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CNN NEWSROOM

Markets Regroup After Rally; World AIDS Day; Protecting The Payroll Tax Cut; Russia Telling The U.S. To Back Off; Gingrich Surges In Polls; Biden in Iraq; Kermit Talks Muppet Movie

Aired December 1, 2011 - 13:00   ET

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


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Suzanne. Thank you so much.

And yes, the CNN NEWSROOM, we are literally in the CNN NEWSROOM right now. And hello to you all, I am the aforementioned T.J. Holmes in for Randi Kaye today. We start at the top of the hour.

Let's keep an eye on the markets, shall we? A heck of a day yesterday. The strongest rally on Wall Street in more than 2 1/2 years. Traders and investors wondering, could we keep this up? Well, you're looking there, not quite keeping it up. For the most part, the Dow has been flat to slightly lower all day, and right now you see it about 70 points down. Yesterday's gain of 490 points was the biggest by far of this year, percentage wise the biggest since March of 2009.

So, where are things happening today? Hong Kong, share prices there up more than 5.5 percent. We won't be going too for a away from that story on the markets. Also today, World AIDS Day. The world is marking 30 years since HIV was discovered. Leaders, researchers and activists are pushing a very big goal, ending AIDS forever.

President Obama today announced a $50 million boost in funding for HIV prevention and treatment in America. And also, a goal of helping six million people access life saving treatments worldwide. Much more on this in our "Face Time" segment, that's coming your way just moments from now.

Also, it looks as if 160 million Americans may not have to face a tax hike next month after all. Republicans in Congress now seem to be on- board. An extension of the payroll tax break due to expire at year's end, but they still disagree with Democrats and the White House on the size of that break and exactly how it'll be offset.

All year long, anybody who draws a paycheck has seen only 4.2 percent taken out for social security. That's versus the usual 6.2 percent. Democrats want the rate cut to 3.1 percent with a new tax on millionaires to pay for it.

Also, the lawyer for Jerry Sandusky is denying any thoughts of a plea agreement in the child molestation charges facing Sandusky in Pennsylvania. Joe Amendola says the former Penn State coach -- assistant coach continues to maintain his innocence and any media buzz to the contrary is completely unfounded.

Turning to California now where those Santa Ana winds are causing quite a mess as they often do, 30 to 50-mile-an-hour winds knocked down trees and power lines. More than 80,000 customers lost power overnight, including parts of LAX. They had to divert more than 20 flights while debris was cleared from runways. One wind gust was clocked at 97 miles an hour. In addition to these high winds, dry conditions in southern California have prompted a red flag warning for potential fire risks.

Also, Florida's governor is now asking all state universities to take a good look and re-evaluate their hazing policies. Governor Rick Scott made the request following the death of a Florida A&M band member. Scott said in a memo, quote, "Regardless of the conclusions following the investigation, hazing should be strictly condemned on our college and university campuses."

Also, another elaborate tunnel linking Mexico to the U.S. has been shut Down. That's because officials say the passageway was used to transport marijuana. Thirty-two tons of pot was seized by the feds at the site on Wednesday. It's one of the largest marijuana busts in history.

World renowned evangelist, Billy Graham, in a North Carolina hospital today. Graham, who turned 93 last month, is being treated for -- tested, I should say, for pneumonia, according to a hospital statement. A tweet sent from his spokesman this morning read, in part, Graham was, quote, "in good spirits in an Asheville hospital, after a time of Bible reading and prayer with his daughter."

Well, he was the crusader for AIDS awareness. Ryan White, you remember that name and you'll surely remember his story. He died after contracting AIDS through a blood transfusion. He would have been 40 years old this month. We'll talk to his mother and her continuing mission that's coming up next.

But first on this World AIDS Day, we want to take a moment and recognize the millions of people out there living with HIV, as well as the countless others working tirelessly to find a cure. The courage and positive attitudes of so many of you out there fighting the fight from the tireless dedication of so many doctors and researchers are what makes the war on AIDS a winnable one. And for all that, all of you are today's "Rock Stars."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Well, it's been 30 years now since people started dying of a mysterious disease that destroys the body's ability to fight infection. Since then, almost 30 million lives have been lost. But on world AIDS day 2011, enough has been learned, enough resources promised, is not always delivered, to inspire an audacious goal. Listen to this. Zero new cases of HIV. Zero discrimination against people who live with HIV or suffering from AIDS. And zero AIDS-related deaths. That is the goal.

And just last hour, CNN's own Dr. Sanjay discussed the state of the pandemic and the world's response with one of the world's most vocal activists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BONO, MUSICIAN, U2: What we're actually talking about when we say the beginning of the end of AIDS is the sort of -- is a mathematical point that you get, a point of inflection in the disease where it's possible to lower infection rates to lessen the people that you're treating. It used to be that for every one person you treated, two people became infected.

Now, with the combination of getting people thedrugs as soon as they are diagnosed, male circumcision is another break-through and getting pregnant women those drugs very early, you can actually cut those infections right down and begin the end of the disease. And as I say it, it's really -- I can't even believe the words are coming out of my mouth, 30 years, 30 million funerals later, on the 30th anniversary, we just have the end in sight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: As an advocate for patients and a voice against tolerance, Bono follows in the path set by this young man, Ryan White, you'll see in the video. He contracted HIV from a blood transfusion in 1981. He would have turned 40 years old this month.

Ryan's mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, will be the keynote speaker at World AIDS Day Detroit and she joins me now. Ma'am, thank you so much for taking the time. And would you ever have imagined that it was an attainable goal of zero AIDS related deaths in this country?

JEANNE WHITE-GINDER: Oh, no. That was something we only dreamt about in the early '80s and late '80s and that was something we just dreamt about.

HOLMES: And would you say it's no longer just a dream? You think this is possible now? How soon?

WHITE-GINDER: Yes, I think it's possible. I mean, we have come so far. I mean, from no -- having no drugs at all to treatments, and then getting it down from so many pills to just a few pills a day. I mean, I think we're heading the right direction.

I think we have -- prevention efforts, I think need to be a little bit stronger. I think we need to make sure that our young people know that they are at risk -- if they have sex, they are at risk for this disease, and that's everybody. We always know what we're doing but we can never be sure what somebody else is doing.

HOLMES: Ma'am, if there is a teenager that finds out today that he or she has contracted HIV, how is that young person's life different from your son's life when you all found out he had HIV? What are the differences now?

WHITE-GINDER: Well, there was no medicines, and there was no treatment centers even for Ryan. So now, we have treatment centers that will put you on meds right away and, you know, to get those counts down to where they need to be. HOLMES: Ma'am, there is a story we are getting -- and this is so much of what your son went through, a story out of Pennsylvania we're getting that a young man is being denied access to a boarding school . And the school, the private school, saying it's because he has HIV. They've come right out and said it. It has something to do with the health and safety of other students. Can you believe a story like that is still taking place this day?

WHITE-GINDER: I hear it all the time that people with AIDS are still being discriminated against, especially in schools, colleges, job -- and job related, you know, areas. You know, it's just really sad that people do not educate themselves and -- but there are some people you're never going to be able to educate. And then that is -- that's where you have to just move on. You have to move on to people that will listen and will get the information and abide by it.

HOLMES: Is that number small enough? Those people you talked about who just won't get it, because we are talking about a school -- and you talk about schools, and these are people supposed to be educating and looking out for the health an well being of kids. If we can't educate those folks, where are we failing there?

WHITE-GINDER: Well, I think by not having education, especially AIDS education in homes, schools, churches, I think we have -- we need to be able to talk about it like a disease and we still can't. There's so much effort, you know, to not have these in schools, and to not be able to talk about AIDS because of how you have to talk about it and who is infected and blaming it on people.

We still have these same things that you had to have done something bad or wrong or you wouldn't have got it. I mean, that is why -- I feel like the religious community especially, the Christian community, is relating to our families and I -- it -- this disease affects everybody, and it's not just the gay community, I.V. drug user community anybody, it is everybody. It's women especially, people of color. I think it's very important that we don't step back and not educate our young people and not be able to talk about sex.

HOLMES: Ma'am, last thing here. Certainly so many people remember the story of your son. What is your life like? What has it been like the past number of years? I mean, so many years have gone by but you obviously continue this fight. What are your thoughts about your son on a day like this, on the holidays, on birthdays?

WHITE-GINDER: Well, his sister Andrea and I both miss him very much. It's hard. The grandparents, everybody thinks about Ryan. But I also want to think about all the people that are living with AIDS today. I mean it is not just my grief. I've got to see the faces of the meds help now and see people living with AIDS now, and so that justifies that I don't have Ryan with me any longer, but a lot of parents do. They have their children with them.

HOLMES: Oh, Jeanne White-Ginder, ma'am, I appreciate you taking the time out on this certainly special day, an important day, and I realize probably a tough day for you and your family, and many around the country and the world right now. But such a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much. We'll talk again.

WHITE-GINDER: Thank you, T.J.

HOLMES: All right, we're 13 minutes past the hour now.

Turning next to some international news. In Russia, bringing out big guns literally, sending new warnings to the U.S., back off this missile defense program or else. Is this just talk?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: So the Obama administration facing new warnings from Russia. Scale back the missile defense plan for Europe or risk possible border conflicts that could erupt into nuclear war. And to show he means business, the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has opened a new anti-missile radar station in the western enclave of Kaliningrad. As you can see here, it borders Poland. And from there, Russian missiles could easily strike NATO sites across Europe.

Now, the reason for Moscow's concern, a U.S. plans to put anti-missile interceptors in Poland, Romania and Turkey. The U.S. says this is to combat possible strikes from Iran and North Korea, not to threaten Russia. Andrew Kuchins is director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He joins me now.

Could spark nuclear war? Really?

ANDREW KUCHINS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, T.J., I think that's taken a little bit out of context. The Russian general, Makarov, made those comments a couple of weeks ago. But he was talking about the possibility of a -- not a border cut (ph), but an area bordering Russia that would be central Asia. It was not so much tied to the missile defense issue.

HOLMES: Still, some pretty strong statements here. You have to take these types of things seriously. But how much of this has to do with internal politics going on in Russia and Moscow right now?

KUCHINS: Well, you're exactly right. On the one hand, there is a genuine difference between us and the Russians on missile defense. We tell them that these plans are to address rogue states, Iran, North Korea, et cetera. The Russians -- and that these are not directed at the Russians strategic deterrent.

The Russians don't fully buy that. But the rhetoric has been amplified tremendously over the past month I think because of the Russian parliamentary elections coming up this Sunday on December 4th. And still anti-American rhetoric, standing tall against the United States, has some resistance for Russian domestic politics.

HOLMES: OK. And that seems to always work. So do we just need to get past the election cycle and you're telling me people will be good friends out there singing "Kumbaya" once again between Russia and the U.S.? KUCHINS: Well, that would be good. It's going to be -- like I said, we do have a genuine difference of views about the current plans for the missile defense program and it's going to be important for the Obama administration to continue talking with the Russians to try to re- assure them about that. But -- and I think that there may be a possibility of reaching (INAUDIBLE) with the Russians, but probably not likely until the early part of 2013 once we get through election cycles in both countries.

HOLMES: And it's the last thing here. For the part of the U.S., it's not that high or will it be that high on the list of priorities and things being talked about as we enter an election cycle now in the U.S.?

KUCHINS: Well, it's certainly not as high as it was during the Cold War. But because the Obama administration has identified Russia policy and the reset with Russia as one of their major foreign policy successes, I think that's the reason why the Republican opposition has been attacking Russian policy more vigorously. And we should continue to see that.

But it's not -- certainly not at the level of Iraq or Afghanistan, China, the first year foreign policy issues.

HOLMES: All right, Andrew Kuchins, we thank you, as always, for taking part in a story we believe is a bit "Under Covered" right now. We'll talk to you again.

KUCHINS: Thanks, T.J. My pleasure.

HOLMES: All right, stay with us. Have you heard about Siri, the new iPhone assistant? It can help you find just about anything. A lot of things. Hospitals, food, evening the meaning of life if you ask it. But there's one thing it will not help you find. We'll tell you what it is and why it's causing all kinds of controversy next. Stay with me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Apple's iPhone 4S set sales records and has received much praise for a software edition called Siri. It's a voice activated search function that helps you find anything from a fast food restaurant to the latest weather forecast. However, some are saying the creators of Siri have an agenda because of one item that Siri can't seem to find -- an abortion clinic.

Let me bring in now Eli Pariser, author of "The New York Times" best seller "The Filter Bubble: What The Internet is Hiding From You." He's also a former executive director of moveon.org.

Eli, thank you for being here.

So, if people ask Siri where to find an abortion clinic, what kind of answers are they getting back?

ELI PARISER, AUTHOR, "THE FILTER BUBBLE": Well, a lot of the time they're not getting any answer at all. If you search for Siri in New York City -- if you search for an abortion in New York City or a family planning clinic, often people are reporting that they won't get any results coming up whatsoever.

HOLMES: All right. So this is what they are telling. They had to say in an interview with "The New York Times," this is from Apple, it says, "these are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone. It simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product we find places where we can do better and we will in the coming weeks."

So, Eli, I guess what's wrong with that. This is some new technology for Apple. They're using -- I assume there's a number of different little things you could ask it to find and it can't find. So do you buy their answer?

PARISER: Well, I don't. I mean the fact is that no one will probably ever know the full story here because Apple doesn't make its software transparent or release the software. We won't know what's going on under the hood.

But, number one, this is an historic problem for family planning centers. Media have always, you know, over the past often, you know, been very cagey about directing people -- directing women in particular to places where they can get access to the full range of family planning. But second, you know, because we don't know for sure what the intentions are, we just have to look at the impact. And the impact here is that Siri will tell men where to find a strip club or Viagra, but it won't help women find access to comprehensive family planning.

That is shameful really. That's a big problem. And Apple should be doing a lot more to apologize for it and correct it immediately.

HOLMES: So you think it's just a matter of time before it is corrected?

PARISER: I think -- you know, I would be surprised if they really try to hold the line here on what is so, you know, so harmful to so many women. You know, this raises the concerns that people have about technology, that, you know, it's kind of a black box.

You don't know on what basis it's making these decisions. But it's making decisions for you, tailoring how you see the world. And in some cases, like this one, apparently, you know, ruling out a lot of options that a lot of women -- that are very important to a lot of women. This is, you know, a dangerous thing.

HOLMES: But there is no way -- last thing here, I just want to make sure, there's no way that there's some obscure something you could be looking for and it can give you an answer to that either. I mean it can't find everything for you. And I know you're saying you don't believe Apple when they say it, but can we give them the benefit of the doubt at all that this thing doesn't find everything for you?

PARISER: Well, again, you know, maybe this is a software bug, but it does find Viagra. It does find strip clubs. And, you know, I think a lot of women are getting together online at signon.org and other places voicing their concern with this, because this is really important. This is about women planning their reproductive futures. Siri should be able to get that right.

HOLMES: Well, all right. We'll -- we hear from Apple. We will see if it is corrected later. But Eli Pariser, thank you so much for your time today.

PARISER: Thank you for having me on.

HOLMES: All right. As we get close to the bottom of the hour, we're going to turn to politics here in a moment. Anybody but Romney. That is what so many Republicans have been saying. Anybody. Is that Newt Gingrich? Is that the somebody they're looking for? It's all "Fair Game" and it is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: As the newly minted front-runner, Newt Gingrich is always political "Fair Game."

In Florida, a state with 29 electoral votes, Gingrich is surging ahead. The new Public Policy poll out yesterday shows Gingrich with a commanding 30 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney. And Gingrich is already talking like it's his race to lose.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think whereas I would have thought originally it was going to be Mitt and not Mitt. I think it may turn out to be Newt and not Newt. And that's a very different formula than frankly -- we're willing to redesign our campaign strategy because we are at least 60 days ahead of where I thought we would be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: All right. Well, Republican strategist, Cheri Jacobus, is in Washington for us, and in Austin, Texas, Democratic political consultant, Ed Espinoza.

Welcome to you both.

Cheri, let me start with you.

Is this the biggest threat to Mitt Romney in this race so far, Newt Gingrich?

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I think so far that that is the case. We had other candidates that have done their best to reach their high mark and still haven't been able to reach the level of Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich obviously, in some areas, in some polls, has now surpassed Mitt Romney and, therefore, causing Mitt Romney to change his entire strategy, which I think is interesting.

A lot of people think Newt is overconfident, and that he is even arrogant. The thing about Newt Gingrich though, for those of us who have been around him for a lot of years, his arrogance is actually built on something. He has every reason to be confident. Strong record, he knows what he can do so I think this is an exciting primary. And we're now really getting into the serious stuff.

HOLMES: So, Ed, help us understand why this would be different from Bachmann, from Cain, from Perry, and their rise and fall. How can Newt rise and stay there?

ED ESPINOZA, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, Newt has got something going for him that the other candidates didn't have. He has a little bit of help from Herman Cain fading. He has a little bit of help from the New Hampshire's major daily newspaper endorsing him. But most importantly, he has the benefit of being in the right place at the right time.

At this point, in an election cycle, whether it is a presidential primary or any other election, voters start to become more pragmatic. They stop flirting with other choices and they start to settle down in what they think is going to be a smart choice that fits their values.

In this case, you have a very conservative Republican primary electorate. They don't like Mitt Romney. And the next guy there is Newt Gingrich. and we're about a month away from the first balloting. So time is definitely on his side. He is the biggest threat to Romney right now. Let's see if he can sustain it.

HOLMES: Cheri, let me bring you back in as we put up another poll. This poll out of South Carolina. But, Cheri, I'll ask you, some even questioned whether or not he peaked a little too early. Of course, you want to peak on Election Day but he peaked a little too early. I had another political type tell me earlier that Newt has a self-destruct button that he can hit any time he wants to. Are we sure --

(LAUGHTER)

How sure are you, as somebody who knows him, he can hold on and not hit that button before Iowa?

JACOBUS: T.J., every political figure has a self-destruct button that they can hit at any time and many of them do.

(LAUGHTER)

I don't think that this is just a matter of timing. I think -- I think in the Republican primary the two best candidates are at the top right now. That's how it is supposed to be. Yes, I agree, the electorate flirted with these other candidates. It was fun to look at a Donald Trump and some of the others. But these guys have both earned their positions and they'll fight it to the end. Both are gentlemen. I think it is going to be a race of ideas.

This is a huge threat to Barack Obama. His poll numbers are lower than Jimmy Carter's were at this stage in his term. So I think the voters, not just Republican voters, but obviously general election voters are looking at both of the top-tier Republican candidates very, very seriously, and for the right reasons. It is on substance. It is on competence.

HOLMES: Ed, wrap this for me in 15 minutes. Who do you want as a Democrat to go up against? You want Newt or you want Mitt?

ESPINOZA: Bring them all. They're all weak.

(LAUGHTER)

Bill Clinton was at the same point in 1995. He came back with an overwhelming victory in '96. We feel just as confident now as we did then. I think that whether it is Mitt or Newt or anybody else, the president's got a good message, and he'll carry the day.

HOLMES: You heard him here, folks. He said bring them all. Bring whoever.

(LAUGHTER)

Ed Espinoza, Cheri Jacobus, it is all "Fair Game."

Good to see you both. Thanks so much.

JACOBUS: Thank you.

HOLMES: And coming up tonight, Piers Morgan will sit down with Herman Cain's lawyer, Len Wood. You may remember Len Wood, put out what some though was a pretty perplexing statement after some of the latest allegation of an affair came out against Cain. That's at 9:00 eastern right here on CNN. You do not want to miss that one.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden is currently in the midst of his eighth trip to this country as vice president. What country are we talking about? We'll let you know as we go "Globe Trekking" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Let's go "Globe Trekking" now to Iraq, where Joe Biden is in the midst of his eighth trip there as vice president. Since 2003, the U.S. and 39 other countries have sent troops to Iraq. The number of troops peaked at 170,000 during the so-called "surge" in 2007. The U.S. is currently the only country with troops remaining. When President Obama took office, there were 144,000 troops in Iraq. There are currently some 11,000 remaining there.

Now today is a day of tribute for troops in Iraq, taking place just a few weeks before U.S. troops complete their withdrawal, a withdrawal that the vice president says has not been rushed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Eight years, this is no rush. Over 4,500 dead, 30,000 wounded, this is no rush. 144,000 troops when we took office. Now in a position -- we have a highly trained Iraqi military. Training their police force. This is no rush.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: Martin Savidge was embedded with U.S. at the start of their campaign in 2003, and he joins me now.

We talk about this ceremony today. What was this ceremony supposed to really symbolize for Iraqis and Americans?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello, T.J. I think the symbolism here is, of course, the first of what are going to be a number of ceremonies that are held. And it may be the only ceremony where you're going to see the Iraqi leadership, the U.S. leadership there, in the guise of Vice President Joe Biden and, of course, with the U.S. ambassador.

Then you have Iraqi soldiers and American soldiers, everybody in the same room all standing and saluting the same thing, which was the sacrifice of lives and by the effort that was made by Iraqis and by U.S. forces. So I think that's the primary significance of the event that we saw today. Very important, very symbolic and of course, for the Iraqis. They very much were in control.

That's the message that I think both sides want to leave here, is that it was the Iraqis that put this ceremony together. It was the Iraqi band that played "The Star Spangled Banner." And when there was the final salute to the troops and the loss of life, it was an Iraqi honor guard that did it. So clearly, the indication, the torch is passing from the United States now to Iraqis, in control of their own fate. Very symbolic there -- T.J.?

HOLMES: That symbolism also carries over to who was allowed to cover this particular ceremony?

SAVIDGE: Well, yes. There was a bit of confusion and difficulty. We had been told right up until just hours before the event that the international media, Western media, would be allowed to attend. Then suddenly, last night, at midnight, the call came in and said, no, you will not be allowed to come. Don't even bother going to the checkpoint to enter the base where it is being hold because you will not be let in. We were told it was due to security and primarily it was due to the fact that there were so many people attending, there just wasn't enough room for us. So we watched it on television like many Iraqis.

HOLMES: Martin Savidge there for us. Martin, thank you, as always.

We'll turn now to the last presidential election. You remember it was the youth vote that trumped at the polls? But this year, it could be the boomers. How their vote impacts the election. Stay with me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Tea Party members, Occupy protesters, you heard them all pretty loud and clear. Now get ready for another group that knows a thing or two about being heard -- boomers. Many are veterans of past political wars, and say they are more than ready for 2012.

Joe Johns now on the boomers and their potential impact on the battle for the White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(SINGING)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The baby boom generation had its causes, like the Vietnam War and civil rights.

(SHOUTING)

JOHNS: Now as the boomers start turning 65, aging could be next on the agenda.

Judy Lear with the Gray Panthers activist group is hoping boomers will join her movement.

JUDY LEAR, GRAY PANTHERS: We will fight. We will definitely fight for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. and we will fight by writing letters, by marching, by telling the people who have to make those decisions, listen to us, too. Listen to us.

JOHNS: The politicians may already be getting the message.

MITT ROMNEY, (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because we've got a lot of people that are baby boomers that are retiring now.

JOHNS: Almost every Republican presidential candidate has a place in the stump speech to talk about aging baby boomers.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, (R), MINNESOTA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have baby boomers in their peak earning years.

JOHNS: Given all the lip service, it is pretty clear, issues affecting the boomers are front and center this election year, things like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, long-term health care options for senior citizens.

GINGRICH: If we can get the right breakthroughs in Alzheimer's we would save from the federal government something on the order of $20 trillion over the life span of the baby boom generation.

JOHNS: 78 million people or so, born between 1946 and 1964, could be a powerful voting block for the politician with the right message.

Aging activist and researcher, Fernando Torres-Gil, sees a sleeping giant.

FERNANDO TORRES-GIL, CENTER FOR POLICY RESEARCH ON AGING: I predict that the concerns about whether or not they will have a decent retirement, whether or not they will have a pension or savings, and whether or not Medicare and health care will be there for them, I believe that may sway baby boomers to put age above most of their other particular concerns.

JOHNS: But CNN polling director, Keating Holland, says the jury is still out on whether baby boomers might start voting in lockstep on aging issues. And even if they do, it won't happen overnight.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Remember, that even for senior citizens, the number-one issue is not Social Security. The number-one issue is the economy.

JOHNS: Still, age groups do form voting blocks. Young voters turned out in droves for Barack Obama in 2008. and he's got to appeal to both old and young.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the baby boomers start to retire in greater numbers, then health care costs continue to rise, the situation will get even worse.

JOHNS: What no one wants to see is a battle of the ages in the voting booth, pitting old against young, generational warfare.

Judy Lear, of Gray Panthers, is optimistic.

LEAR: I think we are smarter than that. I think the American people are smarter. I think young people and older people are smarter.

JOHNS: Though, in some ways, the writing is already on the wall.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: The Black-Eyed Peas and Kermit the Frog will be part of tonight's tree lighting ceremony at the White House. So you don't think we went to talk to Fergie or Will I. Am. Oh, no, we went after Kermit. Kermit's going to join us live to talk about the night's events. He also has a new movie out. You do not want to miss what is going to be one of the biggest challenges of my journalistic career.

Also, San Francisco forces McDonald's to take the happy out of the Happy Meal. But the ban on Happy Meal toys kind of backfires. We'll explain that after the break.

But first, a real-life Christmas Grinch has made an annual tradition of stealing. That SUV, it stopped at a Boy Scout troop Christmas tree lot in Missouri. You see this right here folks? The woman apparently stole not one but two trees.

Get this. The troop's Scout master says this is the third straight year she's done this. He claims, same SUV, same woman, same run every Christmas. And for stealing Christmas trees from Boy Scouts on church property during the holidays, that not only lands you on Santa's naughty list, but we're pretty sure now Santa, the Boy Scouts and the cops and T.J. Holmes hope that your 15 minutes will be up very soon.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: I'll give you the stories making headlines right now. Heavy fog causing a major pileup on a state highway in Tennessee. This is not just any pileup. This is Sumner County EMS reporting that 176 cars were involved and that black ice was partly to blame for the chain reaction. At least one school bus with kids inside was hit. None of the children, however, required medical care.

Next stop, Olympia, Washington, where the governor wants to reclassify marijuana as medical treatment. Washington's governor says she has filed a petition with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which Rhode Island's governor has also signed. They want the government to list marijuana as a Schedule II drug so it can be prescribed and is mentioned as medicine. While Washington and Rhode Island allow the medical use of marijuana, federal law does not.

And a church in Pike County, Kentucky, getting a lot of heat right now. This is coming from our affiliate, WLEX. The Kentucky Baptist Church passed a proposal that bans interracial marriages and bars those couples from being church members. You're seeing one couple there. This couple will still be allowed to attend public worship, but the couple you saw there, they said the church made the decision after the two of them attended a service together as a couple.

Say goodbye to free toys inside your Happy Meals. At least if you live in San Francisco. A new law kicks in today that prevents fast-food joints from giving away toys unless their food meets certain nutritional requirements. The current Happy Meal fails to meet the veggie and fruit quota. How did they get around this? Parents will have to request and pay 10 cents for the toy. So the kids can still get the toy. The new law, meant to curb childhood obesity, will affect 50 restaurants in San Francisco.

Now we have a lot of important guests on CNN day in and day out, and certainly over the years, but none more special than the one we got coming up now. A rare interview with a very special guest. This next story comes to us out of D.C. near perhaps the most famous street address in all the land. Of course, we're about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where, tonight, an 89-year-old tradition that stretches back to President Calvin Coolidge continues with the lighting of the national Christmas tree.

A lot of big names will be on, but none bigger than this guy. There he is.

KERMIT THE FROG: Oh, hi there.

HOLMES: The green man himself, Kermit the Frog.

Young fellow, how are you doing?

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes, sir. I'm doing very well. How are you? If I look over there, I can almost see you.

HOLMES: Do you see me there? Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

It's good to have you here.

You've talked to -- I'm sure you've met presidents before. You just get used to this? Is this just a routine night for you tonight?

KERMIT THE FROG: It's always fun to meet presidents. I have in fact met several. But it's fun to do. But I'm really excited to be here. I've never been a part of the tree lighting before. That's particularly fun.

HOLMES: They have a lot of stars that will be there tonight. You among them, none bigger than you necessarily. But still, who are some people you're looking forward to seeing tonight?

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, One Republic is this wonderful band of young guys. I just met them this morning, heard them rehearsing this morning. That will be fun. But I do actually get to read "Twas the Night before Christmas" with the first lady.

HOLMES: Have you met the first family before?

KERMIT THE FROG: No, I can't say I have. But you would be surprised how easy it is for a frog to get security clearance.

HOLMES: Yes, I am surprised how easy that is.

(LAUGHTER)

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes.

HOLMES: And you have been around for quite some -- how old are you, Kermit? I don't even know.

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes.

HOLMES: You look great.

KERMIT THE FROG: Thank you very much. I try to work out and stay in shape. I am actually 55 years old. I know that's hard to believe. and I got my start right here where I am today in Washington, D.C.

HOLMES: Is that right?

KERMIT THE FROG: That's true.

HOLMES: You're not retired. You're not anywhere close to retiring.

KERMIT THE FROG: No, no.

HOLMES: In fact, you've got a busy schedule now. You've got -- what is this? This latest project of yours?

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, we've just done a wonderful new movie called, oddly enough, "The Muppets," and it is doing quite well. It just came out like back at Thanksgiving. But I have to tell you, old frogs never die. They just croak. (LAUGHTER)

That's a big joke back in the swamp.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: That's pretty good. What are you looking around at in the studio there? What is around you right now in our studio?

KERMIT THE FROG: I'm absolutely alone, except I think I see Wolf Blitzer over there.

HOLMES: Is Wolf there?

KERMIT THE FROG: He's hanging out. He's hanging out. We're old friends. Sure.

HOLMES: Can you tell him to come on in? I have him next. Tell him to come on in.

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: I don't know if you can see me.

HOLMES: Oh, there you are. We've got you.

BLITZER: I am so excited, T.J., that Kermit -- he is a journalist, like all of us are journalists. He is a reporter.

Kermit, you've done some major reporting over the years, right?

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes, I have. One of the most -- journalistic integrity. That's the name of the game.

BLITZER: Yes.

KERMIT THE FROG: Back when I worked with Rapunzel on "Sesame Street," yes, there was all sorts of stuff behind the scenes with her you don't want to know.

BLITZER: You are really good. And I know it will be very exciting. This is a political season and a lot of people will be voting right now. You're going to be reporting on all of this, right?

KERMIT THE FROG: I'm going to try. I'm afraid, as a frog, we cannot vote.

BLITZER: Really!

KERMIT THE FROG: No. I am an Amphibian-American. I am proud of it. I am taking a certain issue to discuss with the president, if I can. That's interspecies dating.

BLITZER: Really?

KERMIT THE FROG: Which evidently Miss Piggy is for. I'm not so sure about. But, yes.

HOLMES: So you'll raise that issue when you see the president?

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes, sir, I will. I wanted to tell all of the animals out there in the world and any people who might date pigs that it will get sorted out, folks.

BLITZER: It's very exciting for me. Do you know what my first name is?

KERMIT THE FROG: I do. I do.

(CROSSTALK)

KERMIT THE FROG: The first time I ever heard it, I thought you were an actual wolf.

BLITZER: That's what I mean. It is exciting for this Wolf to meet this frog.

KERMIT THE FROG: You should have your own news net boring. It should be Wolf News.

BLITZER: Do you think?

KERMIT THE FROG: I think so.

BLITZER: What about frog news?

KERMIT THE FROG: Maybe we can join up.

BLITZER: Wolf and Frog.

KERMIT THE FROG: I'll let you have top billing. Wolf and frog.

WOLF: Frog and Wolf.

KERMIT THE FROG: Works for me.

WOLF: What do you think, T.J.?

HOLMES: I think, Wolf, I've seen you interview a lot of people over the years, and I'm hearing better answers coming from Kermit right now than a lot of them.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

KERMIT THE FROG: Frogs make the strangest people. It's strange.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Yes.

BLITZER: You are good. I've seen you grow over the years, too. You've matured. KERMIT THE FROG: I have. I have.

BLITZER: Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, you were not the frog that you are today.

KERMIT THE FROG: I was not. I was barely out of being a tadpole. I had just dropped my tail and grown my legs.

BLITZER: Yes.

KERMIT THE FROG: And now, here I am on dry land with you.

BLITZER: What experience -- what advice do you have for younger frogs out there who are just beginning this whole experience?

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, you know, it's tough time in the world today as a frog. If you're small and green, sometimes you have to get comfortable with being green. And then you go on, like I did, to try to find the rainbow connection, you know? I'm not saying you find it, but you have to look. You have to keep looking.

BLITZER: That's good advice for a lot of young aspiring frogs out there. Are you going to be the only frog at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony later tonight?

KERMIT THE FROG: Well, I'm the only talking frog there. I think there will be others hiding in the bushes. In fact, there is a whole family of frogs that actually lives in the tree.

BLITZER: Really!

KERMIT THE FROG: Yes. There are tree frogs and they're living there. They're going to look after the thing when the national rangers aren't quite there.

BLITZER: It will be very exciting. I hope when you go through the security and they -- the magnetometers.

KERMIT THE FROG: YES.

BLITZER: You have no metal on you or anything?

KERMIT THE FROG: I have no metal on me at all. I'm not even wearing clothing. It is wonderful at airport security to go through naked.

BLITZER: You don't to have to take off your shoes.

KERMIT THE FROG: No. I don't even wear shoes.

BLITZER: Well, T.J., do you have a question for Kermit?

HOLMES: My question was for you. I was going to ask him a political question but I know he doesn't want to get into that, but political headlines.

(CROSSTALK) HOLMES: Is that all right? You want to get into politics?

KERMIT THE FROG: If I can't answer, I simply won't. Just like all those candidates.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We're going to have Kermit, one of these days, I'm predicting this, T.J., here in the "Situation Room," in our strategy session. And we're going to have him go against somebody else. I don't know.

Who do you think would be a good downer point for you in the strategy session?

KERMIT THE FROG: I have to tell you, Newt is from the swamp.

(LAUGHTER)

There are other Newts in the swamp, too.

BLITZER: The next time I interview him, maybe you'll join me in the question.

KERMIT THE FROG: You bet I will. You bet I will.

BLITZER: That will generate some excitement.

KERMIT THE FROG: We both speak amphibian. We'd be fine.

BLITZER: Good.

HOLMES: Well, guys, thank so much.

Wolf, always good to talk to you. A Wolf and a frog.

BLITZER: Thank you.

HOLMES: Kermit, good to talk to you. Kermit, good luck tonight, Kermit, and good luck with the new movie. Thank you so much.

We'll have more from Kermit, of course, throughout the day and, of course, at the ceremony tonight.

But for right now, Brooke Baldwin. I really don't know how to transition to you.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I have been pretty much, myself, and pretty much the rest of the folks in the studio, dying with laughter and cannot believe I just saw Wolf Blitzer and Kermit the Frog carry on a conversation for, like, a good three minutes, talking politics. Love it.

T.J., thank you. I'll take it.