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Bomb Plot Foiled; State of Fear; Gay Marriage

Aired May 7, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. An al Qaeda underwear bomb plot foiled, the target, an American-bound plane. All eyes, meantime, on the French and their new president. But there is a much bigger and scarier problem. We'll tell you about it and President Obama facing new pressure to announce his stance on gay marriage, not to talk around it, to answer the question. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Well, good Monday evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett and OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, plot foiled. We've got some new details coming in at this moment about how the CIA stopped an ambitious al Qaeda plot to blow up a passenger jet bound for the United States. A U.S. counterterrorism official tells CNN the explosive device is similar to the one used by the would-be underwear bomber.

You may recall that on Christmas Day 2009. Just like that bomb, this one did not contain metal, which raises real questions about whether it could have gotten past airport security. As of yet, the person who had developed that bomb had not yet bought a ticket. Here's Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: What this incident makes clear is that this country has to continue to remain vigilant against those that would seek to attack this country and we will do everything necessary to keep America safe.


BURNETT: Fran Townsend is CNN's national security contributor, a member of both the DHS and CIA External Advisory Boards. Chad Sweet is a former DHS and CIA official, also the cofounder of the Chertoff Group, a global security firm. All right good to see both of you. Fran, I know you've been reporting on this throughout the day. We're hearing now that there could have been this bomb and other bombs, perhaps. How close of a call was this?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, the official I spoke to, Erin kept saying over and over it was -- the bomb itself was never a threat to the United States. That says one of two things. Either this was in an early stage or it was made inert. When I say inert, I mean they added a substance to it so that it would have never actually detonated and exploded. We don't know which it is, but they were very clear with me that this was not a direct threat to the United States.

BURNETT: And obviously there are some reports now saying there are more bombs unaccounted for. Do we have any sense of what that might mean?

TOWNSEND: Well remember the president -- they were asked why -- if this plot was disrupted did the president also direct agencies to take measures to stop similar bombs. We didn't understand it. Well it turns out as the official made clear to me look we know that al Qaeda had -- typically launches multiple simultaneous attacks. We had identified the one we believed was targeted to the United States, but you don't know -- you don't know. There could have been others.

BURNETT: And Chad, what is your take on whether this would have invaded airport security. Obviously it was at some point of development, as Fran said, either all the way there and made inert, or not all the way there. But obviously al Qaeda and any lone wolf's main goal right now would be to do something that would evade the metal detectors or the screening that you go through, even when you're outside the United States coming in.

CHAD SWEET, FORMER CIA AND DHS OFFICIAL: It is a big concern. If you think about it right now about 90 percent or more of detectors in the United States are magnetometers, which means that they're designed to detect metal. Metal is not the explosive. It's the detonator, so you're one step removed from the actual explosive itself.

And thankfully after the last attempted attack like this, Abdulmutallab in 2009, the Obama administration pushed forward a pilot program to accelerate the deployment of advanced imaging technology, which is not just looking for the metal. It's actually looking for the explosive itself. And so that's what we need to do is accelerate the deployment of -- the technology we have to give us a better footing against our adversary.

BURNETT: Fran, what can you tell us about the suspect, known as one of al Qaeda's top if not the top bomb-maker for the organization.

TOWNSEND: Well there are two different people here, so what we know the intend user, the suicide bomber, it was said to me, he's no longer a threat, OK, so that either means he's dead or in custody.

BURNETT: Could have been one of those drone attacks in the past few days --

TOWNSEND: That's right. Al Aysiri (ph), the bomb-maker, he's the one who made the underwear bomb, made the cartridge bombs. The source that I talked to wouldn't say what his status was. But we know that this bomb had marked similarities to other Aysiri (ph) bombs, and so we believe that Aysiri (ph) is at the center of this. The one other thing I would add, Erin, is that al Quso (ph), the individual who was killed in the drone strike over the weekend --

BURNETT: Right. TOWNSEND: -- source says to me look, this guy was -- became the chief of external operations for AQAP after al Awlaki was killed in a drone strike, and so this is really a one-two punch. It's been a big week for the intelligence and counterterrorism community. They've taken out the head of external operations. You're disrupted their latest plot. This really sets them back.

BURNETT: It's interesting, Chad though after we've been hearing so much just in the past ten days, the triumphs that the United States has had against, you know, as President Obama said last week in his speech, in Kabul, about 30 of the top al Qaeda operatives have been taken out. At that time, it appears he knew about this plot. They didn't tell us, the American people, but does this show that there are still more risks than they would like to acknowledge, especially in an election season?

SWEET: Well, I think this is a challenge that Fran had to deal with and so did myself and my other colleagues in homeland security and our friends in the intelligence community, when you have the responsibility to protect the American public, you're balancing constantly how do you keep on the offense and defend your information, your sources, your methods, at the same time, keep the public informed. And so if you look at this plot, what the administration said was technically accurate. That they did not have specific information on the target and that the threat, as Fran said, wasn't against the homeland. So technically, they were correct. However, the alert levels will be something that I imagine Congress and our intelligence communities will be briefed on and how and that will operate in this process.

BURNETT: Right. Fran, when do you tell the American public?

TOWNSEND: Well that's right, Erin. What they -- there's some -- we understand now that folks in the administration went to reporters when they began to sort of report this story, when they knew about it early on --

BURNETT: And they said please back off.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. And the administration official that I spoke to said, while they did for a little bit, they obviously didn't let us -- let it go as long as we would have liked. The idea here is you want to make sure you've disrupted it before it's reported publicly, because otherwise individuals who may be associated with the bomb plot sort of disappear before you can take them into custody.

BURNETT: Chad, do you think this is the biggest threat right now is still -- we always hear that once they try one way, they're going to try a different way. This appeared to be the same sort of strategy as two years ago, an underwear bomb. So are we looking in the right place is I guess is the key question?

SWEET: Well, on the hand, I used to play football and sometimes if you have an opponent that keeps running the same play over and over, that's a gift, because you can continue to oppose it. On the other hand, like Fran said, if you look at the device, it has gotten much more sophisticated. They are advancing and doing different techniques. So when you think about the making of a bomb, there's a supply chain to do it. We -- what we want to do is continue to move to the left of boom. Meaning we don't want to have the bomb go off and do the forensics afterwards. We want to do exactly what was done here, which is to track it, disrupt the supply chain or intercept it before detonation, and what's going on right now is like CSI on steroids.

They're looking at that device, looking at the fingerprints, looking at any hair follicles, any DNA, any signatures and all of that is being put back into the infrastructure of the United States new 21st Century counterterrorism, which includes for example, if there's a fingerprint on that device anywhere, any terrorist that was involved in the construction of that device has to ask themselves the question, you know did I leave my fingerprint or hair follicle, and if I did, if I try to enter the United States, we will get them through our fingerprint and biometric system.

TOWNSEND: Erin and one other thing I would add to this is that the individual I spoke to didn't say it was an underwear bomb, but said it was not a body cavity. It wasn't an internally inserted bomb.


TOWNSEND: It was an external bomb and so that also ought to be a comfort to people, because those we are better at detecting.


TOWNSEND: We do have the technology.

BURNETT: We've been doing a lot of conversation about those body cavity bombs recently. All right, well thanks very much to both of you, Fran and Chad, good to see you.

"OutFront Story 2" is next.


BURNETT: Still OUTFRONT crackdown in China.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) this might be as far as we go.


BURNETT: Biden's bold words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am absolutely comfortable with men marrying men.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT when we come back.


BURNETT: All right. Coming up, President Obama, he's being pressured by his own party to change his stance on gay marriage. Will he?

And a man whose name is synonymous with lobbying and corruption, Jack Abramoff comes OUTFRONT tonight with a story about how the lobbies are controlling everything we eat.

So, I was really excited today when I realized that the Dreamliner has landed. The new wide body 787 is made by Boeing and it landed at Reagan National Airport today as part of its "Dream World" tour. It's kind of a neat you know PR thing they're doing. The Dreamliner can carry up to 290 passengers and it's gotten rave reviews for things like its fuel efficiency, healthier air. It is compressurized (ph) to a much better altitude and large windows. Now there were tons of delays, years and years of them.

The company got picked on a lot, but thanks in part to them, airlines had a lot of time to look over the wares and the Dreamliner has now logged more advanced sales of any other aircraft in history, which brings me to tonight's number, 27. That's the number of Dreamliners scheduled to join Air India's fleet at the end of the month, which is interesting considering "The New York Times" reports that Air India is hemorrhaging money and lost about $1 billion in its most recent accounting year.

Now I've followed the Air India story because I've actually flown it. The attendants were eager and friendly, but the experience was terrifying, and not just for me. A number of other people have reported problems including late flights, poor customer service, the seats don't go back and pilots have quit citing that other pilots regularly -- well I thought you might want to read it -- covered the cockpit windows with newspaper to keep out the sun. And two days ago the airline was fined by the United States Department of Transportation for noncompliance with regulations. Look, we know you need the sales, Boeing, but we hope it's worth it, seriously.

All right, our second story OUTFRONT, a state of fear in China, trying to contain the fallout over the blind activist Chen Guangcheng. The "Communist Party" newspaper calls Chen a trader and an American pawn. And he's still under guard in a Beijing hospital, waiting to hear if he and his family will actually be allowed to leave China for the U.S. Now, the Chinese government has mounted what some call a state of fear, detaining and harassing Chen's family members and sympathizers as well as dissidents.

And the crackdown has turned the work of foreign journalists into a game of quote "cat and mouse". Our own CNN's Stan Grant is there. He's experienced this. He's going to show you right now the road blocks, the encounters, what he's actually dealt with as he tries to do his job.


STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I cannot go any further?



GRANT: OK, yes.

(voice-over): The police don't want us anywhere near Chen Guangcheng. The blind activist has opened the world's eyes to what he says is China's brutal human rights crackdown. He remains in hospitals, surrounded by Chinese government security. Chinese media calls him a traitor and a U.S. pawn. Fellow activists have been detained and gagged.

(on camera): We can't go anywhere near the hospital --

(voice-over): -- and CNN locked out.


GRANT: But Chen's is not the only case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys will be kicked.


GRANT: CNN has followed China's crackdown from villages to back roads and city streets.

(on camera): Let us just get around the corner here.

(voice-over): Always trying to stay one step ahead of authorities as they lock up activists as fast as we can find them. There's Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate still languishing in a Chinese prison. The U.S. has called for Liu's release. This man's family claims he was beaten to death in police custody. He was arrested after helping launch a village protest against alleged illegal land seizures. Police maintain he died of a heart attack. Elsewhere in China, Tibetan monks are setting themselves alight in record numbers. They want freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama. The U.S. says it is gravely concerned. China's response, lock down Tibetan homelands and keep us out.


GRANT (on camera): (INAUDIBLE) look at our passports. This might be as far as we go.

(voice-over): And the secretive Chinese Politburo has been rocked by perhaps the most explosive case of all. (INAUDIBLE) once a hard-line top cop fled the party and sought refuge in a U.S. Consulate reportedly fearing for his life.


GRANT: He told a tale of intimidation, corruption, and alleged murder. His former boss, party power broker Bo Xilai, has been purged and disappeared.


GRANT: This once in a generation crackdown makes reporting China increasingly difficult and dangerous. Harassed, threatened, attacked, all part of the job, but only a small taste of what many ordinary Chinese have to bear day after day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, hey, hey --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get in the car, Stan, go.

GRANT: Stan Grant, CNN, Beijing.


BURNETT: It's amazing watching that footage of Stan's.

Well, Vice President Joe Biden made his stance on gay marriage very clear.


JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marry men, women marry women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another, are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that.


BURNETT: It sounds like the president might need to change his views from evolving to something a lot more specific. That's next.


BURNETT: Ahead OUTFRONT a time bomb for the world economy is ticking in Europe, but not in France. And an American held by al Qaeda makes a direct plea to the president. We have that video for you. But first, our third story OUTFRONT.

Pressure is building on the president tonight to explain what he has called his, quote, "evolving position on gay marriage". Just a day after the vice president made it clear he supports it, the education secretary also weighed in today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, come on. You're going to start there?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever said that publicly before?

ARNE DUNCAN, U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: I don't know if I've ever been asked publicly.


BURNETT: Well, he wasn't expecting the question, so he answered it honestly. It was a good one. Well this all begs the question now of why so many in the Obama administration are willing to say something the president isn't. John Avlon joins me now. CNN political contributor Margaret Hoover is here with us here in the studio, also happens to be the better half of John, Republican strategist who deals with policy issues, more of her biography on the left side of the screen so you get to know her and Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons joins us in Washington.

All right great to have all of you with us, John let me start with you though. The president you know when he was a state senator supported gay marriage. Then he got in office and realized oh you know politically, maybe you've got to be more careful so he said his views were evolving but Joe Biden sort of has put him in his spot right. Is the president now going to be forced to say, yes or no, not on you know something ambiguous, but on gay marriage itself?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think, certainly, there's pressure building on the president among the Democratic base. And what Joe Biden and the cabinet secretary said, I think, reflects the growing conventional wisdom within the Democratic base. The problem the president has, of course, is if the elections are won with swing voters in swing states like North Carolina. And while this president can point to successes in advancing gay and civil rights much more than I think any other president, that final step would leave him open to a series of negative attacks that could really alienate swing voters. So while he's going to be feeling that pressure, I don't think it's a done deal.

BURNETT: What do you think, Margaret?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think you never know what the president's going to do. It's going to depend on his polls, but just because his vice president is in for -- just because his education secretary isn't -- has a different view than he does, remember, in George W. Bush's administration that I worked in, the vice president also had a different view. Vice President Cheney was not for a national amendment to the Constitution for same-sex marriage and President Bush of course was for it and campaigned on it, so there can be diversity of opinion.

The one thing I'll say is that Republicans, the national perception is Republicans are all against gay marriage. All of them are against it. And the truth is, there have been 285 legislators, Republican legislators, across the country that have voted for freedom to marry, civil unions or domestic partnerships in the last few years. So there is I think some tectonic shifts happening in the Republican Party that have not percolated up to the top of the national scene yet.


BURNETT: So Jamal, do you think the president will be forced or choose to go out on a limb and do this and is it something that could really galvanize his base, where he's looking I think in some ways Jamal really to galvanize some of his -- the people who voted for him last time around but aren't as passionate this time.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I think most Democrats don't see people not being that passionate in the base for the president. The people are actually really happy about the president. There's a poll out just this week that showed that he's -- there's far more enthusiasm in the Democratic base for Barack Obama than there is in the Republican base for Mitt Romney. But on this issue of gay marriage, it is possible the president is genuinely conflicted.

You know, it's not a slam dunk. He's from Chicago, you know, there's a lot of people in the African-American community who are conflicted on this issue. You talk about the politics of it. It's not just North Carolina and Virginia. Think about union voters in Western Pennsylvania, suburban Detroit and Michigan --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, good point.

SIMMONS: -- across Ohio. There are a lot of people in the country who have not made up their mind on this issue. And I think that -- if there are politics there, they're weighing in on that front.

BURNETT: And John is North Carolina going too far? I'm really curious about this because you know the state already banned same-sex marriages, right? So this thing they're voting on tomorrow is essentially makes it against -- in the Constitution, so it would ban any kind of union at all. Do most people in North Carolina realize that? And is this something that's going to really end up hurting, frankly, Mitt Romney?

AVLON: Well I don't know if it will hurt Mitt Romney, but you make a really important point. This isn't just banning gay marriage. That's already done in North Carolina. This (INAUDIBLE) enshrining (ph) that in the Constitution, but also something else. This would ban civil unions or domestic partnerships, so this really is an additional step. And the polls right now show that the forces who want to ban gay marriage and civil unions they have an edge in the polls. You're pitting Billy Graham against Bill Clinton and I think you're already seeing record turnout in early voting. So this is a real force to watch tomorrow, because it could have real implications for the fall when North Carolina is going to be a state the Democrats desperately want to win again.

(CROSSTALK) SIMMONS: Erin, also think about this.


SIMMONS: There's -- these elections they happen in May, there's no Democratic contested primary. There's no Republican contested primary, really. And so you're going to get a very small number of voters that are going to show up in this election. And I bet you the people who are passionate about it, the people who are against gay marriage are far more passionate than the people who are for it --

BURNETT: Final word, Margaret --

HOOVER: Jamal, there are some things to remember though. There are some other ballot initiatives that are going to be on the map. You have Maryland. You have Maine. You're going to have Minnesota. You're going to have Washington State. All of them are now ballot bites (ph) in November, so North Carolina, they expect to lose. They expect to lose by tight margins, not tight margins, but I think there's going to be a lot more effort in this race and in these battle state ballot initiatives coming in November.

BURNETT: Thanks to all three. We appreciate it. "OutFront 4" next.


BURNETT: Still OUTFRONT, Greece lightning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out! Out of my country, out of my home.

BURNETT: A hostage's plea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama, it's important that you accept the demands and act quickly.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT in our second half.



BURNETT: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT on a Monday. We start the second half with the stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines.

And we have some new details to tell you about how the CIA stop an al Qaeda plot to blow up a passenger jet bound for this country. The senior administration official tells CNN tonight that the intended user of the bomb is not a threat anymore, but would not elaborate on whether the person is dead or in custody. One U.S. counterterrorism official says the explosive device the CIA found is similar to the one used by the would-be underwear bomber on Christmas Day in 2009.

Meantime, police are continuing their investigation into the death of a man after the Kentucky Derby. The body of 48-year-old stable worker Adan Fabian Perez was found in the back of a barn at Churchill Downs the morning after the race. Now, it's being investigated as a homicide.

Today, we learned that the autopsy has been completed, but the coroner will not release the results until the police investigation is done or there has been an arrest. To our knowledge, that has not happened at this time.

During her three-day trip to India, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the country to reduce importing Iranian oil. Now, according to the EIA, India accounted for 16 percent of Iran's exports in 2010. And India is actually upping its ties to Iran. Sources tell me that India reversed a ban on buying Iranian fertilizer last week. Fertilizer and natural gas are key sources of funding for the Iranian government.

Well, Facebook has officially begun its investor road show and what a show it is. Most of the time, these presentations are, you know, used to woo investor to company stocks.

Facebook executives didn't have to try too hard. They've been treated like rock stars. They came in to a Manhattan hotel. I mean, you know, seriously, this is like a movie. There's Mark Zuckerberg in his hoodie. Other executives took questions from investors for about 25 minutes.

Facebook is expected to start trading on the 18th of May under the ticker FB. Shares price between $28 and $35.

I wonder if we'll ever see that guy in a suit. I'm going to bet, no.

All right. It's been 277 days since this country lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Well, consumers are using their credit cards again. You can see it as a positive or a negative. But consumer credit was up by $21 billion in March, twice as much as economists were expecting, the biggest gain since November of 2001. And remember that was when we were spending, spending, spending.

OK. Our fourth story OUTFRONT is the French connection and the Golden Dawn. There's a lot of questions tonight about this guy, the new president-elect of France, Francois Hollande. Will he be as interesting as Nicolas Sarkozy? Maybe.

On the personal side, the first socialist elected in nearly 20 years in France has a thing for lovely, powerful women. On the left, Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, a former presidential candidate in her own right. On the right, the woman he's with now, TV journalist Valerie Trierweiler. This woman helped him spice up his image and message.

And Hollande campaigned and won on a big platform of taxes, up to 75 percent of income and spending. That's what the world is talking about today. But lurking in the shadows is the real story. It's the Greek economy, stupid.

Check out the neo Nazi Golden Dawn party -- no, not the golden police. The Golden Dawn, which just won 7 percent of the vote for Greece in parliament, about three times would then rising Adolf Hitler won in Germany in 1928.

The Golden Dawn calls for rejection of all bailout commitments, the purging of immigrants, and placing mines on the border to keep outsiders out. The leader of the group is Nikolaos Michaloliakos. Here he is doing the Hitler salute pretty well. The party says, we're not really Nazis, just nationalists.


NIKOLAOS MICHALOLIAKOS, GOLDEN DAWN (through translator): We will continue the battle for Greece, free from the international speculators. For Greece without the bailout, slavery and loss of our national sovereignty.


BURNETT: If Greece tells its creditors to take a hike, it will hit everybody. First, the top buyer of American goods, Europe, could be in disarray ands deep recession. That would deal American companies a major blow and lead to massive job cuts in this country.

And forget about getting loans. When Europe's banks freeze up, American banks will be reluctant to give loans, too., and mortgage rates will surge.

And finally, your wealth will drop. The last time the United States was affected by what was happening in Greece two years ago could be peanuts compared to what we're facing now. At that time, household net worth in this country fell by $1.2 trillion.

That's a big deal for a country the size of Greece. It matters. This is all about to go on steroids now.

OUTFRONT tonight, Stephen Moore of "The Wall Street Journal," and David Callahan, cofounder and senior fellow of progressive think tank Demos.

All right. Good to see both of you. Appreciate it.

David, let me start with you. Obviously, Francois Hollande is significant story.


BURNETT: But what's happening in Greece, I think essentially becomes sort of immune to seeing firebombs and Molotov cocktails.


BURNETT: But that country is going through incredible pain and could be crucial.

CALLAHAN: Well, hard times bring out the crazies, and Greece is experiencing very hard times. That country has like 22 percent unemployment. That's like the Great Depression here in the United States.

But I think what happened in France is some good news. Because it shows a backlash to austerity, that the solution is not to just cut, cut, cut, which is bringing a lot of those hard times. So we're finally seeing Europe maybe turning the corner and saying, look, austerity has not worked. We've tried it for three years. Unemployment has actually gone up.

I mean, they have tried the conservative theory -- does austerity work? The answer is no.

BURNETT: Stephen Moore, do you think there's something to that? I know you don't agree on the U.S. spending more, but do you agree on Europe spending more right now, because if they don't, maybe U.S. taxpayers are the one that foot in the bill anyway?

STEPHEN MOORE, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD: I don't agree at all. I think Europe's problems are decades old. And the problem, Erin, is that these countries, France, Spain, Italy, Greece have become so addicted to these kind of massive entitlement programs, they can't give them up.

And look, it's hard to say that they've had too much austerity in these countries. Look at their debt burdens. I know you've looked at these numbers. I mean, m of these countries have over 100 percent of their GDP in debt. Those are frighteningly large numbers.

Now, look, if you want to talk about austerity, one of the worst things you could do in France is raise that top income rate to 75 percent. There was a sell-off, by the way, of French bonds today. The euro got creamed relative to the dollar. So, this was not a pro- investor result in the elections.

But I do think, by the way, that I think the real element, the similarity between what happened in Greece and France was a kind of allow the rascals out, throw the bums out. Whatever these status quo politicians are doing, it's not working.

BURNETT: Well, it's interesting, David, what we saw in France was the rise of the left. It's unclear, in a couple weeks, parliament might sort of end up making, you know, unikizing (ph), to make up a word, Hollande's policies. In Greece, it's obviously the rise of the right.


BURNETT: But I'm curious about this point of view, the 75 tax rate that Francois Hollande is putting forth. Is that smart? It's one thing to say, I want fairness and more taxes, but 75 percent? Is that a number that would ever work? CALLAHAN: Well, we used to have that tax rate in the United States, don't forget, during our most prosperous time. So taxes on the rich can work fine with prosperity, and Hollande needs money for stimulus. That's what Europe needs. That's what France needs.

I just want to correct something Steve said, oh, they're addicted to money. That's silly. Because look at Sweden, the archetype of welfare state in Europe. Sweden has higher growth and lower unemployment than the United States. Netherlands, Denmark, a lot of those countries with the most generous safety nets have very good economic growth and low unemployment, comparatively speaking.

So you can't lump in, you know, Germany and Sweden with the like basket cases of Portugal and Greece. So, we hear that all the time, but it's just wrong.

MOORE: Well, Sweden actually -- you're right, Sweden has really boomed, but it's because they've made the reforms in the welfare programs and the entitlement --


CALLAHAN: Still spends 50 percent of GDP on government, which is way higher than the U.S.

MOORE: They've also cut their corporate tax rate way lower than the United States. But, look, it's hard to be very optimistic right now about Europe. I mean, Germany is doing OK, Sweden's doing fine, but the rest of Europe looks like a basket case.

I think the real lesson for the United States, Erin, because most people in the United States care more about us than them, is are we going to follow down that path?

We have a president who's always suffered from what I call euro envy. He wants U.S.-style National Health Insurance and government day care and all these kind of programs --

BURNETT: But he's not pushing for a big stimulus plan. He's not pushing for one right now.

MOORE: Well, yes, but, I mean, Obama care is kind of a version of kind of European-style health care. I think that just this expansion of welfare. The question is whether we as a country are going to get serious, Erin, about getting our entitlements under control, or are we going to go right over that same cliff that they have?

BURNETT: Have we done enough, David, in this country?

CALLAHAN: No, we have not done enough. Both the United States and Europe came out of this financial crash in 2009 with 10 percent unemployment. Europe pursued austerity and now has 11 percent unemployment.

BURNETT: France's is still about where ours is, though. CALLAHAN: Yes, but a lot of the other countries -- yes, they've gone -- European has gone up and the United States has gone down. France is 10 percent unemployment. We have 8 percent.

We with our stimulative approach has been more successful that be Europe. The lesson of the story is that stimulus is better than austerity. That is the main lesson, Steve.

MOORE: I sure hope that's not the lesson people learn. I don't think too many people think our stimulus plan was a very big success. And it's going to take, unfortunately --

CALLAHAN: Saved 4 million jobs.

MOORE: Four million jobs. Did you see what happened with the unemployment numbers that just came out last week? I mean, it's a disaster, our unemployment picture. We've got the lowest percentage of Americans working in something like 30 years.

It's a real problem and if Americans keep thinking we can have these unbelievably large welfare programs and retirement programs and not reform them, I really do worry about whether we're going to the face the kind of situation that France and Greece have right now.

BURNETT: David, a final question, because I think, as you're all right, the Americans watching and says, does this matter for me. And I think we made a point -- $1.2 trillion in American wealth will be wiped up with just a little hiccup in Greece. This matters big-time.

So if Europe decides to spend more money, where are they going to get it from, David? Who's really going to want to lend a lot of money to France? Nobody wants to lend any money to Spain? I mean, where are they going to get the money? We can print.

CALLAHAN: The European Union collectively needs to raise the money, needs to take on new debt to the pump up their economy. That's the way to get out of this.

And it does matter for Americans. If you're a hotel owner in Miami, lots of Europeans come. If they continue pursuing these austerity policies -- I mean, if Europe goes down, a lot of U.S. jobs are going down. We should be rooting for them to get rid of this austerity suicide pact that they have signed.

BURNETT: Although a lot of the ones in Miami would probably be in the 75 percent tax bracket.

All right. Thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

OUTFRONT story 5 is next.


BURNETT (voice-over): Still OUTFRONT:, a hostage's plea.

WARREN WEINSTEIN, HOSTAGE: President Obama, it's important that you accept the demands and act quickly.

BURNETT: Food fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our behavior is becoming conditioned and driven by the food industry.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT when we come back.



BURNETT: We're back with our "Outer Circle". We reach out to our sources around the world.

And we go to Pakistan tonight. There's a new video from al Qaeda which shows American hostage Warren Weinstein, begging President Obama to help him. Weinstein is a 70-year-old former U.S. aide worker. He was taken at gun point from his home in Lahore in August.

His captors' demands include stopping U.S. air strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Also want the Taliban in al Qaeda, prisoners from those organizations released.

Reza Sayah is in Islamabad tonight and I asked him what's really behind the video.


REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, on at least two occasions, it does look like Warren Weinstein, the kidnapped American aide worker, is eating something. We're not sure why he'd be eating in the middle of a plea for his life. It could be that his captors are making him eat in an effort to create the impression that he's being cared for, but we can't be sure.

In the three-minute video, Weinstein with a direct plea to President Obama saying, "You have two daughters, I have daughters two, and if you don't meet these demands, I could be killed."

The State Department telling CNN that there will be no negotiating for hostages. Obviously, some difficult times for the Weinstein family -- Erin.


BURNETT: Thanks to you, Reza.

And now to Afghanistan, while military officers are saying a military officer who died last month while Skyping with his wife was not shot and they don't suspect foul play.

Captain Bruce Kevin Clark's wife told investigators that his husband suddenly slump forward in his seat. They were actually video chatting. She said she spotted a bullet hole behind him.

Nick Paton Walsh is in Kabul and I asked him if there's anymore information about how he might have died.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it's hard to imagine anything more traumatic than watching your spouse die while talking to them over Skype. But investigators today took a very unusual step after much speculation in the press to release a statement saying they could positively say that this captain was not shot. In fact, there are only minor abrasions to his body and possibly a broken nose. The investigation continues. There are toxicology tests that have to be performed to be absolutely sure.

But at this point, investigators are saying it's unlikely that it's foul play. There are also other people suggesting that suicide is highly unlikely as well. And the most probable cause in this circumstances is national causes -- Erin.


BURNETT: All right. Thanks, Nick Paton Walsh.

Now, let's check in with Anderson with a look what's coming up on "A.C. 360".

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Hey, Erin. Of course, we're going to have the very latest on the al Qaeda bomb plot U.S. intelligence said they've managed to break up.

Plus, the president under pressure on his stance or lack of one when it comes to same-sex marriage. We'll have that and the latest comments by Vice President Biden.

Also tonight, just when you thought the birthers had put the conspiracy theory about President Obama's birthplace to rest, controversy is popping up again, this time in North Carolina. Some leading Republican congressional candidates are questioning the president's birth. The certificate in an effort to try to gain some advantage in tough primary rates they're facing. We'll talk directly to one of them who's raising questions. Keeping 'em honest.

And it is simply outrageous -- a charity raising millions of dollars that promises to help America's disabled veterans. So why is there no sign of that money actually going to help the men and women who have sacrificed so much? Drew Griffin investigates that.

Those stories and a lot more, tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, thanks. And see you in a few moments.

And now, OUTFRONT 5 -- food fight.



BURNETT: Maybe that's what we should be doing with our food. That's a scene from "Animal House." Well, there's a food fight going on in this country right now that is no joke. Ands that's because the lobbyists for the largest food companies in this country are trying to tell all of us what we eat every day. They are telling us what we eat every day and we may not even realize it.

There's a new report out today by the "American Journal of Preventive Medicine" that says by 2030, half of the people in this country will be obese. Now, this is in part because of, well, too much of a good thing. We have succeeded in America in having very cheap and easy calories -- thanks to big food.

Just look at the two major soft drink companies in this country, Coke and Pepsi. Yes, they sell things like Frito Lay. Their 2011 revenues: $113 billion. That's a lot of money. And some of it goes to lobbyists who get lawmakers to do what big food wants.

Now, according to Open credits, the two I just mentioned, Pepsi and Coke, were the biggest contributors to the food and beverage industry, $9 million in 2011. But that's only the tip of the iceberg to how the influence works.

Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, served nearly four years in jail as a result of some of his lobbying activity. He now rails against lobbyists in his book "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious." Therefore, the perfect person to talk about big food.

It affects al of us directly. And, big food, you know, they run all these ads about mothers and kids and friendly, but big food is spending a lot of money on some bad things.

JACK ABRAMOFF, AUTHOR, "CAPITOL PUNISHMENT": Yes, they definitely are. And the problem is I think most of America doesn't want a nanny state. They don't want the government tell everything what they're doing.

But when you have some disinformation and some of the dissembling going with the food companies, you just have to wonder. People are getting heavier and heavier and heavier this country and this bring more costs on disease and things like that. And so, we're all paying for this.

BURNETT: And so, how exactly does it work? Because you might look at the numbers and say, OK, big food doesn't spend nearly as much as banking, which I want to ask you about in a couple of minutes. But still their influence is overwhelming when it comes to sugar, when it comes to salt. Got the saltiest fast foods in the world in this country. When it comes to corn syrup, corn-based economy. I guess you could add big agriculture into big food.

I mean, what are some of the main things they're pushing for? ABRAMOFF: Well, I think first of all on the overall view, big food and big everything, by the way, including big labor, are involved lobbying very heavily in Washington because the government is involved in so many things. And so, the companies that are involved in these things understand that the best use of their money sometimes is to go and lobby. The return on lobbying is amazing.

So, they're able to go in and push things like, right now, they're pushing to call the corn sugar. That's the latest thing. They don't want to call it the normal name we know it by, the corn --

BURNETT: Corn syrup.

ABRAMOFF: They want to call it corn sugar. Make -- to force people basically to use their language as well. It's a real problem for us.

BURNETT: So, because they think that corn sugar sounds better.

ABRAMOFF: It sounds healthier.

BURNETT: Without having to addressing any of the serious health issues that have been raised about corn.


BURNETT: So, what is it -- I mean, and you've been there. What is it that gets them to get lawmakers to sort of ignore those questions?

ABRAMOFF: Well, I think a few things. They're using lobbyists who have great access to the lawmakers. They're spreading a lot of money around, like every industry frankly.

And again, both sides. This isn't a Republican or conservative thing. This is a left and right thing in Washington. They're just too much money. And this is an industry that's doing it with a plump, plump is too healthy for them frankly --

BURNETT: I think that's true.

ABRAMOFF: Yes. They're doing it with the sense that like everyone else that they're going in to buy results. And lawmakers, they don't have time to sort out the science of these things and to get into whether this is good for you, bad to you. They're going to listen to the scientists on both sides and try to make a decision.

BURNETT: So, as a lobbyist, how do you spread your influence? There's the money you spend taking out to dinner, but there's other things, right? I mean, they're taking people out to play golf and --

ABRAMOFF: Golf to ball games. Right.

BURNETT: And some of these things don't necessarily have a, quote-unquote, "price tag" to them. ABRAMOFF: No. Lobbyists want to get access. If your lobbyist has no access, you've got a bad lobbyist. In today's world, access means social interactions or campaign contributions primarily.

If you raised a lot of money for a congressman, you're going to wind up having access to that congressman. They're going to be willing to listen to you and perhaps not willing to listen to the average citizen who doesn't raise money for them. That's one of the big problems in Washington.

BURNETT: They can end up making our food not healthier. They make more money.


BURNETT: And that's the way it works.

ABRAMOFF: Absolutely.

BURNETT: Is there anybody worse? Big food really is disturbing to a lot of people, because it affects what all of us eat. You'd like to think that American companies in this country would want people to be healthy, just because they want their own families to be. But --

ABRAMOFF: I think the tragedy is, that unfortunately, they're fighting against the nanny state. They're fighting people in the government and people who are activists who are trying to force people to do things the other way.

The problem is instead of being down the middle and being sensible, they're going for the last dollar, they're going for the profit and they're fighting back to push back.

And what we wind up -- the American people winds up gets between the two. So ,we don't wind up with a food supply that frankly is healthy at the end of the day and is making us fat and is killing.

BURNETT: So, lobbyists are killing us is my takeaway.

ABRAMOFF: Absolutely.

BURNETT: But is there anybody worst? Who's the worst group of lobbyists would you say?

ABRAMOFF: Well, it's hard. It's like asking who's the worst group in the prison. I mean, it's hard, because different lobbyists have different interests obviously. Those lobbyists that are using money to do things they know are wrong, that they know are harmful to people and they're just doing it to get the dollar, they're bad guys. And they're doing it.

We've got to change the system. We've got to have a country where you can't buy influence. There's a movement now to remove money from politics, remove it from the special interests and lobbyists. And that's what Americans got to support in order frankly for this and everything -- make sure their lives are more healthy and safe. BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jack Abramoff. Good to see you.

ABRAMOFF: Good to see you.

BURNETT: And in E-block, a controversy over English. But it's not what you think.


BURNETT: So, did you know there are about 7,000 languages spoken on this planet? I mean, that is a stunning number. But only about 200 of them have more than a million speakers each, the most popular in the world, mandarin. Of course, more than a billion speakers. Followed by English and Spanish with about 300 million each. Then Arabic and Hindi, 200 million people speak each of those.

And while more Chinese people are learning than there are Americans in this entire country.

Well, there are some real issues with the Arabic language. I was recently a the board meeting for the school of communications at the American University Dubai. The school is teaching Western style journalism which will be crucial as the region's youth find a voice that's beyond just revolution.

The students' work was impressive and frankly moving. And it was presented entirely in fluent English. This prompted a conversation where my fellow board members agreed their native language was in crisis. That was the word they use. And I was very curious about it.

So it turns out that English is becoming the only language of an entire generation of educated Arabs. It's not just in Dubai. Literacy in the Gulf States is 98 percent. But that literacy is increasingly in English. In Saudi Arabia, a lot of upper class families speak English at home, because their parents say that Arabic isn't sophisticated.

And the journalism school at AUD is the only modern program in the Middle East that allows students to even study in Arabic. So, maybe it isn't a surprise that a lot of the students, when they arrive there, can't even speak their own language well enough. They have to take refresher course.

Of course I realize that English is the world's business language. It's an important language. It's the lingua franca, isn't that ironic, of the world.

But losing Arabic? It seems like it would be a big loss for the entire world. It's a beautiful language and a really important one. So for more on this topic, check out my column in this month's "Fortune" magazine. My first column there. And we hope you'll take a look that. And the "Fortune 500" magazine, it went on newsstands today.

All right. We'll see you as always tomorrow at 7:00. In the meantime, Anderson Cooper, the wonderful "ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.