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North Korea Mourns Leader; Newt Gingrich Losing Lead?; North Korea's Future

Aired December 19, 2011 - 22:00   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: It 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

North Korea's now on its third generation of dictator. His name is Kim Jong un, and he's being called the Great Successor by North Korea's news agency. He's the son of the so-called Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, and grand son of so-called Great Leader, Kim Il-Sung, North Korea's founder.

Now, you're going to see plenty of quirks about North Korea tonight, some of them merely bizarre, others, frankly, terrifying. But if you're looking for what really sets the country known as the hermit kingdom apart from the rest of our socially networked planet, consider this fact. Kim Jong Il died two days ago. Two full days went by before the official announcement actually came out.

That's how tightly controlled the media there is. And when word did finally arrive the dear leader was dead, his blinkered and brainwashed followers mourned him like the god they have been told he was.

The grieving, as you'd imagine, is intense for a leader they had been told first walked at three weeks of age, talked at two months and authored -- not read, but authored 1500 books while in college.

Those who are not overcome were simply dumbstruck on receiving the news. Like this gathering for example. They, like most North Koreans, not likely aware their fallen ruler scarfed lobster and swilled fine cognac while an estimated million ordinary North Koreans starved to death during the famine his economic policies created.

Like most North Koreans the mourners who made their way by the massive statue of King Il-Sung did not know how isolated the North Korea he created and his son ran for 17 years actually is.

When Kim Il-Sung died, North Koreans were told -- and they apparently believe this -- that a thousand white cranes tried to carry him off to heaven but were prevented from doing so by the pull of his devoted followers.

People living then as now in one of two North Koreas, the one they're allowed to see, but "Keeping Them Honest," we mostly see the other. Sometimes they see more than they're supposed to and they wake up. They make a run for it, over the border, into China, then on to the grounds of a foreign embassy. Some of them make it. This group did. Others risk it all, as the family in the clip we're about to show you. But not everyone succeeds, as you'll see in this clip from the documentary "Seoul Train."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they reached the entrance the men just ran in, not pushing away the police officers. They were probably very nervous. As a result, the child and women were left outside. We told them that once they crossed that gate, they would be safe.


GUPTA: Scenes from China there, which shares a border with North Korea and a shaky alliance as well, in part because Beijing is simply terrified at the prospect of millions of refugees flooding into southern China if North Korea collapses.

But as we said most North Koreans don't really know their country is what it is. They don't know that it's that big space down there between China and South Korea with the lights off at night because their power system barely works. A big black box in more ways than one and more than ever tonight.

But tonight we're taking you as far inside North Korea as we possibly can with people who have seen it up close, who have dealt directly with Kim Jong Il, the dear departed leader.

Gary Tuchman starts us off.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the bouffant hair, platform shoes, oversized glasses and trademark jumpsuit, Kim Jong Il looked every part the crazed tyrant.

RICHARD BUSH, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The appearance made it a little bit more difficult to treat him seriously at least at first.

TUCHMAN: He was certainly a man of eclectic and fine tastes. Mr. Kim was said to have a love of fine wines, cognac and foreign prostitutes. This despite an incredibly poor and often starving population. Inside North Korea it was all about Kim, but state-run media created and nurturing a fully formed cult personality.

He was the dear leader bravely flying fighter jets or writing operas or even shooting 11 holes in one in his first attempt at playing golf. He is also said to be a big fan of Hollywood. His favorite movies? "Gone with the Wind" and any and all James Bond films. A much different ruler than his father, Kim Il-Sung, who founded the totalitarian regime and died in 1994. He was considered god-like among his people.

BRUCE CUMMINGS, AUTHOR, "NORTH KOREA: ANOTHER COUNTRY": From the moment of his birth he never could measure up to his father. He's had very, very difficult shoes to fill. TUCHMAN: Bruce Cummings has studied Korea for 40 years. He says the elder Kim was ruthless, a former guerrilla fighter but he was also charismatic and loved to be around people unlike his son.

Kim Jong Il's official biography says he was born in a log cabin on a sacred mountain. And when he was delivered a double rainbow formed and special stars show in the sky. Western scholars said the birthplace was more likely in Siberia at a Soviet camp.

He was a ruler who loved to make his people dance. A million of them all at once and all in step." You chase away fierce storms and give us faith," they sing about their dear leader. Charles Armstrong with the Center for Korean Research said in an interview with CNN last year that, despite his theatrics, he was a political giant.

CHARLES ARMSTRONG, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, CENTER FOR KOREAN STUDIES: He's not a madman. I think he's a very smart man. He's very capable. He's well trained in the art of politics. And he's very shrewd at how he operates.

TUCHMAN: Kim Jong Il had long been at odds with many world leaders over his country's nuclear program. Having the capability to build a bomb was his greatest ambition, a goal he only recently realized when North Korea tested its nuclear weapons for the first time in 2006.

It put the world on notice and gave Mr. Kim the ultimate bargaining chip, something that makes the uncertainty of what comes next all the more important.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.


GUPTA: And joining us now for an exclusive interview are Lisa and Laura Ling.

Lisa is the host of "National Geographic Explorer" and she has a documentary called "Inside North Korea" which encores tomorrow night at 9:00 on the National Geographic Channel. She's snuck in to North Korea to make this documentary and her sister Laura, on the other hand, was taken by the North Koreans two years ago when she and fellow journalist Euna Lee were filming along the North Korea/Chinese border.

They were held, subjected to a show trial, convicted and sentenced to hard labor. And as you know, after months of diplomatic efforts including a personal intervention by former President Clinton, they received a pardon and came home.

Laura and Lisa have co-authored a book about the experience, it's called "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home."

Welcome to both of you. Good to see you both.

Laura, I mean, Kim Jong Il's regime, they put you and your family through hell. I mean, so many of us watched while you were over there, you were in captivity for five months. What were your thoughts when you heard about his death?

LAURA LING, HELD FOR MONTHS IN NORTH KOREA: It was very surreal. I got chills immediately, but I also thought about the North Korean people. People who have been suffering under that regime for decades. I also thought about my guards, my interrogator, my interpreter. You know, these are people who are tasked with keeping me prisoner, but at the same time we did share a -- develop a relationship. I thought about what the future might hold for them.

GUPTA: And Lisa, I imagine some of your thoughts, your initial thoughts were the same. But it must have been a very emotional moment for you as well.

LISA LING, SISTER HELD FOR MONTHS IN NORTH KOREA: It was. And it was actually quite surprising for both of us because when President Clinton met with Kim Jong Il when he negotiated the release of my sister and her colleague, he actually was very surprised by how coherent the, quote-unquote, "dear leader" was at the time.

He brought his physician with him. And he noticed some paralysis on one side of his body, but he said that his mental faculties were fully intact.

GUPTA: Yes. Because he had had a stroke, I mean, at some point in the recent past before that, the time that you saw him.

LISA LING: Reportedly.

GUPTA: And Laura, I mean, -- right. And Laura, you know firsthand the power and you just saw the piece from Gary Tuchman, that Kim Jong Il had over his people. And what struck you about that from what you observed in captivity?

LAURA LING: Sure. Well, I was allowed to watch television and, you know, every piece of video on that screen practically shows images of Kim Jong Il as this other worldly figure and doing these wonderful things for his people. Oftentimes my guards would be moved to tears watching their dear leader. And they talked about how much he was doing.

They did mention that he was aging and that his health was failing, but they said that it was due to the fact that he was working so hard for his people.

LISA LING: And Sanjay, you had mentioned that I had reported in North Korea couple of years before Laura was held captive. And I was astounded by the level of indoctrination under which the people of North Korea live. It's hard for us to even imagine what that could possibly be like. But you mentioned all the books that Kim Jong Il allegedly authored.

When I was staying there, every single book on my bookshelf in the guesthouse was written by the dear leader or the great leader. And when you're born, indoctrinated into believing this is the only way of life, it's hard to even be curious about what the rest of the world is like.

But we've been hearing in the last couple of years, since Laura was held captive, through an organization called Liberty in North Korea, or LINK, that the refugees who've been coming out have actually gotten information because this black market exists and information is being smuggled in the way of cell phones at increasingly larger levels.

GUPTA: It's absolutely fascinating. And part of that documentary as well, if I remember, you were helping -- you were under the cover, you were helping an eye surgeon perform these operations. And I remember the documentary. Let's play a quick clip where this girl had been blind for years finally got her sight back and sees her father. Take a listen. She is getting sight-restoring operation.

Lisa, you said what shocked you the most was who she thanked after the operation.

LISA LING: Yes. Yes, Sanjay, as you know, cataracts can be so debilitating for people in the third world. They can live with total blindness for more than a decade. And that was the case for so many people who the doctor was treating. And once their sight was restored, it was quite amazing. They would have all the people in a -- in a big room. There would be possibly a hundred people in the room, and they removed the bandages from their eyes.

And instantly you would think that they would thank the doctors and their teams for restoring their sight, but in fact they would immediately rush to the photo of the dear leader to thank him for restoring their vision.

GUPTA: And that was all -- I mean, this was of their own doing. This was -- they weren't being forced. This was of their own volition from all sounds of it.

I mean, Laura, let me ask you, Kim Jong Il's heir apparent, his son, I mean, he's young, the country is a relatively young country in terms of demographic. He's been educated outside of North Korea. I mean, does this make you optimistic at all for the future of this country?

LAURA LING: Well, I mean, I think that everyone right now, all we can do is speculate, but I do think that there could be a window of opportunity.

You know, Kim Jong Il, there was 20 years for him to be groomed into a leader. Kim Jong un has had less than two years. And when you talk about this propaganda machine, he has -- Kim Jong un has existed -- has not existed for very long in that machine. So it will be interesting to see what happens.


LISA LING: Yes, when we were trying to negotiate Laura and Euna's release, it was interesting because our sources were actually dealing with two entirely different factions inside of North Korea because it seemed that there was this schism between the members of the Foreign Ministry and the military. So if that is any indicator, it's seems like it's just an extremely unpredictable time in that country right now.

GUPTA: Yes. See if those bridges will be created.

It's good to see you both. I'm glad you look so well. You look healthy. Thanks for being with us.

LAURA LING: Thank you, Sanjay.

LISA LING: Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Lisa and Laura Ling. Thanks so much.

Let us know what you think about the this. We're on Facebook and Google+. You can add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter as well, SanjayGuptaCNN. I will be tweeting throughout the show tonight.

Up next, we're staying on topic. North Korea's military might, its nuclear arsenal, we hear a lot about this, but now they have got a new finger on the button. We'll get a threat assessment from America's leading troubleshooter, Bill Richardson.

We'll also take you live to the most dangerous border on earth, the one separating North and South Korea.

And later when it comes to the Republican primary, what goes up must come down. Another GOP high flier who is now feeling gravity's pull. We've got the latest on Newt Gingrich's slide in the polls. That's "Raw Politics" ahead.


GUPTA: South Korean armed forces on high alert tonight, and not just because Kim Jong Il is dead. According to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the North did more missile testing just this morning, just before the death announcement came. And now the man supposedly in charge of North Korea's massively armed forces, nuclear weapons included, is now apparently 20-year-old something Kim Jong un.

That's one concern. But so is everything that we don't know yet about North Korea's military might.

Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a poor country, North Korea has long spent a disproportionate amount making its army look strong. What concerns military analysts most, however, is what we cannot see. First, the nuclear threat. Under the obsessive prodding of Kim Jong Il, the secretive nation has been enriching uranium and amassing plutonium, possibly enough in hidden sites to make six or eight nuclear weapons or more. Analysts are convinced North Korean missiles can reach South Korea, Japan and maybe Hawaii or Alaska, although it's unclear whether they can carry nukes, but that may not matter. Another credible theory is that North Korean nukes could be hiding on merchant ships and sail to ports around the globe.

Second, the artillery threat. After the Korean War, the North was heavily supported by Russia. That stopped in the early '90s, but analysts say North Korea has maintained hundreds of artillery pieces from that era and has added many more rockets and scud missiles. Although the North's fighter jets and military ships would probably be destroyed quickly in open warfare, analysts think those ground weapons could pour explosives on to the southern capital of Seoul 30 miles from the border, producing tens of thousands of injuries and deaths in just the first hours.

And third, there is the human threat. North Korea has 400,000 infantry troops, which military experts believe would either flood across the border into the south or dig in to repel any counterattack. More important, the North is believed to have 200,000 highly trained special forces soldiers who could infiltrate the South, wage guerrilla war, and spread panic among civilians.

(on camera): The North is so unpredictable, even informed analysts admit all of these are just educated guesses, but they add, the world must be ready for the worst with North Korea because that nation has been so unpredictable for so long and maybe even more so now.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


GUPTA: And whatever may happen, the major flash point is just a short drive north from Seoul on the demilitarized zone where North and South Korean troops, not to mention American forces, all stand eyeball to eyeball.

And Paula Hancocks is there tonight.

Paula, you know, a lot of people have been following this history here. Last year North Korea sank a South Korean warship killing dozens of sailors. This and other attacks at the time at least were believed to show Kim Jong un was a tough military commander. Is there a fear now in South Korea that further acts of aggression could take place to show the strength of this new Korean leader?


This is the crucial question. Will he feel the need to have some kind of action of empowerment? Now this is what is believed to have happened last year. Two very big attacks killing 50 South Koreans and tensions then were as high as they have been since the 1950s Korean War. So certainly that was believed to be a case of their showcasing an heir -- an heir apparent, a new successor, and they wanted to show strength at the same time.

Now the crucial question is, will Kim Jong un feel weak domestically? If he does, then there is a chance that we could see another attack in the future. This is obviously something that the U.S. and the South Koreans here on the border are watching very closely.

We're just over a mile away from North Korea. There you can see it in the background. And this is something we're watching very closely. How will he be feeling? Will he have all the old followers of his father's or will he bring in new loyal followers that would be loyal to him? It's really a very difficult question to answer.

GUPTA: Do you know just how -- just ready South Korea and the U.S., for that matter, is to respond to any provocation by North Korea?

HANCOCKS: The line is that they are constantly in a state of readiness. Now we know that the South Korean military has actually increased its alert status. It's just one of the highest status at this point. That's a high alert. We also know that they're -- monitoring what the South Korean -- the North Koreans are doing very carefully. They're trying to see if there's any kind of troop movement, the South Koreans and the U.S.

But the U.S. has always said that they're here as a means of deterrent rather than actually to be here to respond in any way. So this is what they have always been working towards. Twenty-right and a half thousand U.S. soldiers here, an immense amount of military capability.

These patriot missiles here that could shoot down any incoming missiles as well. They're definitely ready but they're not trying to play it up in any way.

GUPTA: Paula Hancocks, just a short distance away from the demilitarized zone. Thanks so much. Please be safe out there, Paula.

And joining me now former New Mexico governor, U.N. ambassador and energy secretary, Bill Richardson. In his capacity as a diplomatic troubleshooter, Ambassador Richardson logged plenty of hours and air miles dealing with North Korea and Kim Jong Il.

Thanks, Governor, for joining us. Appreciate it.


GUPTA: Thank you. You've said that what North Korea's military does in the next day or two, 24 to 48 hours, is going to be decisive. Is the danger, Governor, more the unpredictability of the regime or the fear that the military becomes more belligerent in this region? RICHARDSON: Well, the real fear, the real danger is the uncertainty, because what you have now is a totally new situation. Kim Jong Il is gone. There's an untested new leader designated by his father, but there's a cult of personality, a line of succession that has happened for many years in North Korea.

So the early indications are that the establishment has rallied behind Kim Jong un, the son, the untested son. But the issue is, will there be subsequent power struggles within the military, within the family that keeps Kim Jong un with some degree of power? That is the uncertainty.

Now another point is that under Kim Jong Il, at least in the last 12 months, things were getting a little better. They weren't as belligerent. They were talking to South Korea. They were talking to the United States on humanitarian aid. The North Koreans said they were ready to re-engage in six-party talks on nuclear negotiations.

GUPTA: Right.

RICHARDSON: Again, you never can predict what they're going to do, Sanjay. They're an isolated country. I have been there eight times, but I still can't predict what's going to happen next there.

GUPTA: You know, what most people seem to know, Ambassador Richardson, about North Korea, who even pay a little bit of attention, is its nuclear power. And they know some facts about its military.

But -- correct me if I'm wrong -- I mean, North Korea doesn't seem to have the ability to launch a nuclear missile. Is the bigger threat, do you think, the potential to sell nuclear capabilities to U.S. enemies?

RICHARDSON: Well, that's the biggest danger that I think is overlooked, the fact that they have sold nuclear materials. They did it to Syria. There's reports they did it with Pakistan. They did it with Burma.

The sale of nuclear materials, of enriched uranium for foreign exchange because they're the poorest nation on earth. That's the danger. And the fact that they have enough fuel possibly for six to eight nuclear weapons. That's the danger.

The two missiles they sent out were maybe defective, but they did have some kind of a capability. So when you have a million men in arms, when you have all those missiles, and then you have 25,000 American troops on the DMZ, we have a treaty with our friend in South Korea, you know, this is a tinderbox. This is -- you got to keep an eye on that situation.

And the best way to do with them, I have always said, Sanjay, is you engage them. You don't isolate them. You have a dialogue. You're skeptical. You verify everything that they say they're going to do. They usually don't keep their word. But isolate them, to punish them, to ostracize them, to not have anyone talk to them, the Chinese not talk to them, that's not the way to go. And I think the Obama administration has been moving in the right direction to engage them.

And again, the last year has been a little positive movement. Now we're going to have to wait and see what the signals are from this new leader.

GUPTA: Well, a lot of people watching with waitful eyes.

Governor Richardson, I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for joining us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: And still ahead tonight, "Raw Politics" -- Newt Gingrich is slipping in the polls, but he's not giving up the fight. Does he have time to turn things around before the Iowa caucus, which is two weeks from tomorrow? Our political panel will weigh in.

Also ahead: a family's desperate fight to save their baby's life. Medicaid refused to pay for the lifesaving surgery for this 4-month- old. We'll explain the story -- and it's a heartbreaking one -- with a surprising twist.

That's coming up.


GUPTA: In "Raw Politics" tonight: With just two weeks to go until the Iowa caucus -- hard to believe -- the latest polling shows Newt Gingrich's front-runner status is evaporating.

The latest CNN/ORC national poll, which is out today, shows Gingrich is tied with Mitt Romney as Republicans' choice for GOP presidential nominee. Both have 28 percent. Ron Paul's in third with 14 percent. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman are all in single digits.

Now, last month, Gingrich was leading Romney 24 to 20 percent. But, with the clock ticking toward Iowa, Gingrich is slipping, Romney is gaining.

Here's what Gingrich had to say about this at a campaign stop in Iowa today.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: The establishment in both parties is panicking. But just as they did with Ronald Reagan. Go back and read what people wrote about Reagan in '79/'80. It's very similar.

And then they're right, by the way. I am an agent of real change. I actually want to change the way Washington works. I'm prepared to have some fairly large struggles to change the way Washington works. And it will make many conservatives in Washington who are establishmentarians very uncomfortable to have their cozy world shaken up as badly as the election of Newt Gingrich would shake it up.


GUPTA: Joining me now live to talk about this, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN political contributor and Republican strategist Mary Matalin and Matt Kibbe, president of Freedom Works.

Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Gloria, you look the chilliest, so we're going to go to you first. You actually -- you talked to Newt Gingrich today about this, this issue, why his polls seem to be headed south in Iowa. Everyone, take a listen to what he had to say.


GINGRICH: Watch TV here for two days. You've had -- YOU'VE HAD all sorts of people and all sorts of these super-PACs who have consistently been running negative ads. Well, you get enough negative ads before you start answering them, your numbers go down for a while.


GUPTA: So I mean, he's blaming it, Gloria, on the negative ads. He was doing well during the debates. Is he right about this? And if he is, what's he doing about it? What can he do about it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Well, he is right about it, and it was interesting that he was so honest when I asked him the question. I said, "You're going down." He said, yes, he is going down. He gets it.

He doesn't have enough money to fight back in the ad wars. And so what he's trying to do, Sanjay, is make a virtue out of necessity, and that is go positive. Because ads are expensive. Negative ads are something that people use after they've introduced themselves, and then they go after the other candidates.

Gingrich is playing catch-up here in Iowa. So he's got some money. He raised about $500,000 over the weekend. He's now going to start putting up an ad, introducing himself to people in the state of Iowa. He's also starting teleconferences so people can talk to him over the telephone. They're called "Ask Newt." So if you see these negative ads, he'll respond person to person.

GUPTA: And just to get a little context, some of the numbers I read show he was being outspent by Romney by almost 34-1 in Iowa. But Mary, let me ask you about that.


GUPTA: Mary, let me ask you about that, what Gloria just said. Do you think it's all about the ads or do you think there's something else at work here? MATALIN: The ads certainly have had an impact, but there are other contributing factors, not least being the conservative establishment. The National Review editorial sort of for Mitt but definitely against Newt has made an impact.

And honestly, Mitt Romney has done a good job. What people were concerned about with Mitt Romney was he wasn't doing what was the...

GUPTA: Right.

MATALIN: ... the cause of Newt's ascension, which was fight, fight, fight. He was in this -- they called the Mitt witness protection or Mitt-protection zone. When he got out for a week, his free media, his earned media, he took it right to Newt, showing that he has the kind of fight, kind of grit that it takes to do hand-to- hand combat.

So it's not just -- I don't think Newt's slipping so much as stabilizing, but his decrease is as much due to Mitt's improvement and actually campaigning. This last man's standing strategy that he had prior to the Newt ascension just was not bringing it home for conservatives.

GUPTA: Matt, let me ask you. I mean, you heard Newt Gingrich's comments there and he called himself the new agent of change in one of those sound bites. What do you think about that? What should his goal be in Iowa? Do you think he can still win here?

MATT KIBBE, PRESIDENT, FREEDOM WORKS: Well, I actually think that this thing is wide open. And for Newt Gingrich to claim to be a change agent is difficult for him, because he's been around a long time. He has a long record.

And I think what's going on is that voters are starting to realize that the guy they thought was the anti-Romney guy, has a quite similar record on a lot of the issues that really matter to voters that are going to vote in the Iowa caucus.

I think you might see -- I think it's quite likely that Ron Paul wins Iowa and that Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have a very strong showing. This thing is going to go on for a while.

GUPTA: Yes. And who knows, I mean, what that means in the end, who wins Iowa, because we've seen a lot of people who have won Iowa in the past who have not -- sort of staggered after that.

Gloria, I read something interesting in one of the CNN polls released today. They gave Romney the edge here. Specifically, they talked about the fact that six out of ten Republicans vote on personal characteristics more than the issues.


GUPTA: I mean, how big a problem is that? And how much is that playing a role in all we're discussing here regarding his status in Iowa? BORGER: Well, in Iowa, that could be a problem for Newt Gingrich, particularly with evangelical voters who may look back to his personal past and raise a lot of questions and say, "You know what? I don't think having three wives is such a great idea."

But I also think what was interesting about our CNN nationwide poll is that Gingrich was still beating Romney in one area, and that was leadership. When I was talking to people here today who came out to see Newt, most of whom were undecided, by the way -- cannot overemphasize that. They're still undecided. I'd says six out of ten people here in the state of Iowa are still undecided.

What they said, though, that they liked about Newt Gingrich, was he was someone who could take it to Barack Obama. And they wanted somebody who was a leader who could do that. And their big question was, was he electable? And I think that's going to weigh on the minds of people here as they go into their caucuses.

GUPTA: All right. Gloria Borger, Mary Matalin, Matt Kibbe, stay tuned. We have a lot more to discuss on this. Thanks for joining us.


GUPTA: Still ahead a mother's battle to fly her critically ill baby halfway across the country for an operation to save his life. We'll tell you who paid for the flight in the end. That's next.


GUPTA: Tonight a story that really hits me in the gut as both a father and a doctor. There's a new development we're going to tell you about in a moment, but first, a baby at the center of the story whose name is Pierce.

He's just 4 months old. When we first met him, he was in desperate need of heart surgery. Pierce lives in Indiana, and he gets his health insurance through Medicaid. Indiana, like all states, designed its own Medicaid program, including what care they'll cover. Indiana's Medicaid program says it would pay for the operation little Pierce needs, but there was a catch, and the story gets a bit complicated.

Here's Elizabeth Cohen.


JESSAMYN FIELDS, MOTHER: They didn't give you a bath this morning.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jessamyn Fields says government bureaucrats are trying to kill her 4-month-old baby.

FIELDS: There's very few children like Pierce on the planet.

COHEN: Pierce was born with an extremely rare condition called heterotaxy syndrome. About 16 children are born with it each year in the United States, and they have multiple heart defects. Many die as infants.

FIELDS: I sat by his bed hour by hour, thinking that if I close my eyes for a second that I'd miss my last opportunity with him.

COHEN: Pierce has spent most of his life here at the intensive care unit at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. He needs surgery soon or he will die.

(on camera) So when they first talked to you about surgery here, tell me what they said.

FIELDS: That taking him into surgery would be like a death sentence, rushing him into surgery at this point was very unsafe.

COHEN (voice-over): But the hospital's CEO says his surgeons can do it. Riley Hospital says they've done nine open-heart surgeries on babies like Pierce over the past decade.

But Fields found a much larger hospital that says they've done over a hundred in the past few years alone, Boston Children's Hospital. Many studies show the more procedures a hospital performs, the better the outcomes. Also Boston has a cardiac intensive care unit. Riley doesn't.

But there's a problem. Pierce is on Medicaid, and they denied her request to transfer him to Boston.

(on camera) Is the government making a life or death decision about your child?

FIELDS: Absolutely. Medicaid is the one who holds my child's life in their hands right now.

NEAL MOORE, SPOKESMAN, INDIANA MEDICAID: We have regulations that we are required to adhere to.

COHEN (voice-over): Neal Moore, a spokesman for Indiana Medicaid, said Riley Hospital is capable of doing Pierce's surgery, and it doesn't matter that Boston has more experience.

MOORE: This is not a question of what's the best medical choice. It's a question of, based on the systems that we have, the funding mechanism has very distinct, you know, regulations that are associated with that that we must adhere to.

COHEN: I just heard you say this is not about the best medical choice for this child. So what is it about?

MOORE: From the Medicaid perspective of this circumstance, there's only one question that is being considered. That question is, is there a solution that exists in Indiana? The answer to that has been given that there is one.

COHEN: You didn't ask them how often you do it. You didn't ask them do you do it well? You didn't ask them if there were other people who can do it better. You just said, "Can you do it?" Yes. The answer is sure, they can do it. But you didn't ask them is that the best care for baby Pierce? Why didn't you ask them that question?

MOORE: I've given you the answer repeatedly here, that the process is in place that includes the solution. And I don't know what else you can -- I can say to you that would be an appropriate answer beyond that.

COHEN (voice-over): Of course, hospitals can't be transferring children around for every major surgery, but baby Pierce's condition is so rare only a few places, like Boston Children's, have had a lot of experience with the intricate surgeries he needs.

FIELDS: Mommy's strong boy.

COHEN: Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Fields gets a miracle. Mothers of other children with heart problems get together through Facebook and donate enough money to send Pierce to Boston.

FIELDS: I think it's sad that a bunch of moms and strangers who don't even know me or my child have stepped up to the plate more than, you know, the government and insurance and Medicaid.

COHEN: After the moms volunteered their money and after CNN started asking questions, the Indiana hospital did step up, and they paid for the transport. But Medicaid, even at the very end, refused to pay a cent to get baby Pierce to Boston.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Indianapolis.


GUPTA: Now, the cost of that flight, by the way, was about $40,000. And a lot has happened in the last couple of days. Pierce arrived at Boston Children's Hospital on Friday. He had an operation this afternoon. And tonight, he's out of the operating room. He's doing well.

In the meantime, Pierce's story does raise some pretty thorny questions. They're just the kind of questions Art Kaplan specializes in. He's a director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. And he joins me now.

Art, you and I have had the chance to talk about this in the past. You say this particular case with baby Pierce, that the Medicaid offices in Indiana should have sent him out of state to Boston. Now, I was a little bit surprised to hear you say that. Why do you think that's the case here?

ART KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR BIOETHICS, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, initially, you want to ask the question, does it matter how old this patient is? This is a baby and an infant, so I think they have a special claim on resources.

And then what are the outcomes for a pretty expensive operation and some to follow, Sanjay.

Initially when I heard about this, I thought, look, if Indiana can do it, it has to be done in Indiana. If they can handle this kind of a case, OK. But subsequently the facts have become clearer. Elizabeth Cohen did a good job reporting this. That condition's very rare. The outcomes in a few hospitals that deal with this kind of complex case are much, much better. So I think a case can be made that, even though Indiana could try to do it, the safest and best outcome is going to be achieved in Boston.

GUPTA: You know, you probably get this question all the time. I know I do. People ask me, what's the best place for, you know, fill in the blank or who is the best person to take care of this? That's a tough question to answer. And the reality is, as you know, there often isn't an answer.

When you talk about a case like Pierce, does that muddy the waters a little bit more? How do you determine what's best? How do you determine who gets what? Why in this case and why not in others?

KAPLAN: Yes, tough question, Sanjay. I think part of the answer is for a rare condition, where it is really high specialty surgery, it makes sense to say, if you've done 100, 125 of these, you're going to do better than a place that's done nine over a decade. It's just the odds are going to improve by experience, having the right team and having the right follow-up care.

So I think this case, you may be able to get a little clearer answer. In other cases, as you know as well as anyone, you get into situations where hospitals take tough cases, very sick patients. Their outcomes don't look as good, but they're dealing with the toughest and the sickest, so their outcomes aren't going to be as good. It's not always a one on one in terms of best outcome, best place.

GUPTA: And there's no question it's not just the surgeon. It's the team, the ICU doctors, the nurses, the whole healthcare team. But what is the message, Art, that you think people should be left with? Is it reasonable for parents to think they're going to get whatever care they want for their child, whoever -- no matter what the medical condition is?

KAPLAN: Well, I'm going to sound a little non sequitur here. But even though I think in this case, given the rare, rare condition and the small number of hospitals that have dealt with it a lot, I'm going to tell you, Sanjay, it's like I don't think people can expect to get the absolute, quote unquote, best care. I think they're going to have to get care that's good enough.

The healthcare system isn't going to fly everybody all around the country, here, there, no matter where on public expense because they have a 2 percent better survival rate.

I think we're dealing with a situation here where we're going to have reasonable expectations. Unless you're a baby with a really rare condition, I think in public programs, you're going to see people have to say, satisfied with good enough, not necessarily the optimally best, most wonderful place.

GUPTA: Art Kaplan, I always enjoy these conversations with you. I appreciate it so much. Lots to think about.

KAPLAN: Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thanks so much.

And up next, more deadly clashes on Egypt's Tahrir Square today. Some video of a woman severely beaten by police over the weekend. That video is going viral. It's fuelling the outrage.

Plus the hazing death of Florida A&M University, what school officials decided about the university president. That's coming up.


SESAY: Hi, I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

The House will not vote on a Senate plan to extend the payroll tax tonight. Instead, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says they'll vote on the measure tomorrow. Earlier today, House Speaker John Boehner expected the bill would fail. He wants a 12-month extension, not the two months the Senate bill calls for and was previously agreed to in a bipartisan compromise.

New deadly clashes today in and around Egypt's Tahrir Square. The Ministry of Health says 14 people have died there since Friday. A brutal beating over the weekend was caught on tape. A woman said to be a political activist was attacked by more than 20 police officers. An eyewitness says the woman suffered serious cuts and bruises.

The president of Florida A&M University will stay in office. The school's board of trustees rejected a request from Florida's governor to suspend James Ammons while officials investigate several issues on campus, including the hazing death of band member Robert Champion. His death has been ruled a homicide.

In San Francisco, the 49ers and Steelers game was delayed by two power outages tonight. In this video from ESPN's broadcast, you can see some type of explosion before the lights went out the first time. Officials are trying to determine what caused the power outage.

And check out this halftime entertainment at the Denver Broncos- New England Patriots game. Uh-huh. Yes. A monkey saddles up for a ride on a dog -- Sanjay.

GUPTA: Isha, we'll catch up with you shortly.

Coming up, though, we're counting down Anderson's top ten "RidicuList" of 2011. Good thing to do at the end of the year. Tonight at No. 10, you remember that time when Vice President Joe Biden got a little sleepy during a presidential speech? We'll revisit that. Vintage "RidicuList." That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: Tonight we're going to start counting down the top ten "RidicuLists" of 2011, determined by your votes on the AC360 blog. Coming in at number ten, well, it's Anderson's tribute back in April to a very sleepy Joe Biden. Take a look.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we're adding Vice President Joe Biden. Now, it's not as dangerous as -- it's not as dangerous as air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job. But this afternoon, Biden dozed off while his boss was giving a speech. Watch.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In order to keep the promise we've made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you're a 65-year-old who's eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today.


COOPER: All right. Granted, it was a pretty long speech, and President Obama does have a mellifluous voice, one that can be terrible soporific. Just ask the cadets at West Point or some cadet at commencement speech.


OBAMA: High schools that promote academic excellence, personal responsibility, lasting success. It doesn't happen in an instant.

We can't count on military might alone. Now, let me be clear. The military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens.


COOPER: Now, let's think about the topic of the speech that made Biden go night-night: the deficit. As anyone who has seen "Ferris Bueller" knows, an anonymous voice plus an economics lecture, lethal. It's basically a one-two punch that sends you right into a REM cycle.


BEN STEIN, ACTOR: Anyone, anyone? The Great Depression. Passed the, anyone, anyone? Tariff bill. The Holly-Smoot Tariff Act which, anyone? Raised or lowered? Raised tariffs. In an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government.

Did it work, anyone? Anyone know the effects? It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Biden, Biden? Look, I get it. A long speech, a calming voice right around afternoon nap time. I get it. Biden might as well have washed down some Ambien with Nyquil and warm milk while listening to Sade singing "No Ordinary Love" in a sleeping bag fresh out of the dryer while chamomile tea was being administered intravenously. I get it.

But here's the thing. Isn't it a huge part of any politician's job to stay awake while other people are talking?


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And elected a Democratic legislature. And in 2005...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Expediency asks the question, is a position politic...

BUSH: The fact that they're willing to work in a collaborative fashion with the federal government.


COOPER: Can we please get some Red Bull to the Capitol, stat?

Now look, I don't know. Maybe it's our problem. Maybe we just need to try to think about our politicians the way we think about babies and puppies. Maybe we could learn to think they're adorable when they fall asleep. I mean, look at this dog falling asleep right there on his darling little feet. Huh, huh? I mean, I haven't seen anything that cute since this afternoon when Joe Biden could barely keep his eyes open. All right. I know it's not really the same. It was worth a try, though.

I will say this: at least when Biden is asleep, he's not dropping "F" bombs into an open mike, asking a disabled state senator to stand up, messing up his boss's name, or trying to count to four and failing. Behold, the greatest gaffes of Joe "Lullaby" Biden, the awake years.



Chuck, stand up, Chuck, let them see you. Oh, God love you, what am I talking about?

A man who will be the next president of the United States, Barack America.

Three letter word, jobs, J-O-B-S. Jobs.


COOPER: Three-letter word, J-O-B-S. I don't know, I'm getting four letters, not three. But maybe I'm tired. As tired as Joe "Rock- a-bye" Biden at a deficit speech.

A quote that's attributed to Harry S. Truman says the job of the vice president is to go to weddings and funerals. That is certainly a great idea. Let's send Joe Biden to a whole bunch of events that take place in churches that don't have air conditioning. That will wake him up.

Maybe we should -- we're adding that snoring sound. Maybe we should amend the job description. How about if you're the vice president, just try to stay awake at work and stay off the "RidicuList."


GUPTA: And Anderson will be back tomorrow night with No. 9 on our "RidicuList" countdown. And we'll be right back.