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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Updates Plans for Possible Syria Strike; Are Rebels Ready for Chemical Strike?; Unemployment Rate Hits Four-Year Low; Battle Over Legal Marijuana

Aired December 7, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, an update on U.S. military plans amid new signs the Syrian regime could be on the brink of using chemical warfare. Our Arwa Damon is inside Syria right now. She's getting firsthand reaction.

Also, would you like to be able to use your cell phone while flying?

We have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

And a Jersey Shore home survives super storm Sandy, but vanishes in the days afterwards.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The United States is now updating plans for a potential strike against Syria due to U.S. intelligence showing the regime has filled aerial bombs with deadly sarin gas in at least two locations.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is getting new information for us from the Pentagon right now.

She's joining us with the very latest.

So what is the very latest on this disturbing development -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's emphasize, updating plans, potentially, if an attack is ordered. For Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the priority now is to determine Syria's intent.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): With the U.S. now believing the Syrian government has chemical-filled bombs, CNN has learned the Pentagon is secretly updating military strike options for President Obama in the event he orders action. A senior U.S. official tells CNN a strike could be carried out with the ships and aircraft already stationed in the region.

But planning is being driven by the latest intelligence, which U.S. officials say shows sarin gas has been loaded into aerial bombs in at least two locations near airfields.

Syria seems to have crossed the line drawn by the president last August.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

STARR: This week, that line shifted with warnings from the president, Secretary of Defense Panetta and others, focusing on what happens if Assad uses the weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see, these lines become sort of pink lines, right? You know, they're -- and they're not drawn with a, you know, a fine pencil. And they move around a little.

STARR: Military options for striking Syria spell out the case for why an attack might be called for. U.S. officials say there are multiple reports, more than just satellite imagery, confirming the aerial bombs. The regime is getting more desperate in recent days, as fighting has raged around Damascus, leading to worries al-Assad could order a deadly strike that could kill thousands. And unlike Iraq before the U.S. war, Syria's chemical weapons program is openly acknowledged by that government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These weapons are meant to be used only and strictly in the event of external aggression against the Syrian Arab republic.

STARR: But the president will also be warned of the risks. Civilians could be killed by a deadly release of gas if the sarin isn't all destroyed. Syrian air defenses could bring down U.S. pilots if fighter jets are used. The regime could move its chemical weapons even minutes before an attack.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: And, you know, Wolf, if those weapons start moving around, they become less secure. And that raises an additional dire consideration for the administration. They're watching around the clock to see if any terrorist groups are moving into these areas, trying to take advantage of all of -- of all of this and seize control of that deadly arsenal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are we getting any indications that U.S. warships or aircraft carriers might be moving in the Eastern Mediterranean, closer and closer toward Syria?

STARR: You know, not at the moment. For now, the U.S. Navy and the Air Force, in fact, maintain a number of aircraft around the Mediterranean. And as you well know, of course, in the Persian Gulf, there are also U.S. warships in the region, regularly, that can launch Tomahawk missiles that are guided very precisely to targets anywhere they are programmed to go. So if this became an extremist situation the firepower is on hand.

The good -- the military is updating the options, ready to give them to the president if he asks for them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thank you.

And Arwa Damon is joining us once again from Northern Syria -- Arwa, we now know the U.S. military has updated plans if President Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons.

Are the Syrians, the folks you're talking to in Northern Syria, civilians, the rebels, are they ready for some sort of potential chemical strike?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. Put quite simply, they are not. There's absolutely nothing that the population here can do to defend itself. This is a population that has struggled, at best, to even try to defend itself against the bullets, the artillery, the bombs.

And when it comes to a chemical weapon, there -- there really is nothing that they can do.

And that is why this is such a terrifying possibility. People are aware that the U.S. called it a red line. But that has been met with quite a fair amount of cynicism, because they say that the U.S. has issued red line warnings in the past and the Assad government really has not felt the repercussions of that.

People are incredibly frustrated, angry, terrified at America's position when it comes to the Syrian uprising. They feel as if the U.S. has effectively abandoned them to their fate. And many of them are also asking the question of why is the U.S. saying that these chemical weapons are a red line?

What of the 40,000 plus that have already died?

Does that not count for anything?

BLITZER: It's an amazingly shocking story that's going on.

And you managed to get out once again around Aleppo, around Northern Syria. And just a little while ago, you filed this report.

Let me play it for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): It's hard to fully absorb the scale of the devastation here, how entire buildings seem to have folded down upon themselves. And then one continues to see traces of the lives of the civilians that called these buildings home, like the clothing that's just hanging right there, or children's books, like this one -- the pages of it we picked up from the rubble.

But this conflict can be surreal. Just a couple of blocks away, the local barbershop is open, as are a handful of other stores. Women crowd around us, eager to talk -- but not be filmed. "Both sides have hurt us, wronged us," one says.

Basic supplies are available here, although prices have skyrocketed. "Bread, bread. We want it so badly. It's like a drug," this woman tells us. "If someone has breakfast, they can't afford dinner."

Please have mercy, they beg. On the street, we meet four boys from Amariya (ph). They ask if we think it's safe enough for them to go back home. They talk of tanks firing and seeing other children lose limbs. They say what they've witnessed has made them all decide to be doctors to save the victims of war.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And Arwa is still with us -- Arwa, when these folks in Northern Syria, they hear you're from CNN, what's their basic message to you, specifically to the United States, to President Obama?

I'm sure they've got some words they want to share.

DAMON: They most certainly do. They want to know why it is that the U.S. has effectively stayed silent for so long. They want to know why the U.S. is not supporting the Syrian opposition, why the U.S. has allowed the conflict to degenerate to such a degree where now they are dealing with certain Islamist groups. They want to know why the U.S. seems to be OK with the fact that so many people have died so far and allowed the suffering to really continue, because even when it comes to humanitarian aid, for example, there is very little of that that is actually coming in.

This issue of the rising cost of living, I cannot express how dire it has become. There are great concerns there are going to be riots over bread. We were down at one of the -- one of the bakeries earlier in the day, where the mob was around us, very angry, saying, "Enough, stop filming. You Americans, the world, you're watching our misery and you're mocking it."

That is just how desperate the situation here has become. And there is this growing sense of anger and frustration that's being directed at America and at the West, because by not somehow doing something that is going to end the violence, people view the United States as being as culpable for the deaths that are taking place as the Assad government itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's heartbreaking to see your reports, to read your Tweets, Arwa, when you talk about young kids who are on the verge of starving right now because they simply don't have enough food.

Take us a little bit in-depth. DAMON: Well, we were at one household, for example. And there were around 14 children crammed into it, ages six months on up to 10. The reason why there were so many children is that this was two families merging into one tiny little two bedroom home because their homes have been destroyed. They had been forced to live together in these incredibly cramped conditions -- Wolf, these children had not had a meal for 24 hours. One of the fathers had gone down to the bakery, waited for nine hours and was unable to get a loaf of bread. Other children in the streets begging to a level that you would never have even seen in Syria before all of this began. Now whenever we park our car, whenever they see somebody, children swarm around, asking for a little bit of money, for a piece of bread.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon is on the scene for us in Northern Syria.

We will check back with you, obviously, Arwa.

Be careful.

Thanks so much.

North Korea on the verge of launching an unprecedented second long-range rocket this year -- what it could reveal about stability in the country's mysterious regime.

Plus, pot smoking may now be legal in Washington State, but is Washington, DC about to get involved?

Just ahead, we have details whether the federal government may be ready to step in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The latest jobs report is coming as a surprise to some analysts. Despite the super storm, Sandy, the U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs for the month of November, with an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent. That's down from 7.9 percent in October. And it's the lowest unemployment rate since December, 2008.

Let's talk about it with our chief national correspondent, John King, and our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

Guys, thanks for coming in.

I don't know if you saw that "Wall Street Journal" article today saying maybe we're paying too much attention to these November...

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BLITZER: -- jobs numbers right now.

Did you see that piece?

KING: I did. And, sure, every month, if you pay attention to one month, you're paying too much attention. If you think one month is going to tell you the full scope of the United States economy, what was it like for a year, where is it going, more importantly, in the next year or two.

However, you do have a couple now of months of modest, if not a little bit better than modest, jobs growth. And so you have this somewhat encouraging news.

There are things to look at in this monthly report that are discouraging -- people still leaving the labor markets, people still uncertain about the long-term future.

But you do have the rate going down. You have somewhat more optimism in terms of the jobs market, just as the Congress faces the choices on the fiscal cliff.

BLITZER: So, how does it play into the fiscal cliff negotiation?

KING: Well, you would think it gives them all sobering sense of, you know, if we do the right thing, maybe the economy keeps growing, if we do the wrong thing, we might tip the United States, and some people think even the possibility of another global recession. So, you would think it would be a motivation to get things done.

However, if you listen to what they're saying publicly, if you make phone call as well to see if they're working out a deal privately, right now, there are some staff level conversations, but most of the big voices dug in.

BLITZER: You had a fascinating interview with Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monitoring Fund. I know the interview is going to air Sunday on "State of the Union," but let me play this little clip, because what happens in these fiscal cliff negotiations here in Washington could have a huge impact around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE LAGARDE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, IMF: There's still that degree of uncertainty that fuels doubt, that prevents investors, entrepreneurs, households from making decisions because they don't know what tomorrow will be. They know that a fix has been found for today, but there is still work to be done tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

So, it would be much better to actually have a more comprehensive approach and to deal with all of issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Americans should realize what happens around the world, because we export so much. So many American jobs are dependent on how the economies in Europe or Asia are doing. They're watching this very closely.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And one of the things she said that I found interesting, first of all as you heard, she says listen, this idea that, oh, let's have the middle class tax rates remain the same. We'll work the rest out next year. She going, no, this is -- you know, we really need a big approach here, because -- precisely because it does effect so many other economies in the global economy.

She was less bullish on the idea that Greece or Spain or anybody else in trouble might affect the U.S. economy. She said, you know, the problem with the U.S. is internal, and it becomes a world problem.

BLITZER: What do you think about the Supreme Court? They're now going to consider California's proposition 8. So, they're going to consider the whole issue of same sex marriage in the United States.

KING: I think it raises, obviously, to the highest court in the land a question that has bounced around the states with different verdicts. You have had a lot of states that had constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage. You've had California which has said yes, then has said no.

You had for the first time in this past election a couple of states actually pass it in a statewide referendum where previously whenever it had been on the statewide ballot it had gone down. So, this has been a question that has had different answers in different some states, and in some states different answers at different times within the same state.

So, the Supreme Court providing a road map is helpful in the sense -- if you want a 50 state solution. The question is, is that what the constitution calls for?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You know what's interesting, the president personally supports now same-sex marriage. He didn't used to, but now, he does. Will the Obama administration make the argument in favor of same sex marriage before the Supreme Court?

CROWLEY: My guess is that they may well be a friend of the court and do exactly that. I mean, you know, what everyone is hoping for is folks I talked to today on the side of legalizing in a federal way, same-sex marriage is, you know, this would settle it. What they worry about is you'll get a decision that's kind of like murky.

KING: And you have a huge split even with the conservative movement. There's the Dick Cheney approach, each state should decide. And then, there's a lot of the grassroots groups, they want a federal ban and -- George W. Bush push for a constitutional band. So, this is going to divide both sides of the debate, and we'll see what the court says.

BLITZER: We should know by next June when the Supreme Court adjourns for the summer. Candy, we'll see you Sunday on "State of the Union," 9:00 a.m., noon eastern, also every Sunday.

CROWLEY: That's true.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. CROWLEY: Thanks.

BLITZER: John, thank you.

A seat cushion is all that is left of one man's home after superstorm Sandy, but it wasn't the storm that obliterated his house. Stand by, you're going to see a devastating story right here in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Washington State is now become the first state of the country to let pot smokers light up legally, but a showdown could lie ahead with the federal government, which is vowing to enforce its drug laws.

Our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, is standing by. He's got some details. There seems to be a little war going on between the states, at least two states, Colorado and Washington state, and the federal government.

JOE JOHNS, CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And we don't know how it's going to work out, Wolf. They may be lighting up all over Washington State, but this is not a settled legal issue. The federal government already has the authority to start locking people up right now, it's just not clear whether, how, or when it's going to use that power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: There was euphoria the moment pot became legal in Washington state, but 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., the justice department and the White House are reviewing how the federal government should respond. At the moment, they're sticking to this statement from the U.S. attorney in Seattle, Washington, who would prosecute violations there.

Regardless of the state law, growing, selling or processing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. But several former DOJ officials who spoke to CNN said that likely won't be the end of it.

Former attorney general under President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, laid out the options facing Eric Holder and the justice department. Option one, lock the users up.

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Go into Washington State and arrest and prosecute those in possession of marijuana, and then wait for the defendant to say wait a minute, you know, I've got state law here that says this is not unlawful. And at that point, the department can raise issue of preemption and say, well, the federal government laws preempt state law in this regard.

JOHNS: Option two, fight it out in the courts. GONZALES: Sue the state of Washington and the state of Colorado. Take them to court and say -- just say outright that in this field, the federal government has preempted and that the law has to fall.

JOHNS: Option three, cut off federal money to law enforcement.

GONZALES: You simply start withholding federal grants to the state because of the fact that they're not helping the state enforce federal law.

JOHNS: Gonzales didn't mention option four, do nothing. Listen to former federal prosecutor, Mark Osler.

MARK OSLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think they should stand back. I think the best course of action here is to employ prosecutorial discretion at that macro level and let the states do what they will.

JOHNS: And just why would the Obama administration balk at enforcing federal laws that have been on the books for decades? There's the political consideration.

OSLER: Here, you've got two states that went for President Obama. Colorado was, in fact, a swing state. The people of those states have spoken. And for the federal government now to come in and say, we want to quash your pocket on mandate, there are political risks to doing that.

JOHNS: And there's also some precedent from medical marijuana, which is already legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (on-camera): But don't think that even medical marijuana is exempt from possible Department of Justice scrutiny. A case decided by the Supreme Court during the Bush administration saying the feds can go after that, too. President Obama, by the way, said earlier this year, we're not going to be legalizing weed any time soon.

BLITZER: So, this could -- this case could go up to the United States Supreme Court as well.

JOHNS: Absolutely. And what you started out with, this idea of states rights versus federal government prerogatives is a real clash and not even in the court are you going to get necessarily one voice.

BLITZER: See what happens on this one. Thanks very much.

The House speaker, John Boehner, says the ball is in President Obama's court to prevent the so-called fiscal cliff. But is he hinting at new room for compromise on hiking taxes on America's richest?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, is placing all of the blame on President Obama for another week lost in the race to stop the country from going over the fiscal cliff. But What the speaker didn't say in a news conference today could potentially be very significant. Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's got details. Dana, what happened?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, reckless, that was the word, very strong word that the speaker used to describe Timothy Geithner's comment this week that he's willing to go over the cliff if Republicans don't give on the issue of the tax rates for the wealthy.

But, I'm told by a Congressional source familiar with these talks that they've only had four, four staff level negotiations on the issue of the fiscal cliff, and that's why the speaker says the president is slow walking the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): The House speaker ended the week with a progress report. None.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: When it comes to the fiscal cliff that's threatening our economy and threatening jobs, the White House has wasted another week.

BASH: He and the president spoke by phone only once all week and it didn't produce much.

BOEHNER: Just more of the same. It's time for the president, if he's serious, to come back to us with a counteroffer.

BASH: But what may have been most notable was what Boehner did not say. He did not repeat his demand to keep tax cuts for the wealthy in place, the biggest issue that divides them. Instead, when asked, he said this.

BOEHNER: There are a lot of things that are possible to put the revenue the president seeks on the table, but none of it is going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on my way or the highway.

BASH: Aides to Boehner and the president who are doing the negotiating are tight-lipped, but other congressional sources suggest some possible compromise scenarios on the thorny tax rate issue. One, instead of raising the current tax rate for the wealthy from 35 percent to the pre-Bush era tax rate of 39.6, as the president wants, pick a middle ground in between, say, 37 percent.

Another, since Republicans are so concerned about small businesses getting hit by increased rates, follow a bipartisan Senate proposal from Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Susan Collins, now endorsed by Republican Olympia Snowe, as well, to protect small businesses from higher rates. Republicans privately are well aware they're losing the public opinion battle over raising rates for the wealthy. All week, Boehner tried to turn that around by making the president look unreasonable.

BOEHNER: The president has adopted a deliberate strategy to slow walk our economy right to the edge of the fiscal cliff.

BASH: Republican Ron Bonjean and Democrat Jim Manley were top congressional aides for years on opposite sides of many high-stakes negotiations.

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: When you have a very slow negotiation, you have to fill the public space up with communication, with images about what -- what your leaders are standing for.

BASH: But Manley, the Democrat, says from the president's perspective this time is different.

JIM MANLEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The president and his team will finally came to the realization that they can't negotiate with hostage takers, and that they've learned their lessons from the debt limit debacle last year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And on that point, although the speaker is saying over and over this week, Wolf, that the president has to give him a counteroffer for these negotiations to get going again, Democratic sources who are involved in these talks say they just don't see that happening. They don't see the president coming back to Republicans at all until Republicans signal privately or publicly that they're willing to give on those tax rates for the wealthy.

And on that note, I said in my piece that the speaker was very interesting that he didn't note that he still wants to keep those tax rates low, in his press conference. After his press conference, he did release a statement saying that his opposition to tax rate increases has not and will not change.

Very careful wording, though, his opposition certainly won't change. Doesn't mean he doesn't understand that with the art of compromise, he might have to compromise on that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. They don't have a lot of time to compromise, next week will be critically important in this entire issue.

Thanks, Dana. Thanks very much.

With Washington showing no signs yet that the fiscal cliff could be averted, fears for what could be at stake are escalating across the United States. CNN's Ted Rowlands has a closer look at one Midwestern city that could get hit particularly hard.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rock Island, Illinois, has a population of about 30,000 people. It is one of the quad cities. It sits along the Mississippi River on the Illinois-Iowa border. If Congress allows the country to go over the fiscal cliff, the effects felt here could be dramatic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): First and foremost, there's the Rock Island arsenal. If Congress doesn't act, Defense spending will be slashed by $55 billion next year, at $450 billion over 10 years, which many fear could put the arsenal in jeopardy.

Established in 1862, the arsenal is home to the Army Sustainment Command, the First Army, and the National Cemetery. It's also the largest government-run military manufacturing facility in the country. The arsenal is the area's largest employer, and though it's not clear how any cuts would impact the installation specifically, the mere prospect has people worried.

REAR ADM. SAM KUPERSIN, U.S. NAVY (RET.): There's approximately 8,000 jobs on arsenal island with the various commands that are located there, and the average salary, not including benefits, is about double on the island what it is off island.

ROWLANDS: Next is healthcare, another major employer in the quad cities. If Congress doesn't act, Medicare reimbursements will initially drop by 2 percent. Trinity Medical Center in Rock Island is already budgeting for the fiscal cliff.

RICHARD SEIDLER, CEO, TRINITY REGIONAL HEALTH SYSTEMS: We do have the 2 percent reduction in our budget for next year and we are not planning across-the-board job cuts. Any dramatic cuts that we -- where we do have to start looking at the number of people we employ has a significant effect on this community.

ROWLANDS: Other possible fiscal cliff cuts that could hit Rock Island include the Army Corps of Engineers, they're here in part to manage the locks along the Mississippi. There's cuts to public education, which the National School Board Association said could have a profound effect if Congress doesn't act. And there are potential cuts to social services. More than 12 percent of Rock Island's population lives below the poverty line.

And of course, there are the tax hikes. At Theo's Coffee Shop, people have a lot to say about Washington, D.C. and the fiscal cliff. James Cheeks says he is counting on Congress to prevent his taxes from going up.

JAMES CHEEKS, TAXPAYER: Scary. You know, it's scary. Where is that money going to come from, you know? How am I going to pay that extra tax hike?

ROWLANDS: One booth over, Ted and Gus say they don't think Congress can avoid the cliff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope so, but I don't see it yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we're going to have standoffs, we're going to have that do-nothing Congress, it's going to be awfully tough to get anything done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: The potential effects of the fiscal cliff here in Rock Island, Illinois, aren't necessarily any better or worse than in other cities around the country.

The bottom line, Wolf, of course is if Congress fails to act, the repercussions will be felt across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands in Rock Island, Illinois, for us. Thank you.

Imagine being able to use your iPad, your cell phone in the air whenever you want. Up next, we have details on a new government effort under right way now to keep you plugged in all the time, including on takeoff and landing, while flying. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So do you hate turning off your iPad, your other gadgets after you board a flight? The FAA is now getting a major push to allow the use of electronic devices.

CNN's Tory Dunnan has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your mobile phones and other electronic devices should be turned off.

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you're a flyer, you've heard the warning. And for travelers like Brandon Shelton, (ph) who likes to stay connected, it doesn't sit well.

BRANDON SHELTON, TRAVELER: Laptop. IPad. IPad keyboard. IPhone.

DUNNAN (on camera): That's a lot.

SHELTON: Yes. Adds some weight to the bag.

DUNNAN (voice-over): Now the FCC, the agency behind cell phone bans in the air, is encouraging the FAA to allow greater use of electronics during flights.

STEVE MIRMAN, TRAVELER: I use it. I don't necessary do it. But it's a rule. What are you going to do?

DUNNAN: The FCC chairman says mobile devices empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient.

It's a government effort to balance what passengers want and safety concerns. Airline pilots can use iPad flight manuals, begging the question, if they can, why can't we? CAPT. DAVID CLARK, AMERICAN AIRLINES: When we use this device, all of the transmission capability is turned off. The problem in the -- in the cabin is that there's so many possible combination of personal devices, cell phones and iPads, that the industry hasn't come up with an acceptable test standard to truly determine if in those infinite combinations there's interference.

DUNNAN: A recent study noted 75 instances in which consumer electronics were suspected of disrupting airplane systems. Some are skeptical.

MIRMAN: I don't think it really affects the planes any. So I look at it as kind of an optional rule, if that makes sense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think someone needs to prove to me that it's really an issue. I don't know if it's true or not.

DUNNAN: Carl Biersack with a cell phone advocacy group wants to take this one step further.

CARL BIERSACK, INFLIGHT PASSENGER COMMUNICATIONS COALITION: Just people do more than just iPad and the nook. They actually want to talk to someone, that's what a cell phone is about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DUNNAN: And, Wolf, right now, there are about 20 international airlines that allow cell phone usage. It's hard to say if and when this might happen domestically. But, Wolf, many passengers say they're just not interested in it.

BLITZER: Tory Dunnan, reporting for us at Reagan National Airport. Tory, thanks very much for that.

North Korea -- yes, North Korea now planning an unprecedented second long-range rocket launch. What could it reveal about the country's new mysterious leaders. Stand by. Bill Richardson will join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A lot of eyes on the Korean Peninsula right now. North Korea could launch a long-range rocket as soon as Monday. Already U.S. warships are moving into position. Japan is getting ready its Patriot Air Defense missiles.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

What's going on, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, between our sources and satellite images, we know that fuel trucks are on the launch site, that the rocket stages are being assembled, and that North Korea's launch window opens at 5:00 on Sunday, a little less than 48 hours from now. We also know that the U.S. Navy is in the process of moving up to four ships into position. Mostly to monitor the launch. But if fragments do veer off course, they would be in position to defend some of our allies in that region.

Also due to that concern, Japan is also mobilizing a couple of its Patriot missile batteries, only in the event that it has to shoot down some fragments that veer off over Japanese territory.

But right now, from what we know, we expect this launch to follow the same path mostly as its failed launch in April. And in that case, take a look. It would fly south, not east over Japan. And if it works, the first stage of the rocket would fall somewhere off the coast of South Korea. The second stage of the rocket would fall in the Philippines or near the Philippines.

Now a satellite is very lightweight compared to a one-ton nuclear war head, but a lot of the technology used to put a satellite in orbit is also the same technology you can use to develop long-range ballistic missiles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because that failed launch in April, what, it stayed in the air less than a minute or so? Is -- are they basically trying to do the same thing now that they failed to do then?

LAWRENCE: There's a lot of, you know, speculation about that and a lot of experts think that this is a very quick turnaround. That launch lasted was -- went so quickly there was very little chance to learn much of anything from it. There is a possibility that there was one failed part that the North Koreans have identified. Some are also speculating that they timed their launches, you know, in accordance with certain events.

In this case, we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the death of Kim John-Il, so that could be a motivator for this. But a lot of experts say because of the technology involved and the difficulty in getting these launches to succeed, trying to time them to specific historical events is usually not a good way to go about things -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson. I traveled with him to North Korea exactly two years ago.

Ambassador, you have been to North Korea a few times. What's the motive here, what are the North Koreans trying to achieve?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, anybody that speaks with certainty about North Korea totally unpredictable state. Here are three scenarios that I potentially see. One, the new leader, Kim Jong-Un, wants to send a message domestically that he presides over a powerful military and space operation. Secondly, that that space launch failed and this one will not. Another reason might be the presidential elections in South Korea, which are December 19th.

Maybe they want to influence or disrupt them. The third is the traditional North Korea action to get attention. Here we are. We've been out of the headlines, the Middle East, Gaza, rockets there, we're back. And this is what we're capable of doing.

Those are the three potential reasons that I see. The most likely one being Kim Jong-Un still pursuing that internal legitimacy. He seems to have the support of the military, of the political elite, but he still wants to show his people that he governs a powerful nation that wants to show its muscle.

BLITZER: He is approaching, as Chris said, the first anniversary of his rule in North Korea. This is a subject, though, that the world is watching and focusing on right now. How should the international community react once this launch takes place, assuming it's successful?

RICHARDSON: Well, I would say the launch will happen. There's always a chance they put it off but I think it'll happen. Obviously, it's a test of missile technology. The international community, the Security Council, is going to invoke probably more sanctions, Japan, the United States and South Korea will pursue additional individual sanctions.

It's an act, again, of defiance of the North Korean leader, but I have said before on your program that there is something about this guy that may be educated in the United States, at the same -- educated in Switzerland. Talking about reigniting the six-party talks.

You know, maybe he's testing himself domestically in order to be able to internationally seek better reconciliation with the six-party countries with the United States. That's my hope, but one of the things you learn about North Korea is never predict what they're going to do next.

BLITZER: That's a good advice. You know, a lot of people have studied Kim Jong-Un in the year that he's been in power now. And I keep getting from so-called experts a lot of conflicting advice. Some say he's open to some moderation, some changes, others say he's going to be hardline like his father. What do you think?

RICHARDSON: I think I would offer that this is a more pragmatic, open minded, he was educated in the West, he speaks English, he speaks possibly another language. He has more -- he is a leader. You see him talking to his people with more comfort. He was open about the failure of the last launch.

I'm not advocating for him, I'm just saying that -- I just think this guy may be different, and we've got to be very sensitive about what he does. But if he does take this action, it's going to bring consequences from the international community.

BLITZER: And quickly, if he fails, if this launch fails, what does that do to his rule?

RICHARDSON: Well, it hurts him domestically. It shows that technologically in the areas of military technology, missile technology, he is trying to say that this is a peaceful use of technology, that he's expanding his space capability. It's going to hurt internally. But as long as he keeps the support of the military, which seems to be backing him very strongly, as long as he see -- keeps the support of a politpro (ph), the political elite there, he is not going to be seriously challenged.

BLITZER: Bill Richardson, thanks very much for your expertise.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: He saw his house in a photo just after the Superstorm Sandy hit but days later this. You can see it. This is all that's left. What happened here? Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And this just coming into the SITUATION ROOM. We're learning the White House is requesting $60.4 billion for states affected by the Superstorm Sandy. This as thousands of homeowners are still struggling to recover from the devastation.

Mary Snow now has the unbelievable story of one man whose home survived the storm's wrath, but not what came next.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you see one mangled home after another in this community of Ortley Beach. This area was so hard hit that residents are only allowed back in every three days to reclaim their possessions. But that's a lot more than one man got after he returned home to find out that his home had been bulldozed, and he hadn't gotten the chance to reclaim anything.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on camera): This is what you came home to.

NICK MARIA, HOME DESTROYED: Yes. This is what I came home to.

SNOW: Two weeks after the storm.

MARIA: Yes.

SNOW (voice-over): Nick Maria expected devastation, but not this. A seat cushion is all that's left of his family's summer home. Days after Sandy hit, Maria saw this photo of his house on his property off its foundation. Two weeks after Sandy Maria and his neighbors were finally allowed back into the area to reclaim possessions. But his house had been bulldozed.

MARIA: Everyone else was here that week, that day, and I felt like a lost soul. Everybody is taking clothing out in their luggage, taking pictures out, whatever they could stuff in, and I had nothing to take. That was a shock.

SNOW: A long with shock came frustration over a lack of answers. Prompting Maria to enlist the help of a lawyer. It turned out the state's Department of Transportation bulldozed roughly two dozen homes and structures citing safety hazards. Some were blocking roads and access to emergency vehicles. The DOT showed us this photo of a house in the street rammed up against Maria's house. A spokesman said the decision to bulldoze homes was done with heavy hearts. Adding, "This was one of those homes that was pushed off its foundation and thrown against another house that had come to rest in the middle of the street. Our crews with local officials, law enforcement, and state police, fully aware, and monitoring our actions, determined they had no other choice but to remove both damaged structures in the interest of public safety."

(On camera): Nobody came to you and said we want to take this house down?

CHIEF MICHAEL MASTRONARDY, TOWNS RIVER POLICE: No.

SNOW (voice-over): Police Chief Michael Mastronardy says he was not aware of which homes were being knocked down, but said he was told about 20 homes were. Some of the questions about Maria's house is, was it such a danger that it had to be knocked down immediately? And was it blocking the road? The chief says, he's turned to prosecutors and other state officials seeking answers.

MASTRONARDY: Well, I think the concern comes about where the house was located, obviously, and then the fact remains, certainly, if it's your house, my house or everybody's house said you'd like the opportunity to get whatever valuables you can out of it. And that seems to be a reasonable question. That's going to be reviewed.

SNOW: As for Maria, with the summer home he built 15 years ago for his family now dust, he isn't sure what's next.

MARIA: The hard part is not knowing. Not knowing what happened. And having no control. They took my control away. They could have called me out. They know where to send the tax bill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)