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Deadly Day For U.S. Forces In Afghanistan; Mega Millions Jackpot Over Half a Million Dollars; Snowden Offers To Lend Brazil An Investigative Hand; Bidding For Zimmerman Painting At $100K; Beatles Bootlegs Make iTunes Cameo

Aired December 17, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In other world news, a deadly day for U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan, where six American troops have been killed. The Pentagon is investigating whether they died in a helicopter crash or by enemy fire after their helicopter landed. According to two senior U.S. officials, it happened in southern Afghanistan's Zabul province. One soldier did survive but sustained injuries. This is the single deadliest incident for U.S. troops since in August 2012 helicopter wreck that killed seven Americans and four Afghans.

In 2013, 129 U.S. troops have lost their lives while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the U.S. to admit involvement in a drone strike that hit a wedding convoy in Yemen last week. Human Rights Watch is still trying to get the U.S. to acknowledge carrying out another drone strike in Yemen from four years ago. The group today called on the U.S. and Yemen to investigate the air strike in December 2009 that did kill 14 suspected terrorists but also took the lives of 41 civilians in a nearby Bedouin camp, the group says. The U.S. has never copped to any involvement in that air strike.

He drives a Fiat, used to work as a janitor and bouncer and he parties with the homeless. Today is Pope Francis' 77th birthday. And the man recently dubbed "Time"'s person of the year celebrated with a few close aides, four homeless men and one of their dogs after holding a morning mass. Pope Francis then invited the group to breakfast where the attendees sang happy birthday to the leader of a church that boasts more than one billion followers.

"Time" magazine isn't the only cover His Holiness has nabbed this month. Today, the oldest gay rights magazine in the United States, "The Advocate," named Pope Francis its person of the year, noting quote, "a stark change in rhetoric from his two predecessors when discussing gays and lesbians." In July, the magazine noted after being asked about gay priests, the pope said, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" The magazine said that quote, "LGBT Catholics who remain in the church now have more reason to hope that change is coming."

Still ahead, the Mega Millions jackpot is roughly the same amount that fell between Bill Gates' couch cushions last week. For the rest of us, however, it's an outrageous fortune with outrageous odds. But to quote Jim Carrey in "Dumb And Dumber," "So you're saying there's a chance."

See, we gave credit to Jim Carrey there. Another actor might not have. Find out which Hollywood star is being accused of plagiarism, coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for our Money Lead.

They actually pay doctors to push their drugs on patients. Well, I can't see any conflict of interest there. But now one drug maker is taking steps to end that shady practice. The British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline announced they've decided it's no longer a good idea to pay doctors or health care professionals to push their products. The company said it would also end tying sales staff compensation to how many drugs they sold, instead basing pay on the novel idea of quality and service and overall performance. They hope to complete all these changes worldwide by 2016.

GlaxoSmithKline has been accused by Chinese authorities of channeling $500 million in fines to hospitals, doctors and government officials. GlaxoSmithKline's familiar products include Advair, Paxil and Valtrex.

It is, as I probably don't need to tell you, Mega Millions day. Time to pull out those barely usable $1 bills from your wallet for a chance to win $636 million. The drawing is tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, but you've got to ask yourself one question.


CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR (in Dirty Harry): Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?


TAPPER: Do I feel lucky? Well, that depends on how you define lucky. The lottery changed its rules back in October and increased the pool of numbers you have to choose from. Before then, you had a 1 in 176 million chance of winning. Now it's 1 in 259 million. You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning. We all know that one. But you also have a better chance of getting killed by a vending machine or dating a supermodel or spotting a UFO. In fact, just marry a millionaire, then wait for him or her to be struck by lightning. The odds are better.

If no one wins tonight, the jackpot for the Friday drawing will start at nearly a -- wait for it -- billion dollars. That would make it the biggest payout in U.S. history. So is this all a waste of your hard- earned cash? Is it the stupid tax? I ask because we got an office pool going here.

Here to answer your burning lotto questions is David Lazarus, consumer columnist for "The Los Angeles Times." So yes, full disclosure, we bought tickets, David. I just want you to know that. What inspired the rule change?

DAVID LAZARUS, CONSUMER COLUMNIST, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, what they wanted to do, they won't admit it, they wanted to compete more with the Powerball lottery, which consistently runs larger jackpots. The guys at the Mega Millions had jackpot envy, and they wanted to find a way to get into the hundreds of millions of dollars of jackpots. And to do that, as you noted, they increased the numbers that you have to choose from, thus decreasing your odds of winning, thus increasing the size of the jackpot, thus in turn increasing the number of players, and there you go. You've got bigger jackpots, you've got more players and fewer winners.

TAPPER: Now, David, did the lottery folks make this change on the sly? How would regular ticket buyers know the odds have increased so much?

LAZARUS: Great question, Jake. And after I wrote about this in my column last week, I had people e-mailing me saying who knew? Why didn't anybody tell us? They did issue a press release, but how many people are reading lottery press releases out there? They didn't make a big to-do out of the rule change probably because a lot of people would have very correctly said, wait a minute. I'm going to pay the same dollar for this thing, and I'm going to have astronomically worse chances of winning? That doesn't sound like a really good deal.

TAPPER: I'm sorry, David, I didn't hear what you were saying. I'm sitting here reading lottery press releases. I'm sorry.


TAPPER: So, we have gone from individual lottos to these giant multiple-state lotteries. Does that trend mean that fewer people are winning every year? What does it mean?

LAZARUS: It absolutely means there will be fewer winners. As you correctly noted, they changed this thing in October and since then, not one jackpot winner. There have been winners of some of the smaller prizes but not one jackpot winner. And that tells the whole story right here. If you are a player, you are struggling now to get anywhere close to one of these jackpots. And if we go to a billion dollars, unprecedented. Let's say we go up past a billion dollars. Are more people going to say you know what, clearly empirically speaking, I have no shot of winning? No, of course not. The higher the jackpot goes, the more people who will spill in. Talk about a little bit of a scam.

TAPPER: So, your overall chances of winning a prize, though, just to be real here, is one in 15 even if it's just winning a dollar. You have a one in 18 million chance to win a million bucks. Nine people did that on Friday.

So, I mean, that's not nothing. You're not a billionaire, you're not a mega millionaire, but a million bucks, not bad. Nice work if you can get it.

LAZARUS: Yes, but let me put this in context. If I were to tell people don't leave your house today because there's a chance you are going to be murdered, you would laugh that off. You would say what are the odds? I have gone out my entire life, no one has murdered me. There's no chance of this. In fact, there's a 1 in 19,000 chance you will get murdered on any given day.

So your chances of getting greased as you go about your business are so much better than actually winning this lottery, and it really speaks to the element of foolish optimism that surrounds this. Because if I give you good news, if I tell you look, there's a chance you could win half a billion dollars, you go sweet! Where do I sign up. If I tell you there's a much, much better chance you are going to be murdered Sopranos-style you'll go no, there's not.

TAPPER: Now you're just scaring me. Now you're terrifying me. We have talked about all the things that are more likely to happen to a person than winning the lottery. What's your personal favorite statistic?

LAZARUS: Well, my personal favorite is I mean, I like the thing about getting murdered like this. Also --

TAPPER: Apparently.

LAZARUS: -- yes. But you actually have a better chance of some errant piece of machinery falling off a passing airplane and bonking you in the head than you do of winning the lottery. And I don't know a single person that's ever happened to. I mean, the errant piece of machinery, not the lottery win.

TAPPER: None of our viewers are ever going to leave their homes again. OK, David, before we go, one last question. All this naysaying, have you bought a ticket?

LAZARUS: What am I, a schmuck? As soon as we're done here I'm going to go out and buy one. You kidding me?


TAPPER: All right, David Lazarus. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Coming up in the World Lead, Edward Snowden just wrote an open letter to the citizens of Brazil. He says he wants to help them out, but there is one small catch. The United States government wants him in custody.

And in pop, George Zimmerman says one thing he likes about painting is that it keeps him inside. You won't believe how much people are offering to pay Zimmerman for his latest work. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In more World News, he's travelled in Hawaii to Hongkong to Russia, but the latest postcard from Edward Snowden is an open letter to the people of Brazil. The man who got away with the quote, "keys to the kingdom of the intelligence community," according to one NSA official, is now responding to what he says were requests by Brazil's government for a hand in their investigations into the United States' spying programs.

Documents previously leaked by Snowden have already accused the NSA of monitoring Brazil's president, advisors and a national oil company. Snowden says he's willing to help the country look into it all, but he adds one disclaimer that's being read by some as a hint. Quote, "until a country grants permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my abilities to speak."

I want to bring in Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. Your group is working with Snowden. This was not expressly a request for asylum from Snowden but presumably, he would need that before he would go anywhere, is that a fair reading into this letter?

BEN WIZNER, DIRECTOR, ACLU SPEECH, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY PROJECT: Maybe so. I think people got a little bit carried away with this letter. Mr. Snowden has gotten requests from Brazilian senators and indeed, from politicians in other countries as well to cooperate with their investigations of NSA spying and of their own country spying. What he's saying here is he supports reform efforts around the world.

He applauds the Brazilian people for standing up to mass surveillance both by the U.S. and in their own government, and he would like to support that but remember, he is now living under a one-year grant of asylum from Russia. When his humanitarian situation is resolved, he will be able to provide different kinds of support like perhaps testimony. For the time being, I wouldn't read too much into this letter.

TAPPER: Now months ago, he talked about Brazil being one of the countries that he was possibly thinking of seeking asylum from, but he didn't actually make a formal request for asylum. Brazil has not said that they are going toing to give him asylum. They said we haven't gotten any formal requests. Where do you hope Snowden will find a safe haven?

WIZNER: Well, look, we have said all along the safest haven for Snowden should be his own country, the United States. I would like to see him come back here. I would like to see him treated as a whistleblower, not as a criminal, to assist the United States in reforming their surveillance practices, to testify before Congress. It doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon.

Because that's not in the cards right now, I'm sure if the people of Brazil were to offer Snowden asylum, he would surely consider it. I would say the same about other countries in Europe and elsewhere, and maybe Russia will offer him permanent asylum.

In the meantime, the important thing is that he's able to participate in this public debate, a debate that has taken an important turn yesterday when a federal court in Washington agreed with Snowden that the programs that he revealed were actually unconstitutional.

TAPPER: In a "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, the National Security Agency official running the task force that's assessing how much damage Snowden did to the NSA said he personally thinks it's worth having conversation about giving Snowden amnesty. Now, the White House vehemently disagrees. Here's White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and he faces felony charges here in the United States. He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible.


TAPPER: Do you think he has any chance of getting amnesty in the U.S.? It doesn't sound like that.

WIZNER: You know, I'm just a -- I don't understand Washington kabuki. I don't know the games they orchestrate by sending one NSA official onto "60 Minutes" to say they should consider amnesty, another to say they shouldn't and this scripted line out of the White House. It certainly seems like there's some discussion in the government about approaching Snowden in a more reasonable way. They know where we are. They know we're interested in having this kind of conversation with them. I won't say more about it than that.

TAPPER: Here's what Glenn Greenwald said about the story out there, about the swapping help for the Brazilian government in exchange for asylum. He said one, Snowden doesn't request asylum, two, the Brazilian government said we're not considering it because no formal request has been made, three, U.S. media, Brazil rejects asylum. So typical take on how the media is covering this. If he is not asking for a safe haven, why offer to help?

WIZNER: Again, Snowden has always acted in the public interest. Every single action that he has taken has been to further a U.S. first and foremost and a global debate about mass surveillance and the threat that it poses to democracy. He is willing to help Brazil, he's willing to help Germany. He's willing to help Norway. He's willing to help Denmark.

Again, when we say help, we mean act in the public interest. He's certainly not going to disclose or reveal anything that would harm our interests. In fact, he's already revealed information he has to journalists. The question is whether he will ever someday be able to testify in these countries about technology and surveillance practices. I hope that his legal situation allows him to do that someday.

TAPPER: Obviously the government would disagree with your take there that he hasn't done anything to harm our interests, but that's a debate between you and someone else. Lastly, before you go, I know that you're in some contact with Edward Snowden. How is he doing?

WIZNER: His morale is very high this week. It meant a lot to him to have his beliefs vindicated by a federal court. He certainly didn't know that would be the outcome, but he had watched over the last several years as groups like the ACLU tried to challenge NSA surveillance practices in federal courts only to be turned away because we didn't have evidence.

He provided that evidence and when this program was exposed to the light of day, when it was litigated in an open court, a conservative Republican judge ruled in favor of the constitution, in favor of the plaintiffs in this case. He's feeling like he did the right thing.

TAPPER: All right, Ben Wizner of the ACLU, thank you so much.

From a rich girl that smells like teen spirit to a man eater riding a peace train, this year's list of rock and roll hall of famers is about as diverse as it gets. The pop lead is next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Our Pop Lead now, as of December 21st, Vincent Van Gogh and George Zimmerman will have sold exactly the same number of paintings during their lifetime. This work by Zimmerman, an American flag dotted by phrases from the Pledge of Allegiance is floating with the $100,000 mark on eBay right now. For some perspective, an art critic tweeted he would pay exactly $100 for it. The painting going to make a very tiny dent in all those legal fees Zimmerman still owes, according to a court document. Zimmerman is $2.5 million in debt.

Some see it as a long overdue honor for a group of Glam Rock Gods. Gene Simmons probably just sees a new merchandising opportunity. Yes, Kiss has finally gotten the nod from the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and going to be sharing the honor with a band many consider their polar opposite, Nirvana, the band that woke the country out of its hair spray '80s coma. They were also inducted into the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Hall and Oates, Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens also made the cut this year.

It's not like Shia Laboef hasn't made missteps before. His new short film went live online Monday and now the actor is facing allegations of plagiarism. A comic book publisher says his movie is almost a line for line rip off of a 2007 story written and drawn by artist, Daniel Close. The artist took to Twitter, apologize, writing copying isn't particularly creative work.

Being inspired by someone else's idea to produce something new and different is creative work. He then backtracked further, apologizing to the original artist and eventually went with this straightforward mea culpa. The film has since been password protected.

They are four guys trying to keep up with the Beyonces of the world. Overnight, 59 rare Beatles recordings were released on iTunes, called the Beatles Bootleg Recordings from 1963, mostly old school BBC performances from the Moptop days. The tracks disappeared in several countries after only a few hours online. Music insiders say it may have been a shrewd business move to extend 50-year copyrights on the songs.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."