CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Higher Taxes For All: Does It Add Up?; U.S. Warns Syria Not To Use Chemical Weapons; Ex-Sailor Charged With Spying; McAfee Taken To Hospital

Aired December 6, 2012 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, just 25 days until the fiscal cliff and a new idea is born. It comes from an unexpected source. Howard Dean, does the former Vermont's governor's plan add up?

Plus, a former U.S. Navy sailor charged with attempted espionage tonight, the alleged benefactor, Russia.

And the war on drugs, we lost it. Sir Richard Branson is OUTFRONT. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, a bright idea brought to us by the liberal former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. A man who brought us the scream heard around the world when he ran for president.

Dean says let's face it, America, taxes need to go up for everyone. Now, this might not be what you expect from someone like Howard Dean. It's certainly not the president's position or the position of most Americans.

Another new poll out today shows that most people like the president's idea of only raising taxes on other people specifically, the top 2 percent, individuals making over $200,000 a year or families making over $250,000 a year.

The problem is according to the Congressional Research Service, the math doesn't add up. That tax hike would only give $678 billion in additional revenue over 10 years, now, remember, we're $16 trillion in the debt hole.

Now, if we go with Howard Dean's idea that gets us $2.8 trillion or about 17 percent of our debt. Adam Davidson is the cofounder of NPR's "Planet Money" and he did the math.

He wrote in "The New York Times" a while ago, a set of numbers that has stuck with me ever since that increasing the middle class tax burden an additional 8 percent would actually have a bigger impact than taxing millionaires at 100 percent.

Of course, once you tax millionaires at 100 percent, there's nothing else left to get them the next year. Even Bill Clinton agrees. Here's what he said at a conference I saw him at back in May. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I think you could tax me at 100 percent and you wouldn't balance the budget. We are all going to have to contribute to this and if middle class people's wages were going up again and we had some growth in the economy, I don't think they would object to going back to the tax rates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: With no breakthrough today in the fiscal cliff negotiations, could this be a starting point? OUTFRONT Republican Congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma, incoming chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the fifth ranking position in the House GOP leadership.

Good to see you, sir. Appreciate you're taking the time. What about this idea of raising taxes on everyone? The math actually in this case is much more promising. It works much better.

REPRESENTATIVE JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Right, I heard your lead in when you said this is a new idea by Howard Dean. Actually, it's not a new idea. There are several Democrats who have floated that for a while.

You'll hear it kind of the code word for this. We want to go back to the Clinton tax rates and talk about the Clinton economy that we had a much more vigorous economy and growth and we should go back to the Clinton tax rates.

What that really means is all tax rates on all Americans go back up because the tax rates were brought down in 2001 and 2003. So it's not new and no, I don't support that. I don't think that's a great idea. It would slow down the economy.

BURNETT: All right, and you know what? The truth is when you look at economist's evaluations. It would slow down the economy. Raising taxes right now on everyone or some people, whatever some people that was, it would.

OK, there's no question about it. But if the problem is that we have a lot of debt and there has to be some pain whether it be in cuts or the form of higher tax revenues, it means there has to be some pain, I mean, look at the map, $2.8 trillion to go back to the Clinton era rates.

That's 17 percent of our debt wiped out overnight. If you're worried about the debt, how can't you look at that seriously?

LANKFORD: Well, the reason I would say it's not going to be 17 percent of our debt on that because right now, we're running a trillion dollar deficit every single year. Now if we went back to zero, we're rebalanced and we're taken on that's true.

But right now with the fourth year in a row, that we have over a trillion in deficit spending, that deficit and that debt continues to climb. So it doesn't really wipe it out and the challenge of it is what does that do to the overall economy.

We're not just dealing with one tax increase right now as well. A lot of people lose track of that. The Affordable Care Act, the first tranche of the taxes actually begin on January 1st as well for people making $200,000 or more or people having large medical bills.

So that already starts coming up. This is talking about an additional tax increase on top of that tax increase.

BURNETT: OK, but what about what Bill Clinton said? He said once things start to get better and that's a crucial point that he was making. Once the economy starts to get better, taxes have to go up on the middle class. Do you agree with that?

LANKFORD: I don't, actually. And the reason being is that right now, if you look at the real math, in 2007 and 2012, we have the same amount of revenue. Now, obviously 2008 and 2009, we had a dramatic drop in federal revenues coming in, but we've slowly climbed back up.

Kind of the dirty little secret is revenue has gone up every single year of the Obama administration and now, we're at historic highs. The same as we were five years ago. The difference is our spending has increased a trillion dollars than five years ago, but our revenue is the same.

BURNETT: Yes, but a lot of that spending is things to help the economy, right? I mean, it's the payroll tax cut extension, which your party supported. It's extending unemployment benefits. It's things like that. It's the war.

LANKFORD: That's going to be the challenge of the whole perspective. We've got two philosophies. One says we're spending too much. That's hurting our economy. The other one saying we're not spending enough. That's hurting our economy.

So there's obviously, the last four years have been more focused on the spending more stimulate. I'm not sure that's going to work long term. We continue to pile up more and more debt. We've already crossed 100 percent of debt to GDP. I don't think that gets better as you get higher.

BURNETT: But you're line of thinking, see the only thing that confuses me about is I feel like we end up in a situation where all you do is keep cutting taxes. You start to have a revenue problem, right?

You give a tax cut to the middle class. You don't want to take it away from them. You give a payroll tax. You don't want to take it away from them, right? So that you keep giving out things and you never take them back.

LANKFORD: Well, that's the same thing we do on the spending side. The stimulus spending in 2009 was intended to be one-year anomaly. The problem was, it wasn't a one-year anomaly. That was actually added in the baseline and all those all those agencies, all those individuals keep receiving that same amount of money. So that one-year stimulus spending is now stretched into four years of stimulus spending and it is headed into it fifth year so we're dealing with the same thing. That is the challenge of this --

BURNETT: Right, exactly. But intellectually what I'm saying is you're saying the Democrats are doing that on the spending side, right? That's a separate conversation, but to say that they are.

I'm simply saying you're doing to same thing on the tax side, so we end up losing revenue thanks to Republicans and we end up spending more money thanks to Democrats and the whole country keeps going to a worst place.

LANKFORD: Yes, and it makes a really tough situation. The context is really important on this. In 2003 when tax rates were brought down is because the economy was really dragging, there was an increase in the economy that happened in 2004, '05, '06 and '07,

And then in 2010, we were still in a very bad place, the president and Democrats that still have the House and the Senate during the lame duck said the economy's really weak, we can't raise taxes on this on anybody including the upper 2 percent.

And they choose a weak economy in 2010 not to do that because they knew that would hurt the economy. Quite frankly, we have the same economy now that we did two years ago.

Consumer confidence is up, but total GDP growth has actually gone down the last two years ever so slightly we're continue to go down. We are not in a better spot now to raise taxes as we were two years ago.

BURNETT: Tom Coburn has been out talking about the fact that rates need to go up on the top 2 percent in terms of getting a deal done on the fiscal cliff. Here he is on ABC News. Just want to play it. I'm sorry. I'll read it to you. It's a graphic.

"We have no leverage on that so whether we want taxes to go up or not, they are going to. We can't stop it from happening. The real elephant in the room is entitlements." Taxes aren't going to go up at the beginning of the year if you don't do a deal, right?

So the only deal you could do would have them go up on fewer people than they otherwise would. That seems to me to be that someone like you or a Republican you don't have a lot of leverage.

LANKFORD: Right. And that's the challenge when you're dealing with Democrats that like Howard Dean and others that say, you know what? Let's just raise on everybody and that creates the situation where we say no that's a bad idea.

We do agree with the majority of folks to say that the majority of taxes should not go up on anybody, but we also believe that it shouldn't go up on the upper bracket. The proposal that's out there right now from the president, people look at it and say the upper bracket just a little bit. Dividends on the upper bracket would move from 15 percent on December 31st to 43.4 percent on the first of January. We think that's a really big cut and what would happen is. The wealthy would stop doing stocks that give dividends.

And what this hurts is seniors that are depending on dividends and pension funds that are depending on dividends. So it does have a trickledown effect in that.

BURNETT: Right. It certainly could hurt senior. I know historically though changes in dividend taxation haven't really affected stock prices, which is crucial, but fair point.

LANKFORD: It does affect the number of stocks that offer dividends. Once dividends went down to that 15 percent rate, more stocks start offering dividends as an incentive and a lot of people ran through that. That would obviously go away, which would cause a major shuffle among senior adults now.

BURNETT: Congressman Lankford, thank you very much for the time tonight. We appreciate it.

OUTFRONT next, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He went to the White House today. He went hat in hand. He asked for $36 billion in money for New Jersey. Wait, isn't he a fiscal hawk?

Plus, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad accuses the U.S. of manufacturing stories as a pretext for an invasion. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responds tonight.

And a day after tech guru, John McAfee is taken into custody, he was rushed to the hospital. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Our second story, OUTFRONT, chemical weapons. The world is watching Syria and America is the country that will act if there is action. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a warning to Syria today saying the United States will not stand by and watch the country cross a quote/unquote, "red line."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The whole world is watching very closely. And the president of the United States has made very clear that there will be consequences. There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Syria denies it is mobilizing chemical weapons in a civil war in which 40,000 people have lost theirs in 21 months. Instead, the Syrian government says the United States is trying to create fear and set the ground for an attack. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today met with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov twice today in Dublin. Now these are important meetings because Russia is a Syrian ally and actually helped the country amass the chemical weapons that it has.

But is it too late? National security contributor, Fran Townsend, is a member of the CIA and Homeland Security External Advisory Board. Colonel Cedric Leighton is a former member of the Joint Staff.

Fran, Secretary Panetta says that world is watching. There will be quote/unquote, "consequences." What are those consequences? Is the U.S. going to passing the point of no return here?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is, look, the most recent information suggests that they're actually preparing to be able to launch these warheads containing sarin gas and other chemical weapons. That's a problem, right, because now, a military strike could inadvertently trigger the dissemination of such weapons.

What you have to do now is get the timely tactical intelligence to interrupt the decision cycle. That is get between Assad and the individual who presses the button to launch that missile. That's a very big ask in the intelligence community, a very difficult, but now, that's the position we're really in.

BURNETT: The intelligence community, which, I mean, just to be honest, hasn't really seemed to be at least, you know, totally aware of everything happening every step of the way here.

TOWNSEND: OK, except there have been -- you know, there was a WMD Commission that looked at the failures in Iraq and strengthened the intelligence committee. There are standards for assessing the credibility of sources. There are standards now for how an analyst assesses a source and the information.

And we know from the president's action against Bin Laden, he will ask the hard questions, what don't we know? What confidence do you have in the sources and intelligence before he makes a decision?

BURNETT: As Fran is referring to, when people think about WMD and the U.S. saying, Syria has this. A lot of people think back to Iraq when the U.S. made claims that turned out not to be true.

You know, our Tom Foreman has reported on what Syria reportedly had. It's one of the latest out for our viewers, three deadly kinds of chemical weapons. The first is mustard gas, which can cause severe burns and blindness, respiratory failure.

Also sarin, as Fran referring to, it attacks the nervous system, can cause uncontrollable tremors, convulsions and death, then the VX nerve agent, also obviously attacks the nervous system and it's one of the most deadly chemicals in the world. Colonel Leighton, how good is the intelligence on what Syria really has? COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RETIRED): It is pretty good, but it's not going to be foolproof and as Fran mentioned, they are going to be some elements of intelligence that are guesswork, but still, they're going to be conjectured.

It's not like a court of law where you can go in and say this is the evidence. This is irrefutable proof. But on the other hand, there are certain things that the intelligence community can do. For example, they can assess how stockpiles are accumulating in the country.

You mentioned that the Russians had supplied some of these chemical agents to the Syrians and that is absolutely true. You can assess how each of these areas supplies the Syrians, you know what they've done, how they've done it and how often they do it.

And also, you can have some intelligence sometimes from U.N. sources that specifically outlines exactly, you know, how good the chemical weapons are. Whether they will be used, whether there is good training for it, what kind of training these people have and all of that is weighed in, you know, when they make their assessment.

BURNETT: Fran, there are reports that the Assad regime, you know, has loaded the chemical weapons on to missiles, that they are ready to go. To your point, you need to get between Bashar Al-Assad and the person who's going to push the button on the missile. How do we know that? That they've actually loaded them on to missiles?

TOWNSEND: There have been reports just this week both from the "New York Times" about preparations and from NBC. Now, do we know that's accurate? We don't. No doubt right now inside the administration they're trying to assess exactly where are they in the decision cycle? Where are they in the tactical process of preparing those missiles and chemical weapons?

BURNETT: And then what happens from here? You know, it seems like it's devolving even more chaotically into anarchy and civil war. You have al Qaeda groups. You have many groups of extremists and militants fighting in Syria.

It's a proxy war some say between the U.S. and Iran. So if Bashar Al-Assad goes, there are still are 75 chemical weapon sites around this country and others who wouldn't have perhaps the moral hesitancy that Bashar Al-Assad, dictator that he may be, may have about using them.

TOWNSEND: So, Erin, to your point, regardless of what happens to Bashar Al-Assad, we had this threat, this problem, not only to us, but to our allies in the region, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, all worry about if Bashar Al-Assad falls.

There must be a plan to secure those chemical weapon sites, but we should tell our viewers, Erin, that U.S. militaries understood this problem and have been planning against that problem and working with allies in the region over the course of the last 12 months.

So it's not as though they are only thinking about this now. They have understood this problem and planning for it.

BURNETT: All right, Colonel Leighton and Fran, thank you very much, both of you.

OUTFRONT next, a 20-year veteran of the United State Navy accused tonight of being a spy. Why officials think he was leaking crucial secrets to the Russians and as two states prepare to legalize marijuana, Sir Richard Branson tells us why the war on drugs has been an utter failure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Our third story, OUTFRONT, accused Navy spy, a former U.S. sailor from Virginia Beach has been charged with attempted espionage tonight. Federal authorities say 39-year-old Robert Hoffman tried to pass classified information to a Russian informant, but ended up speaking to an undercover FBI agent instead.

Now Hoffman served in the United States Navy for 20 years. This raises serious questions about the level of security clearance that he might have had and his access to top secret information.

OUTFRONT tonight, Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, who has been reporting on this story. Chris, what specifically do federal agents expect Robert Hoffman of doing?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Erin, basically, they say in the indictment that he tried to give a secret document to someone that detailed how to track U.S. submarines.

Now, this document basically not only outlined the procedures you would use to do that, but the actual technology that you would need to track U.S. submarines. It's very serious because U.S. Navy officials will often tell us where surface ships and carriers are located around the world at any particular moment.

They almost never discuss where the subs are. That is classified information. Now, the indictment says that Hoffman thought he was giving this to a Russian intelligence agent. Actually, what he was doing was handing it over to an FBI agent working an undercover sting. These are very serious charges. He could face life in prison.

BURNETT: And when you think about what other information he may have had access to, how long this could have been happening or whether it will happen before. What's his background and what sort of information sort of security clearance might he have had?

LAWRENCE: Pretty high. You mentioned that he had been in for 20 years. He was a petty officer first class. His rating was a cryptology, which is a way of saying he was in the intelligence gathering field. He was a naval submarine warfare specialist.

So he had a very high security clearance access to a lot of information, but the interesting thing is over that 20-year career, he had six good conduct commendations, won numerous awards. So it remains to be seen if there was any sign of this when he was actually on active duty. Remember, he had only be out of the service less than a year when he's trying to allegedly hand over this secret document to a Russian spy.

BURNETT: All right, thanks very much, Chris Lawrence. OUTFRONT, next, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie in Washington today asking for money, hypocritical or not?

And a day after internet guru John McAfee was taken into custody, he was rushed to the hospital. OUTFRONT returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First, antivirus software pioneer, John McAfee, was rushed to a Guatemalan hospital today. He's just been released. His attorney says he was being treated for cardiovascular problems. McAfee had been taken into custody yesterday, accused of entering the country illegally. Here's what he was saying as he was arrested.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCAFEE: They are trying to arrest me. Guatemalan jails have beds, dude and food. That's pretty awesome -- pretty awesome. I'm not so concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, where are you going?

MCAFEE: To jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Pretty awesome to be in jail in Guatemala. McAfee requested asylum in Guatemala, was denied. His attorneys are now saying officials unjustly rejected his petition. He could be deported to Belize, where, of course, police want to question him about his neighbor's murder.

Well, Michigan police were forced to block the entrance of the capitol building today. Thousands of people stormed it to protest right-to-work legislation. One police official estimates as many as 4,000 people were inside and around the capitol building. Pepper spray was used on one person who tried to storm Senate chambers. The legislation introduced by Republican Governor Rick Schneider would limit union's abilities to collect dues.

The bill passed the house today. It's now headed for a Senate vote.

The U.S. Navy is moving ships into position to monitor a North Korean possible rocket launch. The Defense Department tells CNN's Barbara Starr that two ships, the USS Benfold and the USS Fitzgerald are being moved to an unspecified position to provide reassurance to allies. The sources say it's possible two more ships could be sent to the region in the next few days.

And the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack that wounded Afghanistan's intelligence chief today. A senior police official says the attacker targeted the chief, Asadullah Khalid, as he was leaving a meeting. Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters he's confident Khalid will recover.

And programming note: I will be reporting live from Afghanistan next week on the future of the country.

Well, it has been 490 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Good news on jobs tonight. Initial jobless claims fell more than expected, down 25,000.

And now, our fourth story OUTFRONT: high times in Washington state tonight.

A new law legalizing recreational use of marijuana went into effect today. Voters approved the law last month, but while it is legal to smoke pot -- toke up, baby -- it's not yet legal to grow or sell it.

OUTFRONT tonight, Miguel Marquez in Seattle. His eyes look pretty clear. Maybe a little glassy.

Hey, it's all right. It's legal, right?

All right. Miguel, set us straight. If no one can legally sell marijuana, what does this law which is so ground breaking, really change?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, one. I've been up 37 hours, so I'm not looking so good tonight. But two, you know, this is only the beginning. They are creating an industry here if this thing comes to fruition, if the feds don't step in and somehow stop it.

Pot is legal now to own an ounce if you're over 21. It's treated basically like hard alcohol.

But in a year's time, you'll have pot stores in and across Washington state. You'll have licensed pot growers, pot processors, cookie bakers. Brownie makers, then you'll stores to buy it in, but you wouldn't be able to do it Amsterdam style, where you can do it in cafes or coffee houses and use it there. You'd have to take it home and use it in private.

It will unleash -- people are saying -- a wave of an industry and growth here -- Erin.

BURNETT: Interesting.

You know, Barney Frank told me he eats pot brownies and Sir Richard Branson, in a few moments, he said actually off camera to me, that he'd eat pot brownies. Maybe I also try them.

But let me ask you, Miguel, are cops going to leave users alone, and just go for the dealers? Are they really going to pursue this at this point?

MARQUEZ: Well, at this point, it looks like everyone's going to take a break and step back and see where things go. It's going to be legal to possess. It hasn't be a very profile crime for cops to begin with.

So, going forward, it's not likely that they are going to do after dealers, but they don't want people flouting the law. They want to be able to put all of these processes into place so that they will tax it all at 25 percent, by the way, and they believe that in the first couple of years, they'll make as much as $500 million a year to the state's budget. It's a pretty big piece of their budget.

BURNETT: It certainly is. Now, the problem is though, of course, this is all states rights versus the federal government, right? I know you got Colorado and Washington saying, look, we're going to go ahead with pot being A-OK. But it's still a federal crime.

So what's the federal government going to do? Could they shut it all down?

MARQUEZ: This is the $64 billion question. What is the federal government going to do?

The only thing they've said so far is they're reviewing the laws in both states. They're going to sit back and see how they are implemented and see where they can go from there. They've reminded both states that pot is still illegal on a federal level.

I think the concern is when you create these havens of legal pot in Colorado and here in Washington state and you have a black market around them, what's going on the effect? Are these going to be magnets for illegal pot? Are you going to have problems on the border and lots of pot out there?

It's not very clear right now. I think they're waiting and seeing how this goes.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to Miguel. Appreciate it.

Well, you know, Miguel's talking about marijuana and it got us thinking about the war on drugs. It's cost this country more than a trillion dollars since it was launched by President Nixon as the war on drugs 40 years ago. But the effort is increasingly being dubbed a failure and waste of money.

Here's former President Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, if the expected results that we eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narco trafficking networks, it hasn't worked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Maybe he regrets not inhaling.

President Clinton appears in a new documentary, "Breaking the Taboo," and one of the film's backers joins me.

Sir Richard Branson, his son Sam produced the (INAUDIBLE). Branson is also a member of the Global Drug Commission and I spoke to him just a few moments ago and asked him why he thinks the war on drugs is a failure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIR RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP: Basically, as big as a failure as Prohibition of alcohol was back in the '20s and '30s when the under world and Al Capone, reared its ugly head, where everybody was disobeying the law, by carrying on drinking. And it became almost more fashionable to drink with Prohibition than it would have been without Prohibition.

And so, you know, over the last two years, I've become part of something called the Global Drug Commission. It's got many ex- presidents on it. We've examined all the facts and the commission as a whole have said that we believe drugs should be treated as a health problem and not a criminal problem.

BURNETT: Well, you have an amazing statistic. In the op-ed you wrote for CNN, saying that we spend about $30,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate, people who would go to jail for drug use. But we spend an average of under $12,000 for public school students.

BRANSON: Yes, it's terrifying. I mean, there are I think 800,000 people who are in prison for smoking marijuana today in America, I mean, an enormous amount of people. It would be, you know, so much better if they were out of prison and being useful members of society.

We just put out a film -- putting out a film tomorrow, my son's made it, called "Breaking the Taboo", which puts across these alternative, different ways.

BURNETT: But to that point, what would you -- you know, if legalizing or allowing is part of solution here, what would you legalize? Just pot? Other drugs as well?

BRANSON: No, I think what the commission is saying and these are people who when they were in power, did not have the bravery to do something about it. They all accept that. Now, they're out of power, they've realized they made a big mistake not doing something when they were in power.

BURNETT: So, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.

BRANSON: Exactly. And so, you know, what they're saying is first of all, treat drugs as a health problem, not a criminal problem. So anybody who uses drugs, you know, do not lock them up. If they've got, if they use them in excess like if somebody uses alcohol, then help them.

BURNETT: There have been studies done on marijuana that show especially on younger people that it is often a gateway drug, that people who use it and get used to it will perhaps experiment with harder drugs, cocaine, heroine, whatever it might be. Is that something that worries you when you talk about regulating? Or do you think that that's not a fair concern?

BRANSON: I think the possibility that people who you can go out in the street to buy their marijuana are going to be pushed into other drugs by the drug pusher is considerable. I think if it's regulated and taxed and monitored properly by the authorities, you know, that goes away and it actually pulls the rug out from under the drug pushers.

BURNETT: What about the harder drugs, cocaine --

BRANSON: I mean, what we've simply proposed with the harder drugs is do what Portugal's done and that is let the state set up clinics throughout America that if you have a drug problem, you go to that clinic. And, you know, give them the methadone until their ready to come off and when they're ready to come off, use a drug clinic which costs a third of a price of a prison in order to get them back into society.

BURNETT: So, it's how you're treating them, but you're not making it legal to buy heroin or cocaine.

BRANSON: No, but what you've done by having the state provide it to these people who've got a problem is completely pulled the rug out from people who are pushing it.

BURNETT: Sir Richard, it's interesting when this country has the Office of National Drug Control, long acronym -- we have a lot of groups dealing with this. But when we asked them about the film and about the idea of sort of legalizing and focusing on drugs that way, they said, well, look, we spend more on drug education and treatment than they do on law enforcement.

What could they do better?

BRANSON: What they could do better is, simply, stop locking people up. I mean, if you are sent to prison, you end up in far worse state than if you were actually sent to a drug rehabilitation center and helped.

BURNETT: And let me ask you, because you're known as such a free spirit, right? Do you smoke marijuana?

BRANSON: I'm -- I was a '60s lad. I tried a split or two, you know, when I was a teenager.

BURNETT: Yes. BRANSON: I decided that drug -- that drink was my drug of choice. And so I prefer white wine or beer to marijuana. But, you know, whether children of mine do -- well, that's another story.

BURNETT: I'm sure, right? They're in the age where I suppose it can be.

All right, well, thank you very much. Really appreciate your time.

BRANSON: Thanks very much. Cheers. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Pretty interesting and serious topic, although he did say afterwards that he would want to try pot brownies.

"Breaking the Taboo" will be able on YouTube starting this evening. And we should mention, Sir Richard Branson's opinion piece on legalizing drugs is on CNN.com/opinion right now and it is amazing. Some of the statistics are unforgettable.

OUTFRONT next, violent protest in Egypt. The country's president, Mohamed Morsi, addressed supporters and protesters and buildings tonight are now on fire.

And Chris Christie goes to Washington -- hands out with the request for billions of dollars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And we are back with tonight's "Outer Circle" where we reach out to our sources around the world.

Tonight, we got to Cairo where protesters have set one of the main headquarter buildings of the Muslim Brotherhood on fire. This was following a speech by the President Mohamed Morsi. And tonight, President Obama spoke with Morsi on the phone, expressing his concerns about how violent the protests are.

I asked our Reza Sayah why Morsi's speech failed to calm anyone down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, Egypt and much of the world anxiously waited to see if President Morsi's speech would pacify the two sides and win over the opposition based on the reaction to the speech. It did not.

The president seemingly tried to do several things with this speech. He called for all political factions to get together and talk things out this coming Saturday. He also called for calm and he issued a stern warning to protesters to stop the violence.

But he did not back down from his key position, that is his controversial draft constitution will be voted on on December 15th and the controversial decrees that gave him additional powers, he did not reverse them. He said that will only happen after the referendum.

Immediately after his speech, opponents of the president called for his ouster outside the palace and one of the Muslim Brotherhood offices was torched in Cairo, sign that the conflict continues -- Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Thanks to Reza.

Now, to London where Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a man who has been called the world's greatest living explorer, is about to take on a major new adventure, crossing Antarctica on foot.

Becky Anderson spoke with Sir Fiennes and I asked her about the conditions he faces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, he is already considered the world's greatest living explorer. But that is not for Sir Ranulph Fiennes. He's 68-year-old British pioneer has today marked the start of the coldest journey on Earth. That is crossing the Antarctic on foot in winter.

Now, we are talking at 3,200 kilometers or about 2,000 miles in almost complete darkness in temperatures that plunge -- get this -- to minus 90 degrees Celsius. Now, that is a truly threatening expedition because as he told me, if anyone on his team gets injured, they are on their own.

SIR RANULP FIENNES, EXPLORER: If we run into problems like that, there is no help, because in an Antarctic winter, all the rescue facilities shut off. That's why every government, the Americans, the Germans, or any government, have rules you do not let civilians go down there in winter because if something happens, they will become an embarrassment to their government.

ANDERSON: Well, after four years, he has managed to get permission and his ship is on its way. He'll journey in South Africa and he told me there's just one thing he's looking forward to before he sets off and that is a long, hot, soapy bath. It will be his last for six months -- Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BURNETT: Wow, that is pretty incredible. All right. Thanks very much to Becky.

I guess, at least, you know, it's cold there, so if you don't take a bath for six months, you don't smell.

Let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's coming up on "A.C. 360". Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Erin.

We're keeping them honest tonight. A surprising case of why a treaty protecting the rights of disabled people around the world, the treaty that shouldn't have been a partisan issue, turned into one, failed to pass a Senate vote. Bob Dole supported it. John McCain did as well.

Last minute, a lot of the Republicans frankly killed it based on made-up facts. You'll hear from Ted Kennedy, Jr. tonight, who lost his leg to cancer to the age of 12. That's a picture of him with his dad taken about six years after he lost his leg.

Also, Gary Tuchman has been reporting on Warren Jeff's church, the FLDS, that sect. Tonight, a report that's as bizarre as it is troubling. Hundreds of children, take a look at this, they were picking pecans instead of being in school at the order of the jailed leader of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs. You see them -- they ran away when Gary showed up with a camera.

What's worse, the kids aren't being paid, but someone sure was and we'll tell you who it was and why.

We'll also talk to that freelance photographer who took the now infamous photographs of the man killed by that train in New York. We'll talk to him about whether he could have done more and what he saw through his lens and what other people did and did not do on that subway flat form.

That and, of course, the ridiculous, Erin, all at the top of the hour.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, we'll see in just a few minutes.

And now, our fifth story OUTFRONT, Jersey Shore meets fiscal cliff.

New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie, was at the White House and on Capitol Hill today asking for more funding for his storm-ravaged state. Now, the problem, of course, is that a Republican for more money from Washington has Republicans in Washington continue to slam the president for additional spending is -- well, perhaps problematic.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, whose own home state of New York was hit hard by superstorm Sandy, pointed out the irony of Christie's request today, saying, "It doesn't come at an opportune time because of the fiscal cliff, both the talks and the fact that we're short on money."

Will Christie's move hurt his party or not?

Roland Martin joins me, along with Reihan Salam.

OK, good to see both of you.

Reihan, let me -- let me ask you because I know you spoke very early on about how well you thought Chris Christie handled this storm, politically and every other way. But now, he's going and asking for federal funding as Republicans were trying to cut spending.

Is he hurting his own party?

REIHAN SALAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think whether you're a Republican or Democratic governor, you're always going to want to secure money from people who are not your own taxpayers but rather who are federal taxpayers. That's just a classic move. Now, is he undermining Republican Congress?

BURNETT: That's human nature, I guess.

SALAM: Yes, it sure is. And is it undermining Republicans in Congress? It probably is. But, frankly, Chris Christie is looking out for his own political future and it's really his only option.

New Jersey is in a very tight fiscal situation, partly because they have a balanced budget requirement. They can't run deficits the way federal government can, this is had a huge impact on the state economy.

And, frankly, I think you're also going to see more situations in which the Republican governors are going to be pitted against the Republicans in Congress, because those governors for example, they want that Medicaid money to keep flowing, they want that money that's going to go to state and locals in terms of stimulus.

I don't like it. Other conservatives nationwide might not like it. But governors are in a unique position, whether you're Republican or Democrat. And that's the basic pressure.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Come on! Please, please. OK. Can there really be one conversation where it is absolutely not so much all about politics?

Here's what I mean by that. If there was a natural disaster in South Carolina, Republican governor, Texas, Republican governor, Tennessee, Republican governor, they would be doing the exact same thing. The responsibility of a governor, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, is to serve the interests of the citizens of your state. Not your party.

And this is part of a problem, Erin. Not only that, those same members of Congress, guess what? The New Jersey delegation, I'm sure they're also saying, yes, governor, do this. The same thing if it was in Florida, some other state.

This is exactly what you do when you have a federal disaster. And so, it's not about party. It's about the people who are hurt, who have had their homes damaged. Not whether or not some politician can be able to say, oh, we don't like federal funding. SALAM: Well, Roland you and I are saying essentially the same thing. This is what governors are likely to do. The question is, is this actually a smart thing to do and the deeper problem is, when you look --

MARTIN: Yes.

SALAM: I disagree. When you look at state governments, when they don't -- when they're not on the hook for the money that you're spending, they're less likely to pursue responsible policies in the first place. You look at Florida. That's a state that's actually subsidizing development in flood-prone areas.

New Jersey is doing the same thing. They're rebuilding areas that super vulnerable to these storms.

BURNETT: That is a separate issue.

SALAM: That's very bad decision making and then you expect federal taxpayers to be on the hook for that, you don't make smart planning decisions about the future.

MARTIN: That is a whole separate issue.

SALAM: Covering their own butts, if you will. But they're doing something that's damaging the country as a whole and the fiscal future of the country as a whole.

MARTIN: Erin?

BURNETT: Yes?

MARTIN: When fires ravaged Texas, Governor Rick Perry was highly critical because he felt the federal government should have declared those emergency areas so they can qualify for what? Federal funds.

The bottom line is this here. When you have natural disasters, this frankly is natural, Democrat or Republican governors.

And again, forget the party. Governor Chris Christie should not be concerned about his political future. He should be concerned about the Republican National Committee. He should be concerned about every citizen in the state that he was elected to serve. His job, those are his constituents. That's his job.

SALAM: Well, look. I see where you're coming from but I think that we have to think about this in a broader sense. OK?

If every state is looking out only for itself, what they're going to do is they're going to free ride. They're going to engage in policies that damage everyone's wellbeing over the long term by looking out for their own re-election prospects. So, what I'm saying is that these guys --

MARTIN: Wait, wait. SALAM: -- are being really political rather than looking out for the long-term interests of the citizens, their states and also the country as a whole.

MARTIN: Last I checked --

(CROSSTALK)

SALAM: -- beforehand rather than subsidize development in really dangerous areas and when you have -- that's called moral hazard, and that's something that's bringing the country to its knees economically.

MARTIN: Last I checked you look out for yourself. I mean, whether you buy (INAUDIBLE), that's not a great idea. If you're in New York --

SALAM: That's public servants are supposed to do, Roland.

MARTIN: Actually, no. If you are in New York, you are concerned about New York and not about California. You do focus on where you are. That's the reality.

BURNETT: All right. We are going to hit pause there. Please let us know what you think about that conversation everybody on Twitter and our Facebook page.

OUTFRONT next: what's a bigger insult? What's a bigger insult, being called, you know, lame duck Congress or New York Jet?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Washington has gone scarily silent over the fiscal cliff. Most of our lawmakers have headed home. The left and the right aren't speaking to each other.

Of course, even though they're not talking to each other, that doesn't mean they're not talking about each other. Here's what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to say about Republicans today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's not one of my favorite teams but it's really, really fun to watch -- and that's the New York Jets.

Coach Ryan, he's got a problem. He has three quarterbacks. Sanchez, he's got Tim Tebow. He's a guy named McElroy. He can't decide who their quarterback is going to be. That's the same problem of the Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Wow. For those of you who don't live in New York or follow football, the New York Jets are a NFL team that is currently plagued by horrible things -- infighting, embarrassing losses, that culminated with quarterback Mark Sanchez's infamous butt fumble on Thanksgiving.

It -- yes. It shows how grim it is for the New York Jets since their name is now synonymous with failure and infighting. Even when they won by measly point, their hometown paper slammed them. Yes, I mean, that was when they -- that was when they won.

But this also shows how far the GOP has fallen. Since Mitt Romney's big loss last month the GOP has been in trouble, like the Jets. Infighting and losses have been a problem, finger-pointing and nastiness. And while the Republicans haven't quite experienced their own butt fumble yet, they might not be far off.

The Jets last game of the season is December 30th. One day before the fiscal deadline. They've got time. Jets, you've got time to triumph. It's time for the Jets and the GOP to take a long look at where you are and where you want to be. There. No buts about that.

"ANDERSON COOPER360" starts now.