated by authorities. BLITZER: Because what I hear from U.S. officials who are expert on Egypt right now, Ben, is that the Egyptian government, they're saying -- quote -- "all the right things," but behind the scenes, there really hasn't been much of a change. And they're worried, deeply worried, about what could happen in the coming days.

But you have been in Egypt for a long time. Give me your assessment.

WEDEMAN: Well, I think there is a concern that the Egyptian government as it exists today is trying -- is really walking a very fine line. On the one hand, it wants to do as much as possible that the Americans are asking -- under intense American pressure, they're asking them to -- to have -- somehow have a transparent transition to some sort of more open system.

On the other hand, they realize if they open it up too much domestically, this protest movement, that it's worth pointing out it's not just Cairo -- we're hearing reports from many places around the country where there are protests. There are riots. There are attacks on the police.

And so they're worried that if they come across to weak domestically, they could come under even more attack, more protests from this movement in the country -- across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Still potentially a very, very dangerous situation, a lot of uncertainty. Ben Wedeman, Hala Gorani, guys, thanks very much.

We are going to check in later this hour with Ivan Watson, Arwa Damon. We're going to back to Cairo, much more.

But I want to check in with Jack right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. is headed for fiscal disaster, and our federal government may just choose to sit back and watch the ship go down.

President Obama is getting ready to present his budget next week. It's unclear if he'll propose the tough cuts necessary to start begin things around.

We are in big trouble.

The national debt is over $14 trillion, with another $1.5 trillion deficit projected for this year.

And while everybody in Washington talks about cutting the deficits, nobody really seems to mean it. Plus, the public is partly to blame in all of this. Polls show nearly 80 percent of Americans say it's more important to prevent cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid than to reduce the deficit.

So, where are our leaders on this critical issue? President Obama all but ignored his own deficit commission. The midterms caused everybody to look the other way, pretend it wasn't happening.

Now a bipartisan group of senators is pushing to try to revive key elements of the deficit commission's plan to cut deficits by $4 trillion over the next 10 years. But there is a presidential election looming on the horizon, so this all could be a tough sell.

Experts suggest if the president wants to get serious, he needs to be specific in his upcoming budget, setting targets for how much the government will cut and where. and if Congress doesn't meet these targets, then across-the-board spending cuts should kick in.

Meanwhile, as Congress and the president sit on their hands when it comes to government spending, some governors around the nation are setting a very good example. They're cutting budgets, they're firing people, they're eliminating programs and departments, you know, real cost-cutting.

But when it comes to the federal government, all we get is talk.

Here's the question: Will President Obama get serious about the deficit when he presents his budget next week?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

We're learning more about what Egyptians are doing right now. Out of the spotlight glaring on the protesters, is there a new normal emerging in Cairo?

Also, we're following the money, and it's lots of money, from the United States to Egypt's military and how U.S. contractors in this country, they are profiting big time.

And you're going to find out what Republicans are willing to give up to try to win back the White House in 2012.


BLITZER: All right, mark your calendar. We're now less than one year away from the leadoff presidential contest of 2012.

As we look ahead to the Iowa caucuses on February 6 of next year, we have some brand-new polls on the very, very early race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Let's check it out. In our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, 29 percent of Republicans say they prefer a nominee who agrees with them on the issues, but most, most, 68 percent, favor a nominee who they believe can beat President Obama.

Let's bring in our senior political analysts David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

Gloria, it looks like most Republicans are pragmatic. They want a candidate who can take over the White House, as opposed to be ideologically rigid.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they don't like Barack Obama very much. And they're unified on that.

You know, Barack Obama only has a 19 percent approval rating with Republicans, and what this number tells me, Wolf, is that in theory at least, they're thinking about electability. They want somebody who can beat a president they don't like very much.

But, in practice, you have to think about what's going to happen in the primaries. And in the primaries, you have the most conservative voters, a lot of Tea Party voters who are going to come out, and I'm not so sure they are going to be as pragmatic as the general Republican population we interviewed in this poll. We will have to see.

BLITZER: Because you remember, David, Richard Nixon used to say in a Republican primary you run to the right. But if you win the primary, you run back to the center. Is that what is going to happen this time?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You may need to run to the far right in this context, Wolf.


BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: I think Gloria has been absolutely on target, and what I find interesting about this poll, and I think one of the reasons the Republicans are saying, is, is, there's more sentiment out there than I had expected to believe that they could that Barack Obama is going to be unseated.

If you ask all Americans who would they vote for, it's 51/47 against Obama. And then particularly among whites, when you ask who do you think is going to win, it's like 61-36 thinking Obama is going to lose among whites.

Now, what that suggests to me, Wolf, is that we thought -- I think all of us thought that he's had this fairly significant bump since the elections, that he seems to be riding much higher. This poll suggests we ought to be cautious about how much we interpret that. Maybe the bump has disappeared. But there's more sentiment out there against the president today than I would have assumed, given the bump.

BLITZER: In this new poll, Gloria, you know, Huckabee, Palin, Mitt Romney, they seem to be the front-runners, and they're pretty close in this poll.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But it's still a year to go before the Iowa caucuses. Is it way too early to take...


BLITZER: ... to look at this and say these, yes, are the three front-runners?

BORGER: Sure. Let me introduce you to President Lieberman, President Giuliani, President Hillary Clinton. It is early.


BORGER: This is all very much about name recognition. These are the people they have heard of.

Of course, the big elephant, literally, in the middle of the room is Sarah Palin. And what Republicans are trying to figure out right now, Wolf, is, is she or isn't she going to run? Because she's right up at the top of the poll. She has got a really strong following.

And the talk is, which Republican will get in, start criticizing her, and become the sacrificial lamb if she decides to run? But we just don't know at this point what she's going to do.

BLITZER: What do you think, David? Do you think she is going to run?

GERGEN: Well, maybe we ought to start calling her the big moose in the room.


GERGEN: I think this, Wolf -- if you look at the polling, Republicans saying pragmatically, as you just pointed out, they really want somebody who can beat Barack Obama, she's really running badly head on head against Barack Obama, so that you would think, if they really do exercise their pragmatism, it's really Romney and Huckabee have the inside track at the moment based on name recognition.

BORGER: Right. But Huckabee is pretty conservative and ran last time as quite to the right, right?

GERGEN: Yes, but he's been -- well, he's been a durable figure given all his media appearances and everything else.

Mark Shields pointed out to me today that Mike Huckabee just bought an expensive home in Florida, and wondered if that signals that maybe he's not running.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't think he's going to announce for a long time. I don't think Sarah Palin, if she decides to run, will announce for a long time, because if they announce that they're running, they have to give up their jobs at the FOX News network. And that's a significant amount of income that they're getting right now, in addition to going out and giving political -- she's made millions and millions of dollars. He's made quite a bit of money since leaving government as well.

So, I think they want to stretch it out, David, as long as they can before they have to make an announcement because of the cash that's involved.

GERGEN: I think there's almost this question the last -- the first person in. Everybody is waiting for somebody else to jump.

It's partly a question, too, though, of who is going to get -- if you jump first, you do get a lot more scrutiny.

BORGER: Right. And who is going to take her on? You're going to get a lot of scrutiny.

GERGEN: That's exactly right.

BORGER: And the first thing -- when Tim Pawlenty dipped his toe in the water, the first questions we in the media started asking him was about what Sarah Palin was saying on X, Y, and Z. So any candidate who does that, who get in is going to have to seriously decide how to take her on, because even if she doesn't run, she has a substantial following, particularly in those early primary states.

GERGEN: She may have more to do with who gets it than running herself.


BORGER: Exactly.

GERGEN: Gloria is absolutely right about that.

BORGER: Kingmaker.

BLITZER: All right, guys, lots to digest. But it's still a year before the Iowa caucus, less than a year. Yesterday was a year before the Iowa caucuses.


BORGER: For us, it's tomorrow.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

We're going back to Cairo. Tens of thousands of protesters are massing in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the biggest demonstration we have seen there yet, but are they having any political impact at all in the faraway neighborhoods of the Egyptian Capitol? Stay with us.

And find out what President Obama gave up so he could look his daughters in the eyes. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's after 1:00 a.m., it's almost 1:30 a.m. in Cairo right now, but still huge crowds at Tahrir Square. On this day, there were more people who showed up in the downtown Cairo area to protest Hosni Mubarak than on any day during this uprising. We're going back to Cairo in a few minutes. Arwa Damon will have a special report.


BLITZER: There's another way to follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Go to, all one word. You can follow me on Twitter/WolfBlitzerCNN.

We're following the biggest protests yet in Cairo's main square. But beyond the uprising, we're getting a new glimpse of Egyptians trying to live their lives as well. Arwa Damon is in Cairo.

Plus, over a billion dollars a year in U.S. military aid to Egypt, a lot of it, though, coming back right here into the pockets of U.S. military contractors.

And a fresh look at my remarkable trip inside North Korea, even as there's new evidence that tension on the peninsula -- the tensions are easing.


BLITZER: Tens of thousands of protesters pouring back into Cairo's main square. Look at these live pictures. It's being described as the biggest demonstration yet after two weeks of this revolution in Egypt.

The embattled Egyptian government says Egyptians should feel free to speak their mind. But experts are warning this uprising may be entering a new and even more dangerous phase with more arrests and possibly lots of violence.

Now in the midst of all of the turmoil -- turmoil, there are some signs of everyday life in Egypt.

CNN's Arwa Damon investigates the new normal, as it's called, in Cairo.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is one of Cairo's upper middle class neighborhoods. Traffic is back; shops are reopening; things would appear to be normal. We've been talking to a number of people here, all of whom say normality has taken on an entire different meeting in today's Egypt.

(voice-over) Mohammed Said (ph) has been the proud owner of a butcher shop since Egypt's first revolution in 1952. A thoughtful witness to this nation's tumultuous history. He says he's seen worse.

But the uncertainty of the current stalemate weighs heavily on him. Business is still down. He had been selling his meat on credit until the banks reopened.

If there's one thing this man believes, it's that neighborhoods will weather this out by relying on each other.

The grocer next door, Abdul Azim, slashed prices, taking an even greater financial hit to help people out. "The most important thing," he tells us, "is that we treat each other well."

He's been reassuring customers that everything will go back to normal. And he delivers to the homes of those too afraid to venture out.

At a handbag and shoe store, we meet Mohammed, just one of many who took security into their own hands. "I have been living and sleeping here for around two weeks," he tells us, "because of the thieves and robbers. I had to protect the store."

(on camera) Mohamed was saying that once curfew kicks in he's going to be heading right out to guard the street. Neighborhood watches are still ongoing, but he was telling us that now it is really only the young men of the neighborhood coming out in smaller numbers, whereas in the beginning he would get the elderly and women partaking, as well.

(voice-over) Not something anyone here is accustomed to, but Egypt is taking on a new form. "There must be change. We need change," Chef Mohamed explains. "I always spoke out. But before, no one was listening."

As we chat at this shawirma (ph) stand, a woman who was listening interrupts. "There is something called freedom and privacy," she declares angrily. "I would never come to your country asking questions. This is between us Egyptians." She watched her Chef Mohamed. "Why are these foreigners interfering?"

Another customer, filmmaker Wael Mandour, has been confronting many debates like this in recent weeks.

WAEL MANDOUR, FILMMAKER: Well, I can't fight my way through. The people try to convince them people should get together. People should stop the fighting and stop talking nonsense. You know, like you're looking down here when you should be looking ahead.

What we are losing today is nothing compared with what we lost in the past 30 years with corruption and everything else."

But just what Egypt is going to lose -- or win -- remains unclear to many here.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Cairo.


BLITZER: Over the past three decades Egypt has been a large, large recipient of U.S. foreign aid. This year it's getting $1.6 billion in assistance from Washington. Here's the question. Where is all this money going? Where has it gone over the years?

We asked Allan Chernoff to take a closer look at this part of the story, follow the money as we say. What's going on with the money situation? All the U.S. taxpayer dollars that have gone to Egypt, Allan? ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the fact is a lot of it is coming right back here to the United States. That's because much of the aid to Egypt is in the form of military assistance, $1.3 billion. By contrast, just $250 million goes to economic aid.

The way that U.S. foreign military financing works is that virtually all the money is required to be spent with U.S. contractors. So American companies are actually prime beneficiaries.

The Egyptians have bought M-1 Abrams battle tanks, Apache helicopters, guided missiles, F-16 aircrafts. The key companies behind those products include Boeing, General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. And it's not just traditional military contractors that benefit. Defense and State Department documents show that Egypt has purchased vans from Ford and cars from Chrysler, all under the military financing programs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so that's $1.3 billion a year. And you say $250 million in addition goes for economic assistance. How is that broken up?

CHERNOFF: Right. Well, the $250 million is actually a big decline from what we had been giving the Egyptians, down from $911 million back in 2003. That's according to the Congressional Research Service.

What we're doing with much of the money is trying to give the Egyptians tools to improve their economy. An official involved in the work tells CNN the U.S. has provided more than $20 million in micro loans, mainly for women trying to establish themselves in business, typically in agriculture.

He says the U.S. has also been providing technical assistance for Egypt to create a business friendly economy, helping to draft import/export, taxation and bankruptcy law.

U.S. funding has also gone to improve health service and education. And we're not sending the Egyptians shiploads of free food. Rather, the Egyptians are buying food from us. Egypt is actually a major consumer of U.S. wheat.

But clearly, U.S. economic aid has not been adequate to improve conditions on the ground for millions of Egyptians. Some critics say the U.S. should be sending more butter than guns. Among them is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry. He wants more economic aid, arguing, quote, "for too long financing Egypt's military has dominated our alliance" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Allan Chernoff. Good explanation. Appreciate it.

If you post something mean about your boss on Facebook, is it fair grounds for you to be fired? Stand by for the latest on a groundbreaking legal test case. .

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Look at the detail you can see in this picture now. These are live pictures from Tahrir Square. You can see the tent city that's been created there. The folks are going to stay there until Hosni Mubarak steps down as president of Egypt. We'll go back there. We'll update you.

Let's check some other stories we're following, though, right now.

Have you ever wondered if you could be fired for something you wrote on your Facebook page? It happened to a Connecticut woman, and now the case has been settled out of court.

Lisa is back. She's working the story for us. Our viewers are interested.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are. This is a first-of-its-kind legal settlement that looks at just how far you can go to criticize your job of your supervisor online.


SYLVESTER: Maybe it's something that you thought of before, tweeting or posting on Facebook derogatory comments about your boss like "that guy, he is such a jerk."

(voice-over) Dawnmarie Souza was a paramedic working for a Connecticut ambulance company, American Medical Response. After clashing with her boss at work, she went on Facebook at home to vent and referred to him as a Code 17, ambulance code for a psychiatric patient. Souza was fired, but the federal National Labor Relations Board intervened and filed a complaint against the company, saying her postings were protected free speech.

LAFE SOLOMON, GENERAL COUNSEL, NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD: You don't have to like your boss. You don't have to like all the terms and conditions of employment. And you can talk to your fellow employees about trying to change them.

SYLVESTER: In a settlement with the federal Labor Board, American Medical Response agreed to change its employee handbook policy on social networking. The company reached a separate settlement with Souza.

DAWNMARIE SOUZA, FIRED FOR FACEBOOK POST: I can't make any comment. Thank you.

SYLVESTER: We contacted Souza for an interview, but she declined to comment. The case is likely to have other companies rethinking their social networking policies.

Former prosecutor Paul Callan.

PAUL CALLAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: But I think companies are really worried about this, because remember, if a worker criticizes a company on a Facebook site, and let's say they have 500 friends on Facebook, it's not only going to the fellow workers; it's going to the 500 friends. And I think when lawyers start arguing about this, they're going to say, you know, this is really not about workplace conditions. This is about a company's entire national reputation.


SYLVESTER: Dawnmarie Souza was a union employee, but the National Labor Relations Board says protected speech like this one applies to union and nonunion workers alike.

Now we reached out repeatedly to American Medical Response and its attorney today to get a comment, but they did not return our calls or e-mails, Wolf.

BLITZER: So does this mean we can write whatever we want on Facebook?

SYLVESTER: Not exactly. There are protections and there are limits to exactly what you can say. For instance, in this case -- and the difference is, in this case she was criticizing her job, her employer, her company that she works for. All of that is OK, because the law says that you have a right to complain about working conditions.

On the other hand, if she had gone father, if she had criticized a specific customer, for instance, named somebody else, that is not necessarily protected speech, Wolf.

BLITZER: People are going to be studying this legal case for a while. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way, is on Facebook. You can go to Click on the "like" button to become a fan.

Don't forget: go to Twitter. You can follow me on Twitter: @WolfBlitzerCNN.

Up next, I got an unprecedented look inside one of the most secretive nations in the world. There were lots of surprises. We're counting down to my special one hour inside North Korea that will air Saturday. We'll share a little bit of it with you when we come back.


BLITZER: A very different kind of military faceoff between North and South Korea, the first direct talks after months of rising tensions. Military officials appeared to be friendly, at least in front of the camera. They'll pick up where they left off tomorrow.

All of this a far cry from the war fears that were very real when I traveled to North Korea with Governor Bill Richardson back in December. But even then there were some light moments, as well. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER (voice-over): It's Saturday morning in the North Korean capital. We drive back to the foreign ministry for a meeting with Kim Ga-Gwon (ph), North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, the man who invited Richardson here.

(on camera) Thank you very much. Thank you for letting me come here with Governor Richardson to North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I am personally very happy to meet with you, Mr. Wolf, who, I presume, have the same power as the American president."

BLITZER: Thank you very much for that compliment, but I don't think it's true. But it was very nice to hear it from you.

(voice-over) After the cameras are gone, the meeting itself is very intense.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: He started out fairly hard-line, basically saying there's an artillery drill that is being performed by the South Koreans. The United States won't talk to us. We're ready for either dialogue or war.

BLITZER: On this day, we again go from serious talks to sightseeing. This time a visit to the national library, what's called the Grand People Study House. We go to the music room, where we see lots of old-school boom boxes, people listening to music on headphones.

(on camera) We're here at a library in North Korea, Pyongyang, and we're listening on this big box over here to Kenny Rogers. It's a crazy world we're living in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I make my hands warm in front of the fire.

BLITZER: We're here at the Pyongyang foreign language school. It was really impressive to see these young kids. They're learning English.

(voice-over) And because of the shortage of electricity, they're learning in the cold.

But beyond the school welcome, the saber-rattling is getting worse. The South Koreans are preparing for a live fire exercise, one that might provoke a North Korean military response.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: There's real fear that a military exercise this weekend could spiral into all-out war.

BLITZER: With the U.N. Security Council about to meet on the crisis, Sunday will be a critical day.


BLITZER: All this week, the remainder of this week, we're going to be showing you parts of the journey. Please be sure to tune in Saturday, not Sunday, Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern for the full one-hour documentary, "Six Days in North Korea." I think you'll enjoy it.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next. And you're not going to believe what a woman tried to do when she mailed something in a box.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: "Will President Obama get serious about the deficit when he presents his budget next week?"

"A vanishing American" is the way this letter was signed. "Doesn't matter whether he gets serious or not. Massive cuts in all government agencies are necessary, and Congress will never do anything that will address the root of our financial problems. Thomas Jefferson thought there were too many parasites riding on the backs of the productive in his time. Wonder what he'd say if he was around today."

John in Alabama: "I think President Obama wants to get serious about the deficit, but it's hard to do when the Republicans want to give tax cuts to billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. If everyone were serious about the deficit, there'd be no tax cuts for anyone."

Greg writes, "Most people would think that getting serious about deficit reduction means the president would act quickly and decisively to reduce it. Not this president. He keeps piling on more debt and blaming everyone else for it. Wake up, taxpayers; you're being scammed."

Bruce in Philadelphia: "The indicator will be whether he cuts funding dramatically for our military expansion and imperialism. Cutting foreign aid, particularly for Israel, is also an indicator."

Lauren in California writes, "No doubt President Obama will act with all the serious certitude of the farmer whose horse has escaped. He'll focus on shutting the barn door. It's a prudent decision, to be sure, because deficits, like horse, tend to run away. Barns don't."

Ron writes, "He's not serious. He's trying to buy re-election in 2012. I don't think it'll work."

And Mark says, "President Obama has never met a dollar that he doesn't want to spend."

You want to read more on the subject, you can find it on my blog:

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow.

Here's a question. Is Egypt a wake-up call for the United States? At the top of the hour, Congresswoman Jane Harman weighs in on JOHN KING USA, why some key signals may have been missed. Stand by for that.

And it's the case of the puppy in the mailbox.


BLITZER: Terror at work in Pakistan's dangerous northwest region. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?


Three separate bomb blasts killed two Pakistani soldiers and two policemen today. One explosion destroyed an oil tanker that was carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Four other tankers were damaged. No one has yet claimed responsibility, but militants in the area have frequently targeted -- targeted Pakistani security forces and supply trucks headed for Afghanistan.

The Kremlin's public enemy No. 1 is threatening a year of, quote, "blood and tears" for Russia. In a newly surfaced video, Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov says he gave the order for last month's deadly attack at Moscow's biggest airport. The January 24 suicide bombing killed 36 people and wounded nearly 200 others. Umarov says he has dozens more rebels posed to carry out similar attacks.

The Transportation Department says a 10-month investigation has not -- has not -- found any link between Toyota's electronic throttles and unintended acceleration by the auto maker's vehicles. Officials say improperly installed floor mats and sticky gas pedals are the only known causes found to date. They also suspect driver error in some instances. Toyota recalled nearly 8 million cars in 2008 and 2009, and it says the department's findings should restore confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Lisa.

Jeanne Moos shares the case of one woman who put her puppy -- yes -- in the mail.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pets are mighty cute in a box or even with their head in a box.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): He's a dog with a box on his head. He's a dog with a box on his -- dog with a box on his head.

MOOS: But who would put a pup in a box, take him to the post office and try to mail him from Minneapolis to Georgia?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was mailed priority mail.

MOOS: Stacey Champion's priority was to mail a puppy to her son for his birthday.

STACEY CHAMPION, MAILED PUPPY: I wanted to surprise him really, really good by a poodle.

MOOS: Instead, she surprised post-office workers last month when her package started to move and they heard panting.

(on camera) At one point post-office workers called the postal inspector for guidance and held the phone up to the box so he could hear the panting inside. Worried that the breathing was becoming less frequent, he ordered workers to open the box.

(voice-over) Champion admitted lying to the postal clerk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you say that it was a toy robot to the desk clerk?

CHAMPION: She just kept throwing the box around, kept throwing the box around, so I just told her it was a toy robot.

MOOS: Champion spoke at a hearing held so she could ask to get the pup back, plus a refund of the $22 she paid for postage.

The poodle-schnauzer mix named Guess was taken to animal control after Champion was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.

CHAMPION: They don't have no display of what should be shipped and what should not be shipped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We always ask you, "Is it perishable?"

CHAMPION: The postal inspector figures the pup would have perished through the three-day trip, either suffocating or freezing in the unpressurized hold of an airplane. Champion did poke air holes in the box decorated with fake money, but tape sealed the holes shut.

The hearing officer ruled the pup stays put at the animal shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disgraceful. You cannot tell me that you did -- that you thought you were doing the right thing.

MOOS: Maybe she thought her son would be opening the box in a happy scene like the ones on YouTube.


MOOS: This puppy will be put up for adoption. He has plenty of offers if Champion can't afford to board him until the animal cruelty charges are resolved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know you did wrong?

MOOS: Next time keep the dog on the stamp.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.