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Health Care Coverage For 9/11 First-Responders; Romney Campaign Pushing Social Issues?; Chicago Teachers on Strike

Aired September 10, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a hard-fought win for first- responders, those men and women who were exposed to deadly toxins at Ground Zero.

They will now have health coverage for 58 different types of cancer. Federal health officials just hours ago announced they were expanding the law.

You're looking at a live shot of Lower Manhattan the newly rising World Trade Center, the twin beams of light a reminder of the missing towers. Tomorrow morning, of course, the nation pause will pause to remember those who died at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The new One World Trade Center now stands nearly 1,400 feet high and each year the site has moved a step closer repair and rebuilding but of course the pain never goes away. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost on that morning. The unspeakable unfolding as millions watched. But the toll did not end there.

The toxic pile of rubble on those 16 acres smoldered for three months. Many first-responders and others who worked there around the clock got sick, some have already died. Well, today's decision to expand the law, something former New York firefighter Kenny Specht has been fighting for and he worked on the pile at Ground Zero for months and then developed a number of health problems.

He was diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer several years ago. He joins me now, along with CNN chief medical correspondent Defense. Sanjay Gupta who has done a lot of reporting on the issue.

Kenny, I find it stunning it took this long for this decision to be made. When you heard these cancers would be included, how did you feel?

KENNY SPECHT, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER BROTHERHOOD FOUNDATION: Listen, Anderson. Myself, I'm happy to be here. It took us 11 years to get here at this point.

It's much too long for those that have passed away, for the families left behind. I'm glad we're here. Let's move forward. Let's get studies going. Let's those who need treatment they desperately need and let's not forget those who passed away and unfortunately what happened today comes much too late for them. COOPER: Sanjay, obviously this news brings relief to a lot of workers suffering with cancer after 9/11. What prompted the change in coverage?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The best we could put it together remember back in July of last year, this exact issue was addressed at that point by the organization that oversees this. At that time they said cancers would not be on the list.

This is new. What prompted it was a study that we reported here first around that same time that looked specifically at firefighters. This is important, Anderson, because you have very good health records for firefighters. They could determine what the health of firefighters were before 9/11 and they could determine what the health records were like in the immediate aftermath and so forth.

When they looked at that data very carefully back in 2011, which was 10 years later, they found there was an increased likelihood of developing cancer, about 19 percent increased likelihood. And if you accounted for all cancers, even cancers that may have been brewing shortly after 9/11, 2001, you found the increase was 32 percent.

I think it was that particular study more than anything else that created this change, Anderson.

COOPER: Sanjay, it is kind of remarkable that given all of the money that was raised and donated and set aside by the government for this that they would not include these first-responders, who risked their lives and at great toll to themselves and were, early on, saying I'm pretty sure this has had an impact on my health.

What do you think it took for them to make the decision to cover health care costs?

GUPTA: And specifically cancer. Because that was the big sort of difficult thing and the source of a lot of controversy. Obviously some of the other health conditions such as some respiratory conditions were more easily covered, although Kenny would say and said before it was difficult in all sorts of health conditions.

But I think with regard to cancer specifically, it's hard to establish what scientists would love to have, which is a cause and effect. You see all of that toxic dust. You see the conditions after 9/11 and you say, did that cause cancer?

Did that set up these cancers in people's bodies? And I think if you talk to some of the scientists, they will still say look, it's hard to absolutely prove that, but they have enough data now showing that in fact the numbers did go up. There was no precedent for this. I think that's part of why it took so long.

COOPER: It also, Kenny, just seemed so unfair. Because you have firefighters and police officers, and Port Authority officials who didn't say, you know what, I'm not going to go down on the pile unless I get a breathing apparatus. They went there. People responded right away and stayed there for months and months and months. SPECHT: You know what, Anderson there was a job that needed to get done. Again speaking for myself -- I'm sure I can speak for much, if not all of the New York City Fire Department.

It was an honor to be down at the World Trade Center. It was something we needed to do. But Sanjay brings up a good point. And I think the disappointment that we had was going to these physicians and listening to exactly what he just said, that we had no -- or they had no baseline to fall back on.

They wanted to compare us to coal miners, they wanted to say there's a certain amount of time before a coal miner worked in coal mine before he contracted some form of lung cancer. This was not a coal mine type situation. We needed physicians to start expanding the way they thought. We needed them to say we can't wait for any information from the past, because there was nothing we could fall back on.

We had to move forward with this as a singular incident and start treating the people. It became clear shortly after the World Trade Center and certainly around 2007 and 2008 that we had a big problem we were facing, and we needed to face it as it was, a World Trade Center incident situation, not something from the '40s or the '50s in some of chemical plant or a coal mine. And I think that's why it took so long to get to this point. They wanted evidence that was presented to them in the past. There was nothing like this that ever happened before.

COOPER: Sanjay, you have been covering this topic for years now. I remember you studied the contents actual -- some of the dust from 9/11. What did you find? How toxic is it? What was in it?

GUPTA: It was something they had never seen before. I don't say that lightly because obviously you have scientists studying this for 10 years.

But the combination of all these various materials, compounded with jet fuel which raised the temperature of these materials to extraordinary temperatures. But there were clearly some carcinogens, which are substances that can cause cancer. Those dust particles contained those a lot these chemicals and were literally acting as vehicles, transporting them -- keeping them in the air for a long time and then transporting them over significant distances. It was pretty toxic stuff.

COOPER: And, Kenny, to your credit, you said it was an honor to serve there. At the time, could you tell you were breathing in this stuff?

SPECHT: Absolutely.


COOPER: You knew?

SPECHT: I remember down in Washington, D.C., about a year-and-a- half ago, I had an opportunity to speak. I said you know what I remember about the World Trade Center? I remember the smoke that was emanating from the site, there was a time, Anderson, that it wasn't black and it wasn't gray anymore, it was green.

And really, as somebody that had been fighting fires, not forever, I wasn't a firefighter for a long time before September 11, only six years. Regular burning of regular materials, the type of fires we were fighting in the city of New York, the smoke was black or the smoke was gray or the smoke was white.

Just from the color of the smoke that was emanating from the World Trade Center site, we could tell certainly the work we were doing was going to lead to a problem later on, down the line, that we were in an environment that no one was familiar with, that the stuff, the toxins that were burning, they were giving off a smell that we weren't familiar with.

The feel of the dust down there, the stuff sticking to our uniforms and our equipment -- really we needed more than just the firefighting gear we were provided with. A lot of stuff our bodies took in they took through our pores. The equipment we were provided with, this was a toxic incident that really required hazardous material entry suits.

Situations like this, you don't walk into with just regular firefighting gear. Our gear sucked it up, passed through our gear into our skin, into our pores, our nose, our mouth. This is why we have a lot of gastrointestinal issues now today.

Really, Anderson, yes, you could tell as a reasonable person down at the World Trade Center what we were dealing with was not a regular fire, and therefore not regular smoke.

COOPER: Yet you and your comrades continued on.

Kenny, I appreciate you, not only your service then, but your continued service to all of those still living and those who have passed. Thank you so much.


SPECHT: Not me. Let's remember tomorrow, let's remember the sacrifice of all of those who participated, and again, it was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

COOPER: And, Sanjay, thanks as well.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: Just remember, tomorrow and every day, frankly.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting in the hour ahead.

Up next, the Romney campaign said it's all about the economy. That's what they have been running on so far. But the question is what does the economy have to do with keeping God on U.S. currency or abortion or other social hot-button issues the campaign is pushing these days? We're "Keeping Them Honest" ahead.


COOPER: Well, there's new polling on President Obama's post- convention bounce, which now appears to be significant. We'll get into that in a second. But first "Keeping Them Honest" with doubts about the Romney campaign's repeated promise that this election and their campaign is all about the economy.

The question tonight, and not just from the opposition, how the Romney forces have been moving away from dollars and cents and jobs, and shifting toward more red meat, hot-button culture war mode.

They said that the economy is front and center. First and foremost. Issue one. Yet if you've been watching Mitt Romney out in the stump recently, you've been hearing about a lot of other issues as well.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not take God out of the name of our platform.


I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart.


COOPER: That was Mitt Romney in Virginia, of course, on Saturday, campaigning with the 700 Club's Pat Robertson suggesting that President Obama was somehow planning to take God off the currency.

Now in fairness, Mitt Romney did open his speech with three sentences on Friday's disappointing jobless numbers. But then he immediately got into talk about God, as you just heard. Then he repeated the disproven suggestion that President Obama spends his time apologizing for America and then he talked about beefing up military spending. Almost five minutes later, he got back around to the economy.

And when reporters began asking about the apparent contradiction between the economy first talking point and what the candidate was actually saying, Romney campaign manager Eric Fehrnstrom simply repeated the talking point. He said -- quote -- "The subject has been the economy, is the economy and will be the economy. Mitt Romney doesn't want to change the subject. He wants to change the economy and that's what he's going to do as president."

Now to be fair, fair enough. That's the message that Eric Fehrnstrom want us to get. But that's not all that's coming from the candidate on the campaign trail. Here's Governor Romney today in Ohio.


ROMNEY: When and if I become president of the United States, I will not take God out of my heart. I will not take God out of the public square and I will not take it out of the platform of my party.


COOPER: Well, the coin reference has gone away. But again his plan for the economy came last. Now once he did get there, he did go into detail but his rhetorical road to the economy, which his campaign says comes first, took the scenic route through the Pentagon and especially the bible belt. Also NASCAR country. Right after something with Pat Robertson, Mr. Romney made a campaign pit stop at Richmond International Raceway, signing autographs before the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday night.

He also kicked off the weekend in Iowa endorsing Congressman Steve King, who's an outspoken and controversial at times social conservative.

Now you can agree or disagree with the views of Congressman King, you can also point out Democrats who are trying to rally their base at their convention with a lot of focus on abortion ad same-sex marriage and other issues that appeal to the base. You can believe that religion deserves a bigger role in the public square or not.

You can recognize that political rhetoric just like the good story or an effective sermon doesn't always get straight to the point. But either way the Romney campaign says their real message is and always has been the economy. Yet even before today a month and a day ago, to be precise, they were running this ad.


NARRATOR: When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?

ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message.


COOPER: Now if in fact the Romney campaign has been zeroing in on social conservatives lately, and not too much in the economy, recent polling could help explain why. As we mentioned there's these new CNN/ORC numbers out tonight and President Obama is bouncing. He's now up six points on Mr. Romney among likely voters. Last week, before the Democratic convention, the race was tied.

Mr. Romney got a one-point bounce from the Republican convention and the Romney campaign downplaying this bounce that a chief pollster saying -- quote -- "While some voters will feel a bit of a sugar high from the convention the basic structure of the race has not changed significantly."

But that's the question. Has it changed? And what has recent polling revealed about the Romney campaign strategy? Let's talk about it with chief national correspondent John King, Bill Burton, who's a senior strategist for the leading pro-Obama super PAC, and senior Romney adviser Bay Buchanan.

So, Bay, the Romney campaign has said from the start this election is all about the economy. But in the last couple of days we've seen Mitt Romney, you know, endorse Steve King, talk about -- appear on a stage with Pat Robertson, talk about not taking "God We Trust" off the currency, even though as far as I know no Democrat has even suggested taking God off the currency or the coins.

Is he all over the place now, or what is he doing here?

BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I think it's clear that this election is going to come down to the economy. I think the governor is obviously very strong on that issue and certainly far more knowledgeable on how to turn the country around than the president is. That's proven. However that doesn't mean that we don't talk about other issues. I think it's clear from our two conventions that the two parties really have a -- really are separate this year.

They're moving in two different directions. And it's important that the voters understand what we represent as Republicans and he as the leader of our party and what Barack Obama really represents. I think it's legitimate to make certain that the voter understands that the Democrats have really moved far, far to the left.

COOPER: Bill, is this just a culture war? You know, rallying the base?

BILL BURTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I do agree with Bay that the conventions did show two very divergent paths Democrats and Republicans want to take in this country. The problem for Mitt Romney right now is that on the economy, the issue that he said he wanted to talk about this entire election, he's losing ground every single day. And coming out of those two convention the American people took a hard look and said, you know what, I like President Obama's direction better.

And when you look at the CNN poll that you guys have out, look inside the numbers, when President Obama is beating you by 20 points on who cares most about issues that affect the middle class, you can see why Mitt Romney would love to talk about anything else besides the issue that he said he wanted to be talking about right now.

BUCHANAN: Anderson, can I just respond to the poll? That poll as bogus a poll as I have ever seen, simply from the two points here. Mitt Romney is winning 97 percent of Republicans. That's not too surprising. And we're winning independents by 14 points.

I don't know how you put those two factors together and come out that Mitt Romney is somehow losing this because on election day, if we win independents by 14, and clean sweep Republicans, this is going to be a very exciting day for Republican, for Mitt Romney. COOPER: John, let me bring you in here. Because last week we talked a lot about the language we heard at the Republican National Convention. Hard work. Welfare reform. Values. Seemed like it was the kind of talk to resonate with white working class voters. Mitt Romney is already winning those voters overwhelmingly but are we seeing him double down on reaching the base here? I mean, what's up with the culture stuff suddenly?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, and you'll see both candidate double down on reaching the base because both campaigns proved at their convention they view this mostly as a base election. You have to find all of your voters, grab them by the ear and turn them out.

So when you see them with Pat Robertson in Virginia, there are other constituencies but Christian conservatives in Virginia are very important. When you see him with Steve King in Iowa, again, a cultural conservative in touched with the Tea Party, that's very important to Governor Romney.

To Bay's point about the poll, look, a lot of people question every single poll. And I would say don't put too much faith in any poll. But the reason those numbers exist in our poll, the president now a plus six, is because after his convention, Democratic intensity, enthusiasm is up and Republican enthusiasm is down a bit.

Yes, Governor Romney is still winning among dependents but there has been at least a temporary enthusiasm shift in favor of the Democrats. And we'll see if it lasts.

Anderson, one more point, all throughout the Democratic convention, I was getting e-mails and phone calls from conservative activists, saying the Democrats are overplaying their hand with all the talk about abortion, all the talk about same-sex marriage. But in our new poll look at these numbers, which candidate shares your values. The president now has a seven-one point advantage -- seven- point advantage, 51 percent to 44 percent say President Obama shares your values.

You see heading into the conventions two weeks ago before either convention it was essentially a tie. So at least at the moment nationally if the values talk at the Democratic convention was supposed to hurt the president, if conservatives thought it would, it hasn't nationally. Again, I would just add the caveat, though, we picked president state by state and the people of North Carolina sometimes think differently than people of California.

COOPER: Bay, the Romney campaign put out a memo today dismissing the post-convention bounce for the president as what they called a sugar high. Most poll show Governor Romney also got a bounce after the Republican National Convention albeit a much smaller one than President Obama. Was that bounce also a sugar high?

BUCHANAN: Yes, it is. You know, being in this business as long as I have been and John will confirm it, you expect candidates to get a bounce from their convention. There's no surprise there. Three whole days and night, all kinds of attention. Really showcasing your best leaders. So of course you expect that. Now the voters will come back and start looking. The key is the nine or 10 swing states. Where are people moving there?

And I see nothing but momentum for Mitt Romney and these states, terrific momentum as he closed in the last couple of months the -- all kinds of different gaps, his likability is up with president's likability has come down. These are important factors which will play into the final number on election day.

COOPER: And Bill, in those swing states, those battleground states Republicans are getting ready to spend a huge amount of money in those states on ads. I mean, aren't they ready to outspend you guys?

BURTON: They're definitely going to be able to outspend Democrats. And already going into the convention weeks, Republicans were up 4, 3-1 in a lot of the market and some of the swing states. But even so those numbers actually have not moved in the direction that they suggest. The president has gotten a stronger position in all these states from Ohio to Virginia to Florida.

That said, I do agree that the energy and enthusiasm coming out of the conventions can be a very temporary thing. But -- and this is going to be close all the way through. The debates are really going to matter and whatever events that come up between here and election day that we can't predict is really going to matter. But right now the fundamentals of this race are set, where voters truly do believe that the president is more on the side of the middle class and really does have the kind of values that mirror the American people's values.

COOPER: So, John, if is it a sugar high, if the Romney campaign is correct, or just kind of the traditional bounce, is it insignificant?

KING: No, it's not insignificant because of the things beneath it. And here's another one. Bill talked about the middle class numbers. The president went way up. I just showed you the "shares your value" numbers the president has a strong position.

Here's one here, and Anderson, if this number holds, and I don't think it will, but if this number holds, we're going to have a blowout on election day. Among likely voters, men, President Obama now at 48 percent, Governor Romney at 47 percent. Just a week ago, look at that. Governor Romney was up a dozen points. Republicans traditionally win men, Democrats win women. The question is how do you affect the margin.

So coming out of the Democratic convention the president is in a statistical tie among men. Again, I would suspect based on everything in our recent history, I'm not buying what the Romney campaign says but everything in recent political history suggest that probably is a bit of a sugar high. But if that holds, wow.

COOPER: Interesting. John King, Bill Burton, Bay Buchanan, appreciate it all. Thank you.

BURTON: Thanks, Anderson. COOPER: Well, whatever the Romney or Obama campaigns actually do, we are focusing all week on the economy. And we've been asking voters what their top concerns are. What keeps you up at night. Well, next, housing. The meltdown that triggered the recession, and what every candidate, each candidate says he's going to do to fix it. You're going to meet one man in danger of losing his home and another who's trying to help him keep it.


COOPER: In Chicago, a mess of a Monday. Contract talks stall and nearly 30,000 public school teachers go on strike. Where does that leave 350,000 students and their parents?

That's ahead on 360.


COOPER: We talked a bit about what the Romney campaign says about the economy being their number one issue.

The fact is, though, it doesn't really matter what they truly think or what the Obama campaigns thinks, only what the voters think.

Take a look. Two in three registered voters say economic conditions today are poor and that's not all they say. We asked them what are your top five concerns about the economy. What keeps up at night.

We'll be showcasing those things every night this week and try to get answers from President Obama and Governor Romney about their plans for addressing those concerns.

So tonight we look at the fifth issue, housing. And according to CNN Money, about 30 percent of home owners owe more than -- more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Thirty percent. Others have lost jobs. Can't make the monthly payments and tonight a homeowner in trouble and a community activist, Bruce Marks, whose group works to bring mortgage payments back into reach.


BRUCE MARKS, NEIGHBORHOOD ASSISTANCE CORPORATION OF AMERICA: What keeps me up at night are homeowners losing their homes and their lives being devastated.

I get calls from homeowners every day. Sometimes late at night because people have my personal phone number. And they call me, saying I'm losing my home. I have tried to work with the bank and the bank is refusing to modify my mortgage. The government is not there. I'm out there alone. What do I do?

We have helped over 200,000 families modify their mortgages and we're working with a lot more in getting it done, because at NACA, we legally bind the agreements with all the major lenders and investors to get it done. AINSLEY SAUNDERS, HOMEOWNER: It's a modest home, you know, but we like it. It's...


SAUNDERS: Almost immediately after we bought the house, the value dropped. Within months. And I threw my hands. I said, "You've got to be kidding me." We were making our payments up until the point where she lost her job. Once you fall behind, and -- it just -- it snowballs from there. With that interest rate and the amount that I was paying, it proved to be a little too difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do what the banks should do. And that's why the same day at our Save the Dream events we're able to get people's -- the mortgages modified. Because if you modify someone's home, like the Saunders, and they save over $600 a month in the mortgage payment, that's the best economic stimulus you could possibly have.

And that's what the banks and the government have to do. Because we're never going to get out of this mortgage crisis. It has to happen because the alternative is not acceptable when you've got millions of homeowners out there who are going to lose their home. And that is the biggest pull on the economy.


COOPER: Back now with John King and Dan Lothian, who's been traveling with the president, and Jim Acosta with the Romney campaign.

John, in terms of the electoral map, how could the housing issue impact both candidates? It's an important issue, obviously, nationwide. But as you said, it's going to come down to just a few key swing states.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question, Anderson. There's been a national crisis that has been more exacerbated in certain parts of the country. And guess what? Some of those happen to be in the key swing states.

Let's take a look here. This is foreclosures across the country. The darker the color you're seeing -- if you're seeing light there aren't a lot of foreclosures. The darker the color, the more you have foreclosures.

So let's look here. You see a lot down in Florida. You see a lot here in Michigan area. You see a lot here in this part of Ohio. You see a lot here in the corners of Nevada, the northwest corner down in here.

And I want to do something. You look at these. Those are all swing states: Florida, Ohio, Michigan, out in Nevada. Now watch this. Watch this when we do this. Take this off and turn this on, go back in time. This is by county, the presidential election, four years ago by county. Look at where I circled, all the little counties, important to the president, important to the president; important to the president up here and down here. You can make the case that the problem has been exacerbated. Higher foreclosures in places around the country that are critically important to the president.

One more point I want to make if you pull this out, Anderson. We'll take a look. Nevada has been hit the hardest. If you look nationally at home prices, down 166,000 on average when the president took office, 151,000 now. But look at this: down 30 percent in Nevada, a battleground state; down 20 percent in Florida over that time, a battleground state; 7 percent in Ohio and 5 percent in Virginia, 5.5 percent.

I do want to make the point, in the last year in each of these states they started to come back up. If you're going through the Obama presidency, housing in battleground states is a problem.

COOPER: And Dan, Republicans obviously are making the argument that President Obama is to blame for the bleak economic picture, including the housing market. How has the president been responding to that?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the answer has been that the overall economy, and certainly the housing crisis is part of that. These problems were in the making long before the president took office. They got a lot worse.

But the president helped to stabilize the situation. They point to steps that the president has taken shortly after he took office. There were two programs that he rolled out to help homeowners who were struggling, underwater mortgages. They were supposed to help about 9 million homeowners, but only a couple of million were helped. But nonetheless, the administration reports that as something that the president was doing.

There was a $26 billion settlement with five big banks to help those homeowners, a half dozen other programs that the president rolled out, as well.

So the answer, the short answer is that they believe that the president has taken some steps to essentially create a floor to keep the situation from falling any further. But there are a lot of people out there who still believe that the president could have acted more quickly, could have done a lot more, Anderson.

COOPER: Jim, how much do you hear from Romney on the stump about housing?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, honestly, Anderson, he doesn't talk about the housing issue that much. One thing that has come up in the news lately has been about mortgage deductions. Mitt Romney has been pressed repeatedly to specify how he would limit the mortgage deduction for higher income earners. That is something he has said he would do in order to pay for his tax cuts as part of his overall economic plan. He hasn't laid out exact specifics.

And if you do dig into the Romney housing plan, he does talk about things like reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But a lot of what he's said on this issue, Anderson, is overshadowed by what he told the "Las Vegas Review-Journal" in late 2011, in all of places, the foreclosure capital of Nevada. Here's what he had to say.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As to what to do for the housing industry specifically -- are there things that you can do to encourage housing? One is don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up, and let it turn around and come back up.


ACOSTA: Now, the shorter Romney response on this issue, Anderson, I think is quite clearly what has President Obama done to fix the housing problem in this country, Anderson?

COOPER: And, John, you said the cost of housing plays heavily into two of the biggest forces of the electorate. How so?

KING: Well, to the point, if you ask people what's bugging them when you travel the country, Anderson -- I want to bring up the other map -- just to be honest, it's the national crisis, housing. But this race is going to be settled in these gold states, the toss-up states.

When you travel to them, you ask people about the economy. What are the two defining questions in the presidential election? Is the country on the right track? And a lot of people say they question the American dream. It used to be you bought your house. You could pass it on to your children. You always knew the next generation would do better than you.

When you talk to people about those issues -- right track/wrong track and what I call the "American dream" question -- they're down about that. They're uncertain about that. Why? In part, because if you go back ten years -- and some people question the wisdom of this -- the house was how you financed your life. The house was you refinanced it and took a vacation. The housing crisis is not just your house. When you look around the neighborhood and you see housing prices down, that has a lot of people that contributes to what I call the economic funk that you still find when you visit many of these states.

COOPER: John King. Appreciate it, John. Thanks very much. And Dan, as well, and Jim. Thanks.

Well, we're following a number of other important stories. Now Isha is here with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: Anderson, it may be a major blow to the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Government officials in Yemen say security forces have killed Said al-Shehri, the second in command of that organization. But they're waiting for DNA tests to confirm it's him. The mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, was arrested this morning, accused of accepting bribes. Federal prosecutors say Tony Mack took cash payments from a developer who wanted to build on city property.

And Anderson, it's the video that's gone viral. The owner of a Florida pizza shop who was so excited about meeting President Obama yesterday, that he gave him a bear hug and picked him up off the floor. Can someone actually do that to the commander in chief?

Scott Van Duzer stopped by the "SITUATION ROOM" today and explained to Wolf Blitzer how it all happened.


SCOTT VAN DUZER, OWNER OF PIZZA SHOP: I guess I got caught up in the moment. He -- I had a brief moment, when I knew he was coming. He opened up the door, and he was like, "Where's Scott at?" And as soon as I saw him, he came -- came right at me, shook my hand. And I was just so excited I just gave him a big hug and picked him up. It was crazy.


SESAY: Just kind of what I want to do when I see you at times.

COOPER: Yes. I actually talked to him on my daytime talk show, and we're flying him up. He's going be on the daytime talk show tomorrow. And he's threatening to give me a bear hug. So I'm not sure how I'm going to try to avoid that.

SESAY: Just let him do it.

COOPER: Yes. It's nice to have you back, Isha. Where have you been?

SESAY: You were...

COOPER: Do you not love us anymore?

SESAY: You were at the convention. I saw you in Charlotte. You said you were too busy to talk to little old me.

COOPER: Not true.

SESAY: It's good to be back.

COOPER: All right. Glad to have you back.

Tonight in Chicago, a lot of angry parents trying to figure out what their kids are supposed to do, what they're supposed to do, where they're supposed to go with some 30,000 teachers on strike. It's the nation's third largest school district. So is there any hope for a settlement soon? We'll look at that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Michael Jackson's concert promoters be able to collect on an insurance policy? That's ahead.


COOPER: In Chicago, nearly 30,000 public schoolteachers went on strike today after ten months of contract talks collapsed. Chicago is the country's third largest school district. The strike has left some 350,000 students in limbo.

To give some students a place to go while their parks at work, the school district opened 144 of its 578 schools for part of the day. Churches and other community groups are scrambling to try to help.

So imagine what a nightmare it is for parents. Chicago police are increasing street patrols. They're worried that more kids on the streets, obviously, will mean more trouble than usual in a city where homicide has become an epidemic.

Ted Rowlands is there for us tonight -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a lot of parents have different concerns. Some are worried about what to do with their kids tomorrow if the strike continues. Others say their No. 1 concern is the safety of their kids.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): First grader Shakila Scaggs spent the first day of the Chicago teachers' strike watching cartoons at home with her sister and cousins. She did not play outside, because her mom says it's too dangerous.

SHATARA SCAGGS, SHAKILA'S MOTHER: Because anything can just happen. You don't know what will happen at any moment. I mean, it's just nice and sunny outside, and in the end, people just start shooting out of nowhere. Innocent people get shot for no reason.


ROWLANDS: Violence on the streets of Chicago is bad. Specifically the homicide rate, which is up about 30 percent this year and has claimed the lives of 43 children. The prospects of a long strike, leaving 350,000 kids out of school, threatens to make an unthinkably bad and dangerous situation even worse.

That's the biggest concern at Sweet Holy Spirit Church, one of several places open for kids during the strike.

LARRY TROTTER, SWEET HOLY SPIRIT CHURCH: We got killings going on like crazy. So the parents' hope is killed by the strike. The children are left hopeless, saying does anybody care about the strike? And they have to have places to go.

ROWLANDS: In the middle of the battle between the teachers' union and the school district is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. We asked him how concerned he is about children's safety during the strike. MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, CHICAGO: The safest place for children is in the classroom. That's where I want them. As I said before, this is a strike of choice, and it's the wrong choice for our children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are the people!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are the people!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are the people!

ROWLANDS: Teachers say they'd rather be teaching than picketing but say they'll keep going as long as they have to for a fair contract.

SCAGGS: I understand where they're coming from, but I don't think the kids should have to stay home from school. I feel like there should still be teachers there to teach the children. And then, you know, allow the other ones to try to get everything together.


ROWLANDS: Meanwhile, extra police officers have been assigned to keep an eye on kids on these streets that have already proven to be far too deadly.


COOPER: And Ted, I understand they're still negotiating tonight. Any word on word on if a deal could be made to prevent the strike from going another day?

ROWLANDS: Well, it is possible, because they really didn't have that far to go before they started negotiating hours ago today. We can tell you this, though, Anderson. The board president has left the table for the evening. The board, however, assures us that they're still negotiating, and a deal could be reached. Of course, if there is a deal, we'll break into programming and report on it.

COOPER: And Paul Ryan weighed in, basically in support of the mayor.

ROWLANDS: Yes, very odd this afternoon. He came out and said, "It's not very often, but in this case, I am right behind Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago." And he also asked the president to weigh in.

We're also hearing the same plea from teachers here in Chicago asking the president to weigh in on their side. The pressure is going to start building at the White House. Up until now, President Obama has not weighed in on this, but as the days go on, if this strike continues, the pressure at the White House will start to build.

COOPER: All right. Ted, appreciate it. Thanks.

Still ahead, dramatic new video of the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. What police officer were dealing with when they arrived at the scene to confront the suspected killer. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)




SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is speaking out about retired Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, who wrote a first-hand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Panetta told CBS's Nora O'Donnell the book broke (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I cannot, as secretary, send a signal to the SEALs who conduct those operations, oh, you can conduct these operations and then go out and write a book about it and -- or sell your story to "The New York Times." How can we run sensitive operations here that go after enemies if people are allowed to do that?


SESAY: The Defense Department has said it may pursue legal action against Bissonnette, who wrote under the name Mark Owen.

New details about the Florida motorcycle cop who was killed yesterday while escorting President Obama's motorcade on an interstate. He drove on to an on ramp to block traffic and was hit by a vehicle in the process of moving onto the highway. Officer Bruce St. Laurent was a 20-year veteran of the Jupiter, Florida, Police Department.

We have newly-obtained video of the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin back in August. This from a police officer's dashboard camera as officers confront the shooter.





SESAY: A bullet smashed into the windshield and went into the headrest. The gunman, Michael Wade Page, killed six people at the temple before turning the gun on himself.

Michael Jackson's tour promoter has dropped its claim for a $17.5 million insurance policy for the late singer. Just days ago, e-mails revealed that the company, AEG, had doubts about Jackson's health when they applied for the insurance. Toys "R" Us is coming out with a kid-friendly tablet. It's similar to an iPad but has apps just for children and extra parental controls. The price is still pretty grown up, though: about $150.

And a Massachusetts mom's annual back-to-school happy dance is getting a lot of attention online.




SESAY: Over the past four years, she has been dancing in the street when her kids get on the bus. But the fifth year, it went viral -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Time now for "The Shot." We're calling this the case of the sneaky puppy. See what happens when a big dog who's having dinner turns away from his bowl. Take a look.




COOPER: How great is that?

SESAY: That little one has got the right idea.

COOPER: Yes. The video comes from It calls itself an animal entertainment network.

Coming up, did you notice that there was something a little different about Wolf Blitzer today? Was it the beard? Was it -- what was it? Well, we'll explain. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And I don't know if you happened to be watching earlier today, but we got our first look at CNN's brand-new state-of-the-art Washington, D.C., studio. There's Wolf Blitzer doing the ribbon cutting.

The new D.C. studio has 109 monitors, nine studio monitors, three video walls. It's very cool; it looks great. A lot of work went into it. Congratulations to the folks in D.C.

And here in the New York bureau, I think our vending machine Cheez-Its supply has just been replenished, so that's also pretty exciting for us here.

The new studio was unveiled today on "THE SITUATION ROOM," and everyone seems to love it.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have to say, Wolf, I really like our new digs here.


SYLVESTER: I know a lot of our viewers have been tuning in and watching, but it's absolutely gorgeous. A lot of people worked really hard on it.

BLITZER: Love the new "SITUATION ROOM." Thanks very much.

Moments after former president, Bill Clinton's, convention speech, our own contributor, Alex Castellanos, predicted President Obama would get a...


COOPER: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait! Hold up. Is it just me or is there something different about Wolf Blitzer? I can't quite put my finger on it. Did he get a haircut or something? Has he been working out? There's just -- I don't know. There's just something -- oh, you know what? I think I know what it is. It would seem that Mr. Wolf Blitzer got himself some new glasses. I don't know. Perhaps he saw someone wearing them, liked them and decided to pick up a pair for himself. I wonder where he could have possibly gotten that idea.

Now, I don't want to accuse Wolf Blitzer going all "Single White Female" on me. But these glasses, they're kind of my thing. No one, and I mean no one else has them, except, of course, for Elvis Costello, Steve Martin, the guy from "Mad Men," Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., Justin Bieber, and of course, even Snooki.

Come on, I'm the only one on CNN who rocks these glasses. OK, maybe Tom Foreman has them, too. He actually might have had them before either one of us. So he's the trend setter. I've said it before, and I will say it again: Tom Foreman is the Johnny Depp of CNN.

We're not the only one who noticed Wolf's new look. Little known fact, if you Googled "Wolf's glasses" before today, this is about all you'd come up with. Yes, they're wine glasses with wolves on them. I have several sets.

But if you Google "Wolf glasses" now, it's Blitzer's new look all over the place. On the blogs, the news sites, the Twitters, the Facebooks. It's everywhere. There's probably a Tumblr thing about it. I'm not quite sure what the Tumblr thing is, but I'm sure there's one about it, too.

I like the new glasses. For one thing they really complement Wolf's skinny jeans. Oh, yes? You didn't know he wears skinny jeans. And I can only hope that Wolf gets the same warm generous reaction I received when I got my glasses a couple of years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: Here's what I love. I love that you clearly got the nerdiest glasses you could. Because you think you're so gorgeously hot that you just have to take it down a few notches for America. There's certain -- look, I know you, I've talked to your mom.

COOPER: These aren't nerdy glasses. Are they? I have no idea.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Those are shame glasses. They're shame-filled. And they're for private time. They're what you call your indoor glasses. And let me tell you something: Ryan Seacrest would not be caught with those glasses on.


COOPER: Shame-based glasses.

So on behalf of everyone but Ryan Seacrest, on behalf of all of us with frames as big as our dreams, Wolf, welcome. Enjoy the view.

That does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.