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No Answers from Authorities; Restricted Access; Out of Work and Out of Time; Al Qaeda Abandons Afghanistan; Jimmy Buffett on the Oil Spill

Aired July 5, 2010 - 23:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Good evening everybody; Soledad O'Brien here, in for Anderson Cooper. And I'm sitting in because we do not close up shop for the holidays.

And of course the oil in the Gulf doesn't take vacations either. Yet amazingly when Gulf officials needed answers from the Army Corps of Engineers they say they got nothing. They say they couldn't reach a single person all weekend and all day today until we took up the case. And wait until you hear what we found out when we paid the Corps a visit today.

Also tonight, Anderson has got the exclusive "Big 360 Interview" with Jimmy Buffett.


JIMMY BUFFETT, MUSICIAN: As tough as it is, somehow people here survive. I've seen it through my generation of being here, and people have been wiped out. And then my own family coming back and rebuilding, and going on with their lives.


O'BRIEN: Then later tonight, more than three million out of work Americans could soon be losing the only income they've got. So why do Republicans and some Democrats in Congress keep blocking an extension of their unemployment check? And why do most of the other Democrats let them.

Does either party really care about working Americans? We'll take you "Up Close" for some answers tonight.

First though, the very latest on the spill, which primarily is a weather story at the moment; rough seas is making it impossible to skim the oil off the water. The boats are stuck in port. And that huge converted oil tanker is also hampered.

Trials of it as a skimmer are inconclusive at this point, apparently, due to the choppy water. The weather could get a whole lot worse too. We've got details ahead from Chad Myers in just a moment. Meantime, southern Lake Pontchartrain now off limits to fishing after tar balls were spotted. They've also now landed on the beaches in Galveston Texas.

Meanwhile, the oil keeps gushing. To the people we talked to in the Gulf, it's a war plain and simple, which is what makes the next story so potentially explosive: allegations that one of the front line forces fighting the oil was for all intents and purposes, out to lunch from Friday until this evening.

Randi Kaye is "Keeping Them Honest" for us. She joins us -- hey, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Soledad, along the Gulf I hear over and over again, the oil isn't taking a vacation, so why should any of the officials? Which is why lots of folks here are pointing fingers tonight at the Army Corps of Engineers.

First some background, the governor of Louisiana and some local officials here petitioned the Corps a month ago for permission to build rock jetties along Barataria Bay. They are five passes there from the Gulf of Mexico and they believe the rocks would withstand a hurricane or a major storm better than any booms. They need to protect the vital estuaries which act as nurseries for shrimp and redfish there.

Well, late Friday after a month of waiting, the Army Corps rejected the permit request, saying they've consulted many experts. The Corps said it had concerns about effects the rocks might have on water flow, on erosion and even the underwater pipeline.

But here's the problem, a councilman from Jefferson Parish who was helping spearhead this fight says he tried to meet with the Army Corps this weekend to work through some of the issues so he can move forward on trying to get the rock jetties approved.

But he says the Army Corps wasn't available this weekend or any other weekend. He took us on a boat to see the rock that's just sitting there. And listen to what he told me?


KAYE (on camera): Is it your understanding that the Army Corps of Engineers closed down for the holiday weekend?

CHRIS ROBERTS, COUNCILMAN, JEFFERSON PARISH: Yes, we received a letter late Friday afternoon stating that they would not be able to get back to us until Monday. And we had our engineers work all weekend to try and address their concerns. They were not available over the weekend.

This is an emergency to us, you know, there are no holidays. We've all worked through weekends and we've all worked through holidays. And we would expect that the Army Corps would do the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KAYE: So would a lot of other folks here.

We got word through our sources here of a ship captain who had 13,000 pounds of limestone for those rock jetties. He's been in town for four days from Kentucky waiting on a permit. Then he told our contacts, the Army Corps shut down for the weekend so he was left in limbo -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So Randi, then did you try reaching out to the Army Corps this weekend?

KAYE: We sure did. We've been calling the Army Corps of Engineers since Friday night at about 7:00 p.m. when we started getting wind of this. For four days we called we e-mailed, we called their people in Washington, D.C., we called their people here in New Orleans. Then we finally just drove over to one of their offices here in New Orleans today.

Listen to what the guard out front told me.


KAYE (on camera): Hi is this the Army Corps of Engineer office? Is anyone here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The district is closed today.

KAYE: The district is closed today? So nobody is here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody is here.

KAYE: Federal holiday or something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On federal holiday.

KAYE: Even with the oil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're celebrating the 4th today. Who are you with?



KAYE: They're celebrating the 4th today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fourth of July yesterday.

KAYE: Oh, so nobody's working?


KAYE: Ok. All right, well thank you.


KAYE: We'll comeback another day.


KAYE: And Soledad, just moments after our visit to the Army Corps office, we suddenly got a return phone call from a spokesman for the Corps. He told us they have been quote, "Working non-stop", and that any talk they are on vacation is quote, "totally false". He said, they've had an incredible work load.

When we asked about the offices being closed since Friday, for the holiday weekend and the fact that we couldn't reach them for four days, and neither could officials that we spoke with here, the spokesman told us, quote, "some of the personnel may be off for the vacation, but the people who are working on projects like the oil spill are still continually working, even if the building is closed".

So Soledad, two sides to every story. We will continue to dig on this and see what we find.

O'BRIEN: The guy guarding the building says no one's is there, but they're working. I got it.

KAYE: You got it.

O'BRIEN: All right, Randi Kaye, thank you very much.

More now on those jetties, the feds and why we're still -- still talking about a lack of urgency deep in to the nation's worst ever oil spill.

We spoke earlier tonight with Plaquemines Parish, President Billy Nungesser and also John Young, he is the Council Chairman of Jefferson Parish.


O'BRIEN: I know that for the two of you, one goal was to build these rock jetties to try to protect the shore. And at this point that has now been denied. I believe that the Army Corps has said it's not scientifically sound. What was the reaction when you heard this denial?

JOHN YOUNG, COUNCILMAN CHAIRMAN, JEFFERSON PARISH: Well, Soledad, we were extremely disappointed. We know we had had barges out. When Alex threatened we had to demobilize those barges.

Those are interim structures to try to trap the oil. So we can keep it from getting into our bays and estuaries. And the rock jetties were going to be the permanent solution to keep that oil from getting into the bays and estuaries.

We're extremely disappointed and we disagree over the Corps. And we're looking at every option we can take to try to fight that decision and have that decision eventually overturned. We would like to call upon the President to get involved. Exercise his executive authority and overturn that decision by the Corps. O'BRIEN: Billy, I'm looking at this letter that they sent in which they -- they denied you the opportunity to build these jetties. And they give a couple reasons: one they said they're concerned about the tidal flow especially during a tropical storm; two, they talked about no responsible party would kind of step forward and be responsible for these jetties; and then number three, they said some of these pipes -- other pipes aren't buried and they're very concerned that they could be affected by putting these rock jetties up. Aren't these all reasonable concerns?

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH: Well, I'm sure they are reasonable concerns. But there again, we need to work on a solution together and keep this oil out.

Just from the small tropical storm, we're being inundated with oil. And if they're not going to approve them, let's come up with a solution whether it's barges across the inside of the Barrier Islands. We also have 18 reaches of the Barrier Islands. We still need to wait on those permits to continue to protect all of the breeding grounds. But we need a sense of urgency to move forward and do something.

Just saying no is not good enough. We need to work together and come up with something that will keep this oil out.

Every day hundreds of acres are being inundated with oil. In Plaquemines parish alone, over 4,000 acres have been destroyed from this oil. And the birds and the wildlife continue to get slammed. We've got to -- we've got to do something.

O'BRIEN: John, is one of your biggest frustrations just how long this is taking? I know the proposal for these jetties was submitted what -- back on June 7th, a little after 10:00 p.m. that's something like 28 days between that date and when you finally got the no. That's a long time.

YOUNG: Absolutely, Soledad. And that's the problem. There's no sense of urgency. There's no intensification of manpower and equipment. There's bureaucratic red tape. It's really frustrating us. It's preventing us from protecting our coastline, and our bays and estuaries. And it's just taking too long.

In the meantime, the oil continues to slam us, continues to come in to the Barataria Bay which one of the richest estuaries in the world. We provide 30 percent of the seafood for the entire United States.

It's just like a hostage crisis. We're on day 77, we've been hostage -- taken hostage by the oil, and we're also hostage to bureaucratic red tape; an incompetent cumbersome system that is not reacting to an emergency situation.

I understand protocol in normal times, but these aren't normal times. And it's day 77, the oil continues to come out, and we continue to have oil every day and because of Alex, we were totally unprotected. That's why we need the rock jetties. What the federal government is saying is basically the rocks are more harmful than the oil. I don't buy it and nobody down here buys it. It doesn't make any sense.

O'BRIEN: Billy, you know, Randi Kaye has been -- Randi Kaye has been reporting for us and trying to figure out if the Army Corps of Engineers is actually working today. There are sort of guards at facilities, but it sounds to me like phones are going unanswered and it's hard to find actual people actually working.

What are you seeing?

NUNGESSER: I haven't talked to anyone at the Corps. I make a call over there just about every day. I haven't today, because, you know, we're still waiting on those permits for the rest of the berms.

And, as John was saying, it's not called the emergency permit for nothing. It's an emergency. And here we are, weeks later, after we already started pumping, waiting on the additional permits for the berm. And they could have said no to the jetties two days after, three days after, and we could have been working on another plan.

But to drag us along -- and this just continues to happen, whether it be bringing in this ship and testing the ship. Everything is taking way too long.

O'BRIEN: A whale, that super-skimmer that was supposed to go online and had its own problems, particularly because of the high seas -- even some of the smaller skimmers are really challenged there -- how hopeful are you that that's actually going to be able to make a difference?

NUNGESSER: Well, listen --


NUNGESSER: Go ahead. Go ahead, John.

YOUNG: That is the problem. I mean, we have lost 77 days. We had some good weather, good seas.

Now we're running into a hurricane-type situation. As we get further into August and September, as you know, that's the height of hurricane season. The dispersants are complicating it. They're pushing the oil down, which is complicating these skimmers being able to get the oil. That's another issue that we have with EPA with the -- with the dispersant they're using.

So, obviously, the federal government needs to adopt a military chain of command and execute. They're not executing. It's disjointed. It's disconnected.


NUNGESSER: You know that vessel came into Plaquemines Parish in the mouth of the river there in Venice. Everybody did a photo-op, went and took pictures. It stayed there a couple days, a few days, before it went out to actually test.

You know, there needs to be the sense of urgency. We need to bring as many ships as we can get. They don't need to come into Venice for a photo-op. They need to go out in the Gulf and go to work.

They wouldn't be coming over -- people wouldn't be bringing them over here if they didn't work. They need to get out there and get to work picking up oil.

O'BRIEN: Billy Nungesser and John Young, gentlemen, thanks for talking with us. As we always say to you, good luck. We appreciate you checking in with us today.

NUNGESSER: Thank you so much.

YOUNG: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Thanks.


O'BRIEN: Well, let us know what you think. The live chat is up and running at

Coming up next: putting BP claims of openness to the test. See what happened when a photographer documenting a story on this 2005 BP explosion tried to take pictures of the facility today.

We are going to ask him about his run-in with BP security, local authorities and a federal agent. Decide for yourself if it sounds like openness to you.

Then later: tracking the oil, where it is, where it's going -- when 360 continues.


O'BRIEN: Last week, Anderson talked about a new federal rule keeping cameras at least 65 feet back from oil booms and response vessels. He's also highlighted BP's efforts of keeping cameras and reporters away, even though top BP officials are now publicly urging openness.

"We are not the enemy," he said.

Well, tell that to the BP security officer, the local cop, and the man who said he was a Homeland Security agent outside of BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas.

They all detained our next guest, photographer, Lance Rosenfield, demanded his ID and wouldn't let him go until they took a look at the pictures he took. Texas City, you recall, was the site of a deadly explosion back in 2005, one that some believe shares certain similarities with the DeepWater Horizon blast.

Lance Rosenfield was taking pictures on behalf of the news organization ProPublica, joins us now.

Lance, it's nice to talk to you.

Tell me what happened. You were taking photos outside of that refinery that we just discussed. The police came up to you. What did they say?


So, I -- after I took the pictures, I drove for about three miles, pulled into a gas station. And I was tailed that entire time by a security truck. When I pulled in, the security truck continued on, the police pulled in, and they asked to see the photographs on my camera.

And I said, without a warrant, I don't -- you know, I'm not bound to do that.

And they said, well, we can take you in, and you can do it there with Homeland Security, or you can show us now. And I was on deadline, so I showed them the pictures at that time.


O'BRIEN: I should mention that we're looking at some of the pictures that you took, as you're telling me what happened. So, you show them the pictures, and then what happens?

ROSENFIELD: The police basically determined that there was no threatening -- you know, there were no pictures that -- that posed a threat to the refinery. And then he took my information, my personal information.

And -- and he -- the police officer was essentially finished at that point. The BP -- the BP security guard showed up at that point and asked me for my personal information, and I declined, because he's a corporate security guard.

And he turned to the police officer, who then turned over all my personal information. And I protested. I said I didn't understand under what legal -- what legal grounds he was able to give him my personal information.

O'BRIEN: Well, I'm going to ask you a question about that in a moment.

But, first, I just want to tell you what the BP folks said to us when we called. They said this -- quote -- "Normally, if a photographer identifies himself, there is no problem. But he -- meaning you -- "was an unknown photographer, and our security alerted the authorities".

Do you think that the BP folks were doing their job? Do you think they were kind of going overboard? What's your take on it?

ROSENFIELD: No, I mean, I think -- you know, I certainly was taking pictures in the public street of a public sign. But it was near the refinery.

I can understand the fact that, if they saw me through their security cameras or whatnot, that they would be interested in why I was taking pictures near the refinery. That part, I don't have a problem with. It was -- what I do have a problem with is why the local police turned over my personal information to -- to the BP officer.

O'BRIEN: And what did he say when you asked him that? Because that to me sort of sounds like the police was acting in coordination with the private security firm hired by BP.


O'BRIEN: So, when you asked him, what did he say?

ROSENFIELD: He didn't give an answer. He said, well, we can -- we're going to do it anyway, whether you like it or not. And we can call our Homeland Security officer, Tom Robinson, to come down here and explain it. But, you know, this is what I'm going to do anyway. And he didn't give me an answer. And then he did call Tom Robinson.

O'BRIEN: Who came down? Eventually, you left town right after the incident. And I know you said you felt somewhat threatened when their Homeland Security officer came by. Is that why you left town? Is that what happened?

ROSENFIELD: Yes. We -- it seemed to me that the -- the issue was finished with the officer and the security guard. But, then, once Homeland -- this Homeland Security officer came, Tom Robinson, it seemed like his only point of being there was to intimidate me. And I realized at that point that I had been there for 24 hours. I had done the bulk of the assignment that I was hired to do.

I called my editors, explained what happened. And we all agreed that, for all intents and purposes, the assignment was finished, and then -- it wasn't worth going through more harassment if I were to going to continue the assignment.

O'BRIEN: You've gotten an attorney, though. I think the ACLU -- an ACLU attorney is representing you. What does that mean? You're going to sue?

ROSENFIELD: No, no, no. All I have done is, I have e-mailed the ACLU, but I haven't actually heard back from them yet.

O'BRIEN: So --

ROSENFIELD: The -- the ProPublica's attorney, I did speak to after the incident occurred.

O'BRIEN: You consider it closed, or do you want to pursue it further?

ROSENFIELD: I mean, I would be curious to have a conversation -- I would like to have a conversation with ACLU. I really don't want this happening to -- to other journalists. I mean, I don't think that we deserve to be harassed. I did nothing outside the law. I never entered BP property. And I didn't deserve to be harassed and detained for as long as I was.

O'BRIEN: All right. We'll keep an eye on what happens with your case, if it does become a case.

Lance Rosenfield, thanks for talking with us. I appreciate it.

ROSENFIELD: Sure. Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Coming up next: where the oil is headed now, as Texas becomes the latest target.

Also, the weather that's threatening to bring new trouble to the Gulf.

Chad Myers will join us with the early warning. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: The nation's worst oil spill just keeps on bringing misery. As we briefly mentioned, authorities have confirmed that a small number of tar balls found near Galveston, Texas over the weekend did in fact come from a ruptured BP well off of Louisiana.

It possibly made a 400-mile journey stuck to a ship's haul. And the oil just keeps moving on.

As Randi Kaye reports, there is no letup in sight.


KAYE: Our talented folks at have put together this animation. Take a look. When you hit play, you can see how the oil spill has moved and grown in size.

This interactive map tracks the oil's activity from May 7, soon after the spill, all the way through today. So, you can see how it hits different points along the coast there.

One of the first places the oil hit was Grand Isle, Louisiana. It also hit Barataria Bay, Louisiana, which is home to one of the nation's most productive estuaries. It's a nursery, really, for baby shrimp and also baby redfish.

But, if you look at this map that we created, you can see how the oil just keeps moving, both east and west. The oil has been working its way around the Mississippi Delta, hitting Pelican Island about two weeks or so ago.

In Mississippi, 240 pounds of tar balls were picked up on Mississippi beaches in a single day last week.

Tar balls have been found in Waveland, Gulfport, and Biloxi. Also today, tar balls were also found in Lake Pontchartrain, the lake that flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Just today, we confirmed tar balls are as far west as Galveston, Texas.

In fact, look at these photos from a couple of CNN iReporters in Biloxi. You can see the thick brown sludge in the water there. And one other iReport from a Biloxi viewer, see how they just use that stick to pick up that thick oil?

In Alabama, tar balls have hit Gulf Shores Beach and Orange Beach. An oily sheen was also reported in Perdido Bay. One iReporter told us he's been watching oil come ashore in Fort Morgan, Alabama for days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very nasty. For the last four days, we have seen tar balls, big and small, washing up the coastline here as you can see. And I can even see off the -- with -- in the water further out, too. And it's sad.

KAYE: Florida tried booms and berms and skimmers, but, in the end, that wasn't enough to keep the oil away. Take a look at this incredible video from an iReporter in Pensacola Beach. See the oil washing up onshore? You can see that crab. He's caught right up in it, just like so many little creatures stuck in this mess.

And another iReport from Pensacola Beach shows what people are dealing with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what just washed up on my feet. This is terrible, guys.

KAYE: Over the July 4th holiday weekend, lots of folks weren't even able to use their beaches because of the oil. A health advisory was issued for Pensacola's beaches.

An iReporter from Gulf Shores, Alabama, sent us this video of what he called an oily tide coming in and staining the sand red. All of it has led people all along the Gulf Coast to call the last couple of days the lost Fourth of July weekend.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New Orleans.


O'BRIEN: And the Coast Guard says a shift in weather patterns in the next few days could send even more oil towards Mississippi and Louisiana -- bad weather, rough seas over the weekend significantly hampering cleanup efforts.

Chad Myers joins us now from the Weather Center in Atlanta with a look at the forecast for the Gulf -- hey, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Soledad. It's good to see you.

Back out here into the Pacific and into the Atlantic Ocean, kind of two completely different weather patterns, cold water one side, warm water the other side. We're talking about the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. And a new map put up by NOAA that shows anything from the probability of less than one percent of oil ever hitting your beach to greater than 80 percent. Clearly, we know that anywhere from Louisiana all the way toward Florida, you're 80 percent or more.

But now something new we haven't seen before, 60 percent chance of that hitting the Florida Keys, and all the way up even toward Fort Lauderdale.

What does that mean? Well, because this is going to take a long time for this oil to get here, this oil will just be that tar ball effect, kind of a meatball, if you will, kind of you could pick it up and go throw it away. It's not going to be that sludgy, that mayonnaise-type oil that will obviously be hitting into the Louisiana coast.

So, there's something new there.

Also, here, I want you to kind of pick this out here, from about -- that's about Fort Myers all the way down into the Florida Bay, chances of less than one percent of oil getting there. That's because of the way the shallow waters are going to affect the current.

What else are we talking about? We are talking about, well, yes, the potential for another tropical disturbance working its way into the Gulf of Mexico. Is it there yet? No. Did it even develop today? No, but there's the potential, when we look at this much convection, we call it -- you have thunderstorms there across parts of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Here's Belize. Here's the Yucatan. Here's where Cancun would be right there. Get rid of all that color, you can see their own color. There's a spin in here. That spin is a small low-pressure area that could develop and move up into the Gulf of Mexico.

If it moves this way, Soledad, that is the problem. This will spin the storm in this direction, pushing the oil back toward land. Best case scenario, a small storm of say 35, 45 miles per hour -- that would be great -- turns to the right and moves over Florida. That will take the oil and the wind and push it that way. Take it offshore.

We can't predict where these things go. We can't tell them where to go. It sure would be nice to draft that oil and wrap it off away from the shore. I don't see that happening with anything here than it's obviously now. We are in the middle of a what will be a very hot season.

Was it hot where you were today?


MYERS: Eighty-six right now in New York, 88 in Philadelphia. And the Queen's coming to New York tomorrow; it will feel like 101 for her.

O'BRIEN: Oh. We're so sorry, Your Royal Highness. But it was bad for us today too. All right. Chad thanks.

MYERS: Sure thing.

O'BRIEN: Coming up next, unemployed with nowhere to turn. Millions of Americans are out of work, and soon without their unemployment checks. We'll take a look at what Congress is -- maybe a better way to put it - isn't doing about it.

And the workers in the Gulf are worried about their future. In an exclusive interview, Anderson talks with singer Jimmy Buffett about those workers and what he called the art of reinvention.


COOPER: You talk to shrimpers and oyster men in Louisiana, they're afraid that a way of life is really threatened.

BUFFETT: I think that they're absolutely right about that. The big question to me is what else is out there? I mean, let's face it. When the automobile came along there were a lot of people (INAUDIBLE) horsemen who were out of work. But they found out they could fix flat tires.


O'BRIEN: The end of the 4th of July weekend finds nearly 2 million Americans suddenly without unemployment checks. The Senate left Washington last Thursday for a two-week summer recess. They left before approving extensions that would allow states provide jobless benefits for up to 99 weeks.

Also Senate does plan to take up the bill again after their vacation the delay could be devastating for families desperate for work now forced to survive without a safety net.

Tom Foreman joins us tonight with an "Up Close" look -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Soledad, this is the real- life, flesh and blood impact of Washington's failure to extend unemployment benefits. In California, well over a half million people will be out of their jobs and getting no benefits check if this remains unresolved until the end of this month and their unemployment rate is well over the national average right now.

Over here in Florida, 231,000 people, roughly, will be in that position; their unemployment rate also higher than the national average.

And up here in New York -- look at this -- 256,000 people out of work and out of luck.

Nationwide, more than 3 million people, that's what the Department of Labor, will lose their, will be out of their jobs and could no longer be getting a check. By the end of July, if this keeps on, a check for food, clothing, house payments -- Soledad. O'BRIEN: Considering how badly politicians are being killed in the polls when it comes to the economy, how did they let that happen? I mean that seems like a no-brainer.

FOREMAN: Yes. It does seem like a no-brainer but here's the problem. While many workers have a lot to lose, Soledad, each party still thinks it might have something to win by maneuvering around this issue.

Listen to how the Democrats were talking to Republicans during the fight over this latest attempt to extend benefits to workers.


REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Countdown as they swallow their pride that you don't care, that you don't have a heart, that you don't have a feeling. Explain to them why you voted yes for (INAUDIBLE) and yes for tax breaks for the rich but no for hardworking Americans. They lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It's wrong, just plain wrong.


FOREMAN: You heard it right there, the Democrats are making the case that the economy is a long-term problem, and that anyone who would deny help to struggling workers in this long recovery process is just plain cruel and they are betting that voters will punish Republicans for all of that this fall.

But now listen to the GOP who says you want this bill? Ok, go ahead, how are you going to pay for it?


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: We can't support job-killing taxes and adding tens of billions to the already unsustainable national debt. The only reason the unemployment extension hasn't passed is because our friends on the other side simply refuse to pass a bill that does not add to the debt. That's it.


FOREMAN: There you hear it. The Republicans are saying the Democrats have utterly failed to fix this economy, giving those unemployed workers real relief, so they say the Dems are being fiscally irresponsible in all of this and they just keep slapping expensive band aid on the problem. The Republicans think that message will ring true for voters in four months.

So the only real answer to all of this is, it's politics as usual even while the country suffers.

O'BRIEN: We'll have to wait and see if that all turns out to be true.

All right. Tom, thank you. Coming up tonight, a startling statistic, the CIA estimates 100 or fewer al Qaeda fighters remain in Afghanistan. So exactly who are we fighting and is it worth it?

And it's back to Margaritaville with Jimmy Buffett. The Gulf Coast native tells what it's like for local businesses now struggling under the oil spill and how we can help.

Anderson continues his "Big 360 Interview", still ahead.


O'BRIEN: In "Raw Politics" Republican national chairman Michael Steele's latest blunder. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham join the growing chorus of Republicans outraged by Steele's suggestion that the war in Afghanistan may be unwinnable.

The controversy began on Thursday when Steele appeared to distance his party from the war effort. Take a look.


MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Keep in mind, again, for our federal candidates, this is a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States can actively prosecute or wanted to engage in.


O'BRIEN: But with the president's own CIA director Leon Panetta estimating that as few as a hundred al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan, Michael Steele isn't the only one questioning why the U.S. is still there.

Earlier tonight I spoke to CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen and also Rajiv Chandrasekaran, of the "Washington Post" who recently returned from Afghanistan.


O'BRIEN: Look at some of the statistics like the estimated costs to the U.S., $100 billion in 2010; 98,000 troops going to be in Afghanistan by fall, 102 troops dying in the deadliest month, June. It's not irrational to say for 50 al Qaeda fighters, is this worth it? Peter?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, the attack on 9/11 cost the American economy $500 billion and 3,000 civilians dead. The strategy in Afghanistan is to prevent Afghanistan being reclaimed by the Taliban who would then host al Qaeda and use it as a training ground for all sorts of terrorists and insurgent groups from around the world as they did before 9/11. So that's the calculation.

O'BRIEN: Is it doable? When you look at what Leon Panetta said, Rajiv, he says what's key is that the Afghans accept responsibility, what's key is that they can maintain civility. Have you seen that on the ground? Do you see that happening?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, "WASHINGTON POST": This is the crux of the problem. The United States is engaged in a very comprehensive and costly counterinsurgency campaign that's aimed at a fairly narrow goal, which is counterterrorism. Those 50 al Qaeda operatives that are believed to be in the country and that number could well grow if Afghanistan spirals back into a greater state of violence and lawlessness, if the United States and its allies aren't successful there.

But it's an effort aimed at trying to deny the terrorists sanctuary there by trying to focus on good governance, trying to go and root out corruption, trying to train civil servants, trying to engage in reconstruction and development.

So it's a very broad-based, very laborious effort. And one that, quite frankly, is moving in fits and starts. It's not going as well as senior U.S. administration officials, senior military officials would hope. Certainly some of the high-profile efforts this year in southern Afghanistan have been taking much longer to generate traction than officials had been wanting.

O'BRIEN: Peter, what do you think victory is going to look like? Panetta said he thinks that the U.S. is winning when you look at undermining al Qaeda leadership. He says he thinks we may be losing when you take a look at increased violence. So what does victory look like?

BERGEN: Well, you know, one version of victory would be an Afghanistan that was at peace with itself and its neighbors and that was -- had an economy that was slightly growing. That Afghanistan has existed. It was the Afghanistan that existed in the 1970s, so within living memory. There is a model for success.

But, you know, the discussion of the numbers of al Qaeda, I think is sort of not particularly helpful, because even on 9/11, there are only 200 members of al Qaeda, who inflicted more direct damage on the United States in the course of September 11, 2001 than the Soviet Union had done during the Cold War.

So this -- and the other point about the numbers, of course, is that there are -- according to the National Counterterrorism Center -- there are 300 members of al Qaeda in Pakistan. And since the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan isn't recognized by anybody, particularly al Qaeda, those numbers are bigger than Leon Panetta suggested.

But -- but as -- but the main point is that this is a relatively small group that acts as sort of a force multiplier for other groups.

So for instance, you have the Pakistani Taliban sending suicide -- you know, sending a bomber to Times Square, acting in an al Qaeda- like manner. So it's not just al Qaeda, the organization one is concerned about. It's also these other groups that have been infected ideologically by al Qaeda and are acting like it now, many of them based in Afghanistan or Pakistan. O'BRIEN: Rajiv, General McChrystal is out; General Petraeus is in. A NATO spokesperson said that's not going to slow progress at all. But what do you think the real impact is going to be of that?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, there will undoubtedly be a transition period that will involve General Petraeus, you know, assessing the campaign on the ground. Of course, he was one of General McChrystal's bosses prior to this big change.

But now he's going to be in Kabul, flying around the country. He certainly has some big issues to take stock of. At the top of that list is an upcoming large security operation in and around the city of Kandahar in the south.

Also, is a lot of concern about the rules of engagement and whether they're too restrictive and have been hindering the ability of military forces on the ground to deal with the insurgent threat there.

So he's got a lot of these issues to start tackling. And the change in command and the fact that he will be bringing in some additional people, he'll have to build up a relationship, a new relationship with President Hamid Karzai and other senior members of the government. There will be some time here.

The hope is that, because Petraeus has been engaged in Afghanistan as the CentCom commander for the past couple of years, he'll be able to hit that ground running and will be able to hopefully bring some of the lessons that he's picked up leading the troops in Iraq, and start to apply at least a variance of those in Afghanistan.

O'BRIEN: Peter, last question for you. When Petraeus was in Afghanistan yesterday to formally take control, he said, "We're in this to win." At the same time, we know the presidential -- the political deadline is July of 2011. Are those two things inherently clashing with each other? Is it realistic to call for, we're in it to win with this out date?

BERGEN: You know, the out date had a huge caveat, it was conditions based. I think it was a way of getting the people in the White House, who wanted, you know, some kind of a deadline, and also the U.S. military, which wanted to have, you know, considerable resources and time. And it was sort of a compromise they came up with.

And clearly, you know, despite the fact that the people said that the McChrystal thing didn't represent any policy differences between the military and the political people in the White House. I think it did. This has not been fully resolved. People in the White House do want a real drawdown in July 2011, particularly people on the political side.

And I think Petraeus will come in and he'll -- this is purely speculation on my part, but I think he may be looking for not a very large drawdown in 2011. That's something that will be resolved over the next year or so.

Peter Bergen and Rajiv Chandrasekaran; thanks gentlemen. I appreciate it.


BERGEN: Thank you.


O'BRIEN: Coming up next, Anderson's exclusive interview with Jimmy Buffett. They talk about the spill, the Gulf, BP and what you can do to help.


BUFFETT: People are mad about this, and everybody understands that. And I think channeling that anger into something positive is the thing to do.



O'BRIEN: Tonight Anderson wraps up his exclusive "Big 360 Interview" with singer Jimmy Buffett, who grew up on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. They begin with why people should be coming to the Gulf, not canceling their vacations.


COOPER: One of the things we've been trying to get across every night is that, you know, most of the beaches in Florida are open. The Gulf is open for business.

BUFFETT: It's true because there's an overreaction. People -- I was on tour at the time. I was up in the Midwest, and people were going, well -- their impressions were that there was a dark, sludgy beach in the entire Gulf of Mexico, with this dark oil pit. And that was their perception, and then business started dropping off tremendously.

COOPER: Even in New Orleans. People are canceling hotel reservations, which is crazy, because the oil's not in New Orleans.

BUFFETT: Yes. You know, well, we're kind of a 'fraidy-cat society these days. I mean, it's sad, because people are, you know -- and it's spontaneous, and then it gets viral on the Internet. And, as you've probably seen in doing this, that it's simply --

COOPER: I try not to read the Internet, by the way.

BUFFETT: Yes. I don't either. I go there looking for people that are doing things that I can help them do in the midst of this. And so that's kind of where I focus.

COOPER: Obviously, the moratorium is incredibly controversial. Do you support it?

BUFFETT: You know, I don't know. I mean, you know, you can say that, but then the economy's going to go to hell.

You know, I mean, this is an oil-based economy. The thing that I want to do is look at -- I've got little projects going. I mean, I go -- that's a decision somebody else is going to have to make on a bigger level.

But we're doing things like, we've got a project; we're taking French fry oil from the Margarita restaurants and fueling shrimp boats on them.

COOPER: Is that right?

BUFFETT: Yes. And so that's something that I can do.

COOPER: Right.

BUFFETT: And we're doing it, and it's successful, and ironically, it comes at the time when people are going -- you know, to me, this thing hopefully will eventually get fixed. And then what are we going to do, just go back the way we were? Maybe this is a time that people think just to look at alternatives, though it is controversial.

There's as much oil in our lives, much more so than there is on the beach today. So what are we going to do about that? That's the question I ask myself, and -- and try to get answers, and try to, in small ways, go that way.

COOPER: Because that's the thing. You talk to shrimpers. You talk to oystermen in Louisiana, and they're afraid that a way of life is really threatened.

BUFFETT: I think that they're absolutely right about that. And that begs the big question to me is what else is out there? I mean, let's face it. When the automobile came along, there were a lot of people shoveling horse manure who were out of work. But they found out they could fix flat tires. You know?

And it's kind of like that. It's a simple statement. And a fisherman facing a way-of-life change doesn't want to hear that. But I think you've got to think in those terms, because if you look at the history, that's how things happen. And maybe this is the time where we go, "How much can really be -- how many jobs can be created and how much demand in our lives can be create from alternative energy sources?"

And it then will filter down to a guy who's lost his shrimp boat or his living.

COOPER: So what's your message to people who haven't been down here, are maybe thinking about coming?

BUFFETT: It's interesting, going from -- I've been from one great disaster to another. I've been in Haiti for a while. And there you see the resilience. Here, there's an interesting thing, because so many people would love to come down and just pick this stuff up and take it off. But they're not sure if there's science involved. You know, there's health issues involved. So it builds the frustration a little.

People are mad about this, and everybody understands that. And I think channeling that anger to something positive is the thing to do. You know, I was just showing you this little application called Mogul (ph) where you can come out and actually take pictures on the beach of birds or oil spills and put up to -

COOPER: That's what you just have on your --

BUFFETT: Yes, yes, I just found it.

COOPER: So if you see tar balls, you take pictures of it?

BUFFETT: Yes. You can report in stuff. And I think that's amazing. I mean, that's a great use of technology to deal with something we should do something about.

COOPER: Because that's one of the things I think people get so frustrated about. They see this stuff on television. They want to do something.


COOPER: And I talk to volunteers who come down, but there's no place for them to volunteer. Because, you know, BP doesn't want them -- you know, they don't want people just randomly picking up oil, which is understandable.

BUFFETT: We have, you know -- we have -- we have funded some rescue boats for birds. You all ran -- you all ran a story on it.


BUFFETT: And we ran into tremendous -- we have SWAT boats, you know. And here's, you know, a guy that came to me and said, "I just feel so angry about this. I want to do something." And they designed these shallow water boats. And I thought they were wonderful.

So we funded the first couple. We were set to go. And then rumors started going that BP was controlling the cleanup; you couldn't get in. And this was on the Internet. And this -- people went crazy.

And we finally found out that there was a simple solution, and we found it. And they're working now. So we ran into those problems, too.

There's so much information, I think, it's like a traffic jam in Haiti. You know, I mean, there's so many people trying to do something about it. You get to that roundabout outside of the airport.

COOPER: You want to give up.

BUFFETT: You want to give up, you know? COOPER: You want to abandon the vehicle.

BUFFETT: And if you can get your way through those traffic jams, you can find you can connect up with people. And I think that's the other thing, you know. It's frustrating, it is, because you've got a lot of people that would like to help, but figuring out where to go, and -- and getting through rumors and things, to where you can actually do something is difficult.

COOPER: But you think the way of life here, Margaritaville, the laid-back life, that can continue? That will survive. It does.

BUFFETT: It always has.

As tough as it is, somehow people here survive. I've seen it through my generations of being here, and people who have been wiped out and in my own family coming back and rebuilding, and going on with their lives.


O'BRIEN: That does it for this edition of 360.

Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.