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President Obama's Economic Plan; Koran Burning Controversy

Aired September 7, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: growing concern among American military commanders over a Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Koran. Will it undo years of work in Iraq, Afghanistan, other places, and put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

Also, an extraordinary interview reveals equally extraordinary headlines -- details of what Fidel Castro told an American journalist about the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And President Obama heading to Ohio to unveil his latest plan to try to jump-start the economy. The CNN Election Express is already there, finding reaction though so far rather lukewarm. Is the proposal too little too late?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The plan by a tiny Florida church to mark the 9/11 anniversary by burning the Muslim holy book is raising an alarm within the United States military. Top military commanders in Afghanistan say the Koran burning could endanger the lives of American troops.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is looking into this story for us.

Lots of concern, Chris. What are you hearing?


Here in the Pentagon, here in the building, defense officials are saying, look, who is the most likely target, the easiest target for retaliation? It is the American troops who are already overseas serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

And because these images can be replayed over and over again in today's media, they are worried that the impact could go on for years.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Just the threat of an American pastor burning a Koran has U.S. military commanders on edge, fearing the retaliation will come down hardest on troops serving overseas.

They fear it will undo all the work they have done to avoid anything that could be considered offensive. General David Petraeus says, "Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan and around the world to inflame public opinion and incite violence."

In Iraq last week, we heard officers tell soldiers, even in 120- degree heat, try to avoid eating or drinking outside in front of Iraqi troops. It is Ramadan, and since a lot of Muslim troops are fasting during the day, they didn't want to appear disrespectful.

When I was embedded with the Marines in April, they celebrated Easter Sunday in Afghanistan, but only in a specific tent. Outside, even on base:

SGT. 1ST CLASS GEOFFREY DAVIS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: You really have to watch what you say.

LAWRENCE: Obviously, the higher-ups have put the word out. The counterinsurgency strategy demands Christian troops be mindful that they are living in a Muslim land.

DAVIS: Even just here on Leatherneck, you are around a lot of interpreters and a lot of people that do not believe the same way you do, and we are here in a COIN fight. We have got to win the people, and that includes the people that we work with.

LAWRENCE: But the Koran controversy is a clash of two principles. There is nothing illegal about burning a religious book. And military and State Department officials are sworn to uphold the Constitution.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: We have a tradition of religious tolerance. We also have freedom of expression.

LAWRENCE: On the one hand, the State Department spokesman talks about the pastor's freedom of expression and on the other calls the church un-American.

CROWLEY: It is contrary to our values. It is un-American in the sense that it does not represent the views of vast majority of Americans, who are respectful of religions.


LAWRENCE: You know, remember those photos from Abu Ghraib, the pictures of American troops in Iraq disrespecting Muslim prisoners? Well, U.S. officials say here they were very slow to respond to that and still to this day talk about the damage it did among Muslims of the image of American troops.

Well, General David Petraeus says this potential image of a burning Koran could have somewhat of the same effect, in that it could jeopardize not only troop safety, but also the overall mission in Afghanistan as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we heard that from General William Caldwell yesterday as well. He is in charge of training for all the troops in Afghanistan.

Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.

Could the man behind this planned Koran burning be having any second thoughts? On the one hand, Pastor Terry Jones says his group will go through with the action, but then he says his congregation is weighing the consequences. He spoke with CNN's Kiran Chetry. Listen to this.


PASTOR TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: We first declared September the 11th international burn a Koran day, actually, for two reasons. Number one, we wanted to remember those who were brutally murdered on September 11th. And actually wanted to send a very clear message to the radical element of Islam. We wanted to send a very clear message to them that we are not interested in their Sharia law.

We do not tolerate their threats, their fear, their radicalness. We live in the United States of America. We want to send a clear message to the peaceful Muslims. We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of religion.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Does it bother you that the military and the military leaders believe that by doing this, you are very likely putting the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk in Muslim countries?

David Petraeus, the General, this is what he said, their actions will in fact jeopardize the safety of young men and women who are serving in uniform over here and also undermine the very mission that they're trying accomplish.

Are you willing to have the blood of soldiers on your hands by this demonstration?

JONES: Yes, we are actually very, very concerned, of course, and we are taking the General's words very serious. We are continuing to pray about the action on September 11. We are indeed very concerned about it. It's just that we don't know -- I mean, how long do we back down?


BLITZER: Could the planned Koran burning be just the tip of an iceberg? Interfaith leaders are increasingly concerned about a backlash against Muslims tied to the 9/11 anniversary this Saturday.

Brian Todd is looking into this part of story for us.

Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that concern is really palpable.

Muslim leaders in the U.S. growing more concerned, as you said, with what they call the growing tide of fear and intolerance toward American Muslims in these days leading up to the 9/11 anniversary. Now, that concern is shared by enough officials in the Obama administration that Muslim leaders and other religious leaders were granted a special audience right here at the Justice Department with the attorney general.


TODD (voice-over): They see a Florida church going ahead with plans to burn copies of Koran. They see the fight over a planned Muslim community center near Ground Zero and they believe there has been a spike in anti-Islamic hate crimes in the U.S., all leading up to this anxious anniversary of 9/11.

Now Muslim leaders have joined with Christian, Jewish representatives and others and taken those concerns straight to Attorney General Eric Holder in a special meeting, but they admit outside the commission of crimes, there may be little the Justice Department can do.

(on camera): When it is not technically illegal to burn the Koran or any other book in the United States, what do you expect the Justice Department to do in these cases?

INGRID MATTSON, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA: We expect the Justice Department to simply fulfill its mandate. We have not asked Eric Holder to prosecute anyone for burning the Koran or making any negative statement about Islam, but what we do want the government to do and what the attorney general has promised to do is to prosecute hate crimes, to prosecute violence against Muslims.

TODD (voice-over): Some religious leaders say election-year politics are partly to blame for the growing anxiety in the Muslim community.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick says it is a byproduct of an open society.

(on camera): What does it say about interfaith relations in the United States when nine years after 9/11 members of a church feel that they should burn copies of the Koran?

CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Well, I think it shows the freedom of expression here in the United States. You cannot control everybody's attitude, and you should not. You should try to -- you should try to reason with people. You should try to say that, you are Christians. Doesn't Jesus say you have got to love your neighbor?

There are probably other things in their lives that has forced them to -- maybe they have been disappointed. Maybe they have run into a bad person from another faith, and that is reaction.


TODD: Now, we just got word that their meeting with Eric Holder has just concluded, the meeting between Holder and these religious leaders. They have emerged to tell us that the meeting went very well. They're very pleased with it.

They said that Eric Holder said no one in the United States should have to live or pray in fear. And he called this situation the greatest -- the most grave human rights -- or exactly the most serious civil rights issue of our time. That was their words. They just told us that from their meeting with Eric Holder -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian is over at the Justice Department.

Thanks very much.

This note: the imam at the center of Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero finally breaking his silence. It's going to happen right here on CNN. Tomorrow night on "LARRY KING LIVE," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's exclusive interview with our own Soledad O'Brien starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN tomorrow night.

That will be followed by analysis, reaction on "A.C. 360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

We have some new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now about a closely watched case with serious implications. A preliminary injunction by a federal judge against the use of government money for embryonic stem cell research will stand for now.

The same judge has just denied a government request to stay the injunction, the Justice Department arguing that the ruling could shut down potentially lifesaving research, the court saying allowing government funding goes against a law passed by Congress that says no government money can be used in research which leads to the destruction of embryos. The case is now being appealed. We will watch it for you.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Then, exploring the roots of terror. We will talk to the journalist and playwright behind the brand-new HBO documentary "My Trip to Al Qaeda." Lawrence Wright is here.

And Fidel Castro's message to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that message, stop slandering the Jews. Details of Fidel Castro's extraordinary interview over three days with an American journalist. That journalist is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And President Obama heading to Ohio to propose billions of dollars in business tax cuts and credits. The CNN Election Express is there listening to what his fellow Democrats are now saying.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, as Recovery Summer draws to a close and all the polls are now suggesting the Democrats are about to suffer a crushing defeat in the midterm elections, President Obama has decided that now is the time to roll out a brand-new economic plan.

Some Democrats are worried that it's all too little, too late.

The president wants to spend about $350 billion in new stimulus money to try to jump-start the shaky economy.

Got $200 billion tax cut for businesses to buy new equipment in the next year, $100 billion permanent extension of the business tax credit for research and development, and a $50 billion infrastructure plan to try and create jobs in the long term. This would include rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of rails and 150 miles of airport runways.

Weren't some of these infrastructure things supposed to be in that first stimulus deal? I think they were.

Anyway, officials acknowledge that no new jobs will be created by all of this, even if it happens, until 2011.

All told, the $350 billion would total nearly half the size of the initial stimulus plan passed when President Obama first took office. And of course at the moment there is no money available to pay for any of this.

It's highly unlikely any of this is going to get through Congress. They come back from their summer break -- they need their rest, you know -- next week and then they will be in session for less than a month. And then they get another break so they can go home and campaign to be elected to Congress.

Meanwhile, Americans aren't feeling much recovery when it comes to the economy in this recovery summer.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll shows 81 percent rate economic conditions as poor -- 81 percent. Only 18 percent say they're good. About half the country says conditions have not improved at all in the last two years.

So, here's the question: Is President Obama's latest economic plan too little too late?

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I would like to know who those 18 percent who think the economy is in good shape right now.

CAFFERTY: They must be like the drug dealers and stuff. I don't know.


BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much.

So, how is the president's proposal playing out on the road?

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is on the CNN Election Express in Columbus, Ohio. That is a critical bellwether state, where the president will officially unveil his new proposals tomorrow.

Let's go to Jessica right now.

What are you hearing about all of this in Ohio, Jessica?


I'm in a swing district in the quintessential swing state. And this is the kind of place that will determine if the Democrats can keep the House in November. This district here part of Columbus is held by Mary Jo Kilroy, a Democrat, freshman Democrat elected two years ago, and Republicans are targeting her to be replaced.

She is facing Steve Stivers, who she actually -- it is a rematch. She faced him two years ago and she barely won by 2,100 votes, fewer than 2,500 votes. And the two of them are going back and forth, as you would guess, over the economy.

So, you say the president is coming here tomorrow. She and others say that -- other Democrats say they want a message from the president on the economy. He is coming here to deliver it, but it seems even that is not enough, Wolf, because I asked her, will she commit to supporting the measures the president will lay out tomorrow? And she simply would not commit to voting yes on them. Listen.


REP. MARY JO KILROY (D), OHIO: I think the White House is coming out here and saying that they are going to turn this -- continue to work to turn the economy around, and that we can't go back to the same failed policies that got us into this mess.

YELLIN: Will you vote for those proposals the president is laying out this week?

KILROY: Well, I haven't seen them yet, and I haven't seen how we're paying for them. And, so, you know, that's what -- you know, I -- I can't really tell you right now exactly how the votes are going to play out.

YELLIN: So, if they're paid for, though, you -- you would support them in concept?

KILROY: I think we need to be serious about the deficit.


YELLIN: So, you see, Wolf, she does not want to be nailed down on it, says she has to wait and see the bills.

The bottom line is, Democrats are being caught between this tension. On the one hand, voters want them to rein in spending. On the other hand, they want to stimulate job growth, which requires some spending in some cases. And it's become a challenge in articulating a clear message for Democrats, particularly here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of these Democrats who are seeking reelection and who are in trouble, they certainly want money from the DNC, the DCCC. They want cash coming in.

But when it comes to actually showing up when the president of the United States comes to their district or their state, they are sort of MIA.

What about Mary Jo Kilroy? Is she going to be in Cleveland tomorrow when the president shows up there?

YELLIN: Right.

No, we got a mixed message from her on that, Wolf. She will not go to Cleveland tomorrow. She says it is not her district. So, she has got to stay here. It is not far, to be honest. But she says she welcomes the president, would love to campaign with him in her district any time. So, a little bit of having it both ways there, but I guess she could use his fund-raising prowess, which he is able to dial in the dollars when he comes to town -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They all want the money, but not necessarily some of the other stuff.


BLITZER: All right, thanks, Jessica. Thanks very much.

Republicans, by the way, are defending 179 seats in the House of Representatives. Of all 435 House seats up for reelection, Republicans need to gain 39 additional seats to reach the 218-seat majority. Taking a look at the open seats where the current members of Congress won't be on the ballot in November, there are 23 on the Republican side, 20 on the Democratic side -- we are talking about in the Senate.

Included in that are two congressmen who each side have lost their primaries. One of CNN's list of the 50 most vulnerable House seats, of that list, 46 of them are currently filled by Democrats. And that is why they are so worried. That list is available by the way online at That's where you can get so much valuable political news.

He is the world's most infamous flight attendant, at least for now -- now word of a possible plea deal for the former JetBlue employee who slid off the job in a rather dramatic way.

Plus, details of a bizarre attempt to correct an environmental disaster using dead mice and Tylenol.



BLITZER: An extraordinary message from Cuba's Fidel Castro -- why he is telling Iran's leader, Ahmadinejad, to stop slandering the Jews.

And a new documentary takes us to the places where al Qaeda was born.

And what is the bottom line if the Obama administration lets tax cuts die?


BLITZER: An extraordinary report out of Cuba, where Fidel Castro is quote as saying Iran's leader should stop slandering the Jews. The rare face-to-face interview appears on

The author, Jeffrey Goldberg, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jeffrey, all of a sudden, you are invited to go interview Fidel Castro. How did that happen?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE ATLANTIC": Apparently, he reads "The Atlantic." And he read an article I wrote recently that we talked about, in fact, about Iran and Israel and the coming conflict.

And he is apparently deeply concerned about this conflict and wanted me to come down to Havana to talk to him about it.

BLITZER: Because you were on vacation on Martha's Vineyard.


BLITZER: You get a call saying, Fidel Castro wants you to come to Havana.

GOLDBERG: Right. No, I went from one socialist island paradise to another socialist island paradise.


GOLDBERG: And I said of course I will come down. Who wouldn't want to meet Fidel Castro?

BLITZER: All right, he's 84 years old.

GOLDBERG: He's 84.

BLITZER: He has been sick for many years.

GOLDBERG: Four years.

BLITZER: How did he impress you, physically, mentally?

GOLDBERG: Physically frail, walks with the aid of a couple of guys to the left and right of him. But he can walk on his own, short steps.

Mentally, very acute. Not only that. The interesting thing is that he is actually sort of jocular. And you would not think this, but Fidel Castro has a sense of humor, or at least he does now, in his post-leadership phase. He seems sort of lighter than you would think he would be, but that is because he is retired, in fact. His brother is running the country.


BLITZER: But he seemed mentally very alert?

GOLDBERG: Mentally, very, very alert.

BLITZER: On top of issues?

GOLDBERG: Extremely on top of issues.

I would not be surprised if he spends half his day watching CNN. He is following events on the Internet. He has visitors all the time. He is trying to emerge a little bit from his lengthy illness and become a player again, more like a senior statesman.

Julia Sweig from the Council on Foreign Relations says that this is his new mode. He wants to be a senior statesman and sort of comment on the world and be a bridge-builder and a peacekeeper, that sort of thing.

BLITZER: Now, he has had a very good relationship with Ahmadinejad of Iran.


BLITZER: But he basically wanted you to send a message to Iran and Ahmadinejad.

GOLDBERG: Yes. Right. Right.

BLITZER: Tell us about that.

GOLDBERG: Right. Well, he wanted -- he had two messages.

He wanted Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, to know that the military solution is not the solution for Israel. And that -- we have heard that message before.

BLITZER: As far as Israel using military force to knock out the Iranian nuclear facilities.

GOLDBERG: As far as Israel using -- right.

We have heard that before. What was interesting to me is that he -- he seems personally offended by Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust, which is, of course, as you know, the essential pillar of the way Ahmadinejad talks about this conflict.

And he -- and he said very, very -- in a very straightforward way that the Jews have been a persecuted people for 2,000 years, that no one should talk about them like this, that in order to solve this problem, one of the ways to solve this problem would be for Iran to say to itself, "Look, you know, these Jews are worried about the threats that we make for good reason. Don't deny that the feelings that the Jews have about the prejudice coming out of Iran."

BLITZER: Well, he went one step further in the interview, and you did three days. You spent hours and hours with him.

GOLDBERG: Hours and hours.

BLITZER: He went one step further, and he flatly said Israel does have a right to exist.

GOLDBERG: That was also a very surprising thing, because Cuba broke relations with Israel in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War. And I asked him -- you know, when he was talking about the role of anti- Semitism in history, I asked him. I said, "Do you believe Israel has a right to exist?"

And he said, "Absolutely, without a doubt." So he described his problem as a political problem with Israel and not as a religious or cultural problem, and he said -- I said to him, "Why don't you re- establish relations with Israel," and he said, in essence, "Well, it takes a long time, and basically, I'm retired in any case."

But -- but he was sympathetic to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, and I was a little surprised at that.

BLITZER: And so when you said these things directly to Ahmadinejad when they meet face to face, tell our -- tell our viewers what he said to you.

GOLDBERG: He said -- he said, essentially, that the Iranian leadership should stop talking this way about the Jews and be more sensitive. And I said, "Why don't you say this to Ahmadinejad himself?"

And he said, "Well, you tell him for me." So I wrote it up in "The Atlantic." I'm not running to Tehran any time soon to tell him. But Castro had a specific message that he wanted delivered. And I found that very, very interesting, considering especially that three months ago we thought this guy was on the death bed.

BLITZER: And it's a bigger picture What does this say about Fidel Castro right now, the fact that, A, he invited you and spent days talking to you and had these messages, these statesman-like messages he wanted to convey?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think he's -- his health is back. He can play a useful role for Cuba. His brother is obviously very obsessed with Cuba's continuing political and economic crisis, and Fidel is going to be out there, I think that we'll see in the coming months, talking more to foreign leaders about not only Cuban issues, but world issues. Cuba has always been too small for him in some way, and so he's back on stage.

BLITZER: He's watching us right now? GOLDBERG: He could very well be. He very well could be.

BLITZER: I'd love to follow-up with him, and spend time with him myself. Jeffrey Goldberg, more on this coming up in


BLITZER: And then in the magazine itself.


BLITZER: We'll be reading.

GOLDBERG: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. What really happens if Congress allow the Bush-era laws to expire? We'll explain.

And unearthing the roots of terror in a new HBO documentary, "My Trip to al Qaeda." Lawrence Wright is right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: A dramatic policy break between President Obama and his former White House budget director. In "The New York Times," Peter Orszag argues against letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire. He writes that would make the stagnating job market even worse. Is he right?

CNN's Mary Snow has a reality check for us. She's looking at these tax cuts if they're extended, not extended, and the impact. What are you finding out, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we took a look at small businesses, because critics of the Obama administration's plan to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for high-income Americans say it will hurt small businesses. So who stands to lose?

We went to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center where Howard Gleckman has been crunching the numbers.


HOWARD GLECKMAN, TAX POLICY CENTER: We are talking about people who have small businesses who report their income on their individual tax returns. Some of these people may be the kind of folks you think of as a small business, maybe the guy who owns a neighborhood dry cleaner or a local electrician, but a lot of other people who file on their individual returns are doctors and lawyers and investment bankers who get their income through partnerships but file their income as individuals. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: And Gleckman says letting the Bush-era tax cuts to high- income Americans expire means that roughly 3 percent of business owners will be directly affected. That top 3 percent, he says, make about $700,000 in business income. That's compared to a typical small business owner bringing in about $40,000 a year. And because the president is advocating extending tax cuts to families making under $250,000 a year, those small business owners wouldn't be affected -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What does this mean for the deficit? The bottom line?

SNOW: When you take a look at the numbers, extending those tax cuts would cost roughly $600 billion over a ten-year period. And those are the tax cuts for the wealthy.

And here's how the math works. These numbers are provided by the Tax Policy Center. If tax cuts are extended as planned to American families making under $250,000, federal revenue would be reduced by $3 trillion over the next decade. If the tax cuts are extended to the wealthy, that's an additional $600 billion, amounting to $3.6 trillion in lost revenue -- in lost federal revenue, I should say.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Mary. Thanks very much. Mary Snow with a little reality check.

Let's get back to Ohio right now. Just about always it turns out to be a key battleground state come election time. CNN's John King is joining us now from the CNN Election Express. John's show, "JOHN KING USA," is coming up right at the top of the hour.

John, President Obama won Ohio in 2008, but based on what you're seeing and hearing from voters out there right now near Columbus, what's the mood?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I could give you some sort of a weather metaphor, or cliche. We're about to have a little thunderstorm here in Columbus. It's passing through, so excuse us if you see a little lightning flashing in the background. We'll be fine. It's going to blow through.

What is the mood right now? The mood here is double-digit unemployment, and the voters are frustrated. You talk to a lot of people who say, "Where are the good paying jobs? Why can't I find full-time work?"

And as a result of that, the Democrats are in trouble here. We're going to talk on the program tonight with Ted Strickland. He's the Democratic governor of this state. He's seeking reelection. He was ahead if you went back a couple months ago in the polls. Right now, those polls show him losing.

The Republican candidate for Senate is winning at the moment. Democrats could lose two or three, some people say even four House seats here. I had a conservation today with the Republican candidate for governor, John Kasich. You remember him, Wolf. He used to be the House budget committee chairman back when Republicans ran the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich. Many Republicans across the country have been dismissive of these new proposals by President Obama.

John Kasich, though, was interesting. He knows the president is coming to this state tomorrow. He knows he's going to propose a new research and development tax credit for business. John Kasich says he wants to see the details, but he says Republicans shouldn't just worry about the election. If the president has a decent idea, they should support it.

However, John Kasich then quickly pivoted and said, in his view, the president has been anti-business for the first two years of his presidency.


JOHN KASICH (R), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The tragedy here is it's almost a blown two years. And now, what we have going when you take a look at the taxes and the health-care bill, and you take a look at the amount of additional regulations on business, are the Bush tax cuts going to be repealed, uncertainty which strikes fear in the heart of business, particularly small businesses, and then also strikes fear into the hearts of Americans.


KING: The White House, of course, would take issue with that, Wolf. But if you want to watch one state between now and election day exactly eight weeks from today, this would be a good one to watch. A competitive governor's race a Senate race, and as we said, several House races. What happens here in Ohio could determine whether a son of Ohio, Republican John Boehner, gets to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a fascinating statement indeed. A lot more coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA." John, we'll be watching. Thank you.

A new documentary takes us inside an ancient fortress where some of al Qaeda's future leaders were jailed.


BLITZER: In a new HBO documentary the journalist Lawrence Wright retraces the steps he took while researching his best-selling book about al Qaeda. Wright takes us inside of an Egyptian fortress where some of al Qaeda's future leaders were jailed. Watch this.


LAWRENCE WRIGHT, JOURNALIST: The Kurdish general Saladine (ph) built this citadel with the labor of captured Christian crusaders. Nine hundred years later, it was in these very same cells that the radical thoughts that led to al Qaeda were born. One of my major contacts in Cairo was Montasser Zayad (ph), who had been in the radical youth movement and had been imprisoned. He told me he was Zawahiri's next-door cell mate.


BLITZER: And Lawrence Wright is joining us right now. Lawrence, an amazing book, "The Looming Tower," an amazing documentary later tonight. How powerful is al Qaeda right now?

WRIGHT: Well, al Qaeda central, the organization that planned and carried out 9/11 is much reduced from its pre-9/11 days. The CIA says 300 people. The Egyptian intelligence told me 200. In either case, it's much smaller, but the idea of al Qaeda has propagated and taken root in other forms. And so we have allegiances in different countries and wannabes, all of which are dangerous, but I don't think they can carry out another 9/11.

BLITZER: They couldn't get their hands on some sort of nuclear device and kill thousands and thousands of people, because that's an enormous fear that people have out there?

WRIGHT: I think the chances of that are really remote, Wolf. I mean, it's conceivable. It's in the realm of possibility, but what's much more likely is if one of these attempts like the Times Square bomber or the -- the Zazi guy who wanted to blow up the subways in New York, one of those guys will get lucky, and it will probably be an individual or a small group. And it will be devastating, but it won't be 9/11.

BLITZER: Bin Laden, do you believe he is hiding with al Zawahiri, his No. 2, or are they separate? You've done a lot of research into this.

WRIGHT: Well, you know, I think they're probably together. Bin Laden is not sick in the way that the CIA had imagined. I don't think he has kidney disease, but he does have health problems. And Zawahiri is a doctor, so that's one of the reasons that they're close together.

On the other hand, Zawahiri has been much more active in getting out tapes and videos than bin Laden, which suggests that bin Laden is, you know, much more in the deep freeze. I wouldn't be surprised if they were somewhere that's really not even where we're looking for them in the tribal areas. Could be in Yemen, for instance, someplace where we're just not paying attention.

BLITZER: What's the biggest misperception -- misconception that Americans have about Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic terrorism?

WRIGHT: I suppose to me the biggest misconception is that these are Islamic extremists. These are not mainstream Muslims. And with all the heated rhetoric that's flying around in this country and others right now about Islam, one would get to thinking pretty soon, that it's Islam that's at war with America, which is not at all true. The real truth of this is that al Qaeda is at war with Islam, and we're getting the spillover. BLITZER: Have you been following this issue in Florida, this pastor of this obscure group who wants to start burning the Koran on the anniversary, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 this Saturday and the reaction, potentially, it could generate?

WRIGHT: I'm horrified by the thought that anybody would do such a thing. Just to respect another holy book like that is by itself appalling, but as General Petraeus has said, it endangers American soldiers who are stationed abroad in Muslim countries. We have no more need for this kind of provocation. I'm outraged and dismayed.

BLITZER: And this notion that, in the Muslim world, not just extremists, but rank-and-file Muslims would not necessarily appreciate this is just a tiny little fringe group in Florida. They really don't speak for the people of the United States. That would not necessarily come across, would it?

WRIGHT: No. Especially in cultures where there -- you know, there's very little real news, very little hard analysis, and not very much divergence of opinion. It's difficult to convey the nuances of a very distant and sophisticated culture such as ours.

We can look at it and think, "Oh, we know who that guy is," but if you're in Kandahar, you may not understand how to distinguish the way we feel about that.

BLITZER: Lawrence Wright's documentary is entitled "My Trip to al Qaeda." It airs on our sister network, HBO, later tonight.

Lawrence, thanks very much.

WRIGHT: I've enjoyed it, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: Is President Obama's latest economic plan too little, too late? Jack Cafferty coming up next with your e-mail.

Plus, the latest fashion accessory for your car. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look at CarLashes.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour, is President Obama's latest economic plan too little, too late?

Bob writes, "No, it's just not the right answer. The economy needs jobs. Maybe he should try this. Make e-Verify mandatory. No amnesty. Secure the border. Tax those that outsource and then bring their products back to this country. Tax Chinese exports and bring back manufacturing jobs. That alone would create millions of jobs."

Steve in California writes, "Considering how long the administration has been in office, that would be a definite yes. This administration should have had a working plan on day one. The economic plan we have now, if any, is 20 months overdue, and even this plan won't guarantee recovery."

Julie writes, "Could you please see the glass as half full? Apparently, about 90 percent us are doing OK. We're just afraid, because the news keeps telling us how afraid we should be. As our customer confidence grows, so will our economy."

Jim in Michigan says, "This is about garnering union votes. Every stimulus dollar is targeted toward a union job. This administration is throwing darts, hoping that they'll hit something and win a prize. Tell me, Jack, we pay a federal tax on every drop of gas we put in our cars and trucks. That money is targeted for road and bridge repairs. So why do we need stimulus money? for road repair. Please tell us they didn't rape the road-repair funds like they did Social Security? Did they?"

Tammy in California: "I wouldn't say too little too late. We spent a lot but it did too little. Their new plan should have been the original plan. Infrastructure, roads, railways, et cetera. I voted for Obama. I still like him, but I'm exasperated by the whole thing."

Jeremy in Michigan writes, "Yes, it's far too late. The first stimulus was a complete failure on Obama's part. We don't need to spend even more of our grandchildren's money. This money isn't free. Please stop the insanity."

And Mark writes, "It may be too little, but it's never too late."

You want to read more about this, you'll find it on my blog: -- you know the rest -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We don't. We can find it. We'll see you tomorrow, Jack. Thanks.

John King is on the CNN Election Express in Ohio tonight. President Obama arrives there tomorrow. "JOHN KING USA" begins right at the top of the hour. Stand by for that.

But right up after this break, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, is your car missing a certain something? Could it be CarLashes? CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual.


BLITZER: Fake eyelashes for your car? CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Careful, when you go through the car wash, that you don't scrub off your car's eyelashes? CarLashes, the latest automotive accessory, flexible plastic lashes you attach above your headlights, $24.99 a pair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's adorable and very whimsical, but I don't know that I would put it on my car. MOOS (on camera): Would you put lashes on your car?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I would. It's going to look girlie.

MOOS (voice-over): CarLashes are aimed at women, not men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: BMW, oh, please. You're messing up the car.

MOOS: But on a pink caddy?

CarLashes are the brainchild of a Utah couple, Robert Small and his wife, Dottie.

DOTTIE SMALL, CARLASHES CO-CREATOR: They really do spread joy in the world.

MOOS: Dottie dreamed up a second accessory: crystal eye liner.

But not everyone is seeing rainbows.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unnecessary. A little -- might appeal to my children.

MOOS: Like the Pixar movie "cars," or a Disney animation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't she a beauty?

MOOS: Creator Robert Small says...

ROBERT SMALL, CARLASHES CO-CREATOR: I always thought cars had personalities, and the headlights looked like eyes.

MOOS: They had friends like this one test market their CarLashes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I m getting the most attention I've ever got in my whole life. It's bloody hilarious.

MOOS: As for whether fake eyelashes...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then press the ends in.

MOOS: ... or CarLashes are easier to put on?


MOOS: It takes about 15 minutes. You attach them with automotive trim tape that comes with the lashes.

(on camera) Unlike fake eyelashes, car eyelashes can even help you park by providing a mark so you know where the end of the car is.

(voice-over) CarLashes already have a male competitor, the Carstache.

OK, maybe you'll never see CarLashes on Danica Patrick's racecar or the presidential limousine. But Robert and Dottie have sold almost 2,000 CarLashes since June and have ordered another 10,000.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are they just cute or are they functional, too?

MOOS (on camera): Well, what would you like them to do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought they were little windshield wipers that would go bat their eyelashes as they cleaned.

MOOS (voice-over): Dottie says men may not put CarLashes on their cars, but they like seeing women driving by with them.

D. SMALL: They feel like they're being flirted with a little bit when they see them.

MOOS: Will CarLashes give the guys whiplash? Put a little hussy in your headlights.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at, @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.