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Iranians Protest; Mubarak in Hiding

Aired February 14, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: Thousands of Iranians literally risk their lives. Inspired by Egypt's revolution, they take to the streets of Tehran, demanding change from a notoriously brutal regime.

Also, the former Egyptian president now in hiding. Where is Hosni Mubarak? All eyes on his heavily fortified palace by the Red Sea. We will take you there live.

And those lines at the post office may soon be getting even longer. The Postal Service is taking drastic action in the face of massive losses.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos are straight ahead. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mubarak is gone, but the protests live on in Egypt. Small crowds gathered once again in Tahrir Square today, but police moved in to disperse them. Across the country, many are exercising their hard-won new freedom with strikes and demonstrations. They're demanding better pay, work conditions, living conditions and more.

The country's new military leadership acknowledging what it calls legitimate demands, but says life cannot return to normal until protests end.

But, far from ending, they're spreading throughout the region. Clashes broke out Monday between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in Yemen's capital. About 200 people rallied outside a university calling for change.

In the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, riot police used tear gas to break up a peaceful protest, calling for a new constitution and direct elections.

But, by far the most dangerous protest was in Iran where thousands risked their lives to march down Revolution Avenue demanding change from a regime with a brutal history of cracking down on dissent.

CNN's Brian Todd is following developments in the Iranian capital for us.

Brian, tell us, what are you picking up? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, specific information on today's protests in Tehran is hard to come by. Media coverage heavily restricted and the Internet's been slowed to a crawl.

But we know at least one person has been killed during protests today in Tehran. And by the size of crowd estimates, we're getting a clear sense that the movement against hard-line regimes in the Middle East is far from over.


YELLIN (voice-over): In Tehran, a battle between anti-government protesters and those who back the Islamic regime. Witnesses tell CNN crowds swelled into the tens of thousands Monday, and when some protesters chanted death to the dictator, they were attacked by Iranian security forces. Could this be a resurgence of the green movement that occurred after the 2009 elections in Iran?

Trita Parsi thinks so. Members of his National Iranian American Council are reaching out to the dissidents through encrypted communications and he senses new momentum.

(on camera): Are they telling your people that this is directly a result of Egypt?

TRITA PARSI, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: They're saying that this was an opportunity. Everyone knew that the struggle for democracy had not died and had not been defeated, but it was waiting for a new opportunity, for a new inspiration, for something that could give them a little bit more moral boost that there is a chance. And that came because of the very quick victories in Tunisia and Egypt.

TODD (voice-over): The Iranian regime cheered on those protests, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telling Egyptians, "It is your right to decide your government and it is your right to express yourself." Now his government's own crackdown draws accusations from Washington of hypocrisy.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: A regime which, over the last three weeks, has constantly hailed what went on in Egypt. And now, when given the opportunity to afford their people the same rights as they called for on behalf of the Egyptian people, once again illustrate their true nature.

TODD: Experts say the rekindling of the pro-democracy torch in Tehran is invigorating, but they predict much more brutality against the demonstrators there.

(on camera): You see a clear difference between the way the Egyptian forces reacted to this and the way the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is reacting.

MICHAEL RUBIN, FORMER PENTAGON OFFICIAL: Well, the biggest difference between what happened in Egypt and what happened in Iran is that, in Egypt, the army were made up primarily of conscripts, meaning they were the same as the people protesting. In Iran, however, the security forces, the Revolutionary Guard, they are an elite unit. They're not conscripted. They're all-volunteer and they're sworn to defend the revolution.


TODD: Experts say that ideological support that the Iranian regime is getting from the Revolutionary Guard is key here. They say it's why these protests likely will not succeed in pushing Iran's leaders out and why the Iranian people have much more to fear from their military than the Egyptians did. We now, Jessica, in 2009, dozens of people were killed, thousands of people were detained. These people in Tehran clearly putting their lives at risk by protesting today.

YELLIN: It is amazing. But you have gotten some brushback, haven't you, from the Iranians on the Obama administration's charge of hypocrisy.


TODD: That's right. An official told me -- at the U.N. told me that they believe that the American government, the leaders here have a double standard, that they think democracy is great when it's in their interests. But when it's not really working for them, like with Hamas taking power in Gaza, they don't think it's so good.

So you're getting this debate that always crops up when the Iranians have protests. But now they have momentum on their side from Egypt. It's going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

YELLIN: That's fascinating. Brian, thanks so much.

TODD: Thank you.

YELLIN: All right.

And, back in Egypt, no sign of former President Hosni Mubarak. But many people think he's hiding out in his palatial villa in the Red Sea resort town of shame Sharm el-Sheikh.

That's where CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is looking for Mubarak.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Half a mile from Hosni Mubarak's seafront palace, the security checks begin, getting to the neighboring hotel a tough challenge, many questions asked. His villa is hidden behind high walls.

Out of sight, heavy machine guns reinforce what most here believe: The former president is in residence. Two miles away at the airport, an executive jet sits waiting at the VIP terminal used almost exclusively by Mubarak and his guests. So far, no one is chasing him out of town.

(on camera): Driving along by the airport here, the images of Hosni Mubarak are still up. Unlike the rest of the country, nobody's taken these pictures down. It's quite strange. Here, nobody seems to be moving against him yet.

(voice-over): But all that may change, allegations of cronyism, that Mubarak made money from shady land transactions in this ever- expanding resort, not to mention the cost of the revolution in lost tourism revenue.

ADEL SHOUKRY, SECRETARY GENERAL, EGYPTIAN HOTEL ASSOCIATION: We are losing daily something like $20 million to $30 million at least in this area.

ROBERTSON: One hundred and ninety hotels all mostly empty, up to 200,000 related jobs at stake. Shoukry is trying to bolster local spirits, won't publicly comment on cronyism, but is happy Mubarak is no longer in charge.

SHOUKRY: If we are participating in choosing (INAUDIBLE) as all democratic countries do, I think, for all industries, not only for tourists, for everybody, for every sector, this will be very good for the economy and the people.

ROBERTSON: With the lull in business, rumors in this quiet resort are rampant: Mubarak is ill, is considering relocating out of Egypt -- from behind his high walls, none confirmed, none denied.


YELLIN: That was Nic Robertson in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Well, President Obama's budget plan for next year is out, all 2,403 pages of it. But critics are already slamming what they see as weak efforts to tackle the deficit, both on the part of the presidential -- both on the part of the president and congressional Republicans and the debt. And they're asking, where are the grownups in all this?

The president is proposing a $3.7 trillion budget that would cut funding to half of all government agencies to 2010 levels. That includes money for airports, heat subsidies for the poor, water treatment plants, Pell Grants and more.

But he's also seeking a $4.5 billion increase in education spending. The White House says this budget would cut deficits by $1.1 trillion over 10 years. But it fails to address the largest drivers of the country's long-term debt, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Here's Mr. Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While it's absolutely essential to live within our means, while we are absolutely committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to find further savings and to look at the whole range of budget issues, we can't sacrifice our future in the process. Even as we cut out things that we can afford to do without, we have a responsibility to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact in our future.


YELLIN: Let's get more on the budget now with CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

Hi, David. Thanks so much for joining us to talk about this.

First of all, let's play something that Alan Simpson, the former head of the debt commission, told CNN's Candy Crowley over the weekend.


ALAN SIMPSON, CO-CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL COMMISSION ON FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AND REFORM: I'm waiting for the politician to get up and say, there's only one way to do this. You dig into the big four, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and defense. And anybody giving you anything different than that, you want to walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat and give them a -- the green weenie.


YELLIN: All right. Well, we like to play that just because he says green weenie.

I don't know what that means. But the bottom line, David, is the big four aren't in -- aren't tackled in this budget.


The green weenie has often popularly been known as something to do with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But in Alan Simpson's case, it could be anything.


GERGEN: And we -- I'm not sure we want to go there. So -- but let's go to the seriousness of it, what he says.

Look, on its face, President Obama's budget is a disappointment. If you look at over 10 years, as Matt Miller points out in the blog today, the federal government will be spending some $45 trillion over the next 10 years. This only knocks 1 percent off the spending over 10 years, hardly a lot.

The annual deficit -- the annual interest payments on the debt will go up, will quadruple over the next 10 years. The national debt will go up over $7 trillion. And that, Jessica, is on optimistic assumptions. It's worth remembering that we just learned from the White House today that the deficit this year is going to be $1.6 trillion.

Do you know that's 80 percent more than they were forecasting just two years ago? Eighty percent growth in the deficit for this year and a 90 percent growth for 2012 over what they forecast two years ago? So, we're on a bad trajectory here. And I'm afraid the president's budget doesn't solve it.

Now, in his defense, I must say they have had a -- they have got a terrible political situation on their hands. And I understand the game they're playing. Neither they nor the Republicans want to be bold because they think it will cripple them in the 2012 elections.

But, at some point, somebody in Washington has got to say, I want to go first, let's get the negotiations going, let's get serious, because Alan Simpson is fundamentally right. Unless you deal with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and defense, you're not going to get there in terms of trimming this and getting this budget, getting the nation's finances under control.

Well, privately, David, White House, an administration official would acknowledge that we do need to have an adult conversation. So are they abdicating their responsibility to lead right now on this issue?

GERGEN: There is a powerful argument in that on the side of, where is the leadership? because we are accustomed to presidents now putting the budget out there and then Congress responding.

In this case, the president, the White House is once again saying, Congress, you take the lead and I will come along and help guide the discussions. That's not the leadership we customarily look to. But, again, I want to be sympathetic in one sense, because President Obama does face very unusual circumstances. He's inherited these large deficits and he's not getting the kind of cooperation from the Republican side that would make negotiations promising.

So he's trying to warm up negotiations a little later in the year. Maybe it will happen. I'm skeptical we will get there. I think the greater likelihood is, because neither side is prepared to lead right now in a bold way, that the likelihood is we're going to once again kick the can down the road. This -- we will not deal with the seriousness of those big four items you talked about, Senator Simpson talked about until after the 2012 elections. And that imperils the country.

YELLIN: Well, later in the hour, David, I'm going to talk to a leading Republican to see if they're going to lead on this issue. We can both guess what his answer will be.

Thanks so much for joining us.

GERGEN: OK. Thank you.

YELLIN: Appreciate it.

So who will feel the pain from President Obama's proposed budget cuts? We will show you the real-world consequences.

Plus, taking aim and making it deadlier. We will go inside an elite Marine sniper training program.


YELLIN: More now on President Obama's $3.7 trillion budget proposal released today. It would take the axe to half of all government agencies, cutting their funding levels to 2010 levels. But who will that really impact?

CNN's Mary Snow is working that part of the story for us.

Hi, Mary. What have you found out?


Well, some of the hardest-hit Americans will feel the impact, and that's because there are proposed cuts to the fund for low-income families that need help to keep their hopes warm in the winter. The president's budget would cut the $5 billion heating assistance program in half. An estimated 3.1 million households would be affected. That's roughly nine million individuals.

Now, the White House budget director blames a huge spike in energy prices for doubling the program since 2008 and says it can't be maintained. Among the critics, which include both Democrats and Republicans, is Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry.

He wrote to the president last week urging him not to cut the funding, citing this year's brutal New England weather, saying families depend on this money to heat their homes and survive the season. Now, students would also feel the cuts if they go through. The president's budget would limit the Pell Grants students would get each year by eliminating grants for summer school.

Now, by doing that, the administration says it would be able to keep the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550. The Department of Education estimates that 9.6 million students will be seeking Pell Grants by next year. There's been an increase over the years.

Now, also on the chopping block, cuts amounting to $650 million to scale back a community service grant program and cut a community development program. Now, among other things, the programs pay for things like housing for the poor, infrastructure projects and economic development programs.

And, Jessica, this is -- these are just some of the estimated 200 programs that are either being scaled back or eliminated under this budget proposal.

YELLIN: Some incredibly deep cuts that will hit certain people very hard.

Thanks, Mary.

SNOW: Sure.

YELLIN: And an uproar over honoring a KKK leader. Now a possible Republican presidential contender is getting caught up in the controversy.

And who will be President -- who will be Prince William's best man? Royal aides reveal the secret. Also, we will find out who will be Kate's maid of honor.



YELLIN: Well, President Obama releases his budget, but critics say it does not go far enough to address the deficit. So who's going to make the tough choices to cut major spending programs like defense? I will ask a top ranking House Republican.

Plus, staggering losses and now major changes in store by the Postal Service -- millions of Americans will feel the impact.


YELLIN: President Obama's $3.7 trillion budget proposal is out and, already, under fire from deficit hawks.

Let's go beyond the numbers with CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, OK, I know you talk to White House officials all the time. And there has to be a White House strategy.


YELLIN: So, what is it? They knew they would take criticism.

BORGER: Well, let me give you the spin.

YELLIN: Go ahead.

BORGER: I talked to a senior White House adviser today. This is the official spin. The spin is that we just need to get over the hump here. We had to let people see that we're really serious about cutting the deficit.

How did we do that, says the White House. We did it by those $400 billion in discretionary cuts and the most important thing is they say those $78 billion in defense cuts. Now, that's the spin. OK? Here's the political rationale.


BORGER: The political rationale is, this is obviously an Alphonse-Gaston routine, waiting for the other side to go first.

(LAUGHTER) BORGER: And the feeling is that, if they had put out Social Security cuts, done the deficit commission routine, the Republicans would not be willing to compromise at all right now, because the Republicans have something to prove to their own Republican base. So they're not in the mood to compromise.

Their feeling is, let the voters see what the Republican cuts really mean. And the Republican voters out there, not the Tea Partiers, necessarily, but the independents who voted Republican, and the Republicans, when they see what those cuts mean, they're going to say, hmm, maybe we can't just do it from discretionary. Maybe we actually ought to take a look at doing things like, say, raising the retirement age for Social Security.

So, they're saying all in due time. First things first. That's their spin.

YELLIN: OK. Well, and they clearly want this conversation to begin.

BORGER: They do. They do.

YELLIN: But the question is, will the Republicans do it? Do you think they have their budget act together any more than the Democrats do?

BORGER: No. No. I -- it's sort of interesting, because, of course, last week, we all were so preoccupied with Egypt.


BORGER: If we hadn't been so preoccupied with Egypt, we might have noticed that Republican leaders had absolutely no control over their flock -- and maybe your next guest will talk about that a little bit -- that some of the new Republicans voted against them on the Patriot Act, have said to them, you know what, you didn't come up with enough budget cuts for us and we want more budget cuts.

Today, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, said, you know what? In our upcoming budget, we're going to talk about entitlement reform.

Well, let's see what that entitlement reform is and let's see whether it's enough for those new Republican members. I don't think the speaker has an awful lot of control over those people. Half of them, remember, have never even held elective office before.

YELLIN: Right.

BORGER: So, it's kind of a whole new world out there for Republicans, as well.

YELLIN: OK. And quickly, is there any hope for bipartisanship?

BORGER: I'm going to be Pollyanna here. Of course, there is.


BORGER: Of course there is. There are senators working together on a bipartisan basis to try and get things done. They're kind of waiting out there in the wings. It may take a crisis. Congress is a crisis-activated institution, as you know.


BORGER: So it may take a crisis. And that's a -- that's a sorry thing to have to say, but they could actually get something done on some form of entitlement reform.

YELLIN: OK. We're going to put that to our next guest.


YELLIN: Thank you, Gloria. Gloria Borger.

So let's hear what Republican leaders are saying about all of this. Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas is chairman of the House Republican Conference. He served on the president's commission on fiscal responsibility and reform, as well.

Thank you, Congressman Hensarling, for being with us.

First of all, I want to play you something that the president's budget director, Jack Lew, told us about this budget.


JACK LEW, PRESIDENT'S BUDGET DIRECTOR: I think that we are taking a step today, putting a budget out there which frames the issues in exactly the right way. It takes real actions now so that between now and five years from now, we can get our deficit under control so that we can stabilize things so that we're not adding to the debt anymore.


YELLIN: Congressman, do you think the White House missed an opportunity to lead here on debt and deficit reduction?

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Of course, they did. In their budget, they're proposing to add $13 trillion to the national debt, take it to its highest level as a percentage of the economy since World War II. I mean, we have a spending-driven debt crisis that is harming job growth in America and frankly, threatens the American dream for our children.

I mean, we're borrowing almost 40 cents on the dollar, much of it from the Chinese. And we're sending the bill to our children and grandchildren, and the president just punts.

YELLIN: All right. Let me -- let me ask you, if you plan to do any better, because Marco Rubio...

HENSARLING: Yes, the answer is yes.

YELLIN: OK. Then let me ask you, when your party presents its own budget, because you will have to, will you vow right here and now to meaningfully take on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, even defense intending?

HENSARLING: Well, No. 1, they don't let me write the budget. But you can look at our last year's budget and see that we had meaningful entitlement reform in that budget. Congress Paul Ryan, the chairman of the budget committee, will write that budget. It will come out in the next few weeks to a couple of months under the budget timetable under the budget act. But he's writing that budget.

We only have one president. One president and he is not leading, and instead -- now, he didn't, out of fairness to him, put the nation on the road to bankruptcy, but he's pressing on the accelerator and showing no signs of turning back. And everyone knows small businesses, large businesses, that all of this great debt is going to end up in great tax increases...

YELLIN: And Congressman, the president...

HENSARLING: ... or great inflation, and that means that jobs aren't being created.

YELLIN: The president can present a budget. But ultimately, it's you in the House who votes on it, decides what goes in it. So will you consider, for example, raising the retirement age on Social Security?

HENSARLING: I believe there needs to be a bipartisan adult conversation on reforming current entitlement programs for future generations, grandfathering the grandparents, but these programs are going broke. Don't take my word for it.

YELLIN: How about means testing Medicare?

HENSARLING: I believe that everything has to be on the table. We're willing to sit down with the White House, but anytime a Republican has shown a plan that will save Social Security, save Medicare for the next generation, many of them demagogue it.

The president is going to have to decide: does he want to exploit the crisis or does he want to solve the crisis? And if we look at his budget that he's presented now, it appears he wants to exploit it.

YELLIN: Sir, you said you want an adult conversation. And in your view, you think the president didn't go far enough in beginning it. So my question...

HENSARLING: Well, where is the entitlement reform in this ten- year budget?

YELLIN: The question is -- I've asked you, though, if you need that adult conversation, will your party take the lead? Will you be the first adults to the table and vow to propose these reforms? HENSARLING: Well, I already have. I'm a cosponsor of Paul Ryan's Road Map to America's Future, one of the few plans that actually save Social Security and Medicare for my 8-year-old daughter and my 7-year-old son.

YELLIN: And we'll see that at this...

HENSARLING: I'm just one member of Congress from Dallas, Texas. There's only one president of the United States, and he's abdicated leadership on saving the next generation from having a lower standard of living, fewer jobs, and shrinking pay checks. He has to take the lead. Republicans would love to help lead. But he's got to decide, again, is he going to exploit the crisis or solve it? Right now he's still exploiting it.

YELLIN: All right. Well, we'll see if somebody has to get to the table first. So turning to this year's spending, your party has put billions of dollars of cuts on the table when we talk about the spending for 2011, but many of those cuts are in programs that you know Democrats in the Senate won't accept.

So are we headed for a train wreck here?

HENSARLING: Well, I hope not. What I hope we're trying to do is again put the nation on a path of fiscal sustainability. Under President Obama and the Democrats, garden-variety government has grown 84 percent in just two years.

YELLIN: But to get.

HENSARLING: The technical term being nondefense discretionary. And a lot of that is stimulus money. But what has it brought us? Almost two full years of almost double-digit unemployment. All we're trying to do, again, is stop the train wreck.

YELLIN: But if you...

HENSARLING: Trying to create jobs and save the American dream for future generations.

YELLIN: The bottom line here is you -- you essentially need to find some compromise cuts. Otherwise, there's the potential that the Republicans will refuse to vote on the debt ceiling, and Democrats will refuse to favor these cuts, and we face a government shut-down. So are we facing a government shut-down in the near future?

HENSARLING: I don't believe so. Here's what -- always willing to sit down with the president and with Democrats to talk about how to achieve a common objective. But our objective is less Washington spending and more job creation.

Love to talk to them about a number of different ways to achieve that. Maybe it's our priorities. Maybe it's those -- their priorities. But we're not going to compromise on the direction on which we take the country. We are bankrupting the next generation. It has got to stop. YELLIN: And will you, your party, let me ask you one last time, be the first to the table, be the first to have this adult conversation if the White House doesn't?

HENSARLING: Again, we've already had it. The only plans that are on the table have been presented by Republicans, and they've been eviscerated by Democrats. So I've already answered the question.

YELLIN: I'll take that as a yes.

HENSARLING: We've already done it.

YELLIN: OK. We'll see what comes in your 2012 budget proposal. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

HENSARLING: Thank you.

YELLIN: A political cartoon mocking first lady Michelle Obama. Who's behind it? And does it go too far?

Plus, the president speaks candidly about the downside of his job.


YELLIN: There was an earthquake at the site of an infamous volcano. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Hi, Lisa.


Well, three earthquakes hit the Mt. Saint Helens area this morning. The first and largest was a 4.3 earthquake. There are no reports of damage, but residents nearby say they felt the quake. A deadly 1980 eruption of the volcano killed 57 people. It spewed ash hundreds of miles away and caused $3 billion in damages.

Shirley Sherrod is suing conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart after a misleading video that forced her resignation. The suit accuses Breitbart of, quote, "defamation, false light and infliction of emotional distress." In the video, the former Department of Agriculture employee seems to suggest she didn't do everything possible to help a white farmer. Breitbart says he's confident he will be fully vindicated.

And a fat first lady chowing down on hamburgers? Well, that is how a new cartoon on a Web site run by Breitbart depicts the very fit and active Michelle Obama. In it, the first lady tells a skinny President Obama, quote, "I've stepped up my efforts to control America's eating habits by telling restaurants to lower portion sizes and fat content." The president responds that he wants to get re- elected and what she's doing will annoy people. To that the fictional first lady says, "Shut up and pass the bacon." Conservatives have been criticizing the first lady's campaign against childhood obesity. They say she's telling Americans what to eat. Mrs. Obama is denying that charge.

And Mrs. Obama's husband is answering the question, so what is it really like being president? That's what one Maryland middle school student asked President Obama. He told students that he sometimes feels trapped in the White House.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every day I feel proud and privileged to have the chance to -- to, you know, work in this office. But I'll be honest with you, there are certain parts of the job that are kind of tough like I'm kind of in this bubble. I can't go anywhere. I can't just -- if I want to just go to the corner, you know, drugstore and buy some shaping cream or something, you know, or if I just feel like taking a walk with Bo, you know, like I can't do anything spontaneous. And that kind of gets on your nerves.

And then the other thing is like people know who you are everywhere, obviously. So you know, you have to, you have to -- you always have to like shave and comb your hair. You can't just roll out of bed and, you know, be out there.


SYLVESTER: The president also said the job involves making tough decisions like sending troops to war.

You know, it's funny, because we were just hearing about the news that he doesn't dye his hair.

YELLIN: I was thinking that looking at that picture.

SYLVESTER: Everything that he does, it's under a microscope constantly.

YELLIN: And that is one bipartisan complaint everybody who holds that office says. Everything single I thing you do is picked apart. It is rough.

SYLVESTER: Yes. He'll have to wait till he becomes a private citizen to go back to enjoying rolling out of bed.

YELLIN: But they asked for the job. Can't be the worst thing. Kids ask the darndest questions. Thanks, Lisa.

Call them casualties of the Internet age. Post offices are a fixture in small towns across America. But budget woes could doom them. We'll explain.

And mail carriers might not care for dogs. But New York City is canine crazy this week, and our Jeanne Moos is there to see the "Most Unusual" dogs. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Not snow or rain or heat can keep mail carriers from their appointed rounds. But a bleak budget might do them in. With the postal office hemorrhaging cash, the USPS could shut down not just hundreds but thousands of post offices beginning next month. Lisa Sylvester joins us now with more.

SYLVESTER: All right, Jessica.

Well, the U.S. Postal Service has already closed 83 post offices and branches, and next month, as you mentioned, they will take the first steps to close 2,000 more. The problem is, people are finding it more convenient to use the Internet to communicate and to pay their bills.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The numbers don't look good: $15 billion in debt this year, a $329 million loss last quarter, a significant decline in mail volume, and now the U.S. Postal Service is warning it may have to default on some payments to the federal government.

PATRICK DONAHOE, U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL: It is serious. Like I said, our plan is to not pay the federal government that portion of the money. We will continue to pay the employees. We will continue to pay our suppliers.

SYLVESTER: At issue is some $5.5 billion the Postal Service is required to prepay into an account for retiree health-care benefits. Donahoe says the Postal Service is the only agency, public or private, that is obligated by law to have the fund fully prepaid, and it's asking Congress to lift the requirement.

But even if Congress complies, that's still not enough to fix the Postal Service's shaky finances. The postmaster general says they will announce next month 2,000 post offices across the country slated to close, an unpopular move with the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bad enough that it took the machine out where you can buy stamps without having to stand in line. And sometimes you have to stand in line for like an hour at a time.

SYLVESTER: The postal workers' union is also fighting to keep post offices open, especially in rural areas, where folks may have a long drive to the next town.

CLIFF GUFFEY, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION: I'm from a small town in Oklahoma. And the post office there was the center of our community. We'd -- there was no delivery whatsoever. Everyone came to the post office to pick up their mail. And that's where you had your community chats, and you talked and found out what other people were doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER: So the U.S. Postal Service wants to try to partner with stores and banks in some small towns so that they can maybe share space and the costs. The postmaster general is also asking Congress for permission to cut out Saturday delivery service as another way to save money, Jessica.

YELLIN: And with that guy who's always waiting in line for an hour at the post office, it always seems to be that way. And they're always raising prices on the stamps. Any chance it will happen again?

SYLVESTER: You know, that is another thing. If you take a look back, it's actually gone up from about 33 cents in 1999 to 44 cents in 2009. So in that decade, we went up 11 cents.

And in addition to that, the U.S. Postal Service had requested to go from 44 cents to 46 cents. That request, regulators denied that request. That would have taken effect the beginning of this year, Jessica.

YELLIN: OK. Thanks so much, Lisa.

Being a Marine sniper may be one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. Training for it is no easy task either. We'll show you just how hard as we take you into their elite mountain warfare training center.


YELLIN: Marine Corps snipers are some of the best in the business, capable of hitting a target from more than half a mile away. But even for these professional killers, the mountain course is a challenge. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr went to Bridgeport, California, to learn just how tough it is.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've come nearly 9,000 feet into the Sierra Nevadas to join these Marines on some of the most elite training the military conducts. For these snipers, it's all about one shot, one kill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open door to the rear. A person crouching down behind it Distance 5-6-0 meters.

STARR: It's freezing rugged terrain. The Marines keep watch from hidden positions. They are dug deep into the snow.

The men are already qualified snipers, but in this advanced training, they learn to operate in some of the worst conditions. Senior snipers are nearby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How was your movement up here?


STARR: It's a climb to the top that takes hours. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What time did you guys get in last night?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero-two? How long did it take you to dig here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, four hours.

STARR: Sniper operations in steep mountains are especially tough. The Marines learn to stay hidden and shoot at steep angles, accounting for wind and weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The objective about 500 meters down the slope.

STARR: One of the snipers will only tell us his name is Chris. He shows us around their fortification.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Off to my right we have our observation post, where we have eyes on with the sniper and spotter. Down on the objective in the bottom of the valley. We have a trench set up here on my left.

STARR: As Chris walks us through the position, it becomes clear how very real this training is. Many of these Marines will head to Afghanistan in the coming weeks, using what they have learned here to fight the Taliban with the ultimate skill taught by men like Gunnery Sergeant David Williams.

(on camera) For a Marine Corps sniper, how far does he have to be able to shoot and kill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A thousand yards.

STARR: Which is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is ten football fields roughly.

STARR: If you want to understand how tough the mountain sniper course here really is, consider this. About 25 percent of the Marines who come here wash out.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Bridgeport, California.


YELLIN: When Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, her survival seemed in doubt. Now her recovery is described by some as nothing short of a miracle. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is John King's guest.

And it's a dog's life in Manhattan this week, next.


YELLIN: It isn't easy snapping the perfect picture of the perfect dog. Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fans of Tilly cool her off with a fan as if she's a supermodel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's a French dog. She just stuck her tongue in my mouth.

MOOS: It's Westminster, the show where poodles show up with their ears wrapped and sheepdogs walk around wearing waders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His boots so we don't get dirty.

A show where humans pre-moisten the dog treats in their own mouths and pick up their pooches by their privates. The show where your Great Dane pins you to the wall. This year, there are six new breeds at Westminster, and many are a mouthful.


MOOS: South Carolina's state dog. There's the Redboned Coon Hound, and a Blue Tick Coon Hound.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He does like to dance.

MOOS: And there's our favorite name.

FREI: The Leonberger.

MOOS: Little known at the dog show snack bar.

(on camera) Do you guys serve Leonbergers?


MOOS: Is that a Leonberger?


MOOS: It's a Leonberger?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. What's a Leonberger?

MOOS: It's a breed of dog.


MOOS (voice-over): Such a sweet face. And guess what Annie the Leonberger likes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She loves hamburgers.

MOOS: Leonberger is actually the town in Germany where the breed was established.

Among those newly admitted to Westminster, the Redbone Coonhound has a special quirk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Redbone Coonhound has been recorded at 125 barks in a minute.

MOOS: That's only when chasing raccoons up a tree.

(on camera) Could I get one little bark out of Thunder?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think Thunder is going to bark for you.

MOOS (voice-over): We know who will. Mary Bloom is considered the dean of Westminster photographers. She'll do anything to make dogs look at her lens. And they do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (BARKING) A newspaper. You're going to be in it.

MOOS: But if a show dog needs to attract attention, a hairdo might help.

(on camera) What's the hair style called?


MOOS (voice-over): "Jersey Shore" meets hoity-toity Westminster show dog.

(on camera) Can I touch the Snooki?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Touch it. Snooki lets anyone touch, so go for it.

MOOS (voice-over): It only took an hour to get Stormy here all dolled up.

(on camera) I take an hour, and I don't look anywhere near that good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, she's a little younger than you are.

MOOS (voice-over): Go ahead. Treat me like shopped meat.

(on camera) Excuse me. Do you guys serve Leonbergers?

(voice-over) Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


YELLIN: That does it for me. I'm Jessica Yellin in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts now.