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John Walsh Discusses Violent Crime and Young Culture; How Alberto Gonzales Explains Himself; Uplifting Poll Numbers for Democrats; How are Political Trends Playing on Campaign Trail?

Aired March 14, 2007 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Violent crime on the rise and a young culture that many say fosters it. Tonight, John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" talking about what has gone wrong and how we all can help make it right. A conversation you won't want to miss. That's coming up shortly.
First though, growing pressure on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step down. A Republican senator, John Sununu, joining Democrats today in calling for his dismissal. President Bush expressing disappointment. Mr. Gonzales heading to Capitol Hill later this week to explain why he fired eight U.S. attorneys last year. CNN's Tom Foreman reports part of the problem has to do with the many different ways he's been explaining himself so far.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attorney General Gonzales trying to navigate a minefield of questions about politics, justice and responsibility and appears to be tying himself into knots in the process.

First, implying U.S. attorneys ought to work free of political worries.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: One, I believe in the independence of our U.S. attorneys.

FOREMAN: But then adding this...

GONZALES: All political appointees can be removed by the president of the United States for any reason.

FOREMAN: The president says unequivocally the firings were mishandled, so who is responsible? First, Gonzales points at someone else.

GONZALES: My chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers, where -- where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district.

FOREMAN: But then he swings the finger of blame to himself.

GONZALES: I am responsible for what happens at the Department of Justice. I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility.

FOREMAN: The attorney general was also asked to clarify the status of his chief of staff and again gave an answer that seemed muddled at best.

GONZALES: Kyle Sampson has resigned. I accepted his resignation yesterday as chief of staff. He's transitioning -- yes, as a technical matter, he is still at the Department.

FOREMAN: Even while explaining whom all these explanations are for, Gonzales seems to be saying two things at once.

GONZALES: I work for the American people. I serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States.

(on camera): It has all become very messy and clearly annoying to the White House. The simple truth is, the administration has every right to get rid of people it doesn't want in the president's team, including U.S. attorneys.

(voice-over): But this appears to have been handled so poorly, it has raised criticism in both parties, even as some Republican insist it really should not have.

NOEL FRANCISCO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ASSOC. COUNSEL: There is no evidence there is anything even remotely like a politically-motivated or politically-targeted prosecution.

FOREMAN: But Alberto Gonzales may have a hard time arguing that case, at least as long as he seems to be arguing with himself. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, some new polling tonight that promises to put a little kick in the Democratic donkey. It's a sign for the first time in years; the Democrats are feeling lucky for a change. Details on that from CNN's Bill Schneider.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): How do Democrats feel about next year's presidential election? Ask the late, great James Brown.


JAMES BROWN, MUSICIAN (singing): I feel good.


SCHNEIDER: And why not? By better than 2-1, the public expects the Democrat to win next year's presidential election. Democrats are overwhelmingly confident of victory. Republicans are not so sure. Forty percent of Republicans expect a Democrat to win. But which Democrat? Right now, Hillary Clinton looks like the establishment candidate. She's got name recognition, money, endorsements...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I believe that my experience and my qualifications uniquely equip me to hit the ground running in January 2009.

SCHNEIDER: ... and a 15-point lead over the establishment outsider, Barack Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On January 20, 2009, we will start transforming the country.

SCHNEIDER: Al Gore still has a following among Democrats. In fact, his support has picked up a bit since he won his Oscar.

QUESTION: Any intentions to run for president?

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the moment has passed now.

QUESTION: Are you completely...

GORE: You know, the music cut me off. And...

SCHNEIDER: What happens if Gore sticks to his decision not to run? Clinton's lead widens to 21 points. The vote for Bill Clinton's vice president goes mostly to Bill Clinton's wife.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they're satisfied with their choices for 2008, particularly Clinton supporters. Sixty percent of her supporters say they are committed to her. Only 32 percent of Obama's supporters are definitely committed to him. Two-thirds say they could change their minds.

Republicans are supposed to be the party that believes in orderly succession, but, this time, it's the Democrats who seem to be going for the candidate who is next in line.


SCHNEIDER: Here's something else the Democrats have going for them -- in December 2000, just after the Supreme Court declared George W. Bush the winner, 48 percent of Americans said they thought Bush won the election fair and square.

And now that the president's popularity has plummeted, just 40 percent of Americans believe Bush won fair and square. Maybe buyer's remorse has set in. Bill Schneider, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.

COOPER: Well with that as a backdrop, we wanted to know how the trends are playing out on the campaign trail. I spoke earlier about it with Democratic strategist Paul Begala and James Carville, both veterans of the Clinton White House. James Carville, we ought to mention, is now advising Hillary Clinton on an unpaid basis.


COOPER: James, Senator Obama, former Senator Edwards haven't been able to cut into Senator Clinton's lead. Does that surprise you?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, not really. I mean, everything is stable in presidential polling. If you look across our last four polls except for one thing, and that is McCain's number keeps going down.

But I think Senator Clinton started out pretty strong. I suspect that will continue for a while. And then when the Iowa caucuses come, we'll see where it goes from there. But she's maintained a pretty good lead for a long time.

COOPER: Paul, obviously the race for the nomination has gotten off to a very early start. Does the early start help Clinton or Obama? Does it help anyone in particular?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I think it probably helps Hillary Clinton for a couple of reasons.

First, because she's got staying power. She does better over time. She won in 2000 in New York in her first race for the Senate, but she won in 2006 carrying a whole lot of counties that voted against her the last time, a whole lot of so-called red counties, Republican counties.

So I think she's a politician who wears well over time. Second, she's a politician who can probably raise the most money. We don't know yet. We know Barack Obama has star power, we don't know if he has staying power. And that will be the thing to look at in the months to come.

COOPER: We're now hearing from California, Governor Schwarzenegger they're going to be announcing tomorrow, they're going to be moving their primary up to February 6th. How does that change the game? All of the other states also moving them up?

CARVILLE: They're going to change it a lot. We don't know is how it changes it. Supposedly the idea is it's supposed to be designed where you get a nominee faster, it may produce that result.

But generally what happens is exactly the opposite thing you want. When we ran in '92, the Southern primaries had great importance after New Hampshire, but it seems that for all of the, quote, front loading going on, who knows?

COOPER: Paul, I want to play this excerpt from Senator Clinton's speech today. She seems to be using a new theme. Let's listen.

CLINTON: For six long years, our president has not seen the vast majority of Americans, not our middle class, not our working families. He's looked right through them. To him, they're invisible.

COOPER: Is this, you think a new theme? I mean at this point, is she kind of throwing stuff in the refrigerator and seeing what sticks? BEGALA: Yeah, that's what you do earlier, or to mix our metaphors, we always used to talk about a message like a piece of clay and you just mold it and mold it. She's tapping into something that runs deep though in the American consciousness.

COOPER: I mean, it's a little bit of Edwards to Americans.

BEGALA: It is. It's also a little bit of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," when he wrote about African-Americans in the '40s. It's a little bit of Franklin Roosevelt's "Forgotten Man," who talked about that in the '30s.

And her husband, pretty fair politician himself when he announced he was running on behalf of the forgotten middle class. So I think the sense that we're being left out of the game is one that recurs in American politics and public life and she's tapping into something pretty powerful.

COOPER: James, also Al Gore's, obviously you know very strong still among Democrats -- whether or not he enters the race - his appeal though largely seems to come from his anti-war stance.

Why would -- this poll seems to indicate that if he doesn't enter the race, those voters would go to Clinton. Why would that be if her stance was not against the war early on?

CARVILLE: I think to some extent, honestly it's a function of the two better known candidates. And so what happens is early polls tend to produce is, is a vote of what will go to the better-known candidate. The other thing is it was the Clinton/Gore administration, and you probably have a lot of people that remember that.

COOPER: Paul, for Edwards, it's really all about Iowa. If it doesn't work there, it's done.

BEGALA: If you had to lay an early bet, even though he's in third or fourth, depending on whether Al gore's in the race, John Edwards might even be the favorite In Iowa. He's been there more than anybody else; he's got a terrific organization. He's got a good message. And most importantly he's done this before. He's been around the track before, as has Joe Biden. They're the only two in this race who have actually run a presidential campaign before. And you learn something doing that.


COOPER: Is Obama wearing well so far? I mean obviously it hasn't been very long.

BEGALA: It's early, but yeah. He got something like 20,000 people to come out in Austin, Texas, my former hometown. That's very, very impressive. And I haven't met very many people who said, "Well, I went out and saw Barack give a speech and I didn't much like it."

He's pretty good. The question is, can he sustain that and put a little policy meat on the bones? I think Hillary probably has the opposite problem. She has got plenty of policy down, but maybe a little more razzmatazz would do her good.

CARVILLE: Anderson, as you know, in Louisiana, we love to cook. I'm going to -- I'm not a very good amateur cook, but I like to do it. My analogy is, Senator Clinton could use a little more spice and I think Obama could use a little more seasoning. But you know, we'll see. It's going to be an interesting year.

COOPER: It sounds like a good recipe there. Paul, James, guys thanks.


COOPER: A lot of spice, a lot of seasoning.

Still to come, a bad guy you need to know. A new enemy leader and the war he is fighting against America. Taliban comeback. The war many have feared is on. Tonight we take you into the new battle zone. Will a U.S. ally finally get tough on the war on terror? Her mugging grew national attention.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These creeps are cowards.

COOPER: Tonight, crime fighter John Walsh on the nationwide hunt for a guy who'd do this - mug a 101-year-old lady for $33 when 360 continues.


COOPER: There it is the shocking video. Violent crime, as you know, is on the rise across the country. Murders, violent assaults - here in New York, a 101-year-old granny was punched in the face, robbed last week. It was all caught on tape. Her attacker is still on the loose.

Now the mugging caught the attention of politicians, Senator Hillary Clinton blamed President Bush's cuts to community policing programs for recent spikes in crime and rising fear.

True or not, New York legislators have introduced a new law that would make it a felony to assault anyone older than 70. Earlier tonight, I spoke to John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" about this attack and our culture of violence that is only making the crime wave worse.


COOPER: John, the two victims are elderly women, one of them 101- years-old, the other woman 85-years-old. They were attacked within minutes of each other.

To you, is this a crime of opportunity, or was this guy intentionally targeting seniors?

JOHN WALSH, AMERICA'S MOST WANTED: Well, whoever he is, and why ever he did it, he is an incredible coward, to beat up a 101-year-old woman and an 83-year-old woman. But I'm sure that he knew that they were easy targets. And -- and this is kind of a disturbing trend. We're starting to see increases in crime all over the United States. We're seeing increases in crimes against the homeless. And we're seeing incredible increases in crime against the elderly. They really are an easy target. And these creeps are cowards.

COOPER: You've seen these new statistics about crime, violent crime being on the rise around the United States, in particular Midwestern cities. Why do you think that's happening?

WALSH: I think that we see a tremendous increase in the homicide rates, for example, and violent crimes, because we have this whole culture of disenfranchised young people.

The scary part of that trend is not just the increase in those crimes, but the ages of the people who commit the crimes and lots of times they're crimes against other young people.

So I think as a society, we have to look at the bigger, bigger picture and that is that the times are getting more violent, the people are getting younger and there's this whole part of our society that is fatherless or nobody cares about them, nobody's involved in their lives and I think we just have to say, quick shaking our heads and say, isn't this terrible, isn't this scary?

Got to reach out, places like Boys and Girls clubs are kind of doing their job all alone in inner cities particularly. Thinks a society we have to say, hey, the crimes are horrific, the guys are getting younger and younger, and we need to get involved.

COOPER: It's interesting, I've been working on this story about the stop snitching phenomenon in inner city communities and that seems to add to it. I mean, this is a message being marketed to young people by rappers, by big corporations which are marketing this sort of culture of respect. And people demanding respect for one another and taking matters into their hands and not talking to police.

WALSH: People exploit it by making these stop snitching T- shirts, these stop snitching parkas and selling them in stores. First of all, I think it's a disgusting trend. I don't think its right, and I think we have to say to people, particularly in inner cities, look, the next crime victim could be you.

COOPER: What we're hearing a lot from police chiefs around the country, in cities in the Midwest in particular, is that they're seeing you know it's young people, people in their teens and early 20s, and the level of violence in these crimes is really on the up tick, multiple shots. There's sort of a complete disregard for human life that to them seems new.

WALSH: I think that this is the most disturbing trend is - I've been doing "America's Most Wanted" for 20 years and I've never seen the incredible level of violence and just as you say, the 10 shots, the five victims murdered. It seems like, and I'm a gun owner and I believe in gun training and I hunt and all those things, but there's too many guns. It's too easy for a little punk to get a gun. And you're absolutely right. I don't know what it is, but again, it's a good barometer of how society sort of turns its back on these punks or when they shoot someone 10 times from 100 yards away, and think it's really cool. It isn't cool; it's a horrible, horrible homicide.

But you make a great point. It's more violent, the crimes are more violent and the shooters, the murderers, the rapists and the muggers are getting younger. And I really think people have to wake up and say we have to get involved, we've got to do something about this.

COOPER: John Walsh, appreciate it, thanks John.

WALSH: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: We're going to be looking a lot more at the rising crime rate around this country in the coming days and weeks.

Still ahead tonight, a new pill that's getting a lot of buzz for how it apparently helps alcoholics.

Plus, is this man the new bin Laden? The man who's become enemy No. 1 in Afghanistan, next on 360.


COOPER: According to transcripts released by the Pentagon, the suspected mastermind of 9/11, that man, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has admitted planning the attack and dozens of others.

The confessions was read during a military hearing today at Guantanamo Bay. And as you know, al Qaeda is regrouping. Islamic militants have a firm foothold in Pakistan. And as we've been reporting on for months, they used that foothold to train and dispatch suicide bombers against American NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Now however we're learning that they are turning on Pakistan itself. Six attacks have killed 35 people in recent weeks. Militant leaders, terrorists have threatened more attacks inside Pakistan, which would open up a new front in the war. CNN's Nic Robertson looks at that.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forty-four Pakistani army cadets dead, killed by jihadi suicide bomber as they paraded on their base last November.

It's the war Pakistan has been fearing, what has been called Taliban-ization, homegrown radical Islamists turning on their own government, taking their fight from the tribal border region near Afghanistan to deep inside Pakistan. Attacking a Western hotel in the heart of the capital and a prominent judge in terrorism cases.

ALI JAN ORAKZAI, GOVERNOR, NW FRONTIER PROVINCE: Initially it was in south Waziristan, and then it spread to north Waziristan, and then it started spreading towards the settled areas.

ROBERTSON: That spread of radicalism sparked when Pakistani troops began unprecedented deployment in the fiercely independent border region to help the U.S. in the war on terror. But as the soldiers began getting killed, the government had to rethink.

ORAKZAI: If we continue with this strategy, probably the situation is going to get worse rather than improvement.

ROBERTSON: So on the instructions of Pakistan's president, the regional governor struck a deal. The troops would be pulled back, and Pakistan's Taliban and tribes would be allowed to police themselves in exchange for their promise not to cross into Afghanistan and attack Americans.

The deal failed immediately. Attacks on U.S. troops went up three-fold. Now the deal is backfiring on Pakistan, too.

MAJ. GEN. AZHAR ALI SHAH, PAKISTAN ARMY: They also starred resorting to, which was a new phenomenon in this area, through the suicide killing.

ROBERTSON: In the past few months, six suicide bombings in northern Pakistan have killed 35 people. Sources familiar with the tribal border area report an increasing radicalization among a wider population now, driven by a volatile cocktail of Taliban, al Qaeda, and other Islamist extremists, where barbers are told if they cut beards, they'll be beheaded.

(on camera): From here inside Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan officials have angrily criticized Pakistan for not tackling terrorists in its tribal belt. The question now is, will Pakistan get tough or cut a new deal with extremists, and undermine the war on terror? Nic Robertson, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


COOPER: Well meanwhile in Afghanistan, the Taliban is threatening to execute a kidnapped Italian journalist accusing him of being a spy. Almost as notable however is the man who appears to be holding this reporter hostage. He was a big player when the Taliban ran its extremist government there. He's becoming an even bigger, more menacing figure now. CNN's Tom Foreman investigates.


FOREMAN (voice-over): The Taliban says it is preparing for a major spring offensive against coalition troops. And the hunt is on for the Taliban's military leader, who some say is the new enemy number one on the battlefield in Afghanistan, Mullah Dadullah. He claims to have 20,000 fighters and hundreds of suicide bombers. And intelligent analysts like CNN's Peter Bergen say he's been stepping up attacks for more than a year.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: IED attacks were doubled, suicide attacks quintupled, attacks on international forces tripled, and the guy who's sort of in charge of much of that is Mullah Dadullah, so he's a dangerous guy.

FOREMAN: Mullah Dadullah has been dangerous for decades. Fighting the Soviets, other Afghans and now the coalition. He's been reported killed, captured, he's believed by some to have lost a leg. But each time he reappears, ever higher in the Taliban ranks. Now he often speaks in their propaganda videos.

"We want to expand our operations in heart of Afghanistan," he says, "in order to shake the souls of the Americans. They shall depart in shame and embarrassment."

Insurgents in Iraq have shown they can repeatedly harass and hurt the much more powerful coalition army through patience, surprise attacks, and hit and run tactics. And intelligence expert Cal Temple says Mullah Dadullah is trying the same strategy in Afghanistan.

CAL TEMPLE, TOTAL INTELLIGENCE SOLUTIONS: I believe that he recognizes all of that, recognizes the value of for instance, suicide bombings as a tactic, and has probably done a lot to organize and encourage the use of that tactic in Afghanistan.

FOREMAN: His brutal philosophy, the West has nuclear weapons; the Taliban has an endless supply of young people who can be trained to be suicide bombers. And he says, "These are the Islamic equivalent of their atomic bombs."

He wants bloody retribution for any slight to Islam, he encourages rich Muslims to fund the Taliban fight, and he takes hostages.

Right now, he is believed to be holding this missing Italian journalist, threatening to kill him within days. This is the work of Mullah Dadullah. Like his victims, an increasingly visible sign of the Taliban's violent quest to regain power. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: And Afghanistan truly the unfinished war that we continue to follow very closely, especially in the next coming weeks as the violence is expected to rise as the snows melt. We'll have more with Peter Bergen after the break.

Also ahead tonight, battling the odds. Fighting a killer, trying to win a better life.


COOPER: The shame of addiction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel an emptiness that needs to be filled and alcohol is one way that I do it.

COOPER: Real stories, real pain, but it can get better. Tonight, beating booze with a new treatment when 360 continues.



COOPER: Well, before the break we told you about radical Islamists who are taking their fight from Afghanistan to inside Pakistan.

For more on this, I'm joined by CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

You know, Peter, it's interesting, because, I mean, I've had the Pakistan ambassador on the program. They seem to continue to deny that it was a mistake to make a peace deal with these militants in Waziristan, along the Afghan border.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think of the tribal regions as sort of like the Iraq problem that we have, except for Pakistan, because there's really no good options in the tribal regions. They tried force, sending in a lot of troops. That turned out to be counterproductive. They lost a lot of people.

Then they tried appeasement. These peace agreements that you've been talking about, Anderson, those really haven't been particularly effective. And frankly, I don't think there are any really good options.

Certainly the United States, according to a senior State Department official I was briefed by recently, is looking to put in substantial amounts of money into the tribal regions, $150 million a year over the next five years. Also, Pakistan has a plan to put in development money, also substantial amounts. But that isn't going to yield results, you know, tomorrow, or even, you know, for quite a long time.

And clearly, with the suicide attacks that you mentioned, that Nic mentioned in his piece, blowing back into Pakistan, this has really become a problem not only for Afghanistan, for NATO, the U.S. military, but also increasingly now for Pakistan itself. Maybe that will get the ball moving.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, you say there may be an upside to this increase in attacks inside Pakistan. How so? BERGEN: Well, I think the upside might be that Pakistan -- you know, it really is very concerned about this Talibanization problem. Obviously, it's very deeply concerned about six major suicide attacks within the last several weeks in Pakistan.

A lot of these are coming out of the tribal regions. And this may, you know, produce more effort by the Pakistani government to do things.

The problem is, what do you do? Because you've tried strong force, you've tried peace agreements. And it's hard to really work out what a good policy is. I don't pretend that there is necessarily a really good idea of what to do next, but I think the Pakistani government surely is going to focus in on this problem more than it has in the past.

COOPER: Peter, when you and I were embedded with the 10th Mountain Division along the border in Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border, a lot of the soldiers who we were talking to who we went out on patrol with were saying, look, we are seeing the tactics from Iraq being exported here. We're seeing an uptick in IEDs, we're seeing the suicide bombers, things that never existed in Afghanistan before.

Do we know the relation between al Qaeda and the Taliban? Are they -- you know, are they intermeshed now completely? Does one run provide the training? Do we know?

BERGEN: Yes. I mean, I think they are intermeshed.

I mean, they're doing so many similar things. Not only the IED attacks and suicide attacks you mentioned, but also, they're doing a lot of the same propaganda stuff. Al Qaeda has a production arm, the Taliban followed suit.

You know, Mullah Dadullah, who was profiled earlier, has given interviews in which he's saying that they're taking instructions from Osama bin Laden, which I think speaks for itself. And so, I think increasingly they're morphed together ideologically and tactically, and that's one of the reasons that you're seeing the problems, particularly in Afghanistan, but now to some degree in Pakistan as well.

COOPER: As I was telling you during the break, I'm getting a lot of e-mails from parents of soldiers who are over there, American soldiers who are fighting in Afghanistan who feel that the war is not getting the attention in the media that it deserves, that the sacrifices their kids are making are going unnoticed. What I think a lot of people don't realize is that, the NATO troops which are there, there are all sorts of rules for the use of these NATO troops. Like German troops which are up in the north in Afghanistan can't be sent down to the south where the fighting actually is.

Does that make sense? And do they have enough troops there who can actually enter the fight?

BERGEN: Well, there are more international troops there than there have been at any point in -- since the occupation and the fall of the Taliban. But, I mean, you mentioned the thing about the Germans won't fight in the south. This is something that's a very irritating issue to other member NATO countries who -- people like the Dutch, British, ad the Canadians, who are fighting in the south. And NATO is actually -- the whole operation now, as you know, Anderson is a NATO operation.

There's a very strong U.S. military component, but the four-star U.S. general who runs it is a NATO officer. And these national caveats, as they are known, where certain countries won't do certain things, are quite damaging. And I think there's going to be quite a lot of tension between the alliance about -- about these national caveats and criticism of countries like the Germans who are not really stepping up to the plate, who are not putting their guys in harm's way.

On the other hand, if you're a German politician, it would probably be political suicide to say, hey, we're going to send our guys into the south and fight the Taliban, because that would not be popular in Germany. So there are some political realities for each of these countries that are part of the NATO alliance.

COOPER: Political realities, and also realities on the ground in Afghanistan.

Peter, appreciate it. Thanks for your perspective.

BERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: On the radar tonight, your reaction to Randi Kaye's report on the Marine who came home from the war with crippling emotional problems and was turned away by his local VA hospitals. He later took his own life.

His story getting a lot of response on the 360 blog.

"Politicians are to blame," writes Tim in New Orleans. "I've been hearing about unsatisfactory conditions with our VA hospitals since I was a child. I'm now 47."

From John in Spartanburg, South Carolina, "Disgraceful," he says. "I'm ashamed to be American when I see things like this. We should all be ashamed."

And this from Amanda in Smiths, Alabama -- "As a veteran, I'm amazed that the public is now just recognizing or caring about the way active duty members or vets are treated -- or should I say mistreated." She goes on to say, "I thought it was common knowledge just how screwed up the medical care for our military is."

That's why we're trying to keep them honest. And as always, we appreciate your input. Just go to You can follow the link and you can weigh in.

Up next on 360, there is a new pill that promises to help alcoholics kick the habit. The question is, does it work? We're going to talk to 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta about that next on 360.

Stay tuned.


COOPER: Well, the figures are alarming. Millions of Americans young and old are addicted to alcohol. According to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health, 47 percent of alcoholics surveyed said they became alcoholics before they reached the age of 21.

Tonight we bring you one young man's story. Adam began drinking as a teenager and thought he'd never stop until he learned about a drug that could actually control his cravings. He's featured in the new HBO documentary series "Addiction".

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ever since I was young, I started sneaking liquor and drinking just by myself. And then when I got to college I just went kind of got crazy. I feel an emptiness that needs to be filled, and alcohol is one way that I do it.

DR. BANKOIE JOHNSON, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's a very good drug at cutting the craving for the buzz from alcohol. So, if an individual went to try to take a drink or slip back into drinking, they feel less likely to take the next and the next drink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm ashamed to show you all of this. This is a mess here. It's like my life is unresolved. It's just not going anywhere now.

I mean, just crazy stuff. Last night would be this and three of -- three of these, four of those.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are the big malt liquor bottles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, here, this stuff will knock you out. It's cheaper and it's little more alcohol.

My father, his son from his previous marriage, my half-brother, basically drank himself to death. And they found him dead in his apartment, been rotting for a couple days.

Well, alcohol in general is an old regular. It's what stuck with me. But I want to stop, and I'm hoping the medicine will help give me some incentive to feel a little better during the day so I don't have to reach for the beer just to drown my feelings.

It took a while. The first three or four weeks I noticed very little effect at all. The pattern stayed pretty much the same, drinking late into the evenings. But then it gradually -- I started going to sleep earlier, and I started drinking less.

JOHNSON: Your cravings are actually much lower than when you started, which is really nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does -- it's getting easy. I think when I decided to quit drinking, that medicine being there was really -- it was a boost. It was -- it made me feel comfortable about it.

JOHNSON: You know, when an individual is at the height of their alcohol drinking, it's almost like an unquenchable thirst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was about three week ago, and I was still drinking. Sort of depression lifted from me and I started listening to Beethoven it was, I think, at the time, and I started feeling like I could write music. And I started writing before I stopped drinking, and I started writing more, and the alcohol started have less of an effect.

And then last week, I figured as it was having very little effect anyway, I just decided to stop. And I haven't looked back yet. So that's where I stand.


COOPER: Amazing. You can see the difference in his face. Adam spent time in and out of treatment after filming the HBO series after it ended more than a year ago. He's been sober for the past four months and says that Alcoholics Anonymous has also been very helpful.

For more on the new drug and other treatments for alcoholism, earlier I spoke with Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Washington, where he's on assignment for 360.


COOPER: Sanjay, this drug, Topiramate, it's being referred to by experts as the most promising alcoholism drug ever. Why is that?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there's one big reason for that. If you look at previous sort of alcohol drugs, you know, drugs that try to prevent alcoholism, they really require that you stop drinking already before you -- before you take them. And really be abstinent before you take them.

With Topiramate, or Topamax, you can still be drinking, which actually increases the number of people who might qualify for this. Also, if you just look at the numbers, there's been a couple of studies now, big ones, showing over 28 percent or so people becoming abstinent within 12 weeks, about 26 percent have just cut out their heavy drinking altogether.

So, those are pretty effective number as well with regards to the overall effectiveness of this. Of course it's going to take some time to see how effective it is in the long term, but at least initially, as compared to some of the other drugs, it's pretty good.

COOPER: How does it work?

GUPTA: Well, this is very interesting, Anderson. You know, when people drink, especially alcoholics, they seem to release dopamine in the brain. And dopamine can be one of these feel-good hormones.

So, what they believe Topamax or Topiramate does, it actually decreases the amount of dopamine that's produced in response to drinking. But even more than that, and I think what distinguishes it from some of the other medications is that it also seems to decrease the negative feelings associated with not drinking. So you're getting sort of both things at the same time.

COOPER: Are there side-effects?

GUPTA: There do appear to be some side-effects. You get this sort of pins and needles sensation. Some people might have these cognitive effects as well. And specifically, word-finding difficulties.

It can also be very sedating. Anderson, I prescribed this medication myself several times not for this but for seizures, which was actually one of the initial uses for this.

One of the hard things about this medication, as well, as compared to the other medications, is you have to sort of slowly escalate the dose. So people have to have these visits back and forth to the doctor, keep getting their doses changed. If you don't follow up, it may not be that effective.

COOPER: How does, you know, a drug like this compare with a 12- step program, like an Alcoholics Anonymous? Can you -- can you use one of those programs and not use a drug?

GUPTA: Yes. You know, all of the data seems to indicate that, yes, you could do one of these support-type programs and not have to use the medication. The best data, the best chance of not having relapse, seems to come in some sort of combination of both. No surprise there.

But even more than that, people who really do have a physical dependence on alcohol or other drugs as well, seem to get some benefit by actually using some drug like Topiramate, in addition to the counseling programs. But, you know, the Topiramate can be used by itself as well.

COOPER: And in terms of the -- I mean, how far along are we in terms of the realm of treating alcoholism?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's hard to say. You could sort of break the numbers down and evaluate all people that have done gone through these sort of alcohol programs and find that about one-third of them are actually going to stay off alcohol altogether. About three-fifths of them are going to sort of be in between somewhere. And the rest are really not going to have response to the existing programs today, which is why it's so important to have medications like Topiramate out there.

Again, it may not be a first-line treatment for a lot of people, but it's an option for people who just aren't responding to what's already available. COOPER: That's some good news there.

Sanjay, appreciate it. Thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you.


COOPER: "PAULA ZAHN NOW" people are also covering this vital issue. They're going to have a special report on addiction, "Hooked: When you Can't Stop." It's going to air tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern on "PAULA ZAHN NOW".

Up next, though, ways to get in shape either through exercise or your diet. Keeping Dr. Sanjay Gupta pretty busy tonight. He answers your "Fit or Fat" questions, next.


COOPER: So, summer's just around the corner, of course. A lot of people are trying to get fit or just feel healthier. 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta joins us now for our segment "Fit or Fat," with some suggestions on how to get ready. Tonight he answers your questions on everything from organic food to working out on a treadmill.

All right, Sanjay. Charlotte (ph) from New Jersey writes, "I've recently cut down on dairy products and replaced it with Whey Protein isolate powder."

So, what of that, Sanjay? Whey Protein powder, fit or fat?

GUPTA: You know, I think you're going to be surprised by this one, but I'm actually going to call that one fat. A couple of reasons for that.

First of all, people are really focused on protein, maybe too much so. Keep in mind, Anderson, and Charlotte (ph), you only need about 20 percent of your diet to be protein. And you rally do need the dairy product as well.

First of all, they have a bit of protein in them, but they also have calcium, the have Vitamin D, things that you need. Unless you're a bodybuilder like Anderson Cooper, you probably don't need that much protein in your diet.

COOPER: I'll let that one pass.

GUPTA: Sorry.

COOPER: Bill from Virginia writes, "I walk on my treadmill for 30 minutes, five to six days per week. I do not perform any type of resistance or strength exercise."

So, fit or fat? Does Bill -- he just does cardio, no strength or resistance training.

Is that fit or fat?

GUPTA: This is something I've looked into a lot. And again, and people may be surprised by this, but also fat.

Now, listen, you get full points for actually doing exercise that regularly. But here's the problem. People who just get on the treadmill every single day, they probably aren't seeing their body changing. They may rev up their metabolism for short periods of time, but in order to sustain weight loss, in order to get your body to actually change metabolically, you've got to start adding some upper resistance training.

And let me add this as well. For people who are older, want to live longer, adding that upper body resistance training can do a lot of things besides making your posture good. It can ward off pneumonia and respiratory disease later in life. Those are big killers.

COOPER: Jessica from Kentucky writs, "Dr. Gupta, I was at my local supercenter the other day and picked up a hoodia weight loss product. It said not to take it if you have high blood pressure. I have high blood pressure, but I am taking Altace to control it. Should I stay away from the hoodia?"

GUPTA: You know, no surprise there. We're going to call that one fat as well.

Here's problem that I have with a lot of the supplements, and I think a lot of doctors have with supplements, is we just don't know a lot about them. They're not regulated.

One hoodia bottle could have one concentration of something in it. Another hoodia bottle could have a totally different concentration.

These come from cactus plants in the African desert. And truth be told, a lot of people swear by it. But they can cause cardiac problems, they can cause high blood pressure, even if you're taking blood pressure medications. This is something you probably should steer clear from. Keep in mind the basics, you know, just good diet and exercise.

COOPER: Finally, Cassie (ph) asked, "Does organic food really help with cutting down health problems like heart disease and other kinds of diseases?"

Sanjay, organic food, make a difference? Fit or fat?

GUPTA: I think I'm going to give that one fit. You know, organic foods, first of all, they can be expensive. So a lot of people just say, well, I mean, yes, if you pay the money of course they're going to be good for you. But they do give you some benefits, I believe, Anderson, as well.

First of all, you don't see as many antibiotics in them. So I think that's importantly -- especially important in children. Also, thing likes bovine growth hormone. We just don't know what that does, if you're drinking that, for example, in milk.

If you can afford the organic products, I think that's going to serve you well in terms of warding off some of these diseases later in life. That's a fit one.

COOPER: I've got to tell you, I've already had two protein shakes today.

GUPTA: I can tell.

COOPER: So I'm feeling -- feeling a little fat.

GUPTA: No, you look huge.

COOPER: Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: To some it's fit, others it's fat. But could a pizza be so good it's worth $1,000? Where can you get this outrageous pie? Maybe we'll tell you what's on it -- and we'll tell you what's on it next.

Stay tuned.



COOPER: That's it for us tonight. I will see you tomorrow night.

Larry King is next.


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