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Legalizing Marijuana; Obamacare Rollout Troubles; NSA Scandal

Aired October 29, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to "AC360 Later."

We have got a lot on the table tonight, the latest on what the Obama administration knew about the NSA surveillance. Also ahead, support for legalizing marijuana is at an all-time high so to speak. And should school -- thank you.


COOPER: Try the veal. I will be here all week.

Should schools send home letters telling parents their kids are overweight, fat letters a lot of people call them? We will be talking about all of that tonight.

But we begin with Obamacare under fire still yet again with the Affordable Care Act already off to an inauspicious start. The trouble just keeps on coming. A report obtained by CNN now shows the Obama administration was warned that was not ready to go live.

And it looks like one of the president's mantras, if you like your health plan, you can keep it, may not be true for some 15 million Americans. The question is, does the White House have a message problem or is a lot more?

Joining me now on the panel, Andrew Sullivan, founder editor of The Dish. His Web site is CNN political commentator and "New York Times" op-ed columnist Charles Blow. In the fifth chair tonight, "New York Times" op-ed columnist Frank Bruni.

Let's start with chief national correspondent John King, who is in Washington.

John, it is remarkable. This president time and time again said if you like the insurance you have, you can keep it. It will not change. It will not go away. Now it seems like that is technically not true. Not even technically not true, just not true for some 15 million Americans because the kind of insurance that they have, which is a very basic form of insurance, does not meet the new requirements under the Affordable Care Act and therefore has to be replaced.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And so, Anderson, Web site has been a political problem the administration says will go away and all will be fine. This is much more of a personal policy problem. Back when the president was saying those things, it was kind of like an ad for a new drug.

Yes, there were the flowers and roses and nice soft music and everything's promised it will be great. Then at the end, they kind of mumble not everything might not be perfect. Some in the administration did say, of course there would be some changes. When you bring such dramatic policy changes to the market, of course some people would have to change, but most people would get to keep these.

But now that this is real, now that people are enrolling, now that people at work are getting their open enrollment for next year and this is happening, it's a giant credibility test for the president. And the insurance industry -- consider the source -- but the insurance industry says it's the administration's fault, that as they were doing this time the insurance industry said you guys are writing the regulations too strict. You're going to affect people, you're going to knock people off their plans and you promised not to do that.

What the industry says is the administration said, we got this. We don't need to listen to you. We're fine. Now they have a problem.

COOPER: And I want to play what Jim Acosta -- he had an exchange with Jay Carney at the White House today. Let's listen to that.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did the president mislead the American people when he made that comment repeatedly?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jim, no, the president was clear about a basic fact.

If you had insurance that you liked on the individual market and you wanted to keep that insurance, through 2010, '11, '12, '13, and in perpetuity if you wanted it and it was available you could. You were grandfathered in.

What no health care reform could envision or could responsibly stipulate is that any plan that might come along in the next few years would be grandfathered in because that would undermine the basic premise of providing the minimum benefits for the American people.


COOPER: Andrew, what about this? Should the president have been clearer and not said so categorically if you like your plan, you can keep it?

ANDREW SULLIVAN, ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: Of course he should have. It's obviously a small proportion of most Americans.

You can have all sorts of caveats about this. If you really have a bare-bones insurance plan that doesn't meet the standards of the ACA, you're going have to change it. You're going to have to upgrade it. The technical issue, whether the day before 2010, you could keep the same plan, everything else was grandfathered in, but the plan itself would be amended, you keep the same plan, as opposed to different plan, look, it wasn't a lie, but it was something -- well, I'm not sure we can say on CNN.

Can you say B.S. on -- it was B.S. It wasn't exactly a lie.


ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In Democrat speak, it's called malarkey.

CHARLES BLOW, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, come on. No, no, no.

NAVARRO: John, I want to ask you something, because what Jay Carney was just talking about being grandfathered in. As I understand it, the law did grandfather in plans that people had before March 2010.

But then HHS wrote regulations that narrowed down the definition so much that a lot of those plans that were grandfathered in fell out of the grandfather clause and people are losing those plans.

KING: Anything Washington does -- we always focus on the legislative battle, actually finding enough votes to pass the bill. The real test and the real policy challenge in Washington is always writing the regulations, especially when it's something so complicated.

That is what is happening now. And I think Andrew hit it right on the head. Is it a lie? It was certainly the intent of the administration that if you have a plan and you like it, you could keep it. But they are the ones writing these rules now, and some people are getting knocked off. In this political environment, that's a personal policy challenge for anyone who's being hassled by this.

They might even realize in a year or two they liked their plan better. It's either the same amount of money, a little less or not so much more. But at the moment, it's a personal hassle on something that's incredibly personal to you, your health care. For Republicans, it's T-ball.

COOPER: Charles, it could cost some people more money. They might get subsidies.


BLOW: It will cost some people less money. And I think that that I think is the bigger failure here, which is that you want to disclose why you're on offense. You don't want to have to make up for it when you're on defense. Now you're on defense and somebody else has brought this to the public attention and they're having to deal with this on defense.

That's not the position that the administration wants to be in. The president could very easily have said -- and this would not have been a big deal to say, the vast majority of Americans will be able to keep their health care as it exists now under Obamacare. And for the small number, 5 percent of the insurance market, that...


COOPER: Do you think they knew?

FRANK BRUNI, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, that's a really good question.

John mentioned the word credibility. I think there's an accretion of things happening that make it feel like Obamacare is unfolding in a way that administration never even saw. We have the Web site disasters, we have these numbers of people who are losing their plans, which these numbers seem much higher than anything that was suggested.

And I think Americans, and certainly I'm getting the sense that the administration kind of really didn't see clearly what the consequences of its own signature initiative would be.


NAVARRO: I don't know about that, Frank. You know, this thing about not knowing things is getting a little old.


BRUNI: I'm not saying it's OK.


NAVARRO: Doesn't know about the IRS, doesn't know about NSA, doesn't know about Obamacare.


NAVARRO: ... the commander in chief of the United States.

BLOW: It may not be a good look, but I think this is a missed opportunity, right, which is that the vast majority of the people who are not -- who buy their insurance on the individual marketplace are single. Those are -- that's a Democratic voting bloc, right?

Almost half of them are below 40 years old. The youngest group is a Democratic voting bloc. You could have said this and be talking to the people who are generally on your side anyway, so that you could have said this and taken away this Republican talking point that says I'm speaking for the American people. But they're not speaking for the American people. They're speaking for people who are not really affected by this.


COOPER: John, the administration says they knew about this, right?

KING: Well, the administration was told about this. The administration was told about this as the regulations were being written, A., from the outside from the insurance industry, B., from the inside from some of their own people.

Then the question is how high up the chain of command did that go? That is one of the big things Ana just touched on in Washington right now. Secretary Clinton said she was never told about the security warnings in Benghazi. The president said he was never told about Angela Merkel's phone and things like that. The president says he wasn't told about the Web site problems.

Let's assume all that is true. It raises questions about the culture of the management. Don't you want the boss to know when there are things happening that could undermine his signature domestic initiative or could undermine an important relationship in the world? So the Republicans are going to do right now to this president what Democrat did to George W. Bush at about the same point, not only raise the credibility question but the competence question.

COOPER: I want to talk more about that really in our next block. But just on Obamacare, I guess one benefit for the administration is it certainly knocked off the front page all the mess-ups with the Web site. This is not really the way you want to go about...


BLOW: That's actually not a good thing. I think it's a problem to conflate all these things together. These are really separate issues.

But if the boss is going out and over and over saying something that somebody in the administration knows not to be true, that's a very different animal. And I think, at that point, absolutely someone has to step forward and say, hey, you know, you keep saying this one thing.


COOPER: One at a time.

NAVARRO: Either his staff is keeping him in a bubble of ignorant bliss...

BLOW: I don't believe that.

NAVARRO: ... or they're claiming to be keeping him in a bubble of ignorant bliss. Neither of the two are good.

COOPER: Andrew, you were saying?

SULLIVAN: I would just love the politics that Obama kind of promised where people could say at the get-go, look, we're doing health care reform. There will be some losers and there will be some winners. The losers are going to be the current free riders, the people who are scamming the system without paying into it through insurance. The winners will be all those people who are out there who of are limited income who desperately need health insurance and cannot now afford it. The real problem right now it seems to me is that with these stories coming out, you want those people to go on that Web site to see what subsidies they're going to get.

COOPER: And they can't.

SULLIVAN: And they can't.

So they can't even tell if this premium increase is going to be compensated by the subsidies.


BLOW: There are other ways to do it. We have to keep saying that.


SULLIVAN: Come on.


COOPER: You're talking about the toll-free number?

BLOW: There's numbers. There's centers.


NAVARRO: You call one of those toll-free numbers...


NAVARRO: They still have to go and put night a computer. And they're having trouble.

COOPER: Right. That toll-free operator still has to be able to log onto the Web site, which still has all the problems.

BLOW: What I'm saying is that I think if you knew there was a problem with the Web site, which I think somebody knew, right, you could have delayed the Web site portion.

COOPER: Which they could have. But Kathleen Sebelius is saying the law said October 1, but that's not really the case.


BRUNI: Can we pull back here for a second? This is his signature thing, this is his main thing, and this is also a long- awaited chance to do something approaching universal health care.


BRUNI: It may be the last chance politically in a long while. And all this stuff is going wrong that feels like it should have been preventable.


COOPER: You reported this on your Web site. This is from the administration which had a vaunted Web effort during...


COOPER: Can you imagine during the campaign if their Web site had been like this during the campaign? Do you think they would have stood for that?


SULLIVAN: The whole point of them was they knew the Web. They were able to reach these people, especially these young people. These young people are critical to the success of this venture. And they screwed it up.


BLOW: Can you imagine what it would have been if the Obama campaign Web guys were working on ACA?

COOPER: There are other smart web guys and girls and women.


BRUNI: ... secretary gave your network, they didn't have the A- team on the table.


COOPER: Sebelius is now telling Sanjay Gupta, we're going to bring in our A-team now.


BRUNI: We didn't have A-team for his signature...


SULLIVAN: Here's one explanation. When Obama was asked once what his basic deepest flaw was, he said, deep laziness. And I wonder whether this is not the equivalent of that first debate last year. The guy just didn't focus. Playing too much golf.

BRUNI: How could you not focus?


BLOW: You like to hear yourself say stuff like that, don't you? Just go ahead and admit it.


SULLIVAN: You seem to like it a lot.


COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. But we're actually -- we're going to get some more on this.

Also coming up, spying on our friends. U.S. intelligence officials admit it's been going on for decades. Should we really be so shocked at all and should we be doing it? We touched on it.

Also, what does the NSA story and the Obamacare mess actually say about the president's management style or lack thereof some would say? We will discuss that around the table coming up.


COOPER: Welcome back. Tweet us using #AC360Later.

The nation's top NSA officials went before the House Intelligence Committee today, fallout from the alleged NSA friends and allies phone plan. Without copping to specifics -- it's not actually called that -- without copping to specifics, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in so many words yes, of course, we spy on our allies. They spy on us. It's been going on for decades.

Is it naive to expect otherwise? Back with our panel.

Is this what just countries do to each other?

BLOW: I think on some level you should expect that, right? How you're supposed to take your allies' words that they're always going to be allies? If you can do it, you do it. I think that's just natural.

I think the bigger issue is that it's a P.R. disaster on top of the P.R. Disaster. Now you have an international P.R. Disaster? That's just -- it's coming precisely at the wrong time for the administration. But I think it's a normal thing.


SULLIVAN: I don't think it's just a P.R. disaster, Charles.

I think it's this NSA system set up under Bush and Cheney which Obama has refused to stare down. I think it's a juggernaut that's out of control. It Hoovering up so much information. It has untrammeled powers and it's taken this kind of surveillance to a whole new comprehensive level that picks up all the stuff.

BLOW: The fundamental principle has not changed, which is that if you could spy on any world leader, you would do it.


SULLIVAN: We were doing that before the NSA was put on steroids before 9/11. (CROSSTALK)

BLOW: Before it even existed.

NAVARRO: And, by the way, if they could spy on us they would, too. Some of them probably do. So let's just face the reality that, yes, in 2013 and before, spying does happen between countries, between spouses, between bosses and employees. It happens with this technology.

What we're seeing, I think, is that in the ideal world, this shouldn't happen between friends. So the realists...


BLOW: I think that's naive, that friends thing.

NAVARRO: And realism and idealism are not meshing.

BLOW: The idea your friends are always your friends when you're talking about international geopolitical politics, I just -- I'm not with that. I do take your point on the fact that I think the NSA is ridiculously out of control, and I don't think that anyone really knows the extent of what's happening.


NAVARRO: It breaks the international community's image that they had formed the perception of President Obama. Here he is, the constitutional...

BLOW: Did they think that he really stopped all spying on people?

NAVARRO: No. I'm not saying what they thought.


BLOW: They can't even believe that. Nobody believes that.

NAVARRO: Remember candidate Obama standing in Berlin in front of those hundreds of thousands of people.

If Dick Cheney were doing this, if we found out that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were doing this, nobody would bat an eyelash.


SULLIVAN: They were. It started in 2002.

NAVARRO: And nobody bats an eyelash about it, right? But when the constitutional scholar, the idealist, the poetic man...


SULLIVAN: She grew up in East Germany, where the Stasi would tap everything. So there is a cultural clash here.

My own view about this that I have given up. I'm just like, OK, take whatever you want. I think the transparency that one requires in this new media and in this new world, I'm just saying -- I just have totally given up. I have no expectations of privacy at all.


SULLIVAN: I don't even care.


BRUNI: I'm reading your e-mails right now.


SULLIVAN: Someone probably is. It's easily done.

I'm staggered by how much they can do. So at some point, this is also a general cultural adjustment to new technologies and the ability to -- I mean, these are not documents on paper that are securely -- these are things you could tap into anywhere. Sorry.


BRUNI: No, no, I was going to say I think one of the reasons there's not more public outrage about this is a lot of people feel the way you do. We kind of all know that we're living in an era. We still send e-mails we wouldn't and we still send text messages we shouldn't.

But we all sort of know in the back of our heads we're living in an era where any true complete, expectation of complete privacy is...


COOPER: I do want to bring in David Gergen, who is joining by remote as well. David is CNN senior legal -- or -- excuse me -- political analyst, I should say.

It's interesting, David, because you look at a country like France which actually does a lot of spying on the United States, particularly for trade secrets, particularly for private companies, France is well-known. Obviously, China does tremendous amounts as well. But I was surprised to learn about France's extensive spying efforts and seemed to be kind of unapologetic about it.


Anderson, I think there are two separate issues here. One is whether we should be trying to spy on Angela Merkel and the way the French try to spy on us, other nations try to spy on us. I would have to say that's a close call. But it ought to be done very thoughtfully.

And if you are spying on the personal cell phone of the pivotal player, the most important leader in Europe, you would do that with great care and would take into account the consideration about whether if it's exposed how much it will hurt you in Germany, because to go back to Andrew Sullivan's point, this is a hugely hot issue in Germany, given the Nazi background and given the Stasi.

But the other issue is, the White House on something as serious as this, said the president didn't know, he didn't realize. He was never told.

COOPER: Do you buy that, David?

GERGEN: It is almost inconceivable to me.

We now knew that the White House knew. It would be a gross negligence of the part of a high White House official not to tell president and to weigh that in some meeting. Mr. President, we have 35 different leaders we're now spying on. Do we really want to continue that or not? I think it's really, really hard to believe the president didn't know

SULLIVAN: If you take two models of presidential governance, like take Jimmy Carter, who was famously scheduling the tennis courts in the White House, total mastery of every tiny, granular detail, we didn't like that, or Reagan, who seemed to sail through everything and didn't even know we were trading arms for hostages or managed to talk himself into not believing he was doing it, and I think Obama is more Reagan than Carter, to tell you the truth.

I think that's his model. I'm not sure that every single detail -- not sure it could, when you think of how vast this stuff is, how many things are in this NSA -- I don't want the president to be...


NAVARRO: This is not minute detail. This a giant issue with international implications.

COOPER: If it's also so ineffective that it hasn't produced interesting intelligence that the president has been made aware of, why is it still going on?


NAVARRO: They should have been listening in on Berlusconi. He would be interesting to listen to.

COOPER: But, David, you would think the risk involved of tapping the phone of the chancellor of Germany would require somebody, the president to know about it or at least to know where intelligence is coming from at a certain point.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

And, listen, it may not come in the daily briefings from the CIA and everything like that, but there is a time when you become president when you get serious briefings about everything that's going on in the government, because you're suddenly being let into the inner sanctum. And they tell you all the secrets. You have a chance to ask.

It's just inconceivable to me something this big didn't come into his attention. Now, the question is, why would they pursue it? What this shows is, actually, as important as Angela Merkel is, as important a friend as she is, they don't quite trust her. They don't quite trust her relationships with the Russians. She's a little soft on that. They don't quite trust where she is on Iran, because they think she's a little soft on that.

They're not quite sure where she is on some of the E.U. issues, economic issues. That's what really burns inside the German chancellery. After all this, they don't quite trust her. We send out all these millions of people to greet him when he became president, as Ana Navarro said, and you still don't quite trust...


BLOW: I don't think it's personal.

And I think every disclosure we have gotten out of the Snowden disclosures, all of them have been major. This idea that this one particular one because he didn't know about it is somehow bigger than the rest, they're not. The NSA seems to be scooping up everything that they have not been told specifically not to do.


COOPER: Do you think he's a traitor for doing what he did, Snowden? Or do you think it's done damage to the United States?

BLOW: I think it probably has done some damage.

I think this idea that -- as an American citizen, I do want to know these sorts of things, but I think that if you're in charge of keeping us safe, that's a whole other calculus. They know things that we don't know. I'm not privy to those things.


SULLIVAN: Let's say you just run a company. Could you run a company with total transparency, everything that you internally decide, the salaries of people, the different meetings? Do you think all those could be out there?

And that's why I have -- I'm sympathetic because I think what it's done, what Snowden has done is blow the whistle on this out-of- control NSA. And the system is working. The Congress is going at it. The White House is finally getting the spine to stand up to the CIA and the NSA, which he hasn't had before.

But, in general, this stuff is going have to happen at some degree, at some level. I'm tired of the pious notion that just because you have secrets, you're wrong. You're not.


GERGEN: Hold on one second. Wait a second.

But the NSA reports to the president. The intelligence agencies report to the president. If they're out of control, that's the president's responsibility to get them back under control. To say they're out of control and therefore the White House says they can't be blamed for this, I'm sorry. He's in charge. The buck stops there.

It does not start -- stop at the NSA.

SULLIVAN: You're the president and you know when you're entering a post-Bush world that you have got to avoid a terror incident.


GERGEN: This is not about George W. Bush.

SULLIVAN: No, it is, I'm afraid.


GERGEN: No, it's not. Intelligence issue, the CIA issues go way back into the '60s and '70s.


NAVARRO: But, Andrew, he's been president now for five years. When do we stop blaming Bush? How long do we...


SULLIVAN: Bush's damage was so immense.

NAVARRO: He's going to be dead and buried and you're still going to be blaming Bush.

SULLIVAN: Well, I will for many things, because a lot of what we're dealing with in future generations can be traced to that disastrous presidency.


NAVARRO: He's had six years to find out. He's had six years to make a decision.


BRUNI: Andrew's making a bigger point than Bush.


NAVARRO: ... to stop it, to change it.

(CROSSTALK) BRUNI: Andrew's making a bigger point than Bush that shouldn't be lost here. He's saying we have worries about terrorism and we as voters, as citizens, have expectations of being kept safe from it.

And yet we don't want to hear about anything untoward happening in that apparatus that keeps us safe. And there's something a little bit adolescent about the expectation that we be kept safe, but nothing weird happen in the service of keeping us safe. That's what you're saying.


BLOW: Amen. Amen.

COOPER: David Gergen, great to have you on.

Up next, should marijuana be legal here in the United States? For the first time, a majority of Americans absolutely. I will toke it up with the panel. Or, actually...


BRUNI: Toke it up?


COOPER: Take it up next.



COOPER: Hey. Welcome back.

For the first time, a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana. According to a recent Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans say pot should be legalized. That's a 10 percent jump since this time just last year. That's a huge jump in a year.

When Gallup first asked the same question in 1969 only 12 percent favored legalization. The times they are a changing.

Washington and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana use. And medical marijuana is legal in 28 states, as well as Washington, D.C. The question is to what effect?

Anecdotally, I can tell you that I was in fact beaten in celebrity "Jeopardy" trivia by Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong fame. Use that information as you will.

SULLIVAN: I was told that.

COOPER: I thought his synapses would have been gone. He's very quick. That was our panel. Dr. Drew Pinsky is joining us, as well, host of HLN's "DR. DREW ON CALL."

Are you for legalization?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW ON CALL": I'm neutral. I don't really care. I -- the idea of there being good drugs and bad drugs is a flawed idea. I mean, how do you measure a good drug versus a bad drug?

COOPER: Do you put pot in the same category as some of these other drugs which the U.S. government actually does?

PINSKY: Like -- it's silly to say marijuana is bad, but alcohol is good. Silly to say marijuana is bad but tobacco is good.

SULLIVAN: You think the classification by the DEA is correct as the most dangerous drug that it could possibly be?

PINSKY: The fact...

SULLIVAN: No medical use?

PINSKY: No. The fact there's no medical use is also absurd. The fact is we as physicians are able to use -- I use morphine all the time. It's a very dangerous drug if you're an opiate addict. But if you are suffering, I'm probably going to give that to you. Why shouldn't I be able to use, as a physician, any medication I need to ease human suffering? That's silly.

SULLIVAN: Why is the federal government attached to an absurdity?

PINSKY: You're asking me?

PINSKY: Back in 1911.


SULLIVAN: Why are not physicians standing up and saying this is crazy? I think this is...

COOPER: Hang on.

BLOW: ... more than we want to -- do we want to deal with this as a scientific issue? And I think even if you're not in for legalization, you should absolutely be for decriminalization. Because what the -- both local, state and to some degree federal government has done is use marijuana, which is not really as harmful as many other things could be, as a huge club, particularly against young black and Hispanic men, destroying whole generations of kind of earnings potential, people who could otherwise have been gainfully employed, adding to the tax base. Could have married and held together families.

And that whole structure is destroyed, because we have criminalized marijuana, and law enforcement has used that criminalization as a tool to whack whole generations.

SULLIVAN: A tool but it certainly has caught a lot of people, mainly African-American and Hispanic young men, in a net that they don't need to be in, and they shouldn't be in. And they should...

BLOW: And particularly since their usage rates are no higher...

COOPER: You're for legalization?

BLOW: Absolutely.

COOPER: Obviously not for, what, people below 18?

SULLIVAN: It should be the same as alcohol. Maybe higher age, because there is -- the only harm that I can see that it does is in the early adolescent brain.

COOPER: Brain development.

PINSKY: It's very clear it harms adolescent brains. It is not at all clear it harms adults.


PINSKY: In a much more pernicious way. That's clear. But the adult brain, occasional use of cannabis not different.

NAVARRO: There is a difference between medical marijuana and nonmedical marijuana?

PINSKY: What do you mean? There's no difference.

NAVARRO: There's no difference?


SULLIVAN: There can be.

PINSKY: The problem is, listen, California unfortunately, my profession was used to put forward a political campaign by making it -- every patient I treat with addiction has a medical marijuana license. Every one.

COOPER: Anybody can get it.

PINSKY: You can ride your bike and slow your bike down, and you'll get a prescription. If you go in, put your hands out. There are barkers outside of the ones in Venice Beach pulling people in. It's a silly thing. It shows how silly it has become.

SULLIVAN: To answer your question, you can -- in fact, they are generating marijuana strains that are very heavily what they call -- let me get this right -- canna...

PINSKY: Cannabinoids.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, as opposed to THC. So, for example, children with seizures, serious seizure problems, get the resin that is very high in CBD and very low in THC.

PINSKY: The point being...

SULLIVAN: ... and it's really helping them. In other words, you can get pot that doesn't make you high.

You can get pot that you don't have to smoke.


PINSKY: If somebody's suffering and needs the part that makes them get high, and they're suffering...

SULLIVAN: Well, sure.

PINSKY: ... why shouldn't they? But the fact is, the seizures...

SULLIVAN: Children though I'm saying.

PINSKY: The use of it medically is very limited. So the medical use thing. It's very limited, trust me.

SULLIVAN: I don't think it's limited at all.

PINSKY: It's limited, trust me.

SULLIVAN: I don't like doctors who tell me they know everything. I know my own research.

PINSKY: And physicians should be able to prescribe it where it's appropriate, absolutely.

COOPER: Do you want to talk about your own research?

PINSKY: Stand up and make the thing legal. Doctors should be standing up about it.

SULLIVAN: They should.

PINSKY: We're helpless as physicians.

COOPER: You don't believe it has -- because you know, I was in a clinic...

PINSKY: It has therapeutic value for some people.

COOPER: I was in a clinic in California where a person would say, "Well, look, if you're depressed you should get Hindu Kush. And if you're -- you know, got a stomach ache it's this." You're saying that's not true?


COOPER: I was doing it on CNN.

PINSKY: Ambien guys. SULLIVAN: No, seriously, the actual substances within marijuana plant can be and should be examined and investigated by medical science.

PINSKY: Yes. No one disagrees with that.

SULLIVAN: We've finally got an NIH trial on this use for cannabinoids for children in terms of epilepsy and seizures. Now, why did it take so long? Because it's still illegal, Charles. We don't know what benefits this drug could has. It could be "Lancet," Britain's medical journal, called it the aspirin of the 21st century. That tells you it's not limited.

COOPER: Look, the reason that this hasn't been explored is because drug companies can't make money off it. Do you buy that?

PINSKY: They'll make money off it.

SULLIVAN: I wouldn't be so sure about that.

PINSKY: They'll be big cannabis, trust me. Big cannabis is already entering into Colorado...

SULLIVAN: The plant.

PINSKY: Tobacco is a plant. Let's not forget that. Tobacco is a plant. Big tobacco is a serious problem.

BLOW: The big point is you do want to get the illegal element out of the trade.

PINSKY: Listen. Here's the big problem; you guys are missing it. It's that people still have a moral model as it pertains to the human relation to substances. It has nothing to do with morality. It's a biological event. Some people are more genetically prone to a more serious problem with that relationship. It makes them behave in immoral ways, some drugs, when they use them. And so people want to make it a moral issue. It's not a moral issue.

NAVARRO: I don't know, Doctor, but I'll tell you this. We're going to talk about obesity next. And we legalize pot we're all going to get the munchies.

COOPER: With that, we'll take a break. They're being called "fat letters." Notes that are actually sent home from school in more than a dozen states to alert parents their child is considered overweight, even obese. Some parents have big problems with them, and one state is actually stopping the letters. Our panel weighs in next.


COOPER: I don't buy that.

All right. Across the country -- I don't know why. Hey, welcome back. We've been having arguments all during the break. Across the country 18 states are sending home so-called fat letters -- I've never heard of this until today -- to alert parents that their child's body mass index, the BMI, is unhealthy and doesn't make the grade. Some are obese.

The notices are part of an effort to fight childhood obesity, a big concern, obviously. According to the CDC, nearly 13 million kids in America, or about 17 percent -- 17 percent -- are obese. In American children, obesity has almost tripled since 1980.

It's my guess a lot of parents do not like these so-called fat letters. Just two weeks ago, one state, Massachusetts, stopped sending them home with kids due to concerns over self-esteem and bullying.

Back with our panel, including "New York Times" op-ed columnist Frank Bruni, author of the best-selling book, "Born Round: The Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite."

NAVARRO: And of course you would never have heard of it. You probably got a letter saying your kids don't eat.

COOPER: Dr. Drew, the BMI to me seems ridiculous a lot of times when you look at it.

PINSKY: Right now as I sit here, by BMI standards, I am obese.

COOPER: I didn't want to mention that.

PINSKY: So -- it's true. And so...

NAVARRO: I'm about to get up and leave this table, I just want you to know. This conversation makes me very uncomfortable.

FRANK BRUNI, "NEW YORK TIMES" COLUMNIST/AUTHOR: He thinks I'm rolling out of here.

COOPER: Somewhat of a different conversation. What's the threshold for obesity?

BRUNI: That's one issue. The other issue is this idea of a fat letter is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. If you are a kid and you are overweight, you know it without a letter. You know you have a second chin. You know you have a pot belly. You've got this thing, the letter...

COOPER: This is you when you were a kid?

BRUNI: That's me when I was a kid. Until I was 8, 9 I was extremely fat. And they didn't need to send a letter home to me and my mother at home for me to realize that. I had this thing called a mirror. And I saw it all the time.

And all that letter would have done was made me more self- conscious, more anxious. And I either would have started throwing up my meals, which I eventually did in college. COOPER: Really?

BRUNI: Or I would have dove into a pint of Haagen-Dazs. Oh, boy, I'll never forget Haagen-Dazs.

If you make kids unduly anxious and even more self-conscious about the way they look, you are not going to goad them toward physical fitness. You're going to goad them toward neurosis, I think.

BLOW: I don't understand why the school simply doesn't require a physical, you know -- might...

BRUNI: That's what -- this is part of the physical.

BLOW: But this is a conversation...

PINSKY: The doctor should talk about.

BLOW: ... the doctor should have between the doctor, the parent, the kid, not a teacher passing a letter that you have to take on the bus and everybody knows it's a fat letter.

PINSKY: If there's concern that the parents may not understand nutritional issues, send some nutritional information.

BRUNI: And make sure the lunches being served in school are nutritious. The best way you learn to eat well is by modeling, by modeling the way people around you are eating, by modeling what your parents are eating. I mean, there are all sorts of ways to put more good food in front of kids to kind of exhort them to eat that to make that seem normal.

Sending a fat letter home? That's ridiculous.

NAVARRO: If you're going to be sending educational material, you send it to all the parents of all the kids.

PINSKY: Of course.

NAVARRO: There may be thin kids who never eat a vegetable. He's admitted to it in the past.

COOPER: I'm not a big vegetable eater. I'm working on it.

PINSKY: Really?

COOPER: I drink them now.

NAVARRO: In vodka.

BLOW: And the broader question is whether or not, you know, we have to look at what we're doing educationally in terms of whether or not all kids get what I used to get, which is at least one hour of physical education every single day. And now they're ratcheting it.

COOPER: Now schools are cancelling it. BLOW: They're cancelling recesses in some cases. Then the kids come home, and they're on the Xbox or whatever until they do their homework.

And so, you know, I was trying to add this up on the way to the studio. I was thinking we were probably playing three or four hours a day. You'd have an hour of physical education. You had 30 minutes of recess. Right after school we went out and played again until our parents made us come home and do homework. And this idea that our kids today are just not getting -- they're getting shortchanged.

SULLIVAN: Sounds like paradise.

BRUNI: That's only one of the problems. There's a snack food industry today that's way different and more insidious, I think.

PINSKY: Not just snack food but whenever you watch a football game, or the stuff, I want to buy pizza all the time. I mean, there's so much stuff being enticed.

BRUNI: Our whole culture, one of the things that just amuses me so much, having lived in Europe for a short time, is our valuing of the volume of food. The one deal, the all-you-can-eat...

PINSKY: It's unbelievable.

BRUNI: I lived in Europe for two years. I never saw a single sign for an all-you-can-eat buffet. An Italian would think it was of value to eat until you can't eat anymore.

SULLIVAN: Tell me this: Does the parent have responsibility in this?

BRUNI: The parent has principal responsibility.

SULLIVAN: And if the parent is letting down the kid by giving the kid too much bad food, is there not some mechanism in which you can reach that parent? The school has some interest in getting to that parent and saying, "Look, you're really hurting your kid"?

BRUNI: Do you think that's what a fat letter does?


BRUNI: Do you think a parent that is not feeding his or her child correctly, do you think getting a letter from the school saying, "Your child has a second chin" is going to change that. I don't think so.

I mean, the way to do it is through public education, which is, you know, well-intentioned but often ineffective. I mean, one of the things that the first lady is trying to do with her campaign, which I salute but I think it has really severe limits and is a little bit ridiculous, but what she's trying to do is educate people. She's trying to reach those parents and say there's a whole other way to eat. There's a whole other group of foods. NAVARRO: The bottom line is, and I think we all agree, that judging kids' bodies is not a role for schools and teachers.

PINSKY: And it's a bad thing. Generally, it's a shaming bad thing.

COOPER: At that age, for kids to be thinking about their body in that way is probably not healthy.

BLOW: But there is a bigger issue that we do have to address, which is, you know, if the schools are failing both on the eating side, you know, constant French fries as a vegetable sort of way.

BRUNI: Ketchup as a vegetable.

BLOW: Ketchup as a vegetable sort of way. And, you know, because they're trying to teach to the test and they're drilling the kids and they're taking away things that used to make school fun and active.

SULLIVAN: Fun is not necessarily the same thing as active. To me, it was misery.

BLOW: I loved it. But I'm just saying, there was...

SULLIVAN: I had to play rugby in the pouring rain week after week.


BLOW: We do, as a society, have to address the issue.

COOPER: I can't pay attention to anything you guys are saying. I'm just looking at...

PINSKY: By the way, at the same time we keep hearing about obesity, I keep hare that we're starving, too. Which is it? Are we overfeeding our kids or...

BLOW: You can eat -- can eat a lot of empty calories and basically stave -- be starving your body.

PINSKY: It's expensive and you have to plan. It's time consuming to eat right. And that's really what I think the thing.

Also, there's an emotional component to eating. People medicate their emotions with food, and we are encouraged to do so. There are multiple layers to this.

BRUNI: At the emotional component the fat layer is so insidious.

BLOW: What I think is important to have people understand because the big, overweight, a lot of times runs in tandem with people who are poor because they can't afford things.

But it is possible. Not possible for everyone, but it is possible. I grew up very poor, and we literally grew -- the vegetables I ate, we grew them.

NAVARRO: In Louisiana.

BLOW: No, it is possible that you can be poor and also eat well. And I think that -- I think we have to get that kind of education across, which I think is...

COOPER: The idea is that everybody's going to be able to go to their doctor, because people don't have primary care physicians; have to go to emergency rooms. So they're not going to get that...

BLOW: Hello, Obama care. We're now back to the first topic.


BRUNI: If we can get the Web site to work we can send the kids to the doctor.

COOPER: And while you're waiting for the Web site don't be noshing on stuff.

NAVARRO: You're waiting for the Web site, you go online...

PINSKY: I wonder how many people we've already caused to go out and buy hamburgers.

COOPER: Another quick break. Coming up, the stories you might not have heard about. I'll ask the panel "What's Your Story?" Next.


COOPER: All right. Time now for "What's Your Story?" where I ask the panel for a story that caught their eye that maybe we missed, or I missed. Ana, we're playing Britney Spears. I believe she's -- What's your story today?

NAVARRO: You know, I thought it was fascinating. So you guys have heard of water boarding. You guys have heard of nails being removed. But now torture is playing Britney Spears. So Britney Spears's music is being played for the Somali pirates in order to drive them mad and make them surrender. So I want to ask you guys...

COOPER: I don't believe that.

NAVARRO: ... what music would make -- would make you lose your...

SULLIVAN: Any music that is -- any music that is loud enough and long enough and you can't get away from...


SULLIVAN: ... you end up being tortured. And I mean tortured in a serious sense.

NAVARRO: For me it would be those animal sounds that sometimes, you know, when you go into a fancy...

COOPER: All right, Charles. What's your story?

BLOW: I am just so proud of the football players of my alma mater, Grambling State University. They went on strike to protest budgets cuts. The school -- the state has cut the budget for that school 57 percent in seven years. I mean, no school could survive that. And because they have this great football program, only the football team could bring attention to this story.

NAVARRO: You realize that you just got yourself kick off the distinguished alumni.

BLOW: I think I probably got invited back.

But I think it really highlights a problem that's happening, particularly in the south, particularly in Louisiana, where you see this real tension between these old institutions that were set up basically to...

COOPER: They have a great marching band.

BLOW: Great marching band.

COOPER: They played at the inauguration. We had them on the show.

BLOW: They played at many inaugurations.

But, you know, there's an old -- there's a history there where these schools were set up to educate children who -- of ex-slaves. And that -- that tension now in how you bring that into a modern context and whether or not you still need these separate institutions is a real question. And they're battling that out.

NAVARRO: Well, Charles, tell them they don't need to strike. They just need to play Britney Spears music.

COOPER: Frank, what's your story?

BRUNI: I've been -- I've been interested in some research that's gotten some attention lately that says kissing is not necessarily for foreplay or arousal, but it's to investigate the compatibility of a partner. And so I look back now, and I feel less bad about all the bad kissing in my life. It wasn't -- it wasn't, you know, an erotic disappointment. It was an anthropological investigation.

COOPER: So you're saying what?

SULLIVAN: And what did you find out?

PINSKY: The theory is you can sense the immune competency and the genetic sort of fittedness. Theoretically.

NAVARRO: That's got to be a male centric study. Only -- only men would say kissing is not about foreplay. That's got to be a male centric...


COOPER: If you meet somebody who's a bad kisser, there's nothing you can do about it. You cannot...

BRUNI: Bad kisser is incompatibility.

BLOW: There's a whole lot of bad stuff.

COOPER: All right. That's it for us. We're out of time. Thanks for watching AC 360 LATER. We'll see you again tomorrow night. Good night.