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Egypt on the Brink; Sarah Palin Rewriting History?; Interview With Georgia Congressman Paul Broun

Aired January 27, 2011 - 22:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, everybody, for watching.

Tonight: Sarah Palin takes aim at President Obama's State of the Union address, and hits the old Soviet Union instead. President Obama called this our Sputnik moment. She says launching Sputnik ended up bankrupting the USSR. Does she have her facts straight? We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

Also tonight: the U.S. congressman who says President Obama is practicing socialism. Does he have the facts to back it up? We're keeping him honest and getting his take, so you can decide for yourself.

Then, a little bit later tonight: A mom does what lots of parents do, trying to give her daughters a shot at a better education. Most parents, though, don't go to jail for it. Tonight, we're going to tell you about her crime and the punishment, and we will ask if justice was done or if it was distorted.

We begin, though, as always, "Keeping Them Honest."

Tonight; Sarah Palin causing a storm for taking exception with President Obama's State of the Union address, but getting on our radar for kind of mangling history.



SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: His theme last night in the State of the Union was the WTF, you know, winning the future. And I thought, OK, that acronym, spot on. There are a lot of WTF moments throughout that speech.


O'BRIEN: WTF, in case you're wondering what that shorthand is for, it's for WTF. If you're a kid, ask your parents. They can explain.


O'BRIEN: Parents, if you don't understand, go ask your children. They will tell you. (LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I can't tell you.

In any case, Governor Palin is taking some heat for that. But it's really a matter of taste and opinion.

But, "Keeping Them Honest," we're interested in the hard facts and what she said about this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And half-a-century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik we had no idea how we would beat them to the Moon. The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist.

But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation's Sputnik moment.


O'BRIEN: So that was President Obama on Tuesday night.

Now, here was the Palin reaction.


PALIN: That was another one of those WTF moments, when he so often repeated the Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate.

And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time, that it -- it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.


O'BRIEN: OK, it's a little hard to make...


O'BRIEN: ... much of that statement because it's not exactly very clear what she's talking about. If she literally means that Sputnik bankrupted the Soviet Union and led to the collapse, then, well, that makes no sense at all, because Sputnik went up, if you will remember, October 4, 1957. The Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991...


O'BRIEN: ... a span of 34 years. That couldn't have bankrupted them. They still had money for a manned space program. So, maybe, in fact, she's talking about the race into orbit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good lord ride all of the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Godspeed, John Glenn.


O'BRIEN: "Godspeed, John Glenn."

John Glenn, the second to orbit the Earth. Yuri Gagarin was the first. That was 30 years before the USR -- USSR collapsed. That did not bankrupt them. They still had money for more spaceflight.

So, maybe in fact she's talking about this.


JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.


O'BRIEN: That was a great speech.

Lunar program, that could be a budget-buster, of course. Hard numbers are hard to come by, because the Soviet program was cloaked in secrecy. But, according to NASA, our own manned space program cost about $23 billion from the first man in space to the last man on the moon. And, according to a leading space historian, Soviet spending was just about half that amount.

So, it's hard to see how space spending would be a major burden, especially when you consider all the other things they were spending money on, funding Cuba, occupying Eastern Europe, invading Afghanistan, building the Berlin Wall.


RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.



O'BRIEN: That was President Ronald Reagan, of course, six presidents, three decades after Sputnik went into orbit.

And then, just a few days ago, she credited for the Soviet Union's end under his leadership. She writes in "USA Today," "We won the Cold War without firing a single shot" -- or apparently launching a single rocket. More now on the facts and the politics of what Sarah Palin said with Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and Republican strategist Ed Rollins, and also Stephen Cohen. He's a professor of Russian studies in history at New York University. He's also the author of "The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin."

Nice to see you all.

Let's begin with you, Stephen, because I want to start with the history thing.


O'BRIEN: That was kind of...



COHEN: ... because, when I left home tonight...

O'BRIEN: I knew you did.


COHEN: ... I asked my 19-year-old daughter, and she told me.


COHEN: So, I am -- I'm informed.

O'BRIEN: Before the show, she filled you in.


O'BRIEN: I'm glad to hear that.

History 101 -- there's this big span of time, 34 years, between Sputnik and the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, when Sarah Palin says, in fact, one was linked to the other, is that true?

COHEN: I'm not a Palin fan.

O'BRIEN: I'm not asking you whether you are or not. I want to know if, historically, it's true or not.


COHEN: It's not the dumbest thing that's been said about the end of the Soviet Union.

I think what she wanted to say was that the Soviet Union spent so much money that it bankrupted itself and it ended, and that investments, as in Sputnik, were the beginning of that bankruptcy.

That's wrong on two counts. First of all, actually, 1957, which Ed and I remember very well...


COHEN: I mean, and it was a scary moment.



COHEN: We remember it because they made us -- when it happened, they made all American schoolchildren study more math and science.

And it was really a traumatic moment.

ROLLINS: Beginning of my downfall.


COHEN: That's how we ended up here.


O'BRIEN: ... politics.

ROLLINS: That's right.


COHEN: What Governor Palin said is wrong in -- in two respects.

First of all, actually, in 1957, when Sputnik went up, and for about the next 10 years was the high point of the strength of the Soviet economy, both in terms of economic growth -- it grew I think at about 6 percent or 7 percent a year -- and its technological development.

That's why the United States had such an allergic reaction. And the reaction was, I think, oh, my God, the communists can do it, and we can't. Something's wrong. We got to fix it. So, she's wrong on that count. It wasn't bankruptcy and it didn't lead to bankruptcy.

The other thing she's wrong about, but it's not crazy, because a lot of people think this, is that the failure of the Soviet economy ended the Soviet Union. That, too, is not correct, but that's a different story.

So, what I would say is, she's wrong on both accounts, but this is the 20th anniversary of the end of the Soviet Union, 2011. And you're going to hear a lot of really foolish things said in the United States this year. This is kind of -- she's the first out of the paddock.


O'BRIEN: And that's sort of the dubious honor, isn't it, Ed Rollins? ROLLINS: It's -- it's a dubious...

O'BRIEN: I mean, when you hear these remarks -- and, actually, we report on them all the time.



O'BRIEN: What do you think? Is it building the brand of Sarah Palin maybe for...

ROLLINS: Well, it's...

O'BRIEN: ... a presidential run, or what?

ROLLINS: No, no, no. Clearly -- it clearly is showing that she has a lack of knowledge, which I think is unfortunate in a -- in a candidate, no matter how effective she may think she is.

In this particular case, we did lose the space race. It was an extraordinary time for both the Soviet Union and for us. It was one of the greatest times of development, of research and development for the United States. And all the sidebar things that came, the computers, the lasers, all the rest of it, it was an extraordinary investment of -- of -- of resources and created a great engineering.

I think, if anything destroyed the Soviet Union, it was their attempt to expand throughout the world and their tremendous amount of resources devoted to military.

O'BRIEN: Maria, quick question for you about the brilliance of Sarah Palin, which is...


O'BRIEN: ... you can be totally wrong, and yet people devote segments talking about sort of what you're saying, even though we should be running a disclaimer: That was totally wrong.


MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That -- that's exactly right, Soledad.

A lot of people like to think that she's crazy. I often say that she's crazy like a fox in terms of, she knows that -- exactly what she's doing in terms of marketing her own brand. The question is whether she actually really wants to use that brand to run for president.

I never thought that she really did, because these things that she says, which are completely WTF moments for us, don't help that brand in terms of having people taking her more seriously for running for president. But -- you said it -- look at what we're doing. We're devoting a whole panel talking about what she said. And, to her supporters, that actually, I think, makes them love her more.


You have said, Maria, that you would love to see a -- a Palin/Bachmann ticket.


O'BRIEN: And we won't even go into what Michele Bachmann said, which actually I almost fell off my couch laughing.


O'BRIEN: Google it, because I don't have time to get to it.

But it's -- it's so wrong in history -- and I'm not a historian -- it's just craziness.

CARDONA: Yes, that's exactly right.

And I think -- I think that, the two together, again, make us talk more about them than it does about the seriousness of conservative Republican ideas. And I think, in that sense -- and I think maybe Ed would agree with me here -- and I know that other serious conservative Republicans agree, that she does not do the party any good.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's ask the man...

CARDONA: She doesn't do the debate any good.

O'BRIEN: ... who knows about conservative Republican...


ROLLINS: The sad part is, the president -- the president gave a speech that obviously was a very bipartisan speech, a lot of things that Republicans can agree on.

Equally as important, sort of a new star of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, gave the counterspeech. And he's going to be a very important player here. He's the one that we should be talking about tonight, and -- and, yet, we're talking about Sarah Palin saying something very stupid.

And I think the key thing here...

O'BRIEN: So, his message is lost.

ROLLINS: His message is lost. And she's not part of the process today. She's part of the -- of the sidebar. Michele Bachmann obviously is a member of Congress and a -- and a representative of the Tea Party. But, at the end of the day, we have to get our serious players out front and talking about the things that matter to be the alternative to the president and Democrats.

O'BRIEN: Ultimately, Professor Cohen, do historians just love -- I mean, everyone is researching Sputnik. That has got to be pretty exciting for you.


COHEN: Well, you know, a lot of -- well, it's -- it's more autobiographical, as I said, and I remember when it went up.

But a lot of things happened after that. You have to remember that, in 1961, I think, the Soviet Union sent up the first man in space, a man by the name of Yuri Gagarin. That was actually considered more sensational than Sputnik, which Ed reminded me before the broadcast, weighed 20 pounds and was about the size of a volleyball.

ROLLINS: Right. Right.

COHEN: But when they sent a human being, this -- this very brave Soviet astronaut, Gagarin, up -- and he remains a hero in Russia today -- that really brought it home, that they had -- that they had put a man in space.

There's one other thing I would say, as a historian, and a biographer, because I have written biography. What television has done in the United States and probably in other countries partly, too, is confuse celebrity with political leadership.


COHEN: I mean, when you become famous and celebrated for something, in politics, it's confused with leadership.


O'BRIEN: That's why I'm here, to parse through it for everybody, so I can make sure everybody understands.


O'BRIEN: All right, we're out of time.

Maria, I want to thank you.

She's joining us from D.C.

CARDONA: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ed, of course, as always, nice to see you.

ROLLINS: Thank -- thank you.

O'BRIEN: Professor Cohen, thanks for being with us.

CARDONA: Appreciate it.

ROLLINS: Thank you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

You can let us know what you think. You can join our live chat, which is now under way at

Coming up: another critic of President Obama's speech. This time, this guy says he's a socialist -- kind of harsh allegations. We are going to check the facts for you.

Then, later, we're going to check in with Nic Robertson. He's live for us in Egypt, where the largest anti-government protests this week are expected to begin within -- within hours.

First, though, we check in with Isha Sesay, who has been working on some other stories.


Well, for months, it's been a case of, can he run or can't he? I'm talking about Rahm Emanuel and his bid to become Chicago's next mayor. Well, the Illinois Supreme Court has made a decision. And I will have the details.

Also, Soledad, did you see the story about the piano that mysteriously turned up on a sandbar? Did you see this? It happened in South Florida. Well, I'm kind of sad to say it's a mystery no more. Coming up, I will tell you who did it and why they have got forward. It's intriguing.


O'BRIEN: Sarah Palin isn't President Obama's only critic on the State of the Union. She's not the only one causing a fuss, either.

Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia didn't attend the speech, he says, out of respect, though he didn't exactly explain what he meant by that. He watched it from his office, and then he tweeted about it, first saying, "Good speech, but long on hope and short on reality."

Then this: "Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism."

As a matter of opinion, there's no arguing with that. But, "Keeping Them Honest," as a matter of fact, it doesn't hold water. When we asked him to justify his statement, here's how the congressman answered.


REP. PAUL BROUN (R), GEORGIA: Mr. Obama believes in a big central government, where the federal government controls everything in our lives. That's socialism. And so I stick by that tweet.


O'BRIEN: Congressman Broun this morning sticking by it, and then taking it a step beyond. Listen.


BROUN: When I was sworn in the Marine Corps in 1964, when I was sworn into Congress, I swore to uphold the Constitution against enemies, both foreign and domestic. We have a lot of domestic enemies of -- of the Constitution, those who want to pervert it, those who want to change it.


O'BRIEN: So, then, according to the congressman, not only does the president believe in socialism. By implication, then, he's also a domestic enemy.


O'BRIEN: This is the president we're talking about. Again, that's his opinion. Hey, that's his opinion.

Kind of hard to find the facts, though, to back it up. Socialism,, according to Webster's, is "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means and production and distribution of goods."

That's the official definition. Critics, Congressman Broun among them, point to the bank and auto bailout as an Obama government takeover. They were loans, so not a takeover. They began during the Bush administration, and neither President Bush nor President Obama sought any long-term stake in American business.

President Obama said about GM and about Chrysler:


OBAMA: These companies and this industry must ultimately stand on their own, not as wards of the state.


O'BRIEN: And, today, GM is a publicly owned company. Chrysler is a privately owned company. Both are paying back their loans. So are the banks.

Here's President Obama this summer talking about the government's role in the economy.


OBAMA: Government cannot and should not replace businesses as the true engine of growth and job creation. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: As for the president's belief in the Constitution, well, he used to teach it at the University of Chicago, a hotbed of conservative, not radical thought.

And even though young Professor Obama was no conservative him -- conservative himself, his curriculum included readings from noted -- noted conservative thinkers, including former Justice Robert Bork.

Congressman Broun also takes issue -- a lot -- with health care reform. He spoke to us about that and much more a little bit earlier tonight.


O'BRIEN: Congressman, you clearly did not love the State of the Union address. You were tweeting, "Good speech, but long on hope and short on reality."

And then at one point, you tweeted: "Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism."

Do you really -- do you really believe that the president does not -- does not support the constitution?

BROUN: Oh, he absolutely does not support the Constitution.

He has promoted a socialistic type of governance ever since he's been in -- in office. And a good example is Obamacare. In fact, just before Obamacare was passed into law, he said he wanted everybody in this country on -- in one pool. That's socialized medicine.

We have had a greater nationalization of the private sector.

O'BRIEN: In the speech, he actually mentioned small business several times, more than several times. So, if he were really a socialist, right, he wouldn't be talking about hoping for the success of small business. That would be exactly the opposite of what a socialist would do, right?

BROUN: Well, I -- frankly, the -- the policies that have been put forth by this administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress are destroying small businesses, and Obamacare is a good example.

O'BRIEN: You're saying that the health care bill is an issue -- is evidence of the president being a socialist. Roughly, if you look at the polls, half of the people in the United States support it. So, are 50 percent of Americans secretly socialists?


BROUN: Well, no, they just don't understand.

In Hosea 4:6, people say -- or God says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."

We have a tremendous lack of knowledge of how far we have gotten away from the Constitution of the United States. Democrats and Republicans alike have taken us away from the original intent. You see, I believe in this document as our founding fathers intended it.

We should have a very limited federal government.

O'BRIEN: Well, but wait a minute. Let's...


O'BRIEN: But wait a minute. Wait a minute.

You know...

BROUN: And the federal...

O'BRIEN: ... in the last 200 years, the...


O'BRIEN: ... Constitution, the one you're holding up, has been changed like 27 times, right?


O'BRIEN: I mean, so, the original document...

BROUN: Well, yes, but...

O'BRIEN: ... actually has been amended and changed.

BROUN: In fact, I have -- I have -- I have introduced a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. That's what we're supposed to do when we change it.

We're not supposed to be doing it by fiat or by executive order. And that's what this president has been doing. And, in fact, Republicans and Democrats alike have been doing that. We have got to go back to a solid foundation of governance.

O'BRIEN: But...

BROUN: And the Constitution, as it was intended by our founding fathers, is what we need to go back to. And this president doesn't believe in it. And a lot of different...

O'BRIEN: But the Constitution -- sir, as you know, the Constitution as it was intended by our founding fathers -- and I actually have read the Constitution numerous times.


BROUN: Good for you. O'BRIEN: Three-fifths of a person is what some Americans counted at -- for, right? I mean, you know that. And -- and women didn't have the right to vote under the original intent of the Constitution, ergo, the numerous amendments to the Constitution.

So, why would you think anybody who's going to change the Constitution or try to change the Constitution is -- is an enemy somehow? I don't get it.

BROUN: Well, now, I did not say that, because I have tried to amend the Constitution with my own balanced budget amendment.

But, you see, the thing is, Article I, Section 8 enumerates or lists the things that the federal government is supposed to be doing or Congress can pass laws about. And it's only about 18 or 19, some people say 20.

And, in fact, the size and scope of the federal government has grown way beyond the original intent.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. I was looking at this poll, a "USA Today/Gallup poll. It says 47 percent...


O'BRIEN: ... of these Americans who were polled said they have a negative view of the GOP.

And guess what that number is for Democrats? The same exact number -- 47 percent of Americans polled also dislike Democrats.


BROUN: Right.

O'BRIEN: And I'm curious to know. You know, in a way I thought, they dislike both of you on both sides of the aisle. They're kind of sick of politicians, and maybe the lack of civility is part of it.

What is your strategy for turning that around? Because with the tweets not so civil, doesn't sound like aiming for more civility is what your strategy is going to be.

BROUN: Well, I think my tweets were civil. I was just stating the truth, that this president has a socialistic type of philosophy and agenda. I believe that very firmly.

And -- and, so, it's not uncivil. I was just stating the truth. And I think we can do -- I think we can work together. And we should work together. I have worked with Democrats on many issues, and I will continue to do so.

O'BRIEN: The one -- maybe the one light at the end of the tunnel is that you did have one tweet which said, "I agree."

(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: It was, I guess, you know, somewhere in the...


O'BRIEN: ... roughly in the top 20 minutes. You said, "I agree." Maybe that is a little bit of a hopeful sign for civility...

BROUN: Well, I'll tell you what.

O'BRIEN: ... and getting along among our elected officials.


O'BRIEN: Thank you, sir. I appreciate it, Congressman Broun, joining us this evening.


O'BRIEN: Thank you for your time.

BROUN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead tonight: A mom who says she just wanted to enroll her kids in a better school district lands behind bars. Is it a case of simple fraud, or did race play a role?

Plus: new reporting from Egypt where unrest in the streets is gaining momentum. Nic Robertson is there for us tonight with a firsthand look at the crisis facing a key U.S. ally.


O'BRIEN: Tonight, Egypt, a nation on the brink, is bracing for possibly the largest protest that it has seen all week.

Just hours from now, after Friday prayers, demonstrators are expected to fill the streets of Cairo. For the first time, the Muslim Brotherhood has called for its followers to join the unprecedented anti-government protests that erupted days ago -- the aim, to topple President Hosni Mubarak, a key U.S. ally.

Today, President Obama was careful not to take sides when he was asked about the crisis.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My main hope right now is, is that violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence, and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence.


O'BRIEN: The protests have already turned deadly. At least six people have been killed in clashes with riot police in several Egyptian cities.

I want to show you a video shot in Sinai. I want to be clear, this is very disturbing to watch. It shows a man who was shot. You can see him on the left of your screen. You see that he picks up a rock, and then walks several steps, and then he's shot by security services right there. Then someone goes in to try to help him.

The turmoil in Egypt comes on the heels of mass uprisings in Tunisia and Yemen. Today, the pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winning Mohammed ElBaradei returned to Cairo to join the demonstrations.

The Egyptian government has shut down social networking sites, also text messaging capabilities. And the apparent clampdown means that we cannot broadcast from the streets there tonight.

So, Nic Robertson is going to join me by phone from Alexandria.

Nic, Friday morning, early where you are right now, protests are expected, as we said, after the Friday prayers. What exactly are you expecting?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people to be on the streets, Soledad, a lot more than have been seen over the past few days.

With the Muslim Brotherhood joining, the expectation is that they will bring a large number of their supporters onto the streets. They're generally known to be very well-organized. They are likely to be able to sort of have a much stronger idea of where they want to go, central squares outside the main mosque, close to where we're standing now here in Alexandria.

So, it's -- it's the numbers that people expect to be bigger and the organization to be better. It's been a lot of youth, a lot of mixed population, if you will, with -- without a sense of leadership or direction, other than to face off against the security forces.

So, that may be the difference that we see Friday. But the numbers is the main thing -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We talked about Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition leader, coming back into the country today. He has been quoting as saying to the government, listen to the people.

What kind of legitimacy does he have right now?

ROBERTSON: Well, he called a few months ago for changes in the constitution. And that went online.

And more than a million people have signed up for it. Many people here, particularly the young people looking for a -- for a new hope and a -- a new chance of a different leadership, say that's a mandate. That is more of a mandate, they say, than President Mubarak has.

So, many people are feeling that -- that -- that he -- that he is a man that they can respect, that -- that can -- that they can follow. Remember, this so far hasn't really

Remember, this so far hasn't really seemed to have had a clear leadership. Whether he will be that man, no one can say. He said that the regime doesn't listen, and the barrier of fear has been broken. And that's perhaps the biggest thing. That barrier of fear that people have with the security forces here, despite those very bloody pictures, that's perhaps the biggest thing. But the challenge will be to use that energy.

O'BRIEN: OK. Nic Robertson for us. He's in Alexandria reporting, because we cannot get a live shot out of there today. Nic, thank you for that. Stay safe, of course.

Lots happening around the country and around the world. Isha Sesay is back with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Soledad, Rahm Emanuel's name will stay on the mayoral ballot in Chicago. The former White House chief of staff won a court ruling today on his Chicago residency. Emanuel took part in the debate tonight with his top two opponents in the February 22 election.

Nelson Mandela is in the Johannesburg hospital, where doctors are said to be conducting tests. A source told CNN the Nobel laureate was flown there yesterday from Capetown where he was on vacation. The 92- year-old anti-Apartheid leader and former South African president was last seen in public at last summer's World Cup.

The major snowstorm that pummeled the Eastern Seaboard dumped 19 inches of snow in New York's Central Park. Boston is under snow emergency. Local officials say the city has had to clear more than 60 inches of snow in the last 31 days.

And Soledad, listen up. A mystery has been involved. Last night, we told our viewers about a piano that mysteriously appeared on a sand bar in Florida's Biscayne Bay. Well, now 16-year-old Nicholas Harrington has admitted to hauling the piano out with some help from friends. He said he viewed it as art for a portfolio in his future college application.

Now, I should tell you that dumping things in Biscayne Bay is illegal. But authorities have no immediate plans to charge the teenager.

So let me get this straight, Soledad. He was going to put on his application, "Dear Mr. Art Professor, I dumped a piano on the sand bar"?

O'BRIEN: It was art. You just don't understand it.

SESAY: I know, I know. I'm foreign. I just don't get these things.

O'BRIEN: I know. Yes, well, you know, I'm going to guess he doesn't get in wherever he was applying. But that's just me.

All right, Isha, thank you very much.

Tonight's "Shot," I should mention, very cool. We found it on YouTube. A gorilla walking like a person. Look at that. Not dragging the knuckles for him. Actually kind of looks like he's, like, moving along. Kind of cute.

And of course, this got us thinking. Anderson spent some time at the Great Ape Trust recently. Look at this. And he was in this bunny suit.

SESAY: He's not strutting like that gorilla, I have to say. He may need to work on his strut, Mr. Cooper there.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I wonder how much he would have paid me to keep that video off the air tonight. We'll check in with him Monday.

SESAY: He loves it. Really? He loves it.

O'BRIEN: Isha, thanks.

Up next, we've got this story -- Isha, you're going to want to watch this. People are just outraged about it. It's blowing up Twitter. A single mom sent to jail for using her father's address because she wanted her daughters to go to a bitter school that was in a safer neighborhood. Many people say sending the woman to jail does not fit the crime, not by a long shot. We're going to talk about that.

Then later, a lawsuit that asks "where's the beef?" in Taco Bell's beef? Now Taco Bell is threatening its own lawsuit, and we are putting the whole sloppy mess on the "RidicuList."


O'BRIEN: Tonight, a story of how far one mother went to try to make sure that her children would get a good education and how she ended up in jail for it. Now, some people say it's just simply a case of fraud.

Prosecutors in Ohio say Kelly Williams-Bolar lied on official records so that her two daughters could go to school in a better district. She lives in subsidized housing in Akron, Ohio, used her father's address to get her kids enrolled in a neighboring school district, which is just about seven miles away.

Williams-Bolar and her father maintained that the girls did live with their grandfather part of the time. But after the school district investigated, Williams-Bolar was arrested. She was convicted of two counts of tampering with records, sentenced to ten days in jail.

Williams-Bolar left jail yesterday after serving nine days and was shaken up to say the least. Listen.


KELLY WILLIAMS-BOLAR, ARRESTED FOR LYING ON OFFICIAL RECORDS: It's overwhelming. I'm exhausted. My primary residency was both places. I stayed at both places.

When my home got broken into, I felt it was my duty to do something else. I don't think they wanted money. I think they wanted me to be an example.


O'BRIEN: Williams-Bolar was also sentenced to two years probation, 80 hours of community service, too. The big question tonight is, does the punishment fit the crime?

During the trial, school officials said during the little over two years that this woman's daughters were enrolled in school, there were dozens of other residency questions that came up about other students. Nobody else was prosecuted in those cases. The students would just leave the school.

So why, according to local news reports, did the school district spend $6,000 to investigate the Williams-Bolar case? They even hired a private investigator to follow her kids and her to school. And why the extraordinary measure of sending her to jail?

Today, the superintendent of the school told CNN on the phone that the district tried for years to try to resolve the situation but Williams-Bolar would not cooperate.


BRIAN POE, SUPERINTENDENT (via phone): We worked from 2006 to 2008 over a two-year period in terms of communicating and sending information. And we didn't have the cooperation from this situation that we had with -- with our other cases.

Our district could actually be subject to criticism that we tried to work with the situation for two years. We are educators. We do have the students' best interests at heart. And therefore, that's why we try and work with the parents and leave the children out of it.


O'BRIEN: OK. So another part of the story, Williams-Bolar works as a special education assistant. She's going to college to become a teacher. And now she has a felony record, so the hope for the better future for her could also be in jeopardy.

And there are people who point out all this could have been avoided. There are ten so-called open-enrollment districts in and around Akron where Williams-Bolar could have applied to send her kids to school. Eight of them were rated either excellent or excellent with distinction ratings from the state's Department of Education. Excellent with distinction is the highest rating, the same rating that the school district where Williams-Bolar ended up sending her kids and then ended up in jail. So same as that. Unfortunately, the one she sent the kids to does not have open enrollment.

So is this a clear case of breaking the law and then just suffering the consequences, or is there something unjust going on in how the case is being treated?

Joining us live from Syracuse tonight, New York, is Dr. Boyce Watkins. He's a professor at Syracuse University. Also, he's the founder of

Nice to see you.

In New Orleans, we've Dr. Andre Perry. He's an assistant professor of higher education at the University of New Orleans and CEO of the UNO charter schools.

Nice to see you, Doctor.

And here in New York, former federal prosecutor, Sunnie Hostin. She's a legal contributor from "In Session," our sister network TruTV.

Nice to have you all.

Sunnie, let's start with the legal part. To me the whole most interesting part of what the superintendent said was, "We are educators. We have the children's best interests at heart when we're kicking them out." Is this a legally clear case in your mind?

SUNNIE HOSTIN, CORRESPONDENT, TRUTV'S "IN SESSION": I don't think so. I mean, for me I'm not buying what he's selling. You don't have to refer something for prosecution. So I think the system failed her there.

O'BRIEN: Well, he says two years, two years they were negotiating. And...

HOSTIN: We don't know what he was doing throughout those two years. Because I listened to his statement when he spoke on CNN today, and I wasn't clear what was going on.

The other part, I think, that's important to note is that prosecutors have discretion, Soledad. Why prosecute this case? Why not plead it out to a misdemeanor? Why not go this far? I think the system certainly failed her there.

And the real crime here is that her school system failed, and so she has to seek another school for her children. This is not a clear- cut case at all.

O'BRIEN: Boyce, you know what's interesting about this? Is that as I was reading this story without even seeing any of the pictures, you did not have to tell me. I knew the mother in this story is black. We are talking about black kids, and we are talking about a school system which is majority white. Knowing nothing about the story days ago, I knew that already. Why did I know that?

BOYCE WATKINS, PROFESSOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: Well, the reason you knew that is because this case connected to millions of people across the country, primarily because it was a microcosm of everything that's racially wrong with America.

If you look at the holy trinity of racial inequality, which is pretty much the economic system, the educational system, and the criminal justice systems, you see all those elements really come into play when it comes to the case of Kelly Williams-Bolar.

And so when I talked to Reverend Sharpton today about the rally we're going to hold in Ohio on behalf of Kelly, we both agreed that the issue is not what Kelly did or did not do. It is the fact that there were millions of parents all across America who related to her story. Because there are so many parts across the country, women in my family who have had to break the law a little bit in order to get their kids access to a quality education.

So we really have to ask a broader question: why is it the case that there are some schools where the kids are not being taught what they need to know, the kids are not safe -- as safe as they would be in the suburbs, yet there are other schools that have everything they need? And that's really what the issue needs to be.

O'BRIEN: So if you go to the Internet, you can easily pull up the -- sort of the results of these two different schools. So let's look at the school that she -- Ms. Bolar wanted to go to, the Copley- Fairlawn City School District.

And it's amazing to me. Third-grade achievement above state standards, fourth grade above state standards, fifth grade above state standards, sixth grade really above state standards, seventh grade even more above state standards, eighth grade above state standards.

Then shall we turn to the Akron public schools? Third grade, below state standards, fourth grade below state standards, fifth below, sixth below, seventh grade achievement below state standard, eighth grade achievement below state standards. Below, below, below on everything except for four of the 24 things that they measure on.

So Dr. Perry, ultimately, what is this saying about our state educational system? I mean, you know, is this woman someone who should have been sitting in jail as she tried to do not what most people complain about parents, which is they're not involved at all, but actually as sort of over involved in her kid's education?

ANDRE PERRY, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS: Certainly, she should not have been jailed for any time. This speaks to how desperate parents are to put their kids in a quality school.

And it also shows how desperate other school districts are from preventing other students from going into their institutions. Certainly, there are taxing issues. There are real costs associated with enrolling a kid and meeting the costs associated with the kids being in school.

O'BRIEN: But isn't the father, who lives there -- the father who lives there is paying taxes. He doesn't have kids. I mean, that's not part of what they're claiming.

PERRY: That's right. But I mean...

O'BRIEN: I mean, he pays taxes, right? One would assume?

PERRY: Right, but still there's, you know -- there's estimates about how many kids are in a district, and how many -- and there's a match to those potential schools.

But with that said, the reason why we have counties and parishes all across the country saying that we're going to have open enrollment counties -- open enrollment counties is because they understand that, if you have limited options in your county, you have to go somewhere else. Because the costs of not educating those children are enormous.

And that's what we're involved with in this country. We have to take -- make the mechanisms in which a child can, if they don't have access to a quality school, to go somewhere else, to cross county lines or parish lines, or we'll see the types of devastations we're seeing throughout our country.

O'BRIEN: OK. So Sunnie, take us back to Brown vs. the Board of Education.

HOSTIN: Right.

O'BRIEN: Which I know is a deseg case. But ultimately, wasn't it found that access to a quality education is a basic, constitution -- and constitutionally-protected human right.

HOSTIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Which the court then would remedy if they found that wasn't true with magnet schools or busing or whatever.

HOSTIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: So how, then, can you -- can someone argue legally and put this woman in jail for ten days, if she's clearly -- I mean, the documents show she's got one school that's a good one, and one's a bad one.

HOSTIN: But there were other schools that were available to her that were similarly as good as this school. This school didn't have open enrollment. The other schools did.

O'BRIEN: Although again, as a lawyer...

HOSTIN: And so...


HOSTIN: ... issues.

O'BRIEN: She is saying, "I lived there."

HOSTIN: Certainly, she's saying that she lived there. But I think the other interesting thing is the sort of selective prosecution issue. Why prosecute this case? You had 40-something other issues in your school district, but you prosecuted this case.

O'BRIEN: Well, the superintendent would say -- the superintendent would say because the other ones resolved.

Boyce, I'm going to give you the last word, and I don't have a lot of time. To what degree is this really about race at its core, or is it about education and poverty?

WATKINS: Well, it's certainly about all of those things. And one of the things we have to remember as the president was talking so much about education in his State of the Union address is that this inequality in the educational system is a fundamental human rights violation.

The United Nations has cited America as a consistent violator of human rights when it comes to people's color, because when you look at the economic situation of black families, where wealth is one-tenth that of white families. You look at the educational system, where our kids are not graduating or getting educated. You look at the criminal justice system, where we're several more times likely to be prosecuted and sentenced for those crimes, you have a serious problem.

So if we don't confront that directly, then we're always going to have this problem. And this case, again, is just the perfect storm that sets an example of what we need to look forward to as a country.

O'BRIEN: Boyce Watkins joining us tonight. Dr. Andre Perry, as well, and Sunnie Hostin. Sunnie, thanks as always.

Thanks, guys. I appreciate it.

And I've got a special programming note for about a "Black in America" special that I'm going to be hosting. It is the story of Ernst Withers, who captured some of the most striking images of the civil rights movement on film. You see those photos, you know exactly who I'm talking about.

But three years after his death, Withers' legacy is in question, because there are claims that he led a double life as a paid informant for the FBI. Caught in the middle are his children, who are disputing the charges. It is a remarkable story. Our documentary is called "Pictures Don't Lie." It's a "Black in America" special. It airs on Sunday, February 20, 8 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Much more news ahead, including actor Charlie Sheen, admitted to the hospital today. We'll tell you why. And Taco Bell wants you to think outside the bun, but a group suing Taco Bell wants you to think about what's inside that tortilla. We'll explain. And we're adding the mess to our "RidicuList."


O'BRIEN: Still to come tonight, the beef over Taco Bell, the fast food chain facing a class-action lawsuit claiming its meat doesn't have enough meat. We're going to add the uproar to our "RidicuList."

But first, Isha Sesay joins us again with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Soledad, Rodney Alcala, the so-called "Dating Game" Killer is facing new charges tonight, this time in New York. In the 1970s and before he appeared on "The Dating Game," prosecutors say Alcala killed two women in New York. He's currently on Death Row in California for killing four women and a 12-year-old girl there.

A "360 Follow-up" now. A new report gives answers to what caused up to 5,000 birds to fall out of the sky in Arkansas on New Year's Eve. The State Game and Fish Commission says the birds died of blunt force trauma, which indicates they may have hit something, like trees or a house.

Amazon's Kindle sales helped the company post record quarterly sales of $13 billion for the last three months of 2010. Now, that is up 36 percent compared to last year. Amazon says more people are buying e-books now than paper books on the company's Web site.

And Charlie Sheen was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital today. The actor's publicist says Sheen is suffering from a hernia. It is his second trip to hospital in three months.

I'm just going to say it, Soledad. Charlie Sheen, enough with the drama already.

O'BRIEN: I know, really. It's like out of the news for a little while, go away. Go away.

SESAY: Enough. We wish him better. But...

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, get better. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

SESAY: And be quiet.

O'BRIEN: We don't want to hear from you any more.

All right, Isha, now time for the "RidicuList." We are adding to the list the beef with Taco Bell. Have you heard about this?

There's a law firm in Alabama that filed a class-action lawsuit against Taco Bell, saying that the meat at Taco Bell isn't very meaty. The lawsuit claims that Taco Bell's seasoned beef is less than 35 percent beef, in fact. And that its advertising is misleading.

An attorney at the firm reportedly says that Taco Bell saves money by adds fillers, and that gives them a competitive edge over other companies that sell, quote, "Mexican style food."

It's Taco Bell, people. It's 99 cents for a taco. Anyway, there's no organic corn-fed veal, I'm thinking. Anyway.

So Taco Bell says the law firm has it all wrong and that its meat is quite meaty. This is what the company says in a statement: "Our beef is 100 percent USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy at a supermarket and prepare in your home. Then it is slow- cooked and simmered with proprietary seasonings and spices." Kind of makes me hungry.

We really want some guidance on this. You don't have to look any further than the words of that great philosopher and the wisdom from that great Taco Bell Chihuahua.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yo quiero Taco Bell.


O'BRIEN: You quiero Taco Bell. I want Taco Bell.

But I really don't want, though, is absolutely every last thing that is in a taco. There's a reason why they say how you don't want to see how sausage is made and why, in fact, sausage making ended up on "Dirty Jobs."


MIKE ROWE, HOST, DISCOVERY CHANNEL'S "DIRTY JOBS": After the liver and pork meat are ground up, the broth used to boil the liver is added to the sausage mix for flavor. All of the sausage ingredients must be thoroughly mixed.

O'BRIEN: Mmm, yummy. OK, not that hungry, actually.

But the point remains: we're not talking about a five-star restaurant, people. We're talking about a five-layer burrito that costs 99 cents. It's 19 cents per layer.

Taco Bell customers, are they really that picky about their food? I think the core customer is people who currently or were pretty much, you know, just (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Taco Bell says it's 100 percent sure that there's 88 percent beef in there anyway. They say this: "Our seasoned beef recipe contains 88 percent quality USDA inspected beef, 12 percent seasonings, spices, water, other ingredients that provide taste and texture and moisture." I hate when they write about food having texture and moisture. It just wrecks it for me.

Taco Bell, on the serious side, is threatening to counter sue over these claims.

So in conclusion, let us not ask for whom the Taco Bell tolls. It tolls for anyone who's ever been hungry at 3 a.m. in the morning and then gone for the drive-in. Said, "What's open now?"

That is for whom the Taco Bell tolls. The Taco Bell tolls for us all. Anyone who has a beef with that can go to some other fast-food restaurant. That's on the "RidicuList" tonight.

Some serious stuff ahead, though. We're starting with Sarah Palin taking aim at President Obama's Sputnik moment in the State of the Union address and weighing in on Russian history. But can she see the facts from her home? We're "Keeping Her Honest" tonight.