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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Flu Fears Growing; Where Are the Jobs?; Interview With Wanda Sykes

Aired October 29, 2009 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: What would you do? One American civilian story of holding off the Taliban one AK-47 burst at a time, suicidal killers in front of him, a house full of colleagues behind him scrambling for safety during one of the bloodiest and bloodthirstiest attacks of the Afghan war.

Michael Ware has got the big 360 interview.

"Digging Deeper": With the flu moving faster and flu fears growing, new infection numbers, new word on the vaccine, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta answering your text 360 questions.

Later, "Raw Politics" you can laugh about. Wanda Sykes is here with her take on President Obama, same-sex marriage, and Rush Limbaugh. Don't worry, not all three at once.

First up tonight: what it was like under attack by people driven enough to die for their cause and ruthless enough to try and kill as many civilians as they could in pursuit of it, face to face with the Taliban during the brazen daylight attack on a United Nations compound right in the middle of Kabul, a suicide bombing, then wave after wave of gunfire.

Excluding the attackers, at least eight people died, including one American. But there's a good chance it would have been a whole lot worse were it not for the American contractor Chris Turner you're about to meet.

Joining us now with the story and the big 360 interview, Michael Ware.

Michael, this is an amazing story Chris Turner has to tell, isn't it?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is certainly every international worker in Kabul's nightmare, to wake up to a Taliban attack squad assaulting your building.

Now, Chris has been in and out of Afghanistan since the late '60s. And he says that he even fought against the Russians with the Afghans and at one point was detained as a suspected American spy.

But I spoke to him earlier today from Kabul about the events of that attack on the U.N. guesthouse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WARE: Thank you for joining us, Chris.

Now, I know this area of Kabul where you lived. It's -- it's fairly well-to-do. And there's lot of Western aid organizations and even TV networks that live there. It's a fairly quiet neighborhood.

I mean, what was the first that you knew that you were coming under attack? Did you wake up to the sound of gunfire? Or what happened?

CHRIS TURNER, AMERICAN CONTRACTOR IN AFGHANISTAN: Yes.

You know, when you have been here as long as I have and heard as many gunfights as I have, you understand the distance that a bullet is from you. So, I immediately knew when I heard the small-arms fire that it was in my -- my yard.

WARE: What was going through your mind, Chris?

TURNER: You know, the grab my rifle and as much ammo as I could carry and get downstairs to where it was happening.

WARE: And, you know, so, let's go through. You have been kind enough to draw us a sketch of your compound. And, I mean, it looks like a classic Afghan compound.

Take us through where you were when you woke up and where the attack was coming from.

TURNER: You know, I was on the third floor. It was a four-story building. I was on the third floor. When I heard the gunfire, I immediately dressed, grabbed my weapon, and went out into the hallway.

The U.N. security guards were out. We ushered as many people as we could roust out of the building. The security guards went out to the front. And, at the time, I really didn't know how the attack was taking place.

I went out the back. There were approximately 24 people that went out the back of the house. I was the last out. And they hid in a washroom that was used by the maids to clean everyone's clothes, in the very back, against the back wall of the compound. So, there was a -- a courtyard between me and the main house.

I stayed in that courtyard and stood guard, so to speak, over these people locked up in the washroom. It became apparent that the action was in the front of the house. That's where the U.N. guards went. And I -- I want to -- I don't want to portray myself as anything special.

The real heroes of this -- of this conflict were the men that died, the Afghan security, the Afghan police, and, of course, the U.N. guards that died in this battle. I just happened to be the last man standing with a gun. So, I was the one that ultimately protected the people behind me from being blown up by the suicide bomber.

WARE: Yes, I mean, you just feel like you did what you had to do.

TURNER: Yes. I mean, I was protecting myself as much as them. You know, in those situations, you -- you are past the point of thinking and you're just responding.

WARE: You're in the zone, so to speak.

TURNER: Exactly. Exactly.

My concern was just keep -- to keep the people that were in the front who were determined to get to the people in the back and blow them up.

WARE: Yes.

TURNER: So, by laying down cover and -- and shooting at anyone trying to get into the back area, I was able to prolong their advance long enough for the military to come and to literally kill everybody involved.

WARE: Standing in this courtyard, I mean, you were fairly exposed, while others are huddling in this washroom.

Did you actually get to see any of the militants? I mean, I believe one of the -- you were able to ward off a suicide bomber. Did you see these guys?

TURNER: Yes. Yes, I saw one. The one that tried to come to the back of the home, the one I shot at, I saw him, yes.

I don't know if I hit him or not, but he fell back. And I -- I hear later that he went through the -- went back to the front of the house, and -- and bombed the U.N. guards that were there. And I think one female U.N. worker that was trying to escape through the front were -- was killed in the explosion.

WARE: And, Chris, I know it's still very soon after, but how are you feeling about the whole incident now? Have you had time to replay it in your head? I mean, how are you processing this?

TURNER: You know, I'm just very fortunate that I survived. And I'm tickled to death that as many people did get out of there alive. I think, if -- if we hadn't been armed, if, you know, there hadn't been private contractors there with weapons, it could have been a real massacre.

WARE: After an attack predawn on somebody's guesthouse, I mean, there must be great nervousness now among the international community in -- in Kabul.

TURNER: Yes. I think Kabul has always been kind of a haven. And people felt, you know, extremely safe here. But I think those days are over.

WARE: Absolutely. And what about yourself, Chris? After all of this, with the Taliban threatening more, I mean, it doesn't look like there is peace going to be around the corner. Do you plan to leave in the next few days, or are you going to stay it out?

TURNER: No, no, I -- I'm not leaving. I have a commitment to the people I work with. I feel I'm doing something productive in this country. I'm helping on a lot of different levels. And I have no intention of leaving.

WARE: Chris, I...

TURNER: I will buy more bullets.

(LAUGHTER)

WARE: Actually, Chris, I -- I figured both of those answers before you even said them.

Thank you very much for joining us. And it's still an extraordinary thing, what you did. Thank you very much.

TURNER: Thank you. I appreciate it. Bye.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WARE: And the U.N. workers who were at that guesthouse with him who survived the Taliban onslaught have been evacuated from the country. So, we have been unable to verify Chris Turner's story. But it certainly is an extraordinary one that brings to light, as I said, the nightmare that every member of the international community has living in Kabul -- John.

KING: Michael, a couple quick things.

Let's start with this cool customer. He says he hears the gunfire. He knows from experience how close it is. Most people would run. They would hide or they would panic. He says, well, I grabbed my rifle and as much ammo as I could get and I went down to fight them. Pretty remarkable.

WARE: You know. Well, I mean, I guess, if he's been around there since the late '60s and if he did fight against the Soviets, as he claims, it wouldn't have been his first firefight. And, to be honest, you either panic or you do something. And he chose to do something.

So, you have to give the man credit for keeping his head and -- and thinking of others. You know, it's just something, I guess, that one hopes one never has to do, John.

KING: And to the point, Michael, he made about the situation, he's just been there so long, and you just know that Kabul is not the haven it once was, what does that tell you about the longer-term challenge facing the Afghan government, but also the president of the United States, as he makes a big decision about troops? WARE: Well, the fact that the capital, you know, there is this rising tension -- I mean, it's never been a safe place, but at least you could move around. You could even go to dinner.

I don't think many people will be traveling out for dinner this week during the evening. But, I mean, that also speaks to what -- the fact that, you know, highway number one can hardly be used by local Afghans, because the Taliban control it, the main national highway.

It is just one more thing that speaks of the terrible dilemma, militarily and politically, that President Obama finds in front of him with Afghanistan. I -- I wish the president the best of luck in figuring out his strategy -- John.

KING: Michael Ware for us tonight.

Great insights and a fabulous interview. Thank you, Michael.

It's one thing to confront the enemy face to face. It's different, but wrenching in its own way, to see the cost of war up close at home. From midnight until dawn, President Obama saw that for himself. He stood on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as war dead from Afghanistan arrived back on American soil, a long line of flag-draped casket caskets, 18 in all.

The president stayed, saluted each, comforted the families, and did not arrive back at the White House until close to 5:00 this morning.

Remarkable scenes there, and so sad.

The war against the H1N1 flu next -- staggering new numbers, emergency rooms filling with kids, and worried parents. If you need to know how to keep yourself and your children safe or have any questions about the flu and flu shots, text them to AC360, or 22360.

360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta is here with the answers.

Again, that is AC360, or 22360. And, remember, standard rates will apply.

And, later, "Keeping Them Honest" -- now that the economy is growing again, President Obama promised to create and save jobs. Critics say he is falling well short. We will have a top White House adviser in the hot seat tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tonight: new numbers on the swine flu.

The CDC has updated its estimates and now says as many as 5.7 million Americans were infected with the H1N1 virus in the first months of the pandemic. As many as 21,000 were hospitalized. And that's just through July.

In New York today, the governor declared a state of emergency to deal with the spreading virus. That's on the heels of President Obama declaring a national emergency just last weekend.

Let's look to how we got to this point, going back to when we first saw cases a year ago. Watch as this plays out.

October 2008, November, you see it spreading through the winter months, getting worse as we came into early this year. February, it's bad. March was the worst. And then it starts to abate a bit, into the spring and over the summer months. You see June, the states lightening up. That means fewer cases.

Now the school year starts, and here's where we are now, widespread all across the country, as the H1N1 has spread rapidly. Let's take a look from another perspective. The states in white -- there are 14 in all -- these are states that have closed schools because of H1N1 across the country.

A closer look there. Hundreds have closed -- 351 were closed last week. About 600 have closed over the school year. And, of course, we're just in October, moving into November, much more schools to come.

Add to that vaccine delays, long waits and growing frustration -- mixed in with all that, confusion and fear.

Randi Kaye joins me now.

Randi, a lot of attention seems to be on the vaccine and when and where people can get it.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John.

And with the number of swine flu cases likely in the millions, you would think everyone would be clamoring for the vaccine, right? Well, not exactly. And this might be one reason why. There is a massive campaign under way online to scare people away from the vaccine.

Surfing the Web, I found way too many examples to show you right now. But here's one that stood out on YouTube, a song by a guy who calls himself the Health Ranger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Don't inject me. Don't infect me. Don't stick that needle in my arm and chemically wreck me. Don't inject me. Don't infect me. Don't stick that needle and medically wreck me. Don't use me. Don't abuse me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Also on YouTube, this: 10 things you are not supposed to know about the swine flu vaccine.

Number one, the vaccine production was rushed and the vaccine has never been tested on humans. Now, I asked the CDC about this tonight and was told -- quote -- "Clinical trials have shown that the new H1N1 vaccine is both safe and effective. There have been no safety shortcuts."

The CDC says the swine flu vaccine is produced the exactly the same way that the seasonal flu vaccine is produced every year -- John.

KING: Randi, everything moves so fast online. Is there really any way to combat this kind of misinformation?

KAYE: Well, certainly, the CDC thinks so. They have really gone on the offense here, and, along with the White House, launched their own swine flu media blitz.

They're hosting online seminars. And, actually, they now have their own following. The CDC now has more than 38,000 friends on Facebook. And, on Twitter -- get this -- it has more than one million followers.

But, now, speaking of Twitter, check this out, John, talk show host Bill Maher's Twitter page. You can see it there. The tweet reads, "If you get a swine flu shot, you're an idiot."

That is the kind of stuff that the CDC is battling online.

KING: So, you have talked about YouTube and Twitter. What specifically are some of the blogs saying about the vaccine?

KAYE: Well, the blogosphere is really going wild with this.

Here is one blog I found titled, "I'm Scared to Vaccinate My Kid for Swine Flu." This mom wrote that she is worried it may cause her children to develop cancer or infertility maybe 20 years from now, maybe 50 years from now.

Other blog headlines, the vaccine is toxic, the vaccine is a plot by big pharma to make money. Some antivaxxers, as they're called, link the swine flu vaccine today to the 1976 swine flu vaccine, which left some paralyzed.

Now, antivax bloggers suggest the vaccine is not safe for children and pregnant woman because of a preservative in the vaccine called thimerosal. The CDC says it is safe and all that preservative does, actually, is cause a little redness and maybe some swelling at the injection spot.

KING: So, Randi, did you talk to anyone outside of the cyber world who are questioning the vaccine, or is that where we're finding all this?

KAYE: No, actually, I did. And all the misinformation and chatter, as you might imagine, is really having an effect on a lot of people outside the cyber world.

I talked to a woman named Ellen Dolan (ph), the mother of a 9- year-old girl in public school here in New York City. And she has been reading all of the stuff online and says she will not be getting her daughter vaccinated. She told me -- quote -- "There's too much room for human error, a lab technician who messes up. It's a great way for bioterrorism to hit." She said, "What if you get that one bad batch?"

KING: It's a fascinating story and obviously a big concern of a lot of people, whether that information is right or, as we suspect, very wrong.

Randi Kaye, thank you very much.

And let's dig deeper with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's in San Diego tonight.

Sanjay, let's just start right with that. Why is it? The government says we still have this vaccine, and your children, especially if they're at risk, need it. Why such a huge controversy? Does that surprise you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does surprise me a little bit.

And it's worth pointing out that the demand is still outpacing the supply here, John. So, there's a lot more people who sort of want it than vaccine is available. So, I'm not sure I would say it's -- there -- there is a huge pushback, necessarily, although what Randi pointed out is definitely happening.

There have been some polls on this. More people than not say that they believe the vaccine is safe, about 49 percent, vs. 43 percent who still have doubts.

Randi ticked off some of the reasons, John. I mean, there's always -- there's been concern about thimerosal in vaccines and its potential relationship to autism for some time, predating the H1N1 vaccine.

Also, back in 1976, the last time we had a swine flu concern in this country, there was -- there was a possibility, I should say, that the vaccine caused something known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is sort of this ascending paralysis. That was never proven, but there was a lot of concern about this.

And there's also this -- this deep distrust, I think, of government in this case. You saw some of the YouTube videos. That -- that could explain it.

KING: And, so, Sanjay, the new numbers, as many as 5.7 million infected with H1N1 between April and July, only through July there, numbers much higher than the initial reports. How do you project that out as we head into the full-fledged flu season?

GUPTA: Well, you know, so, for every person who was actually diagnosed with H1N1, there was probably about 79 more people who got infected. For every person that was hospitalized with H1N1, there was probably three more who were infected. So, you know, the numbers are obviously much higher. It's a sort of good news/bad news situation, John. The bad news, obviously, is that the numbers are this high. I have been talking to some of my sources, who still believe that it could be that as much as half the country will ultimately become infected.

But here's the good news part of it. You know, when you're sort of doing the math here, trying to figure out how many people actually got infected and how many people died, if you have this many more people infected, now these new projected numbers, it probably means the lethality, or the mortality rate, from this particular virus is pretty low.

It seems to be not that serious a virus in terms of causing death. I talked to one of my sources yesterday in Boston, who said this is probably going to end up being less virulent than season flu even.

So, you know, it's hard to put it all together, but that is sort of my take on it.

KING: And here's a great question. Our text 360 question tonight comes from North Carolina.

And with it spreading so much, I bet a lot of people are asking this.

"If my teen has already had H1N1, is there still a need to seek the H1N1 vaccine?"

GUPTA: Great question. I thought about this myself as well, because I -- you know, I was infected with this.

There's three points here. One is, was your son, I think you said, in this case laboratory-confirmed? A lot of people are going to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms. And the thought is, they probably have it, but it wasn't confirmed. Unless they had a confirmed test, you can't say for sure that they're now immune to H1N1.

The second point is that, you know, getting the vaccine, even if you had the infection, is not going to cause any sort of problem, necessarily -- so, a couple things to keep in mind.

And, finally, you know, if it was early October, late September, it was more likely to be H1N1 than seasonal flu. But can you look at your specific state or specific region to find out what was circulating specifically at the time you became sick.

KING: And, Sanjay, one of the big controversies has been whether to keep the schools open or not. Six hundred have closed temporarily due to H1N1 since the beginning of the year. You know the argument. Some school officials say closing helps prevent the spread of the virus. Others say it simply spreads the number of cases over a longer period of time.

What do we know about this? And I guess the question is, what should we do?

GUPTA: You know, we don't -- we don't have to speculate as much as we were in the spring when we were reporting on this, John.

Take -- take New York City, for example. You can look at the number of infections and sort of relate that to the school closings. So, you know, 800,000 people, roughly, according to those new projections were infected during that time period. You also had a state, an area that had a lot of school closings, about two dozen school closings.

So, lots of school closings, and still a lot of people infected. Did it make a difference? Who knows? Maybe there would have been even more people infected had those schools not closed. But it's a tough argument to make.

What I have been hearing is that, unless the school closing happens very early, it's probably not going to make a huge difference overall in terms of infection rates. And the mantra still seems to be a message to -- to children, and their parents, more importantly, that it is really the sick child that needs to stay home, so they don't come and infect the school -- John.

KING: Dr. Sanjay Gupta with us tonight from San Diego -- Sanjay, thanks so much for all that help.

GUPTA: Thanks, John.

KING: There are many ways you can get H1N1 updates automatically. Go to AC360.com, and we will show you just how.

Still ahead, the economy is finally, finally growing again. But where are the jobs? That's what millions of Americans want to know -- coming up, tough questions for one of the president's top economic advisers. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And, later, comedienne Wanda Sykes is keeping the laughs coming and pulling no punches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: God forbid if -- if Joe Biden falls in the hands of terrorists.

(LAUGHTER)

SYKES: God forbid if there is ever a hostage situation. We're done.

(LAUGHTER)

SYKES: Oh, they won't even have to torture him. All they have to do is go, how's it going, Joe?

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Coming up, "Raw Politics" served up for laughs. Wanda Sykes takes aim at the president and much, much more.

First, though, some other important stories we're following. Erica Hill joins us with a 360 news and business bulletin.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a sweeping health care reform package from House Democrats today, 2,000 pages in all, the combined three versions passed by House committees. That bill, of course, will include the public health insurance option.

It would extend coverage to 36 million Americans. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the proposal would cost just over a trillion dollars over 10 years, but said it will be fully paid for with taxes and spending cuts and would actually lower the federal deficit by $104 billion over that same 10-year period.

A 360 follow-up for you -- motivational speaker James Arthur Ray canceling his remaining events for the rest of the year. The self- help salesman is the focus of a criminal investigation into the deaths of three people after a sweat lodge ceremony he led earlier this month in Arizona. On his Web site today, Ray said he needs to dedicate his time and energy to bringing closure to the matter.

And with the help of a crane, the world's largest rubber band ball is heading to a yet-to-be-named museum. But, oh, will they be lucky. It stands 6-foot, 7-inches tall, weighs just over 9,000 pounds, and is the handiwork of 28-year-old Joel Waul of Florida.

It took him six years, John. And there you go. In six years, you, too, could make a 9,000-pound rubber band ball.

KING: Does it bounce?

HILL: That's an excellent question. We need the crane to drop it, so we can see.

KING: Yes. We will stay tuned for that one tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: All right. Thank you, Erica.

Up next: The economy grows, the market soars, but what about jobs? Tough questions tonight for one of President Obama's top economic advisers about when the job market will turn around and what her boss' stimulus spending is really buying. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And, later, you might say Sarah Palin going rogue, and it might get a Democrat elected next week. Find out how, and see what our political pros think of the Palin effect -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: So, you watched your 401(k) get a big boost today. Wall Street had a party, the Dow industrials rising nearly 200 points, the Nasdaq and S&P also racking up big gains, reaction to the big news that, for the first time in more than a year, the economy grew, up 3.5 percent. That is even better than expected.

But, for every silver lining, there is also a cloud. Unemployment, which tends to be the last thing to improve in any recovery, could be especially stubborn for this recovery.

So "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, we raised the question of jobs with Christina Romer. She's the chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Dr. Romer, the GDP numbers certainly the most encouraging news we've heard about the economy in quite some time. But as you know, at the White House and in the circle of your Republican critics, people are asking the very same question.

I want you to listen to the House Republican leader John Boehner today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: I'm pleased that the GDP numbers this morning were up. But the question is where are the jobs?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How do you answer the Republican argument that GDP numbers might be up but the jobs are simply not out there?

CHRISTINA ROMER, OBAMA ADVISOR: Well, you know, we did a report for Congress back in September that said, relative to where we otherwise would have been, we've added about a million jobs thanks to the recovery act. And that is not just the Council of Economic Advisors number. That's what you see from a lot of respectable forecasts.

KING: The administration promised back in the early days of the stimulus to create 3.5 million jobs over the next two years. But since the president took office, the economy has lost about as many jobs, nearly 3.4 million jobs since February, according to the Labor Department. Tough expectations there.

Can you keep that promise over the two-year period to create, which means you'll have to double the number now?

ROMER: You've got to be very careful, right? It was very much create or save, which is this idea of a baseline. That relative to the path we were on, I have no doubt that we will -- will save or create 3.5 million jobs.

KING: There's a dustup today, as you know, because of this Associated Press report. They reviewed the White House numbers on jobs created by the stimulus. They found some significant reporting areas -- errors.

But given the focus on this, how important the credibility of the administration is, why were those numbers posted if you weren't sure they were correct?

ROMER: All right, so let's be clear, that the administration does not control the recovery board. That, as part of the legislation, was set up to be independent.

And certainly, the numbers that got posted back on -- in mid- October were just for a tiny sliver of the reports. And I believe there was a legislative reason why they had to get up that day. But certainly, we know the recovery board has been scrubbing all of the numbers as they've been coming in. I would anticipate that going forward, of trying to make sure we get as accurate a number as we can.

KING: You testified recently, I just want to make sure you stand by your testimony, that despite this good news today, you still believe, because employment lags that the unemployment rate over the next year will pass 10 percent?

ROMER: Well, I think that is, unfortunately, a likely possibility.

KING: I was in Alaska recently. I was talking to the governor about this up there. Their unemployment rate has started to tick up. And he has said, unlike many Republicans, that he welcomes the stimulus money in the sense that it has allowed them to keep some firefighters or some teachers on the ground.

But he says he's worried because you give it now. But what happens when the states don't have it anymore? Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SEAN PARNELL (R), ALASKA: The problem with stimulus funds is that they're great when they come in, but it's horrible when they're gone. So it's a dependence that gets created that doesn't lead to any more freedom or prosperity in the long run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Are states going to be answering to their people, governors answering to their constituents when they have no more federal stimulus money? And maybe then, if the economy doesn't bounce back as fast as you hoped, they have to lay off those teachers, lay off those firefighters?

ROMER: You know, states are in a tough spot. And that, is you know, I know almost every governor and lots of mayors are there saying, "Thank heavens for" that state fiscal relief that was part of the fiscal stimulus.

But it is, you know, we do need to get the economy going. Because ultimately, that's what helps to keep states solvent and able to hire their firefighters and their teachers, and that's what we want to do.

KING: Dr. Christina Romer, thanks for your time today.

ROMER: Sure. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You want to know where the stimulus money is going? Find the answers at AC360.com, where you'll find a state by state, dollar by dollar breakdown.

Sarah Palin is taking on her own party, campaigning against a Republican. The question is, why? And what could the cost be for her and the GOP? The latest on Palin's new mission, next.

And later, seriously funny. Wanda Sykes stops by with jokes and jabs on politics and the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It seems there's never a dull moment for Sarah Palin.

The former Alaska governor and possible White House contender in the future is making news again. And it's not about her book or her fight with future Playgirl centerfold, Levi Johnston.

No, now Palin is taking a very public stand in a congressional race in New York. She's campaigning against the Republican Party candidate, who she believes doesn't represent the core beliefs of a true conservative American.

Supporters are embracing her decision. But, remember, a new poll says 71 percent of Americans nationwide believe she's not qualified to be president.

So let's talk about the Palin factor. Is she too polarizing and too extreme even for her own party? With me for tonight's "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist and political contributor Paul Begala and from NewMajority.com, former Bush speechwriter David Frum.

David, let me start with you. She endorsed a Conservative Party candidate over the Republican, saying the Republican Party's candidate isn't conservative enough. She says, quote, "Unfortunately, the Republican Party today haws decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines. And there's no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race. That's why Doug Hoffman is running on the Conservative Party's ticket."

How much weight does Sarah Palin carry in New York? And is this damaging for her own Republican portfolio, if you will?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, she has to carry some weight. But you know, Hoffman has this problem: the Palin endorsement signals it. Which is are you a local candidate or are you part of a national movement?

There's a very embarrassing story from the Watertown Times, an important paper in the district, that pointed out he went to an editorial board meeting. They asked him about an important highway project. They asked him about why (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

They asked about some important energy issues, all of which mattered to the district. And he was completely flustered, couldn't answer any of the questions. And then it also emerged he didn't read the local paper either. So if that's going to be the face of your party, you're defining another would I would have thought would be an important conservative principal, which is localism.

KING: And Paul, I assume the Democrats are thrilled, No. 1, at this fractured race. The Democrat could win that seat for the first time in 100 years.

And No. 2, Sarah Palin's involvement?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, yes. The 157 if we're actually counting. It's been 157 years since the Democrats represented most of that district.

But they're a little nervous, I have to say. Hoffman had really taken off. I think David makes a good point. He's starting to plateau a bit when he can't talk about any local issues.

As far as Palin, you know, my -- one of my mentors in this business, Mark Shields, the political analyst, used to be a political strategist. He always says that there's two kinds of political parties: those who seek out converts and those that hunt down heretics. Well, Ronald Reagan was a leader for Republicans who sought out converts, the Reagan Democrats. Sarah Palin seems to be one who wants to hunt down heretics. Right?

Here's a New York state Republican, running on local issues in her local district. And she comes in and says, "No, you're a heretic. You're out of my party."

KING: So David, let's cast that forward. This is just one special election this coming week. But what about next year? Republicans should be poised to make big gains in the midterm elections. History is on their side. The economy certainly, as a political issue, is on their side.

What if this happens more and more and more? Do you see it happening more and more in the midterm elections if, essentially, you have the family feud in the Republican Party?

FRUM: Well, there won't be this kind of split again. Because if, for example, Hoffman does win this district, I think Republicans nationwide will be it as a signal.

But the thing-- the place to put ourselves at is the right place with the Republican primary, is the right place for the national electorate. You want to be as ideological as possible. You want a very abstract message. You don't want to make this a referendum on local issues. That's the way the party will go.

And that may even work in 2010. The problem is it's a bad predicate for 2012, when we presume and hope the economy will be better. The Republican Party may get what I worry about a lot is a kind of soccer's rally in 2010 that draws you into a position that's not really sustainable for the longer haul.

KING: This isn't the only Palin impact we're seeing right now. Her supporters are trying to raise thousands of dollars for her to speak to a conservative group out in Iowa. A lot of critics even in that state say, "Wait a minute. She wants to run for president. She should be coming to Iowa on her own. Shouldn't be having to pay her a speaking fee.

David, to you first. What does it tell you? What does that tell you about her future plans?

FRUM: Look, I think in that case it's a total bum rap. Sarah Palin did not ask for that money. There is a group in Iowa that wouldn't to bring her down. And they thought, "If we raise this money, maybe we can get her."

It's the same time as her book launch that's going to happen. I don't think there's any possibility that, in any case, she would have come.

The question that you have to have about her is which is she going to be for the next little while: a businesswoman maximizing her income or a political leader? But in this case in Iowa, I think it's been unfair to her.

KING: Take that aside then, Paul. What do you see in her activity? She's posting on Facebook a lot. She's clearly getting involved in this race in New York. Is she taking a low profile and raising some money an debating her options, or has she already stepped in?

BEGALA: You know, I think she's betwixt and between. I think David is right. She's going to have to decide. It's perfectly honorable she wants to go out and give speeches for fees and write books and go on TV. That's how I earn my living. I think it's great. But that doesn't make her a party leader.

When she steps into this race on behalf of this Conservative Party candidate against a Republican, then she's not acting as an entrepreneur. She's acting as -- she was the vice-presidential candidate of her party.

KING: Paul Begala, David Frum, thanks so much for coming in.

And one other note, Sarah Palin is coming under fire from more than just Republicans who'd prefer she get onboard with, you know, Republican candidates. The Democrats are also calling her out. You can find out why. Take a peek at AC360.com.

Tomorrow night, from date nights to steak dinners, perhaps the revealing portrait yet of the first couple. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, life and love inside the White House. New details and surprises about their relationship. That's tomorrow right here on 360.

Next, "Raw Politics" and raw humor with Wanda Sykes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: Dick Cheney, oh, my gosh. He's a scary man. Scares me to death. I tell my kids, I say, "Look if, two cars pull up, and one has a stranger and the other car has Dick Cheney, you get in the car with the stranger!"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So what does she think of President Obama? The funny truth ahead.

And sleepless in Seattle? The amount of shut eye you get might depend on where you live. See how your state stacks up when it comes to stacking "Z's."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Raw Politics" tonight, some raw humor with Wanda Sykes. The Emmy Award winner has been voted one of the funniest people on the planet, and with good reason. Here's Wanda at work at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYKES: You know, it's funny to me that they never caught you smoking but they somehow always catch you with your shirt off. What? I mean, I know you're into this transparency thing, but I don't need to see your nipples.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A good line there at the president's expense. And there will be plenty more of it to come with "The Wanda Sykes Show," which premiers next month on FOX. Wanda Sykes joins us now.

You don't have any CNN or Anderson Cooper jokes, do you?

SYKES: No. No. I like CNN.

KING: OK, good.

SYKES: CNN is a friend.

KING: CNN is a friend. That's a good place to begin. Let's start with the town I work in, Washington, D.C. In recent history, when you had Bill Clinton, you had the southern thing. A lot of comics said he looked a little funny. Then you had the comedic gift of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bush comes to town. And he's from Texas. And he talks a little funny. And there's the Bushisms, and people had a lot of fun making fun of him.

What about Barack Obama? Is he as easy a target as the material is rich?

SYKES: You know what? He's -- he is so -- he's just cool. He is like the coolest president that we've had. I mean, he is like the George Clooney of presidents. You know, he walks in the room. All the women want to be with him and all the guys want to be him. You know? He's just cool.

I've never heard women like this before. You know, he walks in a room, and they're all like, "Ooh, I'll have his baby." Like jeez, hey. He's not John Edwards, all right? He's Barack Obama. Calm down.

KING: We played a snippet a moment ago from the White House Correspondents' Dinner. I was in the audience at that event. And it was a great performance you had there. And you mostly had everybody rolling in the aisle.

As you know, there were one or two lines that got a little bit of a gasp and a groan in the room. One of them was when you were making fun and criticizing Rush Limbaugh. I want to listen to that. Play it for our audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYKES: Maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was so just strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight.

Rush Limbaugh, "I hope the country fails." I hope his kidneys fail. How about that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Any regrets for that? As you know, there was a big gasp in that room. Washington wasn't quite ready for that one.

SYKES: Still makes me laugh. I don't know. The thing is, everyone laughed at the first part. But then it's the tag line when I said, you know, "I hope his kidneys fail."

You know, it's too far for that room? Yes, it was too far for that room. But, hey, you shouldn't invite me. You know what you're going to get. You know? I think everybody would have been disappointed if I hadn't gone too far.

KING: Grade the president on this one. He gave a big speech to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization, not that long ago. And there were a number of standing ovations.

The president said, "I want to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I want to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell.' I want to do some other things that are important to the gay and lesbian community."

And there were also a lot of people in the room who said, "Nice speech, Mr. President, but you've been in office almost 10 months now. Where's the proof you're going to deliver?" Grade the president.

SYKES: As far as with -- with gay rights, yes, he's -- he's failing in that. But if you look at -- I grade him overall. Because that, to me, I'm -- I'm just as concerned with our country as a whole.

So when you look at, you know, the economy and, you know, and jobs and education, then, I mean, he was in a big, big hole when he took office, you know. So everything has to, you know, I want to say get in line.

And, yes, the LGBT community doesn't really want to, you know, be at the back of the line. But as long as we're in the line.

To me, he had to bring this country back to life, just like he gave -- he gave us life-saving CPR. And for me to slap him about, you know, not moving ahead on gay rights, that's like somebody giving you CPR and you go, "Oh, your breath stinks."

I mean, it's -- you know, I'm just grateful that the country is still surviving. You know, the Dow went up to 10,000 last week. I mean, to me, he's doing a great job. And like I said, I really believe that eventually he'll get to the other issues with gay rights.

KING: Thanks for joining us tonight and best of luck, Wanda.

SYKES: Thank you.

KING: Coming up, nothing, nothing funny about this, but a gripping story all the same. Hijacking on the high seas. A couple held hostage after pirates stomped -- stormed their yacht. Tonight the husband speaks out from captivity.

And Jaycee Dugard's alleged kidnappers in custody today. Who else was there and what's the latest in the case? We'll tell you when 360 returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A lot happening tonight. Erica Hill is back with a "360 Bulletin."

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: John, police in L.A. looking for a gunman tonight after two men were shot in the leg outside a North Hollywood synagogue this morning. Both are hospitalized. They are expected to recover. Police believe it may have been a random act of violence. They have stepped up patrols to its schools and temples.

The California couple accused of kidnapping Jaycee Dugard and holding her captive for 18 years appeared in court today for a pretrial hearing. Also in the courtroom, a woman Phillip Garrido was convicted of raping and kidnapping in 1976. She says he looked right at her, and she glared right back. A British couple sailing in a yacht off the cost of Somalia say they are being held captive by pirates. Paul Chandler tells Britain's ITV News the pirates snuck aboard his yacht with guns at night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL CHANDLER, KIDNAPPED BY SOMALI PIRATES: Three boats came alongside. I was off watch. I was asleep, and men with guns came aboard. And then we were forced to sail six days (UNINTELLIGIBLE) towards Somalia. They kept asking for money and took everything of value on the boat. They haven't asked formally for money yet, but that's what they want, we know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: And they are sleepless in West Virginia. And new government study finds residents in that state get the least amount of shut eye. Experts say it could be because of health problems including obesity.

Residents of Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma also ranking high in lack of sleep.

The best place for you to get "Z's": grab your pillow and head to North Dakota, John. Their report was based on a telephone survey of more than 400,000 Americans.

KING: I've been in 42 states in 42 weeks. And you know what? In my travels I hardly ever sleep.

HILL: I'm sure you haven't slept in any of them.

KING: I see North Dakota. That wasn't a bad night's sleep, actually. I had a pretty good night's sleep in North Dakota. Maybe that study's right.

HILL: Maybe.

KING: All right. Here we go. Here's our "Beat 360" winners, our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to outdo our staffers by coming up with a better caption for the photo we post on the blog every day.

Tonight's photo, there you see it: House Minority Leader John Boehner, discussing the Democrats' new health-care reform bill during a news conference today on Capitol Hill.

Our winner tonight is Marshall on the staff. His caption: "After a stack of insurance rejections, Congressman Boehner finally concedes -- Tanning Addiction is a pre-existing condition."

(SOUND EFFECT: LAUGHTER)

HILL: Very cute.

KING: Marshall, it should be noted, controls the laugh machine. Our viewer winner is Kevin. He is in an disclosed location. His caption -- this is a good one -- "Read my lips, no new faxes."

(SOUND EFFECT: DRUM BEAT)

HILL: Unless they come with their own ink cartridge.

KING: All-righty. Kevin, your "Beat 360" T-shirt, look at it. It is stylish, and it is on the way.

HILL: Do you have one of those, John King?

KING: "Beat 360"? I've never won.

HILL: You might want to enter.

KING: You've got to win to get one. You can't...

HILL: I know the cabinet where the T-shirts are locked up. I'm just saying. Maybe you'd like one for Halloween.

KING: That would be a great outfit.

HILL: We have a Halloween theme for tonight's "Shot," actually. And we're going to throw in some animals. Because as you know, 360 loves us some animals.

This comes from us from the good people at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. And as you can see, they handed out pumpkin treats to their wild things: a tiger, polar bear, who was there. A gorilla, enjoying the tasty snack.

And the zoo says this is not a gimmick or a trick or treats stunt. It's actually part of its behavioral enrichment program. I had no idea pumpkins played such a pivotal role in animal psychology.

Turns out they're not alone. That's right.

KING: Oh, no.

HILL: The dramatic -- whatever that guy is, loves them, too. No, here we have Lion Country Safari in Florida. There you go. Halloween treats for them, as well. Good stuff.

KING: They don't seem all that interested right there.

HILL: Well, give them a minute. The lion is searching for some meatier prey, if you will.

KING: Allrighty. Well, there you go. Discerning tastes, I think we call that.

Submit your "Shot" suggestion to 360.com. Don't forget.

And coming up at the top of the hour, very serious stuff. What it was like face-to-face with the Taliban during that deadly ambush in Kabul.

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