Return to Transcripts main page


The War on Terror: New Taliban Allies; America Votes 2008: Democratic Debate; Consumer Beware; Broken Government; Pet Projects

Aired October 30, 2007 - 23:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Soledad O'Brien. Anderson Cooper has the night off.
The top Democratic presidential candidates faced off tonight in Philadelphia. Lots of people were expecting the gloves to come off. Did frontrunner Hillary Clinton become a punching bag as was predicted? And did any of the punches hit their mark?

Also ahead tonight, broken government. Many Americans would like to take a few swings at Congress. We'll show you just why ahead. Here's a clue -- can you say out of touch and out of line?

Plus, the government agency that's supposed to keep us safe from dangerous products. Well, apparently, it's asleep at the wheel, and Americans are dying. Why isn't it doing its job?

We begin, though, tonight with a new threat in Afghanistan. Over the weekend more than 50 Taliban fighters were killed or wounded in a raid by NATO-led troops. That's barely a dent, of course.

Violence in Afghanistan is surging. More than 5,300 people have died this year from insurgent attacks. It's the deadliest year, in fact, since the war began.

And now it has become clear that the region has become a magnet for foreign fighters who are even more extreme than the Taliban. They brought deadlier tactics to the war and are changing the face of the enemy.

I talked about the new developments with CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen.


O'BRIEN: Peter, thanks for talking with, as always.

Huge, huge influx reported in these foreign militants who are fighting alongside the Taliban.

Why such an increase? Why now?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Soledad, as I'm sure you're aware, the situation in Afghanistan over the last year or so has got progressively worse. IED attacks doubled in the last year. Suicide attacks quintupled, up to 139. They're already up 69 percent this year. Attacks on international forces tripled. And part of this is because of al Qaeda's influence on the Taliban. The tactics that worked, unfortunately, so well in Iraq have been imported into Afghanistan, the suicide attacks, the IED attacks. And, at the same time, there's been people going from Afghanistan to the -- to Iraq to actually learn on the job there. And some of these people are coming back.

"The New York Times" reports today that there are more foreign fighters in Afghanistan, according to both U.S. officials and Afghan officials. And that's a problem, because, of course, the foreign fighters are even more radical than some of the Taliban, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And the number they gave are 5,000 people killed. Reports say that these fighters, Peter, are coming from Pakistan, Chechnya, even Turkey and China, and that they hope to further radicalize, as you point out, some of the more moderate figures within the Taliban.

What kind of long-term impact do you think this sort of influx could have?

BERGEN: Well, I think, unfortunately, it could make the already- violent situation in Afghanistan quite a lot worse.

You know, CNN, Anderson was over there six months ago, and we were there with him. And the situation since then has actually markedly deteriorated. Parts of the country that we were visiting six months ago are now off-limits to foreigners.

And, unfortunately, just as the descent and the chaos in Iraq began in the fall of 2003, I think some of the same things that we saw in Iraq are beginning to happen in Afghanistan, where you can't have reconstruction without security. And security in half of the country, in the south, has really disappeared.

You're also seeing the Taliban show up in places 100 miles from Kabul in areas that they were not previously in.

So, the influx of the foreign fighters in tandem with the fact the Taliban are resurgent is very bad news for Afghanistan as a whole. I'm not suggesting that these guys can really overthrow the Hamid Karzai government. That's not plausible. But they can certainly inflict more damage on the U.S. military there, on the NATO troops there.

And, as you pointed out, Soledad, this has been the worst year for violence against Afghan civilians since the fall of the Taliban.

O'BRIEN: But, Peter, you know, there are a couple theories there. Some people say, well, bringing in the foreign fighters, that's really a sign of desperation by the Taliban. And then the flip side of that is, no, actually, because these fighters are more dangerous, it's an indication they are more desperate, and it's a bigger risk, in fact.

BERGEN: Well, I think I'm always very suspicious of arguments saying that suicide attacks are a sign of desperation and all of these people are last-ditch, no-hopers, dead-enders, because we have seen in the past that's not the truth -- not true.

And al Qaeda of course has resurged, not only in Afghanistan, but on the Pakistan border. And they are producing a lot of violence also in Afghanistan's neighbor. We have seen a blizzard of suicide attacks in Pakistan in the last several months, so, on both sides of the border, al Qaeda resurgent and the Taliban resurgent.

O'BRIEN: Peter Bergen for us tonight -- Peter, thank you very much.

Let's turn now to Philadelphia where the Democratic debate wrapped up just a few moments ago.

Seven of the Democratic presidential contenders faced off at Drexel University.

Since their last debate a month ago, Senator Hillary Clinton has strengthened her frontrunner status and that has put her in the cross hairs tonight.

Lots of people were expecting that Barack Obama and John Edwards would take some serious swings at Hillary.

Joining us this evening, CNN's Candy Crowley.

Hey, Candy, how'd it go?

CANDY CROWELY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly tried. You know, you hit it on the head here, when you're the frontrunner, that is synonymous with being the target.

Tonight Clinton's opponents questioned her credibility. They questioned her electability.

So tonight was all about aiming at her, trying to champ away at some of those frontrunner numbers.

Barack Obama kicked things off, suggesting that Hillary sometimes talked like a Republican and often changed her positions for political convenience.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton, in her campaign, I think has been for NAFTA previously. Now she's against it. She has taken one position on torture several months ago and then more recently has taken a different position. She voted for a war to authorize sending troops into Iraq and then later said this was a war for diplomacy.

I don't think that -- now, that may be politically savvy, but I don't think that it offers the clear contrast that we need.


CROWLEY: Now, Senator Clinton did have an edge to her tonight, but she played the frontrunner's game. As hard as they tried to engage her, she refused and set her sights on George Bush.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have stood against George Bush and his failed policies. They want to continue the war in Iraq. I want to end it. The Republicans are waving their sabers and talking about going after Iran. I want to prevent a rush to war.

On every issue from health care for children to an energy policy that puts us on the right track to deal with climate change and make us more secure, I have been standing against the Republicans, George Bush and Dick Cheney and I will continue to do so, and I think Democrats know that.


CROWLEY: Obama was not the only one going after Clinton. John Edwards, who has never been shy about going after the frontrunner, stepped up his game, questioning her candor.


JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think it is crucial for Democratic voters and caucus goers to determine who they can trust, who's honest? Who's sincere? Who has integrity? And I think it's fair in that regard to look at what people have said.

Senator Clinton says that she believes she can be the candidate for change. But she defends a broken system that's corrupt in Washington, D.C. She says she will end the war. But she continues to say she'll keep combat troops in Iraq and continue combat missions in Iraq.


CROWLEY: Senator Dodd also took part in all of this, questioning Clinton's electability, saying, look, it's just a fact that half of the country says they won't vote for her.

Things got bad enough, Soledad, that Governor Richardson finally chimed in and said, listen, this is all sounding pretty personal to me, and I think Democrats ought to be more positive -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's an interesting part on his part.

Now, listen, Candy, stick around for a moment because I want to bring in the rest of our political panel tonight. We've got Paul Begala, political contributor. He's in D.C. Also, David Gergen is in Boston, presidential adviser, obviously.

Nice to see you, gentlemen.

David, let's start with you. Watching the debate, did you think there was a clear winner who emerged? DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: No. I think very strongly that they went after Hillary Clinton more toughly than they ever have before. But they -- I don't think they can beat her in a debate on substance. She's extremely experienced on the public stage, and that comes through.

I do think where she may have lost some of her luster tonight was on style because when she's under attack, she tends to be more strident. On those issues where there's more agreement on the stage, than she is -- you know, she's friendlier, warmer as she was in an earlier debate. This is the most strident I think we've seen her debate.

But on substance, I think she stood up very well except on one question, and that was the immigration issue at the end for Governor Spitzer, and that was with regard to giving them driver's licenses.

O'BRIEN: Paul, let me ask you about Obama's performance. He has pretty much laid it out actually in "The New York Times," frankly, this morning, and we all read it. Do you think he came out as forcefully as he really needed, frankly, to do?

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Well, not as fortunately as advertised. John Edwards was much, much tougher.

Now, maybe that's helpful for Barack. Maybe his attacks seemed kinder and gentler. But I think a lot of his supporters might be a little disappointed he wasn't tougher tonight.

O'BRIEN: Candy, no question that Hillary Clinton had this big old, you know, bull's-eye basically painted on her back by everybody else there. And she also got in this debate a lot of flak for her support of this measure that designated the Iranian revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization. Here's a little bit of how she defended herself, and I'll ask you the question on the other side.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and the Iranian revolutionary guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism. So some may want a false choice between rushing to war, which is the way the Republicans sound, is not even a question of whether, it's a question of when and what weapons to use, and doing nothing. I prefer vigorous diplomacy.


O'BRIEN: How did she come across, Candy, on a question similar -- this one and others like it?

CROWLEY: Well, probably the way she wanted to come across, and that is tough. Look, you know, she's really playing two races here. There's the primary where you have Democrats that Obama and Edwards are speaking to saying oh, my gosh, Hillary Clinton pretty much gave George Bush the green light if he wants to, to take military action against Iran.

She, on the other hand, also talks to a more general audience, sort of looking past the primaries where she gets more hawkish, you know, knowing that the Democratic Party really has to begin to look tough. And I think that's what this vote and what her comments were about was getting that muscular defense part of her out there to a broader audience than just the Democrats.

O'BRIEN: David, you know, you talked about Senator Dodd raising the issue of electability, and many people have come around to that again and again and again.

Here's how Barack Obama framed the issue. And I thought when he took a stab at it, he used a lot of words, and it wasn't particularly clear. Here's what he said.


OBAMA: Part of the reason that Republicans, I think, are obsessed with you, Hillary, is because that's a fight they're very comfortable having. It is the fight that we've been through since the '90s. And part of the job of the next president is to break the gridlock and to get Democrats and Independents and Republicans to start working together to solve these big problems like health care or climate change or energy. And what we don't need is another eight years of bickering.


O'BRIEN: That's a lot of words to say, I don't think she's electable.

GERGEN: It is, Soledad. And I don't think they were very effective. That was a very glancing blow.

Fundamentally, it does seem to me that Barack Obama started to take one glove off tonight, not two, as Paul Begala said. John Edwards has got his gloves off. Chris Dodd weighed in with a couple of punches, but I don't think they landed any hard punches. I think fundamentally this debate did not change the underlying dynamics of this race.

O'BRIEN: Paul Begala, we'll give you the final question. John Edwards, as we all know, has been slipping in those Iowa polls where he has put a lot of money, a lot of resources. Performance tonight, how would you rate him?

BEGALA: Well, Iowa Democrats are unusual. They're not like me. They don't like negative campaigning. They're very decent people, very sweet-natured. Edwards very nearly won Iowa the last time because, like Bill Richardson tonight, he took a pledge not to go negative. So I worry if I were Edwards that those negative attacks won't go over very well in Iowa, but he is running only in the primary and only in Iowa. I think the difference is he and Barack are running a primary campaign and attacking Hillary. Hillary is already running the general election campaign and attacking President Bush and the Republicans, and I think that's the better strategy.

O'BRIEN: Our distinguished political panel tonight, thank you very much for joining us.

Paul Begala joining us, David Gergen and Candy Crowley, thanks.

Of course, in just a few weeks it's the Republicans' turn. Anderson Cooper is going to host the second CNN You Tube debate on November 28. Go to to post your questions for the candidates.

A short break, we're back in a moment.



O'BRIEN: Some breaking news to get to this evening. There's been a magnitude 5.6 earthquake that has struck California. It's being called a medium quake. No damage to report. No injuries that we know of at this time. We are told, though, that the quake struck 11 kilometers about seven miles from Milpitas, California; 15 kilometers, about nine miles from San Jose City Hall in California.

That is all the details that we have at this time. A medium size, 5.6 magnitude earthquake has struck California at 8:04 Pacific Time. And as we are told right now, no damage and no injuries at this hour to report to you.

Obviously, we're going to monitor these details that are coming to us from the U.S. Geological Service and give you updates as soon as we get them.


O'BRIEN: Moving on now, we're going to tale a little bit about broken government. For the next half hour, in fact, we are looking more closely at some of the big breaks, starting with the agency that frankly is supposed to be keeping consumers safe.

More than 20 million toys have been recalled in the last two months alone. And today, a Senate committee approved a bill that would strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Now, you might think that the head of the agency would celebrating. But actually, just the opposite. She's trying to torpedo the bill.

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for her resignation.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Is it too much to expect the government to live up to its responsibility to protect our children? We have a consumer protection agency to do that. We stand here today because we do not believe that it is too much for America's parents to ask. America's children deserve all of that and more.


O'BRIEN: Toys aren't the only glaring example of the agency falling down on the job.

We asked CNN's Randi Kaye to investigate another danger to consumers. And frankly, it's as close as your local Home Depot.

Here is what Randi found.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, this the room where you used it?

DR. WALTER FRIEDEL, INJURED BY STAND 'N SEAL: This is the room, the infamous room.

KAYE (voice-over): It was supposed to be a simple do-it-yourself project. The grout in this tile floor needed work. So, Dr. Walter Friedel bought six cans of Stand 'n Seal spray-on grout sealer, sold exclusively at Home Depot.

FRIEDEL: What I did was take the can and shake it up, the way they instructed.

KAYE (on camera): So, whatever was coming up, any of those vapors, would have been coming right into your face?

FRIEDEL: Absolutely.

KAYE: But, as far as you knew...

FRIEDEL: They were safe.

KAYE (voice-over): Turns out, they were anything but. Dr. Friedel ventilated the room as suggested, but, within a half-hour, something was very wrong.

FRIEDEL: By the time I made it from my bedroom to the kitchen, I was down on one knee, I was so short on breath. I couldn't catch my breath.

KAYE: A hazardous chemical in Stand 'n Seal had severely damaged 30 percent of Dr. Friedel's lungs. He was hospitalized in intensive care for four days with chemical pneumonia. He needed an oxygen tank for four months and still uses an inhaler.

If only this do-it-yourselfer had known, when he bought Stand 'n Seal two years ago, that it had already been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

(on camera): Did you have any idea, when you bought this product, that it had made dozens of people sick and killed two people?

FRIEDEL: Had no -- no knowledge whatsoever.

KAYE: Two people had died from this stuff, yet, it was still on store shelves.

"Keeping them Honest," we tried to ask the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the very government agency designed to protect us from dangerous products, how this could happen. They refused to talk to us, saying an ongoing investigation prevents them from discussing the issue. Imagine that, a public agency that can't talk to the public.

(voice-over): Here's what we have been able to piece together through court documents. Consumers started complaining to Stand 'n Seal's manufacturer, Roanoke, in May 2005.

In an internal e-mail dated June 17, the company's CEO wrote, "For the last two months or so, we have been getting calls with problems related to the Stand 'n Seal" and called the situation "very serious."

Still, Roanoke didn't tell the Safety Commission until June. At that point, the Safety Commission started an investigation, but didn't recall Stand 'n Seal until the end of August, more than two months later.

DONALD MAYS, SENIOR DIRECTOR PRODUCT SAFETY, CONSUMERS UNION: The Consumer Product Safety Commission clearly dropped the ball in the case of the Stand 'n Seal case. They failed to get the -- an unsafe product off the market.

KAYE: How was it Stand 'n Seal remained on store shelves even though it had killed two people? Had the Consumer Product Safety Commission not done its homework? Why didn't it make sure the product was safe?

We will have the answers when we come back.



O'BRIEN: Before the break, we told you about a man who nearly died after using a spray-on tile grout in his bathroom. Well, here's what's really scary. The product had been recalled, but it was still being sold.

Once again, here is Randi Kaye.


KAYE (voice-over): Dr. Walter Friedel nearly died after using Stand 'n Seal spray-on tile grout. Two others had died. And the product had been recalled. Yet, Dr. Friedel was still able to buy it. Why?

After the recall, in August 2005, records show the company that makes Stand 'n Seal, Roanoke, promised it had fixed the problem. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission allowed Stand 'n Seal back on the market, but did not ensure the new formula was safe. And, so, Dr. Friedel bought the cans that made him sick two months after the recall.

FRIEDEL: If you look at the bottom of the cans, none of these numbers are on the recall list. So, these were supposed to be safe cans.

KAYE: And they're still a threat. This recall notice on the Safety Commission's Web site only warns about cans bought before June 2005. It has never been updated. We called the commission to find out what it tells the public now about Stand 'n Seal.

(on camera): I'm calling about the Stand 'n Seal product.

CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION HOT LINE OPERATOR: It is on the recall. It is from April 2005 through June 2005. If they're made after that and the date code is different, then it's fine.

KAYE: So anything -- so, if I have a can from, say, October 2005, that should be OK?


KAYE: Yes?


KAYE (voice-over): Some have already discovered it is not fine. Others may still have Stand 'n Seal at home, unaware that it could kill them.

(on camera): Do they just simply not have the tools to go through these investigations?

MAYS: That's exactly right. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a woefully under funded, understaffed safety agency.

KAYE (voice-over): May says the Safety Commission's 400 employees are responsible for monitoring 15,000 products, and just 15 inspectors oversee 300 ports.

Just as bad, its lab equipment is outdated.

Yet, the commission's acting chairwoman told a House panel in September:


KAYE: Home Depot pulled the product off the shelves this past March. The company refused an interview, but it has denied liability, saying in a statement that it removed the recalled cans and was not aware that problems continued. It adds, it "never knowingly sold any of the recalled product."

Dr. Friedel and nearly 200 other victims are suing Home Depot, along with Stand 'n Seal's manufacturer, but not the Safety Commission, even though Dr. Friedel blames it, too.

(on camera): Would you say the Consumer Product Safety Commission failed you in this case?

FRIEDEL: They did not fulfill their job; that's for sure.

KAYE (voice-over): And considering the Safety Commission never updated its warning, even after more people got sick, it still isn't doing its job.


O'BRIEN: That was Randi Kaye reporting for us. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, of course, is a relatively small agency, but with this massive responsibility.

Here's a look at the raw data. It was founded in 1973 with a staff of 800. The commission now has a work force of half of that number. Democrats want to increase the budget to about $80 million in 2009. The department's power reaches halfway around the world, ordering the recall of more than 20 million toys from China.

As we continue our look at broken government tonight, we have another shameful example. This one involves -- surprise, surprise -- a member of Congress, and a proposed museum that pays tribute to, believe it or not, the mule.

And, believe it or not, it actually gets worse than that. While it may not be a lot of money, it's your money.

"Keeping them Honest" tonight, here's CNN's Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five hours from Los Angeles and on the backside of the Yosemite Valley sits Bishop, California, with an elevation higher than its population. And it is here, you might say, federal taxpayers are being turned into jackasses.

BOB TANNER, BISHOP, MULE ASSOCIATION: Bishop considers itself the mule capital of the world.

GRIFFIN: The county fairgrounds in Bishop host the biggest mule festival in the United States every Memorial Day weekend. And Bob Tanner says, it's time you knew more about the mule.

TANNER: Now, there's a lot of things that people don't know about mules.

GRIFFIN: Which is apparently why Republican Congressman Buck McKeon wants you to help pay for a museum to the mule to be built on these fairgrounds.

The congressman wouldn't talk to us, but his earmark request of $50,000 to explore the possibility of a mule museum is on its way to getting final approval in Congress.

A long way from Bishop, California, and also on its way to congressional approval, in rural Rices Landing, Pennsylvania, your tax money will turn a dilapidated barn into a museum, too.

(on camera): There's cobwebs in there.

(voice-over): This earmark will cost you $150,000, to be spent on a nearly abandoned building where neighbor Gary Smith (ph) parks his truck.

(on camera): Must not be too busy if you can park a truck here, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they got a tour once a year in there.

GRIFFIN: Once a year?


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Democrat John Murtha is asking for this one, the money to restore the luster to the W.A. Young and Sons Foundry, turning it into a key historic property.

That's what Congressman Murtha said on his Web site, anyway. He wouldn't talk to us either.



O'BRIEN: Let's get back to our breaking news now. We told you that there was an earthquake magnitude 5.6 that struck California. We've got Rafael Abreu. He's with the U.S. Geological Survey, joining us by phone.

Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it and I know you're busy. What do we know about this earthquake at this time, sir?

RAFAEL ABREU, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY (on the phone): OK. We're still getting very in the stages of preliminary location and everything else. We have a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 for this earthquake. It is basically located at the epicenter in latitude 37.43 degrees north and 121.77 degrees west. That's the longitude.


O'BRIEN: Which, I know you know where that is, but for the rest of us, that's somewhere near San Jose, California, a couple miles or so from the city hall there.

Give me a sense of what a magnitude 5.6 earthquake would feel to someone -- I mean, there's a large number of people who live right there in San Jose. That's a very populated area. What does that feel like, 5.6 magnitude? ABREU: 5.6 right now is a pretty strong jolt, basically. It is what we consider a moderate earthquake. But in the case of California, which the population density, is pretty high, I'm definitely certain that a lot of people have felt it and it felt very, very strongly, particularly if you're pretty close to the epicenter in the area of Allen Rock (ph), California. This earthquake was also shallow. It was a 9.2 kilometers in depth, which means it's fairly close to the surface which also indicates a pretty strong shaking in the area, in particular.

O'BRIEN: Have you gotten any indication that there was any damage or any injury at this point?

ABREU: At this point we haven't had any reports of damage or injuries, OK? We did have one from one concerned mother saying that her son had called and everything in his room had moved, so sure enough that's pretty much the only report we have at this time.

O'BRIEN: All things considered, that's a very good report to get when you consider the number of people who are in that area.

Rafael Abreu from the U.S. Geological Survey, joining us by phone.

5.6 earthquake that struck. We're told something in the order of nine miles from San Jose city hall in California, a very populated area, the epicenter near Allen Rock (ph) in California hit just after 8:00 p.m., Pacific Time, out in California.

We'll update you on this story as we get more details.

Thanks for being with us on phone.

We've got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Some breaking news to share with you this evening. There has been an earthquake, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake that hit around San Jose, we are told, about nine miles northeast, in fact, of San Jose city hall, very populated area.

They call it a moderate earthquake. We had someone from the U.S. Geological Survey on the phone. He said at this point they have no reports of any damage, any injuries. And in fact, my little brother who lives in Campbell, California, very close to there, said he really felt it. It was definitely a strong quake, but no damage to report in Campbell as well or anybody on the street. So everything seems to be at this point from early reports absolutely fine. It's a story we're watching, though, continue to follow for you as we get more details.


O'BRIEN: Republicans, Democrats, they certainly have no problem spending your money, especially on pet projects that defy logic. We're talking about some of them tonight. They seem almost laughable. But it really isn't funny, especially when you're the one picking up the tab.

In just a moment, one of the lawmakers in question gave us a mouthful in a blistering rebuttal. We have his fiery words coming up.

First though, here's CNN's Drew Griffin, "Keeping them Honest."


GRIFFIN (voice-over): A mule museum, a mostly abandoned foundry? These are just two examples of the 63 earmark requests for museums that members of Congress are asking for in their districts.

The congressional watchdog group that tallied the numbers says the total bill for museum pet projects this year alone -- $13.7 million.

Since the Democrats were the ones who touted earmark reform at the beginning of this Congress, we wanted to find out where museum earmarks fit into those plans.

(on camera): Well, we have repeatedly, over and over, bent over backwards, trying to ask Democratic leaders all about their earmark reforms, but the speaker of the House is much too busy. The head of the Appropriations Committee, he's too busy, too. And John Murtha, the only earmark reform we know about from John Murtha seems to be he's getting more earmarks.

So, with the Democrats all saying they won't talk to us, we decided to talk to the Republicans, and specifically Republican Leader John Boehner. He's not in control of the House, but he is in control of other Republicans.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think there's an awful lot of wasteful Washington spending in these earmarks. And I'm doing my best to try to control it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): To control it, Boehner is gathering signatures in the House to force at least the potential of a vote on every earmark.

BOEHNER: It says this. Every bill that comes to the floor of the House that has an earmark in it, it has to be disclosed with the member's name on it, and the member has to be willing to defend it.

GRIFFIN: He hopes the potential for exposure of things like -- well, like a jackass museum will lead to fewer requests for things like jackass museums.

But he is still gathering signatures, and Congress is getting closer to approving this year's spending bills. And, right now, the mules are in business.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: Tonight, three weeks after Drew first contacted Congressman Buck McKeon's office for an interview about the mule museum, the Congressman sent this e-mail.

In part, he writes, "If CNN chooses to make a mockery of a small- town western heritage, that its prerogative. But I'm going to remain focused on the economic development of my district. I'm a staunch supporter of earmark transparency and accountability. A light needs to be shined on the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on bridges to nowhere and projects that serve no real purpose, unlike our community museum request."

That's Buck McKeon trying to draw the distinction between taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere and taxpayer-funded museums to mules.

Well, mules or no mules, in fact, Congress has faced a pile of criticism lately. President Bush jumped in again today, blasting lawmakers for failing to do the people's work. Listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress is not getting its work done. We're near the end of the year, and there really isn't much to show for it.


O'BRIEN: The president has plenty of company, at least when it comes to Capitol Hill. Less than a quarter of Americans think that Congress is doing the job it should. So why do so many Americans think so little of the powers that be on the Hill?

Here's Candy Crowley, with more on why our government seems broken.


CROWLEY (voice-over): The House floor opened for business this week at 12:30 p.m., Monday.

REP. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: House will be in order.

CROWLEY: They call it morning business. Members talk about anything they want. Apparently, no one wanted to, so the House recessed until 2:00.

Scheduled business included recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali, expressing support for Country Music Month, naming several post offices and courthouses, calling on China to respect the rights of North Korean refugees.

The Senate convened at 3:00 to discuss the continuation of Amtrak. No votes were scheduled on anything, which is code for Senators don't have to be there, and they pretty much weren't. So most of the time the Senate floor looked like this. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Bingaman.

CROWLEY: In any neighborhood of the country you can find someone like Richard Gantt, just a guy living in suburban Chicago, husband, father of three, divorce lawyer, recovering political addict.

RICHARD GANTT, ILLINOIS VOTER: This seems like most parties just do the same thing there year after year after year. Nothing changes.

CROWLEY: Seventy-five percent of Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, according to the latest CNN Public Opinion Research Poll.

Why? Let them count the ways. Because Congress is out of touch. Because Congress has not taken action on issues important to them. Because there's too much fighting. Et cetera.

GANTT: I think most people in Congress are living a fantasy life. They have the best health care, and they have everything taken care of for them.

CROWLEY: Eighteen miles down the road from the Gantt home, the mayor of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is mulling over the stuff of life. How to help an elderly constituent upset that a village fence is mangling her bush.

PELOSI: The unfinished business is the vote on the motion from the gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. Frank, to suspend the rules and...

CROWLEY: The U.S. Congress is a very long way from here.

(on camera): This is sort of free association. United States Congress. You would say to me...

MAYOR CRAIG JOHNSON, ELK GROVE VILLAGE, ILLINOIS: Inept. They are probably the most inept form of government we've seen in the history of this country.

CROWLEY (voice-over): And that's before we told him about Congress and Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. We'll tell you, too, when we come back.




JOHNSON: Inept. They are probably the most inept form of government we've seen in the history of this country.


O'BRIEN: That's Craig Johnson, a small-town mayor in Illinois. It seems there's something about the slowly turning wheels of Congress that Mayor Johnson doesn't quite understand, just like a lot of us.

With more on our broken government, once again, here's Candy Crowley.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Being mayor of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is a part-time job, so time is of the essence, which is why the whole Brett Favre thing drives Craig Johnson nuts.

He holds in his hand a House resolution commending the Green Bay Packers quarterback for a record-breaking season.

JOHNSON: So they're going to commend Brett Favre for being a great quarterback, which anybody in sports would agree with. But they don't have time to find out how to put my kids through college, how to make it affordable for college.

You know, they can worry about steroids in Major League Baseball, but they don't know how to make sure that health care can be afforded?

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Madam change (ph) leader, we passed the minimum wage increase in the first 100 hours that we came to power in Washington, D.C.

CROWLEY: The Democratic leadership, seen more favorably than Congress as a whole, feels maligned. The House has scored a record- setting 1,000 roll call votes so far this year.

Since January the Senate has passed, the House has passed and the president has signed the following into law: The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, an increase in the minimum wage, a boost in student aid for college, lobbying and ethics reform. Not insignificant, but off point for many Americans.

SARAH BINDER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: This is not immigration reform. These aren't health care reform. And it's certainly not efforts to change the course of the war in Iraq, which is what Democrats really came into office trying to promise.

So when Congress doesn't perform on the big issues, it really pays a price.

CROWLEY: If you are struggling to pay bills, keep a job, find health care, live in the real world, Congress is Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

GANTT: I have met my congressman. And it happened to be about five days before the last election. I haven't seen or heard of him since.

CROWLEY: After members complained they couldn't spend enough time in their districts, the congressional leadership decided the House will not meet on most Fridays next year, which happens to be an election year.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


O'BRIEN: Coming up tonight, "The Shot of the Day." The ground shaking in Oregon today. A series of big booms, all in the name of nature. We're going to tell you how and why, straight ahead.

First, though, Erica Hill joins us with a "360 News and Business Bulletin."

Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, in the Caribbean, forecasters say Tropical Storm Noel appears to have weakened, with winds dropping to 40 miles an hour. Sixteen deaths are reported in the Dominican Republic. Another 16 are missing.

The outer edge of that storm could reach Florida as early as tomorrow night.

An 11th-hour stay of execution on Mississippi's Death Row. The Supreme Court stepping in just 15 minutes before Earl Wesley Barry was scheduled to die. Barry would have been only the second person put to death since the justices agreed a month ago to hear arguments over the constitutionality of lethal injections.

In New Orleans, embattled District Attorney Eddie Jordan says he'll resign tomorrow. Jordan's been under fire for the city's growing murder rate and a $3.7 million discrimination judgment. The case was brought on by former employees.

Another problem in space tonight. Space-walking astronauts spotted a rip on a solar panel being unfurled aboard the International Space Station. NASA engineers are now analyzing photos to determine just how badly that panel was damaged.

And a drop in consumer confidence is being blamed in part for today's declines on Wall Street. The Dow fell 77 points to 13792. The NASDAQ also fell, though slightly, and the S&P dropped nine points -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Erica, guess what? It's time for "The Shot." Here you go: three, two, one.

HILL: Oh, wow.

O'BRIEN: Kaboom. Pretty impressive, huh?

HILL: That is wild.

O'BRIEN: That was a series of timed explosions that took out two miles of levees in Southern Oregon. A total of 100 tons of explosives used there. The levees that were destroyed, because they're trying to let the water back in from Upper Klamath Lake and restore 2,500 acres of the wetlands there.

Those marshes were drained 50 years ago to make way for farming.


HILL: That's amazing.

O'BRIEN: Yes, conservationists actually hope that if they can refill the landfill -- refill the marshland with landfill there, they're going to be able to save some endangered species. The sucker fish apparently is endangered there, and they're hoping maybe there will be a new habitat for species of water birds, too.

HILL: Not bad. You know, I like that explosion much better than the building implosions.

O'BRIEN: Really?

HILL: I thought it was a lot cooler looking.

O'BRIEN: Very cool looking but not the sound effects.

HILL: No, not quite the same.

O'BRIEN: You could have helped me out and gone, "Pow."

HILL: Sorry, next time.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that.

If you want to send us your "Shot" ideas, if you see some amazing video, you can tell us all about it at

Thanks, Erica.

"Raw Politics" is coming up next. Tom Foreman's in Washington.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, right now, there is no one else in Washington who has been punched around more, is struggling more for his political life. And yet, this guy comes swinging off the ropes like Jake LaMotta. Really "Raw Politics," coming right up.



O'BRIEN: Dick Cheney is coming under fire for a hunting trip in upstate New York this week. It's not what he was hunting that was causing the trouble. It's the small confederate flag that's hanging in the club's garage. The vice president's spokesperson says Cheney never saw the flag. Well, stay tuned to that.

Back in Washington, as we mentioned earlier, his boss was taking shots at the Democrats, and they were throwing shots right back.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more in tonight's "Raw Politics." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Maybe it's just that wacky Halloween moon, but President Bush is going after the Democrats right now like he wants to plunge a veto pen right through their hearts.

Standing tall with congressional Republicans, the president said the Dems are running the worst Congress in 20 years, wasting time and money on every bill.

BUSH: They believe in raising taxes. And we don't.

FOREMAN: Maybe. But the GOP has run up a haunting deficit in recent years. So the Dems' best rhetoric came from a top aide to Harry Reid, who says taking money advice from President Bush was like taking hunting lessons from Dick Cheney. Neither is a good idea.

John Edwards thinks he has a good idea -- punching Hillary Clinton right in her ethics. He says the Hill is part of a corrupt, old system in Washington and should not be president if Americans want change.

The "Raw" read -- he's onto a weak spot. Polls show that even many voters who support the Hill don't trust her.

FOREMAN: Retired Army Lieutenant General James Peake has been picked to take over the Department of Veterans Affairs, a big job that's getting bigger. A new study shows that one out of every eight veterans under 65 is uninsured.

And Republican Internet darling Ron Paul airs his first TV ad in New Hampshire. Says, stop the war.

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Once we stop wasting trillions overseas, we can cut the budget and still help people who need it.

FOREMAN (on camera): Yes, now, his Halloween costume, I'm going to go with the Energizer bunny. This guy does not have the clout of a front-runner, but Ron Paul just keeps on going and going and going and going -- Soledad.


O'BRIEN: All right, Tom.

Up next, the latest on our breaking news. An earthquake strikes northern California. We've got an update when 360 continues.


O'BRIEN: This just in to CNN, a juvenile has admitted to police that he started the Buckweed fire in Los Angeles County. He said he was playing with matches. They boy's name and age have not been released, but he has been put in the custody of his parents.

The fire started 10 days ago, scorched more than 38,000 acres, destroyed 63 structures -- 20 of them were homes.

Fire also forced the evacuation of about 15,000 people from their homes.


O'BRIEN: Now, to northern California. A quick recap on the breaking story that we're following for you tonight. An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 struck near San Jose just after 8:00 p.m., Pacific Time.

The quake was centered in the foothills, just east of the city, about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco.

The California Highway Patrol says they haven't received any reports of damage or injuries. Residents, though, reported feeling the quake which lasted about a minute as far east as Sacramento, as far north as (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That is what we know about the quake right now.


O'BRIEN: We'll let you know about some special programming that's going to air tomorrow night on CNN.

Christiane Amanpour takes us to the frontlines of a volatile battle where religion and politics sometimes collide. Come face to face with God's Jewish warriors. That's tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m., Eastern, only on CNN.

I'm Soledad O'Brien, in New York.

For our international viewers, "CNN TODAY" is next. Here in the states, "LARRY KING" is coming up.

Thanks for joining us.